Jan 07 2013

To bind them all

Tag: JournalKal @ 11:25 am

Ahhhh, my sweet friends.

My sweet, Christian friends who discuss my sinful gayness and rampant atheism and stretch their arms out to me – “My brother, my family….I love you.”.

Yeah, those guys. You know those guys?

They disowned me because of my life choices.

Someone outed me to them; mentioned that I’d never read, nor watched the Lord of the Rings.

And they all got a bit cross with me, invited a whole bunch of folk over on Boxing Day and we sat down and watched the BluRay version, start to finish, six discs, fourteen hours, lots of beer.

I’d had this theory that 90% of the movies was just midgets striding through fields, forests, plains,swamps. And I still hold to that.

But it was all so wonderfully shot and the story ties so much together it was far too much fun to dismiss.

So instead I got a bit pissed, got welcomed into the fold and sat up until four in the morning.

And now I’ve downloaded the whole thing as an ebook, I’m slowly plodding, like Frodo and TheOtherOneWhoDefinitelyIsntFrodo’sBoyfriendHonest, through the whole epic mess.

Then on the 27th I went to watch the Hobbit, which is three hours of a dozen dwarves charging about and being dwarfy and Gandalf busting out the deus ex machina every time anything remotely bad happens “Oh no BrandyFart! My beard is tangled! What shall we do….oh, fuck it…here comes Gandalf, never mind..”

Also, tales of peril and danger are all very well, but all the stumpy little bastards survived to the end of the movie. There were twelve of them. Twelve. I couldn’t even recognise them all, let alone remember their names or characters.

All I’m saying, is old JRR had a bag of disposable characters, some of whom he could have bumped off to make the peril more perilous and make us think that bad things might happen to this happy band of leprechauns.

But he didn’t. And now I’m cross with him.

That said, I’ll still go back and watch the other two Hobbit movies when they come out. Just to prove myself right, of course.

Dec 30 2012

Christmas Day

Tag: UncategorizedKal @ 10:57 am

I'm going to reach out to those of you with, or who live with, small children. I'd love to sit alongside you and we could, together, bemoan the hellish early hour we were woken.

But I can't, because I was woken up at quarter to ten by Louis and Kate, the former signing frantically.


“Did Santa come?”


“Awesome. Did he bring presents?”


“I'm awake.”


“I need to put some clothes on, dude, I'm only wearing my boxers here.”


“No problem, you go through and I'll catch up.”


Kate just laughed, dumped him on my bed and averted her eyes.


Through in the living oom, sure ebough, Santa had been. The carrots were eaten (all ten of them, he was sure the reindeer would be hungry (and so they were, although they won't be eating coleslaw any time soon) and the whisky was drunk and the mince pies reduced to crumbs.

Presents were everywhere, huge stacks of them.

“Wow, Louis, who are these for?”


“Cool. Do you think Santa brought anything for anyone else?”


“I'm sure there'll be something here for me and Mum and Dad.”

NO *cross face* ALL ME

I turns out the Christmas books only talk about Santa bringing gifts for kids. We had to explain that other people would be getting presents too, in the interests of injecting a little festive cheer into the kid. Also, I was screwed if I was surrendering my haul of loot just because Kate and Sean had made poor pre-christmas story choices.

Partway through the gift opening, Fran and Laura popped by for some pre-lunch champagne and to deliver the best socks I've ever worn. You suspect you're getting old when you get socks for Christmas, but you know you've got there when you're thrilled by them.

My presents were generally awesome, a few nice wee hampers, a suspend-it-from-the-roof chair, various CDs and books and a copy of Gloom, the Victorian tragedy card game (fun for all the consumption riddled family).

Then there was the small matter of Christmas dinner. The whole flat was due to be out of town for a couple of days following the 25th, so we'd shopped with a view to avoiding leftovers. Louis and I had spent a very festive morning in Tesco picking up last minute odds and sods, singing along and shaking tubs of peppercorns like maracas.



The day before we'd all tried to settle on what we were eating on the big day, turkey or duck? Just a chicken? A nice cut of beef? We all knew that it had to be straightforward and create no carcass.


So when I spotted a stuffed butterfly of turkey I nabbed it and threw it in the trolley (possibly saying “Fuck it, that'll do us”) not noticing its claim to feed 10 people. THis turned out to be bullshit, incidentally, unless the people it was feeding were leprechauns. It amply fed the three of us and produced a couple of extra servings.

Or maybe we're just fat.


Aside from this, I decided that I would cook Christmas dinner, having never done it before and feeling rather adventurous following my pie and ham extravaganzas earlier on in the week. To plan it, I made this little beauty.




The thing the picture doesn't really show is that it's written out on a 3 foot tall whiteboard. Its not that I'm anal about these things, you understand, its just that I wanted it all to work.

Also I quite like schedules where you get to shout “1500! Baste!” in the sort of voice that Mortal Kombat used to say “Fight”.

So dinner was lovely, and then very fat and a little tipsy I fell asleep on the sofa in front of Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and only woke up when I farted enormously (sprouts, sue me).

The entire day was thoroughly grand and I spent some time trying to work out what had made it so comfortable.

And here it is.

It's my first Christmas since leaving home where I've been:

Not working.

Not at my parents.

Not at somebody ELSE'S house (thanks enormously to the various people who've had me over for Christmas over the years, I love you all xxx).

In my own home.

With other people, including a little person.

Adult enough to know that Christmas will probably be fine and to play a part in making that happen.


In short, it was the Christmas of a settled person.

And that's worth a lot.


Dec 29 2012

Christmas Eve

Tag: UncategorizedKal @ 1:49 pm

On Christmas Eve I made a pie. A big meat pie, full of pistachios and cranberry sauce.

I've never made a pie before, it was a bit of an adventure and took my pretty much all sodding day, despite the fact that I'd cunningly made most of the various bits the day before. All I had to do was assemble it.


But first I baked a little tiny one, just to test that it would all work out fine.

Ho boy, that worked, that worked so well.

Crispy pastry. Moist, seasoned pork. Tart fresh cranberries.

I am the pie-king.

Now for the big one.

Please excuse the white line on the photo. It's a headphone cable, not the ghost of Earthworm Jim haunting my pie.

And into the oven it went.

I baked it for as long as the recipe said. And then I stuck a meat thermometer into it.

And the thermometer said “Hmmm….perhaps a little cool?”

I had visions of everyone attending the party I was cooking for going home with a head start on their “Lost twelve pounds by spring” New Years resolutions.

So I gave it another twenty minutes.

The pastry at this point was saying quite clearly that it was done.

But the filling? Not so much.


Still, I hauled it out of the oven, separated the pie tin and watched in dismay as a gaping chunk of pastry wall collapsed.


“It'll taste fine…” I thought to myself. Packed it up and stuck it in the fridge.


Then off to see Sooty and Amos and get a little bit (massively) drunk, before staggering home to build this in preparation for Christmas morning.


I'd uploaded a picture to Facebook when I originally bought it and received a stream of messages saying “That thing takes forever to build…”

And realised that Christmas morning, with an impatient nearly-five-year-old was not the greatest environment to try and build an ocean-going vessel.

So Christmas eve, with a bellyful of wine, was probably only marginally easier.

And while it was fun to build, I struggled a little with the rigging. Which makes me wonder just how health and safety conscious those pirates are, swigging at grog and rum while climbing up and down masts.

Someone should probably notify RIDDOR.




Dec 28 2012

For Amos Moses, who told me he’d read “Anything, even if you wrote about your breakfast”.

Tag: UncategorizedKal @ 1:10 pm

The house to myself, the flatmates away. A party last night (pictures to follow, I promise…) and a long drive home, recognising that I have to be at work tonight and sleeping in my own bed, rather than on someone else's couch would be a grown up way of approaching things.


Up, a quick shout through “Anyone else in the house?”, just in case. You never can tell in this flat, a brace of grandparents have keys, not to mention the cleaner. On hearing silence, I take full advantage to stroll through in my pants and set the coffee brewing. On the way I have a thought and the thought is “Ooh…pancakes.”

God bless Google for recipes, everything is in the cupboards. It's American fluffy pancakes and bacon for this boy this morning.


Shower, shave, kitchen. Sieving, mixing, bacon onto grill.


Smoke alarm.

The smoke alarm in our kitchen is a helpful friend, it sort of predicts when things might catch fire, rather than reporting when they have.

“Beepbeepbeep you've put some toast on. It's cooked perfectly…if you left it under there for another five minutes, like a crazy person, then it might burn the house down, just thought you should know…beepbeepbeep.”


Thankfully it has a little green button you can press to silence it.

So…butter on to melt to cook my pancakes.


Yes, thankyou…

Pancakes in to cook.

While I'm waiting, lets empty the dishwasher and stay ahead of the game.

Glasses, mugs, plates, cutlery, a little pile of Louis' plastic bowls that never *quite* dry. They go into the cupboard above the sink and

“Jesus suffering fuck!”

A deluge of sippy cups, Tupperware and little bitty cutlery pours out of the cupboard at head height. I think they've been leaning against the door, just waiting for me to open it up and attack me.

Forks are bouncing everywhere, a pyrex jug bounces off my foot, plastic bowls vanish into the bowels of the dishwasher.

“Beepbeepbeep…your bacon is less raw than it was.”

Green button.



This is the other entertaining thing about our smoke alarm. It requires more presses of the green button the more frequently it goes off. It's as though its saying “No, really…SOMETHING must be on fire…really….”

Flip the pancakes.

Flip the bacon.



Finish emptying the dishwasher.




Grab the tea towel, helicopter it madly around your head.


I don't know how long it'll beep before it triggers the whole building's alarm….


Shit…my pancake's on fire.

Well played, old friend.


Dec 03 2012


Tag: JournalKal @ 12:58 pm


Standing at a table in a tailor’s.
I’d held it together until she tucked
A pink shirt into black lapels.
A little embarassed, she touches my arm,
“I’ll give you a minute.”

Ironing little shirts,
Tiny collars, smaller cuffs.
I brief them both, separately.
“Tomorrow, I’ll be your special friend, ok?”
Oblivious of what tomorrow brings,
He barely looks up from his lego.

Older, smarter, cognizant.
“Tomorrow, if you need someone,
you just find me.”
“What if I can’t find you?”
“I’ll be next to you all day.”
“Like a bodyguard?”
“Like a bodyguard.”

Standing in the yard,
The night before,
Cigarettes and frost,
our breath like wraiths above us,
tears and whisky, hot and cleansing,
trading slugs,
waiting for it to stop hurting.


Parade rest at the door,
thankyou for coming,
thankyou for coming,
family and friends downstairs,
facebook and well wishers up, please.

On a side table, the orders of service stacked,
in little obelisks,we pressed them into arriving hands.
I fanned them, choked at the tesselating mosaic of his smile.

They snuck him in while I wasn’t looking.
I was touring the church when a little white coffin
was quietly placed at the front.
He took me by surprise
and I had to turn my prickling,
burning eyes away.

Behind us at the door,
two tall glass cylinders
half lego, half flowers.

Above them a mantle with dinosaurs,
Four stuffed ones we
Bought weeks ago.
Agonising over which to buy,
Dithering between the Triceratops
or the Tyrannosaur.
The Stegosaurus,
Or the Velociraptor.
Fretting that he’d wake and find
we’d bought the wrong one.

Coldly laughable, our greatest fear,
In clueless, innocent days
was the faux pas of causing a boy
A grain of disappoinment.

We dodged the question
And bought them all.

The four of them now meet my eye,
Sentinels at the door with us.
“Thankyou for coming.”

They seem resigned to their new purpose,
And I imagine them nodding at me,
As we all nod at each other.
Knowing there’s nothing to say,
But desperate to say it.

They congregate, friends and family
Familiar friends and new.
Strangers fly in from overseas,
And every few minutes I turn back
And spot more dinosaurs,
Quietly added by passers by,
Until the mantle groans and sobs.


The crowd outside
Is several hundred strong.
Cops patrol the edges,
Of a sea of pink and pirates
Dinosaurs, balloons.

Total strangers weep in the street,
Cameras flash and chatter
As the cars arrive,
And the family step up to the door.

“Thankyou for coming”?
The words taste like wax in my mouth.

I find a seat, in the crowd.
The band starts
(six piece, aunts and uncles,
the love and faith are tangible)
And a morning’s held-back tears
Find a crack in the dam.


They stand,
A half dozen of his
Loved and loving.
Each one holding a sheaf of papers;
Wishes and tributes from
Strangers and friends.


His big cousin reading,
He sits alone,
I slide into the seat next to him
and together we cry and laugh
at other people’s memories.


Summoned to the pulpit,
The eldest stands
And speaks about his little brother.
With a strength of voice
And courage of spirit
That I would dream to have.


An hour in,
The wee one frets
And fusses. He’s hungry.
He’s hot.
He’s bored.
I reach out arms and he skips across
The floor in front of his brother’s coffin.

“Can I have a snack?”
In the middle of a funeral?
When you’re three?
Why not?

I swing open the front door
And we’re dazzled by a crashing
Lightning cacophony of camera flashes.
We duck back behind cover.
And I rage inside – where is the respect?
He’s lost his guide, his playmate
The one who made up the games,
And chose the toys.
I want to howl at the press,
For dignity and discretion.
He’s three.

We step out into the storm,
His face pressed into my shoulder.
We march across the street,
My eyes down, a hand across his back.
When the crowd stops in front of us,
I hear my voice bark a short
“Excuse us.”
Then ice-break through them.

Crisps. Juice.
A magazine with plastic toys.
We sit together while he munches,
and a pastor prays for a soul.


The elder,
With deepest love and bare
Of affectation or self consciousness,
Blind to his audience,
Or just uncaring.
Lays his head on the coffin
For the final hymn.
And hugs his brother goodbye.


The congregation dribbles out,
Thankyou for coming.
He and I loiter in the pews,
Shooting passing mourners with fingers
And plastic guns.
Several of them shoot back
Or die for us.
I could hug them.

Two white plumed horses.
A glass carriage.
A real life Captain Jack at the reins.
The crowd applaud as they pull away
The cars behind.
We follow, the traffic stops,
Cops doff their hats and bow their heads,
Strangers on the pavement do the same.
The world salutes a pirate king.


A frozen graveside,
In grey cemetery,
Granite and marble,
And a harsh wind.
A minister stands tall
And shouts his name,
Caden, Riley, Beggan.
Over and over.
Caden, Riley, Beggan.
No trace of a ghost,
As they say.
His words are warmth,
vitality and humour.

Six small pairs of hands
Step up, step forward,
Take the cords and lower their
brother, cousin, friend.
Into the earth.

Balloons fly,
Tears fall.
Petals scatter.


Church hall, long tables.
Tea. Cake. Sausage rolls.
Hugs. Grim smiles. Handshakes.
Nips from a flask.
A father in a pirate hat.
A mother in the arms of friends.

Dinner, we thirty or so,
“Just the hospital crowd”
Drinks, jokes, tears.
The adrenaline burns off,
And leaves us
Empty, tired, numb,
craving sleep.


Some of us sleep.

Nov 24 2012

“You’ve seen some things…”

Tag: JournalKal @ 3:11 pm

Caden Beggan.

Monday night I left them to it,
Seeing I was the only non-blood family in the ICU waiting room
(which is for everyone, but we have somehow made ours in four long weeks)
And reading between the medical lines,
I pulled my jacket on.

One man, a stranger a month ago, hugged me.
“My God, don’t all do that, I’ll cry all the way home.”

“If there’s anything I can do…” I canted to their nodding heads.
If there was anything any of us could do.

0430 a text message – a dentist’s appointment,
would I take his brother?
Little boys get slowly picked apart,
But the world rolls on.

Pathetically grateful for my
Something I Can Do,
I’m waiting while he gets scaled and polished
When my phone rings.

Tears. Gasping instructions.
“When you’re done, get here now.
He’s not going to make it.
Don’t tell his brother.”

I don’t tell his brother.

Instead I package him into the car
And force my cheeks to beam at his new braces;
“Pink…for Caden.”

I can’t help but reach to my sternum.
Where a tiny pink dinosaur hangs, talismanic,
On a chain.

He plays video games in the front seat,
While I don’t tell him
We talk about shopping,
Lunch somewhere.
And maybe a new game, maybe,
If we’ve the money.

Aching to protect him from what I know is coming.
Longing to drive and keep driving,
To pass the exit to the hospital,
And deliver us from evil.

Cheering him on as he devastates digital worlds,
His gaudy death toll running to billions.

I cower behind his fun,
Rehearse in my head what I’ll say.
Hacking lies from my lines,

To say just enough.
But not quite enough.

“We’re going to stop at the hospital first…”
I don’t explain what comes second,
I don’t explain that I’ve betrayed him,
And tricked him into coming to watch
His baby brother die.

Side by side, through the bustling corridors.
I make an excuse to catch his shoulder,
Pull him tight to my hip.
(“Let the lady pass, buddo.”)
Then keep him there.

In the cafe, “our” tables are thick with hunched shoulders,
And heads and faces raise to our entrance.
He skips, delighted, into arms of loved cousins,
And I grab a friend’s mother, needing my own.
My face in her hair, I hiss my rage and grief,
Crying myself a liar and a Judas,
Until his face, still cheerfully deceived,
Tugs at my sleeve for hot chocolate.

Someone takes him upstairs,
I find a pastor because, My God,
I’ve learned this month gone by.
That wisdom and preaching may be bedfellows,
But you don’t need religion to take advice.

We’ll all have the chance to say goodbye,
They promise.
Everyone who wants to see him,
Should see him.

And then the tubes and lines,
And drugs that pump his heart,
And flex his lungs,
Will be pulled back, slithering from him
To the floor, like streams of mercury.

Letting him be; no more dressings,
No more suctioning his mouth and nose,
Which, comatose, he still grimaced at,
As though the nurses had spat on a hanky
And wiped his face in front of his friends.

In one corridor his aunt passes me,
Walking too fast,
Eyes down.
I lay a hand on her arm.
And she trips into my chest,
Hanging in my arms.
Gasping and sobbing.

I tarry in the cafe downstairs,
Far longer than I should.
Frightened of upstairs,
Nervous of intruding.

What’s the etiquette for kissing
Your friend’s kid goodbye for the last time?

Friends first? At the head of the queue?
Or last? Surely not, family last, I’d think.

In the end I’m led upstairs by friends,
But stop in the corridor,
Glimpsing through the glass and wire
Of a hospital door,
His mother, holding his brother.

I hide.

Gun shy of her grief,
I despair to find that
Six years on the road has done nothing
To prepare me for this proximity to pain.

Another stranger wraps his arms about me,
“Take a deep breath, big man.”

An uncle finds us, little knot of friends.
“The doctor says if you’re coming in,
You should come in, like….
You should do it now, if you’re going to.”

Into his room.
His room with sinks outside,
In which I’ve scrubbed my hands countless times.

Where the first time I saw him,
His Dad stood with me,
And teased me about pink plastic aprons.

Where each time I’ve visited,
I’ve waited just outside,
With a toy dinosaur.
Or a song.
Hauling in ephemera,
To represent love and hope.

This time we don’t wash our hands.

There’s no point.

In his bed he’s tiny,
Not simply dwarfed by machines
And a hospital bed, but
Two legs and an arm smaller.

From the doorway
I can’t smother instincts,
And I see that this is no time
For long goodbyes.

That just as he’s defied the odds
For a month, he may yet surprise us again
And decide for himself when he leaves.

A nurse is busy with him,
So I sit beside his big brother,
Who tells me he’s sorry,
But he doesn’t think we can go shopping this afternoon,
Like we’d planned.

I kiss the little greying face on the pillow
And excuse myself.
Falling into a sofa
With a numb thump.
A grand mother says to me.
“You’ve seen some terrible things, haven’t you?”
I nod at my shoes.
“It’s different when you love them, isn’t it?”

Walking down Byres Road,
The smallest of the boys
On my shoulders while back at the hospital,
It’s happening.

I took him from a teenage cousin,
Appalled to notice that we, as a building of adults,
Had left the baby with a girl barely out of school herself,
Whose red rimmed eyes showed she needed a break.

Two little trainers drum gently on my chest
As we stroll.
He leans over to my eyeline.
“Did you know…?”
“Yes pal?”

“Did you know that Caden is going to heaven for ever and ever
And never coming back?”

“Yes, darlin’, I know.”

“It’s sad. Look, there’s a digger…can we buy some sweets?”

Standing in a car park in drizzling rain, my shoes muddied up the side from walking straight to my car.

Phone at my ear, ranting at a friend with the distance I wish I had.

Shouting and swearing and demanding answers from a God I don’t believe in.


We all retreat,
Giving the five-now-four of them
Some space to go home.
For some of them the first time home,
In a month.

Within the hour there’s a message.
“We don’t do alone well, please come.”

And we reconvene,
With drink and ministers,
And pots of soup,
And Chinese take out.

And as a group, we slide them, the four of them, back into their lives.

For what comes next.


Nov 13 2012

Gardening leave

Tag: I'm Fine,JournalKal @ 11:54 pm

Dear readers.

Trauma Queen is having a mid life crisis and is trying to decide where it wants to go next.

I’m trying to stop it from buying a motor cycle.

In the meantime, here’s some music.

Doo be doooo doodooodoooo.


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