Sunspot Conspiracy Theory

Bonkers conspiracy theory no. 583

I was watching a programme the other night about sunspots, and solar flares, and corona mass emissions; apparently our modern society, so heavily dependent on technology, could be crushed by a wave of magnetic disturbance. Indeed, a sufficiently large emission would bathe the planet with high-energy rays, causing widespread genetic damage and blindness.

This would be a global disaster. We could build a huge parasol, I suppose; but that would cause problems of its own (ice age, crop failure). A more sensible idea would be to prepare some kind of spacecraft to help people escape; but then again, this would take months to organise when we would probably have little more than a day to take action.

Then I thought: why not build a bunker – like the pyramids? Set up a big underground shelter where people could be led to safety. You could install some kind of expensive research equipment, such as a particle accelerator, so that only the most intelligent people would be granted access.

Well, it turns out that at CERN there is an LGBT social group which has been putting up fairly innocent posters inviting people to coffee mornings and such like. And recently these posters have been removed, or defaced with offensive graffiti, which is strange considering the place is such an intellectual powerhouse. Perhaps the LGBT members are making remarkable progress towards the next big breakthrough, which has annoyed their colleagues. Or perhaps everybody down there knows that the real purpose of CERN is to preserve the stock that will repopulate the planet following the solar wipeout; and some people are resentful that this sanctuary is being offered to non-breeders.

Yeah, it’s a daft idea; but we’ve tried all the sensible ones, and where did they get us?


Molten Trash; A Closing Door

Door Closes, Molten Trash

After we had covered two old exam papers (calculus and probability) Trevor asked me if I fancied listening to some music. I didn’t recognise any of the records he kept stacked against the wall; the names and sleeve designs gave no hint of what kind of music they were.

‘Here, try this one’ he said, placing a disc on the turntable. ‘This one is banned in large parts of Africa.’ A warm, lonely guitar began to trace a melody, while a man began singing, something I couldn’t follow but which was oddly comforting. My coffee had grown cold as one track gave way to another, then a third, and I remember hearing a distant voice say ‘Are you okay?’ as I lay on the carpet and watched the ceiling gently rotate. Did the room revolve at thirty-three per minute, like the LP; or was it a different angular velocity, governed by the beat of the music?
‘One day I’m gonna live in a place like this’, I said: I was filled with a fierce envy of people who had real lives, with real parents who cared for them and paid for them to go on holiday and real friends to talk with over long, lazy evenings.

He walked me back to the bus stop and I made my way home. The week passed in a blur as I waited anxiously for Thursday night, when I had been invited back to continue studying at Trevor’s flat. I had been careful to annoy the staff and the other residents of the house, by making frequent references to Trevor’s collection of New Scientist magazines, and his slide rule handbook, and the family bible which he kept on display.
So I was washing my teacup in the sink on Wednesday night, when the House Mother collared me, asking if I was going to Trevor’s flat again this week. ‘Yes, I think so’ I answered nervously. ‘Oh, good’ she said, ‘I thought it might be an idea to take Geoff along with you.’

Geoff was Aunt Laura’s son, who, like me, was studying O-level sciences. We maintained a low-level hatred for each other, and he never missed an opportunity to remind me of how enjoyable it was to spend time with a real family in a normal household.

‘Er, yeah…could do, I suppose’ I began. ‘What sort of homework does he want to revise?’

She smiled. ‘Oh, it doesn’t really matter…just as long as he can see what you two get up to, he should pick up some good tips for studying.’ I felt a surge of panic, as this lad would not hesitate to inform the staff that my private tuition was actually a relaxed evening of coffee and folk music.
So I waited anxiously for the next day, when Aunt Laura was due to bring her spoilt brat along to join me at my revision class. She arrived for duty at six o’clock as usual, and I asked whether she would be giving us both a lift to Trevor’s flat. ‘Oh, Geoff decided that he doesn’t need any special lessons’ she said ‘His teachers reckon that he is on track to get great results; after all, we’re lucky enough to live near a proper school.’

I felt anger flare and was about to make an indignant protest about the quality of my own school; but I realised that it might put a stop to my private sessions, so I just said that I was getting some good practice in dealing with exam questions.
I explained this situation to Trevor when we met; he seemed faintly alarmed. ‘You sure you want to carry on meeting?’
What an odd question, I thought. So we arrived at his flat and spent ninety minutes dutifully analysing algebra and electronics. Eventually, he said it was time to rest, and put the kettle on. While he was in the kitchen I began leafing through the pile of magazines on the table: New Musical Express, What Car, and Hi-Fi News. The staples had fallen out of one of these magazines, leaving the cover loose; and as it fell to the floor I saw two black-and-white snapshots slide out. They showed Trevor sitting on a bench along with another young man, both in white shorts and bare-chested.

‘Oh, you found those? I wondered where they had gone!’ I didn’t know he was standing behind me. ‘Cheers’ I said, taking the coffee; ‘Are you a footballer, then?’

Trevor laughed and said he had played badminton for a couple of years. For some reason my heart was thudding and I could feel my hands start to shake, causing the coffee to spill onto my shirt. ‘Hey, what’s the matter?’ he said with sudden concern. ‘Come on, let’s get that top clean before you go back.’ He undid the cuff buttons and tried to pull my shirt over my head. ‘No good, you’ll have to undo them all. C’mon, let’s see those muscles!’ We both laughed weakly at this comment; and I started to unfasten my shirt, keeping my face turned sideways so I couldn’t see him.

He took the shirt into the kitchen and emerged a minute later. ‘It’s on the radiator, should be dry in half an hour. Nothing to worry about.’

I remember clearly, even now, how strange it felt; the idea of seeing a picture of someone and being hit by a sudden wave of desire and longing to speak out about how I felt but knowing that it would cause – what, embarrassment? Anger? Trouble? So I kept quiet, or so I thought; he had noticed my subdued expression and hooded anxiety, and said ‘Are you bothered about the exam questions, or is there something else? You look a bit down, is it ‘cos your friend couldn’t make it tonight?’

‘God, no’ I laughed. ‘He’s not really a friend, just someone whose mom works at our house. She wanted him to come and keep an eye on me tonight.’

‘Keep an eye on you? Why, what did you say we got up to?’

So I told Trevor about the wholesome picture I had painted of our study session, with two devoted students absorbed in the arcane mysteries of O-level physics. ‘I didn’t dare mention anything about your music collection.’

‘Oh well’, he began, ‘You could really upset them and mention that I’ve got a guitar.’ He went into the bedroom and emerged carrying a plain-looking six string. He strummed it four times before slapping the back of the instrument, and handed it to me.

‘But I can’t play…never seen one of these before!’

‘Course you can, it’s easy.’ He showed me where to place my finger on the fret, and made me pick at two of the strings, making a lilting tune. I enjoyed the resonant scraping noise my nails made as they dragged along the string, and I was startled to notice Trevor watching me with a faint smile when I eventually looked up. He walked round the back of the chair and laid his fingers over mine; the record had reached its end and all I could hear was an irregular soft guitar twang laid over the regular dull click of the stylus. Somewhere in the distance I could feel my heart pounding while a strange hand began to stroke my leg.

Perhaps it is true that an infinite number of possible realities are sprayed forwards from each moment of existence; in one of these, I might have told Trevor how badly I craved his meaty frame, glimpsed earlier that night in a photo. I remember feeling hot and confused, aware that anything that happened between us would be seen as wrong. Evil. Disgusting. I longed to feel those sturdy arms and hairy chin – unaware of exactly what sort of pleasure they could summon up in one so lacking in experience as I – and in a moment of cowardice I killed the atmosphere of tenderness, gently asking if I could get the bus home in ten minutes’ time.
It was like watching an expensive vase topple from the edge of a tall cabinet; the slow configuration of light and shade and trembling beauty, accelerating from nothing down to an inevitable smash. The promised possibility of happiness dwindled to a far-off speck, and a surge of loss and loneliness fell against my heart.

I saw Trevor only in my dreams after that night; either he was busy or the weather was bad, so we abandoned the planned session of homework revision. My housemates never commented about how miserable I was looking. Perhaps they were pleased that I no longer had an evening away from them each week, glad to see that we were all once more a gathering of lost souls…



Whitworth, visit No. three-point-one-four-two

“26 Nov 1999: Why?”

The debris of my thirty years
Congests the squalor of this room
Arranged on silent shelves, the books
I could not bear to throw away.

Long-players mute, no turntable
Or telly to disturb the gloom
These are not mine, but next-door’s walls
Where nasty paper lurks beneath cheap paint.

Like Larkin’s nondescript celebrity
I pass my heavy days alone
In someone else’s doctor’s house
A footnote in some other person’s book.

Journal entry: 23 April 2016

I am out of work; instead of spending my days peering down a microscope at the dainty eye-shaped scratches in a film of powder-coated paint, or developing an equation that compensates for the pressure drop across a twelve-micron membrane caused by intermittent unexpected sunshine, or worrying about the fact that the green pigment grains, still seething with reactive hooks, are eager to cling together when they get the chance, I now spend all my time looking at catalogues of job vacancy listings. I say ‘catalogues of listings’; each website carries jobs which in turn are already advertised on other websites, and the process of submitting an application becomes a tortured dance from one list to another like somebody trying to cross the stream, guessing which of the stepping-stones is easier to reach.

And to preserve my sanity, I make occasional trips to the Whitworth Gallery, where the paintings have plenty of room to breathe. On my last visit I saw:

The Death of Painting:
Five square pictures of uniform size, showing an almost total black coverage with minor accidental variations in gloss and density in the body and near the edges of each. If you had a very expensive apartment in St Ives, and the local polymer science department created for you a set of square acrylic windows which had no reflective properties at all, these paintings give some idea of what you would see if you decided to look out over the sea in the dead of night.

The Death of Painting:
Five wooden frames, each with an elegant skirt of white cartridge paper which was cut using a surgeon’s knife stolen from a bunker where three Russian teenagers were found dead in 1975. The central zone of each frame is filled with a warm deep black, made up of carbon, chromium oxide, and iron oxide.

The Death of Painting:
Five objects, five equations, five unexpected dreams that fill the heart with fear. Each one of these black squares represents one of the movements from Dutilleux’ Metaboles, which I listened to on my Hitachi MP3 player about five years back when I came here. Perhaps each picture shows the emptiness of a person’s mind, the carefully-shaped regions lying in wait for the arrival of these mysterious orchestral monoliths.

The Death of Painting: Handmade Lithograph images on Somerset Rag Paper. Idris Khan, 2014. I remember seeing some other works by Khan at the Whitworth a few years back; these were ‘The Devil’s Wall’, a series of black-and-gold sculptures which made me think of a gravestone trying to turn itself into a Klein bottle.

As well as these black pictures, one of which could appear on stage as the notorious mega-expensive abstract minimalist work in Reza’s play ‘Art’, we had an embroidered sampler called ‘War…Peace’ by Cornelia Parker which showed the dictionary entries for each of these two words in a kind of visual counterpoint. But, since the piece was wall-mounted, we had one item reading forwards while the other was reversed; surely it would be better to have the work framed in glass and placed on a rotating spindle?

Other fascinating exhibits included some enigmatic Litho prints by Frank Brangwyn: he believed in having art readily accessible.

A special display to commemorate the battle of the Somme: drawings and etchings by a host of artists – Wyndham Lewis, Paul Nash, David Bomberg, Nevinson, Eric Kennington, and Henry Lamb, whose immense painting of a Dressing-Station is accompanied by the various preliminary sketches. Blasted forests. A bleak tin hut with snow and frozen garments, a painted landscape through which fallen soldiers are stretchered against a hideous fog of mustard-gas.

And one room is given over to ‘Bus de la Lum’, an installation by Nico Vascellari, consisting of huge glass-and-mirrored plates, some with transfer images of woodland and writing. The work is accompanied by a grand, imposing soundtrack, a resonant choral chant that summons up ideas of secret nocturnal ceremonies. The name refers to a wooded pit used as a death camp in the Second World War; an unbelievable contrast with the sunlit park outside the gallery, where handsome students sprawled on the grass and looked forward to a future of infinite possibilities.


Lab Technician Vacancies

Memoirs of a job-hunting man, part two: back in the DHSS

Of course, it’s no longer called the DHSS- it has become DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions. Do those two things really belong together, I wonder?
Anyway, about six years ago I was at the Jobcentre signing on. The young lady called me over to her desk; she signalled her contempt by avoiding eye contact, keeping her very important gaze fixed on the computer screen.

‘You were supposed to sign on last Friday’ she said briskly. ‘What happened?’

I explained that I had been away at a job interview on the Isle of Wight, and I had already notified the Jobcentre that I would not be able to attend on my normal day. I had also rung them earlier that morning and been assured that it was okay for me to call in today. Which I did.

I had expected a few questions about the interview: how did it go, what sort of job was on offer, where did you see it advertised, etc…but the young lady ignored my comment and simply said ‘Where’s your job search?’
I produced a bundle of print-out leaflets from the Jobcentre’s own computer system. ‘These are last week’s’ she snapped. ‘You should have some up-to-date ones’.

She continued typing, not once bothering to look at me; eventually she stamped and dated my jobsearch booklet, to confirm that I had attended and signed on. Instead of handing it over with a pleasant smile, and a remark wishing me good luck following my recent interview, she merely left it lying on the desk. I wasn’t sure if I had finished or not.

I had also approached the jobcentre several times to ask about help with the cost of travelling to the Isle of Wight for an interview, but they told me that the I-o-W was actually in the Channel Islands, not part of the UK at all, so they were not required to help.

Let us move forward to 2016; I find myself once more unemployed, and dependent on the state to pay my bills. Except now, instead of ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance’, I am being issued with something called ‘Universal Credit’ which almost sounds like something I am expected to repay after twelve months, with the appropriate amount of interest. And to qualify for this payment, I have agreed to spend 35 hours each week looking for work, using the Government’s ‘Universal Jobmatch’ website.

Like so many other government initiatives, this grandly-titled internet portal is an expensive sham, designed to spread misery and confusion among the nation’s unemployed. A typical jobsearch involves me logging onto the system (twelve-digit code, followed by personal password) and then selecting a job title and preferred location.
The system helpfully comes up with all the relevant job adverts; however, after a few minutes, you realise that there are eight listings with the same job title, all appearing through different recruitment agencies. Then, when you click on one of these adverts, you find yourself being redirected between five or six different agencies: thus, the Universal Jobmatch site sends you to the UK Staffsearch website, which then sends you to Totaljobs, which sends you on to Adzuna which redirects you to the CV-Library website which sends you on to Indeed-dot-co-uk which eventually dumps you on the floor at Reed recruitment. The same job details have appeared on each of these separate websites, but any attempt to ‘Apply’ simply results in a wild goose-chase across the shimmering reed-beds of the interweb.

And it is not unknown for one of these lengthy courtship dances to come to a grinding halt when the website announces that ‘Sorry, this vacancy has now been removed’.
The typical job adverts now include a catalogue of stock phrases; it seems that every job now calls for candidates who have excellent IT skills, have excellent communication skills, and are able to work effectively on their own as well as part of a team. Some adverts state that ‘successful candidates will be qualified to BSc/MSc/PhD level’ (which sort of suggests that these are equivalent credentials).

One advert says ‘We are looking for a PhD-level qualified Chemist to work on organic synthesis to pharmaceutical standards.’ Well, do they want a PhD or not? And are they actually making pharmaceuticals or not? I remember one of my colleagues at work asking if she could enrol on a PhD course. The managing director was very pleased at this display of initiative, and cheerfully approved her request; all she had to do was find a suitable project and secure sponsorship funding from various funding bodies. He then announced that he would be glad to endorse her work, provided that ‘you come up with something which we can exploit on a commercial basis within a few months.’

But, I thought, surely the whole point of Doctoral research is to identify some discovery that nobody else has found; and the chances are that anything commercially viable is already being examined – in great detail – by workers at other firms, armed with better labs and bigger budgets.
And excellent communication: does everybody have excellent communication skills, I wonder? When I was a spotty schoolboy, we never had lessons in ‘communication skills’. We didn’t have a telephone at home, and we never had computers at school (I think my Dixons electronic calculator (with its red LED display) was the most advanced item of technology in the entire building). Since I only managed a grade ‘B’ in my English O-level exams, perhaps it would be fair to say that I have mediocre, rather than excellent communication skills.

And one final hilarious observation: today, I spotted a job advert for a Purchasing Assistant, paying sixteen grand a year. The advert included a vast catalogue of requirements, and ended with a flourish: “The role’s application closing date will be 18/04/2016 or until enough applications have been received.” Reassuring, eh?


Another Molten Trash

More Molten Trash Again….

We were all talking about Paul when Aunt Megan came in, so we suddenly fell silent. ‘Carry on’, she said, glaring at us, ‘No need to become all secretive just because I’m here.’

‘Just wanted to know what’s gonna happen to Paul’ said Jenny. The staff in the home had been instructed not to discuss the case with us; it was not even clear whether they actually knew anything about Paul’s situation. All we knew was that he had injured one of the house staff, and she had remained away from work for three weeks, while he had just gone and not been seen again.

‘There isn’t anything I can tell you’ she said, ‘And we have told the headmaster that you are not allowed to discuss anything to do with Paul while you’re at school. It could be serious if you accidentally spread false rumours.’

I kept silent about the possibility of spreading true rumours.

Later that evening, one of the kids rushed into the playroom holding a dull red exercise book. ‘Look what I found! Under Paul’s bed! Under his mattress, I mean!’ We all stared in horror; we were terribly excited at this new discovery, but the house mother would be furious if she knew that we were still debating the miscreant.

‘Take it to the Aunts’, I said. ‘Don’t look inside it and don’t let anybody else read it.’ The young lad looked scared at the prospect of explaining why he had been searching upstairs, and he dropped the book. A folded sheet fell out; Jenny calmly picked it up and began to open it.

The paper carried a neat diagram in black felt-tip, with a five-pointed star inside a circle. Each enclosed section of the picture contained a symbol, but I didn’t recognise any of them except for the Greek letter Omega. A line of script ran around the edge of the paper like a square spiral; it appeared to be just a random list of names from the Old Testament, mixed with some technical terms from nuclear physics. The words ran along the paper forming three concentric blocks of text, and then trailed in to wrap themselves around the circle, in an unbroken ring of letters which made no sense to any of us.

Journal Entry, 20 Mar 2000:

Hurrah! This is National Science Week! Today at work in my incredibly high-tech scientific job I made some black paint on 185 alkyd resin. And I replaced the black bag in the lab dustbin.

Went to library: ‘Complete Motorcycle Book’, ‘Open Skies, Closed Minds’, ‘Black Horn’.

Tomorrow is Budget Day. Stephen Byers (Trade and Industry) is under fire for messing up the sale of MG Rover.

Haloflex brochure: recommended for use on galvanised steel and with ZPZ etc. However, also suffers degradation at 160 Fahrenheit when in contact with zinc…?

22 Mar 2000: At work made a dinky batch of stoving drum paint. Also Dunlop silver with a non-leafing grade of aluminium paste. Vinylidene chloride emulsion resins also available from Scott-Bader: they recommend avoiding copper, zinc, aluminium and steel.

Also at work, we were discussing red-light districts, and the subject of Moseley Village cropped up, whereupon it emerged that Brian knew a couple of gay friends who lived there and when he was discussing them he used offensive hand (or rather wrist) gestures, to my extreme embarrassment. Question: could it be that Brian C doesn’t actually know about me?

29 Mar 2000: Strange day at work. In the mess room I was playing around with the cards left on the table, and lifted a chunk to reveal six spades. Then I cut this packette to show the same card. Eh? It turned out that the jumble on the table included two complete decks.

Pete wants one of us (me or Brian) to accompany Lulu to Blagden’s on Tuesday. Brian said that it would be okay if I went, and Pete was v unenthusiastic.

04 Apr 2000: Arrived at work yesterday, and Brian said that he had been asked by Graham J to accompany Kev to Blagdens (so I was no longer required). Question: if –as I was told before – I ws brought into Newtown to take over from Brian when he retires next year, then why was he invited to go today? Eh?

20 May 2000: Fabulous brilliant sunshine and blue skies. Had letter from Steve and Kathy about their new baby (Alice) and barbecue to be held 11 June. Unfrotunately I shall be on way from St Austell.

Tony and Cherie Blair had another baby. Leo.

Phone call from Michael S in Germany; he attended a job interview recently where they seemed very keen and eager. Then today he’s been sent a rejection letter couched in a clumsy, meaningless phrase.

It’s about a year ago that I left Mason and moved here to Tamworth. So many dreams, boundless optimism, opportunities, operatics, organic synthesis of pop melodies, charismatic evangelism, make all black things white and vice versa. Elaborately modulated. So anyway I moved out of Derby to a job that pays less and a flat that costs more. With no secure bike parking. Job potential: no computer training, no supervisory role, no management.

21 May 2000: Last night did an omelette with mushrooms and Edam, drank bottle of Chianti and a can of Beamish, woke up this morning with awful hangover.

Sick four times – pounding headache. It’s now 3.30 and I thought ‘Let’s put that programme on where they dissect music; who knows, it might be Bruckner V.’ Anyway, that programme doesn’t start ‘til 4.00 but on R3 wot are they playing but Bruckner V (Horenstein archive recording).

Plastic Fetish

Welcome to the parish of St Yrene
Where the acres of pink-tinged lust
Pretend to be arousal
Disguised as appraisal where the rust
Drips onto a wire inside-out
Drips like the litany of hatred
Where nothing is red but not pink
I lust you, neither do I
Thanks to St Yrene for prayers

Meltdown in the ravishing St Yrene
Where the makers of printing in
Trust no-one but to dazzle
Excised by a pretzelogical crust
Strips my wire in spite of
Lips are illicit afraid of not rated
Books are unthinking and unread
You thrust, I no longer erupt
Against the statue of St Yrene

Elegantly trashed St Yrene
Her attackers were just a kink
In the shining hot straight wire
That calls itself the azure sail
Wrapping our world like a flat shell
Where the next eclipse is distilled
From a silent harmony of head
We must never deny
Our baptised brotherhood of St Yrene’s




Molten Trash…Reprise

Social Worker’s Report on Child G, August 1980.

Child G arrived at the Residential Home in April 1979 after his parents were killed in a car accident. Initial signs of psychological trauma were standard; G displayed harsh, withdrawn behaviour, mainly verbal, but with a few isolated incidents of physical violence.

The last of these was a knife attack on one of the staff members, after which G was restrained and transferred to the secure division half a mile from the Home. Interviews with the staff and children indicated that G had never expressed any interest in knives or made threatening references to using a bladed weapon.

Child G appears intelligent and cooperative, but does not recognise the criminal nature of his action. He claimed to have no memory of the events, except for one counselling session where he claimed that this was ‘a natural conclusion to a vulgar and dismal episode’.

As part of the inquiry, teachers were interviewed from G’s School and all of them described him as a normal boy with no history of aggressive behaviour. However, one of them recalled a classroom exercise when the children had been asked to role-play characters from history.

G said he had been watching a television programme called ‘I. Claudius’ (note: this is an adaptation of a well-known book and includes graphic scenes of sex and violence, not suitable for viewing by children) and he wanted to play a Roman Gladiator. The small group of children created and performed a 3-minutes scenario, at the end of which the gladiator (Child G) informed the slave he was about to kill that ‘your life has just been a long and dismal episode which needs to be forgotten’.

This curious remark was noted by the teachers; some of them tried to locate the original source, since it was obviously a quote from somewhere, but nobody was able to identify it.

The residents in the children’s home have a small locker in which to keep their belongings. A search of Child G’s locker showed nothing unusual, apart from an exercise book full of random drawings and diagrams. Nothing in this book relates to any kind of violent conflict; however, one section seems to indicate a type of religious paranoia, and a transcript of this is attached below. 

“The Brotherhood of the Living Stones (p.9-11)

“We are not meant to understand the song of the Stones, we are not meant to hear their words. The Stones have waited forever to learn how to speak and will wait forever before the wise ones come to understand and revere them.

For there are invisible grains of wickedness that lurk inside the blood of man. The grains are dormant; when they are exposed to sin, they become alert, they drink the rays of the moon, they corrupt the fibres of the living man and damage the pathway of desire.

Pure and virtuous man will grow straight and tall, clean and white; but sinful man has been tarnished and in his blood will be a family of the evil grains. Scientists have detected these grains, which they call bacteria or viruses; but we know that they have an essence, a fundamental nature of cruelty and wickedness and corruption. They cannot be killed, but by abiding by the tenets of the Lord and the Stones, they can be starved and weakened. When a man surrenders to selfish pleasure and vice, he feeds the grains of evil so they can flourish.

The grain of evil will weaken the sacred fibres of a man’s body, and give rise to deformity in the man and his offspring. Physical and moral weakness shall afflict his children. The particles of evil contain within them molecules almost identical to the normal molecules of sugar and protein; but these grains of wickedness are formed from twisted atoms of carbon, and so they spread sickness and decay.

We are not meant to understand the message of the Living Stones, but we must hold firm to the hope of revival, and the upright strong purity that gives the standing light.”

Beneath this were several crude sketches, one showing a crucifixion scene, and another showing a sort of bracelet made up of small planets. (Editor’s note: this was a diagram of a glucose molecule, copied from an A-level textbook. The writer had added some occult symbols to each of the atoms making up the molecule. The case work team did not recognise this illustration.)


Molten Trash…


I arrived at the big house in seventy-nine; it had central heating radiators and a large bathroom with two baths and two sink units. A dozen small partitioned shelves held our hairbrush, toothbrush, flannel and towel. The youngest children (assisted by the older girls) would use the bathroom first, and then would be sent to bed around seven-thirty. We would proceed to use the bathroom in order of age, each being allowed twenty minutes to complete our ablutions (which also included washing that day’s underwear by hand, using an excessive amount of detergent powder, even though there was an automatic washing machine downstairs).

There was a large playroom, with a television set and a cheap record-player; each child had a small locker for personal items (the only security being a small magnetic catch) where I kept a couple of cheap paperback books. When I first arrived, I had no belongings, and would occupy myself by reading Smash Hits – even now, when I hear ‘Duchess’ on the radio I am effortlessly carried back in time.

I tried to understand three-dimensional geometry and Shaw’s Pygmalion, laboriously going over my notes at the Formica dining-table while the other kids played in the garden. On summer evenings, I would go into the garden and jump off the swing; one day I missed my footing and landed on my face, causing a long and painful nosebleed.

Some of the other residents had been in the house for years. Pauline and Gerald were both fourteen; they ran away one night and were brought back about ten days later. Because they had become infested, we all then had to undergo nightly hair-washing with an evil potion called Lorexane. The lingering fumes of this stuff were so strong that none of the staff could bear to give us a goodnight kiss.

There were, on nearly every weekday, several visitors to the big house; usually Social Work professionals, or officials from the local council welfare department. Father McKillop would also call in to visit the house mother. He was a nondescript person in a grey suit, who I didn’t take much notice of. One afternoon, the house mother asked me to run an errand for her; Father M had left earlier that day, forgetting to take with him the printed notices for our summer fete. Could I take them down to the church?

I made my way there, with a bag full of assorted paperwork; Father M was pleased to see me. ‘I’ve just rung to say I’d go back, and they told me you were on your way down; very good of you. Won’t you stay and have a coffee?’

I declined; the house mother was unlikely to approve of me socialising with the cloth, since I had always refused to attend church. So I made my way back to the house and just resumed my homework.

A few months later, I was coming down the stairs and spotted Father M in the hallway. ‘Ah, there you are’ he said, ‘I’ve got one of my trainees with me. Can you come and say hello?’ So I went into the senior lounge, where the house mother would sit drinking tea and smoking Silk Cut cigarettes which she stubbed out I a heavy glass ashtray; I recall once being rebuked for washing this object in hot water. ‘Always wash the ashtrays in cold water’, she snapped, ‘Otherwise it makes them smell funny.’

The house mother stopped chatting as I walked into the room; ‘Oh, Mark; come and say hello to Trevor. He’s working with Father McKillop over the summer.’ Trevor put down his cup and we shook hands awkwardly, as the house mother began telling him about my situation. I was studying for O levels, she explained, and not getting much support from my teachers; would he mind giving me a hand with some homework?

So once a week, much to the annoyance of the other children, I would gather my textbooks and spend an hour in the office, where Trevor would gently point out the errors of logic and grammar that littered my work. He relied on exam help notes, which he borrowed from various friends; and soon I stopped being anxious about the standard of my work, instead looking forward to his visits.

We (the resident children) had been arguing about the relative merits of popular musicians; the girls adored Sting and the Police, while Peter worshipped ABBA and Martha liked the Bee Gees. I mentioned that I admired the work of a singer called David Bowie, and one of the girls immediately yelled ‘Well of course you do! Cos he’s a queer, just like you and that boyfriend of yours!’

This prompted a burst of laughter from the other kids; I was furious, and chased her out of the playroom. A few moments later the house mother came in demanding to know what all the noise was about. All five of us began yelling accusations, which brought the other three members of staff rushing in, and the house mother barked that she would deal with us later on.

When I called into her office later, she informed me that Trevor would not have time to visit the house; did I fancy the idea of spending time at his flat in the evening for our study sessions? I eagerly agreed. The thought of going to someone else’s home – to see how normal people lived – was completely fascinating.

My bus journey was about fifteen minutes, and it was just beginning to grow dark by the time I reached the stop where Trevor was waiting for me. We walked together, chatting about my day at school, and some recent news items; since he was one of Father McKillop’s trainees, I found myself being subdued and conservative, keen to avoid making any juvenile remarks.

‘Here we are’, he said; and opened the front door to a four-storey Victorian town house. He pushed a white button and the hallway was flooded with grey light revealing unopened letters, wellington boots and a small threadbare mat. ‘Oh, these are for Jenny’ he said, looking at the mail ‘There are four of us – you might run into the others later.’

We made our way up the narrow stairs and Trevor unlocked another door, which opened to his bedsit. I had expected large mahogany wardrobes, crystal decanters, and quilted smoking jackets. But the room had a pair of scruffy Formica cabinets and a desk with piles of paperwork, along with a single bed. One wall had a poster of a famous reggae singer, but on the other wall he had pinned a series of A4 sheets covered in geometrical designs.

‘Anyway’ he began, ‘we can run through a couple of past papers if you like. I’ve got two physics and one maths. Have you got last week’s notes there?’

‘Er, yeah…’ I stared at the diagrams on the wall behind him, unable to make any sense of them, but convinced that they would reveal enormous, significant secrets to anyone who studied them carefully.