Chapter Thirteen ~ hands on sex gets complicated

Warning – This chapter contains explicate sexual content

The reliving of inventive times was cut off by the less welcome and noisy intrusions of the neighbouring wings outdoor social time. The protagonists had returned to the window of course looking for further sport and were unfortunately gesticulating with their crotches and blearily calling out.

“Do yow want some of this you filthy nonce, it’ll choke you to death but that’s too good for yow yow filthy bastards.”

The limited vocabulary would always be a disappointment even if the sentiment wasn’t. The wardens moved them back behind the yellow lines eventually and I retreated to my memories of exploring sex.

From what I could gather for oral sex using the slang descriptions, it seemed you had to either, ‘give’ or ‘take’ ‘head’. I had of course tried these from the calves and to the milking cows. Knowing it was highly unlikely I would ever have the opportunity to try this out using the proper appendages or less likely with a real person, it had to be worth trying to find the next best thing and re-visit my rather unsatisfactory and sometimes painful efforts.

It had been quite a while since I had scared myself around the small eager feeding calves but, it had been enough to make me leave the matter alone. The idea though, had never left my head altogether. Obviously, I had to pick my moment and probably very soon as the animals were not so small anymore and might be less amenable as they too matured.

While masturbating regularly, with the aid of the rough stimulation sitting astride my ever-willing beasts, I had reluctantly avoided their inquisitive noses and butting heads. They would often help in cleaning up the resultant mess from my emissions, licking hands, and jeans while I was ultra-careful to always steer them away from the sensitivities of my groin. With the decision made to move forward with my quest, this was hopefully going to be very different.

Choosing one of the more malleable creatures I carefully introduced it, at a safe distance, to my now sizeable and manageable erection. The fear of being hurt made it a little difficult to maintain the normal exhilarating stiffness but, a firm grip at the base kept the blood from retreating and the twitching of the rod seemed to attract some attention. Keeping myself rigid was no problem, not ejaculating was another but I managed long enough for the stimulus of warm breath, lubricating saliva and soft mouth-parts rubbing along the shaft to add the exhilarating dimension I had hoped for. Unfortunately, the once natural suckling action of the youngsters I was expecting had been lost. The enthusiastic licking which replaced it was very good was not doing quite what I had imagined it might have been. Thinking round the problem I realised that perhaps I had to be more ‘masterful’ and take charge of the situation; as some of the stories had put it. Having come this far, I was determined to get my first ‘blow job’ one way or another.

Plucking up sufficient courage and with a small bundle of grass in hand, I easily managed to slip my fingers between a set of avid lips and curled into the prehensile tongue. Inside the safety of my hand I slid my more than willing member before removing my hand leaving me erection inside the confines of a hot, wet, accommodating mouth. Enveloping wetness and the rough surface of the tongue proved to be if anything, too stimulating but while caught up in the moment but still unfulfilled I let the animal moved off disgruntled. Waiting for a moment, breathing slowly and deeply to gain some control, I realised the experience didn’t seem to need the suction which had been described in fiction. Eager to prove the point I approached the same friendly accomplice once more, fortunately for me he was still interested; but I had more juicy grass to tempt him with.

While holding onto the soft wet eager nose for safety, I managed to position the soft jaws to emulate what I imagined were the restrictions of a more normal orifice. With my fingers being idly investigated I slid myself smoothly into the handful of warm gluttonous saliva. With long hot breaths billowing about my genitals and without anything more than a few gentle forward movements from my hips, I found myself climaxing with a ferocity I had never experienced before. With legs turning quickly to jelly in the process, I tried to maintain the heights and depths of my exhilaration as long as I could, trying to get deeper and harder with each spasm.

My grip was interrupted for those few elemental ecstatic moments and I somehow lost control of the hot passage I had finally exploded into. The moment was stellar in its final execution spoilt only by the recipient deciding they had participated enough with no apparent benefit to them. Being much stronger than me I had no option but to let it go. As my ecstasy faded and some small amount clarity returned, I realised the sensation had indeed proved to be astonishing.

It took me a few moments longer to know I not escaped undamaged. A tooth must have nicked the side of my now flaccid member and the still glistening wet surface was tinged with pink from the trickle of blood which ran down one side of it. Now I was in trouble.

The practical side of my brain kicked in and overrode the panic which was foaming up inside me. A well tied handkerchief and an immediate retirement to the house and bathroom showed it was not quite such a mortal wound after all. The blood had stopped pumping once the erection had slipped away and the small wound was already healing by the look of it. After only a few days of abstinence I managed to restore my pride and my member before attempting further exhilaration. They did and with each experience both parties became either more accepting or more skilful, for me at least it was a triumphal high point in my devilish development.

Despite this progress, there was an as-yet unclear expectation that there was more to it than just what I managed to experience. In the meantime, nothing had become obvious for tackling the other side of the oral experience other than the sucking of udders, but I expected my patience and ingenuity would find something or someone suitable. While patiently waiting for the day that it might happen, I had many thoughts on the multitude of unanswered questions which were left in the wake of my solitary and secretive experiences. Perhaps there were more interesting possibilities over and above just riding. My rather baser interests consistently considered the obvious genital differences between species but I was still interested in every type of reproductive organ just so I didn’t miss an opportunity or possibility. Overall, it was to be an experience which could only get better.

Cows had been OK for many wonderful things but, with the original expectations for my riding experience not going any further, I would need to find something more suitable to satisfy the addition of control and stimulus which I so wanted to experience. Horses were to be the next real thing to be conquered. Proper riding was going to be great, horses were going to be great and horses were out of the question; for now, anyway.

There were a lot of horses in the village but few which were accessible, covertly that is. There certainly weren’t any stallions, which was a disappointment although I understood the dangers of being around them. Despite that, I didn’t think I would have been too put off investigating them, purely because of the extremes they could potentially offer. The next best things were geldings, not that it could ever be the same. On the odd occasion when an opportunity would present itself, exploration was generally rather a let-down. It was difficult to get close to them either to see what they had or try to get it to work in my hands. Mares were too big and still ultimately uninteresting; while I was so relatively young anyway. Severely disappointed at the limitations I was finding, at least our own supply of cattle was generally amenable and at least on site, they had to be made adequate, if still poor substitutes.

A developing appreciation of having routines meant that I managed to build more sexual satisfaction which was regularly achieved and an equally fast-growing sense of curiosity fulfilled. Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I am complete obsessed about this side of my personal development but, it just seemed to be a major contributory factor in the matters which stimulated my writing this account.

Always trying to convince to myself I was not a complete freak of nature, I often sought out opportunities of more normal human, but still sexual, interests. This was generally only possible in the school showers of course and the probability of being caught looking at the offerings was too dangerous to make it overtly interesting. At home nudity was never exercised past the age of two or three although, I did catch my brother in such a state just the once. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens and I had locked myself out of the house one night and he had been the first to hear my throwing small stones at an upstairs window. He had to come down and let me in but unfortunately, for him anyway, he had been in the process of pleasuring his girlfriend at the time; the only comfort I got from the incident was that I now knew I was much better endowed than he was.

With hindsight and despite my previous protestations, I was not as isolated and abandoned as I might make it sound. There were normal role models in my father, brother, my sister, and her rather attractive husband as well as a large extended family. There were also one or two rather more distant school colleagues with girlfriends but not a gay guy in sight, so why was I having so much trouble being like any of them? The truth eluded me for many years.

The overriding fact of my development was that nothing ‘normal’ was ever going to happen to me which is why, I took my other interests as being the norm and didn’t go out of my way to seek out any of the alternatives with the hope that at some time in the future, I might be able to consolidate my sexual interests thus far, to make my adolescent days tolerable.

On another side of my multifaceted coin, despite all the everyday, even enhanced opportunities I was given, the relative freedom in the things of life never seemed to be either enough nor ultimately satisfying; perhaps there was no norm to search for? As a token experiment, I did occasionally try to make intimate contact with other boys. My confidence was strong enough, in my head at least, to know I wanted to be around them, but I had no way of getting to the point of making actual open contact. Towards the end of my single life I had learnt to engineer potential situations but had never gone through with more than looking on from an emotional distance. It didn’t help that I tended to pick boys who were straight and at least not gay, not that I had perfected being able to identify the difference properly. Perhaps it was just bad luck or maybe it was some subconscious design; I never knew.

The closest I ever got to the species was having a ‘best friend’ with a gay brother, the first confirmed homosexual who I had ever actually met. Although not the perfection I imagined for myself, he did at least play for the right team. My feelings for the straight brother were equally strong, if not more so. His perfectly honed body from years of martial arts training was a joy to behold and I often encouraged him to show off; not that he understood why. The limited efforts I did try couldn’t get the specific attention I hoped for from either of them. Realistically I doubt I made any significant or obvious moves in that or any other pertinent direction, really, I just didn’t know how to.

The result was an ongoing and constant disappointment in both me and the rest of the world for not helping me to help myself. This ultimately drove me back to the destructive, insular little world that I had created for myself. There I could bask in unspoken acceptance and the small comfort I could get from tried and tested quarters. All that abnormal behaviour was now so ‘normal’ in my strange world; it was hard to think why I shouldn’t keep going with it. The separation technique I had relied on for self-protection, would develop much further into something that I needed just to survive through the rigours of life, both physically and emotionally.

Time rolled ever onward and the things of life mainly passed me by although desire, disappointment, duplicity, deceit, all came in waves, some I bobbed clear of others I sunk spluttered but recovered, having learned a lesson or two here and there. A welcome addition to aid my desperately need independence was my own small motorbike and eventually my first car. With both I took full advantage to get myself active to more distant and discerning places. Most of this time was spent still on my own working out ways of advancing plans to fulfil my evermore obscure needs.

As far as my interactions with other people were concerned, any I did have were some just to keep my off the radar and were generally only as a ‘hanger on’ to other family members or friends. Throughout any, if not all of these, I never felt a core member of anything and nobody would be what I could call a friend rather than an acquaintance. My description of a friend was someone you could share all your thoughts and feelings with and have them do the same to you. Either way, perhaps the façade I had created had become too embedded to cope with the fear and embarrassment if I was to be exposed. There was so much of me which I wanted to share but now just couldn’t.

Over the remaining teenage years, I retreated into my cloistered world but continued to feed my riding obsession and other more personal interactions around not only our animals, but a wider world which unfolded with my greater independence and growing confidence. My rather homemade but inventive approach to equipment was satisfactory until I had the means to accumulate other purpose made items. The experiences when I managed them, were mostly satisfactory, but still very secret. Although I wanted to share these exciting times with someone the secrecy and dangers that went with them added their own frisson to the exhilaration. Perhaps I knew sharing might take some of the thrill and excitement away? When I allowed myself to consider the matter, I was torn between two trains of thought but I never actually had the opportunity to test the hypothesis so I would never know if I would have gone through with it anyway. The dangers were obvious but the potent obsession and its darker sexual gratification was something I couldn’t break away from.

In this solitary but satisfying world, I finished off what I considered to be the final discovery phase of these physical matters. With it I found an adequate confirmation where I didn’t need the complexities of any-thing, or any-one else to have my fun.

My carefully managed but manufactured persona became the ideal cover for as much physical interaction I thought I might ever need. As further self-justification I convinced myself I was experiencing much more than many of my peers might have but settled for the fact that I would never be able to experience anything ‘normal’ as much as I might want to be like them, be with them, be one of them, I know I never would.

Concentrating on some of these rather diverse obscenities might have been some distraction as I slept on in the unsatisfactory living arrangements of my prison cell, it simply resulted in the second wet dream of my stay although this time I didn’t let it happen so easily although the pain of squeezing down an ejaculation was a small penalty for my wilder recollections.

Chapter Twelve ~ We’re all animals underneath

Despite feeling isolated most of the time, I don’t think I actually appreciate the condition. Quite a lot of the time I excluded myself which didn’t count but I can recall clearly several everyday events, like Birthday parties I went to despite always feeing like an outsider. There are just three which come to mind; at least while I was at the sort of age you participated in such things.

One, we were sent home early because the birthday boy wouldn’t share his new cricket bat during a game after tea. The second, we had bread and butter with our homemade ice cream and got chased by Guinea fowl; I put up with that one to be around the rather attractive blond curly haired twins. The last came to an embarrassing end after an argument turned into a full-blown fight over who would play with the new, all action Thunderbird toys. As I was obviously losing the physical confrontation that ensued, I stuck my hand down the birthday boy’s trousers to gain some sort of advantage in the testicular department; or perhaps it was more than that? Other than, or probably because of it, I never received another invitation to his house or any others in the village; I hadn’t even got to ‘cop a feel’ which would have perhaps made being ostracised worthwhile.

There was a handful of what we would now call ‘play dates’ and at least these had a few more if still fully satisfied benefits. Having always been drawn to one very good-looking lads in junior school, his perfect build and outgoing confidence were things of desire and I wanted these for myself as much as I wanted him as a friend. When we had both grown into more independent, but still young boys, I managed to engineer going to his farm to have ‘fun’. He was of course unaware of my feelings towards his outdoor rough-edged beauty as I attempted to follow the extended games of tag, pirates and Tarzan, in and out of the many barns and through endless tunnels created by bales of hay. Despite never being able to keep up, I would be content to just hang around and watch him swoop, leap, and freely express himself, perfectly tussled hair, sinuous musculature stretched and taught, for me it was tantamount to emotional torture. Even today, I can picture him, and need a minute every time I do.

Another advantage of my visits came from the diversity of the farming business, one part of which was milking cows. Having understood the basics of cattle management from our own calves, this was rather different but equally interesting. Milk made naturally by the cow to feed the calves who were born to them, but part of a commercial milking business it meant the youngsters were taken away and sold to people like us, to be raised as we did at home. If the adult cow was milked twice a day, it was months before she would dry up. The cycle of milk production was started again by getting the cow into calf, and so on.

The mating of the cows was in some part, an answer to my questions about the pigs from all those years ago. This farm had its own bull, huge, snorting thing which I was warned against getting too near. It looked magnificent in both its general size and of course for me in its appendages. A huge swinging scrotum tempted you to reach under and touch its power and intrigue but it was not to be; at this point, anyway. One day I was lucky enough to be around for one of the carefully controlled mating events and while keeping my distance, I paid close attention to the event despite almost embarrassing myself the first time I watched having to concentrate very hard to minimise the embarrassing tenting going on in my trousers. No one else seemed to be phased by it if they even noticed.

The process was of course just a natural thing, the mating as well as my arousal even I knew that, but I had never been able to have this direct admiration of it. The event itself came with a running commentary from my friend which was equally exciting. He obviously enjoyed sharing his expertise on the subject and I learnt the full story of the birds and bees, only with cows and bulls instead. He explained all the working parts of the business and I tried to take it all in to expand my very basic knowledge. He highlighted the specific parts of the cow which would be involved as his father carefully washed the area in question. The actual mating in the end was quite disappointing after having had such a graphic build up. The bull’s erection once exposed was disappointing being just a thin short pointed pink thing; I felt that for relative size I could do much better myself. The whole event was over in seconds with only a quick jump up, poking it in, a couple of pumps of his ample hips and straight back out again. Somehow, I had hoped for more prolonged action and impressive genitals, more like an elephant’s prehensile log or at least the length and girth of a horse. Disappointment aside, where the protuberance went was equally unimpressive, if it was any realistic representation of a woman’s parts and a man’s participation in them, I thought I now understood why I had no interest taking part in the human process.

Trying to relate all this new knowledge to what I already knew, plus what I thought I knew, plus what I had read about, some of it made sense but ultimately the experience left me with more questions than answers. This conundrum would stay with me but thankfully stored away. Trying to discuss it with my enthusiastic friend was a waste of time and he had no interest in sharing further thoughts on the subject presumably as it was just one of those regular things; At least in his life. My real hope was that the subject might open up to a slightly different conversation and give me a chance to share more personal comparisons; it didn’t happen of course.

It was at this farm, while I was making pointless attempts to further my curious interest in boys, well this boy anyway, where I came closest to getting my first authentic experience of horse riding. My friends much younger sister had a pony. Fortunately for us she was too young to be either interesting or tolerated by her brother but it meant that I never did get close enough to embroil myself in the possibility of sharing either her interest in riding or her animal. In the half-baked attempts to do so I did gain some valuable knowledge of much of the riding equipment. With my analytical brain working overtime, I saw where I might be going wrong with my paltry efforts at home and where I might be able to reproduce the much dreamed of experience I was looking for; not with the cows anymore but any other opportunity I could engineer in the wider world. What I would have given to just walk off with a saddle or bridle but although driven, I was not that desperate and contented myself with just running my hands over the soft smooth leather and the cold stainless steel whenever there was the opportunity.

The matter of sibling politics was something which I didn’t get involved in so had little idea of how it worked, the result was that I was torn between our friendship and my fixation. The opportunity would not be available for long as he went off to private boarding school and I went off to the local amenity and we lost touch. With no excuse to go onto the farm any more, I just looked on from afar as the girl and pony duo scampered about the open fields.

My self-deducing sex education didn’t just cover my own and other animals functioning sex organs, I was becoming aware of other ancillary items which went with them. Having read about people and having witnessed the mating process of cows, extrapolated this to the pigs and glimpses of other televisual treats, it had been somewhat of a mixed start and I knew I would need to formulate other opportunities to investigate it all in much closer detail. My already pricked interest led inevitably to a need for the more hands on experience, hopefully with suitably docile beasts. Our own animals seemed to be too young to provide the whole story but, on the farm adjoining ours there was another herd of milking cows.

As I was good at working out the strategies for such an operation, if I could fulfil the basic safety criteria then there was the potential to learn quite a lot. Having selected a suitable time of day, I got myself next to the fence which separated our field containing the cows. Still on our safe side, with the sort of comforting ‘cush cush’ noises people used, I managed to entice one or two into the secluded spot. Out of sight from both house and yard I climbed through the fence but stayed close enough for a plausible escape if I needed it, One last check back to the house and everything was set; I still wasn’t certain of what I was going to do.

Despite the total freedom for the cattle to run away, because they were used to being handled during milking I was thankfully allowed to explore the magnificence of these large friendly beasts with little problem. The warmth and the softness of smooth coats compared to our own animals was exhilaration itself. Running your hands over the long contours from an inquisitive damp muzzle with its rasping tongue, down a muscular back where beneath the protruding hip bones you could reach down to the mystery of warm pink distended udders. These were a comforting bag of wonderment; note to self, perhaps you should try and help with someone’s milking regime?

As for the matter in hand, obviously, I knew the practicalities that these were the animal representation of human breasts and I was sure there would be some Freudian anecdote to justify my interest in them; I was too fascinated to worry about any possible issues there. The four teats were softer than the rubber re-creations we used for feeding calves and I found it fascinating that they seemed to responded to even my amateur manipulation. Once I had warmed my hands up I managed to get warm creamy milk to spurt from them. The natural extension of this, to me anyway, was to see what a calf experienced when it was feeding. You couldn’t fault my thorough process in the pursuit of my interests however misguided they might have been.

Carefully positioning myself on the ground, half under the expansive underbelly. At first, I squeezed the teat as I had before and tried to aim for my open mouth. It might have been my being underneath her, but I didn’t get any milk to come out as I had hoped. After several tries, soothing and caressing her to hopefully relax the mechanism, I had to give up. Logically I didn’t think I had the right physiology or experience to make it happen naturally but it might be the only way to proceed. Taking a deep breath, I was not prepared for the intense feeling of the warm, soft, pliant finger of flesh inside my mouth and the sensations running along my tongue and the roof of my mouth were mesmerising. My exuberance found misplaced if still only gentle contact to be unacceptable to even the mildest mannered animal; another lesson learnt and I only got kicked once but only a nudge, not enough to deter me anyway. With practice and a calm nature, the task was finally achieved and was like nothing else I had experienced. Despite it being only an infrequent occurrence, the lateral thinking it stimulated was worth the effort. The physical contact and sharing of fluids forged a link which was one stop close to something I still didn’t really understand.

The herd was eventually sold off on economic grounds but, while I had the opportunity I took full advantage of these pseudo comforts and the greater opportunity to examine other more mature parts of their anatomy that interested me. The mature milking cows were patiently used to having their ‘bits’ fiddled with although they still required careful handling. With experience, it was possible to explore the wider functions quite safely and in so many new exciting and productive ways. After this extended examination, the realisation that our underdeveloped animals could only offer limited experience and so took the shine off, I realised I would need much wider experience to fill in the gaps of my knowledge. From several teasing and testing episodes, the one thing I really wanted to try was oral sex. The milking cows had offered a tantalising and it must be said, delicious opportunity, but it wasn’t quite it.

Disappointingly there were still so many other unanswered questions and unsatisfied curiosities but with the benefit of my accumulated knowledge, my brother’s imagination, the observations around farms and my own more personal experiments, I had at least what I thought of as a nearly fully formed idea about how sex worked. Some of it seemed great; some still had work to finesse, some seemed impossible to go further with but sounded exciting, exotic and even dangerous. I hoped I could try it all in time.

Chapter Eleven ~ Ride a cock horse

Although I considered myself ‘normal’, for want of a better word, I had realised quite early on that I never be a full or complete member of any sort of ‘normal’ society. Comparing all the elements of developments which went on around me both in people and nature I nearly always seemed to be on the darker side of things. Realistically, it was difficult to gauge what I could perceive as benefits compared to things I knew my peers were doing either in public or in private. It was this first tentative acknowledgement of my difference which I hoped would mark some milestone for my deeper psyche and quell some of the inner discomfort that came as part of my alternative pleasures.

Back in my early teens I had accepted that I was not like most other boys of my age but not only in a purely sexual context. There were defiantly no intimate feelings towards girls but a strong and distinct interest in boys; even men sometimes. Despite this I still didn’t have a clear perspective on what I was feeling what I was going to do about it or what any of the possibilities were open to me. It was not a time for knowing the specifics of being gay or even using the term but I suspected there may be some impact in everyday matters. With this realisation accepted, just being able to feel more comfortable about life in general would have been enough. Fortunately, for me at least, there were still other activities which I did understand more fully and enjoyed.

In addition to the general education paradigm of school, there were several exciting, even scandalous events to either brighten of confuse my days. Bearing in mind I was only 13 or so, one of the more memorable of these involved the brother of my latest crush; the one with the suede head haircut, remember him? His twin, unfortunately not an identical brother, had unashamedly announced one day in the playground that he had been doing ‘it’ with one of the more attractive girls in the class; I had managed to differentiate between being ‘attractive’ and being ‘attracted to’ very clearly by this time. Even the outside possibility of him telling the truth made the pair the first in the class to do ‘it’ as far as we knew and so elevating them to minor celebrities. They, well he, were not short on selling himself which prompted several of the other boys to try to build themselves up to match his prowess. Being sure I was not the only one to speculate on his boasting being true in the first place, it did make for interesting bragging and bodily comparisons between some of the boys. Silently I tried to take what I could from all the banter and graphic descriptions and pieced it into my own experimentation, despite instinctively knowing that it wasn’t quite the same in my world as it was in theirs. Of course, I would never share anything about myself even if I had been directly involved in any of the conversation, which I wasn’t obviously although desperately wishing that I could have been.

The first time I got to understand about the practical side of such things, it was most likely prompted further by my innate curiosity.

As I had been spending so much time helping with the animals and on the farm generally, I had been given a new pair of Wellington boots. They were far too big of course but that was only to make them last longer. The looseness just needed to be taken up by some thick socks which I knew my brother had for his motorcycle. He and I didn’t have very much to talk about at the best of times so I didn’t bother to ask him if I could borrow them and just went to help myself. At an opportune moment, I crept quietly into his bedroom and rummaged about in his sock draw. It might sound rather like an old cliché but, I found more than just socks in there.

A little gem in the form of a spiral bound reporters note pad was tucked away right down at the back. Many of the pages had crumpled corners and it looked well used. Flicking through just to get an overview, I couldn’t immediately make out some of the rather scribbled writing but looking more carefully I managed to pick out enough key words in the text to know that this was not your normal third year English homework; it looked far more interesting. Aware of the danger of being caught out-of-bounds in his bedroom, I still wanted to take a closer look at the notes and the occasional provocative, if poorly drawn, pictures; I was very good at drawing so found these both amusing and arousing. Pausing to listen for any imminent danger I slipped the pad under my jumper, forgot all about the socks and headed noiselessly to the relative privacy of the bathroom. Thankfully it was unoccupied which was not always the case in a household as busy as ours.

After waiting and silently checking I hadn’t raised any unwanted interest from the rest of the house, I sat on the toilet seat and made myself comfortable. Starting at the very beginning of the writings I could see this was potentially the mother lode of what I thought of as pornography, the closest I had ever got to dirty books anyway. It was not well written, even I knew that but, the content was vivid and glorious in its detailed descriptive passages. With only a limited knowledge of human working parts, I managed to extrapolate enough to understand. The characters here were fictitious I assumed but believable in my vividly visualising and now excited mind.

The closest I had come to mainstream porn was to collect the pictures of ‘page 3’ models from my father’s daily newspaper. It seemed to be the thing that young boys did so I followed suit just in case. I had no interest in boobs and excessive pouting unlike the eventual addition of ‘page 5’ male models. Both collections were, inevitably, discovered by my mother when cleaning out the bedrooms; nothing was ever said, even about the men and I was happy to put it down to either relief or embarrassment. This new, exceedingly graphic material was full of things I found difficult to believe or imagine even but I was a quick learner and the diagrams helped to confirm some of my doubts on the detail.

Rough sounding truck drivers seemed to be the main protagonists, picking up hitch hikers, always girls or women, who had to pay their fare in ways my minuscule knowledge of sex acts could hardly contemplate. There was much bulging, roundness, exposure, rubbing, throbbing, grabbing, licking, sucking, penetration, explosions, screaming; lots of explosions and an excess of screaming. Every story started differently but ended up in the same way, sweaty, sticky and exhausted; I was getting to feel a little sweaty myself after only a few pages. My usually and by now well-managed erection was all too prominent and this new material was managing to achieve what seemed to be even greater pleasures. In all the excitement, I almost missed the first time I got to the point of no return. Not noticing I had been rubbing myself through the course denim enclosing my crotch. I was suddenly faced with a moment of panic trying to release the imminent explosion. Being rather annoyed at the interruption, it made me fumble so much to contain the problem, I dropped the note pad. It was like a slow-motion horror film.

My zip had stuck only half way down but my one free hand had managed to force its way through the narrow gap and was firmly clenched around my throbbing member to confine the emissions which had already started to pump out in volume. Meanwhile, the other hand was grasping for the fluttering pages as they bounced off the seat, down between my legs and heading towards the water deep in the bowl. Trying to catch it, my bottom caught on the cistern behind me as I quickly stood and bend over all in one swift if manic movement. Falling forward with my free hand and arm down the bowl, I thankfully kept the pad out of the water. The consequent stumbling and stamping around trying to steady myself made so much noise, the fear of discovery had overshadowed the resultant mess in both my still trapped hand and now down the inside of my leg. Standing to listen for any reactions, contorted and still entangled, the normal array of household sounds didn’t seem to have changed and it appeared I was safe, this time anyway; now, I didn’t know what to deal with first.

Having regained my composure, I first checked the pad hadn’t been damaged. Fortunately, it hadn’t. Secondly, I should have dealt with the residue of my ejaculation but, despite the scare, once I had breathed a few calming deep breaths, I couldn’t help but sit back down to read some more of the stories and hopefully move onto the others.

My now well lubricated if rather sticky hand, was still firmly holding on to its charge and, once I had undone the top of my jeans and bared all safely, the combination of the written word and physical action soon let me discover the wonders of self-administered ecstasy in all its full, pulsating and this time, controlled wanking. It was such a revelation, I almost managed a third time but it took a great deal of concentration which reading at the same time didn’t make so easy. Reverting to just metal recall, the job was eventually completed but with less substance.

Once I was sure I had abused myself enough, gauged mainly by the sensitivity of my now limp and exhausted penis, I cleaned up everything as best I could manage. After hiding my clothes which now had several dark damp patches, in the washing basket, I managed to, exit the bathroom, step silently across the creak ridden floors and put the pad back in its hiding place, exactly as it had been; I had a knack of noticing detail like that which was very useful. Discovery would have been fatal. Despite the possibility always hanging over me, it wouldn’t be the last time I sneaked the writings out of the draw and retired to the bathroom although I did have to come up with some plausible reasons for the degree of noise which often accompanied the sessions; I don’t recall what they might have been.

That first afternoon had been another distinct milestone in my growing up. Even though I didn’t get away with using the fiction for too long, it was a definite signpost to other exciting possibilities and had made it a lusciously memorable evolution in my boyhood. Eventually the pad was discovered, nothing to do with me thankfully but, although I kept out-of-the-way for the inquisition, my brother presumed it must have involved me and, although I denied it profusely but it was not enough to save me from having a good beating metered out. For the pleasures it had instigated, it had been worth it.

There was no formal sex education in schools at that time so this self-discovery was the only way to develop my growing need for stimulation, as well as my other developing interests. For some reason, I suspected I might have strayed into territory that other boys didn’t which, for me at least made the things I did special. As for what other people did, I didn’t have any hard evidence, I only knew what worked for me and that was enough.

My morning emissions were no longer a problem, now I understood what they were and for most of the time anyway, managing to control the previously independent transmutation. Manual masturbation was great but even that began to get boring. I soon wanted more variation, more excitement, more interaction; like in the stories. This would obviously involve more varied experimentation which would prove to be both a benefit, and a problem.

Being now able to manipulate myself at will and with a growing and vivid imagination, I tried to recreate situations that I thought up or had read. These often involved using inanimate objects as substitutes for the other people; real partners were not going to be an option as far as I could imagine. Women were replaced by my pillow with me attempting what I thought were all the right actions for coupling. Of course, despite any point of reference, it just didn’t feel quite right. It also proved to demonstrate one of the more challenging problems; I couldn’t put pillows in the wash. This I found out rather awkwardly one day while having to explain the unusual crusty patches which seamen and feathers make when mixed and dried. It didn’t stop me but alternatives had to be found.

In my ignorance, role reversal seemed to be an obvious option; all the imaginary participants seemed to have the same degree of fun just in differing ways. The idea of insertion was very tempting but seemed just too dangerous. To make it the pleasurable experience that it had been in my brother’s imagination, or as the school macho-man would have you believe, there seemed to be a lot of issues to sort out. Finding all sorts of objects to enhance the prospects and tentatively testing size and strength, girth, and coarseness, eventually items I could penetrate or be penetrated by would achieve some varying degrees of ecstasy. Before I got it just right, I did get to scream like some of them had in the note-book, but it was from pain rather than the pleasure I was looking for. Perseverance however profited in yet another developmental stage of my obscure sexual practices.

Despite the confines of the cell and my high degree of anguish, I must have gone to sleep. The diversion which was comforting my still very active mind resulted in the first wet dream I had had for many years. Surprised that I might had deliberately let it happen, I took comfort from its climax, waking myself up only afterwards in a slight panic; hoping I had not disturbed either my sleeping pad mate below, or anyone else on the wing. Hardly daring to breathe I lay very still for quite some time before accepting that it had been a silent or at least unremarkable event. Mopping myself up as best I could, I took some comfort from the familiar tastes and textures before slipping back into the questionable pleasures of my youth.

Being a little older now, although still only early or mid-teens, I was left on my own to do work out on the farm. Having done my best to show I could be trusted, I managed to keep the underlying reasons for such enthusiasm carefully to myself. With knowledge comes power; I must have heard it somewhere. Slowly I was beginning to build on that cognition and understand how I could best use it for my own powerful pleasure. What I was missing and equally if not more importantly looking for, was the power to control something or someone other than my own mind and body.

Having listened intently to all the varied stories at school, all the bragging and boasting and realms of self-discovery, I still couldn’t identify myself in this harsh new world of growing up. If I had understood sexism at all it might have stopped me feeling I needed to attain some sort of dominant status but was not sure how to achieve it in any degree; my quest was spurred on.

Whatever I could think up, there was nowhere to test any of my vague theories except for where I had found most of my pleasures thus far, down in the seclusion of the outbuildings and comfort of the animal pens. Inside my own insulated, self-perpetuating, unnatural world, I knew I could be in control, there I could be king, I could do anything I wanted and there was plenty of it to do. My interest also moved to wider vistas.

Living in a relatively affluent country village, there were always horses which had held an all-consuming fascination for. Unfortunately, I had decided that if I had expressed my interest in the subject, it would have initiated far too many questions for which I had no answers I cared to share. If it had been just the riding of these magnificent beasts I might have managed to engineer some alternative but, my early experiences with smaller beasts had fixed a link between many alternative worlds of pleasure. Knowing more of what I liked but not always how to achieve it, the prospect and potential joy of riding horses had been one which had stimulated me in several ways and was confirmed by a chance viewing

While watching TV in my bedroom late one night, it was black and white and in a wooden case the size of a small wardrobe but a screen that was very small but then, which was luxury in those days. Before I fell asleep, with it still on which was a regular practice and much frowned upon by my parents, the beautiful and still young Marlon Brando flooded the screen and my attention was awake and transfixed. I had missed the first few minutes of the film but it was ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’, the story chronicling the tortured and unrequited struggles of a secretly gay army officer, his long-suffering, unsatisfied wife and a rather magnificent, but equally closeted, military aide. As with most things the most significant things are often the smallest and this was no different. With a surfeit of moody, misty, melodramatic camera work the perfectly muscled, precisely crew cut aide had taken a night-time outing, riding naked through the trees on the back of his officer’s magnificent pure white stallion. In one scene, the brooding Brando secretly watched from the cover of the trees, racked with both desire and disappointment. Although I only saw the film once and, even in later life, have never managed to own a copy, possibly just in-case I might be disappointed, in those few minutes of secluded boyhood I recognised and inwardly rejoiced in the discovery that I was not alone in a world of bizarre feelings. Despite it being just a beautiful fiction, that diminutive event became the basis for a rather larger segment of my life which lasted for some 40 years or more. Unfortunately, back in the confines of my teenage bedroom, I was still lumbered with the reality of my solitary difference.

Discovering that human growth spurts were few and too far between, I found animals grow much faster and it meant the modified games of ‘leap-frog’ and ‘tig’ with the calves were becoming more challenging. They were strong enough now to push through my legs but I was no longer able to stop them anymore and I would often be knocked right over. The effects though were just too pleasurable to give up without trying other variations. Although I was getting to be a rather ‘large’ lad, I was not too heavy to hurt the growing animals if I put a little weight onto their backs now and again. With careful attention to how and when it was safe, I could sit astride some of them as they moved around the ever-reducing space; it wasn’t the stallion of my dreams but better than nothing. Having considered this riding experiment would most likely not work outside, in the open expanse of the fields, it was something I needed to master within these confines and sooner rather than later. It took some time but I worked out which of the more amiable animals would tolerate my more interactive attentions and with persistence they would appear to be quite happy to carry me round. There was no direct control that horse riders had, but it might be something for the future. This pseudo riding was a wonderful feeling to have between my thighs and yet another step towards something more exciting.

Regular practice allowed me to grip on with my legs, enough to stop me falling off but not enough to irritation to my mount. It got easier as they became more used to the task and I quickly learnt how to get on, stay on and also slip off safely. Eventually I could ride for minutes rather than seconds which was indeed progress and good enough for now.

The enhanced feelings of arousal lasted for equally short periods and I knew I needed further development of my technique. With my improving balance, leg control and eventually being able to steady myself with just one hand, I worked out how to pump myself to orgasm with the other. It was so much better although disappointingly quicker than when it was just me on my own, but the combination was fixed; for good.

Once we had all settled into an easy acceptance, it seemed to be time to try to work out how to introduce the more technical side of riding. To start with this was rather difficult as there was rarely enough time to try any new types of coercement before I had to deal with my inevitable bodily emissions. This annoyance was most likely the point where I started to separate some of the now more distinct fetishes and would find it easier to get the masturbation bit out-of-the-way first. The development of a separation technique was infinitely useful.

Working on it regularly, between all the other day-to-day jobs, in time I had selected animals which were more easily ridden and eventually had two to choose from. They could be identified by their individual if minor markings in an otherwise uniform brown and white herd. A simple rope halter was a normal piece of farm kit and it only took a few attempts to get its appropriate use accepted by my charges; it was always good practice to have control of an animal anyway and it saved lots of pointless running round for me. Experimenting with different things, ropes, straps, belts, crude bits made from suitable thick wire, not everything was successful but I gradually gained more control of my pretend horses with a view to getting a more realistic riding experience. Knowing that nothing I could cobble together could ever be the same as any proper riding tack, I knew it was something I had to be more creative with.

For the subtler aides to control, having been observant of real riders, I tried to work out anything I could associate with my own hand and leg actions. Despite all my enthusiasm, my attempts to recreate what I considered might be a traditional schooling method on my animals never did seem to work. Of course, I didn’t appreciate any of the training methods which take place in normal situations and the simple expectation of these creatures instinctively knowing what was expected of them was laughable. Having only a superficial knowledge anyway, I was lucky to have the small amount of sway in their movements and just having the appearance of real riding plus the frequent additional non-riding benefits, would have to do as we made our regular if still tentative circumnavigation of the pen. Eventually I would also find out it was virtually impossible to train cows as you do horses so I had done quite well under the circumstances; or so I compensated myself anyway.

The compromise was made. By being able to just jump up, slide my leg over and clamp my thighs and ankles to the roundness and rippling warmth of their sturdy bodies, my pleasure was assured but not restricted. Variations of just lying across their back and encouraging walking could enhance the sexual pleasure and even more so if you also left your engorged member sticking out of your jeans. Other modifications would be tested out in a learning curve of harmless, sometimes messy but always fantastical fun.

Once the beasts were big enough to go outside in the fields, I was glad of my persistence and patience with the halter and other devices. Now participating animals could be caught up with no fuss or running about and that illusive feeling of power and control would be satisfied for yet another short, but wholly satisfying time. The simple task of taking charge of a large independent animal combined with the minimal control and a measure of clandestine deception topped it off nicely. Having soon determined where about in the fields was safely out of anyone’s sight, I could lead my charges easily to an appropriate spot and we could indulge in our intimate games; or were they just mine

Disappointingly, the bigger they grew the greater the challenge of having control became and the less they wanted to move about with me on their backs. Despite a shift in the power to weight ratio I had originally expected to go in my favour, my visualisation of galloping around fully competent in my riding technique was not to be realised. Any attempt to coerce managed movement was fruitless although, it didn’t stop my groin based pleasures. Ultimately though, the loss of the actual riding experience was disheartening.

To offset these unavoidable failings, I concentrated on developing more of the personal side of my experimentation but still assisted by them. To this end, I explored my earlier trials with nudity; mainly during the summer months that is. It required a total awareness of everything going on around me but, with very careful arrangement of body parts, the frisson of excitement, panic and illicit escapism, I enjoyed the enhanced feelings which the experience gave very much. The exposure the experience gave seemed to have some degree of interest for the ever-inquisitive noses which was often as stimulating as any manual provocation. For now, the riding element continued to be an unrequited desire whereas the satisfactory sexual outcomes I could always manage; despite the frustrations, in my semi fantasy world, each would never be completely divorced from the other.

Sadly, there would only be two sets of cows to indulge myself with as we stopped having the very small ones in favour of the more mature animals. These were near impossible to halter train let alone make ready for riding but I persisted as much as I could, all be it with diminishing returns. There were still opportunities to investigate other ‘educational’ things but it seemed the riding experience was going to have to wait for now.

Without it being readily available ‘on tap’ as it were, I did start to question myself as to why it had become such an important thing or if it had become just a habit; I couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t find an acceptable answer. Obviously whatever I contrived, it would never quite work out exactly as I wanted it to be and every time I saw someone on a real horse I would yearn for the chance to be up there, in control, in harmony, in paradise.

The full riding experience, at least the best approximation of it would come eventually but not until much later in a wider and sometimes more productive arena; my obsession would be fully formed eventually.

Throughout all my self-indulgent, brilliant, selfish, frightening but always exhilarating familiarities, I knew I wasn’t having the usual adolescent experience. I still had no idea of what ‘usual’ would involve anyway. Looking back, I am sure everything was magnified by the relative isolation of my teens but, to me, at the time at least, it was all very real. Today, I don’t try to excuse the person who I was but trying to understand it all despite self-reflection being a concept lost on me. All I wanted to do was work out how to maximise my experiences and minimise the inherent dangers which, overall, I did quite well.

When I was old enough, the need to get away from the confines of our farm became too strong to ignore and I often walked around the village or neighbour’s fields looking for new things to relish. With the riding, unfulfilled at home but still desperately prominent in my mind, from some hidden depth I plucked up the courage to visit somewhere where I knew they had real horses. Despite knowing the people who lived at this other farm, I felt just as intimidated as I did by most of the rest of the village. Once I had reached my destination, I ended up dithering about near the yard gate realising I hadn’t thought this through at all and was now frustrated not knowing what I was going to do next.

“Can I help you with anything?”

In my consternation, I hadn’t noticed the lady of the house come out of the kitchen door.

“I, er, er, I just wondered if there was anything I could help out with on the farm today?”

She was a nice woman and was kind enough to understand my unqualified approach as she told me there wasn’t anything that she could think of for the moment.

“I wondered if you needed someone to exercise the horses?”

Although I knew all the right phrases, even if I didn’t understand their implications, I bumbled on.

“I know you’re always very busy and just wondered if they needed it?”

She smiled a broad, knowing smile and I knew at once I had made an idiot of myself. Thankfully, my obvious embarrassment ended the meeting quickly and I scurried away flush faced with the briefest of silent acknowledgements. Although I didn’t try anything like that again, perhaps I should have persisted if only to curtail some of my other activities. Although I would still wander past those and several other beacons of my desire, I was never stupid enough to be caught being interested. It was easy to watch the animals in question by covert means, but I found I always needed more than this distant exhilaration. How I ever thought I was capable of working with such creatures I had no idea. Although having to be content to observe from a distance until a plan could be formed, there was always the hope for sight of their magnificent extremes and elegance and the dream of being astride, in control and at the mercy of these incomparable machines.

There was another hammering on the window from the yard outside although I had already registered that the yard was occupied, I was not ready for its intrusion.

“Bastards,” Dave seemed to have been caught out as well, “fuck off and leave us alone,” it was a wasted exertion as we were all alone in our own diverse ways.

 

Chapter Ten ~ is it Fame or Infamy?

Having been inside for a week or so, I think I was right to keep most of my personal details and issues to myself while I continued to work out the politics of prison life more precisely. In this microcosm of criminality and emotional excess, with everything being peculiarly focused, I was finding some areas more difficult to manage than others. The most challenging was to switch off how I felt about people in general and why I felt so pretentiously different to most, if not all of them. Were these all reasonable expectations under the circumstances or was it a personality flaw magnified by extreme circumstances? Knowing I was not your typical criminal, if there was such a thing, on the one hand it was difficult to accept that I must be, on the other I knew precisely why I was here. Having been arrested accused and now locked away it must be true; it didn’t help?

Despite knowing I wasn’t a sexual predator, as in crimes involving actual contact, the activity I had indulged in was just bad, according to the rules of a modal society. Here I was, banged to rights and to a greater degree, accepting it. Although I could see all sides of the arguments, it was nothing new in my world, for once it was getting hard to handle the brain storming. For once I couldn’t come up with the answers I needed just to function in my insular world.

Was I just a sad lonely old queen? Was I thankfully cowardly? Would I ever do anything bad to anyone? Could I have resisted temptation? Had I resisted my desires? Was I lying to myself? Had I done things that even I couldn’t admit to? Were my actions reasonable? Was society wrong? Could the public trust me? Could I trust myself? Of course, I know I never could; not anymore. Eventually I managed to force a few of my mental boxes to close but I could never manage to shut them all off my divergence continued.

Hopefully I was saving myself, from myself, not that it have worked all that well before. Although I knew everything in here was heightened to such a degree, all it took was a look, a stare, a glimpse of an elegant or artistic tattoo, a well-crafted muscle, another prisoner’s questionable reputation, overt pomposity, perfectly preened natural beauty, even just a well turned out prison guard; my mind was constantly running riot with all the possibilities which could never be allowed to happen.

In the same crowded mental space, another part of my brain was telling me to just stop being so obtuse and look at myself honestly for once. Why was I thinking these things? Why such a focus on sexual matters? Who was it you thought you were? Had you just been hiding your true feelings away all this time? Wouldn’t it have been better if you just conformed to normality? Why be miserable? Can you stay out of trouble? Weren’t things bad enough already? Are you not just getting your just reward? Why are you getting so flustered? Weren’t you the ‘Mr Fix it’? You just cope with things so why are you being like this? Why can’t you just have a good wank and get over yourself? Isn’t that what you’ve done for nearly forty years?

I wanted to put my head through the wall to stop whatever was going on inside it continuing.

If it was possible, deeper concerns were growing because the more sensible, capable side of me didn’t seem to be giving me any help at all. It was far from winning many of the arguments which I had been used to.

These self-indulgent discussions with myself were nothing new, they used to happen with almost everything in my life. For even the simplest thing I would analyse every minute detail just to be sure, sometimes even for buying a tin of beans, that is how bad it was. If it was for something more important, the process could immerse me in seemingly endlessly protracted internal discourse before reaching a decision or more often a compromise. Despite developing all this careful and confident logic, I usually managed to convince myself that I was right, even for the times when I clearly knew I wasn’t.

Keeping all this inside my head I was safe of course and with all the new experiences of prison life seemed to exaggerate and distort my already desperate need for self-justification. To maintain the safe if boring caricature I had carefully created for myself, there was no self-delusion that I was being anything but a fraud but I somehow felt even more isolated than I would normally. The excess and perversion I had managed to use in order to convince myself that I had led a good life was slowly crushing me mentally and no doubt very soon physically; I couldn’t see a safe way out of it. Having almost given up using my gut instinct, I had accepted it was far too imprecise in these extremes and was unlikely to help anyone, especially me, some chink of clarity started to open.

In the confines of the cell and wing, I thought I was slowly starting to understand the real me. Although it was not a pretty picture forming, I was realising or perhaps just acknowledging I was an incredibly selfish person who was very good at delusion and manipulation. It also seemed to highlight the fact that even on the outside I had created a painfully contorted façade for myself which hid a desperately sad and lonely life. The mental box I created for these extremes of cerebral anguish must have had extremely thick walls and a very large lock as it was obviously the only way I had managed to cope but what was going to happen now it was ripped open?

One might have expected all these internal confabulations would have been sated. by the lack of thinking either allowed or required in this prison environment. The problem now was, on one hand I was in the testosterone fuelled surroundings of an extreme personal fantasy but on the other was a powder keg of pent-up emotions and character waiting to be vented. On yet another hand, I had no idea how to recognise or respond to any of it.

Any seriously minded person would have been focusing on the very weighty matters which had gotten them in here in the first place and not the madness I was managing to conjure up in the confines of my tortured mind. That is one of the problems with being incarcerated and having few constructive distractions, I just couldn’t switch off the self-seeking part of my psychological make-up.

Despite all the arguments against my wealth of illicit activity plus the less compelling ones for it, I could still manage to resolve matters to fall on either side of the law as I saw fit. This to a greater degree was worrying me more than anything. The darker side of my mind was nose-diving into its old tricks of rationalising things it clearly knew were wrong, doggedly holding onto peculiar and often ridiculous pleasures as being wholly acceptable. While the light of rational thought was slowly being extinguished and the attractions of the mercurial arts were becoming stronger by the day. The only difference now was, they had to be confined to my head and reliant on my memory.

As if this relatively safe internalising wasn’t enough and, living as a concentrated group wasn’t difficult, I just couldn’t stop myself trying to work out where I could outwardly expand upon the obvious, inappropriate, or simply titillating opportunities to lighten my day or was it to replace my previous activities. The perfect example would involve the telephones, especially once I had progressed to the workshops and had the evening association out on the wing. Personally, the only calls I made were to keep in touch with the few people who I felt were important, although mainly for their benefit rather than mine. Having quickly worked out queuing to make calls had the potential for other tantalising benefits. By chance, the telephones were right next to the frequently oversubscribed shower facilities. It meant deliberately timing my calls within the half hour so that the queue for both facilities gave a valid excuse to just stand around without looking suspicious.  If you were very brave you could sneak an upward glance to the showers on the floor above and see under the half-door arrangements. As there is no privacy in prison just a token gesture towards modesty, often all you would get was a glimpse of nothing very much at all; maybe nothing but always the hope of something was my justification. Split seconds of naught became an unhealthy, unexciting, and ultimately fruitless game of chance. The point was that for this, as well as other strange situations, I could tell myself it was OK, while deliberately ignoring the more important question of why?

The questions kept on coming. Why did I think I needed to participate in the first place? Why it was so difficult to accept I was just trying to replace the daily sexual fixation of collecting my ineffectual imagery? Was it just another protracted argument that I couldn’t win?

Unfortunately, I was unable to stop myself both looking and arguing with myself. Rather disingenuously I found I would regularly decry other addicts, while I found it impossible to fully admit to having my own. Appreciation of this and the disappointed with myself would become a regular juxtaposed issue.

While on the subject of disappointment, another myth which the general public may hold is, there are ample opportunities for shared sexual relief between prisoners. Perhaps it was just me, but such things either didn’t happen, my ignorance of procedure allowed it to pass me by or, I was just not good-looking enough. Having already accepted that I was now officially a pervert I somehow expected I would get some sort of free entry to the ‘club’. This is what we people did; didn’t we? Prayed on the vulnerable, exploited the weak, and devoured the helpless to get our depraved pleasures? Looking around me, Lord knows there were plenty of potential targets in here. My brain would often remind me I would never go through with ‘it’ even if ‘it’ was on offer; although I knew I was right, for some unacknowledged reason, I still needed the possibility linger that it could to somewhere in my perversion. Underneath all the self-doubt I knew the reality of the matter was that I was terrified about actually instigating or participating in anything at all; which didn’t help me in any way.

There were few people on the wing that I felt I could be specifically attracted to let alone anyone who might have similar propensities which overall, helped keep the disappointment depressed to a relatively safe level. There was initially one boy who sort of fitted my normal criteria and whose reputation probably fuelled my interest more than anything else about him. To use the appropriate vernacular, it seemed he was well-known for ‘putting out’ for an appropriate exchange of goods or services and he certainly went out of his way to ingratiate himself with the wing ‘elders’. The obvious attraction of his rather ‘cute’ physical form and rumours abounded but I couldn’t see a way of getting into that inner sanctum without other dangers ripping me to pieces. Replacing this option with fiction I often pictured myself taking a ‘favour’ or two in the heat and sweat of a dark cramped bunk space; picturing it was all it would ever be after all.

It was rather a shock when his pretty face, although not very accurately represented, appeared on the national news one night. The featured story was his conviction for the senseless murder of a baby boy who had been in his and his girlfriend’s care. As children were a very special and sensitive subject in prison society, even within the VP family, surely this would require him to ask for some sort of extra protective status. The event bought home rather too well the reality of where I was, what I was and who I was living with. As far as I could tell there were no direct reprisals as there could often be but, he was not quite so much the wing sweetheart from them on. His sentencing followed quickly and he was moved to another prison although I doubt that his anonymity would be re-established. Such a waste.

For quite a while I kept my thoughts away from the world of physical pleasure ‘prison style’ and even moderated my already timid behaviour out on the wing. However bizarre it might seem, my offences might easily have been tallied heavily against me if anyone ever found out. In the harsh reality of the prison system I had no idea if I might be a marked man and the incident was just too close to some sort of sick home truth.

With a wing of up to 70 prisoners at any one time there are bound to be regular incidents and events. Thankfully most of them passed right by me. With only a few exceptions, no-one could honestly or realistically hold any sort of moral high ground but just occasionally there would be something to rock whatever boat you used to get along your stretch of the river of life. My first moment of real panic came on one indifferent morning.

Being still on daytime association as I didn’t have a job, one of the officers on duty seemed to have something to share; I say on duty he was just sitting down reading the paper but at least he was on the wing.

“Anyone we recognise?”

He had said it rather too loudly to be just a passing comment. The question wasn’t posed to anyone, but it was said just as I wandered past him on one of my regular walking up and down the length of the wing attempts at exercise. Glancing at the paper I hoped I didn’t seem too interested in either him or the article; perhaps him yes, the article less so. My heart sank as my own distorted image stared back at me. It was the one, the only one as far as I knew, who had come from the magistrate’s court. The implications knocked any trite thoughts I might have had right out of the frame. The article was in the popular local newspaper that no-one on the wing would normally get hold of which made it worse once the realisation had processed itself. Because of the potential for problems, prisoners could purchase national newspapers through the library but not these local ones and the officer had obviously taken this opportunity for pure mischief; I was only glad that I hadn’t been worthy of national coverage.

The warders normally rather attractive face had an unflattering glaze as he waited for some sort of reaction. He would get none from me. As his ruse hadn’t seemed to work, he continued to read out some of the more salient points in the article; rather over dramatically I thought. It managed to give the added effect he had originally sought. Luckily for me perhaps, only the aged, infirm or the mentally challenged prisoners were on association during the day. As I was off the radar of their interest, to most of them I was just another quiet guy in for something they weren’t really interested in. Fortunately for me, despite the best if short-lived efforts of the prison staff, it stayed that way. If any of the workers had been around, the fact that they constituted most of the real ‘characters’ of the wing, I doubt I would have had such an easy ride. It was a close at least, helped by the fact that there would have been serious consequences if the paper had been left out on the wing call but I hoped I was safe for now. The offending item disappeared after association.

Somehow, I knew Dave must have heard about the incident, even though he never went out of the cell. When we were locked up again he was more curious than usual and seemed to watch me if only covertly for the rest of the day; perhaps it was just me being over sensitive. His curiosity levels ramped up as I had my strip wash that night but didn’t fully strip. He was only pretending to sleep but I caught him peeking out from the shadows. Despite the situation being one of my obtuse fantasies, I felt uneasy, threatened even. The whole incident set off yet another episode of internal conflict. Part of me felt like stripping completely naked and deliberately confronting him, scaring him more like. Overall I didn’t want anyone to know my business unless I told them, was it too much to ask? Once I had stopped the rather vigorous drying inside my boxer shorts I did wonder if, now that there had been confirmation I was a proper criminal, I might have gained some sort of additional caché.

Telling myself how preposterous the idea was, I still couldn’t stop trying to convince myself that, just because I was locked up in a room with another man twenty-two hours a day, we would have a need to share more than the morning cups of tea. My counter argument was, everyone had needs and I, in my head anyway, could provide discrete and excellent services of a personal nature.  What was I thinking? Could I really see dull Dave as some sort of ‘gangster’s moll’ or me a domineering ‘fuck buddy’? He didn’t even go for men, or did he? Was he as desperate as I must be and go with almost anything? What would happen if I just tested the water? What could he do if I did try anything? All these nonsensical thoughts ran through me in a maelstrom of fear bouncing back and forth repeatedly.

Somewhere in the darkness of that night I realised I was losing my grip on reality and I didn’t understand why. Having restored myself to the sanctity of my bunk space, the thoughts seemed to soften, but only a little. Grabbing hold of my mind instead of my still semi erect penis, I tried to get back to a state of calm, stand back mentally and take a hard look at the fundamentals. It had only been about three weeks since being deprived of my previous life. I hadn’t had a successful physical relationship for years. Why did I feel so desperate? What did I expect to find here in prison? Knowing what’s right and what’s acceptable is what this is all about. I am still a sexual being but what did any of that matter now? My life choices will be the same in here as they were in any previous life; too scared to do anything without someone else taking the lead; too scared of finding out the truth about myself.

Reality faced me now and I had to get a grip on it or change would elude me forever. These were all things I didn’t want to face but there they were. Challenged but still confused I settled myself on the hard and grossly uncomfortable bunk to try to get through another night of isolation knowing none of this mental torment was anything new or resolvable in the near future. The prisons nightly drama and counter drama echoed around the walls, thankfully on the other side of the steel door. On this side, my chaotic thoughts gradually settled to their more normal level. The dark side briefly hovered over the idea of masturbation; just to help a little, as you do. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, this perhaps inappropriate thought received almost instantaneous condemnation and any remains of an erection evaporated into the semi darkness. It left me torn, I didn’t want to think about the present, the past or the future so, where to go from there? It was going to be just another long and tedious night. There would be many more just like it over the months; euphemistically I preferred to think of it as a sort of holiday and call it my being ‘away’.

The newspaper article still irked me somewhat as, up to that point I had managed to hang onto a degree of comfort through my shallow anonymity. My mind had accepted the facts of my actions and even my fate but, I had stopped short of openly admitting the charges levelled against me; albeit with the help of my capable if overzealous solicitor. The problem now was a case of other people knowing my business rather than the actual business itself. If I had not been guilty in the first place, I guessed I might have taken a different stance although even, I wasn’t sure about that anymore.

My minds desultory meandering sometimes found it hard to accept that being locked away was a good thing. Perhaps I hadn’t deliberately started the ball rolling with the police but perhaps I had subconsciously stopped being so careful in my activities. Having managed to live a secret life perfectly well for so many years, why now, why so sloppy, why allow it to happen?

Any balanced person should have felt fear at the prospect of years moving from one cramped cell to another but I didn’t really. This was going to be it; this was now my life; there was nothing left; I had accepted it as fact. A noisy expulsion of gas burbled from the bunk below me and a strangled groan of satisfaction followed. The tangled chains of my thoughts had been thankfully broken; for the time being anyway.

Trying to get more comfortable with the hope of getting some sleep, I turned over to face the cold shiny wall. Both my head and my back ached and as I slid about on the almost non-existent mattress, my boxers twisted around my genitals which made me wince silently. Disentangling them seemed only to make it worse as they responded autonomously. The fear of falling back into the roller coaster of thought was diminished somewhat by the obvious protrusion in my groin, as if to deliberately emphasise another degree of frustration, despite the inappropriate situation.  I had to admit it was just what I was looking for and was one of the few things I still had control over any more. With my comforting member gently taken in hand like an adult dummy, I returned to reflecting on the formative years which young people must endure. In my case, it was more how I had managed to skewed many of my views and expectations against reality in my relentless march through puberty.

Chapter Nine ~ how things work, or sometimes not

A manly shout echoing down the wing broke noisily into my musings.

“Workers back on the wing,”

“What goes on now?”

I deliberately hoped to deflect some of the inevitable rhetoric with a meaningful question.

“It’ll be dinner in a bit and it’s canteen day, you won’t get anything and you’ll have to wait ‘till next week.”

Yet another thing I didn’t understand.

“This is what you get later,” a double-sided printed sheet was offered up to me, “did you have any money when you came in?”

“Not much, no,” I didn’t remember how much.

Being certain that I didn’t want to share my personal information if I could help, I remembered I had only handed over a few pounds and some odd change. My last act of freedom had been to go to the shops so there wasn’t much left in my pockets. The thought seemed to have been part of a previous disconnected life, yet it had been only been two days ago.

“You need to get some sent in or get on the workers list, I can’t work you know so I don’t have any money, no one ……”

He was off again hardly drawing breath and I switched my attention to the paper he had given me.

‘Canteen’ was in effect, a shopping list. The items listed were extensive, probably around 350 or more at a rough count. They included a wide range of products including personal hygiene, stationery, telephone credits, smoker’s items and greetings cards, recreational and religious items. Most notably though, and making up at least half of the list, was food stuffs. It was fascinating. Items ranged through chocolate, sweets, biscuits, crisps, tinned fruit, soft drinks, breakfast cereals, dried and tinned food, sauces and spreads and many other things; in effect, it was a mini supermarket.

Dave’s details were printed out at the top of the sheet, name number and status, he had ‘standard’ which must be the same reference I had seen on my card outside the door. There were also the details of how much money he had in his prison account; it wasn’t much as he had already implied. There had been something in the induction process about basic allowances for each prisoner, just a few pounds a week plus whatever work they could eventually get to do. It was a bit of a blur but I had plenty of time to look it up and work it all out. Dave was still sharing his discontent at the system but I managed to filter out only the bits I felt might be of use; I was getting good at that.

‘Standard’ status; non-working prisoners had about £2 or £3 a week, workers or those on an education programme could get £12 or more depending on the type of job. Extra money could be had by achieving the ‘Enhanced’ status but he didn’t bother to elaborate on it, he just complained that he wasn’t allowed it; I would consider what all that entailed another time. So, this money and whatever you had brought in from the outside was held in an account and could be spent through this ‘canteen’ process. The telephone system also became a little clearer. It seemed you could buy credit which was stored somewhere, presumably for when you needed to use the phone; I hadn’t considered talking to anyone on the outside but the thought made me shiver.

Intrigued by it all but not wanting to rely on Dave’s version, I fished out the sheaf of paperwork I had been presented with on the first night. As well as the standard status which almost everyone started on, there were two others. Enhanced was something to be aspired to but seemed to entail an amount of effort. The other, Basic, was what the system could use as a punishment tool. Ridiculously bound by the various conventions on human rights etc., there wasn’t much which could be done legally that is but, the loss of your television or the reduction in association or other little things I imagined would be magnified unbelievably for those who suffered them.

To attain an Enhanced status there were several hoops to jump through. To start you had to wait for at least three months before you could apply for it. It meant having been a model prisoner and somehow get two references of your character. These had to be from one of your personal wing officers and then from a workshop or education officer; whichever scheme you managed to get on. Eventually and in the systems own time, you might get called in for a face to face chat with the wing governor. Here you would be asked to explain how you were getting on within the regime and your plans and aspirations for the rest of your remand or sentence. It sounded rather complicated for just a few more pounds in your account however, there were more valuable things than just money.

The most prized thing for many prisoners was the advantage of having one more visit added to your normal quota. Not everyone had or wanted visits for their own reasons but, for those who did, like me, this would be well worth the effort. Other things included extra association, a wider range of personal belongings, being allowed a proper mug, if you could afford it a radio and several other items could only make enduring the system a little easier. It took me four and a half months to get my upgrade. Other than enjoying the remand allowance of three visits a week instead of two and my earthenware mug, I had decided to think ahead to save up the extra money for a digital radio and some headphones. In my mind, I had acclimatised myself to the fact that I would be here, or somewhere else inside the prison system for several years and I would need the benefits of certain luxuries to help get me through it.

Jumping ahead, once I was convicted, the visits would be only two a month for the standard regime but three a month for enhanced which would continue to be the greatest boon for those who wanted to keep coming to see me. When they started, most of my visits were very much appreciated once we had gotten past the initial embarrassment, mainly on my visitor’s part. Over time I did start to notice that it was getting more and more difficult to find things to talk about. There was not very much to share from my side after all, not once the general novelty of the situation had worn off anyway. People were very kind and the level of support was certainly more than welcome. Some of my visitors would be more interesting than others and some came from rather surprising quarters. It proved the point when it’s only at the most difficult times when you find out who your real friends are.

“You’ll need to get lots of stuff from the canteen so you can swap with people,” my prison education was to continue, unrelentingly.

Having watched enough dramatic representations of prison life to understand that, in a cashless society, there would be a healthy barter and exchange business to contend with, it was something which I had considered only briefly when Jim had asked for some of my first night items. Other than that, at least so far, I couldn’t see what I might want, or what I had to offer in any exchange. From what I could tell I could live with whatever I was given but perhaps I was going to be proved wrong eventually.

“You’ll get your canteen sheet on Thursday for delivery next week. If you want anything before then, I can get it and you can pay me back later, it won’t be too expensive!”

As he went on to explain some of the possible transaction costs for more commonly handled things, it became clearer that I didn’t need to be part of any of it.

Burn, tobacco in prison parlance, was generally double the cost for payback; it was the most highly prized of the legal substances on any wing. Other things like food or writing materials, stamps or the like were not so important and so generally, cheaper. You could swap two oranges for a second-class stamp or some sugar, that sort of level. Still I didn’t see how I was going to fit into this subculture, it sounded too desperate compared to how I had generally managed my life. Somehow, I imagined I would be happier to just give something away if someone really needed it and hopefully get treated the same in return but this was no normal situation.

My naiveté could have easily got me into trouble but I managed to stay safe during my time away; perhaps more by luck than judgement.

Without a break for breath that I noticed, Dave had moved the subject from the fundamentals of barter and favours to some of the more colourful personnel on the wing. He was trying to explain to me who I would need to cultivate friendship with and who I should avoid. This was all rather a waste of time as, obviously as I neither knew anyone else on the wing yet nor did I see me getting to know anyone to any degree would be top of my immediate priority list. Letting him run on with the theme, for once it wasn’t about him and I did get to hear other names maybe to help me cope later. Most important of all were the names of potential trouble makers, they would be a priority but eventually on my assessment and not exclusively that of my pad-mate. While he was rambling away I was also taking in the activity out on the wing as it ramped up towards what I was informed would be the dinner service.

With an imagination like mine it was easy to absorb the sound trolleys trundling along the walkways out on the other side of the exercise yard and the sound of one of them coming through the complicated gate and door systems onto the wing; being able to visualise things was always some kind of comfort. Soon there was the rhythmic mechanical clink clink of the observation flaps for yet another prisoner head count, numbers were called in once they were gathered, correct again this time; it was not always to be the case. Thinking that I was a ‘pro’ now, I didn’t even look up as the officer checked we were where we should be; perhaps I had fallen far too easily into the prison programme; it still being only the second day.

Dinner time arrived. There had been the usual period of anticipation from the trolley coming onto the wing through to the first of the four floors being called on. The food took a short while to unpack, decipher and prepare for the servery which didn’t help to alleviate any anxiety which I still felt. It was strange although in a good way; a distraction at least. Anticipating which floor would get the first call became an art but more importantly because it determined which of us were last and sometimes only to receive leftovers. Floor calling fell into a pattern which heightened the game, for me anyway but I had a strange sense of importance and reason in such trivia.

The actual service of this meal as with all the subsequent events was the same; the only thing that changed was the food and occasionally the staff. Even the menus were on a two-week rotation. At the pivot point of the catering week we had a sheet with all the choices for both lunch and dinner for the next seven-day rotation and you just ticked off what you wanted for each meal. The lists were surprisingly extensive and catered for several religious constraints, halal, vegetarian and vegan options. There was even a token indication at the level of healthy eating you could maintain; the highest of these having a small red heart printed next to it.

The first time I got to make my own choices I couldn’t seem to fault it. As I had come in part way through a cycle there was some advantage in trying the things that I had been allocated for the rest of the week rather than having to choose. The ‘spares’ as they were known, gave an insight as to what one might avoid in the future if nothing else. Once past the second week of ordering properly I fell into a pattern of the same meals on the same days almost without fail; it raised some questions in my mind to support my questionable mental state but I managed to keep that locked well away This mundane repetition didn’t work for everyone and was clearly not for my pad mate, supported at every opportunity by his constant and consistent complaining.

A general appraisal of the food, after having eaten there for a longer time was, it all could have been hotter, especially if you were towards the end of service. My main gripe was for one of the simplest things they could never ever get right was boiled potatoes; apparently one of the great mysteries of the prison catering world. The simple beasts were either watery mush or bullet like chunks even with the better option being to go for the chips when they had them, even when cold they were better than the other obnoxious offerings.

Curiously the servery was also one of the hot spots for volatile outbursts and rarely because of the food quality or quantity. For reasons I couldn’t readily work out, both petty gripes and serious grievance all came to a head there. Over my time, I witnessed several of these flare ups and they were not pretty events; although sometimes exciting in a brash primeval way. The infrequency was only because they were contained by vigilance and the swift, brutal management of officers who were always on heightened alert at such times.

In terms of general living arrangements especially for my time with this my first pad mate, I tolerated being a ‘slave’ fetching meals for ‘sir’ despite being offered any number of suggestions for ‘the lazy fucker’ by officers and inmates alike. In the great scheme of things, it was no great effort; or so I kept telling myself.

In the early days of our being ‘two’ed up’, one of the more interesting subjects which my curious chum seemed desperate to share was the subject of medication; ‘meds’ as they were conveniently known. Having already guessed there must be a high proportion of prisoners needing one type or another, it was far more extensive than I could have guessed. My general impression was there were a wide range of both psychological and physiological problems amongst the prisoners as well as the full range of addictions which one might easily expect. Many people were obviously hardened addicts; some would just need something to ‘take the edge off’ as they liked to call it but overall, I counted myself very lucky to have no such difficulties and a healthy loathing of medication in general. You might have thought I would feel different after living with a doctor for seven years, but thankfully no. Having already nosed around Dave’s collection when he wasn’t looking, just out of curiosity of course, it didn’t reveal very much in the end; not that I was an expert in these things.

All the legal drugs were dispensed by three degrees of delivery; as were most other medical matters. Twice each day out on the wing there were loud calls for ‘meds’ where those due them were unlocked to go to the small dispensary up on the ‘twos’ to collect them. The second degrees were the prisoners who were only prescribed relatively harmless items and trusted enough to keep them in their cells. These would be ordered and delivered at whatever time scale was allocated but were rare from what I could make out. The final level was for those who either couldn’t get to the dispensary had broken the trust issues or, whose medication was strong enough to warrant having it administered personally by a nurse. Dave was in the latter group in that ‘he couldn’t walk’.

Each day, twice a day he would have something passed to him in a little plastic cup and be watched as he took it. Although I wondered what some of the other things hidden on his shelves were, they turned out to be just everyday pain killers; or so it said on the label at least.

It didn’t take a genius to notice that Dave never actually swallowed his tablets, why I noticed this I didn’t know, I had no real reason to watch him more than out of idle curiosity. Perhaps it was the elaborate, rather theatrical throwing back of the head and sometimes a raucous coughing which rather gave the game away; to me at least. Once the busy and obviously unobservant staff had moved on, he carefully took whatever it was, out of his mouth and secreted it away in various folds of cloths or corners of his bunk. He offered me yet more advice after one of these amusing if farcical events.

“You need to get on the list to see the doctors as soon as you can, tell them you can’t sleep and you feel depressed or you think you might try to do yourself in, that’ll get you all the right meds ready for selling to the others.”

The image which formed from his suggestion was nothing I would have considered even for an instant. Having already twice professed my general sanity and stability of both mind and body when I first came in, I couldn’t change it easily even if I either wanted or needed to. Needing medication was one thing but, to get it for other more estranged reasons, I didn’t think so, no. Call me squeaky clean, a goody two shoes I didn’t care, I was not getting into all that. I didn’t bother to try to explain my feelings.

Without any interruption, he went on to explain exactly what people wanted and needed and, according to him at least, what I might get in return for them; I didn’t save the rather doubtful information. He did touch upon one fanciful option where there was the possibility of having a cosy ‘bunk up’ of the rather stereotypical prison kind, but I was sure I still wouldn’t have gotten involved even for that; not for meds anyway. Dave continued his exposé of the wider subject.

“I never take mine you know, but nobody knows that,” I let him hang onto the small misconception, “I get all sorts of stuff in exchange for them you know, Steve and Jay have them, yes I…..,”

He went off on a verbal ramble once more and I switched off.

Although I didn’t know who these people were, I would get to meet one of them straight after dinner only a few days later.

The meal had been served, consumed and the trays duly collected. There followed the now familiar activity of the click clack of pool balls and excited chatter which was the workers having their association; this was socialising out on the wing before lock up. Those who had been in the workshop during the day were allowed this additional time while we ‘idol’ people didn’t. We would have our out of cell time in the day-time not that I would find it very stimulating.

The flap at our door’s tiny window clicked open and made me jump. It was normally kept closed to keep us separated from the others but now, a rather haggard bloodshot eye peered through and was obviously not that of an officer. It quickly disappeared again and was replaced by a gruff voice through the gap at the hinge side of the door.

“What ‘ave you got for me today Dave boy,” I somehow knew it wasn’t me he was addressing.

The eye returned to the window. This time it must have seen both of us and squinted as it realised I was new.

“Who’s ‘e,” the tone took on a sharp suspicious edge.

“He’s new, don’t worry he’s OK,” I was glad of the accurate assurance, “wait, I’ll get it.”

There was an amount of shuffling below me and some ripping of paper which I couldn’t see without moving position, which I didn’t want to do.

“Give this to our friend will you,” Dave was offering up a twist of newspaper, presumably for me to take from him, “slide it under the door to our friend will you.”

My first instinct was to say I would prefer not to if he didn’t mind despite not working through any possible consequences of a refusal; I would be relying on my gut feeling.

“Come on, be quick mate,” it was the voice at the door again but I continued to hesitate.

“Sorry, can’t you can manage to do it, you must have before?”

I directed the comment to Dave but thought I might be making more of this than I needed.

“Hold on,” I could hear Dave making an excessive effort to move, he didn’t sound too happy either “here.”

He had moved surprisingly quickly to the end of the bunk where I could just see his thin legs dangling out. There was a faint thud where as he threw the small paper packet at the door. It landed near the bottom where there was a larger gap and it received a deft flick of his walking stick to push it through the thin space. Although I hadn’t seen the stick before I wondered if it might constitute a dangerous weapon for my possible indiscretion.

“Thanks mate, I’ll have your stuff for you tomorrow.”

The eye was thanking Dave but looking at me which made me distinctly uncomfortable although morally sound; I did wonder if it was worth the minor victory. Don’t go looking for trouble, which had been the suggestion from the officer the other day, perhaps I had just managed to find some.

Dave soon got over his disgruntlement; perhaps I was not the first person to refuse to help him. He went on to happily tell me that the regular supply of tranquillisers and other strong pain meds would get him all sorts of extras. Despite all his stories I should say that in the three weeks I was in with him, I never once saw anything you could count as an extra come his way. It was very much a one-way street for the traffic and I felt sorry for him, in a small way but glad I managed to stick with my original decision not to get involved.

Further transactions took place regularly. The thought did cross my mind that perhaps, if he was to take the medication himself both his physical and even mental state might have improved; it was never to be. We had at least reached a better understanding of what I was prepared to do in our enforced if unlikely relationship, but more importantly, what I was not.

We applied this new cordiality to the day-to-day maintenance of our cell and, for the most part we seemed to get on OK on that basis. Because I couldn’t do with dirt, I would do most the communal cleaning but would not clear up the more specific mess constantly engulfing him. In return he taught me some card games, I put up with his meandering thought processes and it seemed a far exchange for a relatively quiet life.

What I didn’t put up with was his personal hygiene or rather lack of it. In fairness, I did give him a day or so just to see if his smell was just a local aberration but, in the end, I had to tackle it head on; I don’t know who was the more embarrassed.

“You can’t get a good wash in the hand basin though can you,” he protested, “we’re supposed to get a shower every day you know but,” there it was, again, “I can’t walk, can I?”

I cut him off before he could start on the well exercised band wagon again.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t keep yourself clean though, does it?” I wasn’t going to let it go.

There was only one answer, or so I thought but there was little progress on the matter. Although I knew a little about the showers when I had first come onto the wing and spotted a most excellent piece of tastefully tattooed muscle clad only in a towel.

“Well, I haven’t had a shower have I,” that much was true, not that I actually knew how to go about getting one, “and I don’t have any ‘personal’ problems do I? You just have to try harder.”

To be fair he did at least try, if not exactly harder. Slipping into one of my more diverse chains of thought, I would have happily helped but he had made his feelings very clear about some life styles after the incident of name calling from outside the window; he was obviously not a ‘friend of Dorothy’.

Over time the situation did improve and I was kind enough to stay well out-of-the-way while he did his best to keep himself cleaner. We had ample supply of prison issue soap and basic deodorant for those of us who couldn’t afford to buy better items from the canteen.

Once I had worked out the logistics of my own personal hygiene, I found it was easy enough to have a strip wash every night; although always after my companion had gone to sleep. There were times I considered the opportunity for crude flirting by getting naked in the relative privacy if grotesque intimacy of the cell. Although I had the nerve to do it, I also had the brains to resist such things. Unfortunately, I never felt any of the pad mate’s I was to have over the months would have appreciated any intimacy which was a disappointment if I am honest. Overall, it turned out right to have kept my peculiar imagination and many other fantastical fantasies safely to myself. In fact, keeping most things to myself was a good idea.

Chapter Eight ~ boyhood discoveries and bullies

On the farm, my grandparents lived with us or rather we all lived with them. The family business of coal merchants had started with my great-grandmother and passed down the line and had nearly always been based at this house and the small country holding which went with it. I was part of the fourth generation and unbeknown to us, the last to live there. Mainly because of the busy business, there was just too much going on everywhere that I was. The family, seven of us, various workmen, customers, deliveries, postmen, bakers, butchers, probably a candlestick maker in there at some point in a never-ending stream of humanity. When I was not at school it was all family, housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, sewing, knitting, gardening, electronics, mechanics, it was difficult if not impossible to find space to be left alone if you wanted or in my case, needed to.

The main source of fun was the contents of a bottom draw in one of the sideboards near the table’s refuge had managed to entertain generations of children over the years, my father included; when he was a boy of course. It was always crammed almost to overflowing with papers and pencils, string, elastic bands, and all sorts of other interesting things. It was generally left slightly open in the day so we just helped ourselves. Clearing up was easy, just scoop it all together and slide it away for another day. The ‘bottom draw’ as it was rather uninspiring named, was OK for quite a while, years in fact, even my own boys had the pleasure when they visited their grandparents; oh happy days.

Being surrounded by countryside and country matters, some of my specific interests were easily catered for by animals that were just part of everyday life. Many of those as far as I was concerned were more interesting and often more amenable than many of my fellow human kind. Because of this I seemed to gravitate towards them as a matter of course. They didn’t answer back or tease, they could either tolerated you or leave you alone and all this made very clear without a word needing to be spoken. Why make life difficult was my unrecognisable reasoning but it seemed to fit neatly.

Even before I could walk my love of and interest in animals had started. Evidently, I was a late developer for walking, not that it bothered me at the time obviously. We had a new stone floor in our huge country kitchen, which was smooth and shiny, generally cold to the touch, mottled green in colour and as far as I know, still there. By the time I was old enough to be active but not seeing the need to walk, I had found it much easier to shuffle around on my bottom, the strenuous efforts of balancing on two legs being too much effort for so little gain.

Finding I could get about quite quickly and negotiate the obstacles, it being such a busy place, none of that bothered me very much. Finding refuge under the large table in the middle of it all, our cats too found it easier and I was often joined there and we would play together in safety. A large shaggy dog sometimes joined in but he preferred the warmth of the kitchen range and so most of the time was really no fun at all. We would have other dogs in the future and they would be far better at joining in with more interesting playtime things.

As I started to grow up there were many more things with which to get interested out in a much wider and wilder environment; once I had become more mobile that is. The comparatively large garden was the next expansion in my field of exploration. We had birds in aviaries which were fascinating, they produced babies each spring and were plagued by predators in the winter; the cycle of life was learnt from a very early age. Later on I would keep budgerigars where my pocket-money could be enhanced from selling the babies they produced. Further out from the extremities of the garden though, there were the wide expanses of our fields. They were not very big compared to many of the other farms in the village but, it was a whole new glorious world to a little boy. Once I had progressed to this exciting expanse, my real interest transferred to the larger livestock living happily in blissful ignorance of my attention. They had always been there to watch but sadly out of reach. When I was old enough to be around and amongst them, it was a whole new slice of exciting life for me to experiment in.

The farm was run only as a semi commercial operation, designed more to keep my grandfather busy and not interfere with the running of the main family business as he tended to do. In the early years of my exploration we had both pigs and cattle with the occasional hen or two if the foxes didn’t get them. Most of the livestock was destined for the table in one form or another and sentiment for any of them was discouraged from the very beginning with them described as just commodities, not that I knew what it meant. Despite this early ignorance, the association I made at a very early stage didn’t feel quite like that for me.

Once I was old enough, still only 7 or 8 years old, I would help as much as I could in looking after some of the stock. We kept pigs at that time. It mainly consisted of feeding them in the first instance and cleaning up the resultant mess afterwards. Between all of this ‘fun’ I had the opportunity to run around with tiny piglets playing catch, until the mother had enough and chased me off that is. Her protective instincts meant she could inflict a great deal of damage if she wanted to. My grandfather used to say you could lose a leg and I certainly didn’t want to test the notion however unlikely it sounded.

Every now and again though there were more exciting events. As I wasn’t fully up to speed on where the piglets came from it did always seem to have something to do with a huge boar who would be walked up to our farm from another further down the road. Not knowing the full story of course, the description of it being a very dangerous animal and why I was only allowed to watch its arrival from the safety of an upstairs window only added to the mystery and excitement. It, the boar, looked like the other pigs but had additional ‘bits and pieces’ that were very different in one way or another. Eventually of course I found out it was the ‘daddy’ pig and I could marvel at his distinction with even greater interest. Once he was out of sight in the sheds I was left to imagine why there was so much noise and commotion going on. After it had gone quite again the boar was walked back down the road to his own home. A few weeks later and rather frustratingly, the babies would appear while I was at school or at night so I never did get to see how they arrived; not until much later in life anyway.

We also kept beef cattle at various stages of development. They started off arriving with us as small calves, often replacing some of the larger animals which had gone off to market. Some of those would come back as sides of butchered meat for the freezers. On the days this happened there was a fury of activity in the kitchen with all hands to the pump, saw, knife, grinder, and many other implements. A bewildering array of meat products would roll out, some for treats right away but most put into storage for the months ahead. Being able to see how the animals were constructed was just as interesting as seeing the living ones but once more, I kept any interest to myself for some as yet unknown reason; it was probably to avoid any questions I most likely didn’t have any answers for.

When we had a new batch of calves, they had only just been taken from their mothers and never seemed very happy about it by the amount of noise they made. Just being with them as some sort of friendly distraction was a job I could help with easily. They seemed appreciative as far as I could tell. Being very young they still needed to feed on milk which was a great adventure. Twice a day I would be the chief stirrer of sweet-smelling milk powder into warm water creating a rich creamy drink. It wasn’t always easy job to fit it in around the nuisance of having to go to school but I managed to as often as I could and do the best I could to engineer other opportunities; this include lying about having done homework.

The milk was served to them in deep aluminium buckets with a rubber teat on the bottom presumably to simulate their former mother’s udder. The fact that there was only one teat per bucket instead of the four they would have been used to didn’t seem to matter to the youngsters if there was milk coming out of it. It was a very messy job. The natural instincts for a calf when its suckling is to head butt whatever receptacle the milk comes out of. Although this might sound strange, in a natural environment, this butting stimulates the cow to release the milk more quickly but of course it didn’t affect her very soft and pliable udder. In this new mechanical scenario, it just made the milk slop out over the top where it went literally everywhere. To prevent or rather minimise the mess needed a very hands-on approach, holding the bucket on its cradle while also holding onto the young animal. This was not to stop the sometimes violent action more to anticipate the move. Whatever the practical reasons, just touching these warm living things had a very pleasing feeling connected to it.

The association of people and food meant that when anybody went in to see them, the obvious assumption for the young animals was it was feeding time and they could get very excited which also transferred to me on levels which I didn’t fully understand yet. With eight or ten calves to feed each time, I was more than happy to be encouraged to help.

After a few weeks of feeding from the metallic mock udders it would be time to teach them how to drink from an open bucket instead. This was not just for practical reasons they eventually had to learn how to drink from the water tanks.  The trick to getting them to drink and not suckle was very clever. The instinct for them to suck was assisted by wrapping their long soft tongues round the teat to form an air tight seal. For this new adventure, you had to start off by replacing the teat with your fingers, just two or three of them depending how big your hand was. They never did seem to cotton onto the fact there was no milk in your hand but it didn’t matter. Once they had attached themselves to your hand it was just a case of putting the combination slowly down into the bucket and so into the milk. After the initial shock of being partially submersed, a few spluttered coughs and a nose full of milk, they eventually got the idea. To start with it was a bit scary but with patience and practice it became quite exhilarating and from then on, whether it was feed time or not I used to let them suck on my finger.

The warm wet noses, the gently rasping surface on their prehensile tongues and the delicate suction made some almost indiscernible connection somewhere deep inside my quickly developing body. This was not just an emotional excitement, there was a distinct tightening in my underwear too which also had a very pleasing effect. Although I didn’t understand what it was or have a name for it yet, it seemed to be some sort of unmarked milestone. Life was moving on and I was literally growing into it.

Being part of a large busy family held mixed feeling for me on many different fronts. Not all my involvement in it was bad, far from it. Amongst all the good things I learnt how to pod peas, bake cakes, iron clothes, cook and clean, make and mend all that sort of thing which I enjoyed doing. To feed this enthusiasm but with hindsight, I think I had an annoying habit of constantly asking ‘why’ which often got a less than acceptable response; perhaps I just asked the question too many times. Not getting all the answers I wanted I would often look elsewhere. Although I loved to learn, sometimes there was just so much activity that I wasn’t interested or involved with and I would fulfil my curiosities by looking to just find thing out for myself and for ways to get away from it all.

My greatest personal pleasures would be found outside in the garden and further out in the fields when I was old enough to be allowed that far unsupervised. As long as I let someone know where I was going I would be left to explore, experiment and expand my mind pretty much where and when I wanted to. There was so much to find out. Although not always sticking to being where I said I would be, I would be mostly within the vicinity which seemed good enough. These boundaries and my safe activity got more blurred as my confidence grew which I surmise were my early lessons in time and motion manipulation.

My favourite place to be at this point in my life was down in the farm buildings with the animals. By the time I was allowed out on my own the pigs and piglets had gone; they were too much work for the financial return apparently. Despite this disappointment, we still had small calves in the sheds and large cattle out in the fields; these were only a year or two old but rather too big for me yet. They could be intimidating when they were just being curious but I knew I wouldn’t have stood a chance if they had decided to get too excitable. The young ones inside were more my size and enough of a comfort.

Looking back now, I think the main thing as far as I was concerned was that they were interested in me; I was the object of their interpretation of friendship and affection. Of course, I knew they didn’t have the same emotions as we did but it would do for me; whatever ‘it’ was. The feelings they induced in me were still not fully formed but I knew it had something to do with other more specific personal physical changes I had started to notice.

Hair had started to appear all over my body. This was all just natural development but I didn’t know that at the time although I knew it was tied in with things I was feeling in general but I had no way of working out what it all meant as a complete package. Asking questions would have been the obvious thing but who was there to ask? Nobody I felt able to anyway. There was no one I could even compare myself to either. Although I had often tried to catch my brother in some state of undress, we were a very careful family where that sort of thing was concerned anyway. After the débâcle in the playground with the naked bottom I had even considered another ‘accidental’ incident but with a boy instead despite the risks. Fortunately, I think I was already talking myself out of such things before they could happen. In this case, it was probably a good thing. In the end, I just let life happen and hope it was not an abnormality or an illness. Any pain was matched by unusual pleasure so I thought, long may it continue.

Being the observant sort, I did start to take specific note of when these developments happened and under what circumstances. Finding that I often woke up in a morning with a stiff willy was strange at first but not unpleasant. The occasional sticky mess in my pyjamas was concerning but covering it up was not too bad to deal with. Initially out of embarrassment but eventually out of practicality I was more concerned with hiding the mess than understanding the cause. Several excuses like spilt milk or toothpaste accidents developed and naïvely I didn’t think I was ever found out; it was never mentioned if I was. With practice, I could deter the intrusive and often aching willy with a few flicks of my finger or a quick if painful squeeze in the right place. If I wasn’t quick enough at least I could catch the sticky liquid in a tissue. Often it just meant that I needed to have a quick wee, if I could get to the bathroom without being seen with it in hand that is.

More concerning were the similar feelings which built up when I was around the boys at school or watching our workmen flexing themselves throwing heavy bags of coal about. One of them lived on the farm with us and the day he came into the house in a very skimpy vest and with his head shaved, I nearly vomited and my seemingly uncontrollable erection put me in a state of inner panic.

He had always been interesting to me although I still hadn’t labelled the sensation I got when he was around. Publicly I latched onto was his artistic ability, he could draw and paint like no one else I had ever known. Obviously, there was more to it than that but of course nothing ever happened to clarify my feelings other than my persistence in peering around corners and out of secluded windows at every opportunity I could manufacture. Alan with the perfect head and fascinating body, if only I had been twenty-five years older. From what I know now, his shaved head was the antithesis of one of my real passions, haircuts, although still, disappointingly, nothing would happen. Back the real world. Being in with the calves had a very similar effect and it was here where I felt freer to enjoy it. Their innocence and interest plus their tendency to still head butt, if you weren’t watching, could be painful although overall, it was a new world and I was getting much braver in it.

A gentle game of who could push whom around the most was an amusement they seemed to enjoy; if enjoyment was an animal concept. It was never more than a rather rough variation of tag but when with other children, similar games didn’t create such interesting problems to resolve as I found in this scenario. The running around, pushing and bunting, sucking at my fingers always ended up with a sticky mess somewhere; most of the time it was in my underwear. Not having the same excuses as the morning emissions, just how I was going to hide it or deal with it I didn’t know, not to start with anyway. It was the best fun I had had, ever, and I didn’t want to give it up, I just needed a plan to deal with the aftermath.

Still not understanding quite what made the thing work in the first place, I used a process of elimination to try to find out. It didn’t happen when I was concentrating on work. It didn’t seem to matter what clothes I was wearing. It did always happen when I looked at certain people. It didn’t happen around girls at school but it most often started around the boys. So, it must be a combination of things and I would just need to be extra vigilant to work it out more fully and so maintain and even increase the pleasure.

With the benefit of practice, it was not very difficult to be alone but also not to be considered as being up to anything I shouldn’t have been. The next time I was able, I let the experimentation in my trousers play out with a more focused approach. As soon as I felt something explosive was about happen I made a fumbling attempt to access my pants and release the stiff young rod which was straining against my underwear. The first-time I was far too late but if anything, attempt at access made it more intense than before. Better luck next time perhaps? It didn’t impede my fun with my bovine ‘playmates’ but a mental note was lodged for the next time I was alone with them; I had to be ready much sooner.

That time came the next afternoon and my willy was soon stiff and getting harder but more difficult to manoeuvre without hurting myself. I only managed to expose it just in time as the chaos squirted copiously. Interesting, I had never seen it happen before, it was odd but rather nice at the same time. Trying to work out the mechanics of the episode, I looked down at myself slowly getting more limp but still swollen enough to hold easily in hand. A though flashed up as how it reminded me of something else. Despite the stiffness fading, the inquisitive noses of the calves were still snooping around me as they often did. They must have recognised it and were only naturally investigating what was presented to them; soft, pink, tubular; a mad idea flashed up but was lost before I could understand it fully. From somewhere up in the main yard there was a noise and I tucked myself away, zipped up and clambered out of the pen just in case my distraction had put my security at risk; it hadn’t this time but it was a narrow escape.

Continuing to help, sometimes too enthusiastically perhaps, it became an accepted norm that I was to be found around the farm buildings for a lot of my free time. We, the growing calves, and I, carried on our personal association and I worked out ways of having even more fun.

They had liked pushing each other around and if I was careful I could easily join in the fun. Having mastered the art of extracting my erection in good time, it had taken away much of the worry of hiding messy underwear. It was after this step change I managed to work out how I could have more direct interaction with my previously rather autonomous member. Careful man-handling could keep the excitement and engorgement going rather longer even after the squirting of substances had finished or, if I was quick enough, hold on to myself during the last moments and feel the full throbbing pleasure which built to the climax of the rather extravagant event. It was during one of these early interventions, I discovered a new possibility building on my earlier but, to date, avoided thoughts.

My visualisation was a little scary in the first instance but not enough to stop me wanting to try it out. Surely if I took my willy out early in the proceedings I could hold onto it as it quickly stiffened to its fascinating if still relatively small size although it was getting bigger seemingly by the day.

With my fingers wrapped round it but managing to keep two of them sticking out down its length, I could create a safe but hopefully inviting manifestation of the teat which the still relatively young animals had been so keen on. Fully erect I was still only big enough to fit in the palm of my hand but I could see the potential of something; or was it rather the hope. Anyway, with these fingers extended my friends might think it was feeding time. I was not wrong. Having already discovered the added pleasure of holding onto myself and its exciting possibilities, I could only dream what this process could possibly be like if it worked? Cautiously offering my hand to one of the more curious noses, unfortunately its first instinct was to head-butt me thinking it was going to get a drink. I shouted, it jumped, I staggered away. Not knowing exactly what damage I had done to myself, I learnt one valuable lesson in that it was one way of getting rid of a ‘stiffy’. Although my groin ached a lot, there didn’t seem to be any external damage and after a good check all around the assaulted member started to thicken back up, for round two perhaps. Should I try it again, the prospects were now too much of a lure not to.

Being more careful by several degrees, I managed to get closer to a result this time without the violence by the tactical use of my free and protective hand. It was frighteningly fantastic but also too much too fast and I exploded almost immediately. The eager young thing hadn’t found any milk which may have come as a bit of a surprise but, it didn’t seem to mind the alternative and there was little if no harm done. I was beside myself. Of course, the downside was this was not something that I could to do all the time. Despite the magnitude of the event it was a constant disappointment that it might take half a day until it could be ready to have it happen again; a few hours if I was lucky sometimes. If nothing else I learnt to be patient which was another quickly developing trait of mine. It was soon possible to do it hands free which was thrilling beyond any possible words.

As my combatants were getting bigger and stronger, the games of chase were still a good laugh but it was also getting more interesting in other areas. They would push you about with growing vigour and I found, purely by chance, if I opened my knees a little they would try to push through the gap. The first time it happened, with their relative size to me meant they only just fitted through but I gained the surprising benefit of firm brushing up against the insides of my thighs. Their curly coats proved to be pleasantly abrasive. The pattern of my arousal was being pieced together, slowly but magnificently.

As far as my general erections were concerned, sometimes I would find myself deliberately not releasing the monster from its often tedious constraints of clothing before the final explosion. The combined course rubbing of my playmates seemed to create a significantly greater surge to the final pulsating end. Although there were the messy clothes to deal with because of this method, the heightened sensation it supplied was extraordinary.

This type of experiment helped develop other satisfying but safe ways of playing with myself as well as the calves. Combinations of; leaning over and rubbing myself on their backs as they pushed through; sitting down slightly to give a warm sensation through my buttocks and rubbing my exposed parts directly onto the heat of the carefree playmates. Lessons in restraint were also on the agenda as exploding too quickly was getting rather frustrating and I couldn’t always find the patience to wait for the resurgence.

The rubbing exercises developed themselves well and I found that by putting just enough resistance into my legs I could sometimes hold but not hurt. The animals didn’t seem to mind any of this more advanced play and even appeared to line up for it sometimes; maybe it was something only in my head. With this carefully developed and controlled action we progressed onto more enhance fun.

The most frustrating problem was what to do with messy clothing more frequent as my experimentation progressed. By carefully having other items sneaked out of the house under my jumper or down my jeans I generally had clean things to change into after play. The dirty items could be pushed into the washing basket when no-one was looking or hidden for the next time when a few crusty bits of dried residue didn’t matter.

One of the nice things about warm-blooded creatures is that the time of year or weather didn’t seem to matter to them. Summer was the best time though when I could wear shorts which obviously gave more direct skin on fur contact where its full potential soon became joyously apparent. Just occasionally I would leave my jeans and my pants off altogether and get the full sensory package right up against my soft bottom and fast developing plumbs now fully dropped into their tight little scrotum. This of course solved the clothing problem completely but added the dangers of being caught semi naked. Despite knowing this would be impossible to talk my way out of, the risk added such an intense sensation which it was more than worth the challenge.

With a wide range of possibilities now in hand, I began to use the games to investigate other things. One was obviously discovering what it was that was spurting out of me each glorious time. Now adept, proficient even at manipulating myself as the magic worked its wonder, I could catch the warm sticky fluid in the palm of my hand. Having long decided it was nothing life threatening I wondered what it was for, what it was made of, even what it tasted like. Never being one for not knowing things, I soon discovered that it didn’t seem to be anything very much at all and it tasted of less, just a little sharp and sometimes salty. Still not understanding why the little ones seemed to like it when they licked at me, it wasn’t until many years later that I worked out they liked the salty aspect. Although I didn’t find it either bad or good myself, it did solve a messy inconvenience whoever got to have it.

All this activity, as exciting as it was, was not the only thing I did with my time; although it did seem an important thing at the time. For the greater part of the free day I indulged in household activities as I was expected and have been grateful for learning many useful skills. My love of learning was genuine but if I am honest I also used it as a rather convenient smoke screen for everything else which was rather more covert. Being seen to be interested, helping and not being any bother to anyone, I could stay well off the radar when I wanted or needed to get away to my own rather more private agenda. It didn’t seem to matter if it was for personal fun or just to be on my own, I manufactured many standardised situations to suit and would continue to do so whenever I needed it; both then and in later years.

As I steadily grew up, more unfortunate matters were developing. Eventually it seemed that I was old enough to be legitimately beaten up my brother; only when no one was watching of course. He was four years older than me and more of the ‘manly man’ type, nothing like me at all. As a defence strategy, all I could do was try to avoid him, as I avoided so many other things. Because of my perceived need for separation, I didn’t mix with other kids in the village either, which although self-inflicted. I didn’t fully understand what I was doing but learnt to deal with it in my own ways.

On a more positive note I had started to learn to play the piano which certainly helped with being a ‘goody two shoes’ but on the down side made me appear to be different, again. Despite the disadvantages amongst my few peers, I did enjoy the music making very much indeed; as I always would.

As a family unit, we still had this ridiculous village ‘status’ thing that, frustratingly, I couldn’t work out or seem to escape from; I did wonder at one point if it was all in my head. My reaction to it, real or imagined was to compensate where I could by celebrating some of my personal differences and privately revelling in the knowledge I was set apart from many if not most of the other kids around me. All this was kept tightly concealed of course, I wasn’t confident enough to face up to it. Strangely and sometimes disturbingly I fully understood the inconsistency of both complaining about being excluded but still not apparently happy when I was around other people. It might have been the people who were the problem perhaps; it couldn’t possibly be me? Those who I did mix with were rarely the ones I would have chosen and based on my new-found enlightenment, were ever likely to be such.

The school bus was the most devastating example of this problem; I had taken the eleven plus and moved up to the lesser of the secondary schools by this time. It was the getting to school which spoilt things for several years in the early stages of the experience.

Living out where we did in the countryside, there was a school bus laid on to get us there. It was only, but exactly, two and three-quarter miles from our driveway to the school gates. The transport was free if you lived more than three miles away. Not a problem I thought, my parents would just pay, I didn’t think it was much in monetary terms but no, that was too simple and in my father’s eyes at least, both excessive and grossly unfair. The closest pick-up point in the village was further up the road from our house, away from the school and ironically just at the three-mile boundary. Once this and other significant facts had been established, a protracted discussion went on between my parents and the local authority; in short, they didn’t think they should pay if I had to walk out of the exclusion zone. It was all the same to me but no, they were not going to shell out hard-earned monies if they didn’t feel they had to. The eventual compromise was that they still had to pay but, the bus would stop outside our house to pick me up and drop me off each day.

Standing at the roadside each weekday morning, the other students were within plain sight at the other pick up point but I would have no choice but to get on and off outside my house. I did try sneaking off up the road once to join them but was soon spotted from the house and ordered back to stand, much to my chagrin, feeling like a real dick. I had been instantly labelled as ‘special’.

From the very first day on the coach there might as well have been a bull’s eye painted on my back not helped in any way by being the last to be picked up; I had no option but to endure the daily, ritual humiliation. The fact that the bus but was always full, almost over full by that point didn’t help one bit. If I had friends they were only of a fluid and formless sort who when in this hostile environment there was no way of them showing any allegiance to the targeted ‘special one’. My already limited associations were almost nullified by the trouble which developed around my wholly unwarranted notoriety.

On any typical morning, having squeezed my rapidly growing frame through the tight mass of bodies, the only spaces left were always well away from the lady escort who always seemed oblivious to anything which went on there anyway. Having run the gauntlet, on reaching the back of the bus, I would be confronted by the persistent trouble makers waiting for their fix of fun. Every morning I hoped for a space near the front but it hardly ever happened. Although the term ‘special’ had been with me for what seemed a very long time for so many different reasons, most I hadn’t minded; sticks and stones and all that. Here in the crush and chaos, what should have offered a pleasurable enforced physical closeness with my peers, I sadly stood no chance at gaining anything but pain.

It was the time when you still paid for your school dinners, day-to-day, in cash. Ironically, I was not ‘special’ enough to get free meals, more’s the pity. Of course, my tormentors soon knew this and although I was not the only one who had been fleeced, it seemed I was an eminently easy target. On my way out of the house each morning I would pick up the plastic bank bag with just the right money in it, slip it securely into my inside pocket knowing full well that there was little chance of it making its way to the dining hall. Except for the first time I never made any fuss that I can remember. Other kids had dealt with it all in the past and it was just my turn having already seen the results of making a stand for yourself. Bruises were hard to hide and an empty feeling in my stomach during the afternoons was not. When I got home, I would generally lie about what we had eaten for lunch, that is if I couldn’t manage to avoid the questions altogether. At least my avoidance strategy was being honed by the activity, despite the appeal of having another boys’ hands rummaging through my pockets week in, week out. As long as the bullies got what they wanted it was all relatively manageable, tolerable even. The trouble was a slightly bigger problem was looming as-yet unseen on the horizon.

At the start of one new school year, the relief of the long summer holidays was lost and the school dinner money system was changed. Meals would be paid for at the start of each term and directly to the school. What was going to happen now? Would I be left alone if I had nothing to hand over? That would be have been great but sadly it was not to be. Once the loss of revenue was noted it took only a short time to decide what I would have to supply in its place. While the details were formulating it was considered great fun to belittle my appearance, my size, my clothes, or anything else they thought would make good sport instead. My hopes of any relief were lost.

Style and fashion had never been something our family was up on but we were always clean and tidy but despite always leaving the house in the morning with all the proper uniform, my tie tied correctly, my clean shirt tucked neatly in, I always seemed to look like a scarecrow by the time we all alighted at the school gate.  The trend for haircuts was to wear it long and generally in an unkempt look, I couldn’t even get that right. I was developing an interest in hair styles even then but it didn’t seem to help with my problem. My father had always used Brilcream, a throwback to his days in the RAF and of course I had to try it, like it and so use it regularly; at least I tried. Many times, I tried to emulate other men’s looks; I never quite managed the smart suave sophisticated style which my father always had. This tonsorial fopar, amongst my many other failings, became the principal reason for my classroom nickname, ‘the greasy slime’; I railed against it every time I heard it and yet did nothing to get away from it. If that wasn’t enough my obvious weight problem became another easy target along with my dress sense and inarticulate attempts at any kind of retort. In the end, it felt as if I could do nothing more than live with it.

Back in the blitzkrieg of the school bus, not having any money allowed me to get away with only the infliction of just verbal abuse and a bit of roughing up now and again; I was happy I didn’t get the full beating others had in the past. The lull in proceedings wasn’t going to last for long. Instead of the steady stream of cash, they had been looking for an appropriate replacement to start with. Anything would do, I lost books, a few pieces of equipment, pens, rulers, compasses, some expensive, some trivial but none of it seemed to be enough to satisfy their febrile minds. Most of these missing items were easy to explain away compared with the occasional tear in my shirt, writing on my blazer or the disappearance of items from my little used gym kit. Sometimes you could see these items hanging from the hedgerow where they had flown out of the bus window. Although I managed to explain all sorts of things away over the many months, it got to be more difficult all the time.

My physical size, obesity as it was although never spoken of, was not helped by an unsubstantiated insistence that I needed to be fed all the time. It was something which we as a family had always indulged in, food, food, and yet more food. Early excuses that my so-called ‘puppy fat’ would soon disappear apparently did not raise any concerns and I just keep eating, a growing boy, needs lots of energy, all sorts of hokum and nonsense. To this barren end, I had open access to and was supplied with numerous treats, just in case I got hungry before lunch or on the way home or anytime really. In addition, each morning I would help myself from a large brass bowl in the lounge, Mars bars, Topic, Crunchy, Bounty; it seemed like every type of confectionery known to man was available. With this on top of whatever I was openly given. It was this excess of bounty which became my antagonists’ new currency.

You might have thought this was an easy even acceptable option, I got to eat less junk food and they stayed off my case but oh no, that was far too much to expect. Cash had been divvied up between the gang relatively easily; now, just one or two chocolate bars didn’t divide up so well between the group. This meant I had to supply more, and more, and then, more. In the end, I had great trouble disguising where the household supply was disappearing to each week. Of course I lied about eating it all even though no one actually saw me eat very much, nobody ever questioned the fact I could have even eaten the amount which went missing; I would have been hospitalised if I had. Despite this general malaise at home, in the end on the bus it got just too much for me to cope with and without knowing quite how I did it, I stopped it, dead. At least I thought I had anyway.

Thinking I had been cleaver my arms were very sore from the thumping I received on the first morning. Suffering it all in silence I eventually just melted into the school day. Knowing I should have felt some pride my resistance, having anyone share in my small glory would have meant having friends; there was no-one. Being invisible was nothing new or difficult and I managed to keep out of the way of any other potential repercussion between lessons. At lunch time the game was up.

The head bully boy supported by his rather unattractive henchmen confronted me in the playground well out of sight of any staff. Despite it being no real surprise, I panicked when a pair of scissors appeared from his pocket the blades glinting in the sunlight. He grabbed my tie and I waited for the pain and the blood. His bad breath whispered sickly into my ear that I needed to pay more attention to getting them what they wanted and not being such a sad sick bastard. He pulled his face away and sneered grotesquely as he hacked my tie right through just below the knot. The small ugly group evaporated into the background.

Uniform was very strict at that time and I only got through the afternoon by saying I had lost my absentee tie somewhere in the lunch break. When I got home, I had to use the same excuse.

Using one of my brother’s old ties the next morning but still with no chocolate I was very determined on the outside, while bricking it on the inside. My arms were even more sore that day. When I was pinned up against the brick wall later I was thinking I would feel the cold steel. Fortunately, it was only the tie, again. That would be the last warning I would be getting, apparently. The teachers fell for the lost tie line again but my mother didn’t.

In the busy kitchen at home I was grilled about it for what seemed like hours. With no plausible explanation, I had to clarify matters for my father when he had finished work; this was almost unheard of as my mother normally dealt with this sort of thing. Thinking I had fudged my way out of it even to my sire, I was rather disappointed to find that it was not going to be ignored this time. Getting more concerned by the hour wasn’t helped by my not getting on the bus the next morning; I was taken to school instead by my parents.

Being a good student generally I had been fortunate never to have seen the inside of the headmaster’s office other than to help with some menial project. This was different, this was serious. Plainly, I was made to tell him what had happened and his normally quiet, pleasant, leadership style changed to the one which he reserved for such injustices.

Having only given up one name, the offending student was summoned to the office and the matter was discussed with him there in front of us all; I didn’t know who was more embarrassed. His only semi-literate protesting wouldn’t constitute a discussion but later that morning, once my parents had left, he received several strokes of the cane. It was not the first time he had heard the whoosh and felt its sting. Although I didn’t get to witness the event, to add insult to the injury he was told to produce two new ties for me by the end of the week. He did produce something but it was just the half of another one of mine which he cut off the very next day. He left the school very soon after, for good.

As with many bullies they rarely work alone and when the beast loses its head, the rest generally fall aside helpless; I was lucky that this was how it fell for me. Although that small part of my life was much better, I didn’t get away from the verbal abuse about my hair and clothing and of course I still couldn’t shake any of the derogatory nick names. In fact, it probably all got rather worse in many ways but I had managed to develop a thick and thickening skin which is where I think it all started. My splendid isolation and I must have found it beneficial if not mandatory for survival from then on.

About twenty years later I saw one of the former bully boys at a wedding reception. Fortunately, he didn’t recognise me but, for just a fleeting moment, I considered asking him how he thought things had worked out for us all; for whatever reason, I couldn’t be bothered.

With the worst of the daily problems at school solved, I could enjoy more of the time between lessons. Although I still didn’t do very much socialising or integration, I did much less looking over my shoulder. My avid attentions could be directed to more pleasant things; by that I mean people. By my mid-teens, I had accepted I could admire boys and sometimes older men and enjoy the pleasant feelings which went with it. While still not fully understanding what it was I was getting, I was beginning to appreciate it might have been acceptable for someone to feel this way.

The thing which was becoming more obvious was that, my peers and I had hormones which were confusing the boundaries and expectations of all personal interaction. Boys were teaming up one on one with girls, girls were cooing and fawning over the rather obvious good boys, boys were being all macho and bold in front of prospective conquests; I didn’t have a clue where I should put myself in this maelstrom of pheromones and burgeoning stubble. One thing was certain though, there was no one else who seemed to have any of the same feelings or indulgences that I did.

What I did decide in the end was I should keep out of any line of fire, expect nothing to happen and just absorb as much of life as I could. With all this information, I could go home and do whatever I needed to satisfy my developing excesses. So, having taken most of the adverse personal issues out of the equation I could enjoy and indulge myself in other ways. At school this was limited to allowing myself to look at my developing classmates, often wish they could be my real ‘mates’, but at least finesse my voyeurism skills in the dubious process.

Fashions, they came and went, Oxford bags (trousers), platform shoes, shirts with huge collars, Doc Martin boots and shoes, jackets worn inside out and many other wonderful things; none of which I had of course. There were also all the physical developments. For my self-preservation, I just blanked most of mine out in favour of watching other people who seemed to grow up almost as you shyly contemplated them. It was a complicated time and sometimes made more difficult because I couldn’t help making direct comparisons with my own inadequacies.

Some things had started to become rather more prominent than others and many of those have stuck with me over the many years. Haircuts have always been the things of both bountiful beauty and secret pain. Thankfully they had become more valued and intently managed by many of their wearers and were evolving into an integral part of current fashion. Knowing I had always had held an unfathomable fascination for boys’ hair in particular, my main concern was ending up looking an idiot but it was obviously something which I couldn’t avoid. Consequently, all the neat short back and sides, carefully combed quiffs, sculptured waves, sharp partings, and creative use of bleach, made it an uneasy and troubling time to be me. Ridiculously I was still sporting the same loose, lank, greasy mop of once white blond, but fast becoming mud coloured; the offensive if accurate nick name stuck for many years because of it.

One rather unprepossessing morning we assembled in our home room for registration as usual when my stomach turned and I felt literally as if I was going to be sick. One of the boys walked into class with a short, smooth, ‘suede head’ cut. I was agog, jaw fully dropped, the works. For anyone who doesn’t remember, it was not exactly a skin head, only the rough lads had ventured into that whereas this was perfectly cropped to about an eighth of an inch long all over. He was already a stunning looking boy, fit, active, popular, but this, this was just too much. It was the sort of thing you just wanted to reach up and touch; if you were me that is. Of course, I didn’t, it would have been a death sentence, but he made that day and many others after, a mixture of utmost pleasure and sickening envy; I can still retrieve the image of Derek Thompson from my mental box of such things if I ever feel the need.

Sports at school were the most difficult, obviously. In orders to take what I personally wanted from the lessons which was not the exercise, it was often difficult without taking part. With this problem, I had to develop very specific ruses with the battles attached to the double gym period twice a week, I lost so many sports kits, real or contrived, it got beyond a joke. One saving grace was I had an ally with a similar problem. A problem in as much as he was as big as me and equally without confidence; that was as far as it ever went. We often spent the twice weekly drudgery cleaning the changing rooms or sorting out the football team’s often dirty and always enticingly stinking kit; not very glamorous but easier than looking monstrous in action on the field and coming last at everything. Despite this low-ranking alternative, there were still all the benefits of watching the post period showering and the restoration to beauty that went on before returning to the safety of the academic world.

Of course, there were times when I was made to take part, it was generally achieved having to wear kit taken from lost property; I still try to block out the humiliation of such albeit rare events. Amazingly, I remember having to take a shower with any of the other boys only half a dozen times at most but, they were just too difficult to cope with in so many ways; they are hard to think about even now. Because of these potential and literal horrors, I often went on to the next lesson with just a wipe down with a damp towel, which was another thing that did me few favours in the general popularity stakes.

To allow myself to cope, all these highs and lows got carefully packed away at the end of the day, haircuts, people I had crushes on, sports events, gym changing rooms, teachers, clothing, and any illicit interaction to be witnessed behind the bike sheds or the big oak tree. Although I was almost never actually part of these, as you might have already guessed, I did keep close tabs on them just the same. The better looking of the boys were obviously the most difficult but because of, if not despite of, my indefinable status that sometimes actually worked to my advantage; the grief I did get when caught out was, on the whole, worth it. In hindsight if I had faced up to the problems I was developing then, I might have been able to do something about them but, not really knowing what I was or wasn’t doing correctly, I simply couldn’t. Although I loved schooling, the lessons anyway, it was rather more luck than effort that I did only reasonably well in most subjects but shone at nothing specifically.

Things in general were not helped by what I perceived as an indifference towards me at home. Now of course I know it was all just me and my eccentricities rather than anybody’s lack of care of concern. Although I know now I took many things completely out of context, mainly for my own sad advantage. Silly things like my mother’s hatred of having mirrors in the house helped me to hide any sight of my growing into a grotesque parody of my ideal image and I even managed to warp the regular energy-saving crusades by my father as good excuses for me to dress and undress in the dark. These insignificant things on their own were rather inane but when combined with my fanciful and vivid imagination became a bizarre set of excuses to suit the perception of my many failings. At least now I understand my actions better even if on the odd occasion, I fail to stop them from developing in the first instance which I still do despite being more content in my own skin and four or five stones lighter.

I was only at the early stages of developing my little ‘mental boxes’ as I called them, but they were all proving to be very useful. In my world, I just grouped things together and store them away for whenever I needed them. It was no different for either my personal, public, and private feelings; I had many sized boxes for many diverse things.

Chapter Seven ~ reminisce, to save your sanity

My superficial involvement in prison life so far had told me very little about its workings and I was determined not to let my imagination run away as it could so easily do. Based on what I had seen in television programmes, none of the experiences so far were too much of a surprise but, there had to be more to it than that. Patience and a little faith was all I hoped I might need. Hopefully I could rely on my fast and proficient formulation of coping strategies to get me through almost anything along with separation techniques I had successfully developed over the years. The dichotomy of life was, always had trouble where areas overlapped. Given a preference I would have been in a cell on my own of course but in an odd way I didn’t want to be alone. Having no choice here, all I wanted to do was work out the best way to share a space but keep myself separate. Based on only scant knowledge, I knew I would probably have to be with other prisoners so I needed ways of being safe from what I had seen of either abuse or unwitting exploitation.

The wittering from the bunk below me was in full flow again. It was difficult to work out if this was his natural state of being manic, unstable, or even if he was just lonely. He had started to go over his earlier comments again about our neighbours in the yard so I broke in on it to stem the waffle.

“How long have you been here?”

I had gone for a non-threatening and open question to test the waters.

“It must be months now, even if I had done it I wouldn’t ay got this long, I told um…”

Before he went through the whole contorted mess I knew it would be, I realised I had to be more careful about how I posed my questions. To save the reader I will refrain from detailing his accent in the vernacular, I had a hard-enough time to translate it in real time let alone share it intelligently here.

After letting him run for a while I attempted an interruption to at least get some sort of time line into the proceedings. The tale of woe seemed to lack any structure and many of the proffered facts were not very interesting anyway.

What was interesting was, according to him this is, he had been far more physically active when on the outside. It was easy to believe as he openly admitted to several of the rather mysterious, if not fictitious ailments that had keep him out of work and on benefit. There were snippets of stories about his dogs of which he had several of them, I think. Friends or family was after looking them, or not at all in some variations of the story. They were various large breeds he seemed to have put together regularly for pups which were sold on; I had a keen interest in dogs and we always had them at home, on the farm that is. It was something I had always wanted later in life but had never been able to justify the responsibility either when I was married or afterwards. Back to the present, curiously they were the first things Dave and I might have had in common. Unfortunately, my efforts to get him to elaborate on the subject became a losing battle. Despite having my own private reasons for the interest, I didn’t think it was a good idea to share those small pleasures with him just yet.

Despite his very animated recounting of the story, none of it sounded plausible and I was glad I had not the one to try to put together some form of defence in court. The main reason for being locked away for such a long time was that he was not going to plead to something he hadn’t or couldn’t have physically done. The reason he kept up this obviously invented disability in here started to become clearer as he had to stick to the story or he had no defence at all. Sex with a minor, gross indecency, supplying minors with alcohol, benefit fraud, the list would be endless. At this point, I started to lose interest as he was repeating things and it was clear that I wasn’t going to sway him back onto more interesting subjects for the time being.

To help block him out I lay back and retreated into my own thoughts considering the plain fact that I couldn’t take too much of the moral high ground. It would be unfair if not impossible to hold any valid opinion of his difficulties, or I suspected many of the other inmates; those who are without sin and all that.

The difficulty was, I could see things from both sides just as I could in so many other situations and, rather perversely, argue both at the same time. Within this strange dichotomy, I could appreciate extreme behaviours but at the same time be repulsed by them all within the same thought space. My own illegal exertions had no specific similarity to Dave’s as far as I could tell and they involved very different subjects but, it resulted in our over simplistic labelling of ‘sex offender’. Once tagged with this stark demarcation I knew it would be impossible to shake it off and re-enter general society, however major or minor offences were. A line had been crossed and there would be no way back.

Despite this often spurious misrepresentation, it was hard to accept the label. Unlike my fellow intern, I could never have involved a child directly but had taken pleasure from looking at pictures of exactly such things. Further I could never deliberately induce anyone with alcohol but longed for the freedom from inhibition I knew it could produce. The truth was, I was no better than anyone else on this side of the wall and that barred me from throwing any metaphorical stones. No one would ever trust me with anything anymore however good I might have been at it, no more helping, no more supporting, no more loving; my world was at an end. A voice from the darkness was calling me and I tried to get my brain onto a healthier subject and pull away from the edge. For some reason the mini whirlpool of feelings sired up a vague memory of the stories from Sunday school days; it had latched onto the ‘sin’ reference.

Sunday school; I hoped the topic was at least safer for the moment. Sunday school, the only other time outside normal school days when I at least got to try to be friends with some of the other village kids. Participating in it religiously each week was something I was expected to do; it seemed that way anyway not that I ever questioned the matter. I had no memory of either of my siblings going to it but they were each somewhat older than me of course. In the early weeks, I didn’t quite get the significance of anything which was going on in and around church but I liked the stories, the singing, some drawing and of course the colouring in. We also had little books to collect colourful picture stamps each week, all with a different part of a bible story on it. I often volunteered to hand these out but only because I get the first pick of the sheet to fill my book without duplicates.

The other most notable thing for me was that it was a place where I didn’t get picked on by any of the others. This was a great bonus although I still didn’t feel any more of an integral part of the group either. The only kudos I got was because attending was what was expected of me, I seemed to get some brownie points at home which was always a good thing.

Eventually, as I got older I would go on to lead Sunday school, oh the power I had, or not as it turned out and eventually I would run the whole thing. This included rounding up the kids each week, all five of them at the end but, it was ‘the thing to do’; always ‘the thing to do’. Never what I really thought I wanted to do, it eventually turned into more of a shroud of decency and social involvement which conveniently seemed to hide my growing, splendid isolation.

In general life, there were so many everyday situations where I could see myself slipping aimlessly through, feeling one thing, saying another, doing whatever I did because it was ‘the thing to do’. Deep down I was just hiding away in my own deeply distorted solitary world. Something poked me in the ribs, metaphorically of course. This thinking back wasn’t working and I was starting to get maudlin again. Felling that I was right on the edge of losing my composure, one of my inner voices was doing its best to rescue me again, find some balance and keep it together. Outside this tumultuous mental world, Dave was still wandering in his own strange landscape. In the harsh light of normality, my body told me I needed a cup of tea; obviously, I would have to make it.

While I was waiting for the kettle to boil I stared outside once more and considered what else might go on in the yard. It had gone quiet again on the lower bunk and I risked breaking into Dave’s grey seedy world to try and glean more useful practical information on our facilities.

“You said we wouldn’t get any association today,” I didn’t wait to see if he was listening or not, “how often do we get to be out of the cells?”

“We’re supposed to get some exercise every day, outside for an hour or just out on the wing, I don’t …,” I quickly cut him off before the walking thing slipped back in.

“How do we get to know when it might happen?”

“That’s the thing, you don’t. You can try and guess when it should be but the screws are the ones who tell you when and that can be any-time, It says in the rules…”

Sensing another denouncement, I switched off but this information didn’t sound very encouraging. Seeing little if any advantage in making a fuss about things, especially as I didn’t know what was real and what was fanciful yet, I had to let it go.

The kettle had managed to boil in this short time; the benefits of such a small device. It was also about the total length of time I could rely on my companion for any meaningful conversation. He had drifted off again to his rambling wilderness and I got on with making the tea.

One of the biggest lessons I had to remember in here was to think well ahead and hang onto things as they became available, just in case they didn’t again. We seemed to have all the basics for day to day life but perhaps they wouldn’t be there at the precise moment you might want them. Tea bags were a case in point, I hadn’t asked this time but just helped myself to two bags from the cache I found stored cleanly in a small plastic bag. Doubting Dave knew exactly what he had and what he didn’t, it shouldn’t matter in the end. This planning strategy recalled the slices of bread which had gone out with the lunch tray perhaps they might have been another thing to have. Perhaps I needed to keep anything we had in excess? Was it practical, was it even allowed? The entire how and where I could possibly keep things would at least occupy my mind. My companion would have known but it risked another long denunciation and so I decided I would work it out for myself.

Filtering his comments through one of my many mental barriers, I was now only half listening to him most of the time just in case there was anything interesting or useful falling from his lips. He had gone over his pet problems again but with no further details and the female subjects were well outside my area of interest. He did catch me unawares though as I handed him his mug of weak, milky, sweet tea.

“What you in for then?”

Having spent many years avoiding giving answers to questions where I didn’t really need to, I had so far never considered the practicalities of such a plan of action in here. Being ‘banged up’ as they call it, with someone I couldn’t avoid, I struggled to think of anything which sounded even remotely plausible on the criminal scale of ‘not very much’.

“It’s all a bit of mess, a mistake really, nothing much, anyway I’m only on remand.”

It was all I could come up with on the spot, I was disappointed in myself but perhaps it had been suitably vague to dissuade him from asking more.

“You’d better have a good solicitor because once they get you behind bars they forget all about you know and you’re stuffed, it don’t matter if you’ve done it or not, I….,”

He started off again but my spirit slumped internally at the thought of any degree of abandonment, surely that couldn’t be the case; I gave myself a mental slap. Think before you speak, it was what you normally did so just be better at it from now on or else. Accepting the self-admonished I hopped up onto the bunk to get out of the way. Diversionary tactics, that’s what you are good at, remember? I felt a little better having reassured my doubting self.

“What sort of dogs did you say you had?”

It was enough of a safe topic to re-direct the difficult conversation for now and something which didn’t need me to listen to everything that he was saying, or repeating which would most likely be the case. It did get me back into my safe area, sipping the very welcome and warming cup of tea.

My question hadn’t been completely random; I had a very keen interest in animals and wildlife in general. From a very early age I had wanted to be a zoo keeper and at about nine years of age had even written to Desmond Morris, from the television, to ask how I should go about it. His replying at all was a great surprise but the suggestion I either go to university to study or start at the bottom and shovel my way along the career path wasn’t very encouraging. The requirement for yet more education, when you are still in junior school, didn’t inspire me too much. In the end, I did neither but have always keep my interest in the subject; living on a farm was education enough for that period of my young life.

Chapter Six – new friends and French fancies

Rolling hills covered by multi coloured rustic fields disappeared into the misty far distance viewed through the dappled shade of young fruit trees just beginning to burst into fragrant bloom. The country garden I was sitting in consisted of alternating flower beds and vegetable plots some of them divided by young fruit canes wavering in the afternoon breeze. A large wooden table sat on a partially sun-baked stone patio, the blue and white checked table-cloth covering it now held only empty serving bowls and unwashed plates. Partially filled glasses of still cool white wine were being slowly emptied to round off a perfect outdoor lunch in the heart of the Dordogne, south-western France.

Staying in the shade of a large parasol to save my balding head from the power of the southern sun I sat and watched some of the people as they quietly chatted. Even though the house was the exquisite modern development of an old farm-house and outbuilding, it was impossible to stay inside its undoubted decadence on such a beautiful day. The time was made more special because I was with friends, some were new, others still only recent acquaintances, one was amazingly intimate.

My reverie was interrupted by the sudden increase in noisy activity out on the wing, banging doors, voices calling out and what sounded like lots of people moving to and fro past our door.

“Workers gooin back,” my informant did something useful once, “I wana goo but me back dae stand it,” a pause for the now well anticipated addition of, “I cor walk anyway.”

Sadly, I had been waiting for the last comment and I might even have added it myself if he had missed it off; I got the gist of his perceived disability and could do without the constant reminder of it. The noise wing-ward started to recede after a few minutes and I assumed the workers had gone back to whatever they worked at. Meanwhile, I went blissfully back to France.

The trip had been arranged around a vague idea of creating a retirement community out here in this quiet continental idyll. The common interest of both the proposal and the participants was that it was to be exclusively for retired gay men of quality and means. Although it might sound just a little contrived, sinister even, I had at that point only allowed myself to get superficially involved. My many misgivings had this enterprise been under normal business conditions, would have meant I would not have touched it with a barge pole. Why get involved? I had asked myself the same thing many times in the few weeks while the trip was being arranged.

It was not the project or even the concept I was really interested in, I was far more absorbed in the people, more accurately in one of the people. He sat out in the full sunlight topping up his already naturally tanned complexion. By staring at him as I often did, meant that I missed most of the post lunch chatter and a couple of questions that had been directed to me.

“Hello? Are you with us?”

Embarrassed, I felt myself jump and felt rather awkward at been caught out, or had I, I didn’t quite know what I thought anymore.

“Sorry, yes, the sun, the food, the wine, I forgot this isn’t a holiday.”

My rather over emphasised smile and mock coughing fit helped to make it a poor joke but hopefully cover my tracks. Despite this, I was riding the crest of a wave of confidence that I hadn’t felt for many years. The most difficult thing was that I didn’t think I wanted to get off.

Despite knowing all the ideas we were discussing were never going to work, plus all the other complications that were welling up around me, the very personal and intimate rewards I was discovering back in England were maybe worth the efforts here. I was also unaware life would soon crash on top of me. It was either the current situation or more specifically the trip itself that would be the decisive episode which set this prison peregrination on its way.

Despite having no absolute proof of who had started the ball rolling to get me into trouble, it would require a trial to force the information out into the open but that was too difficult to contemplate. By a process of elimination, it had to be down to one of just two people who had sat around the table that day. Each of them knew something about me few other people did, thanks to my separation technique working its devious magic. Either of them might have had a motive to get me out of the picture. Only one of them would be needed to put the wheels in motion. Only one of them had told the police just enough to acquire their interest. The rest of course was all down to me and although it was an inevitable thing that had to happen at some point and for many other possible reasons, obviously, I didn’t want it just at that time. The worst thing by far was, I had found something or rather someone who might have given me so many of the important and personal things I had been so desperate for and for far too long. Now, with my world being turned upside down I would almost certainly lose them and even worse, him.

It had been some time since I had seriously considered how I had ended up here in this cell but with no finite information to build on, I had managed to push it all away back into its box. My mind might have been elsewhere but the chill of the cell was a stark contrast to the memory of a warmer southern France and as if to emphasise the point it was accompanied by another involuntary shudder. With the moment soon past, I decided to stay in the recall of warmth and beauty of that more elegant French afternoon. Reality could wait for a while.

Given the very short time I had known this guy, I was still getting to grips with the effect he could have on me.

During one more unremarkable evening only a few weeks before the trip, while taking a break from my regular picture collecting activity, a web page had popped up in the browser as they unfortunately do. If it wasn’t Viagra or penis extensions, it was generally dating that the pseudo intelligence of the web would decide you must be surely interested in.

This time it must have been just good timing because as I casually scrolled down the page, just in case, I was moved to go back up the page and re-read one profile which had belatedly caught my attention. It must have been the beaming white smile against the deep tanned skin which had pricked my imagination. A second look made me think the teeth must be a Photoshop enhancement but I read his details anyway. This done, there was nothing in them that was either remarkable or unrealistic although I always weighed any claims carefully against the ‘code’ which is generally employed for these things; a little like estate agents just on a more personal level.

People claim to get a degree of satisfaction from dating sites but my experience was sparse at best. My annoying habit of running presumptive comparisons of prospective suitors against myself often scotched things before anyone could have the chance to form their own opinion and turn me down. This self-examination was something I did for almost everything in life and in general I could always manage to convince myself I was not interesting enough, or the situation would get out of my control or, become just too complicated, or I was just not good enough in the sex department for anyone to put up with, or. Any one of these excuses could apply to almost everything in life.

Looking back and just to add a little perspective, having met all of my long-term ‘serious’ friendship slash relationships through dating sites, I don’t know why I am quite so disparaging of them. Other than odd situations, which included my flirtatious dalliances with rent boys and a couple of others, it was a paradox that all my conquests have been from such sites; I will get back to some of the other more interesting events all in good time, don’t worry.

In the twenty years of being ‘out of the closet’, I have had only as few instances of successfully meeting other gay men. Each one has had its own significance. The first and longest was with a wonderful man, a doctor. We had arranged to meet in McDonalds, it was safe, in the public eye, and anonymous; doctors were not allowed to be openly gay then, or even now probably. He set the ground rules at the outset as if this was something he did regularly, although I didn’t know if he did or not. We would be just talking, finding out what was what and defiantly no intimacy would be engaged in. It was something I had never really expected or visualised; in my ignorance at that time, apparently, most people only met for casual sex. If it had happened it would have counted as a bonus but that would be too much to hope for. Trying to assure him I hardly knew which end of this world was what, I managed to save myself from any real embarrassment. After spending at least two hours talking and drinking the very good coffee they have, he decided he would need to give me a lift back to my place; I had gone there on the bus. Although I didn’t really understand if this was a good thing or not, I just went with the flow. When we arrived at my home, he didn’t accept the coffee I courteously offered but surprisingly and very excitedly we spent the rest of the glorious afternoon enacting the euphemism in be instead. So much for the no sex please we’re British; perhaps I had some allure after all.

The relationship lasted for seven wonderful years and I have so much to thank him for it could constitute a book on its own. In the end and for no rational or appropriate reasons other than my petty and unreasonable jealousy, I managed to make things stupidly complicated and enough to end it all. With an overload of unrealistic and perverse demands, it finally meant that I pushed everything just too far and we split up rather painfully, even for me.

The next entanglement might have been OK except for his near pathological attachment to a pair of rubber gloves and a bottle of cleaning fluid. Around the house, I have no objections at all, I even aspire to such heights but, anyone who takes up to an hour to wash up after a simple meal and includes the inside of the tea-pot spout, had to have some sort of a deep-seated problem. In the more provinces of personal hygiene there had to be a limit, if only for the practicality of any intimacy. Once more I gave up on it all although this time it didn’t seem to have any adverse effects in the long-term; he still had his mop and bucket to go back to.

There was one short interlude but it didn’t really count. We had a great first night together in a hotel he used while he was working near where I lived. That led to more regular home visits and the occasional stop over whenever he was in town. Eventually he tried to latch on too hard and too completely, wanting to leave his wife and family to be with me. Of course I panicked and ended it all once more.

Third in line and with hindsight, I just let my sympathy play too strong a role. He was a nice guy, still is I imagine, interesting, obliging, welcoming, grateful. I didn’t have to work too hard at the relationship all I needed to do was reciprocate by helping him with all the things his disability wouldn’t allow him to do. At the first sign of him wanting me to attach myself more permanently, once more I ran for the hills. Things would get a little awkward at times after that as our paths crossed quite regularly.

The last long-term association had started rather shakily on my side. Finding I had no physical attraction but, taking into consideration the opinion I had about my own looks at the time, I thought it was something I had to get past. We found out that we had many things in common which over time filled many of the gaps in my physical expectations. The love of theatre music, food, general going out meant I could ignore the obvious. Although I am not proud to have spent time revelling in the decadence he afforded with and around all the high-powered people he knew and the extravagant places whch we went to, all this activity definitely coloured and distorted my already questionable moral perspective and enhanced my manipulative energies. Praying on his unworldly shortcomings of a gay lifestyle I fully engaged the ploy of keeping just one step ahead of things to give me the air of someone who was more than they really were. Combining all the advantages I thought I had, my diverse life experiences, an interest in just everyday things, my knowledge of trivia and the trivial were used most unfairly against someone who had few natural defences to such and onslaught. Although I enjoyed all the trappings and treats at the time, it is my hope that I gave something in return even if, eventually, it would all be negated by my moral deviousness. While I am guilty of taking a generosity of heart and wallet and only giving enough back to keep me looking and sounding if erroneously, like an honest person, I don’t see myself doing it again; at least no one else will ever be hurt like I think he was.

This was my last long-term adjunct and, for right or wrong, until everything blew up in my face I think he was blissfully ignorant of the fact I had already started to see he of the tan and the bright white smile. But as was burning my candle at both ends, the fact that one end seemed to burn much brighter than the other, I would become just another queer and desperate moth drawn to the brighter of the lights.

In between many of these more involved relationships, there had been the odd outing to meet even more odd people; odd being the operative word during most of them as shown here.

There was a lunch consisting of a very expensive baked potato and the history of the West Midlands bus services throughout the ages; which did nothing to inspire another meeting. Another liaison had me getting lost on a windswept Cannock Chase but eventually finding it was just another casual sex outing; we tried but it was far too cold for anything like that to be successful. One of the last encounters included a passable meal but when it came to dessert, I was the only thing on his menu and consumption was to be made in the car park. Obviously that dalliance was never going to go anywhere; having said that, I did have my pudding but didn’t go back for seconds. At least I knew from most of these experiments, I could do casual sex if I had to but, it also confirmed that it was not what I really wanted. The danger and illicit excitement only lasted as a dim spark in time and then it all went dark again; I was looking for a much brighter light to lighten my breed of moody darkness.

Back on the dating site, still intrigued by the smile, I sent a brief message off to the equally brief profile and had an almost instant reply despite the very late hour. It was obviously a well-practised formulaic response and I adopted the same style and tone as I entered the game of coded conversation. Trying to say things without saying them is not easy and so often such a waste of time and effort but, as I had no real idea what I was doing I played along anyway. Once we had got past the initial exchanges and we both realised we were not the usual prick teasing idiots who were the staple fodder of most dating sites, the typed tone changed and we got into more serious, if still guarded issues.

He was quite a few years younger than his attitude or interests might have suggested. My one photo, jealously saved for such times, carefully hid my shortcomings, and unfairly showed me a few years younger than I was; I hated myself in print and few got to see it. After supplying more rather superficial details about myself I made the fatal flaw of slipping into crass, banal, stylised internet chatter that I thought was clever but Paf obviously didn’t. He bought me up sharply and told me not to waste his time. Only just managing to recover my position with much back peddling, we continued at a more serious level, well, more realistic anyway.

After several exchanges both that and the next night we, or rather he decided it might be easier to meet up to continue the exploration of whatever it was we seemed to have found between us. Still not quite knowing what it was or what I was expected to do with this opportunity, I agreed. There were a few days to wait before the arrangement slotted into our very busy schedules but I was getting quite excited when it came. Despite the expectation, during the wait I made several attempts to talk myself out of it all together. One side of me eventually won the argument, fortunately the one which wanted to go and meet this vision of beauty. In most internal discussions, my default position was ‘if in doubt, don’t’ and this paradigm had been the architect of most of my failure to integrate in anything over the years.

As I sat in my car parked several doors down from his house, I almost succumbed to the maxim of failure again. Having allowed myself what I thought was an escape route by not parking right outside the house, I realised that I was a stranger in a private service road so I might have already lost the advantage. As it turned out, I had. He had come out of the house and stood on the drive looking straight at me. My brain switched into full visual absorption mode and took mental flash images of everything.

He was much taller and broader than I had visualised. Dress sense, very smart casual, certainly nothing that looked cheap anyway. Hair, dark, perfectly managed but could be a little more adventurous perhaps. Car, Jaguar, latest sports model personal number plate. House, large detached, wide and imposing. Questions flooded in as I wondered if this was the right thing for me to be part of. The question went unanswered, the escape route was closed, all I could do was try not to look too incompetent being outside the wrong house.

“Hi.”

It was an unheard greeting obviously sent out as a lifeline to me. The smile that went with it showed off the whiteness of his thankfully accurate internet representation. Understanding the greeting he had mouthed I opened the car door but sat fumbling for some invisible contrivance in the foot well.

“Not having second thoughts, are you?”

On one level I was but I didn’t want to let on and eventually and probably glowing with embarrassment, I rather self-consciously got out of the vehicle.

His accent was indistinguishable given he was obviously of Asian origin but his voice was deep and resonated through you, even out here in the open air. It was absolutely nothing like anything I had conjured up in my head; how could I have from just one picture and few typed words on a computer screen. As I walked up the drive to shake his large, strong but soft hand, his six feet four height felt rather intimidating. His smile persisted and somehow, I began to feel at ease in its glow, enough to follow him into the house anyway.

My mind moved from collecting data to running through all the many scenarios of what might happen next. Having managed only a few, none of them fitted the reality as we had entered his immaculate kitchen; the string of ideas seemed to have melted right away. Not having been in this sort of situation many times, I had always suspected there was some sort of formulaic protocol which one should adopt. If there was, I had never been able to quite work out what it might be. My inexperience must have been patently obvious but Paf didn’t give way to any of my imagined fears; thankfully he was very much in control.

Despite knowing I could be reasonably articulate if I had to, I had never worked out how to either start or control conversation without some sadly obvious help. It seemed there would be no problem here as I followed all of his leads and lines of enquiry, trying not to fall into the old trite traps. He responded positively to my efforts by filling in some of the gaps from our shallow electronic exchanges

After moving around the downstairs rooms for a couple of hours between cups of coffee, I found myself casually washing up in the sink and offering to make us yet more. It struck me that this was not the normal behaviour for a first, dare I call it, date? Everything seemed so natural, casual, and thankfully, safe.

It had always been my style to shock people into thinking I was something different. For some reason here, the need to stand out didn’t seem to apply. Rather pleased I hadn’t fallen into the usual babbling potted history of my diverse and sordid life experiences, I felt relaxed and dare I say it, happy. Here, I didn’t feel the usual need to either impress or more probably depress my new companion, I just felt comfortable being there with him. It was a comfort that, because of my inexperience or lack of appreciation, I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or engineered. My brain was desperately telling me to just enjoy the moment; the other side was telling me it was all too good to be true.

Conversation was easy and we covered all sorts of subjects I might not have expected on a first meeting. Despite the intriguing and yet unspoken aspects of his life I didn’t want to pry into areas which were obviously more complex nor did I want to have to respond with some of my own complications. Eventually, I hope, because I wasn’t being too pushy, I found out quite a lot about the reality of his life, the house, the car, none of which matched the presumptions one could easily have made. Cynically, for just a moment I did wonder if he was trying to dispel any untoward thoughts if I had been some sort of a gold digger; it would be easy to imagine that others had been. Materialism was one of the last things on my mind but he wasn’t to know that, not yet.

The exchange swung quite unexpectedly back to me but, through perceptive questioning which he skilfully controlled the overemotional gushing to which I was prone unlike at other times I felt relaxed enough to share as much about me as he had about himself. Eventually I realised what he was doing and was pleased I didn’t sound like a complete idiot as was often the norm in these situations. The opening up had all happened before I could stop myself; as I would have normally done. It was almost scary to hear myself talking about perceptions ideas and thoughts; no one had been this interested in me as a person for a long time.

“I wouldn’t normally do this, be assured, but,” he had adopted a light but serious tone, “I am going to show you that you really have nothing to fear or worry about by just being yourself, we all have our shortcomings, fears and hang ups, you just need to know you are OK.”

Although I hoped it wasn’t showing, the panic developing deep inside my chest had silenced me as I knew this was leading to something I might not have been expecting to happen.

“Come upstairs, you can give me a massage.”

It was not a request but more of a statement of intent and although I was certainly out of my depth the prospect did appeal rather. Luckily, he was still well within his comfort zone although at the same time I didn’t get the feeling it was something which would have normally happened so soon. He had already intimated it wasn’t and I believed him. In answer to his statement I just went with the flow, feeling more confident in his firm command of the situation.

“I need a shower first,” he made another statement as we started to ascend the stairs, “you can sit and talk to me if you want to.”

Placed onto the closed toilet seat I waited as the beautiful if still slightly unnerving event unfolded before me. As for the talking, there was simple and general chatter although for me it was not just talking went on.

My eyes were out on stalks at the confidence and the lack of any inhibitions from the magnificent vision boldly lathered up right in front of me. Not being completely without common sense I had worked out this was yet another carefully executed confidence building exercise driven presumably by some of the things we had shared downstairs.

My personal comfort zone was small at the best of times but between my physical incompetence and questionable appearance it was often nearer to zero where I generally saw myself as an overweight hairy blob but having never been able to express it to anyone, somehow Paf had cajoled me into doing so without all the shame that I had expected to have felt in the past.

Still not quite understanding what was going on, I managed to go along with things trying to make it look as if I did. Paf showered comfortably in front of me and I tried not to be too obvious as I scrutinised his curvaceous but manly figure complete with more than generous genital appendages. We chatted, no smut, no innuendo, just new friends talking; was that what I thought we had become in this short time, were we friends?

He eventually switched the water off and the beaded wetness that remained rolled off his coffee coloured skin, cascading through the curves and crevices of his tall elegant form. It was difficult not to be aroused by it all but he was not to know that showers and showering in general had always been a special fascination and potent stimulus for me.

“You can get undressed in the bedroom, the one at the end of the landing,” the instruction was precise but kindly, “do you want to shower?”

“Do I need one?”

I asked the question rather tentatively not knowing if I should have picked up on some inferred but obviously unacknowledged meaning.

“You won’t be having sex,” his tone was clear but still kind, “so as long as your hands are clean it’s up to you.”

I panicked again. ‘It’s up to you’, it was a veritable mine field of possibilities and I instinctively ran away from the problem. I didn’t run literally but I removed myself from the immediate situation to get undressed as he had suggested. The simple activity gave me time to decide I should shower just to be in the safe side and after returning to the bathroom I found my way around the large luxurious shower cubicle in record time. Clean if still a little damp, a towel hid my modesty although I expected we had already gone way past that point. Shyness was never a problem I was always just too embarrassed about my body and certainly didn’t like to inflict it upon people if it wasn’t required or requested.

The bedroom was darker when I returned to it, the curtains had been closed and a small dim table lamp was the only light. The gloom allowed me the pleasure of being able to relax. Paf was stretched out face down, his ample length and broad shoulders almost filling the bed which had been protected by a generously sized towel over what I had noted previously to be a silk cover. He looked very comfortable which rather confirmed my unnecessary thought that this wasn’t his first time. His eyes were closed which helped further with my settling nerves but I flinched as he spoke; I don’t know why.

“The oil is on the radiator, warming,” he didn’t open his eyes but I could sense him listening to my movements as I went to get it. “Don’t spill any of it, it’s expensive and stains,” the soft smile and a gentle tone belied the warnings true meaning.

This was the last of the instructions I was to get. Waiting for a moment or two, fiddling with the small bottle of warm oil, it was obvious I was now on my own in the action department. A shallow sigh deliberately drew my attention back to his prone beauty. I noticed there was quiet music playing in the background, I couldn’t tell where it was coming from but it was the same which I had heard while in the shower.

Although I had done massages before it had been mainly on feet. My ex-wife loved it, my doctor partner pretended not to but protested only mildly at the ‘torture’; he had never actually stopped me. While I stood rubbing the oil into my palms my divided brains were speaking to each other but my body was doing nothing creative as it should have been by now. Come on it’s not rocket science; just get on with it; I’m sure he’ll say if it’s not right; it was his idea in the first place; this is for your benefit not his; that’s what he said anyway isn’t it? get on with it for pity’s sake.

The thoughts rolled round and round in my head until I eventually leaned over and put my hands gently onto his wide smooth shoulders. With only a kindly pressure, the oil did its job and my palms slid effortlessly over the perfect brown contours spread out in-front of me. A halcyon moan of what I took to be satisfaction rumbled somewhere inside his deep chest cavity. What followed could have been some crude, salacious debauchery as it had at other times in the past but this, this was so, different.

The best part of two hours passed where my hands never once left his skin. Constant contact delivered calmness and confidence in the heightened state that I understood competent massage could induce; I had read it in a book somewhere. Following every curve, every space, every indentation, every imperfection, flowing out to every extremity and back again, it was utterly heavenly.

Finding some rather more special areas as they flowed under my fingers I found I was returning to them more often than other places. The subtle creases just below the perfect mounds of his buttocks; the dimple at the base of his spine; a soft spot behind each knee cap; the wide flat shoulder blades forming hard plateaus under soft skin; it didn’t seem that the magic would stop.

Unexpectedly there was no arousal, sexual that is, not for me anyway but this exertion was about more than that and as far as I can recall I didn’t think about our mutual sexuality. Although I couldn’t easily tell what I was doing for him by any facial expressions, he remained face down, and immobile but as the depth of my incursion developed, it didn’t seem that it mattered.

My confidence had grown immeasurably in that relatively short time and I thought back to our conversation about physical differences and imperfection, both as psychological and visible external scars. My hands had silently found several of these on their travels. Not needing to see them to know they were there, the dim light did sometimes catch the slivers of silver against the otherwise coffee coloured perfection. On subtle examination, subdued stretch marks curved gracefully around architectural hip bones, smaller grouped strings slid out of sight underneath strong curving upper arms. Most noticeable though were the sinewy self-inflicted marks down his forearms where each one would no doubt hold its own story. Despite noticing these things my hands glided over them without the need to ask what they were, I was content to know that they just made a person into an individual. Just to be allowed to touch someone so intimately in the quiet of the afternoon, I think I learnt more about myself than I had during all the years out both desperately and disparately on my own.

Of course, part of me had considered if I should take things one step further in this intimacy, not really knowing what was possible or even perhaps expected despite the earlier assertions. Through the haze of pleasure, I was fortunately reminded of something Paf had said about people being grossly obvious about sex and how boring it was. He had been referring to other people homing in on one’s genitals the moment they were on display whether sex was on the cards or not as if there was no other part of the human body to work with. Silently I had admitted to the same sort of failing with other people on the few occasions when I had such opportunities. Although the temptation here was so tantalisingly close to my fingertips I decided against finding out what the result might be with the shameful probability of being rejected. My hesitation on the matter must have fed through to my finger tips and had broken the masseurs spell, the gentle snoring which had begun to match my rhythmic stokes grunted harshly to a halt.

Reluctantly lifting my hands away from the warm skin, they now felt crudely cold.

“Hmm, next time you’ll be so much better.”

Inside I had to chuckle awkwardly at his cloaked promise but his easy smile told me I must have done something right. He rolled over and as if giving me some small reward, he gently stroked his still flaccid but enormous penis hopefully showing me what I might be fortunate to have some of, the ‘next time’.

The next problem would be that often awkward transition between whatever activities you had been engaged in, to getting ready to leave and actually leaving. He was obviously used to all these shenanigans as well; he sat up signalling the end of the games.

“I have to get ready for work now so, if you sort out your things you can find your own way out, when you’re ready,” I took the instruction literally as I had all the others, “I’ll call you very soon, if that’s OK?”

He already knew I was hardly going to say no, now was I?

The instructions might have sounded a little harsh but it got us over the practicality of the universal problem and I gathered up my hurriedly folded clothes. Having shuffled off to the shower room to dress in private, I made sure that I had first washed all the oil off my hands. Before it all disappeared down the drain hole I lingered for just a moment or two savouring both the scent and the memory now inseparably locked together. We met on the landing but before I turned to go downstairs he afforded me a soft lingering kiss as a final goodbye. We didn’t speak and I eventually left. It was light outside being still only late afternoon and it felt rather strange, like it had going to the pictures in the daytime, it didn’t seem right somehow.  I drove off with my mind running through what had just happened and I let them linger, feeling illicit and naughty.

Eventually the memory slipped into a newly made mental box, I closed its metaphorical lid and smiled to myself. It was a smile that I don’t think faded all the way home. Paf and I spent many ‘special times’ together after that but although it was all so wonderful I always felt things were kept in their appropriate and separate boxes I really wanted to share him and us with the world but it was not my idea to manage our almost secret friendship as we did but I was just happy to have the time with him. We tried other intimacies but either the timing was not right or it didn’t seem necessary for us to immerse ourselves in things and were happy just being together; that is how I convinced myself it was for me, be it true or not.

Knowing more about his past lives and always trying to be mindful of his emotional state, I always waited for Paf to take the lead in most things we did together but perhaps, on a selfish reflection that might not have been the right thing to have done. It was hard to admit to myself I feared losing him although I knew I would undoubtedly would, eventually. Despite our individual shortcomings, I didn’t want to run the risk of losing what I had found for the want of a little patience.

We didn’t sleep in the same bed very often as I didn’t actually stop over that many times but, when it was deemed appropriate, it was something which was extraordinary; for me anyway The one thing I thought, more so hoped we might achieve, was the perfect, penetrative, physical union I had longed to experience since the first days of my sexual discovery. Despite having forgotten how much heat two bodies produce under a quilt, the moisture created provided an excellent lubricant for one of my favourite pastimes, stroking sleeping bodies. My experiences with others had always seemed to be good at the time but this, this was something different, mature, grown up, responsive. Gentle stoking movements along a firm arched thigh worked their way round to a tight, rounded buttock which in turn gave way to a large and protruding but delicate scrotum. If he was ever aware of the attention I stole from him I didn’t know it, not that it mattered as he never once moved away from my exploring hands. The physical excitement, even if only derived through his subconscious, was more than obvious and it seemed I could raise his erection at will; as did mine although not small by any means, I was no match in the genital department.

Only twice did it become more of a one-person adventure. The first, he rolled over onto his back I assumed still asleep and I took the risk of directing my attention directly and orally to the ramrod tenting the duvet. It achieved a perfectly adequate result, I cleaned every drop of his copious emissions so as not to make a mess on the smooth, expensive satin sheets; the size of his testicles had always promised a veritable sea of seamen which was as sharp and salty as I had imagined. The incident went unmentioned the next morning but I was happy enough with that; he would have said something if I had gotten the situation wrong in any way.

The second time I worked my magic, was to have a very different result unfortunately in the negative sense. Having slowly and carefully achieved his full arousal in my usual self-indulgent way, this time, he had been pretending to sleep and joined in the activity before I managed to take up my position deep beneath the quilt. He let me linger on the magnificence for a moment or two, I was good at that part but he rolled me gently over so my back was towards him. Terror and pleasure intertwined and shot through me as rather hoped I knew what was going to happen.

The reality of the impending possibility was spoilt by my concern, given the size of the penis sensuously rubbing up and down against my spine, gently but firmly it was working its way down into the crease of my buttocks that I was desperately trying to relax ready to accommodate the approaching elixir of most gay men’s lives. Calming words slid into my ear and his large but ever gentle hands tried to smooth away the tension that had me almost rigid with expectation. It wasn’t working, I could feel the desperation of impending failure welling up inside me and the disappointment I had feared only added to yet another humiliating crisis that was about to befall me; befall us.

The firm smooth head of his manhood had reached the lips of my puckered anus but the door was firmly shut and locked. However, much I tried to override its involuntary reaction, however much gentle pressure was applied to it, there was no movement or relaxation and so no unveiling of my anal virginity. Removing his appendage from the field of play for a moment, I heard my welcome assailant rummage in the draw by the bed and retrieved what turned out to be a tube of lubricant. Its momentary coldness had the reverse of any desired effect although, with a little deft persuasion and mental agility, I managed to allow what I imagined was just the one finger to slide through the barrier.

This did at least manage to have some effect. Once loosened even that tiny bit, the muscles seemed to accept the intrusion and they started to relax more. The soft gentle probing continued to expand the hidden depths, encouraged by almost inaudible words of encouragement breathed warmly into my ear. With a rush which caught me unawares, the previous muscle contractions gave way, one finger was replaced by two, two by three and I was falling into a pit of magnificent emotion by the almost catastrophic feelings created by the internal massage. If I had been more experienced or even just aware, perhaps I might have concentrated enough to keep the now adequate entrance open for him to enter me properly but my guard slipped for just the most fleeting of moments as the fingers retracted wanting to be replaced by his penetrative member. It was almost immeasurable in time but enough to stop the trophy from attaining its prize, I could see it all pathetically playing out in my mind and could already feel the disappointment screaming through my body. The purple tip of the colossal member pressing against the quickly reforming barrier ahead of it, I cried out, as much to encourage him to press on as to vent my growing frustrations, the sound might have been misinterpreted as I could sense a strategic withdrawal of the cannon from the closing porthole. Realising my mistake, I slid my hips backwards to indicate I wanted him to continue. Feeling the strength still in touching distance behind me I managed to hook what was left of the aperture against the end of the heated shaft, hopefully to give the indication of intent that I could verbalise. Even this clumsy collision and partial engagement wasn’t going make it fully work; I knew the moment was lost. I could have cried, inside I think I did.

“Turn over, relax, leave it a minute, think of something beautiful ….”

The suggestions were lost in the mist of anger and confusion.

Although I did turn it was away from him it was to hide the disappointment of him seeing my frustration at myself. Fighting back the tears which were fast welling up the one thing I couldn’t do was stop the shuddering in my core. A huge dark arm curled itself around me and hugged me to the hot, no doubt frustrated body behind me; I could feel his retreating but still massive erection in the small of my back didn’t help my feeling wretched. Although I would have given anything to be able to instigate another and impale myself upon it, the desperation which had overtaken me was never going to allow that to happen. Words of comfort were lost on me and I couldn’t face my failure, not just for my own indulgence but that of my willing companion. It would have been more than just the physical act which marked a step change in our relationship it would be a sign of compliance and belief in myself. Reality had no place in my emptying heart I only wished that at some point I could replace it with all the things which were rampaging around in my head.

Pretending to sleep, the effort of controlling my breathing and spasms of shaking was too much for that to become a reality. The attempt was never repeated or spoken of again. Privately, images of such beautiful congress and how things might have worked out differently in the long-term kept me going in the darkness of the many sad lonely nights.

Anyway, all that locked away, there were many other things which we could and did do together. These were just everyday things with many of them fully clothed and somehow in the pleasure they bought we just seemed to click. We were never going to be a couple in the formal sense that much was clear, but, I would like to think I counted as more than just a friend. The modern parlance for it would have been ‘friends with benefits’ but even that wasn’t a fair description, it was something just that little bit more; or was that just for me to imagine. We gradually shared more about our lives and often, for me at least, it felt more of a privilege that we did given some of the very personal and intimate things which he found the need or just the comfort to be able to talk about.

His partner, his civil partner, had died only a few months before after a long illness. He had been much older than Paf but that had apparently been a benefit more than an issue. My obvious thought about this current dalliance was I might have been just a rebound, maybe it was but I didn’t want to explore that. Instead, in some stupid attempt to appear older or more mature than I was, I did rather stupidly offer several ridiculous platitudes about ‘time’ and ‘healing’ and the like but was shot down in a blaze of flaming admonishment. The wound of his loss was obviously still very raw but I think he saw I was only trying to be kind; even if in a completely inappropriate and patronising way.

Moving on from this hiccup, he told me things about his difficult upbringing, living in different countries, the physical and mental abuse by other family members and the general sense of abandonment which clouded his life. It was hard not to feel for him and I had no difficulty in showing it; the tears were very genuine. Although I had my own difficulties and challenges which were nothing like his, I still felt we shared more in common than many others might have.

Despite all this intimate bonding and sharing, bizarrely I still didn’t quite understand where I fitted into what seemed from the outside to be a perfect scenario and so I didn’t want to run the risk of losing all or any of it. With a great deal of patience and some self-inflicted pain from having to hold myself back, I seemed to manage to keep the situation going without giving any of my concerns away. It really was fantastic.

The French agenda was presented to me for the first time on one lazy sunny afternoon. We had been pottering about in the garden, he liked his flower beds and I could garden if I had to. As it wasn’t my forte I was dispatched instead to get some lunch ready to eat under an umbrella’s shade on the secluded stone paved patio. Although I had never taken him or anything for granted, things had developed to a point where I felt I was no longer a guest. That day we were to be joined by another friend, long time soul mates as much as a friend.

The young lady, Beverly, was a lawyer by profession. The alfresco meal went well, punctuated with general chatty conversation although most of it excluded me; more by my own devices than deliberately. Paf went to make coffee and during the few moments we were left alone, she turned her professional face full on to me and I had a firm mini lecture on not messing people around, not taking anything that was not mine, not doing anything to hurt ‘her’ Paf. Taken slight aback and despite trying to explain that I couldn’t, I wouldn’t and I already knew how much he had gone through, Not really understanding everything she had covertly referred to, I did my best to allay her fears as much as I could. It was all finished as soon as our host appeared with the coffee and a bonus of cake; I sat back quietly admonished. The subject was never raised again and she was as nice as pie whenever I saw her afterwards; I put it down to just territory marking by a protective lioness for her admittedly enormous if cute cub.

As the initial bones of the French scheme were laid out, I could see so many gaps and pitfalls in the idea that it was impossible not to start to point them out. Although I knew I shouldn’t have been quite so sceptical, once my wrist had been verbally slapped, I paid more attention to the detail and tried to be constructive instead. It wouldn’t hurt to think about things even if they would never come to fruition. However, there were other things and other people who were more important to me not to carry on with the ideas at least.

There were already two others involved in planning the scheme apart from the nice lady lawyer and we two. Another man named Ian who took an instant dislike to me when we eventually met and the guy already living out in France. The chap at this end was difficult to fathom, he went out of his way to avoid me although thankfully it meant suffering the rather strained atmosphere slightly less often than we might have. Not feeling completely confident or competent in my small part of the jigsaw of Paf’s complex life, I didn’t feel I should challenge although on every occasion that we met he would go through grotesque but obvious territorial marking activities towards ‘his’ Paf, an obvious touch, a kiss, positioning himself between us whenever he could. It made me feel I wanted to do some territory marking of my own to outstrip this unwanted interloper and a school yard pissing contest was started.

He was older than me, quite obviously, no idiot but I didn’t want to overstep any social or personal boundaries he and Paf had. In many respects, it would have been difficult to usurp any of their connection as he had provided the Jag on the drive and I couldn’t piss that high up the wall. On quiet reflection, I decided I would just let him get on with it; whatever ‘it’ was. At least I could do one or two good things in the bedroom which he wasn’t allowed or I don’t think capable; he preferred being tied up and left in the shed at the bottom of the garden. It was at least one point on the score board to me as far as I was concerned and I was a very patient man.

The practicalities of ‘the project’, as it had come to be known, started to be fleshed out and many different options were probed and investigated but still having no real faith in it ever happening. My allotted task was looking for accommodation possibilities, availability, and styles along with suitable leisure facilities. Paf was the dynamo behind everything and his never-ending faith in the whole thing was how the four of us eventually came to set off towards the French countryside for a ‘site meeting’. For me it was more of a much-needed holiday.

The journey was straight forward if not actually the shortest route. A long drive followed by an even longer night ferry crossing and then another drawn-out dusty haul to our destination. For future reference, going via Portsmouth is not the best way to get there.

Having decided I would drive all the way there, unfortunately this meant I had lost a point in the ongoing urination contest with Ian as he could pay much more attention to our conquest, I realised I might have to work harder to keep ahead.

On the night ferry, he had thankfully stayed out of the way but I made sure I was the one who sat and massaged Paf’s feet while he slept. I was also the one who got the breakfast croissants and hot if questionable coffee; real playground politics but it was working.

The French leg of the journey was marred only by me speeding on the AutoRoute most likely to show off but getting caught doing it. My claim that I hadn’t changed the cars display over to kilometres fell on ears which didn’t understand English. The fact that it made the 130kph, 130mph instead and well outside the 80mph limit was always going to be a lost cause. My interest was distracted by the two, motorbike riding, tight leather trousered traffic police. They didn’t admit to speaking any English and my limited schoolboy French was not up to the job by any means. There was nothing to do but pay the spot cash fine of €90 to the rather scintillating if unsociable officer. Needing to gather some of the money from the rest of the group, I had to put up with Ian’s smirking. While we all rummaged for the collection of notes and coins, the machine gun touting accomplice wandered round the car, ironically a Citroen, expressionless behind the standard issue but very stylish sun glasses; it set us all on edge, despite his obvious attractions for most of us.

The rest of journey was done within the regulations but proved to be noticeably quieter; I was miserable because I had lost ground in the game.

We eventually arrived in the picture-perfect town square bathed in warm bright sunshine and pleasantly scented ‘Frenchness’ only to wait to be met by the last piece of the people puzzle, James. He arrived all smiles and excitement. Although I knew roughly where he fitted into the scheme of thing, thankfully it didn’t seem to be the same as Ian. It was refreshing that there were no feelings of conflict, no hostility at all in fact, which was a tonic for my sometimes-problematic ego.

Three days of pure bliss followed. It was my first holiday in ages, I was with people I generally liked and managed to muster up enough interest to provide positive input to ‘the project’ as well as make the rest of the trip worthwhile. The others did what they wanted while I just soaked in the opportunities to be around someone I had grown to like very much. Even the prospect of not having any one on one time with Paf didn’t spoil things. We had talked about it; or rather he had explained how things would have to work while we were out there complicated by him having indulged in some physical interaction with both other guys at different points, although nothing of any serious nature. In the interest of fairness and relationship politics, none of the three of us would be shown any personal favour while we were there. As far as I was concerned, if Ian didn’t get anything that I couldn’t, I didn’t really mind; if he had, then my rather petty jealousy might have become more of a problem so far away from home.

As it turned out, the glorious open country space allowed us enough room to keep out of each other’s way if we needed to. Having always hankered to speak a foreign language but never having the need, I got to practice my French rather more successfully as I volunteered to pop to the village a couple of times and get more bread and other bits of things. It afforded the pleasure of glimpsing the young patisserie which James suggested might be an interesting distraction while I was in the boulangerie; the bread shop. He was not wrong in his suggestion but I got the impression that the very handsome, young, sun-baked guy might have been used to and I was just another of the English invaders leering through the produce at the producer. Feeling some degree of embarrassment at being caught looking was not enough to spoil the moments.

To break up the deliberations surrounding ‘the project’ and to see some of the surrounding area, we planned a morning out for the second day. We all squeezed into my car despite Ian saying he didn’t want to go; he lost this argument as Paf directed him to join us and I chalked up another pee point to me. Cosily crammed in, we set off on the picturesque drive to one of the larger local towns which held its weekly street market that day. The potted history of the area which accompanied the drive was interesting and at least something extra a normal visitor would not have the benefit of.

When we had parked in a side street and wandered down into the market place Mr. Grumpy went off on his own after he had been given an approximate time to meet up with us again; the day was getting better and better as he sauntered off. We four who remained did the market rounds but decided that someone needed to get the provisions needed for the rest of the day. Paf and Beverly would go off and meet James and me later; and Ian if he turned up.

Despite the short time I had known James, I felt rather comfortable in his company. We continued with the tour and eventually made our way down into the old town. With my love of France and the French and his eloquent descriptive style of conversation made the history of the area even more interesting. James was originally from England but his years living out there made his knowledge flow like a naturalised Frenchman.

Of course, he fitted in all the gay related places and people as we went around the narrow streets, shops, and pavement cafés. Perhaps I might have been guilty of appearing to be a little more interested than was appropriate but, such subtleties were generally lost on my naiveté.

As we walked around we shared more general interests and noted some of the local ‘attractions’ who passed while we sat and drank strong black coffee at a pavement cafe. It wasn’t as if we talked about our personal preferences all the time but the subject was one which came easy to both of us. The conversation was punctuated by certain specific, mutual, interests but I silently speculated that James must lead somewhat of a lonely existence since the loss of his long-time partner only a year or so before. I was probably wrong but I thought myself compassionate for thinking about it anyway. As I had only known him for these two days, whatever little we had shared made it seem much more. We had a good laugh and although we flirted a little with ourselves and one or two of the passing sights, it was nothing serious and we both managed to gather our composure’s as we eventually met up with the others as arranged.

The rest of the stay went very well if uneventful and after more eating, drinking, talking and even more light if unproductive flirting, the holiday had to end. We exchanged and rechecked all our contact details and departed after flamboyant declarations of thanks and reciprocation; between some of the party anyway. We travelled north following the sat-nav once more and I kept well within the speed limits. The scenery changed from the picturesque to the perfunctory as we arrived back in the less picturesque West Midlands. On the rivalry front, boundaries had been clearly marked had thankfully not been breached. Ian went home first although I deliberately held back to be the last one to say goodbye; it was another high-water mark on the wet wall of combat.

Discussions around ‘the project’ continued on and off but were dogged by complications with the French authorities and the convoluted mayoral planning and information system over there. Unsurprisingly things slowed to a near stop; I was neither surprised nor worried about it. What information we gathered was shared in a very business-like way between the interested parties. It was at this point, having no real reason to contact the French connection that I broke one of my golden rules of communication.

It was evening, I had been reflecting on my time with James that day in the market, and if the truth is known not for the first time I felt the need to contact him. The thought had been prompted during one of my picture collecting sessions during which I had received an email from him and eagerly broke away from sorting out duplications to read his message. It was nothing very important but I replied to it out of courtesy anyway. Unfortunately, this time I added an extra piece on the end relating to what I considered were our shared interests in particular types of men. Although I did no more than type an ambiguous comment, my thoughts were he might be interested in sharing pictures of such examples as well. Not waiting for a reply, I simply attached a few representations to a second email of what I meant in all only about five images, each based on my interpretation of our time spent in the market. My mistake. He sent a rather harsh reply immediately pointing out that we may well have similar interests in men but he had none in having pictures banded about across the air waves with his name attached to them; sensible man.

Of course, I understand that people might find it difficult to admit to having guilty pleasures but it seemed it was only me who was stupid enough to use it as a tool for outrageous and obviously inappropriate flirting. Despite apologising as profusely as is possible via a keyboard, the matter was never referred to again. In fact, I didn’t have any communication with him at all from that point forward.

Putting my stupidity aside, and not looking to excuse my actions, one of the failings of modern computer based communication systems is there is very little or, in many cases no face to face interaction; video conferencing was not as big as it is now. With just a keyboard to express one’s self on, all the subtleties and nuances which make human non-verbal communication so effective have been abandoned to misinterpretation, malformed opinion, and loss of context. A great leap backward in my view but that is often the way of the modern world.

Having had little time or even the need to consider my blunder, not that I really understood what I had done anyway the wheels of my downfall had most certainly been set in motion. Desperation was the only mitigating evidence I could come up with. Much more of the evidence against me would be brought into play when, only a few days after that disastrous email exchange, I had the first visit from the ‘tax inspectors’. The thought was not a happy recollection to end but as I was dragged back to the current reality by a heavy banging on the window from outside in the prison yard.

“Yow’d better kepp out of sight,”

In my confusion, I didn’t fully take on board what Dave had said.

My curiosities for almost everything lead me to look up at the window to see for myself what was going on. A rather unattractive scowling face was pressed aggressively against the Plexiglas. Once it had seen it had an audience, a string of obscenities were spit out in my direction, actual bubbling spit accompanied most of them which slid down leaving moist streaks in the already dirty surface. Not really understanding many of the insults or the rationale behind them, it was officious enough to make me retreat to the corner of my bunk and out of direct sight; as I had been advised only moments earlier.

“What was that all about,” I enquired tentatively.

“It’s just what yam get for bayin’ a VP.”

I was still none the wiser.

Dave went on to describe his interpretation of the event as best he was capable of and I managed to decipher most of what he said, filtering out the extraneous and the extreme to formulate some sort of half-baked rational.

VP stood for vulnerable prisoner. It didn’t always apply to people with the sexual connotations that the belligerent face at the window had made out although the liberal use of phrases like ‘nonce’ and ‘pedo’ might infer that it did. The status also applied to drug related issues, personal grievances, gang related problems and generally, anything that a good kicking or sometimes worse might sort out. We were separated very much for our own protection as prisoner to prisoner justice was swift and often brutal; fortunately for us the VP system would try to minimise it as best it could.

The prisoners pacing around the yard outside were not from our wing as far as I could tell and certainly not VP by their actions or shouting. Fortunately for us they only had to be endured for about an hour a day, if it wasn’t raining; apparently ‘the screws ‘dai get wet for no one’. The diatribe from my cell mate was at least informative this time.

My asylum in the corner of my bunk seemed to work, out of sight did get me out of mind for now anyway but, once the others outside had gone back to their own block and the coast was clear again, I could look at the yard in more detail. There were yellow hatched markings on the floor alongside each of the buildings which were apparently theoretical exclusion zones to stop such aggressions that we had just experienced to the other wings. It seems these were only occasionally enforced by the supervising officers during exercise periods and we would have to put up with them. Obviously, officers had their own views on what was admissible for sport and we manifestly constituted an acceptable quarry.

An image of being a prisoner, within a physical prison and within a mental prison made the already diminutive space feel even more oppressive; I felt one of my involuntary shudders go through me. Both the feeling and the reality of being alone are things which I had lived with most of my life. Although never actually feeling sorry for myself because of this fact, it seemed to be just one of those things you had to deal with. Wondering just how I was going to deal with it in here seemed a waste of time as, day by day would be the only possible solution. Having sort of settled into the place now, in the cell anyway, the general operation of the wing was another thing to absorb and amalgamate. There was still so little information about what else was happening to me or was going to happen that I couldn’t afford to let myself consider any of the options for now; I could deal with information but I was lost without it.

Chapter Five – home, but not alone

For such a small physical space there was just too much to take in all at once.

“Hi, I’m Dave.”

The guy was stretched out on the lower of the two bunk beds. He was thin but from what I could tell not in a pleasant way. He was surrounded by and partially covered in, a collection of what I can accurately only describe as ‘stuff’. It was impossible to make out what most of it was but the vain attempt to do so, combined with my having trouble placing the strange accent, which seemed to be somewhere between Black Country, Patois and Southern Irish not that it mattered in that moment. My reply was delayed enough to make it sound more like an afterthought than a civilised answer.

“Sorry, me too.”

Feeling a little embarrassed at this I wasn’t helped by not knowing quite where to look first. The situation was made only marginally better by not being able to look directly at his face as it was partially hidden under the overhanging top bunk.

“Yow will ‘ave to tec top bunk I cor do it, I cor walk see,” the pleasantries were obviously over.

Still trying to interpret his dialect trying to understand what he meant, I managed an ‘OK’ under my breath. There was a whooshing sound on the other side of the door which make me look round involuntarily; an image of the floor washer came to me and my momentary increased heart rate slowed once more. The distraction also broke the impasse in the previous attempt at conversation and gave me the opportunity to take in more of our accommodation.

There was still just too much to comprehend in one sweep so I dealt with only the principal elements first. One of these was an odious almost visible film in the air; it was more accurately a vile stench. The sweet tang of fresh male sweat could be quite invigorating, stimulating even under certain circumstances but this, this was very stale and no longer a thing of beauty at all. Dave must have noticed my acquisition of the smell and jumped in before I might say anything about it.

“Sorry ‘bout the mess,” I didn’t hear any sincerity in the tone, “I cor walk see.”

It was obvious that he wanted me to understand the fact that he couldn’t walk; obviously, a standard play to excuse all manner of things I expected even before they happened.
Sensing that something needed to happen, he made some tentative movement to move some of the things that lay around him but it did nothing for the general appearance of the place. The top bunk was thankfully clear of ‘stuff’, more than likely because he couldn’t reach it and I made a move to secure my things on it.

“Gie us a minute and I’ll mech yow some space.”

He was panting as he spoke, already out of breath despite not having moved very much.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give you a hand in a minute.”

It came out without thought being just my nature to be helpful; maybe something to watch out for.

Recalling the previous night and my unlikely companion who had lived on the streets for years, Jim had seemed unnaturally tidy in his surroundings, a stark contrast to the here and now. Dave continued to shuffle his things about, those within arm’s length anyway but I had to stand back mentally and physically not wanting to touch anything for the time being or at all if I could help it. So as not to stare at his pitiful uselessness, I took in the rest of the cell instead.

The only thing that I could see in common with last night’s accommodation was the colour of the walls, cream gloss paint; well I’m sure it was cream when it originally went on. The volume of this space was much larger, wider, taller, square corners, no arches. The window was a definite improvement and was huge in comparison, despite the thick metal bars set into it. These were set in-between two sheets of what I thought was glass but the random scratched and burnt markings suggested that it was probably Plexiglas or similar. Just the size made its material irrelevant. There were no opening options that I could see but even that didn’t detract from the wide-open view it gave. Once I had a closer look, past the bars, it was rather more disappointing and more than I had first anticipated.

Outside there was what seemed to be one of the exercise yards, this, as were all the others I had seen, was surrounded by the standard 20 feet high mesh fence topped with razor wire. It was quite a large area and on the far side it was possible to see past the fence to a mirror of it. Another building, ‘L’ wing stood on the far side of that; the symmetry of the planning was lost within the environment. Moving carefully closer for a better look, this closest yard, presumably ours, had another block to the one side as part of an L shaped arrangement with this one. Its sign denoted it as ‘N’ wing and seemed to share the immediate space with us. My inquisitive attention also spotted that the bright sunlight of the day was sliding across only the very far corner of the yard, it was still only mid-morning; note to self, an afternoon might be better choice for getting a tan. We would of course have no such choice.

Turning reluctantly back to the clutter behind me, I couldn’t see any difference despite all the surreptitious shuffling and sighing that had gone on behind me. My own sad sigh must have been louder than I had meant it to be and the fumbling was made more frantic but equally pointless.

Leaning with my back against the window I had the full panorama of the cell. The two bunks were of an interesting construction. They were actually just two shelves; the bottom one I couldn’t tell what it was made of but seemed to be standing on a narrow pedestal at one end and bolted to the wall at the other. The upper one was just bolted to the wall on the one side seemingly suspended in mid-air. It was in fact a one-piece metal tray with turned up edges presumably to stop you or your bedding falling off. It was finished in reasonably matching cream colour enamel. There were strange upright metal steps at each end of the arrangement but they didn’t seem very practical, we would have to wait and see. The lower bunk presumably didn’t have the lip of the upper one as I could see that the ‘stuff’ was starting to fall to the floor during the rather half-hearted struggle to move it. Dave spotted that I was looking at him and it.

“I’ll sort me things und yow can tech they shelves by the winda.”

Still only just understanding what he was on about I became conscious of drawing attention to his accent by any overt attention or facial reaction. Resisting the urge to keep saying ‘pardon’ I contented myself with a mock interest in all the mess instead. With little progress being made evident, I decided that it would need me to just get on and do it. That would be my second mistake of the day.

Opposite the bunks, two thirds of the wall space was taken up by a combination table, storage and shelf units. They were constructed from very thick and heavy looking Formica covered material and finished in tasteful white with grey accents. Grey mock granite kitchen worktop had been used for the bench type table. Being only about half the width of a standard kitchen worktop it became obvious that you couldn’t have fitted a full width version in the rather narrow space. Running perpendicular to the window it was fixed to the wall by some invisible method, as were the shelf units attached to the end of it. These ran from floor to ceiling with four, deep, pigeon holes with no doors, each one of these currently had something either in or half hanging from it. I could imagine how the higher ones had things just thrown at them presumably as ‘he couldn’t walk’; I made no comment.

“Shall I have the top shelves then?” It was a rhetorical question.

“Yam could if yow wants,” not that his confirmation actually mattered, “jus’ pass the things dowen, I’ll sort um out.”

He was going to have to do a lot of this sorting out as I began to pass down the towel, jumpers, blankets, papers, magazines, packets of foodstuffs, bottles of water and anything else that was mixed in with it all. Having started with just one item at a time it was going to take too long so I took a deep breath and grabbed an armful and dropping it rather unceremoniously onto the bunk where his feet could have been. He would have to do something with it now. The lower shelf spaces hung onto their clutter, they were not my problem.

“Ay yow had a drink this mornin’?” I wasn’t expecting the enquiry and didn’t think before answering.

“No, there wasn’t time before they bought me over from the other wing.”

“Do yow want un?”

“I guess so,” really thinking that it would have been better to do just one job at a time.
“If yow can put kettle on I’ll make us one,” it seemed that his assertion that he ‘cor walk’ didn’t apply to tea making.

This would be my third mistake.

My idea was not to make the drink but continue with sorting things out so I could at least have the outward appearance of being settled. Torn between thirst and being organised, I took a moment to look round for a few moments to work out if there were any obvious logistics for tea production. The cursory glance at the work-top cum table showed another horror in full progress but, since it had been mentioned, my parched throat indicated that it wanted a drink. To this end, I could see nothing that seemed to be clean.

“Shall I do some washing up first,” it was again rhetorical.

“If yow wana, I just swill um inter sink.”

That was obviously true. His comment took my eye to the other end of the cell by the door and I started to contemplate the limited washing facilities and the toilet.
This corner of the cell had the wall in some sort of a boxed off arrangement not fully square, with one side of it angled away from the door. The space between the end of the shelves and this intrusion into the area had the toilet set against it. There was no stainless pan arrangement as before but what I could only describe as a box with a hole in the top; fortunately, it wasn’t quite as bad as one might first picture. The enclosure was made from white Formica material and the toilet bowel inside it was also white and appeared to be plastic although I wasn’t ready to give it a very close inspection just yet. It seemed primitive but hopefully practical. A tiny hand basin which had once been white was attached to the angled part of the wall next to the toilet box. They were simple but functional facilities taking into consideration where we were. It did strike me that the toilet was very open to view from almost anywhere in the cell and even from the outside through the window. The lower side of the shelves was made slightly wider to be partly in-front of it and perhaps deliberately designed to create a suggestion of being able to screen a sitting occupant. It was not going to be any good if you were shy, that much was certain.

One thing that had struck me about all the fixtures and fittings, other than their substantial construction, nothing seemed to have any sharp corners, there were also no hooks, no holes, nothing sticking out, nothing anywhere of that kind that I could see. Even the toilet flush and what were presumably the taps above the hand basin were only push buttons set flat into the wall’s surface. The design feature was nothing to dwell on for the time being other than just a passing observation but the matter would come to have a more interesting significance that I would come across later during my stay.
Back to that possibility of a hot drink. Having decided that it was the only thing I could do that didn’t involve touching his things, my attention was once more focused on the task. It was either that or sit around waiting for some substantial if unlikely effort on his behalf to materialise. My normally limitless patience was not going to work for me at this point.

“Is there hot water in the tap?”

The question was not rhetorical this time. It was such a simple question that you might have hoped for a simple answer. Unfortunately, it came with a lengthy explanation of some of the wider shortcomings of prison life which, on this matter could have been summarised in a one word answer, ‘probably’. By the time he had finished delivering the lecture I had actually found the answer for myself and was then looking for some cleaning materials.

“Do we have anything to actually wash things?”

Again, it was a real question. Regrettably, it instigated yet another tedious explanation of the limitations and privations that we ‘poor prisoners’ had to endure. The only interesting thing to come out of the protracted mutterings was the story of why there were no specific cleaning things in the cells anymore. Apparently bleach tablets for the toilets had been used for suicide attempts, as had the washing up the liquid that we no longer had access to; I hadn’t seriously considered the darker side of prison life yet but the confirmation that it did go on, once voiced the harsh reality seemed rather more acute. My body shuddered; it was doing a lot of that lately and I decided to move us off the subject. Dave was taking too much pleasure in other people’s problems for my liking and it perhaps told me something of his philosophies on life. My attentions turned to the work-top and its contents.

To even consider a simple thing like a cup of tea, one first need the tools to make it. Moving a few things to one side I found a small kettle, just a two-mug capacity by the look of it rather like the ones you would take to Spain on your holidays. Scattered around it, beneath some old newspapers were both full and empty sachets of sugar and milk along with some dubious looking dried up tea bags. All this was just sitting around with the other extraneous detritus even though a grey plastic bin below the table was virtually empty. Prison or not, I was not impressed and certainly didn’t consider re-using the tea bags. Before we could go any further I had to tidy up.

Unplugging the kettle its badly stained outside received a good wipe down with clean water in the sink, I tried my best not to get the electrics too wet and used my clean hand towel to dry it as best I could before putting safely on my clear and hopefully cleaner bunk.

“Yow can just rinse this un out.”

He handed me what had once been a pale blue plastic mug. You would hardly recognise it to be like the one I had, this one had so many thick brown stains crusted inside and out, my face must have spoken for me.

“Yow cor clean nowt propa in ere.”

This prompted a repeat of the saga around the cleaning issues. I was beginning to work out that with Dave, repetition would be a staple diet. Taking the proffered vessel in just my fingertips it was dropped into the sink to soak.

“I’ll have a go at it later.”

After removing some more things from the work-top I began to see the actual surface but it was no cleaner than anything else I had come across.

“Yow can use the J Cloth from theyer if yow wana.”

Following his wavering hand, I spied a once blue, now grey limp rag in the corner next to the toilet bowl; I didn’t think that I would be using that item any time soon.
With just his vocal instructions but no practical help, it was confirmation that I had fallen well and truly for his stratagem of doing as little as he could but, as I would be the beneficiary in this effort, I carried on.

Trying not to make any preconceptions about how I might feel towards other people in here was becoming difficult. Jim had been the first and I had been surprised with how I felt, indifference if I was honest but I was not going to live with him. The others in the system were so far anonymous so irrelevant. Here, with the possibility of a longer association, I was rather more aggravated at the prospect. The feeling had been created in such a short time and it was not like me to be quite so judgemental; I was quite disappointed in myself, not that I wanted to admit it of course.

Pulling myself back together I quickly decided that I had little choice in matters for the time being so there was no sense in getting wound up about them. Taking a deep breath both inside and out, I cleaned what I could with a vengeance. It was as much my home as anyone’s so for now at least and I would have it the best that I could; despite other people’s shortcomings. My new-found enthusiasm must have been more than obvious and it served to gee up the prone remnant still floundering in his pit. He sat up a little more and made some real effort to tidy things around him.

As he cleared off the top of his bunk and uncovered his actual person, I could see just how frail and dishevelled he really was. My conscience was pricked a little when he dragged a blanket from off a wheelchair that I hadn’t noticed before. Feeling rather desultory for just a fleeting moment, my mind wondered if he might be going for the sympathy vote once more.

“Yow can stack some of then things on’t chair if it bay easier.”

“OK I might have to,” I said but quickly changed it to you might have to, “you can carry on with your things while I get us that drink.”

The sarcasm and sympathy that I had fitted into one sentence didn’t go unnoticed but only I smiled to myself.

After some little while I had used up two of his spare but clean towels, several sinks of warm water and hey presto, we had a table that you could use; although I wouldn’t say eat your dinner off. My shelves were also ready to put things on; when I had things that is. We even had relatively clean mugs, plates and some cutlery that had also been found amongst the chaos. Dave had at least consolidated most of his ‘stuff’ and it was now possible to see more of the floor as well. That was another cleaning issue but I didn’t want to tackle it just now. Hadn’t we done well?

It was only after the first round of cleaning work did I revert to the original plan and make us a drink. My throat was even more parched but my fleeting consideration of waiting for him to do it, as he had originally suggested, seemed to be an unlikely event; the expenditure of all that energy must have worn him out.

“Do you have any more tea bags, I think they must have gotten thrown away while I was cleaning,” I knew that they had of course.

“Have a look on yow shelf theyer,” he indicated the steps that he had generously decided would be mine.

Visually rummaging through the various boxes and plastic bags I found three clean tea bags, some sugar and milk sachets although I personally didn’t need them, my guess was that he would.

“Yow can tec a lend of tae ‘til yow get yower owern,” I didn’t respond to the common misuse of the lend borrow conundrum.

While I was searching, there were other items on the steps cum shelves that I took greater note of. Several boxes of medication that looked mainly like tablets, some medicated mouthwash, a sticking plaster, some wrinkled fruit, a couple of pens and a partly eaten packet of biscuits. The medication might have enlightened me to some of his personal difficulties, but again, it was not a subject for now.

Having eventually managed the tea with some difficulty, no doubt practice would make perfect; the general restrictions associated with camping came to mind during the task. My drink was left to cool by the window as I next made the effort to assemble my bunk as it didn’t seem right not having that tidy now I had done something with most of the shared space.

The one marvellous thing that I found on the table was the television. It was only a small portable model, no remote control that I could see but the cell was wide, or rather narrow enough to be able to reach the control buttons while sitting on the bunk. It took up at least one third of the work top but even this loss of valuable flat space would most likely be worth it. Feeling more than pleased with the discovery, it meant that my love of television would also be a welcome distraction from whatever joy my companion might bring to the feast. My positive comments on it invited the obligatory saga that accompanied this new matter, but didn’t everything it seemed.

Apparently, we didn’t have the television by right; it was a ‘privilege’. Having already decided that not everything my ‘pad mate’, as we were affectionately known, would be accurate I would wait to work out its provenance on my own. When I did it seemed that we had to pay 50p per week each for it, how this was to be achieved I had no idea but I didn’t encourage any wider explanation. I did have to listen to how there were only five channels, the picture was crap and the films they put on were never any good either. The matter of channels didn’t bother me and I didn’t feel a clarification about films would be worth it for the moment either. All I knew, or rather hoped, that it was going to be a life saver in the long hours of lock-up.

The last job to do was to make room for things on my smaller shelves or steps as they seemed to have been designed to be. Although I had nothing much of my own yet I still claimed the space due to me. Gathering Dave’s ‘stuff’ up as before, it was all dumped in one place near to his lap. Once I had wiped down the two small spaces it was all done. Dave was still wittering on about something or other despite me not showing any interest or even interacting by this point, he just carried on inanely to himself.

The next decision was how I would negotiate getting up onto my newly claimed and now neatly made bunk. It was much higher than the previous night’s arrangement and I didn’t relish any further embarrassing incidents in the process. The steps were put there for the purpose of course but they seemed more useful as shelves so I discounted them straight away. There was a simple plastic chair and his wheelchair but neither seemed a safe or stable option. It would have to be a jump or a hop or something of a combination. My confidence in the process was rather shaky but with my back to the bunk edge, ignoring my now re-prone pad mate’s complaints as he had to get his skinny leg out of my way, I stood precariously on the edge of his bedding. This gave me just enough height for the hop cum reverse jump, the second attempt did anyway; Dave found the first stumbling and quietly cursed failure rather amusing.

Now up and out of the way, it was like being in my own private space, clean, tidy and solitary even; except for the verbal drone below me, I felt much better. Laying out and stretching my limbs I hit a cold hard wall at the top and open free air at my feet; there was not as much room as I had hoped. Considering the contents of the space, such as it and they were, the matter of only having the thin pillow that was as the previous night would be a problem and I made a mental note to work on an alternative. The flat pan of the bunk was far better than the loose wire mesh from before but I didn’t think that the foam mattress would do anything for my already questionable back geometry, but this was it and I had to get on with it.

Trying desperately to relax I read the graffiti on the ceiling above me; why people felt the need to put it literally everywhere I didn’t know. What was I thinking, I was complaining as if this was a star rated hotel. This was a prison, there was no recourse or reason for complaint and the realisation swept over me and I felt a welling up inside that I didn’t necessarily want anyone to see. Knowing that this emotional state was bound to come at some point I was grateful for a pad mate who seemed to live in a world of his own most of the time. He would hopefully leave me alone in mine for the time being.

Eventually pushing my feelings away, I managed to concentrate on some activity on the other side of the door.

“That bay the workers back fo lunch,” at last some useful information although it was diluted with additional and unnecessary observation, “yous’ul ’ave to get mianne cus I cor walk,” as if I hadn’t worked that out by now.

He offered no other information about eating arrangements although I did wonder just how he had managed yesterday and the day before that but he might have had someone else here then, I couldn’t tell and didn’t bother to ask.

The main subject did raise some anxiety as to just what ‘lunch’ was to be about. With no idea of procedure, processes, availability or expectations, my mind started to race again. A small voice of reason eventually filtered through the raging and offered up the point that perhaps someone not so far below could be helpful in explaining some of these things if I were to ask. The voice was only in my head and as usual it didn’t manifest itself into making me ask the questions, I just lay there and waited instead.

“I dae like none of the food but yow better get it anyway,” it was not the encouraging help that I had hoped for, “I yam sposed to have me special diet for me illness but they wun’t get it me. If yous don’t get it,” I noted that he had already assumed that I would, “it goes on yower record, the basturds.”

By this time the noise had faded away which confused me. Having girded myself up for the job of getting our lunch it now didn’t seem to be happening.

There was a click, click, click, outside now that seemed to be getting louder or closer.

“They ’have t’ check as we ain’t scarpered,” he laughed to himself at the very notion.

The noise was revealed as the flap over our observation window clicked open in time with the general pattern of sounds. A narrow slice of a face paused to take in our presence and the flap clicked closed again; this too would be a regular and routine process to get used to.

After a moment or two more, numbers were shouted up and down the floors, a confirmation followed from what sounded to be up on high and apparently, we were all there. Another authoritative voiced rang out from somewhere.

“When you are ready Mr. Preston we will have the ones please,” the machine seemed to have swung into action.

Listening intently to what was happening, I could now hear the doors being unlocked one by one, each one seeming to get closer to ours. Nothing rushed, just a gentle, regulated pace until ours in its turn. No one looked in this time, it just swung ajar and I had no idea what was I expected to do now?

“Just tell the screws it bay fuwer Patterson, the’ll know whos it fowa.”

While slipping off the bunk I landing rather heavily. It was my first time and I hadn’t judged the distance very well; just something else to master. Tentatively opening the door a little I peered out. Not knowing even if I was supposed to touch the door let alone look through it, I knew that it wouldn’t open on its own. From the rather narrow viewpoint I tried to get an idea of what was happening without putting myself somewhere I possibly shouldn’t be.

Out on the wing there was a steady flow of people going in one general direction. It was my first real encounter with the rest of the prison population but they took no direct notice of me as far as I could tell for which I was grateful. Most of them weren’t talking just looking ahead as if they were concentrating intently on what they were doing. Picking my moment, I stepped out into the stream and joined the short queue that was forming ahead of me. It was good that there was this hiatus as it gave me time to see what I was moving towards and hopefully what was going on there. For the moment, I could see very little.

Unfortunately, the lull also meant that I was free to be distracted, this time by some of the people around me. Trying not to look directly at any of them, I just couldn’t help myself running a well tried and tested programme of analysis. Luckily, I was treated with some indifference which was probably a good thing as I had no idea what response would be forthcoming if anyone had spotted my interest or even just spoken to me. In the few moments of the short walk I took in a large amount of information to be stored away for decryption late on. The line continued to move forward slowly and I was grateful that I didn’t seem to stand out any more than any of the others, in its own small way this was a comfort at least.

As far as I could tell, being very critical or even ignorant, the only common elements between me and my fellow inmates were our clothes. Despite the subtle differences in the colours of sweat shirts, jeans and footwear and their general fit and finish, we were all dressed almost the same. As I looked beyond the clothing I noted that the individuals that made up this small community consisted of the broadest cross section of humanity that I think I had ever seen in one place. Wanting to take it all in, absorb the good, the bad and even the decidedly ugly, I was challenged instead with the main event at hand.
Stainless steel trays were stacked up on a trolley near to what I could start to see was the servery. A sign taped to the wall above the trays declared them to be ‘HOT’, as I got nearer I could see that they probably were as others were using paper towels from a teetering pile to pick them up with. Being careful, I eventually got mine and moved ever forward with the tide. Each tray had three indented compartments which made me question what our plastic property was for back in the cell. The process at the front of the queue was getting more interesting as I moved nearer. The servery, as the sign above it qualified, was a professional stainless steel set-up, bright heating spot lights and steam. Large trays of assorted foodstuffs were lined up each with a blue coated person waiting behind it, serving weapon of choice in hand.

Knowing that my mind could do strange things at times it flashed up a recollection of visits that I had made as a child to McColls restaurant in Birmingham after my regular visits to the city eye hospital. Exercises for a lazy eye forced me on the monotonous drudgery of a long bus journey week after week with my mother. The bribe of a ‘posh’ lunch would be one of the few things that kept me going over the years. In the earlier times when I was only 4 or 5 the distraction had been feeding the pigeons by the cathedral.

“Who are you?” I was snapped back rudely to the present.

The question came from a sour faced someone slumped on a stool at the start of the servery, clipboard in hand, marker pen poised in mid-air.

“Rollason,” was all I could muster but it was at least factual.

“You new?”

Although if it was a question he didn’t allow me a chance to offer an answer, “this one’s a spare, he can have number two,” I had obviously been dealt with, but still no wiser.

“I need to get Patterson his food,” my voice might have stuttered a little.

“Where’s the tray then, for God’s sake!”

I had nothing to offer in reply.

As I just stared helplessly around for any clues one was being passed begrudgingly over shoulders towards me; obviously, I was not the first to make the mistake.
“Give this one a two,” the sullen one repeated loudly ahead of him, “Patterson’s a three.”
Pressure from the queue behind me kept the line shuffling along, it seemed that it wasn’t going to stop for anything.

An officer was standing behind the line of servers as they slopped out the allotted ‘two’ and ‘three’ allocation onto my two trays. He didn’t smile or have any expression that I could fathom but he didn’t appreciate my looking at him at all; that was more than obvious. He was distracted from me as there was a discussion going on further down about how to divide up one of the trays of food and he stepped in to state the obvious, 28 portions meant four across and seven down. Once the dish had been successfully divided up he stepped back to just watching; I liked his authoritative manner as well as his boyish good looks but didn’t dare stare anymore.

“Keep it moving,” he was however speaking to me now, “we don’t have all day you know.”

Taking note of what I had been served I had a slab of what I assumed to be lasagne on one tray and what seemed to be cauliflower cheese on the other. These were topped up with vegetables of one sort or another, each of which seemed to be predetermined to go with the main element but it was all only a guess at that point in the proceedings. The numerical definitions for each dish were roughly marked alongside each station and it felt as if I had at least learnt something from the experience. Towards the end of the serving, a couple of slices of bread and two plastic pots of buttery spread were haphazardly thrown at each tray. Having just managed to steady them I turned back down the line on the other side of the barrier and heading off back towards the cells.
Ever curious, even in these high-pressure times, my eye was caught by a number of glass fronted cabinets mounted on the walls all around the serving area. They were only a few centimetres deep and inside were drawn outlines of kitchen implements, spoons, ladles, spatulas, knives etc. My brain immediately pieced together the missing pieces with those in use with the latest food offerings. It also linked the carefully scribed outlines to those you see around dead bodies in often unrealistic crime media. The combination of all these thoughts gelled into how such simple practical tools could be used in the wrong hands as deadly weapons; I moved on quickly. Passing a container of dubiously brown liquid, it didn’t look very much like it but it was probably gravy; I walked on even more quickly without sampling its delights.

The last piece of the puzzle was to pass one of the tall tables that had trays of muffins, wrapped and fruit, unwrapped. Behind it sat a dumpy little prisoner witlessly handing them out as each person passed by. He seemed almost asleep, using only one hand for the job while resting his head lazily in the other. There didn’t seem to be a choice and again I only just managed to balance the offerings as I walked past. We had a muffin each but the apple would be for me and Dave could have the orange, the decision was rather undemocratic but it was made.

“Back you go, keep it moving.”

The last officer on meal duty interjected with the unnecessary instruction having broken away from a conversation he was having with another; he went straight back to it.

“Thank you.”

I said it without thinking but didn’t think that it received the appreciation that I had intended it to have.

Walking back down the wing towards number 20, I could see an officer making his way very slowly ahead of me and some of the others also on their way back. He looked round with a face that said, get a move on. Seeing that he was locking up as he went along without breaking his swinging stride, I picked up my pace. Another ‘thank you’ from me as I just squeezed inside in time also went without acknowledgement.

Dave had slumped to his reclining pose again but pushed himself up on one elbow as I held out one of the trays not knowing what he was expecting to be on it. I had taken the use of the word ‘spare’ during the service to mean that I had been given whatever might be left over although quite how they knew that I didn’t know; something else to work out and help keep my mind active.

“I’ll leave it here then.”

Dave hadn’t made any effort and I wasn’t going to just stand there waiting for him.

“Thanks, that’s fianne.”

I must have guessed the food correctly as he made no comment on my choice of giving him the cauliflower and extras. Sliding my tray up on my bunk I worked out how to get myself up there using the hop and pop method but without losing any of the food back over the edge. There was of course the option of sitting at the newly cleaned table top using the plastic chair now it was uncluttered, but I had already decided that I didn’t need an audience while I got to grips with my first sampling of prison food. The procedure for mounting my bunk was managed more easily than I had expected and I sat with my legs dangle over the edge and the rapidly cooling tray on my lap.

Oh no, schoolboy error, I had forgotten to pick up the plastic cutlery. Sighing aloud, the up and down acrobatics got me fully equipped and by the time I was settled I was ready to eat. Below me Dave was desolately scraping the food around on his tray and mumbling some intelligible gripe, his tray popped out into view between my feet.

“If there bay ay’thing yow want just tec it, I dae wan’ it, they knows I cor eat it.”

He had slipped into an even deeper near incoherent drawl as he complained once more and I had to concentrate to comprehend what he was muttering about. In the end, it was easier to just pretend that I hadn’t heard him. I did notice that the muffin and orange had disappeared, those would have been my only items of choice.

Being hungrier than I had realised I might have eaten almost anything that they had served. From somewhere I did have a vague recollection of a sign reading ‘Kitchen’ near that first night wing and, now I come to think about it, the smell of cooking, it’s amazing what the brain can store away without you even noticing; or was that just me. All these things would be clarified over time no doubt.

The whole food issue was particularly interesting once I knew that there could be anything up to 1500 prisoners in here at any one time which only added to my commendation of the catering arrangements; if few of the others did.

Finishing the main course and now less hungry, my only comment would be that it could have been hotter but it didn’t really matter; I had eaten much colder in restaurants before now. Thinking ahead I put the muffin to one side as I didn’t know quite when the next meal might be; plan for the worse just in case. Although I hadn’t eaten my bread, I had used the margarine type greasy spread to lubricate the slightly al-détente potatoes. Leaving the bread on the tray I slid it to the end of the bunk, swung my feet up and stretched out again. The muttering noises were still coming up from below me but I was more interested in the sounds from outside the cell. I felt the need to follow every process with a general interest, knowing that it might be prudent to understand the procedures as quickly as possible, to be as little help or hindrance as I could manage.

“Send on the three’s Mr. Boswell,” at least my assumption of the floor numbering had been confirmed.

Eating my meal had only taken about 15 minutes or so during which the call had gone out in turn for all the other floors to eat. The distant clunk of opening locks started again and I pictured the shuffling footsteps on the landings, down the metal stairs where they were joined shortly after by heavier hollow upward paces as the inmates returned to their cells. For once I was thankful for a vivid and visual imagination.

“Trays!”

The call accompanied the unlocking and partial opening of our cell door.
“Yow have to put trays outsiad,” the directive came from below.
Hopping down off my bunk I didn’t get to the door before a rather fresh if annoyed face popped through.

“Come on, I don’t have all day.”

The impatient blue coated worker was obviously short on tolerance and grabbed each tray that was offered towards him. I noted that he didn’t step inside the cell, perhaps it was the still lingering odour or perhaps some other demarcation. My smile didn’t cut through his grumbling.

“You’re s’pposed to put um outside the doower they aint allowed in.”

I hoped that it was only coincidence that Dave had answered my unfulfilled assessment of the situation and not some more obvious or sinister ability he might have; please stop over thinking everything, I had to tell myself sternly. All I could do was stand helplessly but honestly admonished. The door closed quickly and loudly behind the retreating figure ending the incident. Evidently I would have to be more on the ball than I had been and not risk getting a reputation of any kind before having a chance to settle in

“Yow can borra me tae bags again if yow wanna.”

The Black Country speak was becoming more understandable when he wanted it to be but it didn’t throw me off the fact that he was expecting another drink.

“I’m OK for now,” I grunted although I could have drunk one myself.

Pushing myself back up onto my bunk to disappointed sighs from my new friend, I lay out once more in restful contemplation. It went quiet down below for a while as I listened to the rest of the lunch service and the cleaning regime that followed it.

“Well that’s it ‘till dinna, yous wown’t get soush yow can bet yam life.”

Not really understanding the whole sentence, I let the comment float over me along with the many others that followed it. For now, I wasn’t particularly bothered even if I knew what any of it meant.

My task for the present was to work out how I would manage to get comfortable up here for the many nights ahead. My movements to this end caused me to belch for which I automatically apologised, not that it interrupted the one-sided conversation going on below me. The regurgitated taste of lasagne, bizarre as it may seem bought a memory up from the depths of my subconscious. It was of a vaguely similar meal but taken in a very different setting. The recollection was eerily enhanced by a narrow shaft of sunlight that had just crept into the window opening and spread across the wall in front of me as I lay on my side. Curiously, I had found that the standard medical recovery position was the most comfortable way of lying for now. Feeling the heat from the bright reflection, it had only been a few weeks before that the same sun had been shining on a very different part of the world, with a very disparate vista.

 

Chapter Four – firsts, in many things

Time management, a key element to living my life, meant nothing now. There had been something in the induction process the night before about routines so I doubt that I needed more than a vague idea of the time as there seemed to be enough pointers and precursors to keep the prison day in motion.

“Cup o’ tea mate?”

I hadn’t noticed that Jim was awake and already considering the start of this new day.

“Uh, yes, please, thanks.”

My voice sounded slurred and sleepy as it bounced back off the brickwork. Moving sluggishly into only a half prone position a physical shudder went through me that I sensed might have appeared over dramatic; Jim didn’t seem to have noticed.

Before I went to bed I had tried to maintain some degree of civility and undressed down to my prison issue boxers and thin tee shirt. Jim however didn’t seem to have removed anything at all; each to their own I guess. The tea was a welcome comfort but as it was too hot to drink I started to sort through my small pile of roughly folded clothes while it cooled.

The items, obviously used, were at least clean and remarkably fresh. In each there were labels that indicated where they had been produced, which appeared to be at several different prisons. Looking at the garments again a little more curious, I was surprised at the quality of them, this must be the modern equivalent of sewing mail sacks I mused to myself.

With some effort and a good sense of balance, I managed to get dressed without getting down off the bunk. Looking round the cell again, now in daylight, I realised that my earlier shiver had probably been caused by the tall window still being wide open. The morning breeze was rather brisk despite the restricted aperture. Being more awake now I remembered having agreed that it could be left open as he, apologetically, couldn’t go through the night without a roll-up which I agreed to if rather begrudgingly; I had not felt emotionally strong enough to disagree at the time. Another snippet floated to the surface from the induction, something about smoking and non-smoking cells, European Human Rights Act, or something but it was too early in my stay to get into all that.

With my now fully dressed legs dangling over the edge of the bunk I contemplated what protocols might be in place to negotiate oneself around the small amount of floor space. Sipping quietly at the mug of tea I thought more about all of it. It, the tea, was hot and strong and the plastic mug reminded me rather of camping although the only problem here was, this was no holiday. The floor, I decided not to try it out for now and just watched and listened to what was going on and in both the immediate and the wider environment.

Outside the door there was plenty of movement but not much that was easily discernible. The jangling of keys and chains was the predominant sound but muffled greetings and stark instructions also echoed off the hard surfaces. Outside the window, I couldn’t hear very much, the rumble of some sort of trolley, occasional heavy footsteps and the heavy bang of a door or gate; they were the best I could visualise.

Inside Jim didn’t seem to have acknowledged the availability of a small sink nor the washing items that he had procured for us the night before. He was sitting on the toilet bowel, not using it for its primary purpose but attempting to blow smoke out of the window, sadly he was failing.  Conversation was not one of my strong points at the best of times so I decided to wash instead. Being slightly cleaner, ‘a cat lick’ my Gran’ would have called it, there didn’t seem to be anything else to be done or do for the moment.

With my strange companion still engrossed in his own thoughts, wherever they were taking him, I went back to see what I had to work with amongst my new possessions. It didn’t take long. The first night pack had contained a tooth brush, a small tube of very coarse but minty toothpaste and a tiny cake of white soap of which I had used all three. The smokers’ pack I didn’t get to see as Jim had squirrelled it away before we had settled down for the night. He had been very insistent that, although I didn’t want it, a free supply of ‘burn’ was not something to be given up; apparently, that was my first lesson in prison currency. The other item, the breakfast pack, was just a limited supply of tea bags, sachets of sugar and powdered milk. It was properly known as a drinks pack but it seemed that I had all sorts of things yet to learn. Other than that, there was nothing. Jim suggested another cup of tea and I jumped up on the bunk out of his way to allow him access to the tiny kettle. During the rather awkward attempt at levitation, the back of my very loose jeans caught on the hard metal edge of the bed frame and I scrabbled awkwardly to either not fall or lose my trousers. My embarrassment went unnoticed but once safe I wondered what one could do for a belt in here.

The clothes I had already established were clean, functional but were both badly fitting and just a little worn around the edges. They reminded rather me of things that I had when I was younger, always clean, and practical but with never anything thrown out too early; ‘waste not wants not’. Memories of junior school came to mind for some curious if tenuously linked reason.

The image was of me being about 9 or 10 years old. One afternoon back at home after school I was duly presented with a new jumper. It was not such a great event as knitting was a regular pastime in our house along with all sorts of other handicrafts both recreational and functional. We were not poor, we were not rich but we were very practical. Everyone seemed to have what we needed when we needed it; but not very often before time, what made this item different?

From what I remembered there had been a picture in a magazine, a new type of wool in various bright garish colours and at some point, just in passing, I must have indicated my approval of it in some way. A short time later I was now holding this, the jumper knitted up from it; the latest craze apparently, in colour if not style. With multiple shades of yarn all running into each other that gave, in this case a random and very vague tiger stripe effect in browns, oranges and yellows. The only thing that you could say about it was that it was bright. I loved it. It was very easy to get fed up with the plain and the practical, I had always wanted something different and now I had it. It might have been my love and interest in wildlife that made it appropriate and eventually I would have another one in blues; whale like I had thought to myself. Despite the colour scheme, the fact that the jumper was new was a definite bonus as I had often had to finish off the hand me downs from my older brother or even my sister if I was really unlucky. The whole argument of nature versus nurture might have started for me but, what does a 10-year-old know; if only I had had the gift of foresight.

With what was most likely a misplaced sense of excitement I decided that I would wear the jumper to school the very next day. Although the village where we lived was only small at the time it still had its own school, just one infant and one junior class but that was all it needed. There was no school uniform required until you had to go up to the ‘big school’ but one still had to be smart and practical. It may not have been the very next day but I did sport the new creation one morning and fearlessly entered the playground, bold, proud even but sadly still very much unenlightened.

When the whole school was there it was still only about 30 pupils in total so you would have thought that we were all friends. My part in this complex game of being a child was to stalk around the edges of the fraternity, not ignored or overtly excluded but never quite invited in. My confusion and sensitivities about all this would become clearer with age.

The truth was more that I was excluding myself for some unknown reason rather than the ostracising that I often needed to feel to be the case. School yard politics were difficult and incomprehensible concepts. This hadn’t been helped from the very start by having my older brother charged with taking me into the playground each day. He was four years older than me and so always on the way up to the next school so having a small annoyance like me hanging on behind him which was never going to happen. Although the trauma of starting school has probably clouded my memory I seem to recall that when walking the short distance to the school gate he only held onto me until we were out of sight of the farm gate and I was on my own. It was a similar thing at the middle school although there was no hand holding of course, I did get a very direct unequivocal warning about associating with him or his friends at any stage of the last year that we would have to endure the same spaces in the building or the yard; I didn’t disappoint him.

Even in those very first days in the Infant class, solitary anonymity oddly had its advantages. It didn’t take long to work out that groups often got into more trouble, gangs were definitely a problem waiting to happen and in my naïve simplistic way, I could at least slip in or out of society as I chose where no-one seemed to mind or care. At least during free time, I could content myself in just watching what was going on, who was doing what to whom and then by picking my moments, keeping myself out of trouble. This was my perception of life’s rich pattern anyway which continued in a very unremarkable way for the years leading through to the junior class room. From this point other things were starting to happen which continued to build steadily as we progressed in age and a vague seniority.

Amongst these changes were distinct and sometimes rather obvious. Girls were not quite so ‘giggly’ or ‘screemy’ and they would often huddle together in corners deep in pseudo serious conversation; unsurprisingly they didn’t engage my interest. The boys however were becoming distinctly more interestingly to me; bolder and most noticeably more physical. Football and other games started to take on a rather more serious aspect. Some of the less genteel amongst the lads seemed to be looking for a fight all the time, trying to assert their dominance over the smaller or weaker ones; I felt my own differences but it was nothing like that.

In my semi-enclosed world, there were changes both inside and outside but I decided that it would be best to keep most of that to myself, choosing to watch what was happening around me instead. The activity and even skill of observation had never been more interesting as it was here, even if it was often as confusing as it was an indefinable pleasure. Without any apparent conscious effort, my attentions would be drawn distinctively towards certain individuals more than others. Here I would find myself staring at them although still not understanding why. These events would happen mainly at play times and getting caught out would induce me to ridiculous exaggerated pretences of collecting blackberries from the hedge or trying to catch butterflies, eating grass stalks or other inane things; I don’t think that it was ever a very convincing cover.

On this particular day, the one concerning the new jumper, some of my rather over played beaming pride came not only from the garment itself but some exaggerated belief that we as a family held some sort of standing in the village; I have never really understood it fully but there it was. It was true that ‘we’ ran a successful, long established business; ‘we’ were involved in most of the village and church matters; ‘we’ lived on one of the village farms, one of the smaller ones admittedly but we had fields and barns and a large old farm house; ‘we’ certainly didn’t live in one of the council houses where families constantly came and went; ‘we’ were one of the establishment. If I had been old enough to appreciate my thoughts I should have been horrified at the concept. These rather ill-considered opinions became one of many validations for feeling different to so many of my peers. Having never felt part of anything, being forced together in school did not mean that I would naturally become part of the world at large. The jumper incident would only fuel this disparate separation.

Standing in the playground that morning, with my head held high, I looked around for someone who might have noticed me; or my rather bright new garment. No one did so I set out to choose someone to show it to instead; I soon wished that I hadn’t. Once the one individual had seen it, the comments and gesticulations that ensued made it very clear that it was not the fashion statement that I thought it had been. It very quickly became the laughing point of the morning and I had to retreat to a safe distance with my face red and my ego bruised. When I had managed to calm down a little and become passively invisible once more I slowly slid round the edges of the playground to approached one of the nicer and much safe boys that I might hold up as a friend; blonde hair, sweet face he also didn’t usually join in with things very much either.

“Do you like my new jumper?” I had decided to start the ill-fated process all over again.

Asking a direct question was completely out of character for me and I don’t remember who was more surprised but, at least he was smiling at me, and at it.

“It’s a bit stupid.”

Had I judged it wrong again? Yes, my bubble was well and truly burst. This was not how the conversation had played out in my head only moments before I had opened my mouth. Smashed once more, all that was left was to turn tale and race quickly away my face glowing once more. Rescue thankfully came in the form of the hand bell calling us into class with the said item abandoned in the cloakroom

Class times were always busy and interesting so I didn’t feel any pressure from events until the mid-morning break. It was not very often that I had the opportunity, let alone the nerve or the understanding to interact on a one to one basis and it was a grave disappointment that this now included one of the few boys that I had been able speak with. He gave me suspicious sideways glances and I thought it best that the incident was left to just watching the world from a distance. Rather unkindly during these considerations I tried to convince myself that he was only a farm hand’s son anyway while but deep down I knew that my mock prejudice wouldn’t overshadow my deeper, still undeveloped, inclinations. Needless to say, I didn’t wear the jumper to school again.

Community spirit, what a great thing it is; or so I had heard it might be. Everyone helping where they could, where they should, each knew their role and their place, everyone having their individual expectations and fulfilments. It was such a happy picture but not one I saw myself in very often. However, it was a representation that just occasionally had its defined edges wrinkled; outsiders sometimes invaded the village. One such time affected me more than the others, perhaps it might have been the surge of something peculiarly and powerfully stimulating that happened, down inside some yet undiscovered depths.

A family had moved into one of the cottages a little further up the road from us and they had immediately been labelled as gypsies. Not quite understanding all the fuss I didn’t take too much notice. Logically, to me anyway, they didn’t live in a caravan or have a scraggy old horse or yapping dog although when the children came into school that first morning it became more obvious.

Their outward appearance was enough to have them branded as they had been. Remember that I had no idea about style of fashion but it was easy to tell that the rather portly mother was so obviously, a fortune teller type complete with multi layered, lace edged long skirt, rough woollen shawl and bright head scarf to top off the ensemble. The pitiable children being dragged reluctantly by the hand behind her were something straight out of the pages of Dickens. The giggles from the class were stopped by a loud bang from the teacher’s hand on her desk; we just watched on as they were formally and otherwise silently enrolled. This pause in the general proceedings gave me time for a closer inspection for my own interests.

It appeared that the two were twins but, despite their gender differences you could tell it was probably true but to me there was only one of them that was interesting. He stood out as a perfect unification of all the many and varied aspects of boyhood and I think my heart skipped a beat as his gaze swept around the room at all of us looking back; I looked at him far longer and more intently than most if any.

He was relatively tall but under the rather dishevelled and mismatched outer clothes it was easy to tell that his long thin arms and legs matched the possibility of his torso perfectly. It might well have been from under nourishment but I would have given almost anything to have had a look like his. My daily embarrassment of still carrying ‘baby fat’, as my mother insisted on calling it was something I found difficult to ignore and envious of those who were not so inflicted. My fleeting negative thoughts about myself were easily washed away as I drank in his sharp angular beauty. The long neck with its prominent Adam’s apple held up a face of exquisitely chiselled features and dark deep set eyes all setting off a magnificent crown of mousy hair dramatically barbered into a 30’s style short back and sides. Errol Flynn, eat your heart out. He had a skin tone that almost matched the colour of his beautiful hair but although that might have been attributed to a degree of general dirt, the vision had was having the most profound and disturbing effect on me. Not really understanding any of it, my body reacted autonomously, thankfully hidden under my desk. That sort of involuntary thing was happening more and more and I would have liked to ask more about such things but realistically, the who, when or how was not something to consider here.

Back in the room, I think that my open-mouthed gawking went unnoticed. The mother and girl had provided some further distraction as the younger of the two didn’t see any merits of having to be in school. This obviously differed from the consensus and an argument developed. It catapulted into more of a physical fight which eventually the mother won and the latest begrudging additions to the class were seated. Fortunately, this was well away from me and I could silently savour the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my underwear. The disruption of their arrival was not to be a one-time affair; it became almost a daily routine. The boy would slink quietly in but his sister always had to make an entrance. For me at least school days from then on certainly had a rosier glow.

Although I don’t think that I ever spoke directly to this magnificent new male, it didn’t seem to be a requirement to sustain my interest in him. Unfortunately, for me, he was a footballer proving to be both very fit and good at the game but this meant that I had no chance of being involved with him in any legitimate pastime. In fact, I took every effort not to have my star gazing noticed and I was perhaps fortunate to get caught outright only occasionally; not that he actually seemed to mind when I did. Taking his only slight embarrassment as part of the fantasy that he too might have been more like me, I satisfied myself that he might be just too shy to respond to anything that I might have be thinking. If only I knew what to do, how to react to these feelings, doing anything would have been better than nothing but, that is just what I did, nothing.

The mother, fearsome creature that she was, attended the school more than any other parent that anyone could remember. It became clear that the genetic predisposition to angry outbursts had only been passed on to the one twin. The other in contrast, seemed disproportionately quiet but he also appeared to be more popular because of it. It was a great surprise when, on the way home one afternoon, my ‘crush’ asked me if I wanted to come in and look at his pet pike. If I had been older, or wiser, I might not have been quite as flustered as I found myself. Experience may have also interpreted his invitation with a degree of innuendo but for now, I took the question literally and accepted his curious offer. The terrifying vision of his mother flashing across my mind, disapproving of such an impromptu visit, but in the glow of the glorious moment I didn’t really care and would have said yes to anything that he asked. Following him quietly into the house I was only a little terrified but managed to whisper to him.

“My uncle used to live here,” my mouth was talking but I didn’t feel connected to it, “will your mother mind me coming in?”

Despite knowing that the two statements were not associated I had to start somewhere to learn the complex art of proper conversation.

“Of course not, it’s in the bath, down here in the cellar.”

It would seem that he too hadn’t worked out the subtleties either which made me feel much better.

The cottage had been the village outdoor when my uncle had lived there and I had been a regular visitor for Vimto and crisps. Knowing the layout as I did managing to avoid the kitchen where I assumed the mother was making noise. Slipping silently down the two shallow stone steps that defined the cellar, we found the fish as he had described, in an old tin bath. Having run out of conversation for the moment, I realised that it could have been a pile of dead leaves for all I cared, I had received a direct and very personal invitation from my new passion. It was a very short visit.

It turned out that he hadn’t gotten the permission that he thought that he didn’t need. Once caught out by the figure looming large in the doorway, he got a clip round the ear for his trouble. Staying out of the direct line of fire, all I wanted to do was smooth down the now rather tousled hair to its former glory and offer some form of intimate comfort to my new friend. Concerned for his distress but possibly more for my desire to just touch him, my confusion felt odd, useless even and once again I did nothing; we didn’t go in for all that touching and stuff sort of thing in my family, so I was lost. All I did get was a disquieted ‘see you tomorrow’, he rubbed his own head, smiled a glancing upturn of his rosy mouth in my direction and I was gone. The preposterously large smile on my face was safely locked away for later and well before I got into the ever-busy kitchen at home.

Unfortunately for me there would only be a few more tomorrow’s with. The family moved on. It was all down to the girl, according to the village gossips that is but the preoccupations with their demise was lost amid my confusion at the possibility of having missed something that I never actually had. The relatively brief but markedly significant time had given my inner confidence a bit of a boost. Even now I can relive the vision of his beauty, the magnificent sweep of his hair, the curious exotic shading on his sallow skin and his almost rag-a-muffin but perfect build. The charming recollection could always manage to raise tightness in my pants, if I wanted it to that is. Nobody else needed to know of such things and they never did until now of course.

My new-found confidence was only a slightly better understanding of myself but it, life, was still somewhat of a blur. It didn’t afford me any more opportunity to ‘join in’ but I had changed. In moments of madness, I could be found throwing unsolicited comments into conversations, mostly inappropriate and outlandish. The general outcome of this new-found boldness was to alienate me even more but I took some contentment from at least having found some sort of a voice of my own. One day I decided that I would try out a more practical manifestation to get me noticed and maybe make me finally, ‘one of the boys’.

On that day, during the school lunch break, we were all out in the yard and a rather unfortunately plain, tom-boy of a girl was hanging off the climbing frame having one of her regular rampages at some of the boys. It was nothing very new and no one was really taking much notice.

“I’ll kick your arse’s if you don’t sod off,” although one of her favourite phrases although it had lost its effectiveness from over repetition.

In a moment of unconsidered and complete madness I placed myself behind her and, as she swung back at arm’s length, I reached up with outstretched hands and dragged her thick dark blue knickers, from under the flowing skirt, right down to her knees. The sight of her small, firm but still muscularly flexing buttocks was rather a shock. Not quite knowing what I was expecting to find, a combination of the naked surprise and the overt jeering of everyone looking on to the incident brought screams of embarrassment from the poor victim Sandra. The other boys were all pointing at something that I couldn’t imagine from my rearward vantage but the moment had passed and was regretting the action from the very moment that it happened; the enormity of the moment was incomprehensible.

We were all stunned into silence by the loud banging on the classroom window from inside; our teacher had been watching to see just how far the taunting was going to go but I doubted that she had expected the current vista. As we two turned around to the sound, she was indicating that Sandra and I should get to her classroom, now! The others had quickly scattered in all directions, most still rolling in laughter at the revelation of the secrets within lady’s underwear. All I got was a hard thump on the arm as Sandra pushed past me going into the school room; after first recovering both her dignity and her knickers. Unable to complain, all there was left was to silently take the telling off and accepted the dent in my already unclassified reputation. If we had been a few years older than perhaps the incident might have been viewed more seriously but as it stood, the situation was over.

One positive to come from the incident served to prove the eleventh commandment, ‘Thou shall not get caught’ and that lesson was one well learnt and ever remembered. Once back outside we both got equal ridicule until someone else dragged the spotlight away from us with another disassociated event. The telling off by the teacher was not appreciated and I never again tried to ingratiate myself with the boys; it seemed that I would have to manage without them. Afterwards, eventually, she and I had a sort of unspoken and never referred to something between us, friends from adversity I guessed although it was always more from her than me. Any physical attraction was never clear for me except for the boyish looks but even then, there would always be just something missing.

Watching people, watching things in general was what I became rather good at, being able to see things that I thought others often missed, spotting things that were different and there was always something that needed to be found out, in all the what, where, when and why of life. This thirst for information kept me one step ahead of the day to day drudgery of burgeoning adolescence.

The thought of being a failure at anything was a growing anathema. Obviously, I would not be good at everything but I quickly developed ways of not being found out in ignorance, keeping just far enough ahead or knowing one more thing than anyone else when I needed to. Mostly, as with life in general, these were just little things but I think it was enough to create an illusion to fool most of the people most of the time. It was good enough then and increasing so as I grew up and got much better at it. Behind the possibly misguided illusion, I found a lot of time and opportunity for more covert activities. I also learnt to get away with things that most people might not have been able to and found degrees of pleasure from the thrill that the regime seemed to supply.

When I moved onto far darker experiments in the many other things of life, I somehow always knew that I would eventually get into trouble not that it stopped me; not all the time anyway. Many of these events and circumstances would ultimately prove to be socially and morally unacceptable. Even back in those early teen years, even if I didn’t fully understand them, I knew that my differences would eventually prove to make me too much of a contrast, too different for other people. This made me even more desperate to be in control of whatever it was that might come my way. Here in prison, undercover activity would not be an option; not that I could see anyway. My observational skills had been useful to a point and would hopefully continue to be so.

Having exhausted the morning’s routines, such as they were, Jim had started to rattle off more of his tales of woe but I took little of it in making only what I thought were appropriate noises to keep him going and well away of my own reverie. Noting the increased activity out in the corridor, it wasn’t such a surprise when the flap on the spy hole scratched aside and an eye appeared. It disappeared again before a chain rattled and click went the lock. The door swung heavily inwards.

“10 minutes you two,” it was the same smart crisp uniform but a different, not so attractive face, “get your stuff together and we’ll get you moved across to the wing.”

Surprisingly, the door was only partially closed which left me feeling rather nervous.

Orders, directions and compliance, the life blood of prison life. No discussion required or accepted and simple acquiescence seemed to make for a nice smooth operation. Following Jim’s lead in the preparation of our kits we were soon ready for whatever was coming next; his bed roll of various materials was neater than mine but it seemed to serve its purpose. Shaking my collection, nothing seemed ready to fall out and we stood silently waiting by the door again. Jim mumbled to himself occasionally but I was not required for his rather personal exchange of views. The ten minutes stretched out to much longer but that was something else that was to become normal. The door was eventually opened.

“You first Mr. Mulligan.”

Realising that I had forgotten the guy’s last name, even if I ever knew it in the first place, my brain was rather unkindly telling me that we were hardly likely to be best friends; although so far, he was the closest I had in here.

“Yes sir,” Jim answered smartly in response to the authority and in a rather different tone to his earlier remonstrating.

“I’ll be back for you Rollason, just sit still for a bit.”

The deflation from having being poised and ready to move made me realise that I had not yet got the hang of when and if one should rely on anything anymore. Slumping back onto the bare bunk, the rather uncomfortable feeling of being alone loomed yet again with little else to distract me this time.

The architecture was still on the whole in its original Victorian state, layers of paint couldn’t hide its age or abuse with marker pen, lighter and gouge. The modern sanitary upgrades, stainless steel seat-less toilet bowl and small hand basin did nothing to make it look or feel any better. The sanitation and washing facilities were less than ten years old and there would be many tales of horror to be told of the earlier regime by long term and frequent inmates. The information would be fascinating but the stories of slopping out buckets, the rags instead of paper, shit parcels thrown out of the windows, the generally undignified regimes created an unpleasant picture of what was a modern day dark ages.

My time to move came eventually. Now on my own, I had to concentrate to pick up the visual clues as well as any verbal ones to fit into the ordered process. The door had been fully locked after Jim had been taken and the short delay of the more familiar opening routine would prove to always give you that few moments of notice. Followed the swing of the officer’s head I pressed past him and stood outside on the wing landing.

“Prisoner off the wing.”

He had shouted out to no one that I could see, but it received a reply from somewhere down in the congested space.

My perception was that I had the carefully prescribed prisoner movement almost off pat despite my new status. By the time we had gone through several doors and gates to move off the wing, I was quite pleased with myself as we moved outside and through a number of different high fenced compounds and walk ways. The system I had decided was to stay close to the officer but not too close to be intimidating. Don’t assume where you’re going to go but wait to be directed. Start and stop without being told to. Give way to other officers and in my case, give way to other main stream prisoners without confrontation; the last part I decided may have been for having been granted VP status. It was easy to understand that it was not my place to speak before being spoken to but it took me by surprise when my escort did eventually speak to me.

“This your first time?”

The file in his hand would have told him that it was, so I hoped he was just trying to be helpful; I still didn’t think I needed to speak back to him, nor it seems did he.

“Just keep your head down, do as the officers tell you and don’t go looking for trouble that would be my advice and if you take it, you’ll be fine.”

The rather obviously rehearsed speech was still comforting in its small way, my only hope being that he might have meant what he said.

It’s strange the things you remember, but interestingly I noticed that as we passed other officers they always addressed each other as either Mr or Miss plus their surnames whereas we prisoners were just a surname and then only when required. Experience would show that if, as a prisoner, you had a Mr. added to your name it often meant that you were in trouble for something.

Feeling a little calmer now, I started to notice just how much movement there was going on throughout the estate including groups of prisoners as well as single inmates, each with a warder either in front or behind. They were mostly wheeling trolleys some stacked with black bin bags and cardboard boxes, others had what looked like laundry. Stainless steel cabinets which I presumed might be heated for food perhaps were also heading here and there. My curiosity was starting to be noticed and in some cases reciprocated but the chill glares from other prisoners were not of camaraderie so my gaze reverted to watching where we were going. Any evaluation of the other prisoners would have to wait until I was much safer both physically and mentally.

Instead of looking at people I took in the prison estate as we passed amongst it. From outside the main walls the whole prison looked quite small in area but now inside, it seemed to go on for miles. The number of dividing fencing was mildly interesting, all the same height, razor wire loops on their tops, lights, camera and other as yet unknown devices. Gateways through them were also standardised, heavy, tubular steel. Each cell block that we passed seemed to have its own fenced off area adjacent but part of it. Other smaller compounds were dotted about and held trolleys some of which were piled up with rubbish bags, old mattresses and broken down boxes. It was hardly fascinating material but it passed the time more quickly, either that or I was better at moving with my gaoler through the various obstacles. My still ill-fitting jeans were only just hanging onto my hips. Having no belt to help them stay up and the awkward bed roll under one arm, walking was starting to be rather inelegant; maintaining a little dignity would have to be given up as an impossibility; no one else seemed to mind.

The cell blocks, or wings as they were properly called, took a dramatic change in their design and build quality once we were about what I thought might be a third of the way across the estate. From the elegant curving if austere Victorian style, they changed to a more modern, solid, square design. Still build from the distinctive red brick with light stone coloured corner blocks and window frames but of a more modern design. From a plaque, high up on one of the walls, I could read that they had only been opened about 4 years before.

Each was designated by a letter painted on a large board also high up and in clear view. We were now approaching one with a ‘P’ on it and from the general direction that we were going; it seemed to be our destination. Once inside one of the smaller compounds my assumption was confirmed.

Looking at the other buildings and their signage I had expecting some reference to it being the VP wing other than the ‘P’ but it seemed that each wing had just one letter of the alphabet as its designation and ‘P’ was nothing to do with it at all. The steel gates and heavy door were painted in the standard regulation rich dark blue but this was showing signs of heavy use even after these relatively few years. Having not spoken any further, we went through the double door and gate procedure once more and were now inside.

Taking my first impressions, it was impossible not to look directly upwards to the considerable height of the roof. The difference to the previous night’s accommodation was startling. The bright and airy space seemed inconsistent with the concept of prison. It was four floors high, each of the upper levels having its own walkway but open to the central area. Above the fourth floor there was a glass roofed atrium, I could hardly see the top from where I waited for the outer door to be locked but resisted to urge to wander further and get a better look. There were rows of steel doors along each side of each floor but the space between and facing them was huge. Suicide netting was strung across each of the upper floors between the walkways but beneath them across the ground floor there were pool tables, three I think, a table tennis table folded away against another wall and several tall plain wooden tables and stools dotted along the length of the space. There was more to see right at the far end but I didn’t have time to take it all in; it was too far away anyway. The officer shouted something that reverberated around the hard, smooth surfaces but it was not for me and anyway I wasn’t actually listening.

One thing that was noticeable was how quiet the wing was; except for the earlier shout. There were a few people milling about, all of them dressed in the same green overalls that I had seen the previous night and obviously also workers of some kind. More noticeable was the lack of uniformed officers which did seem a little odd. The workers didn’t pay any real attention as I followed my officer up one of the two wide steel stairways; there was one at each end of the wing. We went up to the third floor and down one of the landings along the full length to a more open floor space.

“Wait here while I get you booked in,” I did.

Although he didn’t indicate if I was to sit or stand I perched halfway on one of the high stools and put my bed roll on the table next to it. At the back of the space and to one side was another barred gate with the rest of the wall consisting of a row of mirrors. The officer let himself through the gate and disappeared behind the closed door. Common sense would dictate that the mirrored panes of glass were windows and it was where the officers must be looking out from as an alternative to walking about unnecessarily on the wing itself. It was difficult not to stare while pondering the possibility, but I prudently turned away to look down the wing instead.

The light that seemed to fill every corner of the wing came not only from the high glass roof panels but the full height cathedral style window in the end wall where we had come in; a cathedral to incarceration, I smiled at the thought. You couldn’t tell from the ground floor just how tall the window was and even with the heavy mesh that covered it, the amount of daylight that flooded in was amazing. The glass roof had no apparent security measures but it was about 15 or 20 feet above the upper floors walkway so safe enough you would think. A large extractor fan about halfway down spun slowly in its housing creating a flicker effect on the wire mesh of the catch nets below it. Focussing my eyes through the layers, it was a long way down, even from here on the third floor.

A quiet noise caught my attention. One of the green clad workers was gradually approaching my seat. Not knowing what I should do but opting for nothing, I waited. He was operating what seemed to be a mechanical floor cleaning machine hence his slow approach. It seemed to wash, dry and polish the floor all in one pass and he didn’t look like stopping as he and it headed straight for me.

“Shift that lot will you,” the operator nodded grimly in the direction of the table and stools.

It didn’t sound like a request and not knowing either prison protocol or his personal status, I took it as an instruction just to be safe. After dragging the heavy table as best I could without spilling my bed roll onto the floor, the stool slipped easily to join it. The cleaning operation continued past me, spinning round at the wall, and heading off again down the length of the landing. Again, trying not to be too obvious I did notice how clean all the floors were, washed or not. This could be applied to the walls as well and as I looked around almost every surface had a gloss finish and everything was so very tidy, nothing extraneous on the floors or outside of the confinement of the notice boards spaced around the walls. For some obscure reason, it was impressive in its simplicity.

Trying not to make any direct eye contact I watched as some of the workers below seemed to have open access to cells whereas most of the others were closed and presumably locked. A recollection of stories about 23 hours a day lock-up sprung to mind so this freedom must indicate some type of privilege perhaps; there was going to be lots for me to learn. Other workers on the ground floor were bagging things up what looked like clothes and towels. The odd worker however was not doing anything, just leaning in a cell doorway drinking from steaming cups of some sort of hot drink and chatting quietly to other inmates; the observation lost its interest with the feeling that I could do with something to drink myself.

The gate behind me was opened noisily but clanged shut. My escort indicated with a wave of the file in his hand that I follow him again. It was my file, you could tell from that terrible photograph on the front plus another copy of it on an oblong card clipped next to it. We went down the steel stairway nearest to us, all the way back to the ground floor. Some of the workers addressed the officer in general greetings, ‘Good morning Mr. Cartwright, are you well Mr Cartwright’ to each he nodded a silent reply but we kept walking. The food chain was starting to become clearer, I was at the bottom obviously, the workers were further up but a uniform trumped the pack.

On the way down I spotted some of the seemingly missing officers, there was one on alternate floors only, each was sitting reading a newspaper and only casually looking up to watch the wing and as we passed by them.

“New one for the ones Mr Preston,” my escort threw out the comment without breaking his stride as we passed one of the officers who had an extra pip on his shoulder.

“Thank you Mr Cartwright, carry on.”

“Have you seen Mr Haliday?” he added belatedly.

“Up on the fours I think Mr Preston.”

We all craned our necks upwards in unison; what made me join in I don’t really know. The exchange happened without pause in our progress and there were no further pleasantries to anyone else.

We eventually reached the ground floor, the ‘ones’ as they were called. My file was rechecked and we walked to a spot halfway down on the left-hand side. A number 20 was emblazoned above the door. The file was checked yet again and presumably being correct, the card was taken off and slipped into a holder to the left of the door above another that was already placed there. I could now see that the card had my picture, my name, my status, a large felt pen written ‘R’, presumably for being on remand and my date of birth. The word ‘Standard’ was scribbled below that but it meant nothing to me. The other card in the rack had similar information plus a few other undecipherable entries, the picture and details were obviously all different to mine.

“Here you are then, you’re two’d up with Mr Patterson,” I was still picking up the lingo and so didn’t ask what two’d up was, “he’s OK really and I’m sure will tell you everything that you need to know. Someone will be along at some point to tell you some more about how things work and fill in any gaps,” he was unlocking the door as he spoke.

“Thank you.”

Having ventured the civility cautiously I was not admonished for it so that must have been OK. It was the first thing I had said for quite some time and my voice sounded strange as it echoed back to me; I didn’t say anything more.

“A new mate for you Dave.”

Directed into the now open cell, the observation was to the other prisoner, perhaps just a coincidence his name was the same as mine? I had to squeeze past the officer as he was obviously not going to let go of the door handle. Gathering myself and my things into as small a package as I could, I slid past him. The protocol for holding onto door handles had already been noted and it seemed a reasonable if awkward security measure. The door immediately swung closed once I had passed through it and the lock clicked solidly into place. A rattle at the small rectangular viewing window meant that we received a quick once-over and the flap snapped closed. I was home.

 

Chapter Three – high walls round the green

The journey this time was much longer and punctuated by detours to other court’s secure areas picking up other pieces of the day’s criminal fodder along with the now familiar verbose and vociferous verbiage. The whole sad caterwauling started all over again. A growing darkness was not just outside in the streets, it was setting into my very cold core. Once the van had finished its diversions it became obvious where it was heading and the darkness continued to deepen inside me.

The journey stopped and started its way around the city rush hour while this compliment of detainees shared each other’s recent misfortunes and anything else that they had in common. Once this was exhausted, they were now looking to pass the rest of the time with some new sport. By a process of elimination, it was possible to work out whom else was on the van and who had not yet been embroiled in the general banter. Fortunately, again, I was not in the immediate line of fire and I was very glad as somehow, someone had found out that there was a ‘nonce’ on the bus. It seemed to be the consensus that they should be exposed. The term is not one that I appreciated even if it might have been technically true in the common parlance of my current situation; its implied characteristics were not true of me.

The cubicle that had eventually become the target of the hunt remained silent although even I could tell that there was someone in there and that they were not very happy about being so. Keeping my face out of view through the small window on the inside, the person on the opposite side of the van tried in vain to see who I might be; for once I wasn’t so curious as to who he was or rather what he might look like. Fortunately for me by this time the other guy had been coerced into playing ball with the bullies but it was not a nice thing to listen to. We were all saved in one way or another by our arrival at the facility and I was right about where we had ended up although its official title was now HMP Birmingham it had always been affectionately known as the district of the city, Winson Green; ‘The Green’.

Entry to the stark walled facility was a lengthy process. Just getting the van into line outside the gates seemed to require protracted negotiation between the drivers. Many of the other vans had to get unloaded and quickly off again to other places that night, some of them quite some distance away. With its place finally won, our van moved very slowly forward in the queue and was eventually let through the outer main gate. It was a local landmark of course and I knew the outside of it very well but had no idea of the inner workings of the place. Even during the major upgrading some years before it had been impossible to see how it was laid out but it was soon to be all too clear.

There was a double gate system where the outer gate had to be closed before the inner one could slip noisily aside and allow access to the inner yard. Before that second event could happen, there were head counts and paper work checks done while the van was in the dismal looking limbo area. Smarter officers in more formal uniforms sported equally formal faces as they took stock of their new charges; again, I wanted to stare but felt it better not to at this critical stage. Once satisfied, the van passed into the inner sanctum where I could see around the large holding area and that there were already two or three other vans parked up, lights still on, obviously waiting. A new chorus of complaint and caterwauling arose from the more frequent flyers on board, those that were used to the system knew that this would mean even more delay and were not afraid to share their thoughts on the subject. Now the van had parked up the heaters had gone off and I felt the chill go through my scant summer clothing; they had been fine for a quick trip to the shops but was hardly adequate now. Tucking my hands under my jumper I hunkered down to keep as warm as was possible and tried to ignore the noise bouncing around the rest of the vehicle.

Boredom soon swept through and the game of hunt the newbie set off once more. This time the other guy cracked and shouted out his innocence with a distinct wobble in his voice, it seemed that this was just what the baying crowd wanted and I hoped for his sake that it wouldn’t last too long.

Eventually the van did move to the front of the line and the noise subsided to a dull verbose grizzle. Having parked in what seemed to be the designated unloading area marked clearly in yellow under the floodlights, the transfer of prisoners between places of justice began. It had been contracted out for some years and during my short time in their custody I had noticed that these parties were obsessed by working to the book; if anything was to go wrong they would have probably been for the chop. Even though we were now inside the thirty feet high outer walls, in a compound with twenty feet high wire fencing topped with razor wire and more cameras than you could shake a stick at, it was still one prisoner at a time, handcuffs always and endless lists to tick off and sign. All this and the other paraphernalia of the task for a walk that was no more than fifteen feet, eventually got you inside what one of the many signs around the walls declared to be, ‘Reception’. There were plenty more signs to be read but for now I had other things on my mind.

Again, it seemed that I was to be last off the van; the chap who had cracked up might have been in a similar boat as me but, rather uncharacteristically, I was only really concerned about myself for the time being.

Once inside the building its warmth was welcome and I could take in what was happening in the surprisingly large space; compared to the places I had been for the last many hours anyway. There were quite a number of officers all sporting the smart bright white short sleeved shirts, black ties and most of them adorned with tightly cropped almost military style haircuts; this distraction was difficult to drag my attention from. After being formally handed over, signed off the transport log sheets and left with the real prison warders I was in prison for real.

As I peered around at all the activity my file received a cursory glance, I received a full pat down body search, was walked through an airport style scanner and my small bag of personal effects was checked off onto another list which I was told to sign after which they disappeared into a back room already filled with similar things.

Self-preservation was waiting for an opportunity to ask about ‘the rule’ but fortunately my mind could work on a practical level and not too distracted by the many other interesting people and things going on around me as my superficial self often was. There didn’t seem to be a right time presenting itself so, I decided to just ask.

“It was suggested that I need to ask to be put on the rule?”

While not speaking to any specific officer in particular it was just a moment when there were no other prisoners that too near or listening. Despite these hopes, my request appeared to raise attention levels up just a notch or two. The officer who was seated behind the high desk in front of me paused, looked more intently and quizzical at me, looked down once more at my file and back up at me rather stonier faced.

“You must be new, it’s actually rule 45, segregation, vulnerable prisoner if that’s what you really mean?” I didn’t have a chance to reply, “You’ll have to see a governor for that.”

His already tough demeanour had changed yet again and not for the better I didn’t think.

“This one’ll have to go in the hole for now,” he was addressing another officer whose face also fell as did mine a little.

Wondering what I had started, all I could do was go along with things and hope that it was somehow competent. Before I was led away to ‘the hole’, the two officers exchanged further instructions.

“Get the paperwork finished and I’ll put in the request.”

My photograph was taken quickly and unceremoniously against a plain bit of wall without giving me time to think of a suitable expression; I would see it every day from then on and wished that it had been better. Questions were answered about any distinguishing marks, tattoos, moles, scars. Warnings were given about getting tattoos done while in the prison; it was against the rules and apparently very dangerous. Further regulations were reeled off the only one I noted was not changing my appearance in any way without written permission; I didn’t understand many of the things they were whipping through but there was no time to question any of it anyway.

That part of the process seemed to be finished and I was passed through to a small room containing some basic medical equipment and a nurse. She asked and I easily answered a long list of questions, most in the negative, they included drugs, other dependencies, mental health, general physical issues, dietary needs, it seemed my clean bill of health did not demand a physically examination.

“I like the easy ones,” the now smiling nurse seemed genuinely relieved.

Having been proclaimed fit for entry, yet another officer told, or rather ordered me to follow him. As we passed through the full length of the reception area we were watched all the way by many of the other inmates with what were not always very attractive or endearing looks; I knew enough to realise that I was just new meat.

Next to the main outer door was another one of similar heavy construction, it was unlocked and opened to reveal a tiny space that could only hold about six bodies and that at an uncomfortable push. Stepping inside, the door banged closed behind me and the lock automatically snapping into place. There were no windows, no ventilation that I could see and consequently the smell was terrible. It dragged back a hideous rush of memories and I could picture well used school football changing rooms only here without the benefits of semi naked boys. Using my peripheral vision to take in the small amount of information I could see that there was just one small bench bolted to the wall and one person on the bench.

“Hi, I’m Jim, what did the bastards get yer for?”

The huddled assemblage of clothing and unkempt humanity would have been well placed under cardboard in some random city doorway late at night. It turned out that I was not entirely wrong.

Without seeming to need any sort of two-way conversation, Jim was more than happy to relate his long and sorry story in very graphic detail. He was indeed homeless and the story, if it was in any part true, did nothing to help what little confidence I was hanging onto. Eventually, once I had gathered more information I thought that he might be more harmless than he first looked. His tales of daring do, the Falklands war and the more recent attempt at murder only a day or so ago, was quite fascinating in its own strange way just as a representation of a very extreme section of society. It passed the time anyway if nothing else. The commodity of time was in ample supply and I found myself sitting, standing, and pacing the four steps the room just to keep my circulation going.

Not being able to help my inquisitive nature I soon discovered that you could stand away from the door but still see out of the small round porthole window at the passers-by. It proved to be an interesting distraction. From this odd vantage point I could take in some of what was going on outside the room. The process was just as fascinating as the selection of people that passed across the mall vista. My well-practised voyeurism soon took me over and taking some comfort from familiar and secret activity amongst all these new experiences I absorbed from view in what I considered to be relative safety. Military style cropped haircuts, smart sharp hard bodies, tattoos of a wide variety and competency, bold crass confidence, rebellious defiant attitudes; everything that I loved but didn’t poses. While Jim rambled on I soaked up everything else, hopefully they were all unaware of being watched.

In one way, I hoped that he would continue his seemingly endless chatter so that I didn’t have to explain anything about myself or my reasons for being here, thankfully he seemed happy in his own world and harboured no interest in mine. The fact that I could not talk about myself prevented me having to acknowledge that I should have been in some sort of terrified state of turmoil in all this. My opposing consciences determined that we were either in complete denial or at the other extreme, total acceptance of my situation; the more unpleasant thought was that none of it had really registered yet. The system continued to operate in an ostensibly chaotic fashion but it continued all the same although Jim and I seemed to be somewhat outside that system for whatever reason.

Eventually we were joined by one other person but only for a matter of minutes. Nothing it seemed was right, nothing was going to be right but he had been advised of the consequences if he didn’t do as they expected although it seemed to make no difference to his attitude. The officers handled the situation very calmly as they were obviously used to it all. He had come in on a later van load and had been protesting from the moment he arrived; it was not just his protestations that had caught my attention as he had been manhandled through the outer door. Despite several warnings, it seemed that the complainant needed to be shown the error of his ways and so duly deposited into the cramped space with myself and Jim. It took two very large officers to manage the transfer but manage it they did; as if there was any question that they wouldn’t. The protest continued without falter with the strength of the door hinges and lock tested fully. There was nowhere to hide from the tirade but withdrawing to the furthest point for my own safety, I immersed myself in the consideration of his very physical assets rather than his less than endearing assertions. Eventually the noise got one of the reactions that he obviously wanted and even less ceremoniously if that was possible, he was removed. Not knowing what I would have done if he had turned his attentions and indignation onto either of us, I did notice Jim breathe a sigh of relief as the amply and beautifully built problem was removed still protesting, to another part of the facility. I didn’t see, or hear him again. We both sat in the now rather marked silence.

The degree of activity and noise outside slowly died away. Presuming that the processing was near completion, I hoped that it might soon be our turn. Although I had no affiliation to my companion despite having listened to his stories and being given the same as-yet undefined classification, he was the only ‘friend’ that I seemed to have in this place.

Eventually something caught our attention and we both raised our eyes to the porthole. A name was being shouted out, repeated over and over both up and down the length of reception; they seemed to have lost someone. Names had been called on and off throughout the time we had been there but only once each time.

“Have you looked in the hole,” it seemed to be the last place anyone had thought of.

An officer peered through the window and shouted the name again. It wasn’t me but Jim stood to attention and was quickly taken out. Once left all alone I found that I was not feeling quite as confident as I had before.

The minutes passed slowly by, stretched in their passage by uncertainly and a growing concern. With little to look at for distraction I think that I jumped as I thought that I heard what might have been my name called.

“Rollason,” silence, “Rollason,” more silence.

“Have you looked in the hole,” it seemed the stock answer for lost prisoners.

A face appeared at the window once more. It belonged to a tall, lean, comparatively young officer, cropped blond hair, solid build; I couldn’t help my analysis and approval.

“Rollason?”

It was posed as a question this time and I nodded my answer. The door was unlocked and I followed his silent lead out of ‘the hole’.

Looking round I seemed to be one of the last to be dealt with. Other than uniformed officers and the nurse that had seen me earlier, all the other bodies were dressed in either orange or green overalls; it seemed to signify some sort of status but still denoting them rather obviously as prisoners. It was probably just me but all eyes seemed to swing in my direction. It became voyeurism in reverse but most likely for very different reasons.

“Stand behind the line and speak when you are spoken to,” the instruction was finite and I followed it to the letter.

A smartly dressed lady appeared from one of the offices behind the main desk where I had been placed. She put the folder from her hand down on the desk out of my sight although I managed to spot that it had my unflattering picture on the front. She silently read part of the file before looking up and speaking to me.

“You have requested to go on rule 45, I can see that in this case it would be appropriate. Who suggested this to you?” she looked up and, unlike any of the others I had to deal with, she smiled.

“The officer at the magistrates’ court thought I should ask about it.”

“Quite right, it will be explained to you later but I’ll sign the paperwork to that effect,” she did and offered another smile along with, “Good luck.”

Standing up she handed the folder to yet another officer who had obviously been waiting for her to make her determination and left through the office behind her. Although I wanted to thank her it didn’t seem appropriate.

“Let’s get you put away.”

Non-physical brutality is the best way of describing the humiliation that constituted the process of transfer into the prison proper. Following the officer out of the main reception area, we passed through a meandering corridor with glass panelled rooms either side. Most of the other staff seemed to have finished for the time being and were chattering about everything and nothing that I was interested in. What was of more concern was the way in which they were all looking at me; a way that I didn’t much care for. Realistically I knew that it was most likely because I was the last one left to process and I tried to ignore them; covertly still trying to appreciate some of them visually of course.

We eventually came to an area with curtained cubicles, much like shop changing rooms where I was directed to one by yet another officer who was pulling on a pair of latex gloves rather over dramatically for my liking.

“Strip off then, no need to be shy,” he was obviously enjoying himself.

There were at least two other officers watching, leaning nonchalantly against the wall presumably having already done their stint in the general process.

“Put your things in the box,” he was indicating a heavy cardboard receptacle.

As I went to draw the curtain he waged a condemning finger at me and tutted which I took to mean that I should leave it drawn back. Under the uncomfortable gaze of an unwanted audience I started to peel off my few layers of clothing. Trying to fold my thin green jumper I gave up under the pressure of scrutiny and dropped it into the box. Unbuttoning my pale blue cotton shirt I decided to kept it on although it hid little as it gaped open to display my unattractive podgy and hairy stomach. Not being bothered about untying the laces of my shoes they were just kicked off. Beneath them the now rather strong smelling socks peeled viscidly away from my cold feet and got tucking down into the shoes.

“Not so fast there, keep everything separate and shake those socks out,” I did as best I could, “hurry up we don’t have all night,” I noted the contradiction in his instructions.

“What size are you,” I seemed to understand that it wasn’t a question for me to answer.

“Full kit?” A voice came from someone out of sight in another room to the side.

“Large, full fat kit, shoes, 10’s will do,” I didn’t like the estimation of my size although I knew it to be close to the mark. “Quickly with you,” this comment was directed back at me.

“Tell me,” it was one of the less attractive ones chipping in, “what makes a nonce like you go for kiddies then, what makes you so special, what makes you want to be a kiddie fiddler?”

My undressing stopped mid item at the rather direct and unexpected comment. I didn’t reply.

“Shy are we? Do you need some help there, we can find another nonce to help you if you fancy it but don’t think I’m touching that,” he was gesticulating towards my middle regions.

Managing to only stare for the briefest of moments I carried on but the unwanted attention was coming from several sources now; it was difficult to control the urge to react. Knowing that it was just to have some sick sport at my novice expense, I knew that it would be futile to do or say anything; it didn’t stop it hurting though. For a fleeting moment, I thought that the details contained in my file might remain relatively private by way of ‘the rule’ but obviously not, it was all common knowledge down here. They still got no reaction to their continued taunting.

“Drop those kegs, and yer stinking kecks,” I did, again fruitlessly trying to fold them, “come on off with um, squat and cough, don’t you dare shit yourself,” I did, and didn’t respectively, “lift up that hairy ball bag, let’s see what you’re hiding up there.”

I complied.

My prevailing thought was that this was now all just for their rather sick fun although I didn’t think that my ‘ball bag’ was all that hairy as I kept it shaved most of the time.

Eventually I was completely naked and it was all now just a dramatic freak show; the melancholy image of the Elephant Man similarly exposed flashed across my mind’s eye. It was now that I really wanted to do something to retaliate but knew that I wouldn’t.

“Where are those things,” he shouted backwards, “God, I can’t stand to look at this ugly nonce any longer.”

I felt myself shiver and I think I must have visibly shrank into myself as the others continued to look on, grinning inanely.

The kit arrived. With the dressing operation being far less interesting most of the officers drifted away. Quickly pulling on the pale blue cotton boxers, ill-fitting blue jeans, and oversize maroon tee shirt I topped it all off with a similar coloured harsh sweatshirt. Thick grey socks were welcome to my now ice cold feet but the black shoes, already well worn, only just fitted. They would have to do but I took my time lacing up the footwear up just to annoy the now pacing officer; it was just one tiny victory in a pointless war.

“Follow me.” I did.

We went through another meandering corridor where, from out of another store room, a cling film wrapped long bread roll was thrust towards me.

“Egg or ham?” I must have looked blankly at the cute but disinterested worker, “Ham then,” I took it blindly and continued on my way.

“No time for showers now, wait in here until you’re collected.”

Having already noticed the open shower cubicles I felt relieved but the warder’s last words left me cold but relieved as he walked briskly away.

One of the glass walled rooms had been unlocked and relocked behind which left just me and my ‘mate’ Jim eating a similar roll to the one I had. When I said ‘hello’ he grunted through his mouthful of well chewed ham and white bread. I could see bits of food hanging out of the sides of his mouth and although not a pleasant sight it made me realised just how hungry I was.

“Did you get some scran?”

I held the roll up for him to see in answer to the question.

“Are you goin’ to eat it?”

He looked disappointed when I said that I was; sorry, but I was hungry. He went back to his own not seeming to really mind. We ate in silence, it didn’t take very long.

After that was out of the way there was more waiting, this was obviously going to be the general activity in here, you could just tell. To break up the time I wandered around the room reading the different notices that adorned the non-glass walls, then re-read them all over again but there was still nothing of interest. We both remained silent although there was nothing much to say.

Several of the coverall clad workers passed the room and some of them seemed to make an obvious note of who we were and why we were in the room; I had assumed that Jim was also on the rule as well, hence us being in together. One of the passers-by seemed to recognise my companion and shouted out some inaudible comment, I didn’t hear it clearly but obviously, Jim did and gave his reply in a very forthright street vernacular. It was just the reaction that the other was fishing for and it became obvious that the two of them had known each other before. The version of the story Jim shared afterwards was rather pointless and nonsensical but at least it made me smile for a few minutes.

There seemed to be no obvious idea for what or who we were waiting for now. Being ‘collected’ was obviously some form of job demarcation within the regime but eventually another officer came to the door, looked at the front of the two manila files in his hand which must have confirmed that we were the two he was looking for and unlocked it. He was an older man, still in the same smart uniform but with the addition of a heavy outdoor fleece lined coat. He didn’t enter the room just asked our names and nodded as we had obviously given the right answers.

“Follow me, we’ll get the rest of your kit and get you put away.”

There was that phrase again and I really didn’t care for it; ‘put away’, too many connotations. We followed him anyway, me at the back of the line not wanting to be the first to make any obvious mistakes if I could help it.

Further down the corridor was a rack full of rolled up cellular blankets. Although I couldn’t see what else was in the roll it was obviously the things that we needed for the next part of the process. Jim grabbed one and with a nod of his shaggy head silently indicated that I should do the same.

“If it’s not all there we can sort it out later, let’s get on and sort you out for now, it’s getting so late,” he reinforced his comments with an exaggerated look at his watch.

The tone of the officer was completely different to any of the others I had encountered so far, softer, and friendlier, welcoming even, almost granddad like perhaps but I was very tired by now and probably hallucinating.

Jim and I waited as a heavy metal door was unlocked, swung inwards to reveal an equally heavy steel barred gate which, when unlocked swung outwards. We walked through. The night air was chilly but refreshing after the sticky almost foetid reception spaces and I felt much better as we waited for the door and gate to be locked again behind us. The door manoeuvre was stored away for future reference as it would become a staple of movement anywhere within the estate.

We moved across the small yard to one of the four storey red brick Victorian blocks, it struck me how the towering brick edifice was what most people would think of as the archetypal prison building, here made more foreboding and dismal in the deepening gloom of the evening. The shadows in the window recesses were intensified by the harsh yellow glow from the floodlights high on their stanchions keeping everything lit but nowhere bright. We stepped up a flight of stone steps where, behind another heavy gate the equally heavy wooden door swung silently as it opened; I had expected it to make a creaking noise but it was possibly more eerie with no sound at all.

Inside I immediately recalled television interpretations of prison life. This reality, although similar was really nothing like it. The confused space seemed so much smaller, darker, and more severe. The older officer seemed to instinctively understand my concerns as a first timer and was smiling at me.

“We have to get through some paperwork, standard stuff. You’re both VP’s but you won’t have to be around the others for long. The quicker we can get this done the quicker you can get your heads down until tomorrow, it will all seem much better then.”

Although I hoped that he was right, I still didn’t yet understand all the implications of being a VP, as long as he did I hoped that it would all be OK. Jim didn’t seem to be taking any notice of anything but it was not his first time. We went to separate tables, I sat with the original smiling officer.

Tucked away under the steel stairs he went through a lot of the same medical information that the nurse had done before plus all sorts of questions about how I was feeling, my mental state as I saw it, any instabilities or problems in the past. As before, I seemed to have a clean bill of both physical and mental health; as far as I wanted them to know anyway. Having no medication, no special requirements it made me wonder if I should have had something to justify for why I was in here; it might have helped to explain a few things perhaps.

Having gone through that section of the paperwork relatively quickly I had the telephone system explained. Computerised, both cash and card-less, it seemed simple enough. The complaints procedure and other general rules and expectations all of which were systematically laid out within a thick sheaf of papers and none of which I really took in. As if the immediate situation wasn’t stressful enough, there was too much else going on around us, too many people trying to see who we, the new ‘marks’, were most of whom I was trying not to be caught looking back at; the concept of new ‘meat’ worked for all of us.

Signing the paperwork in several places to acknowledge that I had been fully briefed although I couldn’t imagine that I had, we were done. Jim must have got through his induction much quicker but he did have a file that was a lot thicker than mine having been here many times before. He was actually nowhere to be seen and I felt rather alone again. Still torn between taking in my surroundings with the menagerie of people that were milling around, or keeping out of the way and out of their sight, the practical decision was made for me as I was shown into a cell right next to the stairs.

“Get yourself sorted out and your heads down till the morning, you’ll be fine.”

It was difficult to tell if it was intuitive perception or simply repetition but at least he seemed to care, in comparison to my earlier entanglements anyway. Jim was already finished and never in a million years would I have thought that I would be glad to see anyone like my new compatriot. His familiarity was the only comfort that I had for now.

He was busy putting his things in order and didn’t seem to notice my rather lost persona but as I looked pitifully round the cell, this was definitely not like it looked on the television.

“You can have the top bunk, I can’t get up there these days,” he didn’t look up but I realised that he hadn’t given me any eye contact at all.

“Thanks, I’ll try not to get in your way.”

He was already on his bunk by this time which left the rest of the small space for me to fill.

Unrolling the blanket and its collection of ‘stuff’, I found that it contained two sheets and a pillow case, pale green, smooth if rather thin cotton but they seemed to be clean and fresh smelling, a darker green hand towel, surprisingly thick if a little harsh and that was the kit. Already on the buck were two slabs of dense dark grey foam which seemed to be what constituted a mattress and much smaller, a pillow. Following my fellow inmates lead I made up the bunk as best I could. He hadn’t forgotten his military training and had paid close attention to the corners of his mattress and several more moments making the surface of the sheets neat and flat; I thought it only proper to try and match his expectations but struggled to get it quite right. The thin mattress offered little chance of comfort and I wasn’t looking forward to feeling the steel sprung mesh of the bunk’s frame through it.

With all that done I could take in the other items that must have already been on the narrow worktop cum table. A blue plastic plate, a mug and a bowl; Jim had already re-laid his out neatly on the foot of his bunk.

“You ain’t got a breakfast pack or a smoker’s pack and we should both have a first night pack.”

Although I didn’t understand to what he had referred, he had got up again and was banging on the steel door demanding that we get what we were supposed to have; I felt a measure of embarrassment but could do nothing about it. Eventually some of these things were obtained for us but once I saw what he had been demanding I could have gone without it if I had to; apparently, you couldn’t let the bastards get away with stuff. It was time for bed I think.

Still not knowing what time it was, once I had tried to settle I realised that my body clock was screaming for me to just lie down. Once that was done I also realised that I should have considered using the toilet; the prospect didn’t fill me with excitement. The facilities I knew were only relatively recent additions to the cell blocks and didn’t seem to readily fit the layout of the already cramped cell. Modesty was obviously out of the question between you and your fellow cell mate and my assumption was that all you could do was avert your gaze if you had to; after further consideration, I decided that it could wait a while.

Later in the night I did slip quietly off the bunk as the pain in my bladder got just too intense and had woken me. Managing to get down with only the minimum of creaks and metallic scrapping, I sat on the cold seat-less pan trying not to make any noise onto the naturally resonating stainless steel. Trying to distract myself I stared out of the open, tall, narrow window; there were only the wire fences and slate covered roofs to see. Business done I didn’t flush. Jim turned over as I clambered awkwardly back up to the top bunk but I didn’t really think that he could be disturbed by very much at all. Having lost the urge to sleep I went back to staring at the dingy paint-work. The onslaught of the last few days finally taken their toll and despite the circumstances with the help of relative calm outside on the wing and the safe separation of the cell, sleep must have eventually rolled over me.

 

Chapter Two – closets and court rooms

My self-imposed exclusion from day-to-day life seemed to be working well, in as much as I was getting through each of those days without any major problems. The fact that I was absolutely hiding away is probably not the obvious definition of the term ‘working well’ but it was what I felt would be better for everyone; in the short-term that is. I was doing my best to keep those closest to me as up to date with meaningful information as I could, that which I thought was relevant or reasonable anyway given that I was now, allegedly, a pervert. My definition of people who were ‘close’ was anyone who had decided that there was more to me as a person than the label that I had been unceremoniously, if rightly, given. For too many other people, my situation would be classed as extreme although in an odd way I could only see it as just one more state but I couldn’t count as being ‘everyday’. Strangely, for me anyway, there was no real sense of panic or danger; perhaps this was a symptom of a much deeper problem; who could know.

Most of my time was spent time doing all the normal everyday things, eating, sleeping, watching television but consciously going out of my way to avoid anything else as much as I could. This was not very difficult to achieve as I had never been the most gregarious of people but there were several organisations that I was involved with, although that should probably be changed to a past tense, that would find my disappearance hard to explain. The police had warned me not to have any contact with any of them for both investigative and safety reasons. From this cautionary note I had expected some reprisals but either the police had done a good job at being discrete or none of my former contacts seemed to want to make any unsolicited approaches. Either situation was fine by me for the time being.

The factory was one of the biggest concerns as it was what had filled most of my time for the past twelve years; plus, it paid the bills. With this, any decision was taken out of my hands. By the time the police had finished with me in that first instance, the staff had already decided that it would be best if I stayed away unless anything cropped up that only I could really deal with. Apparently, there were very mixed feeling and opinions amongst the people who I employed and although I understood that they were fully entitled to have them, nothing I could do or say for the time being was going to change things and I complied with their wishes.

Being at home in my solitary companionship I was quite happy keeping up the façade or normality as I had done most of my life. It was a well-practised thing to keep the many different elements of my life well away from each other and I took what comfort I could from it. The dividing lines were based on my perception of both other people’s expectations and their tolerance for misunderstood elements of my persona. Most of my more public faces had been moulded and tempered to maintain whatever pretence was needed to give me as much personal acceptance as I could engineer. Throughout all of this effort, although I fully understood that I was not being at all honest, it was something that I had always felt the need to do, just to allow me to feel included in life’s many treacherous convolutions.

Some of these efforts had inevitably backfired on me. As a prime example and the most obvious had been my coming out of the metaphorical sexual closet. ‘Out and proud’ was the phrase of the day but at the time, announcing to the world that I was gay didn’t seem very much like it. My choice to declare my sexuality had of course ended my nine-year marriage and meant me partially abandoning my two young children. It was never going to be a good time but I honestly thought that I had calculated the inevitable damage that I would be doing. Ideological as ever, I hoped that the public realisation of my sexual preference would not be judged too harshly and that everything would be fine in the end; it didn’t work out like that, obviously.

The wonderful woman to whom I was married certainly didn’t deserve being abandoned by her duplicitous husband at all let alone quite so dramatically. She should never have married me in the first place which was certainly all my fault despite shamefully trying to mitigate my actions afterwards.

We had both worked at the same factory at the time and had been seeing each other for a while. I thought it was because I had a car and could give her a lift home, the very fact that anyone wanted to spend time with me at all was a revelation. Anyway, it was quite some time after the strike had finished and we had finished work at lunch time as we did on Fridays and we, well I, had been enjoying an encounter of let’s call it a personal nature in front of a warm electric fire I was quietly recovering my breath. It had only been the second sexual experience with the opposite sex, both being with her. The fact that I was aged 23 at this point will become more relevant as my story unravels. Ever the practical idiot that I was back then, I couldn’t just accept the experience for what it was, sex, love, who knew what but no, I had to think about it, around it, over it, through it and for some inexplicable reason I was compelled to ask what for me, was a serious and practical question.

“Would you marry me if you were to get pregnant?”

Safe sex was not something that I had considered at the time; just the sex part was proving difficult enough. Anyway, logic was not a strong point, bless her and ‘Would you marry me….,’ was all that she heard and the proverbial ‘go’ button had been well and truly pressed.

That one tiny event, although not so small in so many ways, quickly become a roller coaster that I should never had gotten myself onto in the first place and definitely off well before it started its hair-raising journey; I didn’t and soon found that I couldn’t.

The general fog of confusion in which I lived my life, as far as feelings went, just couldn’t cope with letting people down. The consequences were that I lived my life in a haze of impressions of life rather than in life itself. Some or all this I put down to a lack of life skills most people learn early on although for me it was far too late by. It was really no one’s fault just a few crossed wires somewhere; in or outside my brain I still don’t understand. As with many other things in my life, the result of not resolving or sometimes not even recognising issues when they arose meant that I would inevitably end up hurting people around me as they passed along or across my rather tortuous way.

Back in the present, having lots of time on my hands I tried very hard not to get into too much deep thought. Inevitably, exploring the whys and wherefores of how I had arrived at this point took over and I couldn’t help but drift back and forth on the ill winds that blew around me. These were mainly at night when sleep seemed to be totally disqualified. The black silence and cold inactivity gaped into chasms of self-loathing, hollow concern, and darkening fears; the morning chorus was sweet music to my mind as well as my ears.

The self-imposed minimalist lifestyle stumbled along for almost two weeks until eventually I summoned up the courage to go outside but only when I found that I really had to. Even then it was only for bits of shopping and carefully calculated to minimise the chances of contact with people who I might know or anyone that might know me. Despite the warnings from the police I had fortunately not received any adverse reactions to the events thus far and wanted to keep it that way.

The police had made me aware that the ongoing investigations they had planned would be extensive. Apparently, they would be in contact almost everyone that I had been associated with in recent times and because of this or was it despite all this, they could not be held responsible for any action or reaction that might happen. In other words, once the ‘word’ was on the street and I could be faced with anything. Having received the standard duty of care speech while I was being released on bail, I didn’t fancy testing that pool of rather muddy water. There was apparently a ‘rapid response flag’ against my details on their computer systems and if I was ever faced with an angry pitch-fork wheeling mob, I would be rescued by what they described as ‘immediate attention’. Having had pictured such an event in my mind one night it wasn’t at all pleasant nor was the promise of help comforting.

Of course, I knew there was only a limited amount of relevant information that was pertinent to the case and it all concerned the images that I had been collecting on my computers over many years. Unfortunately, and sadly logically, I could see the stronger case for the wider interest by the police and so was not surprised by the lines of enquiries that it was said or implied that police would be making. They were obviously thinking that there must be far more to the matter than just my collecting pictures although, in my own defence, I defiantly had never had any thoughts of advancing to actual physical interest in the type of people pictured in my head.

Despite many popular definitions, I did have some sense of right and wrong even if the decency aspect was questionable, I could easily appreciate any negativity that would overshadow the sense of the person that many people may have been induced into thinking. I was surer by the day that the police activity would have introduced feelings of revulsion, fear, anger, revenge all tumbling over each other, and my being overwhelmed by them. There was nothing that I could do to dilute or prevent any of it.

During one of the more tedious days, as I was returning from a short shopping trip for just a few basics which had been as uneventful as the others, despite my hypersensitivity, there was something not quite right as I walked onto the small private estate where I lived. The difference was the unusual number of cars parked around the flats for that time of day. There were people too. The dress code was recognisable and the number of police officers, as I instantly knew them to be, meant that they were not here for a neighbourhood watch meeting; they were here for me.

Immediately I had been seen, a plan of some sort swung into action just as it had the last time. Both they and I were formally identified to each other although they obviously knew who I was, I didn’t note who they were. As before, I went quietly. Once escorted inside the building, I was relieved of my shopping bags which received a cursory search; oddly I wondered if the toilet rolls and frozen vegetables might be classed as incriminating evidence but the digression passed quickly. There had been no-one at homes that morning which I was pleased about but disappointed that the officers had seen fit to break into both the flat and the bedroom inside it. The bedroom was only locked as it was counted as my son’s space and I afforded him the privacy of being able to lock it; all that was long gone now. My suggestion that if they had only waited until I got back it would have saved them the trouble of a forced entry but this was easily and minimally brushed aside; surprise had been part of the plan from the outset.

Inside, I could see that there had been yet another extensive search of most of the rooms. I was only allowed to stand in the small hall with officers watching my every move, not that I made any but I could see enough disruption to know what they had been up to. There was less to look through this time as I had not replaced anything or added to the already small inventory from their last clear-out. The use of seven officers was a little of an over-kill I thought but kept it to myself for the time being. Some of them were just milling about; some were intently keeping me where I was albeit without any visible force, I didn’t think it was a good idea to question or test anything that they were doing for the moment. From my earlier bail conditions, I had understood that I had another week at least before having to answer to the station and my curiosity was pricked as to what had prompted this early intervention. The looks on the officers’ faces, some of them nice faces, didn’t invite comment.

It was not just the looks that concerned me although they probably couldn’t help themselves, the tone of voice that the lead officer adopted was rather harsher and more intense than the chatty style he had used in my offices. Eventually I was formally instructed as to what was going to happen next, no explanations, just instructions.

Because of the seriousness of the situation I was to be taken to the police station for further questioning. To do this I was required to be handcuffed although they would be as discreet and sensitive as they could be, unless I gave them any reason to think that I might not co-operate. It was all a bit ‘TV drama’ I thought but I took the instructions seriously and did as I was told to do; such was my nature. As we left I wondered about the damaged doors that were obviously not going to lock any more but I was rather distracted by a loud conversation going on out in the communal hall. A terrified young man was being quizzed by officers and I recognised him as a friend of my son which I could confirm for him. He had just popped round to visit and had now been embroiled in a matter that I had hoped would stay rather more discrete. Although I was not allowed to speak to him directly it was suggested that now the search had been completed he might take some responsibility for security until the flat could be better made safe; how and by who didn’t enter the conversation as far as I could hear. Curiously, the one thing on my mind was that I hoped that my once frozen vegetables wouldn’t be allowed to defrost much further.

There were three of us squeezed into the back of the car and three cars in the convoy as it made its way this time through the city centre to a different station, larger and perhaps more befitting the greater seriousness of the case. Talking in the car was minimal and none of it included me. Information was passed over the radio that I was now on route and that there were no complications left behind; the damage obviously didn’t seem to figure as a complication. All I could do was sit and wait for whatever was going to happen next.

It was plain to understand that there were significant new circumstances that had warranted this up-scaling of the operation but there was nothing obvious that I could think of or extrapolate from my musings over the days and nights. The extent of my activity in collecting pictures had always been a very personal and jealously guarded interest; unless you count the one rash exchange of just a few select pictures only a few weeks ago. With nothing to distract me, not even a good haircut this time, I watched the city pass us by until we arrived.

The cars pulled round to the back of the station and into a secure area, high walls and wire befitting the level of security. The general decamping routine was the same except for the inclusion of the handcuffs. Once through the two sets of doors and into the custody suite proper, these were thankfully removed. There was a more formal identification procedure, body searches, handing over of the contents of my pockets and emptying the small ‘man bag’ I sported at the time. My important documents were with me most of the time, driving licence, passport, bank cards, cheque books, cash money; at least it had saved the bother of having to search for them during my arrest. They were logged onto a form, bagged, tagged, and put away. Again, I was relieved of items with which I could do myself harm and was read the formal rights and expectations of a suspect in custody. Legal representation would be found for me, it didn’t seem to be an option this time and so I accepted the duty solicitor without question. I had no idea how this more advanced business worked but as long as they did, that would have to be good enough.  Following a crisp handsome uniform to the cells and removing my shoes almost before I was asked to do so, I entered a now vaguely familiar cold space. The cell door banged noisily behind me; that was that then.

This holding cell was rather more damaged than the last one. Almost every surface was encrusted with meaningless scratching; even the many layers of gloss paint couldn’t hide the scrawl and graffiti, not that it took much longer to decipher and decode this lot than it had in the last place. The standard of education that deemed so and so ‘woz ere’ seemed a sadly fitting note on the previous occupancy. The rest of the routine was as before, sitting, waiting, pacing, waiting, sitting some more, even lying down, none of it made any difference. The coffee was better, hot at least as were the three standard issue food packs, the pepper in the chilli con carni helped but they were still rather nebulous and unappetising. You may surmise from the number of meals offered and eaten that I was spending longer in custody this time; you would not be wrong.

The arrival of the duty solicitor broke the monotony and matters started to slowly get clearer. He had already been briefed by the case investigation officers before I was taken to join him in one of the small interview rooms; windowless, faceless, functional, the room that is not the man. My first impression of him was that he was very young for the job but I put that down to being just a sign of me getting older; or did that just apply to policemen? He was very pleasant and personable from the start and asked about my treatment and well-being; standard questions I thought but his friendly manner and cheerful face were welcome, whatever he was going to ask me about later.

After the short introduction was out of the way he laid out clearly what was going to happen. His positive approach to things was quite refreshing and I realised that he may well be on my side, despite what he knew of the allegations that had been outlined to him so far. Buoyed somewhat by all of this I couldn’t argue against any of his assertions or plans, not so far anyway. Formal interviews would be taking place, when he was ready, and I was going to have to be very careful in what was said. He was most insistent that I did exactly as he told me, whatever my opinion. Conversely, I was to be as open and honest with him here, now, so that he could protect me from the inevitable traps and unnecessary convolutions that the interviewing officers were bound to attempt during their interviews; I noted the plural with unease.

“I have to know everything,” he insisted, “you’ll not be able to shock me I can assure you so please, don’t feel that you need spare my blushes.”

This amused me but I was still cautious as I had no idea what he had been told so far. Feeling that I could trust him based on nothing but intuition, I could only comply with his wishes; in a way, I had no other option but to trust him or hang.

After some qualification of what parts of ‘everything’ he wanted, we settled on working backwards from that moment and he would steer me along the path between relevant and less irrelevant items. Page after page of notes later each taken over a period that I couldn’t begin to measure accurately, he decided that he had enough to be going on with; enough to be ahead of the investigation teams’ findings anyway as far as he could tell. Admittedly, once the flood gates had been opened I had left out very little, for once relishing an opportunity to share even just a small part my secret life. We took a moment to breathe.

He detailed what I was to do next, during the interview process. Perversely I was to restrict my answers to all the questions put to me to ‘No Comment’. Just how that was going to work I had no idea and said so quite plainly but my query was squashed flat with no obvious recourse, I just had to trust him; again. He did qualify this rational to me a little as he could see that I was sceptical.

“If they had any real information already then it doesn’t matter but why do any more of their job for them or even confirm any of it, which is what they’re paid to do. If they want anything else, they’ll have to work to find it first and prove it second. There’s no need to hand them anything on a plate at this stage.”

His tone was such that I felt confident to go along with his judgement, despite still having some underlying reticence about the whole thing.

Before having spoken with him I had decided that I was ready to roll over and give it all up and get the process over and done with; after all I was guilty of the crime. The consequences of this new strategy would have to be suffered; I had to; I wanted to; I needed to.

There was another brief rest period with me back in my cell and my solicitor dealing with another case while he was in the station. This time to calm down was appreciated and my mind and my thoughts settled again, after spilling themselves out so effortlessly I needed to reign in my enthusiasm for the next odious task.

Eventually I was escorted to yet another room, I had given up on re-tying my shoe laces each time we moved and just hoped that I wouldn’t trip over them in the process. This other room was larger but just as utilitarian. It was much as you might see on the television although it wasn’t quite as intimidating as they sometimes make out; it wasn’t so to me anyway. We were placed in the appropriate positions around the plain wooden table which had on it just the black boxed recording machine for now. Two of us faced up to two of them, one officer I recognised but the other was new and was busy unwrapping the three cassette tapes from their cellophane seals. She described what she was doing throughout, my rights and so on for their formal use and availability. Concentrating on the build-up, I didn’t take much notice of her, I would leave that to my solicitor to deal with. Note pads were laid out on both sides of the table, both had things jotted on them already but I couldn’t read anything without undue effort so I didn’t try. The session began.

Identification of all those in the room was made for the tape. The real questions started and I fell metaphorically headlong at the first hurdle. The question had seemed innocuous enough but I felt a sharp dig in my thigh from the slim leg but bony knee of my solicitor; I realised why he had sat so close to me, not that I minded. The silent rebuke was reinforced by a stern look and I nodded my apology feeling very hot. I tried my best to stick to the plan. It all seemed so pointless and even during those first minutes it grew increasingly frustrating; as it was plainly meant to be. It was obvious what they wanted to know and I could see just where their lines of questions were leading. As far as I could work out I wouldn’t have been telling any untruths if I had just answered them outright; it would have been much quicker and far less painful I was desperately beginning to think. But, for good or bad I stuck to the plan.

After about two hours of this pointless ping-pong, my strength of purpose in playing the game was starting to fail, markedly. Because it was so obvious, my solicitor requested that he had a ‘private word with his client’ which was code for, ‘give it a rest’. Tapes were addressed once more for the break and my inquisitors left the room disgruntled. Waiting for the door to spring closed before he spoke, he was kind enough to tell me how well I was doing and this was just a way of getting a break for a few moments and was to give me some breathing space as much as to break the flow of their tedious questioning. I tried to explain how difficult I was finding it to keep up the stone walling and he did his best to reassure me that it was still the right thing to be doing. Hoping that I might have been wrong, I got the feeling that he was getting some perverse pleasure from all this play-acting and annoying the officers and not for just being my advocate.

It was literally only a few minutes’ break and the process restarted, tapes and personnel reinstated, it was not to be the last time that they were interrupted and resumed over the next five or six hours.

During the performance, as it had become, it seemed that the whole gambit of tricks were being employed, not quite ‘good cop, bad cop’ but not far off. The questioner changed over, each rummaging through their notes as if they were looking for something new for me to answer or confirm; I had soon guessed that it was mostly a fishing expedition as did my council. For the greater part I managed to stay with the ‘no comment’ structure although frequently slipped into subtle variations of the phrase as much for my own sanity as anything else. It made my solicitor wince each time I changed the phrase as he had to re-analyse if what I was saying was suitable or not. Eventually it was obvious to all of us that there was nothing else to be gained from the process and I thought that it might be over; for now, at least. I was very wrong.

The questioner changed again and their tone with it. After a longer than usual visual exchange between the two officers, if they had been telepathic you could have said that they might have had a conversation, it seemed that it had been some sort of coded exchange. The questions were no longer about me and what I had or hadn’t done they now started on my family and what involvement they might have had in all this. The new tack was obviously designed to prick at the already strained nerves on my side of the table. Innuendos were made as to what else I might be involved in other than the image collecting. How could I not have been involving in exploiting other people with my activities? All those that lived with me, all those that I had regular association with, all those that I could easily involve and affect, nothing was further from the truth. The ploy was obviously a calculated one and in a way, it almost worked. Names were dropped into the mix and my obvious rise to their prodding was noted and so they continued against the now rather strained versions of my ‘no comment’ answers.

Despite me knowing that there was nothing to find, however desperate they wanted to, having picked up this particular ball, they seemed determined to run with it. Because of the extra pressure being piled on, my control was slipping again and fortunately my solicitor was observant enough to jump right in and cut them off before I reached the edge of the cliff. He used his own well practised ploys of it ‘being a very long session’ and the ‘lateness of the hour’ as valid reasons for me to have a proper break. The frustration from the other side of the table was palpable and it didn’t take a genius to interpret the looks on their faces this time but, the validity of the interruption was reasonable enough and they had to give in.

The mood had been broken for now and the drip drip drip of the torture had been plugged with little damage done. Further negotiations between the officials agreed that I could have a longer rest this time but they may well want to continue the questioning later that night; my face must have fallen at the prospect as my brief took hold of my arm to get me out of the now very stuffy interrogation chamber. On the way back through the custody suite I overheard him have further negotiations with rather more senior officers about me and my state of mind, although I couldn’t quite work out what it was they were discussing in detail.

The solitude of the cell was a welcome relief and I had relieved my full bladder noisily into the stainless receptacle sitting in the corner and was trying to find a comfortable position on the hard wooden bench. The lock clattered, the door swung open and a friendly face beamed in.

“I think that I’ve convinced the custody sergeant that all this is going nowhere and other than what they already have on you, that is all they are going to get.”

It took a moment for me to catch up with my solicitor’s chain of thought and explanation.

“I know him quite well and you should be left alone for tonight. I can’t see what else they can find out from what you have told me so, as long as you have been straight with me?”

He paused but the question seemed to be rhetorical although I was in no state of mind to give much of an answer anyway. He continued.

“You should be OK until the morning now. You will be going to court at some point tomorrow but I hope that I will see you before that. If not, I will see you in there when I can tell you what is going to happen.”

Again, he didn’t seem to require an answer but I thanked him anyway for everything he had done so far. He waved away my comment with a smile. My impression that he enjoyed getting one over on the investigating team whenever he could, wasn’t shaken; I was glad for it in a way. He said that he would be around for a short while as he had other clients to deal with while he was there if I needed to ask anything. There was nothing that I could think of but I couldn’t really think straight at all. We wished each other a good night, his would be better than mine of that there was no doubt but I settled down with the last coffee of the night. It was night-time as the glow through the glass blocks of the window aperture was sodium yellow from the flood-lights in the car park.

After the cell light had been dimmed I managed to find a reasonably comfy spot to lie down. Despite all the noise and night-time comings and goings around the custody cells, the singing and swearing, the vomiting and general vulgarity it seemed that none of it could stop me falling into a dead dreamless, if relatively short sleep.

A subtle change in the activity outside my cell door must have helped wake me as much as the brightness of the daylight that had replaced the harsh illuminations. There was defiantly less shouting and banging going on but there was still plenty of movement. Morning drinks requests were taken along with the selection of breakfast fare. The choice was surprising and although still minimal it did include real and branded cereals in individual boxes of which I chose the one featuring a brightly coloured cockerel and with it fresh, not even long life, milk; the bright familiar packaging seemed incongruous in the oppressive, plain, shabby cell. After breakfast, washing was not possible and of course I had no change of clothes. The morning chorus of toilet flushing showed the cells to be well occupied from the night before. Only a few inmates felt the need to profess their innocence, question the parentage of the officers on duty or protest their disgust at their unfair incarceration, but that was only to be expected; I did none of these, it seemed too much effort for no actual gain.

After eating breakfast and finishing the almost hot drink there was not much else to do. With the limited choice at hand I decided on rediscovering the wall markings trying to make out what they might be about, if anything; the uncomfortable thought struck me that I was now one step closer to being one of the criminal classes myself. It hit me harder than I would have liked and took what little shine there had been off the morning. The door clanked open and a uniform strode in. He proceeded with yet another of the formal question and answer sessions regarding the state of my treatment while in the facility, there were no complaints from me, no point; I knew it was just more fodder for the Home Office statistics whatever good they might do. Having watched enough reality television to realise that with the police there were only two choices, their way, or no way and as there was no advantage in the latter, I did whatever was asked and enjoyed the perverse pantomime that was going on in and out of a number of the other cells; despite my curiosity those were their problems, I had enough of my own to be going on with.

It was just another day at the office for the custody staff and the process rolled along almost like clockwork with only the odd ‘spanner’ to spoil the procedures. Those of us that were down for the courts were dealt with first. There were I imagined, all sorts of deadlines to slot into with the ever-changing convocation of bodies and once identified, again, handcuffed to a uniformed wrist and cross checked, again, I was led out to the waiting transport. By this time, I had worked out that I was to be spared any further interrogation but also that my solicitor was not going to see me before leaving for court either. One I was glad of and only slightly concerned about the other. If I didn’t get to see him before being up in court itself that might be different.

Along with myself there were several others to be led outside onto the van. The fact that I was now part of a group was more disturbing than I cared for. We were kept separate from each other as we were loaded and this made me wonder if it was part of the same special treatment, like that which I had received the first-time I was arrested. Extraneous and unrelated thoughts were my stock in trade anyway but here I didn’t really know and certainly didn’t want to test any hypothesis. For now, I was just another cadaver being fed into the machinery of British justice.

The routine of getting put away in the van I thought was overly complex. With handcuffs to both wrists but held onto by the officer, onto the van, into one of the tiny single seat boxes, one cuff off but re-attached to the officer, sit down with your arm sticking out while the door was partially secured, second wrist cuff removed, arm in, door closed and finally, fully locked away; it was a routine I would be very familiar over time.

Each of the holding cubicles inside the van was only just large enough to accommodate one person, one average person that is and I had difficulty in folding my legs up to get comfortable; it was more like wedging myself in rather than sitting. I noted that there were no fixtures or fitting that you could do any harm on if you had a mind. The view from the small badly defaced window was thankfully limited. The thought flashed up that I could have been spotted by the public if they wanted and I tried to squirm out of any line of sight from the small much damaged window, paranoia might have been setting in at that point. My fears of paparazzi or angry mob were fanciful.

Now there were only my travelling companions to consider. It was both interesting and disturbing that so many of them seemed to know each other. There was liberal discussion on the cases that had bought them there that day; it was more like a game with various crimes scoring greater or lesser points. It was easy to work out that the more crimes you were involved in, plus the more serious they were deemed, the higher score you were awarded and the greater your status appeared to be. It was a company that I didn’t recognise myself as being part of and did my best to keep out of their sight and hopefully out of their mind. Although it was not possible to see a whole person in the cubicle opposite you, you could tell if it was occupied or not and several people tried to raise a response from the silent spaces as their own exploits became a bore; I managed to keep out of the game having heard the derision that someone else obviously new to it all got from mistakenly answering the call of the pack.

The familiarity of the route was presented from a curious perspective from the extreme confinement topped off with a glimpse of my flat through the trees as we passed it which forced a shudder to rattle through me. We eventually arrived at the magistrates’ courts prisoners’ entrance in the rear car park and I breathed a silent sigh of curious relief.

The journey had not seemed to take that long but the novelty of the transport and the banter that went with it could have been a valid distraction. The van manoeuvred into the designated position with some difficulty considering that it must have done the same thing every day that the court sat. We were all unloaded one by one by the reverse procedure of earlier; Despite my dire situation I found that I still tried to catch puerile glimpses of the others but didn’t want to be caught doing so. Who there were didn’t interest me it was more what they looked like although not enough to get myself into any verbal or physical confrontation. The process was smooth, safe, and well-practised and one by one we were deposited into individual cells within what passed for a custody block but was just a fortified set of porta cabins. It had the appearance of being only a temporary arrangement but the decay of time gave away the loss of its aspirations to be permanent.

Once inside and under a different custody team now, what seemed to be a more affable and simple regime took orders for drinks and suggested that there might be a newspaper to read if they could get one; they didn’t, not for me anyway. With my coffee came the observation that I was not down to go across the yard to court until the afternoon session so I would need to sit tight and hold on. A question about the chance of a paper renewed a promise that didn’t get fulfilled. All I could do was sit and wait.

It was still my ambition not get myself noticed by any of the traffic that was passing back and forth outside the cell door and so I was stuck with silently reading the graffiti. Again, it was all that I could think of doing other than fall back onto any detail of my predicament. There was lots to read with almost every surface of the windowless cube covered in several layers of it. Despite being relatively tall even I would have had trouble reaching the ceiling if I had a mind to add to it, which I hadn’t. Eventual my long-considered opinion of the outpourings, it must have been better to deface an inanimate object than take out whatever frustrations you had on yourself or other people. As I considered the thought, I decided that it sounded rather pompous and that I was in no position to form such opinions anymore. Even if it was just to keep my mind occupied I had lost the right to judge by being in here as I was. Thankfully this prompted my well-developed dual thought processes to argue against themselves and I managed to regain some degree of self-confidence which kept me going for another hour or two. That is how futile the waiting seemed to be.

The flow of human aggregation along the corridor appeared to be endless. Each person passed through the mill wheels of the many court rooms and from the little I could glean, most seemed to return straight back to the cells afterwards. Conversations between the accused from our transport was enhanced by other arrivals and even more commonality between them was discovered. There were also those that had gone to court through the front doors but had left from the back and into the splendid confines of the custody block. These unfortunates were even less happy than the rest of them; or should I say us. Even greater injustices were complained about and blasphemed over in rather liberal if limited language.

Despite all their short comings, the levels of camaraderie and community that there seemed to be between so many people never stopped amazing me. Conversations took place through steel walls for the whole block to hear and although I was no prude, the language was more disparaging and depressing than I could ever have imagined. Along with the volume of people’s voices, which was astonishing, it seemed to be the sort of talk that you could imagine they had over a pint of snakebite at the local pub or perhaps that was how they always spoke. What did I know, I was only glad to hang onto a little of my own dignity through all of this.

My hopes for staying anonymous were going well but as the novelty of other people’s court appearances eventually wore off and social ties were exhausted, only then did the identity of the occupant of other cells become the question of the moment. It was obvious that someone was in the one where I sat as the occasional drink had been arriving. There was certainly no shyness about shouting things out.

“What you up for mate, you gone in yet, what you got?” It was a female voice; well I thought it so anyway.

Having no ideas of what might be appropriate but also knowing that I couldn’t bluff my way through any conversation, however trivial or simplistic it might turn out to be, I decided that it was best to stick to the plan. With the only things that we had in common were our current situations, it certainly wasn’t enough to become BFFs; best friends for ever. Sensibly I decided on staying quiet hoping that I could out last the obvious short attention span of the people who I had been listening to. My pomposity struck me as ridiculous but I kept quiet. Unfortunately, the inquisitor didn’t give up that easily and became rather more intimidating. At some point in the proceedings I would probably have to come face to face with some of them and their annoyance might manifest itself in some other way; the picture that formed in my head wasn’t very nice. Rescue came in the form of some new meat being brought through from what seemed to have been yet another very unsatisfactory court appearance; according to their standards anyway.

The length of time that I had been there, plus the relative coolness of the cell block was starting to influence my bladder. Having worked out that there was only a communal toilet here, if it hadn’t been for the cat calling and regular attempts to peek through the spy hole in the door by passing patronage, I might have asked to be taken to it. The temptation to satisfy a curiosity in my fellow felons was challenged by the fear of recognition by any of them; the terror of an encounter steeled my sphincter a little longer. It didn’t have to wait long. A sweep of cool fresher air rushed around the small cell as the door lock clanked and the hinges creaked open. I was summons to the door with a wave of one half of a handcuff. It was my time.

The malodorous traffic and colourful banter had disappeared; from inside my head anyway. The immediate matter in hand was my singular point of focus now. Guessing that it was now mid-afternoon although I didn’t think that I needed to raise such trivia with the very large uniform smiling in at me, arm extended. The machine worked smoothly, handcuffing one of my wrists to one of his, ticking of lists, verbal identification, a quick jog down two steps and smartly across the small concreted yard; it had started to rain. The steps on the other side were narrow and not easily negotiated at speed especially while attached to my warder but we just about managed the steep flight without accident or incident; my rather large appendage was out of breath which was not unexpected despite this presumably regular exercise for him. Once back in the dry he led me down an equally tight corridor and into a small room furnished with just a table and two chairs. It was obviously not the court but my observation was distracted by the smiling, friendly and familiar face that looked up from the paperwork spread out on the table. My solicitor, just as promised.

The handcuff was removed from my wrist and the door closed silently. He was just as buoyant as he had been only those few hours before although it seemed so much longer. He explained efficiently what was going to happen next. Thankfully I would not be required to say anything unless asked by the clerk, only be to confirm my name for identification purposes. Nothing to worry about then, they had the right man. The main business would be conducted by himself and the prosecution team. He would do his best to try to get bail for me which he didn’t see a problem under the circumstances and he would see me again after the hearing before I left where we could go through some more of the case building against me in greater depth. I thanked him. Another smile and he stood to knock the door and signal the end of our intimate exchange. He left and I was re-attached to the waiting porky wrist and led off in the other direction to another blank door only a few paces along the corridor; I did wonder if the handcuffs were necessary. My minder peeked through the brass rimmed spy hole in the door before opening it outwards.

“Sit in the front there ’till I tell you.”

It was the first time he had spoken to me and I noted his rather dull functional tone but he just might have been fed up with the monotony of the job.

As I slowly took in the tiny room it was obviously the dock. There were only three chairs, one at the front that I took as instructed, the two set out behind were occupied by my companion and once he had detached himself from me, he settled his ample frame awkwardly across both. As I looked through what was obviously thick bullet proof glass, there was just a narrow gap in the middle to allow some feeling of inclusion in the drama that was quietly playing out in front of me. I also noticed that this, the dock, was tucked away in what seemed to be one corner of the court as if rather an afterthought. Once I had taken stock of the rest of the room it was obvious that it was designed to keep its occupants out of the line of sight of all but the officers of the court and the working legal teams; any members of the public that might have been there were thankfully unable to gawk at me, the accused.

The prescribed codes of justice proceeded as explained. After being asked to stand, I confirm my identity to the clerk. Sitting, again as instructed, all I could to do was strain to hear what was being said about me through the narrow slot in the impenetrable green tinged wall. From the angle of my head it might have looked as if I was too interested in the proceedings, but it was just to keep my ear in the line of sound. My pose may have looked overly dramatic but no-one seemed to be taking any notice of me as far as I could tell. The events as they unfolded were not actually all that interesting, even though it all sounded so much worse than I thought it was. Despite this, the effect that the proceedings could, or most likely would have on the rest of my life, started to become rather more real.

To the court, the details such as they were, were most likely just another set of charges in a day full of such matters however serious; or simple. The drama rolled along until the matter of bail was presented for discussion. My solicitor, to give him his due fought valiantly and even I was impressed at how good a citizen I was made out to be; obviously. The police representative had other ideas. In a well-practised diatribe, the ‘public safety and protection’ trump card was played and this, when combined with a liberal smattering of well-chosen words, ‘children’, ‘extreme’, ‘extensive’, it was enough for the magistrate to err on the side of practical caution and he pronounced that I would be remanded in custody. The rest of my short stay in the dock went unnoticed.

A degree of shock had taken over me and I physically jumped when a head popped up from below, but on the other side of the glass. Only the general gist of what my solicitor was saying to me filtered through, partly because I couldn’t focus and partly because I couldn’t hear him. I got ‘don’t worry too much’ and ‘I’ll see you very soon’ but that was about it. His mouth was moving but the words weren’t sounding out; even the focus of my attraction to him failed me. He popped down out of sight as quickly as he had appeared and it was over. My companion re-attached my arm back to him once more but I just didn’t feel part of any of it anymore; remote, disconnected, lost. This sort of shock must have been something he was used to and he removed me back to the cells rather more calmly but just as quickly. I do remember a cheery ‘keep your chin up’ which I think was the same thing that my smiling advocate had said but neither afforded me any real comfort in the now overtly oppressive and defiantly dismal steel box; I thought how much harder the bench seemed now. Keep my chin up, that was OK but up and out of what, that was the problem now.

The hubbub outside in the cell block corridor began to register again and it slowly gained momentum. The day’s work of the courts was drawing to a close and the husbandry of our bodies was gearing itself up to move us all from one confinement to another. The chaos began, juggling names and places, routes, and routines to get us out of their metaphorical hair ready for the next batch tomorrow. The movements seemed to be as effective as before.

Allowing for my natural fascination of how things worked, thankfully my thoughts were otherwise occupied as I also wanted to know what and where I was going to be taken. Names of different penal facilities were being reeled off as arrangements were organised for which of the transports was going to where and in what order and when. Many of the places sounded familiar and I tried to picture how the process fitted together despite the underlying and rather desperate fact that I was now inside the custodial process. It did put a very different sheen on the matter.

The lack of any personal control was starting to unsettle me again. I remembered something that my portly warder had said on the way back from the court, ‘you’ll be going to the green then?’ but even now it didn’t fit into anything that I could appreciate. There was the place-name again along with ‘he’ll have to be the last one on’; once more it didn’t make proper sense.

Still locked in the custody box, it was getting progressively quieter out in the corridor and, without ceremony it was my turn. Handcuffed by one wrist again to another very large, unshaven guy who was obviously used to and relatively efficient at his job I guessed that I was the last by the rather more relaxed disposition of the remaining uniformed staff. We passed through the small reception area, I was identified yet again and ticked off another list and we headed for the door to the car park.

“You were up on the sex charges weren’t you?” I didn’t get the opportunity to answer. “When you get to the other reception remember to ask to be put on the rule, rule 42. Don’t forget or you will have it rough,” disturbingly he had emphasised the word ‘will’.

I had heard the phrase before from the television, obviously, and it made some sense not that I ever thought that it would apply to me. There wasn’t time to visualise the consequences as we now arrived at the threshold of the porta cabin.  We had stopped abruptly for some reason but that was cleared up by a very firm if still garbled instruction.

“Keep close to me, keep your head down, don’t look up and keep moving.”

The words were thrown back at me and it was all I could do to assimilate them without time to consider any significance before we were moving forward again. Well he was moving I just lurched behind him at the end of the very short chain locked between us. Trying desperately to play out the vague instructions it was all too fast and the whole event turned into a very short-lived farce. There was no time to appreciate the helpful intent of what he had told me, it was over in a flash and now too late.

The unhelpful consequence of the event was as yet unknown to any of us, but an outcome there certainly was which I would only find out much later. A press photographer had been waiting at the very top of the car park some one hundred yards away or more but I somehow managed to look right down the large telephoto lens to give the one piece of information that the courts had denied him. What good was a sex and perversity story if there was no face to satisfy any morbid interest and no-doubt increase the paper’s readership. For now, it was ‘in the can’ while I was still reacquainting myself with the tiny cramped cubicle on my way to ‘The Green’.

Chapter One – and so it begins

The dingy paint-work layered thick over rough brick, shaped graceful arches in the low ceiling. The narrow slit windows could have been bigger but the harsh fluorescent lights set deep into the wall were more than adequate to show the minimalist room as being functional; that function was very simple and was becoming more real by the minute. This was another first experience but it had no frame of reference of any kind and so became almost a sensory overload. The building, the smells, the matter of fact voices of authority, the direct looks, and furtive glances of people that I presumed might also be new to all this in comparison to those that were obviously more at home here. A well-practised self-preservation mechanism came into play and the usual metaphorical glass wall slid into place around me, clear to still be part of things but defensive enough to keep difficult events markedly separate and allowing me to cope; for now anyway. Not knowing what was going to happen in the next few hours or minutes even were tempered by the understanding that this was all the inevitable consequence and realisation of events from more than forty years of my life. A life lived dancing precariously from one side to the other of the line that society quaintly, but realistically, calls ‘normal’.

Here in the gloom and obviously unsolicited situation, vivid thoughts were rapidly creeping into my already drowning mind. There was now the distinct possibility if not a guarantee that, life would be out of my personal control for some time to come. The feelings started to manifest themselves as a tight knot in the pit of my stomach; I had to fight physically to keep them under control. The stale solitude of those moments were curiously cushioned by the background hum and clatter of the rest of the wing. As unknown and unexpected as many of the noises were, the fact that they were on the other side of a heavy steel door did offer some degree of security which was an odd thing to consider; if I had wanted to. Had I given myself too much time to think about anything at all, my thoughts would have continued to run off in several different directions all at the same time but, I seemed to be able to just keep it together; for now anyway.

Night time, for most people anyway, would be a time for nature to deal with all the thoughts and experiences of the day. Once organised it is supposed to allow the stillness of sleep settle them into the many lower levels of the mind. It was of course just evolution making room for the next day’s catalogue of highs and lows, the significant and the pointless happenings of everyday life. This natural event was something that had rarely happened to me as my mind seemed to go into overdrive at the very moment that all other distractions were meant to be put away and the subconscious calm of sleep was supposed to take over. Under different circumstances I would have put the radio on or left the television in its sleep timer mode for an hour or so and hope that the meaningless diversion might fool my racing brain into doing its proper job. With the day’s turmoil and now these unfamiliar surroundings I was stuck for an alternative. Even if I had any I doubt that the events of the last two and a half weeks would have settled themselves away without a fight, instead they just ran and re-ran in that semi dark of the tiny prison cell. Until I stopped trying to get comfortable on the wafer-thin mattress, I hadn’t noticed that Jim, my call mate, although the term mate was not an accurate one as I didn’t know him from Adam, was snoring, not so quietly but well away in his own land of Nod. Retreat was the only course and I cut out as much of the world as I could; for the moment at least, behind closed eyes.

Naïvely I had always imagined that everyone lived their lives within a similar basic structure I was fast learning that this might not be as true as I wanted to believe. The working week, fun weekends, holidays, marriages, childhood’s and all the varied and curious things that make us into individuals but at the same time stay part of a bigger colourful social picture. For my life I had certainly had my fair share of experiences and found myself in circumstances which, as I have got older, I think may not have been anything like other peoples; by a country mile. It is not that I didn’t have any less opportunity or support than most other people of my time, it was more so that I couldn’t see or appreciate what they were or how I should have taken greater advantage from many of them. In relation to the events leading up to my current situation, this lack of perception had fuelled an inaccurate and perverse sense of independence which, going largely unchecked, resulted in many of the self-perpetuating patterns of behaviour that were not all going to be the best choices for living life in a civilised, modern, diverse society. Back in the present and this particular difficult episode. Finding myself lying on an uncomfortable bunk amongst the many as-yet unknown privations of a category B prison cell, I could easily reflect on what had set it all in motion.

A call had come through to my mobile phone a few days before. I was out of the office visiting a customer, doing a bit of PR and a delivery all to help grease the wheels of industry. My phone hardly ever rang so it must have been relatively important and the display showed it was my office calling. The conversation was very one sided, more just a message really that there were two gentlemen from the Inland Revenue wanting to see me and could I get back as soon as I could, please. My office manager was away for a few days so it was down to me to handle the problem, if indeed there was one. As I was ready to go back anyway, I gave the caller an ETA and pressed the red button to end the call.

Pulling into the office car park I swung the long nose of my car alongside the unfamiliar vehicle which I presumed belonged to my visitors. A stranger was leaning against the boot talking on his phone; he ended the call as soon as he saw me drive in. Getting out and introducing myself, having already assumed that he was there to see me, I received no verbal response not even the return of my proffered hand.

“Shall we go in?”

It should have been me leading the conversation as the host but it wasn’t and taking the lead from his tone of voice I lead the way inside not expecting any further discussion.

An involuntary but customary glance around the works showed me that everyone seemed to be doing what they thought they should and so I continued to the office where I could see the second ‘gentleman’ through the glass. He was seated at one of the two desks looking down at papers contained by a leather document case open in front of him. The reference to my visitors being gentlemen had obviously been based on their smart dress and general appearance which gave them a palpable air of authority and purpose; as one would expect from an employee of one of Her Majesty’s departments. On entering the small office, once more I didn’t get the chance to take any lead in conversation and I was actually a little taken aback by being firmly asked to take a seat at the other desk; I was more accustomed to being the host in my own offices but I didn’t think about not acceding to the request.

The office felt different to how it normally would but I couldn’t easily make out why. My subconscious recorded that the door was closed which was the first thing and the second was my visitor as he stood against it, arms folded, feet apart, blank but stern expression on his face. It didn’t help to alleviate the oppressive tension that was building. My nerve endings were beginning to tingle. My mind was desperately trying to recall anything untoward in the accounts that the tax man might be interested in. What was it that I didn’t know, what should I have known, was it just a routine visit, I was snapped out of my reverie by the person seated in front of me.

“I’m sorry to get you back like this but,” he spoke quietly and calmly, “we need to speak with you on a rather urgent and serious matter.”

Still there were no clues. In times of uncertainty or stress I had always found it is best to keep things as calm and civil as possible but, with no information forthcoming from his opening statement I had nothing to go on at all until he started to speak again. It was only then that things started to skid into focus as I was given a very formal introduction of both. They were officers of the West Midlands Police.

After giving only a cursory glance at the two identifications rather perfunctorily proffered, I couldn’t say that I had recognised anything about the actual contents of the small leather wallets.

“There are several things that I need to ask you about.”

The seated officer still maintained his outwardly friendly and composed manner, the standing one kept his rather stiff posture. The asking proceeded at speed and in depth.

I don’t recall very much detail of the questioning except the tone and level of the officer’s voice being stern, course even. Of course, as soon as the initial outline of the conversation had been formed I was painfully aware of what they wanted to talk about and I knew that they were already in possession of a great deal of information. It was patently obvious that they had been well briefed before their visit this morning and I was just another piece of a much larger puzzle. Having already had its edge pieces put together without my help, it was now time for the more obvious elements of its emerging image to be assembled; a clearer picture would emerge with every new piece. It was at this point that I realised that I had some small advantage in knowing just what the picture was on the front of the puzzle box; they more than likely hadn’t had that rather dubious privilege, not yet.

Answering each of the questions posed as clearly and honestly as I could, I managed to hold onto a degree of vagueness wherever I could without lying. They eventually asked for specific information about computers that I owned or used and the contents of such machinery, but more specifically, certain types of pictures and images within that content. My avoidance tactics were a well-practised separation procedure that I used to keep myself ‘safe’ which had served me well for a long time and I had hoped for some time to come but as the procedure progressed that all seemed to be over. The interview continued inexorably on. Although I knew exactly what they were wanting me to say, I tried my best to resisted the faint urge to pour out the whole sordid mess. With this under control the only relevant suggestion that I allowed them was that they may be interested in a lap-top computer that I had at home. Having reasoned something with myself I tried to save them some time and dispel the implied involvement of the company machines. The information was accepted graciously.

“I’ll tell the officers waiting at the flat to look for it,” I must have shown my shock but he continued without pause, “we will be conducting an extensive search of all your property as soon as I have completed my enquiries here.”

Thinking about it logically, as I found myself able to do with another other part of my brain, it was only to be expected. The fact that they were just doing their job was not quite at the forefront of my mind at that point. The potential, no, the actual, seriousness of my situation was suddenly overshadowed by greater concerns for other things.

“My son might be in,” I glanced at both officers not knowing who would be responsible for any reaction, “I wouldn’t want him to be surprised or frightened if, when, you go in. He gets very protective about things and I am not sure how he might react.”

They assured me that the other officers would be sensitive to any situation that might arise but they had to carry out the task in hand and would do their job, whatever happened. The lead officer asked for my house keys which I hope suggested that they would be making a civilised and hopefully quiet entry. It wasn’t until much later that I found out that they did indeed do the job with as much tact and as little disruption that such an invasive operation could have. I had no doubt that the more vigilant of my neighbours would be aware of the many bags of things that were removed during the search and would start to build a picture of something for themselves.

“You will come with us now.”

There was obviously no room for discussion and I stood up ready to go with them without any kind of resistance. The keys to my car were requested and taken and it was soon being pawed over by another team of plain clothed police that had appeared silently as the three of us left the premises.

Before we actually left the building, I asked what I should do about both the factory and my staff. With only the briefest of pauses in the proceedings I was allowed to go, with my escort, to speak with the one person that I would consider responsible for things while I was ‘helping the police with their enquiries’ as I was instructed to say. Trying to say as much but as little as I could without giving away any real information was difficult and I was cut short with my bewildered employee still none the wiser other than, he would have more information when it was available. It was some small comfort at least that I had every faith that they would sort things out for now but had no way of expressing it, all I could do was look on and smile.

We made our way out to their rather unremarkable car being reminded that it was best that I did not speak to any of the other staff; I noted to myself how I felt curiously calm.

Despite understanding why this was happening, it was still difficult to openly acknowledge the culmination and inevitable conclusion of many years of secret activity. Despite knowing full well that it would all have to come to light at some point I was able to recall having admitted such to myself only a few months before. Despite all these things that hadn’t stopped me gathering yet more images from the wide variety of websites that I had visited on most nights of the week. The thoughts and knowledge of all the legal implications failed to make any impact as I sorted and filed them all away in the extensive and dare I congratulate myself, well-structured electronic filing system.

It was not just saving them that had filled the many dark hours, there was all the checking for duplicates, creating new folders for new subjects and always some degree of lingering over particularly attractive or evocative fancies. It was more like an industrial operation than a rather sad and over indulgent pastime. One part of my mind would be telling me it was secret and therefore safe, another would nearly always argue that it was rather stupid and sad; I always went for the first and more interesting option. Stimulating would be a far better description of it all.

The extensive collection of beauty, youth and passion was meant to fill some of the empty spaces in life. What it offered was a representation of smooth ageless perfection that I had never seemed to have been able to achieve in myself. It gave me the means to feel the heights of solitary ecstasy that I couldn’t ever seem to find with anyone else. It offered the fulfilment of simple aspirations that I knew full well I could never achieve. In their own dark simplicity, any of the myriad of reasons or excuses I could create kept me seemingly safe inside the cycle of activity right up to the point that I had now reached. My mind returned reluctantly to its corporeal body sitting in the back of the unmarked police car speeding along to its police station.

Bizarre as it may seem, of all the things that I should have been concentrating on, I noticed that the younger of the two officers had a head of hair that was not exactly blonde but light enough to give the faint stubble on his cheeks almost invisibility until it caught the light at certain angles. To just a casual onlooker it would have meant nothing but to me, what would have been the trait of not having to shave regularly, as I had since I was about twelve years old, was only added to his rather attractive looks and well-proportioned build.

The journey to the local police station was only a short one and although when I had been there before it had only been to the public front desk. This time the car drove straight round to the back of the unremarkable modern building and parked amongst the other marked and unmarked vehicles. Unexpectedly I was helped out of the back seat but I guessed that this was more to stop me having a chance to run off although quite where they imagined I might be thinking of going I didn’t know; I was never the running type at the best of times.

Not quite knowing if I was just using another coping mechanism, I found myself thinking about police programmes on the television. They were something that I liked to watch and often found a degree of morbid interest with the general inclusion of rough, but sometimes attractive criminal elements who would be vigorously fighting the system with all their attitude, cropped hair and tattoos. Serves them right I used to think but at the same time, show some more, please. This present reality was very like all that but at the same time very different; it was now not just confined to the safety of the small screen. The procedure was slower, oh so much slower; unfortunately, there was to be no dramatic editing to be done.

This real-time event was mainly sitting, waiting, moving, waiting some more, formal pronouncements, more waiting and, disappointingly, not a good looking fellow scallywag to be seen. I tried my best not to focus on the uniforms and all that went with them but it was difficult and in some small way a distraction that I didn’t feel the need to let go of for the time being. Although I didn’t know it, the lack of other offenders was because I was deliberately being keep separate from the day’s normal traffic due to the ‘sensitivity of my situation’ and the charges that would inevitably be brought against me. It was very thoughtful of them I remember thinking once it had been pointed out by someone. All these processes would become much clearer as things moved on over the weeks ahead.

Due process continued unhindered. Pictures, DNA and finger prints which interestingly, to me anyway, were taken on a fancy computerised machine. All of them were scanned and logged away with no sticky black ink to bother with afterwards. My curious nature went thoroughly undeterred and fortunately for my general mental state, overshadowed the serious nature of the events. There were more forms, explanations, searches even more waiting and finally, removal to the custody cells. Just as I had watched on the television, off came my shoes, belt, and tie. Walking into the call the cold of the floor seeped through my socks but, cold wouldn’t kill me whereas using something as a tourniquet would have; if I had a mind to end it all that is. There was the offer of a hot drink, I went for the coffee, black, no sugar, it came eventually, luke warm, white with at least one sugar. Feeling that I had no recourse to complaint, I smiled and sipped at it, if ungratefully.

“Just sit tight while they get on and do whatever investigations they have to. You’ll be fine.”

The sentiment that the duty officer offered was far more comforting than the drink he had brought.

The room was sparse which didn’t help considering the amount of time that I sat, or lay, or paced within the small space trying to forget; this was just my way of dealing with things that I didn’t need or want to. There were regular checks through the small peep hole in the door but I also noticed a camera lens behind a small glass plate high up in the wall; it was only to be expected that I was being watched most of the time. Occasionally I had the offer of another drink which I took, despite the first experience. All the drinks and the hard cold seat meant that I had to use the functional and surprisingly clean toilet arrangement in the cell. It was impossible not to touch the thing but the odd germ was probably the last thing I should worry about; I should be used to strange toilets anyway. Later on that evening I answered the less than profound questions posed by the custody sergeant regarding my treatment during my stay which included my assessment of the facilities; what could one say?

Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, I was taken out of the cold cell, my shoes slipping untied on my feet, led out to the main desk where I was formally charged with being in possession of illegal images; and a few other things that I chose not to file away as it was much wordier than that, but you’ll get the gist I’m sure. Curiously, or was it just me again, before this simple act could happen, I had to wait for the whole of the custody suite to be cleared except for those personnel relevant to my case. It was the most likely reason for it seeming to take so long to arrange; I didn’t ask about it obviously. Having received an apology for this delay, I thanked the officer, despite the fact that I still didn’t quite know why it had to be so. The custody sergeant asked if I wanted a solicitor which I said that I think that I should. Not having my own, I was appointed the duty functionary and the call was put in after consulting the rota. After some discussion over the telephone between the desk Sergeant and whoever it was to be my representative, it was thought that I wouldn’t need to see him given the outline of my charges at that point but, I could have just a brief discussion with him on the telephone. From this I hoped that it might be a good sign and the words of relative comfort that I had during the rather short conversation did help; if only a little. There would be ‘ongoing investigations’ he told me and when there was more information they would deal with it ‘in an appropriate manner’. Or course I had no idea what the investigations would consist of, not fully wanting to admit to the possibilities anyway even if I did.

Back in the cell I sat or lay some more and waited for what seemed endless hours. To break the boredom, I tried to content myself by reading the official leaflets I had been handed about the treatment of those held in custody, the standards and expectations, recourse to complaint and other nonsense; it didn’t take long to get through them. After this interlude, I reflected on what might be happening outside in the real world.

For all intents and purposes I had evaporated out of my normal life with hardly any explanation. No doubt someone would be filling in the blanks but I had no control over how or with what they would be doing that although nothing that anyone could come up with would be near the truth; that at least was certain. The line of thought was starting to concern me as the deliberations and decisions that were being made would obviously affect the outcome of the official investigation. What was more concerning though were the inevitable inaccuracies that would materialise and how they would undoubtedly colour my reputation, such as it might be have been. The feeling of being helpless was not a comfortable one and.

Being interested in the general process of policing and custody I took up an alternative train of thought to try and remain as calm as I could. In this endeavour, I tried to note all the things that I enjoyed about police programmes and compare them to what I was experiencing now. All too plainly I understood how tedious it all was and why most of the filmed boredom didn’t make the final cut. The attempt at distraction wasn’t working very well at all.

The bench cum bed was getting uncomfortable, even the cellular blankets didn’t make much difference; I tried pacing up and down instead. The small, well used and liberally abused room didn’t allow for much of a stretch but it was better than nothing. As a further effort of self-amusement, I took the opportunity to read and even chuckle at the varied graffiti adorning the walls, but even that didn’t take very long; television never shows the boredom that cells induce and I sat back down to contemplate the situation once more.

Although I wasn’t fully aware, the carefully planned operation to investigate my ‘hobby’ was close to running its present course. Understandably it would take some time to unravel it all. It may be OK to say ‘fair cop guv’, not that I had actually used those words, but I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. What was happening was at both the factory and my home where all the things that appeared to be relevant or just interesting, computers, disks, disk drives, DVDs plus a few irrelevant items not that they knew it then, had been bagged, tagged and by now all secured carefully away in some evidence locker. The technical departments would have to find plenty of time to work on the huge amount of material but for now there was enough superficial evidence to fulfil the police’s requirements for the charges I had been saddled with. The futile process of denial had crossed my mind but what was the point. It was obvious that the matter was well advanced and the police knew almost as much as I did and it, whatever ‘it’ was going to be, it would soon all be over.

Falling back into my thoughts I was still able to acknowledge that fact that I was not stupid or ignorant, I had done things that were against the law and this was just the result of all that illicit activity; and more besides. In an odd way I felt some kind of relief about what had happened. Despite having rationalised it all on some level, I didn’t really want to deal with the gory consequences so I managed to put it away in one of the mental boxes that I kept for more difficult things. Despite doing this, my thoughts were being replaced by equally negative things and I started to slip backwards, uncomfortably out of control. My thoughts spun round all the things that I had been involved with over the years, not all of them illegal but let us just say, questionable; it was becoming hard to maintain a grip on the present. Thoughts about the future were equally tortuous.

Information was what I needed, I can deal with information, I needed more information. Immediate rescue came from being taken out to the custody desk once more to have yet more pronouncements made to me. It seemed that I was out. Not out of trouble but just out on police bail while further investigations were being done. The many do’s and don’ts were reeled off plus some advice about keeping myself safe; again, I didn’t fully understand all the implications they were alluding to but took it all on board somehow and stored it away with the other things as I get through the many locked and CCTV monitored doors.

Despite my normally logical approach, getting out of station had the curious effect of putting me into a bit of a mental spin. Here, back on the outside, back in the real world, I felt horribly lost and alone.

Once behind my own front door having made the trip on foot and thankfully without encountering anyone, I realised that I had lost all sense of time, space and worse, reality. I didn’t even remember if I had spent a day or a night in the cells that is how bad I was. It was daylight now so perhaps I had been for longer than I thought; I pushed the pointless issue out of my mind. The flat didn’t look too bad considering that it had been ‘turned over’ but I guessed that my son would have any of the clearing up done. No-one was there now. As I sat with a cup of ‘proper’ coffee, hot, black and with no sugar, the harsh reality of my situation fell solidly into the pit of my stomach. It churned and twisted painfully.

Reverting to what I could of a daily routine, thing had to be done on auto-pilot. There were people I needed to contact. It was something that I didn’t want to do at the best of times let alone now. The hardest thing was not knowing how other people would be like towards me, what they thought they knew and how they might deal with this mess. The fact that only I had any insight to the truth did nothing to help my concerns, even the police couldn’t yet profess to know it all and if I could have my way it would stay like it. Obviously, it couldn’t be like that but I could at least limit information leakage to something vaguely acceptable; less controversial at least.

At the best of times my life was a duality or even tri-ality. Most of me had a public face that displayed normality and decency but many other parts of it were very secret and although debatable, rather ‘murky’ for want of a better word. It was this part that I needed to manage now knowing exactly how it would affect things.

For altogether selfish reasons I reverted to type in deciding to adopt the usual ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach when things started to get difficult; I picked up the phone and looked at it for a very long time. For the most part, as the phrase would suggest, I managed to hide behind something that wasn’t there, creating a wall of non-information that helped to keep most of the questions away and any of the more difficult details out of the immediate spotlight. It kept me safe for the present time but it was inevitably a hollow performance and left more questions than answers. It was all I could face knowing that anything else would get filled in with the inevitable unhelpful speculation. Although I couldn’t win, I felt that I wasn’t quite losing either.

In a twisted praxis, because the subject matter was so controversial, there were few people who were willing to bring themselves to discuss the details of it anyway. It certainly helped to keep the more controversial conversations off the table for now at least. The downside to this was that I was immediately excluded from almost everything and everyone that had been in my previous life either by embarrassment or disgust. The upside was that I didn’t have to deal with the more unpleasant aspects of human nature; however, much I thought that I might have I deserved it.

Putting away the difficult matters in yet more of my mental boxes I seemed to have avoided the worst of it for now. All I was left to cope with now was the sure knowledge that there was far worse to come. Undoubtedly and inevitably I would be successfully prosecuted for the crimes that I had committed and was inwardly resolved to that fate.

Unfortunately, inside the whole melange, the most difficult thing was going to be the effects that my actions and life choices would ultimately have on other people. This was the greatest regret and held more horror than anything that might happen to me. Having made many difficult choices over the years, I had always been able to manage the fallout as best I could at the time. In most things, I had always tried to minimise the difficulties that I knew that I was creating for everyone else; this time I knew that it would be very different. My little mental boxes would be very welcome and undoubtedly stretched to capacity in the long months to come.