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Hello world

This is the post excerpt.

This is my very first post.  At this stage there is no plan. No structure. No idea where this is going!  I am not a natural or gifted writer but for some reason I often get the urge to write.  I’ve never shared any of it before but now, perhaps it is time!

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Pub culture

I like going to proper pubs. Manly pubs, this may sound sexist, but isn’t.
I like pubs with men in – young men, old men, quiet types, noisy types.
Men and beer – maybe a television but not with the volume turned up, unless the match is on. Half carpet half tiled floor.
I like having a pint and nursing it whilst watching the men in the pub.
Just to clarify about not being sexist. The pubs I like usually don’t have women in them because women don’t like going in them – simple – they’re not barred but these pubs are men’s dens, old school pubs.

Recently I was in central Liverpool sitting in one of these pubs. Cricket on the silent television and men chatting in pairs or threes – men stuff. Important stuff. How shit England were the other night and how the Women’s world cup isn’t that bad. How the lad WAS offside and how VAR is shite because it proved the lad WASN’T offside.

I couldn’t hear the two old boys at the bar. It might have been horses or something equally important; births, deaths, marriages, the only thing I could tell is it was serious. By contrast at the other end of the bar three younger fellas were laughing. It seems all at the expense of one of the lads who had some kind of semi romantic interaction the previous night. The word semi featured a lot! A lone man fed the flashing machine in the corner and once again realised how unlucky he always is.

I took the last swig of my pint and looked out of the window. The sun was reflecting an etched word on the glass! This was a tough area of town but who vandalises windows with graffiti? I was trying to read it and was just realising it was done from the outside, because the word was backwards, when my eyes auto focussed onto the hardest looking fella in the world looking back at me. He was having a fag and wondering why the fat tourist in the corner was staring at him!

His male pattern baldness had forced a crew cut. Let’s say he had either done it himself or got his money’s worth at the barbers! Thin lips matched thin ears and a solid jaw finished by a salt and pepper chin A sledgehammer forehead finished over his eyes with sharp eyebrows. I saw a tattoo peeking above his collar line, not disclosing itself but staring back at anyone who noticed. His snooker ball cheekbones shone below piercing blue eyes.

Like many a tough guy his nose was unremarkable. I often think this is the difference in real hard men unlike the softer hard men whose noses resemble that of a boxer, the pugilist not the canine. But sometimes both. His teeth were perfect.

He came back into the pub and walked towards my table. I braced myself but all he said was “same again pal?” and picked up my empty glass.

You see in proper pubs you have proper landlords and you can be their pal!

Paris

Paris in the sunshine of early June is a lovely place. Sitting on the pavement terrace of a cafe / restaurant and every time the metro train passes underneath the ground shakes a little! There are many nationalities in this city – mostly tourists; but also lots of the service workers seem to be from elsewhere. There’s a Chinese man drinking cafe latte with a spoon! Two elderly German ladies are arguing (or maybe not, it is hard to tell). Hybrid Buses, cars, taxis and middle aged men on electric scooters go past on the road, stopping and starting with the rhythm of the lights. The pavement is equally busy as lunchtime approaches and Parisians must be fed.

I ponder what this street and terrace and cafe would have been like 75 years ago in early June when the Germans would have been young men hearing rumours of an Allied invasion. I’m sure even then Paris, in the sunshine, was a lovely place!

The extraordinary tale of Barclay McGee C6

Chapter 6

The back of the shop was a recycle site for computer parts.  Laptops of every description were stacked in the corner waiting to be stripped for parts. A couple of clean desktop work surfaces waited for the operations to come.  More posters adorned the walls and McGee again noticed these were out of context for the situation.    They looked like competition entries to a children’s anti bullying campaign. The smell was of dusty electronics.

Spencer passed through the workshop and pushed open another door at the back of the building.  Four people were sitting at desks facing the walls so all he could see was their backs. Each had a computer screen on in front of them and were wearing a headset.   There was a low hum of quiet conversation.  McGee looked at the wall behind the desks.  A picture of his wife. He recognised it was the same picture the local newspaper had used to report on the trial.   Spencer watched McGee’s face turn red and the emotion bubble up tears Questions rained too quickly for Spencer to either understand or answer.  A door at the corner of the room lead to a small office, with his finger pressed across his lips Spencer pulled McGee inside.

“Sit down” Spencer urged and pushed McGee towards the leather armchair.   Without taking his eyes off McGee’s confused face he reached in to the bottom desk drawer and pulled out two whiskey tumblers and a bottle of Jameson.

“I’ll explain everything” he said as he poured. “It will be a relief”!

McGee took the glass and emptied it down his dry throat and indicated he wanted more.

Pouring, Spencer went on ” I am pleased to see you here Barclay, may I call you Barclay?” A nod lead him on. “That day changed your life I know, and it also changed mine.”  McGee stared into the tumbler and swirled the liquid inside, doubting how much Spencer really knew how devastated he was.  How much he had worked hard to get through that first twelve months and how much he’d spent on therapy just trying to get some control back to his anger.

“It is a cliche I know but prison gave me time to think. To reflect.  Not only on what I had done to you and your wife but to how I had lead a life that meant nothing at all.  How I hadn’t contributed anything to anyone.  I wasn’t,  and am still not, religious and so there was never any kind of low level giving that I could stand behind as doing my bit.  Staring at prison walls day after day and facing my demons has changed all that.   I put the picture up as a tribute to your wife.  I use it to remind me what I am doing here day after day. I don’t want to ever lose the guilt that drives me forward.”

McGee put the glass on the table without drinking the contents.  He looked into Spencer’s eyes searching for truth and noticed Spencer had not touched the other tumbler.

Spencer continued. “I’m not looking for praise or thanks or even forgiveness because I really don’t think you should forgive me.” he said.   “I’m not sure I can even forgive myself.  But I can manage myself to be a better human being and that is what I am doing.  I have to run the shop to pay the bills, but my real passion is for these four places that  I fund from my business.   They are counsellors, trained to help people with drink issues.   I came through the other side because of the horrendous event.  Now I do drink from time to time but I am very aware of how it can escalate when life gets tough.  I am not defending what happened but I think you should know my life was tough back then and I took to drink just to get through each day.   I didn’t even know that was what I was doing until it was too late and I knocked down your lovely wife”.

McGee recalled the mitigation used by Spencer’s solicitor during the trial.  At the time he didn’t believe a word of it, because it sounded like an excuse.   A recently deceased mother and trying to hold together a marriage with a disabled daughter in low paid work.  Lot’s of people have to carry burdens like that everyday.

Spencer explained more detail behind those headlines and McGee this time believed him.   Spencer also confirmed that he knew lot’s of people had similar issues and in fact that is why he wanted to set up the counselling service.  This was his way to stop someone getting to the place he had reached.  This is to stop someone else’s wife dying.  To stop the next Barclay McGee’s suffering.   He admitted it was a small contribution and could only reach the tip of the iceberg but he had to try. If he could afford to expand the service he would.

McGee looked down between his legs where he had placed the briefcase. It was open and the yellow handle of the claw hammer caught his eye.

 

 

 

 

The extraordinary tale of Barclay McGee C5

Chapter 5

Mood swings the last three years had been a fact of life for Barclay McGee.   More than during his competitive cycling years when ambition and poor performance would exhalt and condemn him in equal measure.   Since the “accident” he had known real lows. Initially he managed them through excessive drinking.  Soon he discovered whisky is a poor medicine and picked himself up through fresh air via a quick 50 miles on the bike and through music.  He discovered he liked words.  Lyrics could now change his mood and help him express the emotions that would tumble out of him during moments of weakness.  The first time his wife’s birthday came along he was struggling.  The words of Some Fantastic Place helped him through that day.  He printed the Lyric and used photograph magnets to attach it to the side of his fridge. Funny how a smiling photo of a lost loved one can lift your spirit.

Fighting through the crowd at the tube station McGee walked trance like to where he thought the shop was.    He was grounded and calmer than he thought he would be at this point. There was a clarity about his future that freed his mind.   He found the square and then noticed the shop in the corner.  The square was busy and the shop stood still among the people and traffic passing by.  He was there for fifteen minutes, staring.  Nobody entered or exited the shop.  The windows were covered with posters for various models of laptops and tablets. Gadgets for camera phones and services for network management aimed at small companies.   He could see no movement inside, so he moved closer.  As he approached the door he noticed a poster that was nothing to do with the business being promoted inside.  The poster was for a Samaritans hotline.  This was the prime real estate of the shop window.  It stuck out among the other marketing blurb and made McGee hesitate with his hand on the door.

Man’s anxiety about death leads him to behave in a certain way. Conforming to societal norms, accepting the judgement of the system and staying within the accepted boundaries of behaviour.  At this moment that anxiety was gone from Barclay McGee and he felt this freedom like an injection of adrenaline rising in his chest.

The rush of the street behind couldn’t mask his racing heart.  Hands beginning to sweat, he pushed the door.  His senses were on overload.  The song he loved so much was playing inside the shop.   It stopped him.  This song was never heard on radio and he didn’t know many other people who would recognise it.  A tear fell across his cheek and he brushed it away before anyone noticed.   He was gasping for breath, raw with emotion that hit him like a thunderbolt.  He dropped his bag and knelt down on one knee so he was out of sight of the shopkeeper.  Wow.  Amazing. Chris Difford finished his lyric and John Spencer appeared around the corner of the display asking if he could assist.

The first thought that McGee had was how much John Spencer had aged since the trial.  . There was a kindness and a vulnerability in Spencer’s face that he didn’t expect to see.  Although Spencer was easily recognisable to McGee, out of context like this and perhaps with an unconscious desire to bury his past, Spencer did not recognise McGee.

As the two men looked at each other, McGee’s existential predicament prompted his words.

“You killed my wife” he said, surprising himself with the calmness and lack of anger in his tone.  Spencer was wrong footed and his eyes explained that he needed more information.

“three years ago you killed my wife” McGee picked up his briefcase and started to open it, fumbling at the straps and at the same time looking for recognition in Spencer’s face.

The penny dropped.  For the first time Spencer recognised the man he had seen everyday during his trial.  Sitting, listening, taking notes and generally looking like a hollowed out shadow of a man.   He stepped back instinctively sensing danger.

“oh I see” he said raising his hands in primordal defensive stance.  “Sorry”.  He knew that sounded odd.

“I mean sorry I didn’t recognise you” and he knew that sounded even more odd.

“I mean of course I am also sorry that I …” he didn’t want to say the words.  Spencer’s face flushed red.

“Look” he said as McGee finally opened his briefcase, “Can I show you something?”

McGee stopped himself reaching into the bag and nodded out of curiosity.

“In the back, please come and look at something”. Spencer held out an arm like a policemen guiding traffic to urge McGee into the back of the shop.   Before following,  he locked the shop door and turned the sign to closed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The extraordinary tale of Barclay McGee

Chapter 3

A whisky hangover wasn’t helpful as Barclay McGee started his day in the usual fashion. At least 30 minutes of often quite violent coughing in the bathroom of his luxury apartment in the centre of town.   Cough, cough spit, flush, repeat.

He showered and dressed in a dark blue suit with crisp white cotton shirt.  From the bedside table he picked up the paper and read the list again. Three names.

John Spencer

Vincent Lau

Tommy Blackmore

Underneath the names he had written In no particular order. 

Barclay McGee was coming up to sixty years of age and was as physically fit as anyone at his age could be when this terrible cancer attacked him. Like most men of his generation he avoided the doctor for far too long and put his coughing and wheezing down to getting old.   His fitness came from good genes but also an addiction to cycling that he’d had from a young boy.  Way ahead of the modern middle aged lycra warriors these days he was racing cycles for the local “wheelers” from the age of 16.  There were even some notable long distance race victories including a real stamina contest in the Isle of Man.

He made his money from Cycling too and as the sport blossomed in the last 20 years his factory had evolved from its early beginnings where everything was made on site, to an assembly and customisation plant for imported cycles. He had also cashed in on the fashion and accessories part of the sport too.  His mantra was customer first.  Service was outstanding and he had embraced internet sales when others were being cynical about the disappearance of retail outlets.     He wasn’t a natural or gifted businessman but he had taken some risks early on in his life and they had paid off.  He had been very lucky to have met a fantastic young lady in a queue for ice cream after a cycle race and, after a whirlwind romance,  she had become an amazing, beautiful and loyal wife. His life was good and although they remained childless their love had been enough for them both.

John Spencer had killed Barclay McGee’s wife just six years earlier.  A road accident.  McGee hated the word.  How can it be an accident if the driver is pissed.  3 years custodial sentence just didn’t seem enough because of the heartbreak it had caused.  The system is there for everyone to trust would be his argument before going through this, but now he didn’t believe in it. It had let him down very badly.

John Spencer lived in London and worked in a shop selling computers.   He still had his wife. How was this fair?    Now with nothing else left to lose, Barclay McGee, in his city slicker blue suit, was off to The Smoke.    Walking to the station he nipped into his local hardware store and bought a claw hammer, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver.  He was looking for a knife but they only had box-cutter knives and they weren’t suitable.  He put his purchases into his Billykirk  briefcase and made it to the station with enough time to enjoy a coffee at the cafe next door. Time to think.

 

 

The extraordinary tale of Barclay McGee

Chapter 4

McGee found a free table seat and settled into it for the train ride, pleased that he didn’t have to speak to anyone.   He didn’t care for the popular ear buds and music to block out the world because he liked to have all his senses working when out in public.  Those thirty somethings with the trendy over head ear phones made him chuckle inside whenever he saw them, but he envied their ability to prevent strangers engaging in small talk.

Looking out of the window from a speeding train as it crosses the countryside of Britain is a pleasure that most commuters take for granted.  The striking greenness of it all  lifted his spirit, and his thoughts drifted back to the weeks after his wife’s funeral.

A bereavement counselor had talked about finding ways to channel grief.  His grief was manifesting itself as anger.  He needed to “ground himself” apparently, whenever the anger was rising.     He had never previously been troubled by his emotions and was able to ignore them or at least squash them into insignificance. He thought the concept of a technique to control emotion a little weird at first, until the therapist explained and he tried it.    Breathing exercises and connecting to the “earth” through thought or physical connection had helped him allow some of the angry thoughts to dissipate.  It was extremely helpful during the trial and the subsequent sentencing.   The feeling that justice hadn’t been done by a three year sentence of which Spencer only served 14 months remained strong.  However McGee could deal with it much easier through his new found techniques. Just being able to recognise when his emotions were being stirred allowed him to use either distraction or mindfulness as coping mechanisms.

Today though, circumstances had shifted enough for him to enjoy the thought of revenge without consequence.   When there is nothing or no one left to worry about, you are freed into acting differently to societal norms.

He held these thoughts, grounded himself and closed his eyes as the train rolled into a station.

From a peaceful environment suitable for some deep thinking reflection, the train became packed and the three other seats around his table were filled.  As passengers struggled to put bags in overhead storage and find a seat McGee noticed that his table companions were travelling together.   Quiet polite nods and mumbled “good mornings” were exchanged and McGee resumed his eyes closed attempt at meditation but it became impossible because of the conversation around the table.  Even though the three men talked in relatively quiet voices it couldn’t be ignored.  “Oh for some ear buds now”! 

After fifteen minutes McGee had learned that the three men were students of theology and were travelling to London to attend a seminar. It seemed like the focus was on how belief in God needed to be triggered by a desire to believe there is a God.  The Ontological argument was discussed between the three and McGee listened intently.

As part of the debate one of the young trainee priests had taken off a signet ring that he was wearing.  He was discussing the existence of the ring as undeniable because they could all see it and touch it.  On passing the ring around the table to prove its existence it fell between the seats.    No longer could McGee remain an interested bystander as the ring had dropped between his seat and the owner of the ring beside him.

“Oh I am terribly sorry to wake you and disturb you like this” said the young man and McGee mumbled how it was no problem but not revealing the disturbance had happened twenty minutes earlier!

Whatever they tried they couldn’t reach the ring. They could see it wedged between the seats but their fingers were not long enough to either push it through to the floor or pull it back up.  There was further jovial debate about whether the ring still existed or if it would in future only exist in imagination. Descartes himself would have enjoyed the playful banter and knockabout jousting with his ontology concepts.

McGee brought it all to an end with a practical solution.  He reached down into his bag and pulled out his brand new, never used screwdriver.    Within a few seconds the ring was retrieved and order was restored.   McGee, the hero of the hour, was praised by the students of God who never for a moment questioned why this well dressed gentleman was carrying a screwdriver in an expensive executive briefcase on his way to the City.

The extraordinary tale of Barclay McGee

Chapter 2

The first double Jameson vanished in one swig.

“Another please” McGee said and banged his glass onto the bar.  Turning to reach the bottle the young barmaid pressed the glass against the optic, waited whilst the glass bulb refilled, and pressed the glass again.

” How about we do away with that measuring device?” McGee asked into the back of her head,  “put the bottle on the bar”.  He’d seen in done in cowboy movies but never in real life.

“I am not sure I can do that” she said, looking sideways for managerial reinforcements.

“Oh go on” he urged, “I will pay for the bottle. Name the price. In fact here is my card, take what you think is fair”  He passed over his credit card but it still didn’t solve her problem.  She had been in the job just one month and didn’t want to lose it just yet.

Sensing her nerves he said ” Look, take a hundred quid. You can buy a bottle of that for twenty five down the street”.    She looked at the card, checking it carefully, buying herself thinking time.  She had never seen a platinum Amex before.  How could any manager not be happy with this deal?  She made the decision to accept.  The payment went through and she passed the card back to him.  Instead of taking the card he held her hand with a gentle but firm grip.  “But I want something else too”  she sensed a turn for the worst in this conversation.

” I want a piece of paper, to write on”  She blew her cheeks out and couldn’t stop them blushing red “Oh my god” said McGee ” you didn’t think..” he left it hanging there between them.

“Well for a moment I wondered what I had got myself into” she admitted, and they both laughed.

“For goodness sake girl I’m three times your age at least” he said in mock admonishment ” I could be your granddad. I just want to make a list”.

She tore a page from the back of the A4 hard back note pad that served as an issues log for shift handover and put it on the bar.  Then found an excuse to go into the cellar! McGee pulled out a silver pen from his jacket pocket and put the date on the top of the page.   On the top line he wrote TO DO.

His eyes lifted to the top shelf of the bar and existential thoughts flowed through his mind.  For the first time since the original diagnosis he was clear about his future.  Death. That’s all.  He now had nothing to lose.  He didn’t need to waste his energy fighting the cruel disease that had hold of him.  As a non believer, when there is nothing to live for death is a welcome relief.  But before death, he had somethings to take care of.     As he sat in an empty Irish pub with a bottle of Jameson, a glass tumbler and a pen  he pondered how most of the moments of extreme happiness in life are created by decisions. Often taking some kind of risk.  Most moments of extreme sadness just happen. People work towards happiness and try to avoid sadness.

He started his list.