Monthly Archives: November 2016
Claws For The Weekend:Ripping
This post isn’t a book review, but I will share with you first what I wrote over on Goodreads when I finished Wicked Beyond Belief:
This book is from the perspective of the police force that was hunting the Yorkshire Ripper. In the time before computers, it documents the blunders that allowed Sutcliffe to keep on killing, and their desperation to end his reign as they realised he would just keep on killing. (In five years he was credited with murdering thirteen women and attacking a further seven, though it is suspected he is responsible for many more.) He was actually interviewed nine times without them realising he was their man. Officers’ health and marriages suffered as the force was totally overwhelmed by the biggest criminal manhunt in British history. For five years the north of England was terrorised by this man, when even female police officers were escorted to their cars after work as nowhere was considered safe. I can remember, as a child, the newspaper headlines every time the Ripper struck, and as a ten year old when the killer’s identity was finally revealed. This book reads like a thriller, and is the best crime book I’ve ever read. Appendixes include his confessional statement and interview transcripts.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, for some reason I like to keep her up to date with what’s happening in any book I’m reading. Even though I’m not talking about the grisly parts, I guess I may be a little taxing for her.
Yesterday morning, early yesterday morning, as she was getting ready for work, I knocked on the bathroom door, quietly as not to wake our student or the children. I’m thoughtful like that. She opened the door, half dressed, half awake, hair all tousled.
“Jen, they’ve started a covert operation.”
“They’ve started a covert operation. In a world before computers, they have secretly began recording the Reg plates of men who are entering certain areas looking for sex.”
“What are you going on about?”
“They totally underestimated the number of men who were actively looking to pay for the services of a prostitute. They were shocked.”
“You’re talking about that bloody Ripper again aren’t you?!”
“Have a guess how many?”
“In West Yorkshire alone-150,000 a month. In Manchester 4,000 a night!”
I let the numbers sink in. She let the door close quietly in my face.
I waited a few minutes. Let her floss. Knocked on the door again. She opened. Still wearing the look.
“Six times he’s been interviewed up to now. Six times! His records misplaced. A file lost for a year. Mistakes are being made.”
“I think I made a big one twelve years ago!”
She left for work. I assured her that I’d let her know how things went.
So, sat with my book in the local coffee shop, I felt sure she would need to be updated with developments. The (short) text conversation went like this:
“They’ve got him.”
“I’ll let you know how the interviews go.”
“Can hardly wait.”
“Wait until you hear what he was wearing when they caught him.”
“I’m not coming home.”
I know secretly that she can’t wait to see what book I choose next. But as tomorrow is Saturday I will let her have a lie in first. Maybe leave it until 8.
Speaking of Saturday, have a great weekend, guys. Give thanks for criminal databases.
See you on the flip side.
A Storm By Any Other Name
For the first time, the end is in sight. I’m nearing the completion of the first draft of a novel, but it’s a double-edged thing, for I can see just how much is left for me to do in the next draft.
I let out a long sigh. Small steps, I tell myself. A chapter at a time.
The rain hammers hard against the window. The night presses in, intrusively. The wind builds in increasingly strong gusts. I can hear something being blown around out there, something heavy. Liable to do damage. I’ve been out once to secure a slamming gate that was in danger of coming off its hinges. I’ve put off putting the bin out until morning, it wouldn’t last five minutes before it’d be over, spewing its digested contents all up the street.
This is the first real storm of the season. It has a name. We’ve started giving our storms names much in the manner that the Americans do with their hurricanes. We may as well, we anthromorphise everything else.
I can’t remember the name. I’m sure it’s a male one. Stanley? Harry?
It doesn’t really matter. It will hopefully blow itself out in the night, its anger spent in the unseen hours. Tomorrow I will get up to find a calm, dampened, recovering morning.
I shall call her Grace.
Introducing High Tide, Low Tide
It is my pleasure to share with you guys a very worthy book, written by two of my Nordland Publishing stablemates Martin Baker and Fran Houston.
Their book is called High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
Although living on different sides of the pond, their story illustrates how, in this modern age of technology, distance need not be a barrier in forging supportive, positive friendships. But it is much more than that, so I will leave Martin to introduce you to their book in his own words. Links follow below.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
By Martin Baker
“We live three thousand miles apart and I would not be alive without you. Wherever I go, there you are. However I am, you accept or gently challenge. Whatever I do, you cheer me on. You are the best friend I could ever have.” (Fran Houston)
You never forget the moment your friend tells you they would not be alive without your support. More than 450 million people worldwide have mental health problems. With one in five adults experiencing mental illness in any year, and ten million adults affected by bipolar disorder in America alone, that could include you or someone you care about.
Celebrity-led campaigns such as Bring Change 2 Mind and Time to Change have raised public awareness, but there is little guidance on how to be a good friend when your friend is mentally ill. Memoirs shed light on what it is like to live with mental illness but are of limited practical relevance. Workbooks describe symptoms and treatments but tend to be generic, lack detailed examples, and are usually aimed at the person living with the illness. “Friends and families” titles are almost exclusively written for partners. Crucially, given that friends often live far from one another, there is nothing that describes how to support someone at a distance.
Fran and I are best friends living on opposite sides of the Atlantic: me in the north-east of England, Fran on the east coast of America. Fran has bipolar disorder, also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) and fibromyalgia. Despite living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s primary caregiver and life-line. Since 2011, I have supported her through mania, depression, chronic pain and debilitating fatigue, with her suicidal thinking our almost constant companion.
In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, we share what we’ve learned about growing a close, mutually supportive friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” Writing from the caring friend’s point of view, we offer original approaches and practical tips illustrated with our own genuine conversations and examples. Uniquely, we show how technology and the internet mean no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. As Fran says in the epilogue:
Friends like Marty who are willing to be with me in the darkness are the ones who give me light. Yes there are medications. Yes there is therapy. Yes there is personal responsibility. But caring friendship is the best medicine of all. Then life begins to have purpose.
With a foreword by Rachel Kelly, best-selling author, mental health campaigner, and Ambassador for SANE and Rethink Mental Illness, our book focuses on being there. Discover how to build a relationship strong and flexible enough to handle mania, depression, and suicidal thinking. Explore what illness means. Learn strategies for wellness and how best to support your friend and take care of yourself, whether you live on the same street or oceans apart.
Published by Nordland Publishing, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at selected booksellers.
About the Authors
A highly successful electrical engineer until illness struck, Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Her first book, For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, was published in 2010. Fran lives in Portland, Maine. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker works in the Information Technology Services industry. He is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider; a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters, Mind and BipolarUK; and Fran’s primary support and life-line. His Collected Poems: 1977–1984 was published in 2008.
Wolf River Blues*
The great Jeff Buckley would have been fifty today. He left before he hardly got going.
*Wolf River Blues is the title of a poem about Jeff’s death, included in my book Heading North.
The Student Walks, The Pumpkin Splits
As a family, we host students from all over the world who come to learn English at a local language academy.
On their first morning I always accompany them to Manchester, showing bus routes and recognisable landmarks for their journey home and for them to be able to travel independently for the rest of their time with us.
And so this morning I set off with a new Swiss student. We got to the bus stop when I realised that I’d forgotten the receipt for some shoes that I was taking back to Next while I was in town, so I rang my wife: “I’ve forgotten the receipt for these shoes, will you send Millie running around with it?”
I won’t repeat her language. But they won’t be teaching it at the Academy.
In the meanwhile our bus arrived, and I explained to the student: “We will have to let this go. I’m sorry, it’s my fault. But the buses are quite regular and we will catch the next one.”
My daughter arrived, out of breath. “Mum says you’re a nuisance.”
“She says a lot more too.”
(I’d also forgotten vouchers to get a coat with, but thought it best not to push my luck.)
We got the next bus, but was soon caught up in traffic, the clock ticking.
Our student was worried that he would be late on his first day. “It’s not always like this,” I explained, “it varies. Christmas and all that. Perhaps you should get an earlier bus tomorrow. You will soon work out your own routine. But for today don’t worry-you are in a new country, a new city. They expect students to be late on their first day.”
He seemed placated, but then half way on our journey a guy got on trying to use an expired weekly bus ticket, which the bus driver both refused and retained. The man started shouting: “What is up with you? You’ve got the receipt and everything there in front of you!!” Eventually, after a protracted arguement, he backed down and explained “I’m sorry, I was confused. I was thinking today was Sunday, not Monday.” Sure you was. But not as confused as our student.
My Swiss friend continually checked his watch. Finally, we made it into Shudehill, on the edge of the town centre. I attempted to reassure him. “Don’t worry, we are only a minute away from the Academy. We’re virtually there. Everything will be fine now.”
We turned the corner and our bus knocked a man down.
People were screaming, the driver jumped from his cab. A dramatic woman, sat near the front of the bus, shouted into her phone: “We went right over his head! It will be split like a pumpkin!”
“What is a pumpkin?” my friend asked, wide-eyed.
“It’s, erm, like a big vegetable.”
“HIS HEAD IS LIKE A VEGETABLE!!?”
I could see a support officer stood on the pavement, speaking into a radio, looking grim faced down at the road.
That’s it, I thought. He’s dead.
I took the student’s arm. “We are going to have to get off and walk from here.”
As we exited the bus, I noticed that the man who had been knocked down was actually stood next to the officer. So what was the officer looking at in the road so horror struck? I looked-his shoe!
Speed walking through the back streets, we finally got to the Academy. I explained at the desk: “Sorry he’s late, I’ve been showing him the city and how we kill people here.”
I left him there, bidding him good luck. Later on, I recounted the whole episode to my Mum. I honestly don’t know why I bother. On finishing, she said: “God, fancy him being knocked down on his first day in the country.”
“The student wasn’t knocked down!”
“Well who was?”
“Why was the student on the road?”
“He wasn’t! He was with me.”
“Where was you?”
“On the bus with him!”
“So who got squashed like a pumpkin?”
“Well what was the woman looking at in the road?”
“I thought you had the shoes with the receipt?”
“Not those shoes!!!”
Anyway, welcome to Manchester.
Good luck tomorrow.
This morning, at the grave of my Gt.Grandfather.
The Two-Season Shots
Today was a rain-sodden, autumnal day, greeting me first thing this morning as I poked my head out of the attic window of my bedroom. It reinforced my opinion that Christmas decorations should not be up before December, or at least before all of the leaves are off the trees.
Then I walked into The Printworks in Manchester. In the shadows of this covered thoroughfare I was greeted by this Ice blue vista:
Bet you can guess which one the kids preferred? The wife too.
They went off spending money, I went off counting leaves.
So Long Marianne, So Long Leonard
Well it has to be said that 2016 has been ruthless. Now we have lost the great singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. I am reminded of the letter that he wrote back in July to his one time muse, Marianne Ihlen, for whom he wrote the songs So Long Marianne and Bird On A Wire, when he heard of her impending death.
‘Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
‘And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.’
Now they take up the journey again together. R.I.P to one of the great artists of our time.