13 – Apology

 Hi. Paul Sand here. Sad to say, Rupert Alves is in the nuthouse where he belongs. None of his rantings bear any resemblance to the truth, there’s no such thing as ‘controllers’ and I certainly didn’t have an affair with his wife. The man is simply barking mad. He just goes la la la la all the time, with the occasional hallelujah thrown in. There’s no point visiting him.

I suppose I’ll have to get someone else to do my blog, or even do it myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 – Whoosh

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015. If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

In my dream I imagine how to get out of a strait jacket. The trick is to make yourself huge when they put it on, which gives you the slack to get your arm over your head, undo the buckles and wriggle out, when they’ve gone. Then, when the guard returns, use the strait jacket to bind him up and, wearing his clothes, escape. In my dream I taste freedom. It’s like a biblical revelation. But, as I wake, I hear voices, see faces. I’m in a ward with others. I’ve been moved. I’m not even in a strait jacket. Bang goes that plan.

I explore my surroundings. A huge screen loops continuous cartoons. A clock in a mirror ticks backwards. Shuffling about in my slippers, I chat with others, including a man who tells me that aliens are sending messages through his teeth. There’s one door out but only staff have the code. Between Looney Toons and loony inmates, there’s no context for sanity and no escape. And why escape? In the babbling groaning snoring night, I remember what Michelle told me in our truth session. All those boyfriends, lovers, stacks of them. I counted twenty-three but she didn’t mention them all. It’s gone, hasn’t it, all that love. Or what I thought was love. No point in anything. Whoosh. Anyway, Michelle is one of them now, a Controller. After all, I saw the Lala file on the dining table. And she told me that what she was involved in was hush hush, that she was working for “quiet people in high places”. Yet she said nothing when they denied it. And she put me in here.

An attractive woman in her forties sashays around, bossing everyone about. When she orders me to do what she says, I accuse her of being a Controller. “That’s what I’m here to do” she says brusquely. I realise there would be Controller spies everywhere. It dawns on me that that’s why Michelle and her cronies put me in here. I start studying people, to work out who the spies are, so as to evade their scrutiny. The more I consider what’s been done to me, the angrier I get. I’ll trick them. I’ll escape. But how? I could get out through the windows. I peruse the windows. A long window in the corner opens. Surreptitiously I check it out. It only opens six inches. I’m thin but not that thin. I could lose weight, not eat anything, just pretend. But I’d have to be skeletal to get through that gap and probably too weak to clamber to my freedom. Furthermore, looking down, I realise I’m on the umpteenth floor. If I did manage to slide through, I’d plummet to my death. That’d show them. I imagine it but realise that, being dead, I’d be unable to experience my victory.

I hover by the door, hoping to discover the four digit code that opens it. But they tap it in so fast. And I wouldn’t get very far in my pajamas. Where are my clothes? The jolly black man, who has taken over from the attractive matron, says that, on arrival, my clothes were soiled, so my wife took them back to clean. She said she’d drop fresh clothes by, but she hasn’t been in yet. The jolly male matron jokes and winks with me, as if we share a bond. But he does that with everyone. All I can think is, Michelle’s left me here to rot. Feeling hopeless, I spy a laundry trolley and, quick as a flash, dive into it, covering myself in dirty linen.

I almost dare not breathe, in case it wobbles the canvas sides. I’m shunted here and there, more sheets thrown on top. Good. Two muffled female voices, one Asian, one African, come and go, talking to patients and each other, as they change the nutters’ bedding. When I get shunted, I grip my knees and hands to the steel tubes of the trolley beneath the canvas bag that cradles me. Clutching the base, trying not to move as I’m pushed and pulled, I hear the African voice above me saying “this is heavy” and the Asian voice saying “the wheels may be stiff”. I realise that the acoustics have changed, the sounds of the madhouse have disappeared. We’re in a lift, going down. We land with such a bump, I can’t help going “Ooof”. “What was that?” asks the Asian voice. “I don’t know” replies the African voice, alarmed.

There’s a silence, during which I become several years older. Finally the lift doors open and I’m being shunted again. Thrust through a door, I come to a halt. However muffled, the acoustics are more open again. Again the two voices come and go. I wait for them to echo away into infinity, so I can get out. I may have to tip the trolley over. What if I’m locked in some subterranean laundry room? What if some giant mechanical device lifts me up and plunges me into some vast washing machine and puts me onto fast spin? Suddenly, with horror, I realise the women are right above me, pulling out sheets. I cling onto the bedding above, to shield me. Hands grab it. I resist. It’s a tug of war. Two female faces are staring down at me. “Hi” I say, with a friendly wave.

Back on the ward, I realise that, even if I were to get through the door, I’ve no idea of the layout of this nuthouse. However, it occurs to me that, if I can do so without causing suspicion among the Controller spies, I could use my astral navigation skills to case the joint. It’s dangerous to leave your body unattended, so I wait. Late in the evening, having only pretended to swallow my pills, I psychically explore the building. I am astonished to discover a huge temple, where vast walls shimmer with mosaics of precious jewels depicting vines entwined with fruits and blossoms. As I float from chamber to chamber, I’m overcome by a holy feeling. The more I gaze in awe, the more my energy is sucked away into the sheer awesomeness. When I come to, I realise I’ve cased the wrong joint. I’ve cased the Taj Mahal and I’ve been away for days. Reconnecting with my body, I discover I’m on a drip feed and everyone’s been very worried about me. They are pumping me full of nutrients and drugs. I feel weird, inflated but vacant, like a prize marrow. Sometimes I laugh for no reason. Sometimes, when I think of Michelle, I cry helplessly. Sometimes I’m surrounded by the cackling soundtrack of the cartoons, as if everyone is laughing at me but I don’t get the joke. Mostly there’s a muzzy beige blur in front of my eyes and nothing else.

In the wee small hours, a woman with a candle appears at my bedside. A sparkling yellow and green sari swathes her plump body. “We haven’t forgotten you Rupert” she says. Only slowly, gazing into her beautiful eyes, do I realise that she is my spiritual mentor, Maryam Mazari, and the candle not a candle but the glow of her psychic presence. “We will help you to escape in time for the Hallelujah Moment” she promises. “Look for signs” she whispers as her lovely face fades within her glow, which evaporates. I sit bolt upright. The Sharers haven’t forgotten me. They’re going to help me get out of here. The Hallelujah Moment is nigh. My faith is restored. I’m to look for signs. Whoosh. I’m back. Back with a vengeance.

I’m looking for signs. The attractive matron is obviously a spy, as is the man who tried to steal my breakfast. Others may be Sharers. But how can I be sure? How will I know a sign, even if it’s staring me in the face? A new patient, a spidery man with a shrunken head, is staring at me gormlessly. Is that a sign? At 7pm precisely, there’s a flash of lightning, a roll of thunder and the heavens open. Is that a sign? There are words on a cupboard door that reads ‘authorised personnel only’. Is that a sign? The jolly male matron winks at me. “You’re looking better today Rupert. Must be the weather.” He laughs as thunder crashes all around us. “Want to give me a hand?” “How?” I ask. “Just follow me.”

We hand out tiny paper platters of pills and drinks of drugs. A call comes in from his wife. He winks at me. He assures her, he’s on his way. I can hear her sharp tinny voice. Anger radiates from the phone. It controls him. I don’t know what pills to give the next patient but he’s so caught up in what his partner is saying, he ignores me. She wants him to pass by the supermarket. He says he’ll do that. I decide that the patient is very sick and could benefit from a load of the big ones. The jolly man’s wife wants bleach and not just any kind of bleach. I realise it’s not just my responsibility to pass out the pills and liquid concoctions, I’ve to make sure they take them. The jolly man winks at me, anxious to reassure me that he’s not peturbed by his wife’s rage. She wants twelve large free range eggs, balsamic vinegar, three large onions, frozen peas and sweetcorn. And don’t forget the extra thick lavatory bleach. Oh, and a cauliflower.

He winks at me, as if calling for help. I wink back. He tries to laugh, as he taps in the door code and I follow him out. I’m sure he knows I’m behind him but, as long as I don’t make a sound, he could say he didn’t know, so I don’t want to blow his alibi. Besides, his wife keeps listing things she wants and he keeps saying he can’t memorise them all, he’ll phone from the store. He’s getting upset. His bleeper bleeps. He says he’s got to go and, assuring her that he’s on his way, ends the call. But the colleague bleeping him says there’s a hiatus on the ward, patients vommitting, others running around bumping into things and Mr Bristow’s having a heart attack. The, by now not so jolly man says he’s due to clock off. Coming upon an open door, he peers in. “Okay” he barks. “You get in there and I’ll be back as soon as I can.” I know he’s speaking to his colleague, but I also know it is a sign, so I duck inside the room.

A big man grins at me. “Look!” he says. I look. The big man is standing on one leg. “Very good” I say. “What poise.” He beams. “Rupert” I say, introducing myself. “Rory” he says, shaking my hand so vigorously I find myself jumping up and down. “Pleased to make your acquaintance” he says, with a sweet Irish lilt. He has the round open face of a large child, topped off with masses of bouncy ginger hair. I ask him what he’s in for. He tells me he chooses to be here. He likes it. “That’s why I’m free to come and go as I please, unlike those poor mad wretches on the ward.” Rory can walk in the gardens, or go to the café, browse books and magazines in W. H. Smith’s, or treat himself to a pedicure, anything, the list is endless. “Might you fancy a walk in the garden now?” I ask. “I might” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “Would you care to join me?” “I would” I reply.

We are about to leave when he stops and stares at me. “You can’t go out wearing your pajamas” he exclaims “you’ll catch your death. Where are your clothes?” I explain that my wife has taken them away to wash. “You could wear some of mine” he suggests, timidly. “That’s so kind. Thank you” I gush. “Oh well” he says, abashed “share and share alike.” I stop in my tracks, one leg into a massive pair of trousers. He said “share”. He gave me the password. “Are you a Sharer?” I whisper. “Sure” he says. “So am I” I admit, hurriedly stuffing the trouser ends into oversized brogues, rolling up jacket sleeves. “Let’s go” I say, hanging onto the waistband, so my trousers don’t fall down. I’m desperate to get out of here, even though I know I’m bound to get caught because I look ridiculous.

Rory seems oblivious to the danger, waxing lyrical about the joys of sharing, as he saunters along the corridor. “After all, it makes you feel good and if you feel good, life is good.” I heartily agree, while looking nervously back in case anyone’s spotted us. “Can I hold your hand?” asks Rory. I let him. I’ve one hand holding my trousers up, the other wrapped in Rory’s hand. Thankfully the lift is empty. I free my hand from his to press the ground floor button. “Look!” says Rory. I look. He has both arms outstretched and is beaming. “Very good” I say, as the doors slide back, revealing a hoard of all nations pushing past us to get in. Taking my hand, Rory leads me through the milling throng, dragging me along as if I was his teddy bear. He grins at people we pass and they grin back. He’s so delightfully goonish, no one notices me. But when we come to the gardens, it’s pissing down and Rory seems doubtful.

I jump out into the rain and cry “Look!” He looks, laughs and jumps out too. We splosh about the muddy lawn going “Look!” Joining hands we dance round and round singing “ring a ring a roses”. When it comes to “all fall down” my trousers fall down, get twisted around my feet and I go splat in the mud. Rory roars. Wiping my eyes, I see an open gate which seems familiar. It’s the gate next to the steps where I waited for Aiden and Grace when Alf Winkley had done his back in. This is my local hospital. I can get home. The Sharers have got me out. I’m free. “Thanks” I say, as Rory hauls me up. “Look!” says the big man. I look. He’s got his fingers up his nose. “Very good” I say, making a dash for it.

It’s an ordinary night with ordinary people. I drink in the wonderful ordinariness, the ordinary rain, the ordinary cars, grass, trees twisting like flames in the storm. And, finally, my ordinary home, my sanctuary. Dripping outwardly with mud and inwardly relief, I scoot up the oak panelled staircase and plunge into the shower. How I love my shower, my bed, my home. I never knew how much I loved it. Towelling off, I hear a shriek below, run onto the landing and come upon my neighbour Magistrate Finch at the bottom of the stairs. She shrieks again at the sight of me and another witch appears, Megan, our housekeeper. “It’s him!” she screeches and they scuttle off. They’re phoning the police. The police will recapture me and send me back. I can’t go back there. I’ve got to escape again I’ve got to get to safety wherever they can’t find me. I may need my passport. I need to get dressed.

With a backpack stuffed with clothes, documents and toiletries, I run out the back. But where am I going? I can’t hide in my dome. That’d be too obvious. Dazzled by a large rectangle of light, I run into an obstacle as big as a cow, which tips over sending me sprawling. Clambering up, I realise it’s a motorbike and try to right it, but it’s got sucked into the mud. What am I going to do? Within the large rectangle of light, four people are staring at me. They have been dining. Cyril Shoebridge, our ancient gardener, has a fork of food hovering below his mouth. Ethel Shoebridge, his wife, holds a glass of wine. Aiden’s girlfriend Grace is rising from her chair. Aiden is striding over. “You alright?” he asks. The others gather as I blather on about how I’ve escaped and Megan’s phoning the police. Mr Shoebridge tutts. Grace puts her arm around me. “How can we help?” I say I need to get away to somewhere safe. Two breathless hags appear out of the gloom. “There he is!” screeches Magistrate Finch. Aiden revs his bike. Grace produces helmets. “Hop on” says Aiden. I hop on. “Stop him” shrieks Megan. Mr Shoebridge pokes her with his walking stick. Magistrate Finch leaps at me. Ethel Shoebridge pulls her off, saysing “you should be ashamed of yourself”. “Quick” says Mr Shoebridge slowly. Aiden throws the machine into gear and I’ve to hang on for dear life. “You’re cutting up the lawn” screams Megan, as Aiden swerves and slithers up to the road. “Where to?” he shouts. I can’t think. “Gatwick” I cry. He steps on the gas.

 

Gatwick is packed with people, milling, queueing, passing through. There are officials everywhere. Don’t run, don’t attract attention. My phone bleeps. It’s a text from Michelle telling me to make contact. I’m not falling for that. What’s the first flight out? Moscow, Nairobi, Athens. Moscow’s about to leave. Nairobi sounds a bit scary. What about Athens? Easyjet. I find the Easyjet counter. Yes there are still seats available. I’ll have to pay by card. The authorities will know where I’ve gone. But I’ve no alternative. Just have to go further, somewhere they can’t track me down. But don’t blow it now. They check my passport and look at me. Don’t act suspicious. I whistle as I pass through into the departure lounge.

Even on the plane, sitting in my seat, I can’t believe they’re going to let it take off. The Greek lady beside me is the largest person I’ve ever seen. She’s bought two seats because she is so big, she explains. The cabin crew even provide a special harness. Within mounds of dark wavy hair, lies a face with a mouth almost lost within waves of soft flesh and dark circles beneath big owl eyes. Her dark dress, with swirly autumnal patterns, billows before her, limited only by the seats in front. They’ve squashed some tray in, on the far side, with food from which she replenishes herself. When she smiles at me, I find myself saying “If you don’t mind me asking, what does it feel like to be so big?” “Wonderful” she says, in a warm thick voice, part Greek, part cultivated English. “Every moment is wonderful, a feeling of endless fulfillment. I have a philosophy.” “What is it?” I ask, anxious for enlightenment in my vulnerable state. “It is not the number of years you live that matters” she says “but the number of meals you eat.” I’m not absolutely convinced about the philosophy, but bowled over by her candour. She’s lovely, makes me feel safe. I’d like her to take me home with her. I might even let her eat me.

An evil looking woman stalks the aisle. Her face has been tightly stretched, given several coats of beige emulsion, had eyes and lips painted on and she’s reminding us that our phones must be switched off. She’s so frightening, my phone slips out of my hands like a bar of soap and I have to scramble to retrieve it. Don’t attract attention, I berate myself. “You have a phone?” asks the goddess beside me, as if it were unusual. “Yes” I say, switching it off and popping it back in my pocket. The plane starts to move. She admits that she’s frightened of planes, because “nothing is holding us up and if, God forbid, anything did happen, I would be unable to help myself.” “I’d help you” I say, unable to imagine how I could. The engine roars into life. We’re whizzing along. The bumping stops. Are we airborn? Yes. Low level buildings and aircrafts disappear and we’re shooting up through clouds to starlight above. All I can think is I’m escaping. Free as a bird. The quivering goddess beside me doesn’t feel free. Her hand has gripped onto mine and is clinging to it like a clam. Her breathing is fast. She’s trying to control it. Perhaps, if I engage her in conversation, she’ll relax.

“Do you live in Athens?” I ask. “I come from a village beyond the city, Agrippalos.” She tells me stories, which I try to take in. “It is where Archimentos defeated the Seven Goitres of Phlemus, and from which Detritus travelled across the Sea of Dreams. Socrates himself, the father of philosophy, once sat in the market square, arguing that, rationally, democracy should be extended to include raptors and goats and other words of wisdom.” “Amazing” I say, noting that her breathing has calmed down. “Yes” she agrees. “The good folk of Agrippalos became so excited by the great man’s questions, probing the nature of nature when they had work to do, that they had him forcibly removed.” “Wow!” I say. “So you live in Agrippalos.” “No” she says. “I have lived many years in the UK, in Middlesbrough.” “Oh. So what do you do there” “I am a clairvoyant. I am Madame Gilda.” My heart stops. Does that mean she’s a Sharer? “Do you use an ouija board or tea leaves or what?” I ask. “I use anything. Really it is the person I connect with. It is their nature that tells me who they are, how they feel, what has happened, what may happen.” “So can you see the future?” I ask. “Not the future but the present, out of which the future is born” she explains. “However, I can see enough to know that my life will soon end. And so I have a powerful need to return to where I come from.”

I want to ask her how she knows but she changes the subject. “So what is your mission?” she asks and, looking into those deep owl eyes, I can’t help telling her. “I’m on the run, escaping powerful people, people who want to control us.” Madame Gilda knows all about them. “Look at what they are doing to Greece” she says. “There are Greek people now without food, without homes. Is it their fault that there are debts? Yet they are the ones to suffer. And what about the immigrants pouring in from the Middle East and North Africa? Alexis Tsipras is not just fighting for our economy, but for our soul, our spirit.” I’m roused by her fervour. “You will be safe in Athens?” she asks. “Probably not. I had to pay for my ticket with my card, so they’ll know where I’ve gone” I confess, panic rising in my voice. “Perhaps you should draw currency in Athens and travel on” she suggests, gently. I nod “Yes.” It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask if she’d take me home with her when, staring into the distance, she says “There is a ghost town in Mani, high on the rocks above the sea. Vathia. A scattering of stone towers, like broken teeth, where feuding families proudly kill each other. This is the birthplace of vendetta. This is ancient Sparta, the warrior nation. They fight and now there is no one left. I know. I saw it on a television program. Joanna Lumley went there.”

“And I should go there?” I ask. “First I think you must fly to Kalamata.” “Kalamata” I repeat. “Then Vathia.” “Vathia” I repeat. My mind keeps repeating Kalamata then Vathia and imagining how I’m going to get enough money to pay for everything forever so I don’t leave a trail of card transactions. And if there’s a plane to Kalamata and how I’ll get to Vathia. Could I hire a car? What if they don’t have cars yet? My thoughts circle, trying out different combinations, until the captain informs us of our descent. Madame Gilda grips my hand until the plane has stopped moving. Equally fearful, I imagine that they’re going to grab me, the moment I go through customs. Some people start standing up and grabbing their luggage even before they’re allowed to. As I unclick my safety belt and stand, I realise I can’t just leave the goddess sitting there. Instinctively I bow. “Can I help you?” I ask. “No” she says. “They’ll be along to help me once everyone is off.” “Oh” I say, wondering if they’ll have to dismantle the aircraft. “Perhaps you should get rid of your phone” she says. “My phone?” “It tracks where you go.” “Of course. Thanks.” “Good luck Rupert.” “Good luck Madame Gilda” I say. “And many more wonderful meals.”

Once I launch myself into the corridor, the throng carries me, through a series of tubes like alimentary canals, down to my destiny. As we shuffle forward, towards the officials diligently scanning identities, I start sweating and shaking. My skin is burning and I can’t stay still. When it’s my turn, I can’t help quacking like a duck. The man stares at me. I cluck softly. With a brusque nod he returns my passport. Someone pushes me. I’ve to move on. I’m through. But I’ve got to get to Kalamata. I’m directed to Aegean Airlines, who have a flight but it’s in the morning. I buy a ticket using my card. I’ve got to use it as long as possible. Meanwhile I’ve got to amass as much cash as I can. I spend the night drawing currency from holes in the wall until, back at the airport, I collapse on a row of seats and pray I wake in time.

 

Someone is tugging at my shoulder. My eyes blink open. Oh my God, it’s an official. I’ve been nabbed. He’s babbling something at me in Greek. I’m not allowed to lie down. I sit up. He indicates that he’s got his eye on me and passes on. I’m shaking like a leaf. What’s the time? Have I missed my flight? It’s 8:20. It’s gone. I’ve blown it. I rush to the Aegean desk. It’s alright. I got it wrong. There’s an hour yet. I walk about, perusing products in duty free, acting normal. Sometimes I break into skipping, to show that I’m unpeturbed. The moment the boarding sign flashes, I’m up the corridor and on the plane. No one can stop me sleeping now. Unfortunately, my neighbour turns out to be a Kalamatan with rumpled work clothes and a furrowed face, who can’t speak much English but is keen to try. When I say I’m going to Vathis, he shakes his head. I shouldn’t go. “Why?” I ask, raising my hands and eyebrows. He claps his arms about him and shudders. It’s cold. I shrug. He acts out people shooting each other. I shrug. My eyes close. I can’t help it. I sink into sleep and dream of being shot by desperados and entering a heavenly peace.

The Kalamatan labourer wants to get past. I grab my backpack. If they don’t get me now, I’m free. Not really free of course, until I’m out of Kalamata. The first thing I do is hire a car. Next, find a supermarket. These will be my last card transactions. Don’t forget to buy maps and guides. Coming out of the superstore loaded with food, drink, stove, tent, sleeping bag, blankets, cushions, tin opener, tins, everything you need for a month’s camping, I toss my mobile phone in a bin and head for the hills. Plotting the course by map, I take a long winding road south, through sparkling sunshine, with the Gulf of Messina to my right, the Taygetos mountains to my left. The air is sweet with wild sage, cyclamen sprouting between rocks, olive groves and hovering birds of prey. On every craggy ridge I seem to see silhouettes of bandits and envisage volleys of gunfire. Vegetation gets scarcer, olive trees are stunted and twisted into shapes of the wind. Cypresses stand, pencil thin, in fields of stone, below vast peaks, the colour of bone. The road is smooth and modern but the panorama is prehistoric. I’m hurtling into a land of no return, entering a sea of dreams.

Before you get to Vathia, the map indicates a series of sharp twists in the road. But, before I’ve started twisting down, I see it, high on a hill below. A cluster of fortified towers, lit by caramel sunlight. Gingerly, I steer down the loops and up to silent Vathia. Taking care to lock the car and zip up my pockets, I creep furtively along overgrown paths, between dozens of stone towers, three or four storeys high. Each step reveals fallen masonry, a hole or a bush made of tiny daggers. The unnerving stillness is punctuated by a sudden fierce rustling. Just some creature escaping my intrusion, but my heart stops. In one abandoned place I find a bed, a sturdy chair, a newspaper on a side table. But everything’s covered in layers of dust. Outside, the view of the sea is breathtaking, but it’s the total lack of peope that really takes my breath away. Soon the sun will set. What should I do? There’s no one to tell me.

I decide on the place with the bed, rather than pitching my tent. Even so, it’s twilight before I’ve dragged everything up from the car and there’s only just time to light candles to see by. Having prepared my pristine sleeping bag and cushions on the bed and organised my belongings temporarily, I settle back in the only chair. I’m here. I’m free. No one will find me. I can breathe. All I have to do is wait for the Hallelujah Moment, when everyone will psychically switch on and we will all be Sharers. I float in this dream until a gust of wind blows the candles out and I feel my way to bed.

 

My eyes open on a woman in a doorway. I sit up, startled, which startles the woman who disappears. My eyes are glued to the spot, in case she reappears. Which she does. Her face slides into view, followed by her body. But she doesn’t enter. She just stares at me. Everything about her is ferral, clothes, hair, the look in the eye. Slowly, not to alarm her, I slip out of the sleeping bag, stand and walk towards her, holding out my hand to shake in friendship. “Inglis?” she asks. “Yes, English” I grin, as we shake hands. “Lummy!” she says. “Yes” I say “and Lord love a duck!” She shakes her head. No, it’s “Lummy!” “Lummy” I repeat. Yes, she nods vehemently. “Lummy Inglis.” She wiggles her hips and pouts her lips. A thought occurs to me. “You don’t mean Joanna Lumley?” Yes, she does mean Joanna Lumley and Joanna Lumley is English and I’m English, so I must be okay.

Taking my hand, she leads me out, beyond the broken village, to a field of rocky scree, where she starts picking shoots and showing me. Pick these, not these. I realise we are getting food but I can’t tell one plant from another and, when I show her, she knocks them all out of my hands. These, not those. I try to tell her I’ve got food but she only has one thought in her mind. Her moral pride insists that she must provide food for us both and I’ve to comply. There is no end to it. Pickings are slim and it’s backbreaking work.

Only on our return, can I show her my food. The hams, cheeses, succulent vegetables and fruits. The puddings, cakes, crunchy biscuits and mounds of chocolate bars. Delighting in my treasures, she immediately dumps her groceries in the corner and we chomp our way into the evening. As I pour myself another glass of wine, she skitters off into the darkness, returning with a drink she’d like me to try. It is good, she indicates. I will like it. It is so bitter I’ve to stop myself gagging, but I dutifully swig it back and assure her it tasted good, but no more for now, thanks. I sip wine to get rid of the taste. The wild woman does more impressions of Joanna Lumley. We laugh and, for the first time in I can’t remember how long, I am truly happy.

 

I awake. No wild woman is staring at me. Only rain pitter pattering outside. As I glance around the room, there’s nothing. It takes a minute of drowsy glancing to realise that there really is nothing. All my stuff is gone. As I run around the village like a headless chicken, desperately searching for my stuff, I realise my car is gone. On the top floor of a crumbling tower, I find the wild woman’s surprisingly tidy nest. I know it’s hers because of the signed photo of Joanna Lumley. The wild woman’s gone off with my car, thousands of pounds-worth of cash, my documents and all my food. All I have is my sleeping bag and a posh illustrated guidebook. What am I going to do?

Several of the towers have been done up recently but are locked. Using every last ounce of energy in me, I break into one after another, using stones to smash glass, break locks, in case there’s sugar or a mouldy biscuit, anything, before flopping down on my sleeping bag and passing out.

 

Days follow nights. I learn what plants I can and can’t eat, by being violently sick. I pray for the Hallelujah Moment but don’t seem to have the strength to send out a psychic SOS. The guidebook tells me where I am. It says I may see kestrals, sparrowhawks, buzzards, even golden eagles hovering. I may happen upon honeyguides, greenfinches, warblers, flocks of house martins, purple herons, yellow-legged gulls, terns, plovers, buntings and partridges. I may discover red-barked strawberry trees, Indian bead trees, yellow crown daisies, weasel’s snout, yellow horned poppies, mallow-leaved bindweeds, sun spurges, pink hawksbeards, tassel hyacinths, wild marigolds, blue woodruffs, white rock roses and groves of monkey orchids. But I wander about in a fog of light and shade. It’s only in dreams that great birds of prey hover above me, caves open within me, lizards with blue tails scuttle up and down my walls, vipers slither across my floors, armies of ants crawl all over me and women I’ve loved reach out to embrace me, yet I wake alone.

The weather turns. Rain is whistling into my room, as I sit in the doorway, catching water in bowls and cans I’ve found, which I drink to keep me alive. In the night I find myself outside, drenched to the skin, looking up at the lightning displays fizzing around me and laughing. It’s so funny, I can’t stop laughing. Every woman I’ve ever been attracted to has been a search for mother love. Even though I’m a therapist, I didn’t know this until now. But it’s true, whether it’s Katy with her freckly smile, the rustlings of Maryam Mazari’s sari, Rebecca’s beautiful breasts, even the enormous lady on the plane and especially my wife Michelle. And I know it’s because of my mother, Mary Briggs. Mum found love outside her marriage, because her husband Ted was a manic depressive and she couldn’t handle it. She did support us financially but had to have her own life. So the family home was cold, no mother love. And I realise now that that’s what Michelle did with me, provide financial security but follow her own path. And why did Michelle have to do this? Because I was broken, broken before I started, because I imprinted from my lovely dad Ted, who was broken. I did try to emulate strong men, like The Great Lorenz de Mille, but ultimately I couldn’t hack it. In fact, the reason I’m attracted to the Sharers is because they promise the warm embrace of humanity, a safe world where even a baby can survive. Which is what I am. I want my mummy. I want the impossible but I can’t seem to change my nature. Dad used to sing me a Paul Robeson lullaby.

so lulla lulla lulla lulla by by

do you want the stars to play with

or the moon to run away with

they’ll come if you don’t cry

But I can’t stop crying. I can see it now, my own futility. Even this moment of clarity is self defeating. All the faces I’ve worn to protect me, peel away in the blinding rain. And beneath the cackling sky, my lullaby is just some crazy birdsong, not a plea for redemption but me letting go of myself.

so lulla lulla lulla lulla by by

in your mammy’s arms be creepin’

and soon you’ll be a’sleepin’

singing lulla lulla lulla lulla by

 

I am sitting crosslegged, a moment before sunrise, on the wet floor in my dirty clothes, sucking my thumb. The storm has passed. It’s crackling electricity has ceased, having burnt out my wiring. As the first ray of light shoots into my room and into my eyes, a voice calls to me. “Rupert” she calls and a dazzling woman appears, my mentor Maryam Mazari. My hand reaches out but I can’t touch her because she’s an astral projection. She simply smiles, whispers “Tonight” and is swallowed in the sunbeam. She means the Hallelujah Moment is tonight. I’m wildly excited, hopelessly hopeful. I run around the hillsides gathering tiny bulbs of white asparagus and popping them into my mouth. I must be strong when the blessed moment arrives. I knock back bowls of water I’ve saved. I must be at my best.

 

There is a church with a spire so, if God’s electric fingers reach out tonight, they’ll be attracted to it rather than to me. Also, it is God’s house and how appropriate to be here for this moment of moments, when all humankind, even Controllers, shall come together in psychic harmony? I could weep for joy. Standing out here, with the church behind me for protection, a darkening sea below, I imagine how it will be. Will there be angels? Will the sky glow with heavenly hues? I gaze out until the sun steals back its light, until a crescent moon rises and then? Nothing happens, not a breeze stirs. The starry sky floats by. I can feel the planet turning. Nothing happens and yet I know it is now. There is nowhere to go from now. It must be now, now. I hear a voice far away singing. As it comes closer, another voice joins, then another. From a few to a choir to a multitude. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Even the earth beneath my feet begins to shake with the vibrations as the whole biosphere joins in, from humans to slime mold. Joyous water spurts from my eyes and I join in. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” In the midst of this ecstatic jubilation, my daughter Alicia comes to me. “Hallelujah dad” she whispers. “Hallelujah my darling” I murmur. We sing together. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah la la la. Hallelujah la la la la. La la la la la!” Something stops me. Isn’t ‘Lala’ the codename of the Controllers’ psychic implant, designed to render humanity mindlessly obedient? Alicia hisses at me. “You didn’t tell the Controllers about the Hallelujah Moment, did you dad?” “Of course not. Why?” I ask. “Well, if they knew it, they could use it to disseminate their Lala implant.” A memory flashes into my guilty mind. I’m saying “Soon the Hallelujah Moment will happen and we will all pulse together” and sir William Rosenthal saying “How very interesting”. Alicia has shared my thoughts. “Oh dad. You fool.” But her face turns from anger to bliss. “La la la” she coos. I haven’t heard that voice since she was a baby. I want to chastise myself for my foolishness, to apologise for condemning humankind to endless servitude, and yet everything seems so nice. And I realise that, really, there’s not much difference between sharing and servitude. Whichever way it is, we’re entangled in a web of duty and obedience. Whether it’s the safety of the flock or the safety of being controlled, the point is, it’s safety and it means I’m not responsible for myself, which is a load off my mind. Whoosh. I’m free to join in and, blessing my good luck, my voice rises up to join all the other voices.

11 – Truth

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015. If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

“Isn’t that nice?” I show Megan, our housekeeper, the view from the kitchen window. “What?” she asks suspiciously, wiping her hands and peering out. “All of it” I say, mesmerised by the calm splendour. “Cool powder-blue sky, velvet sunlight. End of an Indian summer, somewhere between peace and nostalgia. Trees and shrubs in their last quiet moment of glory, before shedding leaves and going to sleep.” “What?” Megan is irritable. I’m trying to calm her down. “Look, in the centre. My rustic throne. See how it glows.” “Your rustic what?” she asks. “I’ve just been waxing my tree stump” I tell her, with some pride. “…Waxing your tree stump” she repeats, a look of fear and worry in her eye. I smile, reassuringly.

She glares. “I haven’t got time to stand here, listening to your nonsense” she announces. “Nonsense?” I query. “What’s wrong with living in the moment, enjoying the experience of being alive?” I ask. “I’ve got tarts, quiches, pies, puddings and pastries to make” she barks and starts chopping vegetables with a vengeance. “Is that a fruit pie?” I ask. “Autumn berries” she snaps. “Ah yes” I murmur, waxing lyrical. “The berries of autumn, the feast before the fall. Wild rosehip, hawthorn, honeysuckle, bilberry, black bryony.” “Shut up” she says. But I know my berries. “Damsons, blue-black sloes, elderberries.” “You’re nuts!” she hisses. “Nice pun” I observe. She doesn’t get it. I have to explain. “Nuts and berries.” I look down and notice her knife, just inches from my chest.

Some thick brown liquid on the hob is about to boil over. “Look!” I shout. She scurries over. My eye is drawn to the window. “Look” I cry. She rushes over. “See that young seagull on the shed roof? It wants its mum. Can you hear its plaintive squawking? It’s saying ‘Come and get me mum, I’m cold’.” I turn, smiling, and notice that Megan seems to be about to bang me over the head with a saucepan. Luckily the front door slams and she scuttles out to see who it is.

It’s Michelle. And she’s excited. Fizzy red hair whirring around the kitchen, checking off dishes. “Smoked salmon parcels. Artichoke and broad bean tart.” Kissing me in passing, she whispers “I’ve got amazing news.” I can’t wait. “Fig and ham pie. Duck and pork terrine. Is this chocolate sauce burnt?” she asks, sniffing. Megan glares at me. I wonder what Michelle’s news is.

She whisks me out into the garden and, looking about, to check no one is listening, says “I’ve got it. Infinite Intelligence now has just one exclusive client.” “Who is he?” I ask. “Not he, not she, not even it” she says, breathless with wonder. “God?” I ask, humorously. “Almost. Certainly as mysterious and almost as powerful.” “Wow” I exclaim, amazed, if none the wiser. She whispers in my ear. “I’ve been told to imagine a virtual being, comprised of quiet people in high places.” “So are they coming here? Is that what all the food is about?” “Only my immediate contacts.” “Great. I look forward to meeting them. I only wish I knew more about them.” “Well that’s the thing” she says. “It’s all a bit secret so, would you mind being out tonight, or down in your dome?” “Oh. I see. Great. Of course. Down in my dome. Good.”

I think I’ll sit on my tree stump for a while and watch the sun go down. It’s very comfortable, but I’m feeling a bit self conscious, sitting out here on my throne on my own. Guests could turn up and see me. And Michelle would say “That’s my husband. He likes to sit on his tree stump.” So I strike a natural pose, just in case. A man at peace with nature, not a care in the world. But it’s making me tense and, getting up, I discover I’ve got Colron Refined Finishing Wax all over the back of my trousers. So I mooch about the trees, feeling that melancholic autumnal sensation as shadows fall.

 

Twilight and a sprinkling of dew, as limos swoosh up the drive, as, aided by chauffeurs, shadowy people emerge and disappear into our house. I want to see who they are. Creeping round, keeping out of sight and peering through foliage, I find Michelle entertaining four men. An expressionless Chinese man, with the face of a plum, dark circles under his eyes and thin receding hair. A lithe man with a chiselled face, auburn hair silvering at the sides. Two younger men who seem to be sliming around Michelle, much to her delight. All wear expensively dark suits. All seat themselves around the dining table, at which not a stick of food is set.

An elderly gentleman is wheeled in. He has a vertically-lined face, a small clipped beard and moustache above a wing collar. His wheeler is a freckled woman with wide lips and swathed in a dark cloak. Her head is inclined but I’ve this strange feeling that I know her. Suddenly a vision of her in a flowery bower flashes up in my mind’s eye and I remember my Beltane night with Katy. It was platonic, I think. And the man in the wheelchair is her husband, Sir William. Yes. Sir William and Lady Katharine Rosenthal. I have this idea that they’re bad people but don’t know why. I must be wrong. Everyone’s nice at heart.

A handsome, tanned man enters. I know him too. He’s Stanley Walsh, the man who produced Michelle’s promo, that turned into an orgy. And he edited it. I went round to see it and, after the party girls left, Stanley accused me of being some kind of terrorist. But why? I can’t remember. I’m starting to get very strange feelings. Who are they? What’s happening?

 

I slope down to my dome and do some whooshes. Out with the bad energy, in with the good. I’m feeling most odd. Whoosh! A door opens in my brain and visions flood in, are they memories? A farm. A woman in a sari. Weird people. An ancient ghost boy. A blond, blue-eyed Jesus. I’ve an idea his name is Noel. Yes and a scary kid, Peggy and someone else. A woman who shakes. Bonny. She’s dead. I killed her. I remember the militia at the riverbank, the war between Sharers and Controllers. I remember being a Sharer. I have psychic powers. My God, I have psychic powers! The Controllers must’ve shut me down. I must try to contact my team. I can’t remember how you do it. Just try. Rupert Alves tuning in. Noel? ghost? Peggy? Maryam? Anyone? Not a sausage.

I’m exhausted. My bed awaits. But Michelle said stay out and the limos are still in the drive. All that tuning in and now I need to tune out. Could just lie back in my ergonomic leather chair and put my feet up. Am I asleep? Something to do with cats. All the cats of history are purring in my head. So soothing.

 

Arghhh!” I’m on my chair in the dome, in the middle of the night and there’s a ghost on my desk. I recognise this ghost. “ghost!” I cry. “Shush! I’m virtual, you don’t need to speak.” Okay. Listen ghost, I think the Controllers shut me down. “We shut you down, Rupert. Lord knows how you’ve switched on again. Botched job.” Why did you shut me down? “Because you’re a menace. Don’t you remember?” I’ve an awful feeling I do. Did I give away secrets about where Sharers were? “Yes” he says, encouragingly. “And what happened to those Sharers, Rupert?” Did they disappear? “Yes!” he hisses. “And what happened to Bonny?” Did she die? ghost nods. Was I to blame? He nods again. Sorry. “You did something right though” he says, pacing up and down, about an inch above my desk. “Did I?” I ask, eagerly. “Not that you meant to. But when we were wiping your psychic memories, we found something tiny but astonishing, deep in your skull, just above your spine.” “Wow! Was it my brain?” “No. It was something far superior to your brain. It was Kabir’s Last Insights!” Wow, er, remind me.

Kabir Varanasi, our founder, was discovered hiding in a mountain cave and assassinated by Controller forces.” Yes. That’s true. I dreamed it. “Before his beloved wife Sunita disappeared, she transmitted what she called Kabir’s Last Insights. Except that no one received them.” Except me. Yes. I remember. I fell asleep on the train and, as the download came through, we slammed to a halt in Victoria. I fell on top of someone but I never knew I’d received them. So it was me. Do you think she sent them specially to me? “No Rupert.” Oh well, never mind. So what do they say? “Everything. We’ve won, Rupert. The Sharers have won.” We’ve won? How come?

Kabir not only knew about pulsing, he knew how to use it to sensitise Insensitives and so create a global psychic network, which will make leadership and all forms of hierarchical control, redundant.” Wow. So does that mean we won’t have to have jobs anymore? “No Rupert, it means we’ll share. But listen, that’s not all. The controllers have developed a psychic implant, codenamed ‘Lala’, aimed to ensure obedience, giving them total control.” I don’t like the sound of that. “No. But it won’t work. Without Kabir’s understanding of psychic pulsing, they’ve no way to disseminate it. So we’ve won.”

Will there be a party? “No Rupert but soon the Hallelujah Moment will come, when the global psychic network will be up and pulsing.” How can I help? ghost shakes his head. “While we’re grateful to you for providing the Insights, given your dismal record, we don’t want to implicate you further.” So what should I do? “Nothing. Just continue to feel nice.” Without a whiff of smoke, ghost dematerialises and I do feel nice.

 

Last night I went up to my bedroom and there was another man in my bed. Michelle said he was just not feeling well. But he didn’t have any clothes on and I can’t help wondering is she’s having an affair. There’s another meeting at the house tonight, including our son Jason, who’s now on board. But I’m not allowed to be there. On the other hand, no one’s going to look in the cupboard. And that’s got a ventilation grille so I can look out, if I sit on the shelf and lean forward. I’ve been in here some time now, waiting. Best to be early. Don’t want to chance it. I’m getting hotter and hotter. I’ve got my lips up at the grille sucking in air. I’m too hot. I’m going to explode. I’ll have to leave. Oh no, they’re arriving. Too late. Peering through the grille and trying not to pant, I watch the representatives of Michelle’s godlike employers assemble.

The expressionless Chinese man sits opposite the chiselled man with silver wings in his hair. The two young men, one a smarmy Italian, the other an eye-flashing Arab, cluster each side of Michelle. Sir William Rosenthal parks at the far end and, behind his wheelchair, Lady Katherine hovers like a dark angel. Before sitting down, my son Jason asks if he may open a window. If I’d known he was going to do that, I could’ve heard everything from outside, instead of being squashed in this dark cupboard. Just don’t pant.

Sir William Rosenthal begins. “We are not greed-driven bankers or venal capitalists, as the general public would have themselves believe. We uphold a moral philosophy.” Everyone nods wisely. “And” he continues “everyone who comes on board needs to understand and commit to this philosophy.” Michelle and Jason nod meekly. Sir William turns to the Chinese man. “Jiang Xi?”

Jiang Xi sits back in his chair and gathers his thoughts. “Let us approach this way. The more resources we waste to feed the hungry, the more people to feed. Seven, fourteen, twenty-eight, fifty-six billion humans and ever less resources. Can you imagine?” “Chaos” concurs Sir William. “A human car crash waiting to happen” adds the dashingly handsome Arab, playing with Michelle’s hair. “Human car crash” she repeats, with a sensual smile.

Jiang Xi continues. “In egalitarian world, world of equals, no one can assume moral authority to prevent more and more babies being born. No one dares to say enough is enough. Only cool-headed planning can balance population with sustainable resources. It is our philosophy to plan ahead, to use our skills, knowledge and position to strive toward these ends. Do we agree?” Michelle and Jason agree.

“The right number of workforce for the right number of products and services” purrs the Roman romeo, massaging Michelle’s left breast. “Products and services” she murmurs. “Supply and demand” croons the Arab, delicately stimulating her right breast. “Mm” agrees Michelle. “Control of the money supply is such a crude device” observes the chisel-faced man, looking across at Jiang Xi. “How much easier life will be, once the adjustment has been made.” Jiang Xi concurs, sagely. “Obedience makes everything run smoothly.” “With everyone in Lala Land” adds Stanley Walsh with a goofy laugh, adding “Say, is there anything to eat? I mean, can we take a break? I’m starving and I wouldn’t mind a drinkypoo.”

“There’s a buffet in the kitchen” gushes Michelle, shuddering with some sudden excitement. The chisel-faced man rises. Jason dares to rise, glancing back at his mum with a look of awe mixed with horror, as she rises serenely from the hands of her admirers. In moments, the room is empty, everyone off, enjoying Megan’s tasty treats. I burst from the cupboard, swig back half a jug of water from the table and spy a file headed ‘Lala’. I’m about to read it, when I hear a noise and launch myself through the window. A rosebush breaks my fall. Every prickle catches me. I manage not to shriek and scurry off down to my dome.

 

I can’t believe it. They’re the evil ones, the Controllers, who want to rule the world. They’re in my house and my wife and son are in their thrall. Something clicks deep inside me. I must save my family. How? I don’t know. Hone my psychic skills. I mustn’t fail this time. Be like Kabir and have some Last Insights, or even some first insights. Can I still astranav? You lie on the floor and your spirit rises up. It’s happening. I’m rising up above the trees. Beautiful cool night, house glowing below, three figures coming down the path. I know who they are immediately, because of the wheelchair. Sir William, Lady Katherine and, sauntering behind them, Stanley Walsh, out for an evening walk. Nice.

No. They’re coming down to my dome. I didn’t lock the door. They’ll find my vacant body. Back to my body, quick. Scramble to my feet. Just got my psychic skills going, now I’ve got to shut them off. Quick, before the door opens. Block all sensitivity. There’s a knock. “Hello?” I say, in a kind of snoozy way, as if I’ve just been taking forty winks. “May we come in?” asks Katy. “Of course” I say. I’ll pretend not to know them. “How can I help you?” I ask. “Oh” says Stanley. “We just thought we’d drop in to say hi.” “Hi” I say, nonplussed by the arrival of these strangers.

“So, what have you been up to lately, Rupert?” asks Katy, casually. “Oh, this and that, you know, seeing my clients, doing a spot of carpentry, enjoying my mid life crisis, usual thing. Do I know you?” Stanley lets out a cynical chuckle. “Yes, we heard your mind had been wiped” he says, as if he doesn’t believe a word of it. “Sorry?” I ask, looking dopey. “Surely you remember celebrating our wiccan festival in the woods together, Rupert” coaxes Katy, her voice like warm honey. “Did we?” I coo, sweet as pie. “Well you haven’t forgotten about the orgy” winks Stanley, with a lascivious grin. “Oh. Is that why you’re here? Have I forgotten?” I ask, looking around, unnerved yet excited. “Is it now? Are we all going to take our clothes off?”

“Bullshit!” barks Stanley. “I mean the promo shoot, that turned into an orgy, that is now known to have been caused by psychic terrorists. That only you were immune to. That you filmed.” Stanley is drilling into me. I’ve an awful feeling I’m going to crack and all the time I can feel Katy rummaging around in my mind. So I concentrate on Sir Bill. “Did we meet before your accident? Only I had a school friend who became a whizz at skateboarding. English and Welsh champion he was. Even won some events in the US until his terrifying accident. Ended up in a wheelchair. And you know what he did? Won a silver at the Paralympics!” Sir William glares at me, the vertical lines on his face like prison bars. He says he’s not an Olympic medallist. I say “Oh, I’m sorry. Still, never give up. Keep trying! It’s like with my tree stump. At first I thought I’d never get it comfortable to sit on. Well I was using an ordinary chisel, which was blunt and it’s a hard wood. A quercus robur in fact, commonly known as the pedunculate or English oak. Some people call it the French oak. That’d be French people I expect, always trying to get in on the act. Did you know, some English oaks are over 1,500 years old! Anyway, Aiden’s dad’s a carpenter and he lent me the proper tools, single bevelled sweeps, double bevelled skews, chisels, gougers, veiners, you know. And I had to learn how to use them. But the days were warm, my heart was in it and I just wouldn’t give up. And now it’s not only smooth and comfortable, it’s a thing of beauty. Have you seen my tree stump?”

They don’t seem interested. In fact they leave. I wait, unable to relax, in case they return. Daren’t even think, in case Katy tunes into my thoughts.

 

What now? I’ve got to learn more about these Controllers. Got to get the upper edge, so I can defeat them. Who would know? My old friend Larry would know, the great Lorenz de Mille, acclaimed World Happiness Crusader and unacclaimed Sharer spy. The trouble is, his girlfriend has the most beautiful breasts in the universe and my eyes lock on and I can’t seem to tear them away. So, when Larry asked me what I was doing there, Rebecca said “he’s looking at my tits”. And that was humiliating, because I need her to like me. And I blew their cover. I mustn’t do that again. But he would know. I don’t even know if I can contact him. I don’t know where he is.

I’m not very good at tuning in, finding that quiet focus. Sometimes I find myself zoning out and, try as I might to drag myself back, drifting into a marvellous vacancy, a universe of light without any meaning at all. Like now. Marvellous. Incandescent. Out of control. And yet, a vision appears. Two figures staring at me. Larry in a roll neck sweater, Rebecca in a low-cut dress. So beautiful. Would you mind covering your chest with that drape? I ask her. Only my eyes are morally weak. “What’s your problem?” asks Larry.

I’ve got Controllers in my house, I blurt out and they’ve got my wife and son. “Are they holding them captive?” asks Rebecca, concerned. No. They’ve employed them. “I see” she says. “Do you know how your wife and son feel about this?” They’re thrilled. “So what’s the problem?” asks Larry. But Controllers are evil, aren’t they? I burble. Only, when I was listening in the cupboard, they said their philosophy was to create a sustainable future. And that didn’t sound too bad.

“Do you know what Controllers do to enforce their damned philosophy?” asks Larry. No, I admit. What? “Okay” he says “so maybe you pour money into a country, watch it boom. Pull your money out, watch it bust and buy up anything you fancy for a song. Like its industry.” “Or maybe starve a famine” says Rebecca. “Or fund a war” says Larry. That doesn’t sound so good, I admit. “This is no eco paradise, Rupert. It’s global feudalism and it profits from instability.” “It’s a cancer of the brain” adds Rebecca.

No you’ve put me right off it, I say, but what am I going to do? They’re in my house, bewitching my boy and touching up my wife! I’ve got to get rid of them. “You can’t control Controllers, Rupert.” But I can’t just let it go on. It’s intolerable. “These are powerful people. Do nothing.” But what if… Larry is looking angry. “It’s imperative that you do nothing! Do you understand?” “Rupert” says Rebecca softly. Yes? “If you do manage to do nothing, I’ll let you see my breasts.” Would you? She smiles and the vision fades. She’s so kind.

 

As far as I understand, Sharers are going to sensitise Insensitives and create a global psychic network. The Controllers’ psychic implant, codenamed ‘Lala’, doesn’t work. So we’ve won and there’s going to be a Hallelujah Moment. But when? Anything could happen between now and then. I could lose Michelle. And I’m supposed to do nothing. If I could just get some information that’d prove her bosses are evil, I’d stand a chance. I’ve been searching online. Fifa has suspended president Sepp Blatter, secretary general Jerome Valcke and vice-president Michel Platini for 90 days. Football’s world governing body is apparently rotten to the core. This is corruption in high places. Sepp Blatter could be a Controller. He looks like one.

Russia is bunging cruise missiles at Islamic State infrastructure and other militant groups. Mr Putin wants to show that he is a force to be reckoned with. President Obama is also firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at Islamic State terrorists. He also wants to show that he is a force to be reckoned with. But they’re supporting different rebels, because Moscow’s backing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, while Western countries support rebels who’ve been fighting to oust Mr Assad since 2011. So are they fighting each other? Or are IS militants in control, getting yanks and ruskies to cancel each other out, while they seize swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq? Or is it a secret Controller plan to cull humanity and seize its assets?

I notice that the Global Economic Outlook has been downgraded again, and there’s a “four-trillion dollar debt time bomb” warns José Viñals, Director of Monetary and Capital Markets for the International Monetary Fund. He’s a Controller, if ever I saw one. The trouble is, none of them are going to go public. Controllers would never reveal themselves or their plans. Sharers are not going to advertise the imminent global psychic network. So I’ve got no proof and I’m to do nothing. I suppose, even when it happens, it’ll just happen, like when the internet just happened. Everyone will just flow into it and no one will remember it was different before. So how will I know? I’m a Sharer. I need to know. Why won’t anyone share with me?

Maryam Mazari tells me to have faith. “For thousands of years, people have struggled under the yoke of tyrants and despots” she whispers. “That this will end, is enough. Hallelujah.” Will Insensitives know that they’re suddenly sensitive? “No, they just will be.” So how will we know it’s happened? “There will be a moment, when everyone will communicate the same thought at the same time. The Hallelujah Moment. That is how we will know.” Hallelujah, I mumble and drift back to sleep.

 

I come downstairs in the morning and Michelle is in the hall, deep in conversation with the smarmy Arab, her lips not an inch from his. I’m so shocked I have to pretend not to notice, and escape to my dome. When I run up through the rain to get a coffee, Michelle is in the kitchen with the Italian stallion, wrapped around an ipad as if it were their baby. “Hi” I say, pretending it’s normal. And they ignore me. I’m so upset, I have to run back down here and I haven’t even got my drink. And she’s so happy all the time.

I can’t believe this is happening. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps the evil that has invaded the house, has invaded me. But I can’t help feeling that Michelle and I are flying apart, emotionally and ideologically, and I can’t bear it. She’s going to end up causing famines and wars. I have to make her understand that her bosses’ obedience program is evil and it doesn’t even work. She’s on the wrong side. I’ve got to warn her before it’s too late. Who can I turn to?

My daughter Alicia is busy, preparing for the Hallelujah Moment but, sensing my anxiety, asks what’s wrong. It all pours out. The dark limos swooshing up the drive, the secret ones emerging, me hiding in the cupboard, the file codenamed Lala, the unbearable wickedness in the house not to mention the rain. And your mother doesn’t even realise. She thinks she’s in control but the Controllers are controlling her. I’ve got to tell her. “Tell her what, dad?” Everything. “But mum isn’t psychic. She won’t believe you.” But I’ve got to convince her. She’s being seduced by Controller gigolos. There was a man in my bed. “Listen dad” says Alicia. “It’ll all be over soon. Everyone will be sensitive, including mum.” But who will she be being sensitive with?

 

Leaves are still dripping but the rain has abated. Scared of being in the house and sick of being in my dome, I wander the twilight garden. The front of Aiden’s shed is down and lights are on. I’m drawn towards it. Aiden is polishing his boots. Grace is in the corner, quietly clipping her toenails. I sit down beside Aiden and watch him polishing. After a while he says “nice evening”. “I think my wife is playing away from home” I whisper. “And not just that, she’s playing away from home, at home!” Grace has heard. Aiden’s embarrassed. “I’m sorry to hear that, Mr Alves” he says. “It’s her new job” I explain. “She’s been employed by a secret society of Controllers.”

Aiden wants to know more. “What do they control?” he asks. “The world” I say. “I knew it” he says. “Yes” I say. “Who are they?” he asks. “Financiers, bankers, media moguls, I think.” “Typical!” he says. “Yes, but now they’ve developed an implant which will make us all mindlessly obedient forever. And Michelle has swallowed it.” “Swallowed the implant?” “No, the idea.” Grace looks up from her sewing. “How is this implant to be administered?” she asks. “It isn’t a physical thing” I confide. “It’s a psychic implant. You see, I belong to the psychic community of Sharers. We communicate telepathically and soon we’ll all be Sharers, part of the global psychic network.”

“The global psychic network” repeats Aiden. “Yes, as soon as the Hallelujah Moment happens.” “The Hallelujah Moment” repeats Grace. “Yes, but the Controllers have got Michelle in their thrall and I’ve got to tell her, haven’t I? I mean, what do you think?” A look passes between Grace and Aiden. “I don’t think you should tell her” says Grace. I turn to Aiden. “No, better not” he advises. “No? Then what?” I query. He says “I think you should go and lie down.”

 

The garden bell tinkles. George Appleby doffs his derby. He is eighty-three, mourning his wife, suffering from Alzheimer’s but it’s me who’s forgotten he was coming. “I’m afraid this will have to be my last session, as I’m going to live with my daughter in Toronto” he informs me. “Oh” I gulp. “I shall miss you.” “Well” he says “my dementia can only get worse and, while I can, I have to realise I need help, even if it’s in Toronto. So I’m leaving my England forever and stepping into the unknown.” He shows me his plane ticket.

“The worst thing is, I’m leaving Her. Oh, I know She’s gone already but at least at home I’ve got everything to remind me of our life together. My daughter says it’s time to forget. Ha! I already do that pretty well. Sometimes I forget everything, even that there’s anything to remember. But then it comes flooding back. And with it, fierce regrets, things I should have told her, things I never said, and now it’s too late.” He shakes his head and, with a rush of guilt, I admit that I am keeping secrets from my wife Michelle. George says “never keep secrets from your wife. She is your treasure.”

 

I’ve forced her into it. She’s already told me she’s not going out tonight and I’ve cornered her in the living room. I say I want an end to all the secrets. “What secrets?” she asks. “All of them” I blurt. “But what are they?” she asks. “Well, there’s the secrecy of your job and then there’s my secrets.” Michelle laughs. “Your secrets?” “Yes!” I say, indignantly. “I mean, what does our marriage mean with all these secrets?” “You want a truth session, Roo?” she asks. “Yes. Exactly” I say. “Okay” she says. “You go first.”

“Oh, er, well, you know Lady Katherine Rosenthal?” I check. “Yes” she says. “Well, she and me, we spent a night together.” “You spent a night together?” she cries, raising her hands in mock horror. “It was only platonic, but still…” “Well, I forgive you” she says patting my knee. “Oh” I say. “But aren’t there any secret liaisons you may have had?” “Do you really want to know?” “Of course.” “Okay, when we met at Findhorn, I was in the midst of a series of passionate if brief flings with members of the community.” “Including my friend Larry?” I ask. “Ah Larry” she says, smiling into her wineglass. “Sweet Larry. He knew how to fuck, but not how to love. Isn’t that sad?” I admit that it’s sad.

“What then?” she asks herself. “Oh, a few of the monks at the Welsh Buddhist retreat. Where were we next? Oh, Cornwall. I think Peter Phillips was first.” “Who?” “Our neighbour.” “Oh.” “Then that artist. What’s his name?” I can’t remember. I can’t remember any of it. I can hear Michelle reminiscing about the blokes in Camberwell. We lived there for fourteen years, so there’s a lot for her to remember. When her voice stops, I realise I’m supposed to respond. “So, what now?” I ask, hoping she’ll show me a way forward. “Now, I’m having multiple affairs” she says. “Oh” I say. There’s a long silence. “Well” I say. “I must admit I’m a bit peeved.” “Well, you asked” she says. Another silence.

“Anyway, you knew, didn’t you!” she says. “You’ve known all along!” A montage of painful moments passes before my eyes, fumblings in a corridor, coming upon men rapidly trying to get dressed, Michelle and that hairy poet jumping apart as I entered, walking into our bedroom in Wales and finding that monk, moments I’ve locked away forever. “Look” says Michelle, squeezing my hand, her voice softening. “We’ve lived separate lives for decades now. Out of loyalty, I’ve financed your life, kept you afloat, while you sat in your shed playing guru. I’ve protected you, because you can’t bare to face the real world, because you are so helpless.” “Is that how you see it?” I ask. “Well that’s how it’s been, Roo.” Her red hair glows like a halo around her lovely face, her blue eyes full of caring.

“Well then” I say. “Then, out of loyalty, there are things I have to tell you. For a start, your employers are evil. And I know, because I’m psychic.” She looks at me oddly. “Yes” I confirm. “They already control the world financially. Now they want to brainwash us all, to be their slaves.” I clutch my head in my hands and shake it, to show that even I am susceptible. Michelle seems alarmed, as well she might be. “Furthermore” I announce, pressing my advantage “Their obedience system isn’t computer software, it’s a psychic implant. And it doesn’t even work because, unlike us Sharers, they have no means of disseminating it.” “Sharers?” asks Michelle, quietly.

“Yes” I admit, with some pride. “I am one of the global community of sharers, who seek to make the world a better place, one in which we all can share. We communicate telepathically as one. And we all have special skills. Gifts, you might call them. Mine is total vacancy. In fact, I was the medium for the psychic pulsing that caused the mass rumpy pumpy on our lawn.” “I see” says Michelle. “You’re saying that the orgy was a psychic phenomenon.” “Yes and I can prove it, because Stanley Walsh didn’t get rid of the the film of it, as he told you. He edited it and accused me of being a psychic terrorist.” “He what?” “Yes, and when I didn’t admit it, he got the Rosenbergs to offer you your new job. You see? You only got this job because the Controllers wanted to get to me, for my psychic knowledge.”

Michelle is looking at me as if something awful has happened. And indeed it has. “You’ve been fooled” I tell her. Her eyes are darting from side to side. She can’t take it. But the truth will out. “You think you’ve come into this wonderful opportunity for wealth and advancement, when you’re a slave of the Controllers. And you’ve dragged our son into it as well. Can’t you see? You’re on the wrong side!” Michelle is on the telephone. “You’re on the wrong side!” I shout, to make her see. But my eyes spring with tears and I collapse into uncontrollable sobbing. It’s all too much.

 

I don’t know quite where I am, but I can hear Michelle saying “Well, tell him then”. Next thing I’m staring at the dark, menacing face of producer Stanley Walsh. He says “I did not edit the promo. I destroyed it, as Michelle instructed.” “But you showed it to me. You invited me round and we watched it together” I fire back. “Remember? We laughed, because it was so funny.” “I have never shown him anything. I hardly know the man” Stanley insists, appealing to others. “Hah!” I retort. “Then what about the call girls? What about accusing me of being a psychic terrorist?” “I have never accused you of being a psychic anything!” he says and laughs like a drain. Others titter. I’m not having this. “You said there was a ring of terrorists with telepathic weapons and, when I wouldn’t spill the beans, you got onto the Rosenthals, knowing that Katy had seduced me and rummaged through my brain.”

Katy’s freckled face assures me that she has certainly never rummaged anywhere near me. “Do you deny saying that you wanted to have an affair with me?” “I do. I have never been the least bit attracted to you.” “Perhaps” I counter. “But you led me on.” “I certainly did not ‘lead you on’.” “So what about the so-called festival where everyone was naked and I had to get naked too and you cuddled up to me all night and used your psychic powers to rummage through my brain so you could report back to your husband about all my Sharer secrets!” Katy pauses. “We did invite him to our Beltane festival. My husband and I are Wiccans. But I’m afraid that the supposed shenanigans are products of Rupert’s fertile imagination. And I’m certainly not psychic!” Everyone chortles.

I’m not finished. I know Sir William is a Controller, so I accuse him outright. “I saw the Lala file on our table where you’d been sitting. And I already knew, from my fellow Sharers, that ‘Lala’ is the Controllers’ codename for their obedience implant to make us all slaves. So I know you’re one of the evil ones!” But he just laughs. Leaning forward in his wheelchair, eyes twinkling with merriment, he denies belonging to, or knowing the existence of any organisation seeking to enslave humanity. Everyone roars. The very idea. “Or any other crazy conspiracy theories” adds Sir William. They’re laughing at me. I am a fool. I am ridiculous. It never happened. I never happened.

But it did. Summoning my last ounce of energy, I let them know. “It did happen and very soon the Hallelujah Moment will happen and we will all pulse together, for we will all be Sharers!” “How very interesting” murmurs Sir William and everyone collapses in helpless mirth. Our housekeeper stands in the centre of the convulsing bodies. “I can confirm that my employer, Mr Alves, has been losing his wits for quite some time. Recently he started talking to a tree stump. Carved it into what he called his rustic throne. Sat on it for hours, talking to animals, plants and imaginary beings. He told me what this seagull was saying. Thought he could speak seagull.”

I’m in a car. I can’t move. Someone says it’s for my own good. They’re dragging me up some steps. I can hear whispering. The face of my therapist, Doctor Reginald Blatt, hovers before me. His voice echoes through the cupboards of my mind, proclaiming to the land. “Rupert Alves is undoubtedly delusional, indubitably paranoid and all together schizophrenic. In common parlance, we might refer to him as barking mad.”

 

I’m in a padded cell, strapped in a strait-jacket. Luckily, high on the wall, there’s a television and it’s on. Tyler’s Table is showing and it’s full of famous people that I know. After conjuring up a soufflé for popular songstress Tamara, he introduces former Antiques Roadshow expert Gerald Mayhew and his friend, Dennis, the orangely-tanned tap-dancing star. But when he welcomes ancient tunesmiths Lila Kane and Harry Burke, I begin to realise that something fishy is going on. And when they sing their famous hit, The Fishy Song, I know I’m right. And then it happens, right at the end. He makes a joke about my profession. He says “What’s the difference between a loan and a therapist? The loan eventually matures and earns money.” And all his guests look out and laugh. And I know, because of my psychic gifts, that they’re laughing at me. And that’s the truth.

10 – Nice

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015 (click Archive above). If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

I feel blank, so I sit here doing nothing. I do nothing, so I feel blank. It’s a type of perfection. An elderly man calls. Am I Rupert Alves? “I am” I remember. “Good” he says. “I’m George Appleby.” “Good” I say. “How can I help you?” There is a long pause. He says he’ll call me back, shortly. Moments later, the phone rings again. He wants to book an appointment.

Taking a walk in the garden, I find myself staring at a tree stump I’ve become rather fond of. I’d like to sit on it, but I know it sticks into you. From one moment to the next, a wonderful urge envelopes me and, grabbing tools from the shed, I start to sculpt it into something more comfortable. As I cut away the rot, I begin to appreciate its beauty and strive to shape it in such a way as to realise its own special loveliness. It must be years since I worked with my hands like this. I stand back, looking at it. Nice.

I still have that blank feeling, as if nothing ever happened before and this is the start of my life. I feel as if I know nothing. Yet I know beauty when I see it and it makes me happy. So, whatever happens, I’m going to be happy. Because of the beauty of everything. Nice.

Our housekeeper Megan is staring at me from the kitchen. Now she’s staring at me from the veranda. Now from the grassy verge just above me. It strike me that even nasty things are nice, if you see them through rose-tinted spectacles. She wants to know what I think I’m doing. Am I mad? I smile. I probably am. She runs off, letting me know she’s going to find Michelle. I get to work with a small chisel. I want to retain the tree stump’s soul, it’s character, its tree stumpness.

Old Mr Shoebridge, our gardener, admires my work. He tells me the stump is a quercus robur, commonly known as the English oak or pedunculate oak. Some pedunculate oaks are over 1,500 years old. I want to know more, but Mr Shoebridge says he’s worried about Aiden. He tells me that Aiden’s dad, Alf Winkley, is in hospital. I say “I’m sorry to hear that”. Mr Shoebridge says “He fell down the stairs” adding if that’s what really happened.” “Didn’t it really happen?” I ask. “Well, Aiden reckons Luke Chapps must’ve pushed him, and I wouldn’t put it passed him. Have you seen him?” “Luke Chapps?” “Aiden.” I haven’t. Mr Shoebridge says “keep up the good work” and wanders slowly away.

I carefully saw off the rotten edge at the front, so it won’t cut into my knees when I sit on it. The back of the stump is high, almost throne-like. Needs some shaping. Looking up, I find my wife Michelle staring at me. “What are you doing?” “I’m sculpting the quercus robur.” “Why?” “So it’s comfortable.” Haven’t you anything better to do?” I think about it. “I don’t think so.” Michelle says that, unlike me, she has too much to do. Apart from running about trying to keep her company afloat, she’s being courted by potential clients she’s not allowed to reveal, who want her to work exclusively for them, which would be extraordinarily lucrative and prestigious should the deal go through. She’s happy and excited, so I’m happy and excited. She also reminds me that Susan’s almost due. “Susan’s coming here?” “No, she’s almost due to give birth. We ought to visit. What about next Tuesday?” I frown. “What day is it today?” “Put it this way” she says “have you got anything planned in the next week or two?” “I don’t think I have.” “Tuesday it is.” I ask her if she’d like to sit on the throne. She allows herself to be seated in a queenly way but jumps up quick. I’ve forgotten to remove the chisel. She gives me a look and goes off into the house to sort herself out.

I start gluing loose bark. I’m going to douse the whole stump in wood preserver when it’s done. Loads more chiselling, planing, sanding and whatnot before then. As I work, it gets more and more beautiful. As shadows fall, it looks proud, ornate, self possessed. I chat with it as I work. “You’re a beautiful tree stump” I say, to encourage it, so it will radiate with confidence. Aiden appears, like a ghost beside me. He’s scared to go back to his parents’ house. He hasn’t been back since I kindly employed and housed him. But he’s promised to mend the bannisters. He believes that his dad, Alf, tried to stand up to Luke Chapps who then pushed him down the stairs.

He tells me that, years ago, his mum had a fling with Luke Chapps. “Dad found out and mum promised not to see Luke anymore. But dad wasn’t himself after that and ended up doing his back in, while carpenting. So he couldn’t work and there was no money coming in. So Luke Chapps offered to provide for us, as long as mum showed her gratitude. And mum went along with it, for the sake of the family. And dad went along with it, being so ashamed that he couldn’t work any more. Luke’d turn up anytime and he and mum would go upstairs and, although my brother and sister won’t admit it, we’d hear the bedsprings. No one would admit it. We’d have to pretend it wasn’t happening. Anyway, that’s when I got ME. And I was in the room next door, so I heard everything.”

Grace appears through the twilight and slides her arm about Aiden. “We better get going” she says. They’re off to the Winkleys. “Can I come with you?” I ask. “I could help with the bannisters.” They’re happy for me to tag along. And I’m happy. I like working with my hands. “Will I need my tools?” I ask. “No” says Aiden. “Dad’s a carpenter. He’ll have all the tools we’ll need.”

 

On the way, Aiden is concerned about his mum’s state of mind and worried about encountering Luke Chapps. Grace calms his fears. I enjoy the walk, the twilight chorus, the smells and murmurings, the people on their way home, as we cross the village green, and the huge lorries rattling past the Winkleys’ little terraced house.

Aiden knocks but no one comes. He knocks again. He’s sure his mum, Molly, must be in there. He starts to get upset. Grace suggests he use his keys. As soon as he puts the key in the lock, Luke Chapps appears. “What do you want?” Aiden is immediately nervous. Grace says “We want to see Molly”. Luke says there’s nothing to see. Grace says “We’ll be the judge of that”. She’s having none of it and barges past, into the tiny dark living room.

Aiden switches on a light. Molly Winkley is sitting in the corner behind the tiny kitchen table. She seems frightened and doesn’t respond to her son’s greeting. I see the broken staircase and start to assess the damage. First we’ll need to get the broken handrail off. Grace has slid into a chair opposite Molly, who averts her eyes. Luke Chapps is prowling about, saying how distraught Molly’s been since Alf’s accident. He stares at Molly as he describes how she was upstairs having a lie-down. Luke himself was down here innocently reading the papers when there was a great crash as Alf tumbled down the stairs. “That’s what we told the ambulance men and that’s what happened.”

Aiden looks as if he might explode. I ask where the tools are kept. Aiden goes out to his dad’s workshop. Luke asks me what I think I’m doing. “Mending the stairs.” “How long’s that going to take?” “I don’t know” I admit. “First we need to assess the damage, what we need to replace. Like this handrail. If I could only separate it from the post.” Aiden comes back with tools, hammers, chisels, plane, drill, extension cable. I start banging the post to get the rail to come off. Luke is furious at the intrusion. “We were having a nice quiet chat, weren’t we Molly. Shall I ask them to leave, Molly?”

I notice that the hammer’s only making gouges in the post. The rail isn’t budging. I step back to reassess the problem and overhear Aiden whispering to Grace that he wants to accuse Luke. “Why don’t you?” she whispers back. I realise I could saw it off, but can’t get back to do it, because Aiden’s in the way. He faces Luke. “Dad didn’t fall, did he! You…” Molly cries out “Aiden!” Aiden stops, seems to crumple. I start to saw. Mrs Winkley says she wants to go to bed. Luke helps her upstairs. Grace comforts Aiden. I continue sawing.

Aiden phones his sister Sarah, putting her in the picture. Afterwards he’s angry. “She says it’s none of her business. She’s got herself to think of, now that she’s engaged.” He rings his elder brother, Noah. He likewise wants none of it, won’t even admit that their mum had an affair in the first place. Aiden reminds him of the night when “you came back drunk and woke us all up and we found Mum and Luke… It never happened? None of it happened? Luke didn’t give mum money in return for… What?” Aiden chucks the phone at the wall and turns to Grace. “It never fucking happened.” She embraces him. I realise I’m almost through the rail and saw furiously.

Something bashes against my hip. I look up. Luke Chapps has kicked me. He wants to get down the stairs. I squeeze up, leaning against the rail which gives way, causing me to fall. I pick myself up, grinning to reassure everyone. “It’s alright. No harm done.” Luke is at the front door. “Now leave her alone” he says. “And don’t go meddling.” The front door slams.

Grace asks us if we want a cup of tea and we settle around the little breakfast table. I realise I need advice in order to do a good job on the bannister. This ground floor is just one room and it’s very small and dingy, like where mice might live. The teas come. We drink. “Your dad’s a carpenter, isn’t he?” I say. “I’d like to ask his advice.” Aiden says he wants to visit his dad in hospital, but doesn’t like to leave mum. I offer to stay, to make sure Mrs Winkley’s alright. Grace says “No. You two go together. I’ll stay here just in case.” Aiden gulps back his tea and stands up. I realise the fallen hand rail has made a mess. Grace says not to worry. She’ll clear up. It won’t take a jiffy.

The hospital is crowded with relatives and friends sitting around patients. A bulky African nurse with pebble glasses is squeezing her way through. All the patients are recovering from spinal surgery. One shrivelled old man, who has no visitors, is held in a neck brace that makes him look Elizabethan. The remains of a tudor nobleman. Alf Winkley hasn’t got a brace, but he’s not allowed to move as he’s just had an operation to fuse his vertebrae. So he has to stare at the ceiling. The good news is, they’ve said he’ll probably be better than before the fall, because he did his back in all those years ago and never had it seen to.

The nurse is getting cross with a middle-eastern family. There are too many of them. They shrug. Where’s the harm? A corpulent chap holding a bag of urine stumbles. The nurse rushes to his side and guides him back to his bed. Only it isn’t his bed. It’s the shrivelled old man’s and the nurse doesn’t notice. There’s a sudden dry croak. The nurse realises she’s got the wrong bed and hoiks the big chap up and over to his. I hope the old man is alive.

Aiden is trying to get his dad to admit that the reason he did his back in, all those years ago, was because he found out what was going on between Mum and Luke. Alf doesn’t seem to hear his son, just keeps looking at the ceiling. Aiden can’t understand. “You know I know, so why can’t you admit it?” Alf murmurs “Your mother’s been through enough.” “But it was her. She went with him. And you knew.” Alf asks how Molly is. Aiden says “She’s alright. Grace is with her and we’ve made a start on fixing the stairs.”

I say I’d like some advice. “I’ve sawn the handrail off but all those dangly bits are still stuck to it.” “The spindles? Have they snapped?” asks Alf. “Some.” “How’s the newel?” “What’s that?” “The post at the bottom that holds the rail.” “A bit battered. I banged it with a hammer.” “Never mind about that. Here’s what you do.” “Hang on. I need to write it down.” The nurse’ll have a pen and paper.

She’s leaning over the old man, telling him to wake up. “You must wake up or I will have to call a doctor.” “Have you got a pen and paper?” I ask. She turns. “What are you asking me? Why are you wasting my time?” “I need to write down the instructions” I explain. “I have no instructions” she insists. “I mean how to repair the stairs.” “The stairs are broken?” “Yes. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” The nurse rushes off. “I must see for myself. People might fall.” The ancient man suddenly sits up, crying “Where are my shoes?” I search for his shoes but can’t find them. An Arabic man lends me his gilt-edged notepad and pen. I scribble Alf’s instructions. The nurse returns. She’s furious with Aiden. “There is nothing wrong with the stairs” she says. He says “We used the lift.” I return the pad and pen. The nurse notices the old man getting out of bed, rushes over and pushes him back down. “Lie down. You’re ill.” Aiden has a word with his dad, turns to me and says “Let’s get out of here.”

 

Michelle is driving into London, specifically Dulwich, guided by satnav. “In 200 meters, keep right.” She’s spent the weekend being wined and dined in Paris by her prospective exclusive new clients. She would be responsible for the entire network. She’ll need a brilliant staff. I find myself considering how to get the spindles to the exact height, so they’ll slot in perfectly to the hand rail and not fall out. Michelle can’t wait to see Susan, she tells me. “Greg is dull, but never mind. Come to think of it, Susan is dull. Perhaps pregnancy will make her more interesting. What I’m really excited to see is the house. Do you realise that we own half of that house? I mean, we paid for half of it. Not to mention what’s been spent doing it up.” “True” I say. I wonder how I’m going to get the rail into the newel at the same time as getting the spindles into the rail, without having to remove the newel itself. The satnav man tells us that, when we turn left, “then you will have arrived at your destination”.

We are gliding between formal flowerbeds, towards an imposing Georgian double-fronted property. A handsome brown gentleman in white gloves welcomes us. He is wearing a dress shirt with a white wing collar, black tie, grey waistcoat, black morning coat, grey striped trousers and, if I were a lady, he’d make me feel weak in the knees. Once up the grand steps, we’re escorted through the Doric entrance into a hall with gleaming parquet flooring, turquoise walls above a dado rail, an ornately moulded ceiling and told to wait. A little round woman in a maid’s costume, replete with pinafore and cap, scuttles out of the room into which the charismatic butler has disappeared. “Why are we waiting?” asks Michelle. “I don’t know” I admit. We can hear Susan’s voice. She seems to be upset about something.

A face is staring down on me from a dark painting. The man has a thin face, with a pointy nose, moustache and beard, supported by a thick white frilly ruff. But it’s his eyes that mesmerise me. Calm, intense, imperious. This man does not doubt. When he looks at you, you know you’re not his equal. So why can’t I stop looking? Footsteps. The cool butler returns. “Her ladyship will see you now.” “Her ladyship?” blurts out Michelle. “Has she turned into a ship?” The butler gives a polite smile and an almost indiscernible shrug. “What are we to call her?” asks Michelle. Again the shrug. “What are we to call you?” she asks, with a flirty grin. The butler leans in and whispers. “My name’s Jeremy, but I’m to be called Jerome.” “Is this her ladyship’s idea?” whispers Michelle. Jeremy nods. Jerome bids us enter.

The drawing room is dazzling. Canary yellow walls, the floor a polished mirror, winged armchairs, sofas with scrolled arms, gilt-framed paintings of idyllic pastoral scenes and, in the midst of this splendour, our lovely daughter Susan, looking like the Queen of Sheba, lying pregnantly upon a huge chaise longue, in a halo of cushions, drapes and a tray of buns.

I’m so beguiled, I find myself bowing, kissing her hand and retreating with my head inclined. Michelle is less formal. “Hi darling. Got you some flowers.” “Jerome? Put these in water.” Susan is cross. She says “I sent Greg out to buy some things and he isn’t back. He knew you were coming. He’s supposed to be here.” “Your home is lovely” I say, looking around. Susan wants to know what her mum thinks.

Michelle says “its extravagance is almost sickening, darling. But you can’t bring a baby up here. One flip of the hand could send that standard lamp down on it. All the furniture has sharp edges. Those low shelves with vases. They’ll topple and smash. I mean, what are you thinking? There are baby hazards everywhere.” I find myself pondering how to make this place safe for my grandchild. A guard on the fire. Higher shelves certainly. Michelle is talking to me. “Tell her.” “Tell her what?” “Tell her she needs to make this place safe for her baby.” “I could do it” I say, smiling at Susan. She accepts my offer. “No trouble. Happy to help.”

Susan snarls. “Where have you been?” It’s Greg. He’s puffing, he’s abject. Waitrose was closed. He had to go all the way to… Susan isn’t listening. She’s watching the little round maid, carefully pushing in a silver serving trolley. Susan snaps at her. “Be careful Chloe. You’ll spill it.” Chloe looks up, jolting the trolley and hot tea splashes her hands. She just stands there. “Well get a cloth!” roars my daughter, followed by a short sharp “Jerome!” who comes running in, swerving to avoid Chloe running out. Susan issues instructions. The trolley is to go there. The chairs placed here. Greg and I give Jerome a hand. Michelle is to pour. Everyone is to have a tiny cup of tea and a biscuit.

Michelle asks Susan if being pregnant means she can’t move a muscle. Susan rubs her tummy. She’s just protecting baby. I tell Greg I’m going to make their home safe for their child. Michelle reckons that, if Susan keeps eating those buns, the child will be too big to get out. Susan says she has an itch. Instinctively, Michelle goes to her daughter’s aid. “Not there, there!” Susan informs her. “No, higher.” I turn to my son-in-law. “I’ll need to get a measure of what needs doing. Fancy showing me around?”

There are six double ensuite bedrooms all with unprotected sockets and freestanding furniture that could fall. A stunning conservatory with potted plants on low ledges just ripe for yanking by some small innocent mite. An enormous kitchen containing low level draws full of bleach, detergents, knives and other baby killers. Not to mention the basement games room brimming with workout machines, weights and open swimming pool. Greg seems quite oblivious to the dangers of asphyxiation, electrocution, burning, crushing, poisoning and drowning. I tell him “A baby could fall down the stairs, plummet into the pool and drown before you can say Jack Robinson. We’ll need hundreds of safety gates, fire doors, high shelving. Bolt everything down and lock it up. Not a small job. But I think I’m up to it.

Back in the hallway, I notice the painted eyes staring down at me and ask Greg. “I’ve been looking at this picture, Greg. Who is it?” “My relative.” “Is he still alive?” “Of course he’s not still alive. He’s Admiral Sir John Hawkyns. Naval commander, navigator, shipbuilder, merchant and chief architect of the Elizabethan navy.” I’m impressed. “And he’s your relative?” Greg nods, adding “Hawkyns designed the fleet that withstood the Spanish Armada.” “Goodness.” “His cousin was Sir Francis Drake, you know.” “Gosh.” “He was also the first slave trader.” “Really?” “Yes, and not ashamed of it either!” “How exciting.” “Yes, he made the first English slaving voyage to Africa. In all, captured over twelve hundred Africans and sold them as goods in America. Amazing fellow. He was knighted for gallantry.” “I should think so too. All round good egg.”

“Would you care for a glass of very special single malt whiskey?” Greg asks. “How very civilised” I observe, feeling rather posh. “I’ll get it” he says. I hang about outside the drawing room, where Chloe is polishing the floor and Michelle is massaging her daughter’s shoulders. I hear Susan’s echoey voice proclaim that she doesn’t intend to return to work as an accountant. “Greg would prefer it. He wants to be the provider and lavish me with lovely things. I said I would, as long as we employ nannies so I can fully enjoy the experience of motherhood.” I hear Michelle’s angry voice squawk “What? Do nothing? Is that what you’re going to do with your life? Nothing? Your grandmother, Anthea, was a very prominent and proactive feminist. She fought for the rights of women to forge their own destinies, to play their part in this world. Not to be their husband’s plaything and sit around stuffing themselves with cream buns.” Susan pops a final bun in her mouth, in quiet defiance. Michelle grips Susan’s shoulders in rage. I find myself drawn into the room. Susan squeals. “Ouch! You’re hurting me. Get your hands off my neck.” Indeed Michelle’s hands do seem to be encroaching upon her neck. Chloe looks up from her polishing. Jerome is observing discretely from the fireplace. Proving that she can still move, Susan wrenches herself free and, turning, slaps her mother hard across the cheek. Michelle stares around at the faces staring at her and, seeing me, says “We’re going.” As I run through the hall, to catch up with her, I see Greg with our drinks. “I’ll be back to do the DIY” I promise.

Silence all the way home, except that Michelle vows never to return and drives so fast I just hang on for dear life.

 

I’m at the Winkleys. I’ve got the new hand rail and spindles all pretty much cut to length. It’s dark now. Aiden was going to be here but he isn’t. Grace is serving Mrs Winkley tea and sandwiches. But Aiden’s mum isn’t saying anything. The tap’s dripping. I’ve been cutting a slot in the newel post, so that the hand rail will be able to slide down into it. That should mean I can adjust the lengths of the spindles, till they fit perfectly. Then I can glue the lot together. Easing the rail into place, without the spindles, it just about fits. A bit tight, but that’s probably good. I’ll try with the spindles. I wish that tap would stop dripping.

Grace is trying to get Mrs Winkley to talk. She says “I can see that you’re in distress Molly. Please let me help. Don’t blame yourself.” Mrs Winkley’s face turns from mouse to shrew and she speaks. “What have I got to blame myself for? If my stupid husband gets himself thrown downstairs, whose…” “Thrown?” asks Grace, quietly. “Fell, thrown, what difference does it make? He shouldn’t’ve said what he said. Luke’s been very good to us. After there was no money coming in because Alf done his back in and was useless. And whose fault was that?” “Well I think Luke Chapps is a bully and you’re all scared of him” says Grace. Mrs Winkley says “Mind your own business” and turns on the TV, where a family sitcom blares out waves of helpless mirth.

Some of the spindles are a bit long, so the rail stands proud. Hard to tell which. Certainly the middle ones. Just have to sand them down, one by one and check. I could get it done tonight, if I don’t make some silly mistake. Then I could concentrate on Susan’s house. Hard to think with the couple on the telly screaming at each other and the audience in fits.

Grace comes and sits beside me on the stairs. She tells me that the reason Aiden isn’t here helping, is that he’s started getting symptoms of his ME again. I’m sorry to hear that. Grace thinks it’s coming back here that’s done it. She thinks this house is full of fear. She wants to break the spell. She helps me lower the rail onto the spindles and newel. It fits. None of the spindles rattle. Tight as a vicar’s arse. Okay. Where’s my tube of UniBond Invisible No More Nails?

Grace is pacing. She looks like a caged animal, as I watch her through the spindles I’m gluing into place. All of a sudden she stops in front of Mrs Winkley, obscuring the screen and thumping her fist on the table. “I know you had an affair with Luke Chapps. I know Alf found out and did his back in. I know Luke’s been paying your bills in exchange for you know what. The whole village knows. And I know you hate it!” Molly erupts. It’s all I can do to keep gluing and whistling so they don’t think I’m listening. “So I’m an evil woman who betrayed her husband, am I? Alright, I’ll admit it. Satisfied?” “No. Do you love him?” “Who?” “Luke Chapps.” “I don’t love anyone.” The canned laughter roars its approval. “But Alf loves you” pleads Grace, putting her arm around Mrs Winkley. “He wanted to know how you were. He’s in the hospital, Molly.” Mrs Winkley shrugs her off, growling “you can’t change human nature” and glues her eyes to the screen, where a comedy marriage is heading for hilarious divorce. I’m standing back, admiring my work. The tap is still dripping. Fix it next time I’m here, when I come to seal the new wood. “Well. I’ll be off then” I say, letting myself out.

 

Autumn is here and with it, new clients. Fierce gales blow in from the sea. Petals and leaves whistle away and in gusts Christine, wearing a long waterproof trench coat, which she doesn’t remove. “Are you cold?” I ask. “Do I seem cold?” she asks, accusingly. “Of course not” I say, with a cheerful laugh. “What would you like to talk about?” “I hate men” she says. “Ah” I say. “I can see your point of view.” “I didn’t start out hating them.” “No.” “No, I used to be really horny, couldn’t wait to get married, have babies and a family of my own, like you’re supposed to. I wasn’t some born-again feminist, pissed off because men have more power, money and boo-hoo it’s not fair. I started hating them because I wised up.” “Good.”

“I mean, putting their fingers everywhere at once like you’re some kind of church organ. Telling you how beautiful your eyes are, and then ejaculating in them.” “No!” “Or when you give them a blow job and they push your head down, like you don’t have a gag reflex and you vomit all over his dick and he gets angry.” “Angry?” “Yes. Or some Welsh rugby player says he’s seen these pictures online, of what you can do, and you end up twisted into a knot and breaking your ribs. I mean, I don’t want chocolate spread rubbed all over my body.” “No. Of course you don’t. Who would?” “I don’t want some fifteen stone slob on top, doing sixty-nine with his nob in your gob, till you suffocate.” “Dear oh dear!”

I can’t really remember what you’re supposed to do as a therapist. I know you’re supposed to listen and be nice. But aren’t you supposed to do something? I can’t think. Christine’s mouth is going up and down and I need to decipher the sounds flying out. “You think you’re going on a date and you end up in the gutter with sperm all over your face. You think you’re marrying a strong sensitive man and he turns into a wife-beating cheat, off down the road being sensitive and strong with your best friend from school.”

“My goodness you’ve been through some traumatic experiences, Christine. What can I do to help?” I ask, hopefully. Christine says “Not much probably. You’re the ninth therapist I’ve been to. None of them were any use.” “How come?” I ask. “They were men” she says. I can see her point. I’ve an idea. “Have you tried a woman therapist?” “Are you kidding? That’d be like preaching to the converted.” I realise she’s right. “No” she says. “I want to let men know what they are. Do you know that one in five women in England and Wales has been sexually assaulted?” “No. Really? One in five?” “Do you know how many rape victims there are, each year, in this country?” “No.” “Between sixty and ninety-five thousand.” “That’s terrifying.” “An incident of domestic violence is reported every minute. Two women a week are killed by their present or ex-partner. Not to mention that men kill two hundred-thousand people a year in wars. They’re controlling, aggressive, violent and stupid. Men are ugly. With genetic engineering, it should be possible to reduce them to a few mindless organisms in sperm banks.” “Best place for them!” I say. Christine seems pleased. She thanks me, books more sessions and leaves.

 

I’m in Susan’s house in Dulwich, creating high shelving. A layer of wood dust lies upon every kitchen surface and hovers in the air, suffused with late afternoon sunshine. So peaceful. Out in the garden a blackbird is singing. I’ve got the bolts in place and now I’m crafting each shelf into beautiful shapes. My sander is buzzing and a miasma of wood dust flies off, as the shelf begins to take on its natural form. I love doing this. I love to do things beautifully and Alf has given me lots of advice. I hear Greg pull up in his sleek black Lexus, back from Lloyds of London no doubt. I hear him call “Susan darling?” as he sweeps in. I hear a row develop between them. Young people, I dunno. My little sander drowns them out. Only ten more shelves to go.

Greg taps me on the shoulder and I almost sand the skin off the back of my hand. He needs some help. He’s just found out that his parents are intending to visit, and to stay over for the birth. He’s chuffed. Susan is furious though. Says it’s an invasion of privacy. “But she can’t very well refuse. They own half the house. Anyway, the guest suite is in an awful pickle. For one thing, the bedroom door needs remounting. Could you do that? Not one of my skills, I’m afraid” he admits. “The door’s not safe and I wouldn’t want my mother or father having an accident.” I grab my tools and follow him to the guest suite.

It’s very grand. Regency furniture, walls a powder-puff pink, four poster bed that Henry the 8th might’ve slept in and a door hanging off its hinges. Chloe, the little round maid appears. Greg is wanted by her ladyship. Alone, I get to work. Some of the screws are loose and come out easily. Someone screams “What?” in my ear, causing the lower edge of the door to drop onto my big toe. Susan wants to know what I’m doing here. I explain about Greg’s parents and the dangerous door. She’s having none of it and tells me to return to the kitchen. She can’t have dust and half-finished shelves lying around her kitchen. I agree and grab my tools.

The shelves seem to sculpt themselves into perfection. I run my palm down one I’ve just sanded. Nice. Once they’re bolted in, high on the walls, they’ll seem to float like angel’s wings. Greg interrupts my musings. Why have I abandoned the door. “You can’t leave a door hanging like that.” I grab my tools.

The last screw is torture. I’m trying to get it out, while supporting the door on my feet. Suddenly it gives way and I topple back, just managing to grab the door before it makes a mark on the powder-puff pink. I lay it carefully upon a Persian rug and consider how to remount it. A humungous row billows up from below. They’re really at each other’s throats. Jerome, the Barbadian butler, glides up to me. I’m required downstairs.

In the drawing room, Susan tells me that I’m to listen to her and her alone. She’s my daughter. I’m her father. I’m to finish the shelves and clean the kitchen. Greg disagrees. His parents own half the house “and they’re coming the day after tomorrow, whereas the baby’s not due for a week and a half!” He insists that the door needs rehinging first. I have an idea. “I could do both jobs at once.”

 

I’m waiting for Aiden and Grace on a warm wet night on the steps outside the hospital. Jet black sky with a sprinkling of rain. Patients slipping out for a smoke, others chatting. Visitors arriving, cars swishing by, puddles wobbling with reflected light, bus headlights looming. Grace descends. Aiden takes an age to get down. Grace turns to help but he waves her away. She hurries up to me. She’s worried about his health. “Worried sick” she says.

“This morning he could hardly get up and emotionally he’s not handling things well, Mr Alves. The other day, I was round at the Winkleys’ and Luke Chapps swaggered in like he owned the place. He had his hands all over Molly and when she didn’t respond, he kicked back a chair and accused me of turning her against him. I didn’t say anything and he finally left, but I can’t be there all the time. Anyway, Molly won’t talk to me, just sits there crying. And Alf can’t come home to the same situation, can he, Mr Alves? I’ve told Aiden he has to do something. But he won’t!”

As Aiden reaches us, Grace neatly changes subject and mood. “Aiden’s not feeling too good, are you, darling” she says, putting her arm around his waist. “His ME’s come back. I think it’s all this worry over his mum and dad.” Aiden admits that returning to his parents’ place and re-entering their lives, makes him want to give up again. He can’t bear what’s happening. Grace says he should go to the police, he’s got evidence. Aiden says he’d never go to the police. He doesn’t believe in them. Grace says “Luke Chapps has been abusing your mother and father for years. Report him.” Aiden says “No! It’d shame the whole family” and struggles up the steps. Grace gives me a look.

The ward is full of visitors like last time, families from different cultures, some of them having picnics. The large African nurse is on duty again. Her pebble glasses make each of her eyes look bigger than her face. She peers through them. What does she see? A bunch of young blokes in the corner are joshing and kidding each other, chucking a ball across the bed, when she’s not looking. A jolly Irish family having a picnic, are being serenaded by an plum-faced chap, singing a country and western song in a broad baritone. An orthodox Jewish dad sits quietly with his elder son, feeding grapes to the younger son in bed.

Alf Winkley says the physios have been at him. “They’ve got me standing up straight. Straight as a rod I was. First time in years. They’re going to get me walking tomorrow.” Alf has a craggy face, but I’ve never seen it open before. And his eyes keep changing emotions all the time, as if there’s a lot going on inside. “How’s your mum?” he asks Aiden. Grace buttons her lip. Aiden reassures his dad. “She’s okay” he says, lowering his head. Alf understands that she isn’t, nodding in dour acceptance. “Have Noah and Sarah been round?” he asks. “No” admits Aiden. “They’ve been busy, but me and Grace have been taking it in turns to be with her.” Again Alf nods. He reaches out a hand, laying it on Aiden’s arm. “And you, son. You alright? Only I noticed you’d a bit of difficulty getting in here. Your illness flared up again?” “I’m alright dad.”

Alf cares deeply about his boy, you can tell by the way he looks at him. He cares deeply about his wife, the way his voice shakes when he mentions her. He’s very emotional, but he holds it in, keeping his own council. An honourable man, perhaps too honourable. Locked in by it, waiting for others to behave honourably. That is also Aiden’s catch 22. In fact Alf is who Aiden is trying to avoid becoming. “It’s like I can’t get through to her, like there’s this cold barrier” he blurts out. “You mum’s been through a lot and, whatever she’s done, she’s held us together through thick and thin” says Alf. “And now we’ve fallen apart” adds his son.

I notice a cubicle curtain coming off its track and stand on a chair to thread it back on. “The plastic’s cracked, you see” I explain, though no one notices. I can see everything from up here. The young lad in the corner is held in a steel and perspex exoskeleton. Around him, his mates are chucking a ball about, telling ‘Mikey’ about who went on to win the motorcross trials on Sunday, after he crashed out. Mikey is trying to keep up with them, a wide grin plastered across a bruised face. Apparently the winner skidded and slid round the course, wheels spraying jets of mud, in an incredible time, given that it was chucking it down by then. Incredible. Mikey repeats “Incredible.” His mates stare at him.

“So” says one. “They said you broke your back.” “Yes” says Mikey. “So, er, how long’s it going to take to fix then?” “The doctors don’t know” says Mikey. “Maybe it won’t fix.” “Wow” they murmur. “So, what’ll you do then?” “Stay here, lying like this, I guess” says Mikey. None of the mates seem to know what to say to this, except a particularly goonish chum, who thinks it’s a joke and laughs. Someone chucks the ball at him to shut him up. They sit there, trapped in an uncomfortable silence. The goonish chum says Ruby’s been seen with Ned. Others chime in. Ruby’s been seen with others too. They agree that Ruby’s a slag. An athletic youth with a soft face, turns to Mikey. “Sorry mate.” I realise Ruby must be Mikey’s girlfriend. They start chucking the ball across the bed again.

Nurse Goggle-eyes doesn’t notice. She has become cross with the jolly family having a picnic. I hear her say “This patient has already eaten.” The country singer interrupts his song to explain that “it’s us who are hungry. We’ve come straight from work.” The nurse spies a squashed pork pie on the floor. “What is that?” she cries. The offending pie is removed. But the nurse is not appeased. “This is a hospital. It must remain sterilised or the patients will die. That is the rules.”

The motorcross mates call across, telling her to put a sock in it. Like a bull to a red rag, she’s over there, telling them they must take their feet off the bed. The patient is very sick. “If he moves, he can break and then he will die and you think this is funny?” she shouts, as the lads cackle and jeer.

The Jewish father rises and politely asks the nurse to stop shouting. Picnickers agree. “Yes, chill out, for Christ’s sake.” The crooning cowboy takes the opportunity to grab the large nurse, sit her on his knee and sing her “a real lovin’ Nashville song.” Everyone is loving it except the nurse, who is fuming, building up a head of steam. If she doesn’t take it out on him, she’ll take it out on some poor bastard. Meanwhile, the motorcross mates troop out, clapping in rhythm, leaving their friend lying silently on his own, not clapping.

I notice a woman arrive. A small mouse-like woman. I know I know her, but can’t quite place her. My eyes follow, as she searches among the multitudes. It’s Molly Winkley. When she sees Alf, he’s only a few feet away. She takes his hand and squeezes it. He turns from chatting with Aiden and looks at her. They stare at each other for an age, as if time is standing still. She bursts into tears. Alf starts crying too. They’re gazing at each other, sobbing their eyes out. Aiden lets out a great sob. Grace comforts him and then she sobs. I can’t stop blubbering.

Nurse Goggle-eyes is staring at me. “What are you doing up there, Mr Robinson? Get down from that chair immediately and get back to bed.” I find myself in a hospital bed and a catheter rammed up my jacksie. The Jewish man offers me a grape.

 

Gloriously sunny day and we’re off to Susan’s. I’ve brought Aiden, so we can do two jobs at once. But Susan puts us on two different jobs. Before I know it, I’m halfway up a ladder in the hall, clearing cobwebs, because it’s autumn and all the spiders come in. I can’t find any spiders but the oak frieze is filthy. Obviously hasn’t been cleaned since all the building work. In the kitchen I fill a bowl with soapy water, find a stiff brush and some cloths on a very high shelf. Butler Jerome flies in. Maid Chloe asks what her ladyship wants now. “Oh, it isn’t for her” explains Jerome. “No, it’s jellies and cakes for the baby.” They laugh about this. “After all, her ladyship is eating for two. Or possibly ten.” Noticing me and realising that I’m her ladyship’s dad, they go quiet, scurrying about for cakes and jellies, as I carry the soapy water back to the hall and negotiate my way up the ladder. Mustn’t spill any.

I can scrub the dirt out of the intricate carvings but it sprays in my eyes and dribbles down the walls, if I’m not careful. Below, Jerome and Chloe flutter in and out, at Susan’s beck and call. Funny how their voices change from angry to unctuous as they enter Susan’s realm. I gather that the reason for all this nervous activity is because Greg’s exceedingly wealthy parents are due to arrive. I’ve never met my in-laws, because Greg and Susan got married secretly. I wonder what they’ll be like.

Aiden retreats from the drawing room backwards, bowing. He’s to chop firewood. His every movement is slow and I know he’s not feeling very well. “Shall I help you” I ask, balancing the bowl. “No. I’ll do it. Do you know where it is?” I don’t. He staggers off to search. Greg rushes down the stairs, sees me and waves. “What are your parents called?” I ask. “Mum and dad” he says, whizzing by. “No” I say. “Their names.” “Oh, Zachary and Imogen Blake” he calls back. At the foot of the stairs, he stops and asks “What was I doing?” He turns one way, then another. He’s completely forgotten.

The doorbell rings. he dashes to answer it. I watch with bated breath as the front door opens and in step Zachary and Imogen Blake. Zachary is tall with a pointy beard, reminding me that he’s related to Elizabethan Admiral, Sir John Hawkyns, except that Zachary has forgone codpiece and doublet for smart denims and check shirt, open at the neck. Imogen Blake is almost as tall as her husband. She sports beige slacks, a print top, loose cardigan and no makeup. Jerome stands by, to take their coats, but there are no coats to take. Zachary shakes his son’s hand. Imogen kisses his cheek. They are ushered into the drawing room.

Chloe and Jerome fly out with orders and back with drinks and small eats. But Susan is insatiable and out they fly again. It’s like Clapham Junction out here. I seem to be making a habit of hanging about in high places, watching the goings-on. But I feel happier, keeping out the way. Imogen Blake appears, looking around, as if for guidance. I’m about to ask if I can help, when Jerome appears. “Do you know where the laxatives are kept?” she asks, slightly flustered, adding “They’re not for me. My daughter-in-law says she’ll have no room for supper if she doesn’t take them now.” The butler leads her to the kitchen.

Next one out is Admiral Sir Zachary Blake, who almost collides with his wife. He’s damn well not putting up with it, he says. They discuss their daughter-in-law’s bad behaviour, her unreasonable commands. “She’s so rude.” he whispers. “And so vulgar” says Imogen. As Chloe and Jerome appear, weighed down with platters of cakes, jellies, tarts, trifles and puddings, Zachary waylays them, asking if their employer is always so rude to them. They are loath to say, but finally admit that they are on the verge of walking out. Chloe says her ladyship had her up most of the night, fulfilling her culinary whims. Butler and maid list their complaints. The Blakes are aghast. They wouldn’t dream of treating their staff that way. Jerome and Chloe lay down their platters and fold their arms. I realise they no longer have any intention of delivering the cakes.

Looking up, Imogen spies me. I wave. Zachary asks me what my take is. I almost spill the water, trying to get down the ladder. Putting down the plastic bowl among the platters on the parquet, I introduce myself. “Hi” I say, shaking Zachary’s hand and smiling at Imogen. “I’m Rupert, Susan’s dad.” They’re embarrassed, after what they’ve been saying about my wonderfully bossy daughter. Aiden lopes past, very slowly, carrying a pile of logs. We watch him enter the drawing room. “Who’s he?” asks Zachary. “He’s Aiden” I say. Imogen observes that “He’s very slow”. “Yes” I say “but he’s a really nice person.” Zachary apologises for having got off on the wrong foot. It’s just that he can’t stand to see people mistreated. I remember how, as a child, Susan, being the youngest, always got her way. Imogen suggests that might have been a mistake. “No one could be bothered to argue with her” I recall fondly.

Susan’s voice rings out. “Not in the fireplace you idiot. We can’t burn all that wood at once. Not on the carpet. Not there, there! Oh you fool!” Zachary storms into the drawing room and everyone follows. Aiden is scrabbling around on the floor, trying to gather the firewood. Zachary explodes at Susan. How dare she speak to a member of staff like that. She says Aiden isn’t a member of staff. “Well, who is he then?” thunders Zachary, turning to Aiden. “Who are you?” Aiden explains that he’s come with me, to help me. He’s not met Susan before. Zachary turns to Susan and says “So he’s a guest? You order your guests about and hurl abuse at them?”

Susan is pursing her lips. I know that look. Like the goggle-eyed nurse, she’ll give as good as she gets. Watch out, I think. Zachary is telling Aiden that he should stand up for himself. “Never let people push you around, get it? Never!” he roars. Softly, and with great tenderness, Imogen asks Aiden why he moves so slowly. “It seems like such an effort. Is it an effort?” Aiden admits that he suffers from ME. “I’m so sorry” she says and, turning to Susan, hisses “despicable”.

Susan shrieks that we’ve to get out. All of us! Now! Greg is mortified. He prostrates himself before his bride. “They’re my parents. You can’t turf them out, darling. They own half the house.” But Jerome and Chloe step over him. Jerome announces that they’re leaving forthwith. Chloe adds “I wouldn’t stay if you paid me.” Susan goes into meltdown, screaming at us, that we’re killing her baby.

Seconds later, we’re all outside, with Susan’s voice still shrieking within and Greg trying to placate her. The Blakes offer the staff a lift and they accept, whizzing upstairs to grab their things. Zachary and Imogen confide that they’ll not be back. I confide that my wife Michelle has also vowed not to return. Driving away, Aiden is incredibly impressed by the Blakes. He thought, because they’re so rich, they’d be snooty. But they stuck up for him.

 

The garden bell tinkles. Opening the gate, I discover an old school country gent, in tweeds and brogues, doffing his derby. “George Appleby” he says. “Rupert Alves” I say. “Welcome.” Ensconced in my dome, he says “This didn’t used to be here did it?” “Not before I built it” I reply. “I haven’t been here since I was a lad” he says, staring out the window. “We used to climb over the wall, me and Osbert, scrumping apples. Is the orchard still here?” “Yes” I say. “I should so like to see it” he says.

I take the path down to the grove of fruit trees, helping George, who’s not so steady on his pins. He regales me with tales of his youth. Everything here reminds him of his boyhood. Coming back, up the lawn, I’m looking for somewhere for him to rest. At the sight of the old house, he gasps. “Are you a Gladwish?” he asks. “Not me” I explain. “But my wife is a Gladwish.” “Not Anthea?” “No. Anthea’s daughter, Michelle.” He shakes his head. “We moved away when I was ten.” I notice my tree stump and guide the old gent over. “Do you have children?” I ask. He tells me they had two, but one of them died and his wife has recently died and their daughter lives with her family in Toronto. “Mind you, even the kids are grown up now.”

He gazes at the house. “Used to imagine I lived here” he says and turning to me, asks “What is your name again?” “Rupert” I say. “Ah yes, I remember. Don’t let me forget to pay you. I’ve got the cheque ready. Only I get these blanks when I can’t remember anything.” I tell him I’ve been feeling blank, as if nothing ever happened before and this is the start of my life. “That’s it!” he says. “As if nothing ever happened before. Maybe you’ve got Alzheimer’s, like me.” “You’ve got Alzheimer’s?” I ask. “Early stages, early stages” he assures me. “Only thing is to write everything down.” He shows me his notebook and gets engrossed in reading it.

After a while, he says “Here it is, ‘Remember cheque’. And I’m to remember to ‘book next appointment’. Have I done it?” “Not yet” I say. He puts his hand into his breast pocket, pulls out a cheque and gives it to me. I thank him. “And how do I book another appointment?” he asks. I guide him back to my dome. He wants to come same time, next week if possible. I book him in. He writes a clear message to himself in his notebook.

As I lead him back to the garden gate, I’m feeling awful. How can I charge him money? At the gate he gets nervous. “Have I given you the cheque?” he asks. “Yes, but it doesn’t seem right” I burble. “About the money?” he asks. “Yes” I admit. “Oh the money’s no object. But the very fact that you mention it, confirms that you’re someone I can trust.” I nod, helpless. “We can reminisce” he says. “If you don’t mind.” I shake my head. “Of course not.” “Till next week then” he says with a warm smile. “Till next week” I repeat. George Appleby doffs his derby and leaves. Back in my dome, I can’t help thinking about him. What a lovely old man. I wonder if I have got Alzheimer’s.

 

The Winkley’s abode is full of jolly neighbours. Who knows how many? This place would be crowded with three. I squeeze my way over to Aiden, who’s nervous. Alf’s coming home and has insisted he’ll make his own way. Also, his brother Noah and sister Sarah are coming. “They never went to see dad in hospital, never lifted a finger to help.” He’s very angry with them, which makes him feel weak. Grace says Noah and Sarah can’t help being who they are. Aiden says Zachary Blake told him to stand up for himself. ‘Never let people push you around’ he said. Grace agrees, but says “stay cool”. She has to go up to help Molly.

Cyril and Ethel Shoebridge arrive. Guests squash to the sides to welcome these extremely senior citizens. Cyril is slow. Ethel is loud and hearty. Cyril introduces me to his wife. By way of conversation, Ethel tells me she’s glad that that horrible Luke Chapps isn’t here, confiding that “once, years ago, I must’ve already been in my sixties, he tried to get his way with me. Imagine! I certainly gave him what for” she chortles. Cyril looks at his wife with admiration and confirms the story.

A great brawny bloke, laughing and splashing his drink about, swings his arm over Aiden, almost flooring him, saying “How’s my little brother, then?” Aiden wrenches himself free and asks Noah “Why didn’t you go and see dad at the hospital? Why didn’t you help?” Sister Sarah, neat and prissy, says Noah couldn’t help anyone. He’s been on a bender since getting sacked from the agricultural suppliers. Noah hoots. “Drove a feed-spreader into the river.” Sarah herself has got a raise. Yes. The owners think the world of her. She not only manages the store, she runs the business. And she’s engaged. Her amazing bloke can’t be here, only he’s watching the rugby. Aiden says You know Mum’s been going through it. Why haven’t you been round?” Sarah says “It’s none of my business”. Aiden says “Then why are you here now?” Sarah says “That’s none of your business.”

Ethel Shoebridge’s voice booms out. “Not you. What’re you doing here?” Luke Chapps appears, pushing his way through to get to the stairs. Aiden stands in his way, but Luke pushes past, up the stairs. Aiden rushes up after him. There’s a god-almighty kerfuffle and everyone squashes to the sides, as Luke Chapps flies through the bannisters and lands in a heap on the floor.

A shadow falls across him. Alf Winkley has arrived, unnoticed. His back is straight, his eyes are clear, as he peers down at Luke. Luke scrambles to his feet and looks about, as if undecided. So Ethel Shoebridge whacks him with her handbag and Luke scarpers, pushing his way out, slapped and kicked by enthusiastic neighbours. Molly appears at the top of the stairs, somehow both regal and vulnerable. Aiden and Grace, arm in arm, stand behind her. Alf goes up to Molly. There are cheers, wolf whistles. They embrace. I’m going to have to fix those banisters again.

 

We’re arriving at Susan’s. I’m astonished that Michelle wanted to come, having vowed never to return. I’m further astonished to find Jerome at the door and Chloe serving drinks. Furthermore, the Blakes, who also vowed never to return, are here. I introduce Michelle to Imogen and Zachary. While the two women chat, I see my son enter. “Hi dad” says Jason. I hadn’t expected to see him. We hug. I tell him that Susan chucked everyone out. He says he knows. I say “I don’t know why everyone’s back”. He looks at me like I’m stupid. He’s my son, so I don’t disagree.

Greg appears. “They’re here!” Madonna and child are wheeled in. Susan needs everyone’s help, getting from the queen-sized wheelchair and onto the chaise longue. She needs help getting the cushions and drapes around her. She doesn’t want anyone holding her little girl, who’s so swaddled, we can’t see her. Susan has many needs and everyone is eager to help. For one thing, she’s starving. Michelle and Imogen rush off with Chloe into the kitchen. She needs a backrub, which Greg immediately provides. She needs the baby crib brought down. Jerome and Zachary stride off to get it.

All sorts of foodal delights start arriving. In the midst of it all, my eldest daughter, Alicia appears, looking like an Amazon goddess. Without asking her sister, who squawks, Alicia takes the baby and holds her aloft. Everyone swoons. I hear Susan say “What about me? I want raspberries” but her voice is drowned out, as the gushing throng clamours to touch and to hold the blessed infant. I’m quite overcome. As Jason says “It’s a baby”.

 

Apparently the Chinese are going to be building nuclear plants all over Britain. Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party have won a second general election, so there’ll be more punchups about bailouts with the Germanic Merkel. Leftist loony Corbyn is now leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. Europe’s being invaded by hundreds of thousands of poor people, while arctic melting will cost the global economy £33 trillion by the end of the next century. What do I care? I’m a granddad and I’m sitting on my tree stump. Nice.

 

 

 

9 – Vanishing

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015 (click Archive above). If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

MARYAM: Kabir Varanasi was born in a small village in the northern Punjab. One morning in the schoolroom, he was sitting behind Sunita and his mind kept saying ‘how beautiful you are’ over and over. Suddenly Sunita turned and smiled at him. She had heard. They were perfectly tuned to each other, Rupert. It was marvellous to behold. Now Kabir is gone. Sunita has vanished and we can only fear the worst. Kabir’s last insights, if Sunita managed to send them, have not been received.

It is said that Kabir founded the sharers, but he did not consciously do this. In 1992, just as US and other military research into telepathy was supposedly abandoned, an unknown group of people instigated a top secret program, which began recruiting sensitives to use as psychic guinea pigs. Kabir Varanasi was one of these recruits. This ground-breaking research was the first to monitor psychic tuning, what Kabir and Sunita were doing spontaneously in the schoolroom, and what we’re doing now, thinking to each other.

However, by this time, some of the guinea pigs were beginning to suspect the uses their gifts were to be put to, that ‘psychic tuning’ was to be developed to control humanity. Privately, the recruits nicknamed their unknown employers ‘the Controllers’, since that was where the program seemed to be leading. Several of the guinea pigs left. Some sought sanctuary with other nations or corporations who might value their gifts. Others tried to return to their previous lives. None survived. They died in strange circumstances or lost their minds or simply vanished.

Except Kabir. Together with his wife Sunita, who was not part of the program, they used their skills to effect his escape and anonymity. The group of sensitives who helped, called themselves ‘sharers’ because they pooled information, intelligence and resources. Incidentally, Bonny, whom you know, was one of these first sharers. She once put her own life at risk to protect Kabir. She is kind and true, a brilliant woman, before laid low by Parkinson’s Disease. What you said a few weeks back was unforgiveable, Rupert. Very unkind. I hope in future, you’ll show her the respect she deserves. Indeed, it might be an idea to cease insulting your fellow sharers, since you will depend upon them for your survival.

In any case, the small group that included Kabir, Sunita and Bonny, expanded as other sensitives linked up. Apart from protecting Kabir, this was not a political movement. Many were interested in psychic research. Other than that, the advantages of pooling resources were self-evident. We weren’t interested in these ‘controllers, whoever they were. We were neither combative nor evangelical. In a way, our role is being forced upon us. Insensitives do not believe in telepathy, so we must keep it private. These controllers seem to be insensitives who value a hierarchical system of power so, naturally, sharers are their enemies, both for our abilities and our sharing. And now, with Kabir murdered and finding ourselves infiltrated by spies, sharers are forced into a political role, for our survival.

You have chosen to become one of us and we value the gifts you offer. But since you are now undoubtedly under surveillance, we need to turn those gifts into skills, for your own safety. For our safety, you must never contact a sharer physically. Do not visit, call or email. You may be putting us at risk. You can contact us psychically, but only us. Do not make contact with any other sensitive, sharer or otherwise.

Unfortunately, I will not be available during your training, as I shall be accompanying Lila Kane and Harry Burke on their final farewell performance in Las Vegas. It will be a touching event and I’m sure you wish them well. However, I leave you in the capable hands of Bonny and her team. Good luck Rupert. Work hard. Keep safe.

BONNY: Bonny here. You may remember me. I’m the one who shakes. Maryam says she has filled you in on the basics but, if psychic tuning was the first breakthrough, then psychic pulsing, in which you were involved, is certainly the second. For the first time we have managed to communicate to insensitives. We hope that, in time, we’ll be able to connect with everyone. Two communities of sharers, one in South Africa and another in Brazil, are already exploring the possibilities.

Unfortunately, the pulsing event was filmed by you, and that film is now in the hands of controllers. You didn’t develop psychic pulsing, Rupert, but you are the one they know about. Pulsing may allow them to control humanity, so they will target you, to get to the rest of us. We have a plan to train and protect you. Due to my infirmity, I will simply anchor the team, although you can contact me and, as a last resort, rest assured I will be there for you. Now I’ll hand you over to your team, Noel, Peggy and ghost.

GHOST: Hello Rupert. I hope we can work together on this. By the way, ‘ghost’ is not my real name, which I have relinquished. It is a nickname describing my gift. The reason I look like an ‘wrinkled boy’, as you described me, is that I have a slight genetic difference, which deprived me of puberty. I am 48 years old. It will be my task to help you to develop any propensity you may have for astral travel.

PEGGY: I’ll be training you in the science of psychic tuning. I know you think I’m just some weird kid, but it isn’t easy being an 8-year-old who can read Einstein and hear what others are thinking. I don’t want to unnerve you, or make you feel stupid. I’m here to help. All the telepathic connections you’ve so far encountered, have been initiated by others. You’ll have to learn to do it yourself. In terms of people, you’ll be limited to contacting your team, for security reasons. But, as you’ll find out, tuning-in isn’t limited to humans. You can connect with animals, plants, cells, molecules, even atoms. It is only then, that you will start to realise the wonder and intricacy of this self-organising universe in which we create and are created. At least, that’s as I understand it. Perhaps, as you learn, it’s something we can share. Oh. Don’t go using your unique gift and going vacant on us. We may lose track of you and be unable to help.

NOEL: Hi Rupert. Noel here, the ‘poofy Jesus’. By the way, I am gay. I hope that’s not a problem, because you’re going to face all kinds of real threats. For example, a psychic who gathers information is called a worm. Oh, one moment. Peggy says she calls them sprites. Anyhow, they worm their way in. You can feel them. Then there are shadows, who experience through you. Oh, ghost tells me most people call them passengers. There are fleas. They can hop from your mind to anyone you contact. Excuse me, Peggy calls them hoppers. Moving on, those who implant hypnotic loops are known as loopers. Oh, ghost reckons they’re buggers. What does it matter! Sorry Rupert. Anyhow, attracters lead you into traps, enchanters enchant and bedevillers fuck with your mind. What? I’ll use any word I damn well like, Peggy. Just let me finish. Where was I? Oh yes. What, ghost? Why should I apologise? Well I know she’s only eight, but she’s a genius. There isn’t a word she doesn’t know. Oh she’s religious. Okay. Sorry Peggy. I won’t use that word again. Anyhow Rupert. The point is, all these threats, whatever we call them, are people. So they all have different skills. Expect the unexpected. Most of them can be gotten rid of by clearing your mind. I don’t mean go vacant, or whatever it is you do. Just think of something else. Meditate on the source of light or something, till you’re clear. You can deal with a worm, a shadow or a looper in this way, even an enchanter, before you’re enchanted of course. But not a demon. A demon will gain your confidence, may even impersonate someone you’re close to. We don’t know how to disengage a demon. We haven’t been successful yet. But, whatever you do, don’t then contact anyone, since, using your energy, a demon can control others, whose energy they use to control still more, and so on. A demon can quickly go viral.

BONNY: In order to begin, Rupert, please lock the door to your studio and draw the curtains. We don’t want anyone peering in on your inert body while you’re in a psychic state.

 

I can astral travel. I’ve been taught. I can go up, down, sideways, backwards and I don’t have to worry because I won’t bump into anything. No walls. And it’s fun. I’m ready to face worms, shadows, bedevillers, enchanters and all the other psychic snoopers. Probably even a demon. I can listen in to telepathic conversations, tune in to any of my team anytime I choose. I’ll do it. I’ll tune into Bonny. Hi Bonny. “What? What is it?” It’s me, Rupert. “I know it’s you Rupert. Is there a problem?” No. Just checking I can still do it. “But this is the fifth time today.” Sorry. Just practicing, like you told me. “Be patient Rupert. We’re just discussing your first challenge now.”

Be patient. That’s the trouble. I find normal things boring, now that the sky’s the limit. I’m sat here, in my little geodesic dome, twiddling my thumbs. I’ve astrally travelled up to the ceiling, psychically sat on a shelf looking down, laughing at my stupid inert bodily form. I’ve spirited myself under tables, into filing cabinets, even explored the waste bin. I’m not allowed to make contact with any other sharers, not allowed to use my special gift and go vacant. What am I supposed to do? I’ve got an idea. Bonny said they’re discussing my first mission. I could practice listening in.

GHOST: But he’s a moron.

BONNY: That’s unfair.

NOEL: Are you kidding? I plant some simple artificial bug telling him he craves ice cream and he runs off to the shops to get it. It doesn’t even occur to him it’s not his own idea. Lord knows what he’ll do when he comes across the real nasties.

BONNY: He’s just a bit susceptible.

GHOST: More like stupid. I found him hovering in the bottom of his waste bin.

BONNY: Be that as it may, we’ve to train him up. Don’t forget, he could lead the enemy right to us. Just imagine if controllers got their mitts on pulsing.

PEGGY: We could blank him.

BONNY: Blank his mind?

PEGGY: Only the psychic stuff.

BONNY: That’s shameful, Peggy. Those are enemy tactics. If we’ve no principles, we might as well give up now.

PEGGY: Well we can’t let him tune in to other sharers. He’d infect the lot.

BONNY: You say you found him in a waste bin, ghost. So he can navigate.

GHOST: Navigate into a waste bin.

NOEL: I found him hovering on a shelf, laughing at his own body.

BONNY: Good. So we could devise a short, safe astral journey. Any ideas?

PEGGY: Top of Nelson’s Column? It’s specific. He’ll know it.

BONNY: Okay. Any objections?

NOEL: He’ll get infested with bugs and zoom off to the Taj Mahal.

BONNY: Well, you’ll debug him and ghost can adjust his course. Any other objections? Right. Let’s get going. Rupert? I’m aware that you’ve been listening in and that, therefore, you know your first challenge. Please confirm. Rupert?

Yes Bonny. But, well, actually, I’m a bit hurt by what you’ve been saying. I chose to sit in that waste bin, ghost! “I’m glad to hear it Rupert. In which case you’ll find it easy to perform your first task. Please confirm that you understand your brief.” To be honest, it seems to me that none of my team trust me and you, Peggy, want to blank my mind! “You chose to listen in, Rupert. Why don’t you just calm down, stop taking offense and let Bonny outline the plan?” Why don’t I just float off on my own, go anywhere I choose and contact anyone I please? “No!!!” shout four horrified voices. That’s shown them. I won’t have them treating me like some moron. I demand respect.

“Open your eyes, Rupert.” What eyes? “Your eyes, your real eyes, the ones on the front of your face!” I’m not having ghost speak to me like that. My eyes are closed because I’m psychically concentrating. “Open your eyes!” My eyes blink open. An apparition appears on my desk. I hear myself scream, feel myself falling backwards off the chair. When I dare to peep, I see a small ancient boy hovering before me. “Why don’t you stop talking and let Bonny instruct you?” he hisses. It’s ghost. I didn’t know he could do that. I’m trembling like a leaf. “Do you know what your task is?” Yes. I’ve got to astranav to the Taj Mahal or somewhere. “Oh, for goodness sake. Just let Bonny instruct you.” That’s all very well, but I think I’ve bruised my arm. It’s throbbing. I might need medicine, or a bandage. “Shut the fuck up! …Sorry Peggy.”

BONNY: You are to navigate to the top of Nelson’s Column, Rupert. You’ll find it in the centre of London, in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. I’m sure you know it. Once there, describe to us what you see and then return. If you are competent, it shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. Then we can challenge you with something more demanding. Okay? You’re on your own. Your team will observe, but only intervene if necessary.

PEGGY: Don’t go vacant so we can’t tune in to you.

NOEL: Don’t listen to any voices except ours.

GHOST: Don’t go to the Taj Mahal.

BONNY: Remember to lock your door, Rupert. We don’t want anyone coming across your vacant body. Have you done it?

Er, okay, lock the door. I would’ve remembered. What next? Oh yes. Park the body somewhere comfortable. Might fall off a chair. I’ll lie on the floor. Oh, first I’ll turn the lights off, so no one’ll know I’m here. Which I won’t be. Now. My body is at ease, my mind is clear. My spirit is rising up through the roof, looking down on my little geodesic dome and my body within it. It’s a warm summer’s evening. Above the trees that cluster around my dome, I can see across the lawn to the house. Michelle is away. No lights on, no one at home. Rising still further, I can make out the patterns of fields and roads, hamlets glowing from windows and streetlamps, the white lacing of waves along the shoreline and suddenly the dazzling blooms of coastal towns, sparkling below. Frightening to let myself rise, but liberating, after all these months of darkness. As a husband and father whose wife and children now lead separate lives. As a therapist, whose patients feel equally lost and oppressed. Might I allow myself to soar?

PEGGY: What’s he doing?

NOEL: He’s headed straight up.

GHOST: Rupert! Your objective is Nelson’s Column.

These earthbound voices, telling me what to do all the time, just make me panic. If I’m always beholden to others, their demands, desires and expectations, how can I exist? The great sprawl of London comes into view to the north, like a sunburst. Down there in the centre stands Nelson’s Column. I could zoom in, alight upon the admiral’s head, no problem. But I can see the coast of Anglia, and southwest, all the way to the tip of Cornwall. Above it, the bulge of Wales. I can see Scotland. If I rise still further, I might see the whole spinning world.

GHOST: Rupert! Come back!

PEGGY: Perhaps he’s being controlled.

NOEL: Rupert, are you alone?

Yes. I’m alone. But I’ve always been alone. It’s just that now I’ve decided to accept it, not as a weakness but as a strength. “You needn’t be alone” purrs a voice in my mind. I’d rather be alone than compromised, I say, feeling rather sad. “But you needn’t be compromised, if your companion wants what you want.” Who are you? I ask. “Just a fellow spirit who admires you beyond words.” Admires me for what? “Well, in my life on earth, I am a young woman with a powerful sexual drive. So anyone who can cause an orgy makes me vibrate with desire.” Oh wow. “How do you do it Rupert?” Oh, you mean pulsing. “Pulsing? How amazing.” Yes, well I can’t take sole credit, but it was a great breakthrough. Apparently two communities of sharers are already researching it, one in a South African township called Kayakura or something and another in…

NOEL: He’s got some sort of passenger. I’ll have to debug him.

PEGGY: He’s supposed to do that himself.

GHOST: You’ve picked up some kind of psychic spy, Rupert. Clear your mind.

NOEL: Let your mind go blank.

PEGGY: But don’t go vacant!

NOEL: Focus on the source of light.

Far to the east, the whole curve of the planet lights up. Daybreak rushes towards me, purple and pink. Out from behind the earth, flashes the vast sun, getting bigger and bigger as I rush to embrace the source of light.

GHOST: He’s falling into the sun.

NOEL: We must get him back.

PEGGY: I’m not diving into a star.

Fools. I’m not a physical entity, I’m a spirit. The sun cannot burn me. Only a heavenly feeling as it wraps itself around me. A radiant bliss, a rapture. I’m passing out, through the sun, through a spectrum of colours that have no names, to a dark world beyond. As the solar system whistles away, I find a peace I’ve never known, but always dreamed of. No worries or cares, just floating in the ether. “Beautiful” purrs a warm sexy voice. Are you still there? I ask. “Yes” she says. “Will you show me how to pulse? We could pulse together.” Really? “Really” she says. Her voice is a kind of ecstasy. “Come on. Together we’ll see wondrous worlds, explore the edges of the universe.” Wow!

A nasty little raspy voice hisses “Where are you going?” I tell ghost I’m off to explore the edges of the universe. “There are no edges. Come back!” he screeches, but I’m not afraid. I am not weighed down by the gravity of paltry earthly matters. I am free and off to explore the cosmos with my dream lover. She tells me of a world full of gorgeous women who hate wearing clothes. “Shall we go?” You bet! I say. The women congregate as we descend. They’ve never seen a man. They worship me. Enviously, they watch us pulse. “Psychic pulsing is bliss” says my lover. “I think I know how to do it now.” And she does. And it is bliss until, suddenly, all my energy seems to flow into her. In the void, I hear Bonny’s voice.

“Please return to your body Rupert” she whispers. “Abort your mission. There’s been a catastrophe. The sharers of Kayakura have been rounded up. Did you tell someone?” I tell her that earthly events are no longer my concern. I’m above all that. “But you are lost Rupert, lost in deep time.” Lost is a matter of perception, Bonny. I may be lost to earthly mortals, but I am here, worshipped by gorgeous women who find clothing irksome. I am not lost, I am found. “But if you stay away any longer, Rupert, your body will starve.” I have no need of my body now. It is a stupid inert thing that doesn’t know tuesday from cabbage. I hear my team back home wittering on. They’re furious.

PEGGY: He’s a fool. He doesn’t want his body. Jettison him. Let him go.

BONNY: It’s not his fault. He’s enchanted. We must save him.

NOEL: Much as I respect you Bonny, a whole community of sharers have vanished. We need to get back to base.

GHOST: But he’s telling the enchanter everything. We have to stop him.

Ha ha! I’m off. I wanted to stay here, among the gorgeous women. But I’m wrong. My cosmic partner says “There’s a place at the edge of the cosmos, more beautiful than any other, where we can pulse together forever. And she’s right. The whole universe is spread out before us as, pressing against the universal edge, we pulse. There is no beauty, no understanding greater than this, as my lover and I become one. “You’ve given me everything” she says. “You’ve nothing more to give. So I’ll be off.” And she goes, leaves me on the edge of forever, gazing at a universe I can’t seem to grasp.

I remember my team telling me I was enchanted. There was a crisis. The South African pulsing researchers were rounded up. Had I said anything to my enchantress? I’ve an idea I might’ve said something. Did I cause the sharers to vanish? Oops. Nothing I can do about it now. My lover said we’d pulse together forever and then she left me. It’s as if it never happened, as if nothing ever happened, as if I’ve always been out here on my own. I feel so weak. I remember Bonny saying that if I didn’t come back, my body would starve. Perhaps I’m starving.

I am starving. I can hardly get to my feet, lurching across the floor, almost crashing into my desk. I need to drink something. I need food. There’s nothing here. I’ve got to get to the house, to the kitchen. Bloody door’s locked. Where did I put the key? I can’t think. Bash the door down. Throw yourself at it. Again. It splinters and I fall out. Crawl to the kitchen. The first gulp of water makes me dizzy. I gorge on ham and cheese until I vomit and pass out. Waking in the dead of night, I clear up and go to bed.

 

I’m alright. Megan, our housekeeper, spotted a small pool of sick beside the hob, but decided it was the remains of some awful meal I’d made, because men can’t cook. Since then she’s gone off on her holidays, as has our gardener, Cyril Shoebridge. I occasionally see Aiden whizzing about on the lawnmower. Even Michelle is away, probably being wooed by her new client. I know the Rosenthals got her the client, which means she’s working for the controllers, whoever they are. But my team insist that they’re monitoring the situation and no harm will come to her. They’re also monitoring Stanley Walsh, who edited my film of the pulsing orgy. But they’re no longer monitoring me. I’m not important, since I spilled the beans to my dream lover, who turns out to have been a Mr Henry Hathaway, resident of Hawaii and well-known psychic spy. The thought of me pulsing away with Mr Henry Hathaway makes me shudder. How dare he. I feel abused.

So anyway, my team are no longer interested in teaching me. I’m a liability. I led the enemy to the first group of researchers. Now they’re trying to save the second. So I’m alone. This august seems to alternate between bright hot days and fierce sudden storms gushing rain. So all the foliage is big and bushy. I’ve been wandering about vacantly, smiling at the little birds that flutter. Yesterday I even had a short chat with a tree stump. Psychically, I can even communicate with wasps, who are not a bad lot, when you get to know them.

I’ve finally gotten around to fixing the door I bust when I was starving and couldn’t find the key. That’ll never happen again. I’ve installed a mini fridge full of goodies and I’ll keep the key on top of it, so I’ll know where it is. The phone rings. A familiar voice says “Congratulations. Your recent accident in the workplace may be worth thousands of pounds in compensation.” “What accident?” I ask, but the voice just carries on and I realise it’s a recording. I slam the phone down. It rings me every day. Why don’t I remember?

The door works. The lock works but I don’t want it closed. I’m a man who has travelled the universe and don’t like to feel confined. It’s a cool clear night. I put on the recording of waves lapping the shore and do some whooshes, coiling myself up like a spring, then leaping up, arms and legs akimbo. Out with the bad energy, in with the good. It’s very therapeutic. I’m sure I couldn’t have been responsible for all those sharers vanishing. It makes me feel bad. They’ll never trust me again and I’m not surprised. I wouldn’t trust myself. Good. Just stay where you are and feel safe. Whoosh.

I hear a voice warbling my name and grab the phone. Who is it? Just the dialing tone. There’s no one there. The voice comes again. “Rupert” it warbles. It’s in my head. Oh, it’s Bonny. I can almost see her, sitting in her floral dress, in that pigsty of a kitchen on the farm, her body wobbling as she shakes. Bonny! I never thought I’d hear your voice again. “Would you like to see Lila and Harry’s final farewell performance in Las Vegas, Rupert?” Yes, but would you trust me? “I’ve convinced the others that, since you’re no longer a target, it would be safe, as long as you stick close to us and obey instructions immediately. Will you?” Yes, but the trouble is, I don’t know if I can trust myself. “Would you like to try?” Yes. “Then prepare yourself.”

I lie on the floor. There’s food in the fridge, key on top. “Hi Rupert” says Peggy. “We’re ready. Are you?” Yes. Like fishes in a stream, we follow the sun across the dark Atlantic. Over the landmass that glitters with cities and into the desert beyond. The lights of Las Vegas take my breath away. “Duck down here” murmurs Noel. We swoop down into a small side street. This is not uptown glitzy. This is lowlife seedy, where a small crowd of ancient folk shuffle into a dingy bar. We float through, joining hundreds of astral travellers, hovering above the audience as the tables fill up. There are more sharers up here in the rafters than golden oldies below. I realise that Lila and Harry are much loved among the sharer movement. No one could bear to miss this swansong by the legendary song writing team. It’s emotional.

The lights dim. A spotlight reveals a white piano on a tiny stage. Someone is playing the piano. It’s Harry Burke. We cheer. He smiles at us. We hear a voice, soft as lavender and almost in tune. It’s Lila Kane and she is singing one of their greatest hits, The Fishy Song. Now we are in heaven. “Isn’t this amazing?” whispers a fellow spirit as we applaud. His name is Tony and he’s such a big fan, he has to tell me the names of songs, how they got written, who covered them, how many copies were sold worldwide and other interesting information, so I don’t hear much of the actual songs. With the sun-baked centenarians below in a state of euphoria, I notice Maryam in a sparkly sari, wriggling between the tables. She’s so lovely. But she looks worried and, in the tumultuous applause, whispers in Lila’s ear. Lila immediately announces that this will be their last number. “No!” cry the audience as the couple break into a jazzy, almost rhythmic rendition of their all-time smash hit ‘Rock-A-Doodle-Doo’.

In the applause, ghost whispers “Back to base everyone. Action stations. You too Rupert. Back to your body.” I notice Harry helping Lila off the rostrum. “Let’s go backstage and thank them” says Tony. I tell him I’m supposed to be off now. “All I’m saying is we should thank them. Won’t take more than two seconds. Lila’s communing psychically, hands on temples. Harry is pacing. Listening in, I realise she’s giving orders. “Tell them to make their way out of the city individually. Take different routes at different times, but meet up at Laquita Landing, where a boat will pick them up. Harry says “Tell them to switch off their psyches so they’re not traced.” I shouldn’t be listening to this. “Nonsense” says Tony. “It’s fascinating.” But I’m not convinced. What if they notice? Lila has noticed. “Who’s that?” she barks. Rupert, I admit. “Get that bum out of here!” she snarls.

I can hear my team being psychically bollocked, even as I’m whisked back into my body. I need food. My body might be starving. I rip open the mini fridge and start guzzling. Only when I’m halfway through a plate of vol-au-vents, do I get a strange sensation. It’s the sort of strange feeling you get when you’re being watched. Slowly, I turn. A middle-aged couple who look like birds of prey, are peering at me, from the doorway. Must’ve left the door open. I shriek, toss the plate of vol-au-vents in the air and crumple to the floor. When I dare to look, they’re still there. “I was hungry” I explain, grovelling about for the little pastries and treading in them. “But you were lying on the floor. We couldn’t rouse you” says the man. “We thought you were dead” says the woman. “No” I cry, laughing gaily. “Just taking forty winks.” I pop a hairy vol-au-vent into my mouth to show I’m not perturbed.

“We were going to phone 999” says the woman. Who are these people? Are they from Las Vegas? Did they hitch an astral lift? Or are they bedevillers or enchanters or the dreaded demons who go viral? Suddenly paranoid, I brandish a fork. “Who are you and why are you standing in my dome?” I demand. “We’re Rebecca’s parents.” “Rebecca’s who?” “Parents.” “Who’s Rebecca?” “She’s our daughter.”

Into my mind comes an image of the beautiful young psychotic woman who was once my patient. She who rammed the platter of turkey stuffing into the face of my wife’s obnoxious client on Christmas Day. She who ran off with my best friend Larry on one of his world happiness crusades. “Oh” I say. “So you’re her parents. I’ve met you before, I think.” “You certainly have” says the father, crossly. “We asked you to help us find her. And you refused!” “Did I? Why would I do that?

“You said her abductor could be contacted online and it was no business of yours.” I didn’t know I was so heartless. “I’m sorry.” “Sorry? Is that all you can say? Our Rebecca is a very sick girl and you know it. She was your patient. And yet you let her run off with that ageing letch, who quite evidently had only one thing on his mind!” Rebecca’s mother bursts into tears and hides her face. “You probably even conspired with your charismatic friend, possibly even shared her!” The mother’s sobbing intensifies. “I certainly did not conspire, nor share” I declare, raising my voice to meet his. “Oh stop it, stop it” whimpers Rebecca’s mother. The dad purses his lips, but is still leaning forward aggressively. His face looks as if all the blood vessels might burst. I bet I could beat him in a punch up.

I remember why I refused to help. Because they’re insanely possessive. Larry even said he thought the sum total of Rebecca’s problem was her parents. They caged her, made her feel that she was sick, so she’d stay because she needed them. Whereas they needed her. And they still do. They’re in bits. But then, I miss my children. Having them around, calling me dad and needing me. I know where they are. Susan’s heavily pregnant in Dulwich. Jason scoots about all over the place but is always skypeing with Michelle. And Alicia, who was out of contact, has become my telepathic pen pal. Even so, I miss them. How must Rebecca’s parents feel? And it’s true, anything could’ve happened to her. But what can I do?

“Did you try to contact them?” I ask. “We alerted every venue on that charlatan’s Happiness tour, every hotel in the vicinity. Night after night we phoned, texted and emailed, every production company, every staff member of his ridiculous crusade, every…” I switch off. They’ve probably even had a word with the pope. Either Larry and Rebecca have vanished off the face of the globe, or they don’t want to be contacted by her parents. “And now the tour is over” burbles the mother. “So she’s lost forever.” Her husband comforts her.

“The trouble is, I don’t have any way of contacting them that you don’t have” I lie. “You don’t have your friend’s phone number?” “No” I insist, compounding the lie. “No friends in common?” “No” I admit, relieved to be truthful. “But on your website, it says you started your careers together at the Findhorn Community. You must know people who know this de Mille character” says the mother, peering at me with undisguised suspicion. “Have you contacted Findhorn?” I ask, on a whim. “Yes” says the dad. I thought so. They’ve probably contacted everyone who was ever there. “And?” They shake their heads. “So you know we don’t have friends in common, from back then. We’ve led separate lives. He visited. He left with Rebecca. I only knew it when it happened and was in no position to prevent it from happening. So I honestly cannot help you.”

There’s nothing they can do. I promise to inform them if I get any information regarding their daughter’s whereabouts. I see them to the gate. The first thing I do when I get back to the dome is clear up the food. The second thing I do is phone my old pal Larry, the great Lorenz de Mille. Unobtainable. Line no longer in use. I don’t have an email address but there may be one online. Larry’s got about ten different websites, the Global Happiness Crusade, the Happiness Foundation, the Lorenz de Mille Psychology Institute, etcetera, umpteen profiles, news articles, application forms to attend his various Happiness Seminars. I send them all a personal message to Larry, from his old friend Rupert. No mention of Rebecca, just me wanting to catch up. I don’t hold out much hope. Larry’s a great communicator in a huge auditorium but he’s never been a great communicator as a friend. He knows my number will never change so, every few years, he calls. But I can’t call him. So I’m wasting my time. He’s probably ditched her by now, if I know Larry. His beautiful girlfriends are there, like jewellery, to adorn him. He pumps his audiences full of his own ego and leaves before they deflate.

The thought that he’s ditched her and she’s alone some place, heartbroken, without a penny, scared or unable to come home, takes me back to the World Wide Web. Are there any articles about his tour, any interviews? Where would he go if he was taking a break after his tour? Even if he ditched her, he might know where she is. Rebecca is an unusual person. Apart from having the most beautiful breasts that ever walked the earth, when you look at her beautiful face, you see intelligence, warmth, insight, humour. In fact she’s so full of gifts, it sometimes unbalances her. I’ve got to find her. Just to see if she’s alright.

After hours perusing sickening articles, gushing platitudes on the theme of happiness, I find it. “Atlantis”, a tiny exclusive island in the Caribbean, playground of the mega rich. And there’s no way to contact it, not for the likes of me. And who knows if he’d still be there? I give up. I’ve done my best.

 

I’ve been having lurid dreams, most surreal. I’m crashing naked through the jungle, besieged by all kinds of monstrous forms. All at once I see, right in front of me, Rebecca’s breasts waiting to be held. Before I can oblige, I’m floating high above the canopy in a starry-eyed bliss. What can it mean? When I wake, I think it means I’ve got to do something. But then I can’t remember what. I think it’s because I’ve got nothing to do. Nothing to engage my fierce intelligence. My sharer friends have deserted me. I’m nothing but trouble, so they’re no longer sharing. I don’t blame them. Turns out, that bloke Tony was a psychic spy who used me to get to Lila and Harry. So they’re not about to send me on any exciting psychic missions. So I’m just here, with the wind whipping the trees into a wild dance and the rain pounding on the roof of my little geodesic dome.

I could go on my own mission. I could astranav to Atlantis. I could find him and, through him, find her. Yes. What have I got to lose? Mind you, they’re not psychic, so I won’t be able to contact them, but I could observe. What’s stopping me? A bad feeling. As if I’d be doing something wrong. I’m not supposed to contact anyone. But I wouldn’t be. I don’t want to cause any trouble. I’d better check. I tune in to Bonny and, instantly, her voice is warbling in my head. “Yes Rupert?” I’m thinking of going on an astral mission. I was just checking with you. “Absolutely not. There’s no one available to protect you. I’m the only one here and I can’t authorise it.” She’s upset. Please Bonny, I’m only trying to save someone. “Have you any idea of the trouble you’ve caused, Rupert? We still don’t know if any of our South African community are alive. You allowed a spy to discover Lila and Harry’s plans. For goodness sake, don’t cause any more trouble.” I won’t. Look, this young woman has vanished. Her parents are beside themselves with worry and I’ve an idea where she may be. It won’t take any time at all. I’ll find her. Then I can reassure her parents. “I appreciate your good intentions, Rupert. I’d accompany you myself, only I’m needed as anchor person here. I’m sorry.” But she’s psychotic. Have you no heart? She’s a vulnerable woman. Silence. I sense that Bonny, who has Parkinson’s and is also vulnerable, may be having second thoughts. She is. She’ll let me do it, as long as I log in at every step. I agree. Result!

This is my own mission. I’ve to remember everything. No mistakes. Food and drink in the fridge, door locked, curtains closed. Lie back on the floor. Relax, let go of the body. I don’t want to observe the route, just whisk straight there. Steep cliffs, secluded beaches, a jetty, ornate buildings like eastern temples, fountains and gardens, a Shangri-La set in the sparkling sea. One objective. Find Larry. “Where are you?” asks Bonny. I’ve just arrived at the location. There are loads of people here. “Be quick Rupert.” How quickly can I scan the entire population of this island? How can I know if I’ve missed anyone?

Swimmers and bathers around a lotus-shaped pool. Bloated billionaires and their bloated wives, served by attractive young blades and maids. No Larry here. Whizzing through walls, through rooms on Caribbean, Persian, Spanish, Moroccan, Parisian and other seductive themes, featuring abundant couplings, differentiated not so much by gender as by old with young. No Larry here. No Larry in the perfumed gardens with a dazzling view across the rocks to the ocean beyond. But here, in the hub of the whole shebang, surrounded by the casually-elegant elite, I find Larry holding court. Not that he’s speaking. A large Indian man is describing the horrors of pollution worldwide. He’s droning on about marine life, polar icecaps. The mountains are gone and half the seas are missing. I’m not taking much notice. I’m looking at my old friend Larry, originally Laurence Miller from Southend. He smiles benignly, taking in what he’s hearing. That’s his trick, he listens. I’ve got to admire his style. A woman with a face like a balloon stretched over a skull, suggests that the human population needs culling, especially in the less productive areas. Larry smiles. He sits through a debate that seems to glory in the base nature of most human beings, who are “more like monkeys than us” and he smiles like a Cheshire cat. And all faces are turned to him. They want him to approve and he seems to approve. Larry has come a long way in his life, from the riffraff down Southend to the elite of Atlantis. “Will your wife be joining us?” asks a bumpkin who flushes the moment he’s said it. “Probably” says Larry. They all look eager. I’m so immersed in trying to understand, that I miss the obvious. Larry’s got a wife? He’s married? I suppose he could’ve been married when he ran off with Rebecca. Or after. I’ve got to find her. “Have you found her Rupert?” Not yet, Bonny. I’ve found her boyfriend and I think she’s here. “You realise I’m sticking my neck out, Rupert.” It’ll only take a minute. I’ll be back in my shed. Oh my god. I’ve got to go.

It’s her. Rebecca glides into the room and even the women’s jaws drop. All eyes follow her as she wraps herself around Larry and purrs “I’m going to lie down for a while. You might like to join me. I’ll be waiting.” A sort of low groan resonates around the room and several of the guests are urgently ordering playmates, even as Larry follows his wife out.

Halfway along the corridor, Larry stops and turns, as if he senses me. When he finally opens the door to his suite, Rebecca is standing there, starkers. I can’t believe it. Larry is worried. “What’s wrong?” he asks. She puts a finger to her lips to silence him and gestures at a security camera on the wall. He nods. “Let’s make love” she suggests. He strips off. I shouldn’t be watching this. It’s almost voyeuristic. But they don’t move. They just lie there in an embrace and gaze into each others’ eyes. I can hear their voices. They’re talking to each other. I can listen in.

REBECCA: Laquita Landing’s been discovered. They’re sending some military craft. It’ll get there before ours.

LARRY: So?

REBECCA: So all those innocent people will be slaughtered.

LARRY: But what can we do?

REBECCA: We can save them. There’s a call out to any sharer in the vicinity who can get there.

LARRY: But the people at Laquita are sharers aren’t they? Just send a message.

REBECCA: No. They’ve been told to remain insensitive for their own protection. They’re sitting ducks Larry. All we have to do is hire a plane.

LARRY: Hire a plane from here to Laquita?

REBECCA: Yes.

LARRY: And undo all the work we’re doing here?

REBECCA: They wouldn’t know.

LARRY: What do you mean, they wouldn’t know?

Rebecca gives a little scream. She’s looking straight at me. Shit. “Rupert?” she asks. “Hi” I say. Larry glares. “Piss off mate. You’re blowing our cover.” “What cover?” I burble. “For crissakes, what are you doing here?” he hisses. Rebecca says “he’s looking at my tits”.

 

I’m lying on the floor of my studio and I am so embarrassed. When Rebecca said what she said, I wanted to die. I want her to respect me and now she never will. “Arghhh!” I hear my voice ricochet around the room as an apparition appears. It’s ghost. You scared the living daylights out of me, ghost. “Shut up.” I shut up. “Never do that again!” he rasps. “Sharers are facing annihilation and you… Do you know what you are?” No, I admit. “You are a liability. What are you?” I’m a liability. “Yes!” But what should I do? “Nothing. Do Nothing!” And that’s it. He’s gone. Not even a puff of smoke. I fancy a sandwich. I don’t suppose that’d count as doing something.

 

I’ve been doing nothing forever. Apparently there are loads of rail strikes. I’m glad I don’t want to go anywhere. Workers on Northern Rail are striking over jobs and safety. Southern engineers have walked out after a breakdown in industrial relations. There are London Tube strikes. First Great Western staff are staging a three-day walkout. It’s “Train Strike Misery”! New Hitachi express trains, job security and working conditions are given as reasons. Rail companies want to optimise profits. Automation achieves this, getting rid of guards, buffet compartments, etcetera. But, behind it, is also the government’s aim to prevent unions from striking. “Essential public services should have to have the support of at least 40% of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots, as well as a majority of those who actually turn out to vote.” Thatcher nobbled the unions and won. We may see a public sector (health, education, fire, transport, social services) versus government punchup. Will Cameron be a hero?

Meanwhile, immigration is front-page news, as “an estimated 40 illegal immigrants are arrested each day in Britain, with around 350 stowaways entering the country through ports on the south coast each week”. Migrants even evade the government’s 100% checks on lorries. The voyage from North Africa and across the Mediterranean is often dangerous. A migrant boat has sunk in the latest Mediterranean tragedy. The island of Kos is on the brink as the Mediterranean refugee crisis meets the Greek debt disaster. Around 41,000 people have entered Europe since January.

The trouble is, as a young Sudanese man says, “England is good. All, everybody knows that”, adding “I don’t have money, I don’t have anything, no eat, no sleep.” So, because we’re good, migrants are storming the Channel Tunnel in Calais to get here. 3,500 are trying to reach Britain in 48 hours, because in “soft touch Britain, illegal immigrants get free hotel rooms, cooked meals and £35 cash a week”.

Motorists are continuing to endure the misery of Operation Stack, where lorries are queued up on the M20 in Kent. The average queuing time is 18 hours. It’s traffic mayhem. The brilliant David Cameron has described the migrants as a ‘swarm’. The opposition remind our PM that they’re not insects, they’re “some of the world’s most desperate people”. But what are the good people of Great Britain to do? I can only imagine we’ll have to kill them.

There is also the thrilling Labour Party Leadership Contest, where the frontrunner, Jeremy Corbyn, has dodged questions about whether he is a Marxist. Gosh. Man of wisdom, Tony Blair has declared that Corbyn represents ‘Alice In Wonderland’ politics. He would make the party unelectable. We won’t know the result until mid September. But, if Cameron can whip the unions and crush the immigrants, maybe he’ll be our leader for a decade or more. Nice.

It isn’t the only exciting contest being held. The Greek crisis has proven so popular, it’s being held over for another month or more, with a new Greek election to be held in september. Whoopee! Well, it’s either whoopee or utter brain-melting boredom and demoralisation.

Days follow nights. I wake up and feel sleepy and roll over and sleep some more. I should be advertising my therapeutic services, drumming up trade for the autumn, but I can hardly lift a burger to my lips. I’ve watched every imaginable sport, allowed hundreds of current affairs programmes and rolling news broadcasts infest my mind and all I know is, doing nothing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Sometimes I fall asleep and dream that I’m awake watching telly. I don’t know if I’m dreaming dreams or they’re dreaming me. I can lie on the couch here and just float off.

I’m in a jungle and a voice is whispering “Can you hear me dad?” I can hear you. “I’m just off on a mission with Thierry. I’ll be out of touch, so I thought I’d blow you a kiss.” She blows me a kiss and I watch my wonderful daughter, hurtling through the jungle with her hairy lover, swinging from vines like Tarzan and Jane. The scene changes and two unattractive models are telling me to use the tool in my hand to buy garden equipment. I use the tool in my hand to switch them off.

I stand up. Am I awake? Yes. Was that a dream? Or did Alicia really contact me and blow me a kiss? She could have done. I don’t know what’s real anymore. I give up. Just sleep forever. Sleep until you vanish. Turn on the shopping channel again. An exotic array of trowels. A set of rakes to gladden the heart. A voice in my head. I freeze. It’s my dad’s voice. Dad? “Save your daughter.” Which one? “Save Alicia.” Alicia? She’s bouncing about in the jungle with her hairy bloke. “Alicia is in danger.” I can’t just whisk myself away to wherever she is, just like that. “Yes you can.” But I’m not allowed to. I’m a liability. “Rupert. I know I wasn’t a good father. I was sick. They called it manic depression. I couldn’t control it. But it’s no excuse. I wasn’t there for you. For God’s sake, be there for your daughter. Don’t make my mistakes again.” But what can I do? “Connect with her, protect her, be there for her.”

I’m tuning in. It’s a dark out-of-breath world. Alicia? “Not a good moment dad.” Sorry. I disengage. “Why isn’t it a good moment?” asks dad. How should I know? “It means she’s in danger.” Does it? “Just look.” Dad shows me the situation. A large group of sharers, twenty families or more, are gathered by the river at Laquita Landing. A large white river boat, full of militia, is just about to come around the bend, to kill them. Alicia and Thierry are running to meet the group. That is, running to their deaths. Dad says I’ve got to warn her. But if I make contact now, I might put her off, just when she needs her wits about her. “Can’t you connect without disturbing her?” asks dad. I can listen in. But sometimes they notice me. “But haven’t you a very special gift?” Yes. The gift of absolute vacancy. She’d never know. “Let’s do it.” I tune in and let myself go vacant in my daughter’s mind, until her thoughts become mine.

ALICIA: I can see them Thierry. Down there at the quayside. And there’s the boat. They’ll think it’s come to save them. What should we do Thierry? “I’ll shoot from up here, to divert their fire. You warn the sharers.Okay. I’m slithering down the bank shouting. Get away! Running towards them, waving my arms. “Give up. It’s a waste of time” booms a voice in my head. Who are you? “I am your grandfather” he bellows, laughing. I don’t know what’s happening. I’m slowing down. Oh no, I know who you are. Thierry, it’s a fucking demon and he’s stealing my energy. Thierry? I can’t move. I can hear the river launch getting nearer but my mind is freezing over..

BONNY: Rupert! Wake up! A powerful psychic force has possessed you. You need to stop being vacant so your team can save the situation. You need to act now. Wake up! Wakey wakey, rise and shine! WAKE UP. Useless. He’s so vacant, he doesn’t know how to switch himself back on. You’ll have to fan out. Peggy, you take the daughter. Noel, try to rouse her partner. And you ghost, do your trick and drive the sharers back into the forest. I’ll keep trying to illuminate the imbecile. Rupert? Wake up. It’s a lovely sunny day. It’s better than that. It’s your birthday. There are are chocolates and ice cream and if you don’t wake up you’ll kill your own daughter. Oh, it’s no use. If I can’t get through to the moron, I better speak to the demon who’s possessing him. Are you there? “I am.” Why would you waste your time rounding up a group of sharers who know almost nothing about psychic pulsing, when I know everything there is to know. Let them go. I can tell you everything. “I can have both.” No you can’t. Wake up Rupert. Wake up!

 

Someone is shooting at me. Got to get out of here. I whistle up out of Alicia’s mind and, looking down, watch her duck the bullets. On the ridge above, I see her hairy bloke come to, and open fire. Down on the quayside, ghost materialises and shoos everyone into the cover of trees. I hear a terrible scream and find myself writhing on the floor in the filthy kitchen on the farm. Dr Li is rushing over, crying “Bonny. It’s Bonny. Get help. Oh Bonny.” He slips in a slither of pig poo. I black out.

 

My daughter is alive, unhurt, thanks to Peggy. Thierry caught a flesh wound in his shoulder but, with Noel’s guidance, crawled to safety. ghost managed to get the sharers to fan out into the forest, though lord knows what’ll become of them. Bonny used all her energy to divert the demon, to awaken me and so release the others. But it was her last energy. I’m to cease all telepathic activity and return to my normal life. I’m grounded forever. My psychic memories will be wiped. They will vanish. I’ll remember nothing. I look forward to it. They hold me responsible. Responsible for the fates of both sharer communities. Responsible for thinking my dead dad was speaking to me. Responsible for going vacant and the catastrophe that ensued. Responsible for the heart attack that killed Bonny. I killed Bonny.

 

8 – Shadows

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015 (click Archive above). If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

“But I did it for you Michelle.”

“It’s obscene.”

“Well of course it’s obscene, it’s an orgy. But it’s eye-catching.”

“You’re obscene.”

“But it’d make the perfect promo for your company.”

“For Infinite Intelligence? A mound of naked bodies fornicating?”

“Yes! Now you’ve got it. It’s not only sexy, it’s funny!”

“Have you any idea of the legal action there’d be from the participants, all those celebrities with their arses in the air?”

“But that’s good. The controversy will make the film famous. It’ll make Infinite Intelligence famous.”

“It’ll be banned!”

“Great. It’ll get loads of publicity and you know what they say, all publicity is good publicity.”

“I’ve had the film destroyed Rupert.”

“You’re kidding. I haven’t even seen it.”

“And another thing. Stanley Walsh tells me you knew Greta was barking mad. Because she was Your Patient!”

“Well, she showed some signs of er…”

“You didn’t tell me! You let me employ a nutcase to film my promo and you didn’t tell me. You didn’t even tell me she was a patient.”

“Well these things are confidential, Hippocratic Oath and…”

“I’ve been betrayed before. But this is the worst betrayal ever. You’ve destroyed my business. I’ve got to start all over again.”

“But the promo would have saved you…”

“Don’t talk to me. Right?”

“Okay. But …but, for how long?”

Forever!

As Michelle storms out, she turns.

Oh, by the way, Alicia’s chucked in her career and become a beach bum.”

“What?”

The kitchen door slams.

Alicia is our eldest and hasn’t been in touch for some time. So that’s the reason. Well, why shouldn’t she be a beach bum? She can be a beach bum if she likes. Better than being stuck in some biochemical lab. Especially in California. God I miss her. I always tried not to let her be the apple of my eye, but she always was. What if she’s in trouble? What if beach bum doesn’t mean beach bum? What if it means she’s in danger. I’ll call her. Now.

The sun is about to set. A wind has whipped up from the sea, making the trees dance. Crossing the grass down to my shed, gulls are screeching overhead, little birds cheeping and swooping in the grove below. Across the way, our gardener, old Mr Shoebridge and his assistant Aiden, are messing about in one of the sheds. I wonder why none of them have mentioned the mass rumpy pumpy on the lawn. Not a soul. Not even our housekeeper Megan, despite going around, beaming from ear to ear ever since. In fact, that’s the only sign that it ever happened. And yet they were all at it. Perhaps that’s why they’re not saying anything.

Alicia’s not picking up. I’ll leave a message. I’ll text her as well. And email. Is she still on Facebook? Of course, there is another clue that it happened. I’ve got almost no patients. I rang Gerald and Dennis. Spoke to both of them. They were embarrassed. And it’s true that, as we were chatting, my mind flashed up glimpses of their bodies among the flesh fest. Tyler Hunt won’t even answer my calls. I’ve tried everyone.

Alicia isn’t online. I’ve sent messages by every medium except pigeon. Nothing more I can do. Stop. Shoebridge and Aiden are still banging away outside. Lord knows what they’re doing. Something. They work hard. I’ve got hardly any work at all. And I don’t fancy going up to the house, with Michelle’s rage all over it. I’ll stay here in my dome. That way I’ll be ready when Alicia calls.

Quiet now. No wind, no birdsong, no banging things with hammers. In the silence, it occurs to me that I’ve betrayed Michelle. My wonderful Michelle. I’ve betrayed her. The worst betrayal ever. It’s funny, if I’d told her that Greta was bonkers, it wouldn’t have been my fault. Such a small thing.

In the silence of the lonely night, my head fills with psychic voices entreating me to come to the farm and get trained up. They say it’s urgent. I screen them out. I’ve no desire to scramble down dangerous cliffs, have diodes attached to my head and be taught to communicate with bananas. I’m tired of all that psychic nonsense. I want my marriage back and where’s my daughter?

 

Michelle still won’t talk to me, but I’ve overheard her making umpteen calls, all very upbeat, even flirty. So very different to her mood otherwise. I guess she’s drumming up trade after the Infinite Intelligence debacle. Either that or she’s off dating strings of blokes, the thought of which makes me laugh. Silly. On the other hand, she’s not speaking to me and I’m starting to wonder if this is serious. Have I lost her? Is there someone else? I need to get out of the house. It’s like a vacuum. Grab a coffee and seek sanctuary in my dome. I’ll put on the calming loop of waves lapping the shore and do some whooshes to release my spirit.

Megan is in the kitchen, causing me instant panic. She’s still grinning from ear to ear after the orgy. And she still won’t speak. She went mute when Michelle sacked her. She couldn’t be sacked. She’s the housekeeper. Michelle has since reinstated her on the condition that she never gives voice to her vicious racist and sexual prejudices. Perhaps that’s why she remains silent. Best not to say anything. But I thinks she lives in a delusional reality. Millions of years may come and go, generations flick by, but she is and always will be The Housekeeper. It’s strange, her ideas about race and gender sexuality. I saw her at the love-in. Everyone was doing everything and so was she. And she can’t stop beaming.

I’ve poured the boiling water over my hand. In a trice, Megan’s grabbed it, rushed it over to the sink and is holding it under the flow of cold water. Every time I think it’s enough, she forces it back under. She’s showing me that she’s doing her job, she’s useful, she’s needed. When I thank her, she hands me a coffee and scuttles off with a vacuum cleaner. I suppose her silence is a revolt against having her role threatened and her individuality supressed. Which is probably also why Michelle won’t talk. The house seethes with frustration. Me too.

The garden is as dazzling as the sun and so hot I can hardly breathe. Maybe it’s the unhappiness pressing on my chest, or the onset of old age. In your fifties, you may not be near the end, but you can see it. I don’t really want to listen to waves and whoosh alone in my dome. I wish people would speak. I wish Alicia would call. Perhaps it’s just that midsummer limbo when nothing can happen. Even the leaves just hang there, sweating it out until life can begin again.

A loud crash and a plume of dust send me rushing over. “It’s alright Mr Alves” says the voice of Shoebridge. “We’ve got things under control.” “Only a minor mishap” adds Aiden’s voice. “What’s going on?” I demand, unable to supress my anger for panic. “We’re just clearing out an old shed for Aiden to kip in” says Shoebridge, adding “It’s not used for anything”. “But why is one side of the shed on the ground?” I ask. “Oh, don’t you worry about that, Mr Alves. It’s on hinges.” Through the glittering dust, I see Aiden skipping about with hooks and ropes. I don’t associate Aiden with skipping about. What’s got into him?

“Hinges?” I ask. They show me a row of hinges attaching the fallen wall to the shed at its base. “We’re rigging up a pulley system so it can open and close” says Aiden. “Oh good” I say. “Why?” “Nice for the lad to have it open when it’s warm” says Shoebridge. “More space” says Aiden, furiously screwing in a block. I suppose the reason for Aiden’s increased vigour may be that he’s now officially employed, that he’ll have a place of his own, albeit a shed. But it’s amazing to see him with such a spring in his step, after years of ME torpor.

“What’s that? I ask, peering into the shed. “ A tarpaulin” says Aiden, nipping in and lifting up one corner of it. “Here lad, you can’t do that by yourself, there’ll be dust everywhere” says Cyril Shoebridge, slowly clambering in. “Stand back Mr Alves. I’ve no idea why, it’s only a tarpaulin, not the side of a shed. As they raise the tarpaulin, a sheet of dust slides off, billows out and hits me full in the face, causing me to splutter and choke. Shoebridge and Aiden kindly dust me down.

With the cover removed, there are piles of lamps and light fittings, which apparently Michelle has chucked out, a double mattress and a mouldy sofa which Aiden found on a skip. Mrs Shoebridge, whom I never knew existed, has also given Aiden some of her old quilts. But they’re nervous now. “It’s alright, isn’t it?” asks Shoebridge. “I mean the lights won’t use much juice and it’s not doing anyone any harm.” “No” I say. “I’ve been sleeping here the last few nights, Mr Alves” Aiden admits. “It’s a bit draughty. Had a fox in last night. These eyes peering through the dark. Gave me quite a start.”

Yes” I say. “Of course it’s alright Aiden.” They grin at each other and I realise, somewhere in my anxious mind, that these two people are happy. Perhaps, if I stay with them, it’ll rub off. But having thanked me profusely, as if I’d done something, there’s an awkward silence, until Mr Shoebridge says “We’d best get on now, if that’s alright with you Mr Alves” and I realise I’m supposed to leave. I almost offer to help, but that would require effort and I’m too tense for effort. I manage a cheery wave, a peremptory “jolly good work” and head down to my dome, forcing a spring in my step for show.

My phone is ringing. It could be Alicia. I manage to get to it before it rings off. It isn’t Alicia. A sweet voice. It’s Katy, the Wiccan, and she’s gushing. Apparently something amazing happened at my place, she says. She wants to hear all about it. Would I like to come over to dinner, sometime next week? I would. She’s the first person, apart from Michelle, who’s even alluded to the lust on the lawn. And I know she’s psychic, so she’ll appreciate the pulsing thing. Also, as Wiccans, Katy and Bill are into mystical stuff and running about starkers. The only thing I want to avoid, is mention of our ‘Beltane’ night, even though it was only platonic. Nice though. It occurs to me that I could run over now and have a natter about it. Except that she said next week, not now, so that would be uncool. So I’ll stay here. I could put on my recording of waves and practice absolute vacancy.

 

No patients Tuesday, none Wednesday, none yesterday or today. I’ve picked up the phone just once, hoping to hear my daughter’s voice. Before I’ve a chance to speak, Michelle picks up indoors and I find myself listening to some oily charmer and a breathless Michelle making honeyed arrangements to meet. I decide to follow her but think the better of it. Other than that, nothing.

There is a kind of pleasure to living in a bubble. You can’t be loved but you can’t be hurt. It’s the solace in solitude. You can wander the groves of oblivion, buzz about wherever your mind flits and time somehow passes. I avoid any telepathic intrusions. The still, cool air of my private Eden protects me, until I hear a tiny voice, which gets louder as it zones in and a face appears, a plump Indian face with the unbearably beautiful eyes of Maryam Mazari.

“Come over to the farm Rupert. Please. We need to train you before things get out of hand.” I don’t want to learn how to astral travel to Mars. I want my marriage back. I want my daughter safe and sound. “Please Rupert. You promised.” I did promise. But I didn’t say when. “Now.” Now? I forgot she can hear my thoughts. I mustn’t look at her eyes or I’ll be her slave. I’ve no intention of breaking my back climbing down cliffs. “You can come in by car this time.” By car? Is she serious? I look to check, and her eyes are so full of feeling and urgency.

Beyond the turning off to Lila and Harry’s, beyond the stile where I climbed down with Peggy, I see the rusty field gate and open it. Driving through, I find the track across the meadow, winding down to the farmhouse. I’m furious. Why couldn’t I have come this way the first time, instead of sliding down rocks? “We like to keep vehicles seen entering to a minimum” says Maryam’s voice. Seen by whom? “The enemy.” Hmph. I park up.

The laboratories I visited before were spotless. This place is a tip. Scatterings of old farm implements, assorted animal life, sheep, pigs, goat, donkey. I step out, straight into a large smelly pat and have to negotiate my way between beasties and their poo, just to get to the door. At least I don’t fall over. Inside is just as messy, only dark. Chickens fluttering about and being swiped away. A pig snuffling in the fireplace. Bodies huddled around a kitchen table. I recognise infant savant Peggy, Jesus lookalike Noel, wrinkled boy ‘ghost’ and fat shaking Bonny. There’s a man with his back to me, who has a great mane of bright orange hair. Beside him sits wonderful Maryam, who always makes me wish I were her sari. At the other end of the dirty room, shadowy figures sit with diodes attached to their heads, lit only by flickering screens, placed among old lumps of cheese, bread and stacks of washing up, that would take days to clean.

I’ve been told to come here now. Yet, now I’m here, no one’s taking a blind bit of notice of me. Who are these people? They look like society rejects to me. I’ve a good mind to leave, drive away. A cockerel rears up, flapping and I fall backwards out of the door, into the stinking goo. The ginger man hauls me out. I am shocked to discover that he has the biggest nose I’ve ever seen. It is so huge it almost obscures his face. He must have very strong neck muscles to hold that lot up. If he wasn’t orange, you might think you were looking at an elephant. Gripping my hand and shaking it, his voice booms in my head.

“Doctor Richard Carroll. We’ve talked. And we’ve pulsed!” He gives me an elephantine grin and I realise that this is the Canadian bloke who introduced me to psychic pulsing and who orchestrated the Sharers to pulse through me, causing the spontaneous fuckfest, such that now Michelle won’t even speak to me. I want to punch him on the nose but I’d only hurt my fist. I’m seated on a rickety chair, beside a great metal bowl containing what might be the outpourings of an animal with severe diarrhoea. What’s that? “That’s the goulash from last night” explains Bonny’s warbling voice. “Would you like some?” I try to control a gagging sensation.

“I’m sure glad to meet you in the flesh” thunders the orange elephant in my head. Me you too, I mumble, trying to be friendly. “I haven’t had a chance to congratulate you” he booms. “What a triumph!” My mind conjures up the writhing mound of mortals and it makes me giggle. Yes, I reply. And, you know, I filmed it. “You did what?” The orgy, I filmed it. There’s a chorus of telepathic gasps and the elephant looks as if he’s about to stampede. I don’t understand. He said it was a triumph. “Why did you film it Rupert?” asks Maryam, obviously trying to remain calm. I thought it’d make a great promo for Michelle, I bleat. “It must be destroyed” bellows the orange one. “It’s proof” hisses ghost. “They’ll know” murmurs Maryam. I wave them down. It’s alright. No need to worry. Michelle destroyed it. Pity really, I hadn’t even seen it.

“I don’t think you understand the situation we’re facing here” honks Doctor Carroll, wiping the sweat from his trunk. “Psychic pulsing is a monumental breakthrough and, while its effect may have been a tad extreme, these people were Insensitives. We got through to Insensitives. And you, Rupert, made it all possible.” They smile at me. I can’t help gloating. “But Rupert, I suppose you realise that this breakthrough could prove catastrophic.” Yes, I do realise. Already Michelle’s company is on the rocks, she’s not speaking to me, I’ve almost no patients and my daughter’s become a beach bum. “Not you!” roars the elephant. What does he mean, not me? Don’t I count? “Doctor Carroll means the danger to us all” coos Maryam. “If psychic pulsing is a boon to us, it’s a threat to the enemy and just imagine if they got hold of such a power.”

In the stench of this shit tip kitchen, I’m beginning to smell a rat. Who are these enemies exactly? No one answers. Peggy, the scary child genius, takes my hand and, burbling scientific data in her low monotone, drags me over to the computer screens. I gather that these psychics with knobs on, are zoning into enemy spies, logging where they are and what they’re up to, trying to build up a big picture. Other than that, everything she says is gobbledegook. I’m sorry, I tell her, but I don’t understand a word you’re saying. As far as I can work out, we’re psychics and the enemy are psychics. So is this some telepathic war for psychic territory? “No” trumpets the Canadian pachyderm, losing his temper. “They’re Insensitives! They employ psychics to do their dirty work!” But who are they? “The Controllers!” So who are these ‘Controllers’? Richard Carroll looks as if he might lift me up with his trunk and toss me aside like a tree.

Maryam puts her hand on his shoulder to calm him, while her voice purrs within me. “Kabir called them ‘controllers’, simply those who control. Originally he worked for a research program funded by them. None of those who tried to get away survived. Except Kabir. Would you like to know the story Rupert?” No. I’m sick of Kabir and his non-existent fucking ‘Insights’. Just tell me who these ‘Controllers’ are. “We don’t know.” Well I’m sorry but I don’t go in for conspiracy theories. My priorities are my family and my income, both of which are presently in jeopardy. So I’m just going to take my leave of you and call it quits. Right? “Please Rupert” whispers Maryam, plaintively. I mustn’t look at her. Block all communications, just get through the door.

Doctor Carroll steps into my path and speaks with his real voice. “So you still intend to visit the Rosenthals and tell them everything?” Who? “The Rosenthals. Sir William and Lady Katherine Rosenthal!” I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maryam’s voice says “the woman you spent the night with”. What woman? Oh, Katy? But that was just platonic. “Sure it was” hisses ghost. “Lady Katherine’s a mindfuck.” What? No. Katy’s psychic. She just wants to know about the ‘happening’, and no one else wants to talk about it, too embarrassed. But Katy and Bill are Wiccans, so they love anything to do with spiritualism and gallivanting about in their birthday suits. Katy’s alright. She’s one of us.

“Why do you think that?” asks scary Peggy. Because it was Katy who told me to avoid psychic spies like Chedeline. “Chedeline?” rasps ghost. “Have you been seeing Chedeline? demands Doctor Carroll, waving his nose at me threateningly. Only a few times. She’s a patient. Noel, silent until now, tuts. They’re upset with me. Well I don’t care! “We’re not upset with you” coos Maryam. “Your friend Katy is indeed psychic but she is not a Sharer. Katy does whatever her husband wishes and Sir William is a man with a shadowy past.” “A psyche full of shadows” whispers ghost. I’m about to say piffle, when I remember my platonic night with Katy, all cuddled up in our flowery bower. Was she rummaging around in my brain and off to report back to hubby? “Yes!” says Maryam. They’re all relieved. Noel gives me a smile of intense sympathy and I almost weep for being such a fool. “That’s why we need to train you now” says Doctor Carroll. “To prevent Katy, or anyone else, taking advantage of you.” Oh. I sink back into my chair.

“We’ve first to train you to spot the dangers, Rupert.” Maryam’s lovely eyes beguile me. “How do you experience my presence when we connect?” she asks. I think you’re wonderful, I blurt. She laughs, embarrassed. “I mean, do you see me, in your mind’s eye?” Sometimes, when I dare to look. Mainly I hear your voice. “Good. So we understand that communications can come in many forms.” I hear a chorus of voices whispering “colours, feelings, sensations, preconscious thoughts, images, tadpoles, smells…” I experience smells, such as lavender. “That’s Lila” says Noel. Yes it is. “So now, Rupert” purrs Maryam. “We’re going to play a game.” Oh no. I always lose games. “One of us is going to root around in your mind. You must try to sense this intruder, describe what you feel is happening and, hopefully, work out who it is.”

I experience an itching of my left earlobe, but apparently that’s just a normal itch. “Try again.” I feel a horrible scrunching up of my face. “That’s because you’re scrunching up your face Rupert. Relax.” I feel a tiny insect buzzing through my brain. “Zone in.” It’s looking for something. “What is it looking for?” Fruit. “Fruit?” A banana, it’s looking for a banana. “So?” I remember that Bonny communes with bananas. It’s Bonny. Their applause rings in my ears. I’m right! I shine with cleverness.

ghost’s fluty voice tells me that one of them is now going to hide something from me. I’m to connect with each of them in turn and try to spot the shadow. All the Sharers, as I travel in though eyes and the feelings that connect us, seem to be full of warm sunlight. Until I come, again, to Bonny. There’s a kind of purple splodge. But I don’t like to say anything. It might just be because she shakes and anyway, it wouldn’t be her again. But it is. And the information she’s been hiding, is that she has Parkinson’s disease. So I was right again. I saw the purple splodge and that means I could check out Michelle for shadows, find out if she’s hiding secrets from me. Yes. That’s what I’ve got to do. I’ll do it now.

Before I’ve a chance to stand up, my head reverberates with a friendly voice that tells me “I would like to use my spiritual skills to benefit humankind and make a lot of money”. Noel explains that I must try to switch this friendly voice off. “I would like to use my spiritual skills to benefit humankind and make a lot of money.” I would like to use my spiritual skills to benefit humankind and make a lot of money. I would… The voice is switched off and I dribble to a halt. Noel explains that this is enemy propaganda, enticing me to become a spy or a guinea pig in their research. I’m to learn to switch it off. “Shall we try again?” I like Noel. He’s a good sort. He may look a bit preachy with his flaxen hair and his shining blue eyes, like some kind of saint, but I never feel that he’s judging me or…

“Rupert? Are you receiving?” Yes. “Shall we try again?” Yes. “Okay. The voice is going to come at you. You’ve just got to resist it.” “I would like to use my spiritual skills to benefit humankind and make a lot of money.” I would like to use my spiritual skills to… They’ve stopped the voice and I realise I was joining in again. They’re discussing me. I can’t be taught. It’s a waste of time. It’s because of my tendency to absolute vacancy. I’m too susceptible. My ego can’t take this battering. I can turn it off, I insist. Let me try again.

“I would like to use my spiritual skills to benefit humankind and make a lot of money.” I must switch it off. I mustn’t repeat it. I mustn’t. I make a mental error and fall off my chair into the goulash. I’ve had enough of this. Rising from the goulash, I make a dash for the door. I’m not taking any more of this shit. I’m going to check Michelle for shadows and save my marriage. But they’ve stuck Peggy in the doorway. Cowards. They’re betting I won’t kick an eight-year-old kid in the nuts. So I turn and, in my real voice, tell them what I really think of them.

“It was only when I came to Lila’s that all this started. I’m sick of celebs and psychics. Sick of wrinkled boys, blokes with conks the size of Canada, poofy Jesuses, weird kids. You’re a bunch of social rejects, subversives, ne’er-do-wells. And if it wasn’t for you, Greta wouldn’t have been the director, there wouldn’t have been an orgy and my wife would still love me.” I realise I’m sobbing but I don’t care. “I want my old life back. So I don’t want anything more to do with paranoid fruitcakes, weirdos and freaks like you.” My eyes land on shaking Bonny. Fuck. Anyway “You’re all nuts. Clinically nuts. And I’m not psychic anymore!” So saying, I charge out, radiating rage and goulash and roar off in my Citroën. The moment I’m back on the road, I start shaking, as if I’ve escaped Alcatraz. Get some air. Roll down the windows and drive slow. I’ve done the right thing. I’m free. What will I do, if I find out that Michelle has shadows?

Michelle isn’t in the house. I look everywhere. She’ll be out, who knows where, who knows with. Yet, creeping down to my dome, I spy her among the trees, gardening probably, and creep up on her. This is my chance to check her psyche for shadows. All I have to do is zone in. It’s not happening. Everything feels wrong. She senses something, turns and it isn’t Michelle. It’s someone I’ve never seen before in my life. A comely young wench, twenty at most, with a frightened look on her face. She thinks I’m going to attack her. Sorry. I thought you were someone else. She’s backing off. I’m not going to attack you. She’s not getting it. She’s looking about for a stick or a stone. I realise I’m making a mistake. I’ve actually got to speak the words out loud. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm you. I live here” I explain. “Oh” she says, trying to recover. “It just gave me a bit of a shock.” Strange, my effect on women. My appearance didn’t used to elicit shock. “I’m Rupert” I say, putting my hand out. We shake hands. “And you are?” “Grace” she says. It occurs to me that she might be a prospective patient, lord knows I need some of those. “How may I help you, Grace? Would you like to come into my surgery and talk about it?” I ask in a kindly tone, indicating my little geodesic dome beyond. “No” she says, rather too quickly. “Do you know anyone called, er, Alan, is it?” “Aiden?” “Yes, Aiden, that’s it” she gushes gratefully. And that’s it. I point her in the direction of Aiden’s shed and she wanders off. I watch the sway of her skirt as she disappears. Nice girl. Pity she wasn’t a patient. What now? There’s no one at home and I’m not certain that there’s anyone at home inside me. I’d better cancel my evening with Katy. Have to think of a good excuse. Pity.

 

I’ve been phased out. I don’t know how long, days or weeks even. Wandering the groves of oblivion, somewhere between being and not being, free and yet empty. Maybe it’s the heat or lack of anything to do. I manage to cancel Katy. The thought that Lady Katherine is only interested in my psychic pulsing and passing it on to shadowy hubby Sir Bill, is, frankly, humiliating. I thought she liked me. And what was she doing on our fairytale night, burrowing into my brain, pulling out all my private secrets that even I don’t know? Avoid the Rosenthals. But how?

I was going to say my leg’s got broken or I’m off on holiday. But what if she sees me in the village? I don’t want to be hobbling around on crutches with luggage just in case. So I tell her I’m snowed under with important work. She gets all gooey, wanting to know what my important work is. She’s obviously trying to find out all my secret important Sharer secrets. So I tell her it’s not important, just getting my client’s case histories up to date, which I have to do every July. And I can’t talk about that, due to client confidentiality. After the call I remember she’s psychic and probably knows everything in my head, whatever that is.

Michelle appears and disappears. I try checking for shadows but can’t remember how you do it. When she catches me trying to zone in, I prostrate myself. I say I’m truly sorry. I realise I should have told her that Greta was loonytoons. She glowers. I tell her I didn’t mean any harm. It was an error of judgement. She shakes her head, as if she gives up. “Won’t you speak to me?” I beg. She doesn’t respond. I can’t bear it. “I know you’re just trying to save your business” I bleat. “But is there someone else?” She laughs in my face, grabs her coat and leaves.

Mostly I’ve just watched telly. Wimbledon is on. Wall-to-wall tennis. All I have to do is press the remote and I’m there among those hallowed lawns, living all those exciting matches, lounging about on Henman Hill, watching the big screen and cheering everytime we see ourselves, eating strawberries and cream and loving it, which I don’t in real life. I can see it on BBC 1 or BBC2, there are more matches on the red button and even more online. Early on we had the thrill of a tiny little bluetit fluttering about the court and no one daring to make a shot, for fear of thwacking it into oblivion. Early shocks included last year’s finalist, Eugenie Bouchard going out in the first round. The number three seed Simona Halep also fell at the first hurdle. What a story. And what a day of upsets that was.

Now Djokovic has defeated Gasquet and Federer has beaten the beloved Andy Murray in the men’s semifinals. In the ladies’ final, Serena Williams easily trounced first-time finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, to win her sixth Wimbledon and 21st major title. I’ve watched everything, every point and now there’s only the men’s final tomorrow. What will I do with my life? There’s nothing to do. So I float around the twilight garden, pretending I’m doing a spot of pruning and hoping something exciting will happen. Not even a bunny rabbit. All down their burrows doing what rabbits do best. I find myself in my own geodesic burrow, staring at the computer screen, trying to pretend I’m interested in world events.

The Greek crisis rumbles on. The Economist observes that “a lamentable feature of the Greek crisis of the past few months is the extent to which it has restoked national antipathies, on the part of both Greeks and Germans. The single currency, that was conceived to cement European integration and put a seal on post-war reconciliation, has instead revived memories of the Nazi occupation of Greece and torn both countries apart.” Will the Greeks, with their radical anti-austerity government, get Europe to cancel its debts? Or, will the marvellous German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the unimpeachable International Monetary Fund drive them into submission or out of the EU?

In a way, it’s not about Greece and Germany, but about Europe itself. Another article comments that “built to foster friendship, the euro is manufacturing misery instead”. But Europe has been tearing itself apart for a century, with two world wars and a great depression. It has tried to build Fortress Europe to stop the rest of the world from stealing our privileges. To no avail. Europe’s share of world trade just keeps falling and its enraged democratic citizens move further and further to the right. I’ve no doubt that Heil Hitler will win. I flip through other online articles. “Hawkish Tones”, “The Euro-Zone: Pain Without End”, “The Democratic Deficit”, “Why Long-Term Unemployment In The Euro Area Is So High” and so on. Yawn.

My mobile bleeps. I’ve got a text. ‘I’m on Skype. Alicia.’ Oh my god it’s Alicia. My wonderful daughter. She’s online. Double click. Yes. What’s my password? It used to be, but then it was… I can’t remember any of them. Hurry. Try this.

“Hi dad. How’s it going?” It’s Alicia with a Californian twang. “I can’t see you darling.” All I can see are two silhouettes in a halo of light. “Hang on.” I hear shuffling. “That better?” It’s Alicia, wavy red hair like sunbeams around the face of a goddess, lean, bronzed and she isn’t wearing anything. Oh, a tiny bikini top. Thank goodness for decency. “You’re on a beach” I say. “Mum told me you’ve become a beach bum.” “What? Did she say that? No dad. I just switched jobs.” “Why?”

She tells me she realised that, working for her biochemical corporation, she was responsible for a load of environmental damage, so she’s relocated to the ecology sector. And it isn’t just lab work, it’s out in the field, campaigns and action to stop illegal logging, river pollution, save the fish and free the pork…

The trouble is, I’ve become aware of something else, so I’m not really listening. There’s half a person next to her, a male person I think, and he seems to be made of hair, except for a stud in his ear and tattoos on his arm. “I’m sorry Dad” says Alicia. “I should have introduced you before. This is Hairy.” A creature, half movie star, half gorilla, comes into view. “Hairy?” I ask. “No. Thierry” says Alicia, giggling at my error. “Oh Thierry. Yes, of course. How do you do, Thierry” I say. Thierry finds this hilarious. “How do I do? I do well, old bean.” He finds this so funny he almost sneezes into his hand and ducks out of view, apoplectic with laughter. Infantile. “Dad, there is something else, some other news.” She turns to Hairy. She’s going to chat with her dad about family stuff, she won’t be long. I’m carried up the beach. Alicia wants to find some shade.

Finding refuge in some dusty alley, she asks me if I can guess her news. “You aren’t pregnant are you?” I try to reconcile myself to having little bundles of hair for grandchildren. “No. I’m not pregnant dad. Look at me while I speak to you. What do you notice?” “You’re beautiful.” “Not that. Look at my lips. What happens when I talk?” I squint. “Has something happened to your lips? The picture’s not that clear. Have you contracted some dreaded lip disease?” “No dad. Turn off the sound.” “But then I won’t hear you.” “Turn it off.” I turn it off. “Can you still hear me?” “Yes.” Oh, you’re psychic. “Yes. I’ve been out of contact. I’ve only just found out that you’re a Sharer too.” It’s hard to take it in. “I know. Listen dad, I’ve got to go. I just wanted to make contact and reassure you that I’m okay. Okay?” Yes. She kisses the screen and I swoon. Moments ago I had no one to talk things through with. Now I’ve an ally. And it’s my daughter.

 

Hours ago, Michelle went out in a red body-hugging dress that can only be described as incitement to ravish. And I’ve been sitting here, wondering whom she could be meeting, togged up like that. The Prince Regent? I keep imagining masked balls and secret liaisons where I see things I shouldn’t, and which make me unhappy. So, hearing her come in, I run straight out into the dark oak-panelled hall, and beseech her. “Where have you been?As a matter of fact” she says, swishing past me “I’ve had a most enjoyable evening with neighbours who may know of a very prestigious client for Infinite Intelligence.”

I run about after her, as she pours herself a glass of wine. I can’t believe she’s speaking to me and I don’t want it to stop. “That’s great” I burble. “It means your company’s saved.” “I’ve an idea that you may have had a hand in it” she says, with a sweet smile. “Me?” My hosts said they knew you. “Oh. Who are they?” “Sir William and Lady Katherine Rosenthal.” “The Rosenthals?” I have to invent a seizure in my leg and hop about clutching it, going “hoo ha hee ha” to avoid revealing my confusion. Michelle is sympathetic. She wants to forgive me. “I know you didn’t mean any harm Rupert. But you should have told me about Greta. You must communicate.” I’m speechless. I try to nod, but it comes out as a kind of circular motion.

 

I wish I could get out of this hole. I mean, whistle away to some foreign shore and be someone else. Although I try to block them out, Sharers keep quizzing me as to what Michelle knows about psychic pulsing. Finally, breaking my silence, just to shut them up, I say she knows nothing and wouldn’t believe it if she did. Which is true. But they keep up a barrage of spam, warning me that, if Michelle’s in touch with Sir Bill, I must never say anything Sensitive to her. It’s upsetting. They say it’s to protect her as well, but how can I keep secrets from my wife?

Michelle wants me to ‘communicate’, so I should tell her. Tell her everything, she’s my partner. I didn’t tell her about Greta and that was wrong. But if I start banging on about telepathy, the global community of Sharers, the insurgence of Controller forces, the murky mind of William Rosenthal and whatnot, she’ll have me sectioned. And she isn’t psychic, so I can’t prove it.

I could simply tell her to avoid the Rosenthals. But why should she? What reasons can I give? She’ll guess I’m withholding stuff, or think I’m trying to scupper her chances. Either way, she won’t buy it, not when there’s a prestigious client that’s going to save her Infinite Intelligence. So I’m avoiding her until I can work it out. And I’m avoiding Sharers for the same reason. I want to talk it through with Alicia, but can’t seem to contact her. So I can’t talk anything through with anyone. I’m in hiding. And day by day, my tiny mind gets tinier and tinier.

Time has ceased since Wimbledon. Djokovic beat Federer. Martina Hingis won both doubles and the mixed double final, where she was paired with Leander Paes, was the most thrilling match of the fortnight because they were so brilliant. Me and the commentators were beside ourselves with excitement. I’ve videoed it, so I can watch it again and again. Because there’s nothing else. School’s out and it’s the ‘silly season’, where politicians fly off to exclusive islands and coachloads of kiddies fall off mountains. Lord Sewel has resigned from the House of Lords, after being filmed allegedly taking drugs with prostitutes. Footage obtained by The Sun on Sunday appeared to show the peer snorting powder from a woman’s breasts. Whatever next?

My mobile blasts out the Hallelujah chorus. It’s producer Stanley Walsh. I think he wants Michelle but no, he wants me. It’ll be about his crazy wife Greta. She’s my patient, or was. I hope nothing has happened. I hope it’s not my fault. “Is it about Greta?” “Come over. I’ll tell you.” Wow! I’m going out. Hallelujah.

On my way out, I notice a rectangle of glowing light and am drawn towards it. It’s a warm, moist evening, the air sweet. The glowing rectangle is Aiden’s shed, with the side down and lights on but no one about. What is mesmerising is how magical an old mattress strewn with quilts and a mouldy sofa can look. Like a little stage, set amid murmuring trees and twittering birdies, a scene from some surreal movie. Edging closer, I notice pots hanging and a small stove, piles of clothes, all neatly folded, a clock on the floor, beside the mattress. I can hear it ticking. A crow caws. The bedding moves. I freeze. A body rises and quilts slide away to reveal another body. Two bodies entwined. Aiden and the girl I frightened, Grace.

I shouldn’t be looking at this. But they’re out in the open and on our land. They wouldn’t like it though. But it’s so wonderful to watch the lazy way they move around each other, the sweet complicity. I mustn’t look. In a way it’s too emotional. I tiptoe backwards, eyes still glued. I wonder how they met. She didn’t even know his name, thought it was Allan. Tiptoeing backwards up rising ground isn’t easy. Getting my feet in a tangle, I slide down on my back. They haven’t noticed. They’re wrapped up in each other, full of feelings that ride on breaths, heartbeats and anyway, I’m too far away. It’s beautiful to see young lovers but it pierces me. Partly because of Michelle, how we were once and where we are now. Partly because of a feeling, ‘that’ll never happen to me again’.

I find the church easy enough, park up and take the path through the churchyard as instructed by Stanley. It’s dark, full of bushes and tombstones. Takes me ages to find the gravel track beyond, which lights up, blinding me, the moment I step onto it. I hear Stanley before I see him. He guides me in through the dazzling security whiteout. “Hi. Great to see you. Come on in and join the party!” What party? The party consists of two young women who are giggling and wriggling and wearing almost nothing. They introduce themselves but I’m too surprised to remember. Names like Pimpy or Loody, obviously not their real names.

There’s a table set with sumptuous cuisines, fine wines and spirits, a cinema screen down one end, a nest of soft yellow sofas, side tables with bowls of munchies and mellow music emanating from nowhere. In moments I’m on a couch, with a scotch, a plate of food and my own special playmate, whose name might be Dropsy. Unlike our host, me and Dropsy don’t go all the way and end up chatting. She was training to be a nurse and, because her parents aren’t rich, funding her education by giving the occasional blowjob. But the college found out and chucked her out. So now she earns a lot more money than she would as a nurse.

When Stanley has spread his seed abundantly upon our eardrums, he’s very jolly but wants the girls out. “Shoo, shoo, out you go” he says with a raffish grin, clapping his hands. “We’ll see you again later.” Out they giggle. Stanley freshens my drink. “So what are you up to Rupert?” he asks, plonking himself down beside me. Stanley is probably in his fifties, like me. But he’s handsome, wealthy, secure in himself. Yet such is his warmth and his charm that soon, as we talk, I feel handsome and wealthy too. We’re men of the world and, after I’ve told him how well things are going, what with Michelle’s possible client and our gardener’s assistant having a girlfriend, Stanley starts telling me about this film he’s been editing. It’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen and he thinks I’ll agree. Reaching for a remote, he dims the lights and the cinema screen comes to life.

At first the screen seems to ripple, it’s just a rippling blur. Then, as the shot comes into focus, we see a human bottom pumping and Stanley starts to laugh. As we pan out, there are bodies shagging everywhere and more, ripping off their clothes and diving in. It’s the orgy. Stanley’s edited it and he’s the only one, apart from me, to find it funny. And it is fiendishly hilarious, a writhing mound of pulsing humanity. Shot after shot of rib-aching mirth. Stanley slaps my knee and guffaws. I slap his shoulder and chortle. We sit, hands gripped in each other’s, roaring at each image. There’s Aiden. Who’s he with? Oh, Grace. That’s where they met. “Look!” shrieks Stanley. I look. It’s Michelle. I didn’t know she was part of it. Who’s she with? Or is it someone up behind her? Or both? I can’t see. “Look” shouts Stanley again. “That’s you, running around there. See? You turned on every camera.” “Yes” I chuckle, trying to retain my sense of humour after seeing Michelle. The film flickers to an end, no credits.

Stanley flicks on a light above my head and stares at me “Amazing, don’t you think?” I do. He’s still smiling but his face looks different. “Whatever could have caused it?” he asks. “I mean it didn’t just happen.” “I don’t know” I say, feeling a bit queasy. “Only there’s a story going the rounds, about a ring of terrorists.” “Terrorists?” I bleat. “Terrorists with telepathic weapons.” He knows. “Do you know anything about it, Rupert?” There’s something horrible happening to his face. It’s going out of focus. I’ve got to stop quivering. “No.” “Then why are you so frightened?” “I’m upset at seeing Michelle on the screen. I didn’t know she was a part of it.” “Very attractive woman your wife” he says, leering at me. His face is swimming like a moon through clouds. I daren’t move, in case I give something away. “Why weren’t you a part of it? Why were you, among all those present, immune?” “I don’t know.” It’s all I can do to stop my bowels giving way. “Why did you film it?” “I thought it’d make a great promo for Infinite Intelligence” I whimper.

Stanley bursts into laughter and I join in. It is so funny, I can’t stop laughing. Stanley stops laughing. “If there were a power that could have this effect on people, it would be devastating in the wrong hands. That is, in the hands of terrorists. Do you understand, Rupert?” I’m staring at him but I’m not looking at a face, I’m looking at a psyche so intense, so dark, that if I ever got sucked into it, I’d burn in hell forever. “I understand” I gibber. “So, if you were affiliated to such a group…” “I’m not. I wouldn’t be. Not.” “Good” says Stanley. “And now we’ve cleared the air, let’s bring back the party girls!” “Oh. I really can’t” I say. I really can’t. “Goodness. Is that the time?” I exclaim, looking at the watch on my wrist, which isn’t there. As I scuttle to the door, he hands me a package, a copy of the film for whenever I get horny. I almost forget to say goodbye. “Thanks for inviting me. Lovely evening. Where’s Greta, by the way?” Stanley grins from the doorway. “Greta? In the nuthouse, where she belongs.” “Oh, thanks. Byee.” “Good luck Rupert” he calls. I manage to keep steady down the gravel track, but the moment I’m in the shadows of the churchyard, my panic erupts, stumbling through bushes and vomiting on a grave.

Kneeling before my dinner, I smell a wonderful fragrance and feel a beautiful light suffuse me. “Dad? Are you alright?” I gibber and jabber, blather and blubber, blurt and burble. Alicia says “get yourself trained up, dad. You’re in danger.”

 

7 – Wobbles

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015 (click Archive above). If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

We’ve had rain and sun, sun and rain, and the groves and gardens of our little estate are going berserk. Head gardener Cyril Shoebridge and his new assistant, Aiden Winkley, not being the fastest of folk, are hard pressed to weed and prune the aggressive greenery back to delicate decency. They are especially keen as Mrs Alves, my loving partner Michelle, is due back. Michelle doesn’t know that I’ve employed Aiden to help old Mr Shoebridge and perhaps they know that. (I will tell her, but not the minute she arrives. I’ll wait for the right moment.) Anyhow, they want to put on a good show, as Cyril says “get everything tickety-boo”.

Myself, I’ve been wondering if Michelle is psychic-sensitive, whether we can telepath, the way I now do with others. I’ve been sending her messages while she’s been away and hoping for messages back. But I don’t know how to do it. Mind researcher, Maryam Mazari, says she’s teach me. That is, she’ll study my ‘talents’ and see what’s possible. I want that as soon as possible because, since I became a Sharer, anytime I get a moment’s rest, my head fills with welcoming voices and I don’t know how to turn them off. Also, I don’t know if they’re hearing me or if any of it makes sense.

The flip side is that, whatever my talents are, the feeling that I’ve got them, makes a huge difference. Feeling suffused with Cosmic Light, with a direct line to the Supreme Being as I observe my therapy clients, gives me the confidence to intuit, without the burden of my own hangups or prejudices. It’s funny, although I’ve removed the wispy beard, the fusty old wizardy look, and disguised myself in cool designer wear and an advertiser’s smile, inside I’m feeling more and more like the ‘holistic guide’ I started out as.

A knock on the door is followed, eventually, by another. No one knocks that slowly, except old Mr Shoebridge. “Excusing you pardon sir” he says. His face is like a landscape seen from above, painted in reds and yellows, surrounded by tufts of hair like white sunbeams. His eyes are troubled. “We’re wanted up at the house.” Michelle has arrived. She’s back! I want to run up and greet her, but I must wait for Cyril, which means I only have to take one step a minute.

“Have you told Mrs Alves about Aiden?” he asks, wheezing. Hardly any light penetrates these trees and the earth smells rich after last night’s rain. “Not yet” I admit. I help him up the grassy knoll, onto the dazzling lawn. “Only the lad’s a touch nervous” says Shoebridge, nervously. That’s because it’s Michelle’s house, and her mother’s before her. She employs staff. “I’m paying Aiden’s wages” I say. “Right you are sir.” I wish he wouldn’t call me ‘sir’. I love the old house, with all its add-ons over the generations and draped in virginia creeper, glowing crimson and gold in autumn, like Cyril Shoebridge’s wise old face. “You’ve done a great job” I say, looking round at the beds of blooming bloomery. “Thank you sir.” I skip in front of him. “Cyril. Please would you call me Rupert?” “No sir.” “But I admire you, look up to you.” “After hours.” “Oh.” So he can call me Rupert when he’s not on duty. That’s when we’re equal.

Michelle is in the kitchen, instructing Megan, our housekeeper, who doesn’t look happy, not that that’s unusual. Megan doesn’t like being instructed. She wants things the way they should be and no other way. Michelle, on the other hand, is radiant. I can always tell when she’s excited. Perhaps this is a good moment to see if she’s psychic, by sending her a message. “Welcome home darling. Welcome home darling” I repeat under my breath, sending waves of psychic energy, rippling through the warm air, from my mind to hers.

I have to give up after a while, as there seems to be a bit of a crisis brewing. “But it’s only for one day” purrs Michelle. “They won’t be filming inside though, will they?” asks Megan, her face screwed up like a weasel. “We’ll have to be ready for either. It may depend on the weather” replies Michelle, seemingly oblivious to her housekeeper’s inner rage. As my beloved conveys her plans to Mr Shoebridge, I realise why she’s so happy. Recently, she and her former rival, Johnny Andrews, decided to amalgamate their corporate IT services, to create Infinite Intelligence, in the hope that they’ll attract government and other lucrative contracts. Don’t ask me if any of this is likely. But this day’s filming means that the promotional film is going ahead.

“No Cyril” says Michelle, her voice brimming with patience. “The filming is Sunday week. This Sunday the production team is coming to recce the place.” “Recce?” asks Shoebridge. “Reconnoitre” explains Michelle. “More like wreck it” mumbles Megan. Michelle doesn’t even deign to notice, but moves on swiftly to the drinks and refreshments required for cast and crew, how she wants the house and garden to look, what will be expected of them. I send her amorous vibrations “I love you, I love you”. Suddenly Michelle turns to me. “Rupert? Why are you looking at me with those mad staring eyes? Are you trying to tell me something?” I don’t know what to say. “What is it Roo?” she asks. I stutter. “Come on” she says I’m not a mind reader.” “Oh” I say, taking it in. “Well?” she asks. “Nothing” I say.

Maryam Mazari says Michelle may not be a Sensitive, although it’s also possible that I may not be a transmitter. She won’t know until she studies me. Could I make next Wednesday? I’m to drive just beyond the turning to Lila and Harry’s place, and park up in front of an old wooden stile.

As Maryam’s voice fades out, an ocean of voices rushes in and, through that, I hear the slowest knocking in the world. It’s dark, but Mr Shoebridge doesn’t want to come in, because he’s dirty from outside. I can understand how the bright white and silver dazzle of my revamped geo-dome, compared with the subtle smelly world he lives in, might make him feel uncomfortable. So I step out. “What is it?” What it is, is Megan. She’s told Mrs Alves about Aiden’s employment and she says Mrs Alves is going to sack him. Mr Shoebridge and I have never talked about Megan but, in a look we share, I sense we may have similar views. “That’s just Megan” I say. “Nonetheless” he says, as a wan face looms up behind him. Aiden has ME, which means he has to pace himself, which makes him the ideal workmate for old Shoebridge. He’s also sleeping in my dome and he’s tired. I assure them both that I’ll talk with Mrs Alves and there’s nothing to worry about.

 

I’ve got to talk to Michelle about Aiden, but she’s stressed. Even as I saunter down the stately stairs, trucks are delivering vast quantities of comestibles and beverages. “It isn’t just the celebrities” she tells me, pointing a man lugging crates, in the right direction. “The production team are top notch. Stanley Walsh’s people. In there!” I lose her attention, as she darts into the kitchen where, silent at the centre of whizzing delivery men, stands our housekeeper, a glowing ball of fury. I can see her point of view. Lord knows where we’re going to put all this stuff.

Michelle has disappeared. I’ve got to talk to her about Aiden. A herd of cleaners have have arrived and are busy unloading industrial cleaning machines. I find Michelle pacing up and down the south veranda, telling a bevy of builders what needs doing. Repainting here, repointing there, removing every unsightly inadequacy or covering it up. The property is to be scrubbed within an inch of its life, inside and out. Though I follow her about all day, there’s never a right moment to tell her about Aiden. I try holding her hand, catching her eye, cuddling in bed, zoning into her sleeping mind, entering her dream of a Hollywood movie and then realising it’s my own dream.

 

The production team have been due for almost an hour. We stand in our positions, waiting. In the fierce sunlight of the kitchen, Megan, who can’t stop telling us that lateness is rudeness, guards over pyramids of dainty delicacies rising amid oceans of alcohol. I’m hovering in the dark recesses of the hall. Michelle is by the front door, flicking her hair, rearranging her Marilyn frock in the long mirror.

Megan scuttles past me. She can’t wait any longer. The food is wilting and the drinks are getting warm. Our doorbell chimes. Megan scuttles back. Michelle flicks her hair, rearranges her frock and calmly opens the door. This reveals three humans. One is a slender blond woman with an eager smile. The bulky middle-aged bloke in a check shirt is not smiling. The younger man is tall, with a long olive face, long nose, dark sensitive eyes and, as I walk forward to join Michelle, he takes her hand and, with a slight bow, kisses it. It’s a formal, old-fashioned gesture, but Michelle likes it, her Marilyn frock rustling, her frizzy red hair glowing in the dark hall, as we go through the ritual of welcomes, introductions and how amazing our house is.

The slender blonde is Peach Purvis. That’s her name. She’s assistant director to Stanley Walsh and when Stanley mentioned that his wife Greta was making her directorial debut, Peach was happy to assist. The tall man hardly notices me, but I gather that he’s art director Don Silverman. The burly grey-haired man is Ted Randall, a cinematographer with endless movies to his credit. He’s a family man and Sundays are his only day off. He should be with them. But he’s worked for Stanley for years. “So, when Stan says ‘can I make it?’ I can make it. Mind you, I can’t make head nor tail of the script.

Don Silverman picks up on this. “Yes, we are somewhat mystified” he says, sliding his hand around Michelle’s waist and showing her the script. Although I can’t see the script, I can guess. Greta Walsh, scriptwriter and director on this production, was briefly my patient. She scribbles her ideas in picture-form, image on image, on page after page of her art pad. And this script looks suspiciously like one such art pad.. “And what’s this?” asks Ted, poking the pad that Don’s holding. We huddle. ‘This’ seems to be a giant cigar, running from bottom left to top right, cutting through innumerable other wobbly scribbles. I’m keeping out of this. No one’s got any idea what any of it means, but Michelle says “Let’s have some refreshments and then we’ll sort it all out.”

I notice Megan flinch, seeing Don’s arm around Michelle, as we enter the kitchen. I also notice Peach and Ted flinch as they come upon the vast array of food and drink. Peach says it looks wonderful, but she couldn’t possibly as she’s on a diet. Don says if she diets anymore, she’ll become invisible. He likes a woman with some flesh on her, he says, squeezing Michelle’s soft hip. Megan growls. Ted starts to back out of the room. He didn’t come here to eat. He only agreed to give the place a quick lookover. He should be with his family. As Michelle and Peach converge upon Ted, to convince him to stay, Megan swoops on Don. “Are you a jew?” she asks. “Yes” he says, pleasantly, while his olive face turns an unearthly green. “Why do you ask?” “Because we fought a war to save you lot. And we gave you a country” says Megan. “So what are you doing over here, putting your slimy hands all over Mrs Alves?” I notice Don’s splayed hands rising, as if to converge on Megan’s neck.

Michelle inadvertently averts this crisis. “I know how to solve this” she says, flicking through the indecipherable script. “We’ll check out every possible location. Then we can’t go wrong.” Ted groans, but Peach is grateful, because Stanley wants his wife to be given every support. Don sidles up to Michelle and, smiling at Megan, says he doesn’t care how long it takes. (I know Michelle can take care of herself and I am not in charge of her. In fact I’m happy when people take a shine to her, proud to be worthy of such a lovely partner.)

As Michelle guides her production team upstairs, to check out the attic, Megan tells me there’s an old rifle in the stables. I should see the jew off my land. She wouldn’t let her wife be mauled by the betrayers of Jesus, corrupting the poor woman’s flesh so she was no good to anyone. It’s pointless telling Megan that her views are considered extreme nowadays, so I say I’m going to check out the rifle and disappear down to my dome.

After the production team leave, I saunter up to the house and find Michelle in her study, tapping madly at her laptop. Whatever else happens, I have to talk to her about Aiden’s employment. I explain his situation, Cyril’s age and that I’m paying Aiden. Michelle swivels round. “Are you paying his National Insurance? He’s got ME, you say? Are we covered if he has an accident at work?” She rattles off a list of questions to which I don’t know the answers. She waves me away. She’s got enough problems on her plate. Greta Walsh hasn’t contacted her in days. Are the celebrities booked? Do they know when and where? I creep off, telling myself I’d better bone up on PAYE, insurance etcetera, and consoling myself with Churchill’s advice, that “a problem deferred is a problem half-solved”.

 

I park up, as instructed, in front of an old wooden stile, just beyond the turn-off to Lila and Harry’s. It’s hot, deserted. From here, the road winds away from the coast, across the Downs, no traffic, no one about. I keep expecting Maryam Mazari to appear from nowhere, or at least hear her voice telling me what to do. I’m a few minutes early.

I think I’ve treated this as a joke so far, these voices in my head, these talents I’m supposed to possess. On the other hand, I was hearing voices and thought I was going mad until Maryam reassured me. I dreamt I was a naked man in a cave high above a valley, when a helicopter zoomed in and killed me. Maryam says I witnessed the assassination of Kabir Varanasi, founder of the Sharers. I also dreamt I was a woman called Sunita in some vile stinking city, trying to escape. That, apparently, was Kabir’s widow. Do I believe it? If it’s mumbo-jumbo, I’m mad. Which I don’t rule out.

I’m staring at the wooden stile, imagining that I’ve imagined it all, when a little red figure pops up from behind it, making me jump. She asks if I remember her. I do. She was at Lila’s tea party, the eight-year-old kid who talked about electromagnetism. Peggy, I think. She nods. I’m to follow her over the stile. She will share her knowledge of the path with me. As soon as I’m across the stile, I see the sheer drop below and almost throw myself into it, to get it over with. But Peggy’s voice takes control. Hold onto this rock and ease yourself around, as I am doing. The path is wider this side, but lean into the cliff. We must slither below this overhang. There is a hook above you. Us it to pull yourself up, like this. Now face the cliff. Press into it and edge along. Crouch. Slowly lower your legs over the side. Now let yourself slide.

I land on my knees on a patch of grass. Far beneath, a lower cliff protects the land from the glittering sea. But, between it and this higher cliff, lies a sheltered loop of land, with a farmhouse, scattered outbuildings and tiny balls of grazing wool. My head fills with voices. Welcome. Pleased to meet you. Follow Peggy. Can you sense what the finch is saying? Too many voices to distinguish. Until I hear just one voice. Good afternoon Rupert. Hi Maryam.

My body is following Peggy down to the farm. My mind is chatting with Maryam. Several of the outbuildings are actually research labs. She’ll show me and introduce me to everyone. As Peggy leads me between two old barns, Maryam comes into view, walking towards us in a lilac and silver sari, a warm smile in her deep brown eyes. There’s no reason to greet. We’re already talking. She’ll show me in here first.

The barn is not a barn but a network of white rooms. In the first, a large woman sits, her head attached to diodes. She shakes slowly and I recognise her from the tea party. There are more diodes attached to a banana. A small Chinese man in a white lab coat skitters up, chattering enthusiastically about the vibrational frequency of plant consciousness. It is higher than ours. Bonny, the shaking lady, is one of the few able to communicate on this level. Might I offer my services? I can’t talk to a banana. I wouldn’t know where to start. I might just get frustrated and eat it. Luckily, Maryam explains that my skills have yet to be evaluated. Nonetheless, Doctor Li follows, as we visit the other research labs.

Each is equipped with scientific apparatus, computers and banks of oscilloscopes monitoring every signal emanating from the subject. There’s a chattering finch that isn’t making any sense. Some think it might have gone mad. I wouldn’t be surprised. In one room they’re studying a block of very old cheddar cheese. I’m relieved to discover that it’s not the cheese they’re communing with, but the mold growing within it. Elsewhere scientists are psychically interfacing with a small igneous rock. They’re not having much luck with the feldspar but are getting along swimmingly with the quartz. I’m told that distinctions between biological and chemical life are arbitrary. Everyone and everything receives and communicates all the time.

By the time we leave for the human research centre, we’re followed by a gaggle of researchers. Here I’m the subject. Maryam asks Noel, whom I’ve met before and who looks a little like Jesus, if he’d communicate with me. She asks the others to remain telepathically silent, as Rupert hasn’t yet learned to differentiate. Noel says hi. I say hi. He says it’s great talking with me. I say likewise. Then it’s ghost’s turn. I imagine that Maryam is choosing Noel and ghost first, because I already know them. ghost, who looks like a boy grown old, asks if he can search me for bugs. I expect him to come over and frisk me. Instead, I feel a hum, like a tiny dental drill, whizzing through my mind. No bugs, he says. But some spy has been in there, rummaging about. I wonder who it could be, someone I know, or someone who just flew in unannounced.

Can you share with anyone? I ask. A wave of anxiety passes through us, flickering across the faces of the group. Everyone starts telling me things. Maryam says I’m to focus on a single voice, just zone in. ghost is ranting about turncoat psychics, controllers and spies. Noel is preaching clarity. Doctor Li is just saying ‘what are we going to do’ over and over again. I ask Maryam what the problem is.

We used to share with everyone, she explains. There were only Sensitives and Insensitives and the Insensitives didn’t believe in it anyway. Now there are spies, mind manipulators, all kinds of operatives. Since Kabir’s assassination and Sunita’s disappearance, we are having to learn to distinguish. The key is clarity. The others murmur their agreement. I remember Harry Burke telling me that “the key is openness”. Yes, they murmur. Operatives have something to hide. That’s how we can identify them. So don’t hide anything yourself. I agree not to.

Maryam thinks it’s time for the main investigation. The others say they’re ready. She asks me to think of nothing. I can’t remember what happens after that, but they tell me I was absolutely vacant! I ask what the difference is between ‘clarity’ and ‘vacancy’. Maryam tells me that ‘clarity’ means you are clear but you exist. ‘Vacancy’ means you vanish. Everyone gasps. “Vanish?” I blurt out, touching my body to check it’s still sitting where I put it. Yes, the voices assure me. Psychically you become completely amorphous. You could pass unseen. More gasps. You could shield others. You could shield information. Their excitement comes to a climax as Maryam asks me if I’d be prepared to offer Sharers the use of my gifts, as a contribution. All I can think is I don’t want to talk to bananas. Doctor Li chuckles. He doesn’t think I’ll be asked to do anything like that, not with my special gifts. As voices assure me that I’ll get training and it’ll be completely safe, I imagine an Insensitive coming upon us. They’d see a group of people sitting in silence, no talking, no lips moving. But we are talking, or at least communicating. Noel says if Kabir had my gifts, he’d still be alive. Their grief at his loss overwhelms me. I could have shielded him. I offer my services. I’ll train. I’ll learn.

I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. Even on the way home, I’m getting voices asking me for help in their research. Some woman in Spain wants me to find her dog. When she tells me it died eighteen years ago, I vacate myself just to get rid of her and almost drive the car off the road. First rule: Don’t practice Absolute Vacancy while driving.

 

I awake, from a sea of troubled voices, realising my mission to help fellow Sharers. Ever since I agreed to help, I’ve been worrying about what it might entail. The search is on to find anyone who managed to download Kabir’s Last Insights. I lost contact at the moment Sunita transmitted them, because my train arrived at Victoria. Some Sharers think they may have some of them. The trouble is, no one quite knows what they’re looking for. Whatever happens, my first task is to hone my skills, learn to distinguish different voices, to zone in, to communicate with everyone. Everyone except Insensitives, who can only hear their own thoughts. And psychic spies. ghost says that, because they’re hiding their true intent, they have dark nooks and crannies in their psyches. I’ve never even seen a psyche.

A horrible buzzing obscures my psychic quest. At first I think it’s the extreme heat radiating through our bedroom windows, cooking my brain. But I can hear engines throbbing, people shouting. I stumble to the window. People and cables everywhere. It’s filming day, the day that the promotional film for Infinite Intelligence gets shot. Our hall is awash with technicians lugging in lighting and sound gear, cameras and consoles. I sidle into the kitchen to grab a coffee. Megan, standing guard over mountains of food, immediately tells me I’m not to touch her delicacies. I just want a quiet moment. Celebrity chef Tyler Hunt waltzes in. Megan almost faints. She recognises him from the telly. He smiles down upon her, like a god. “What a magnificent spread” he declares, winking at me, because it was me who told him to feign interest in others. “You’re a sly beauty” he tells her, popping an olive into his mouth and waltzing out. Megan is in a whirl. I run away to my dome.

Aiden’s asleep in my dome. I’d forgotten. “Sorry” I say. He’s depressed. He thinks Mrs Alves will sack him, because that’s what Megan told him. “Don’t you worry” I say. “I’ve talked it through with Michelle. All I have to do is sort out your National Insurance Contributions, healthcare, pension, PAYE and all the rest of it.” I’ve no idea what I’m talking about. “Anyway, not to worry.” I sit at my desk, not looking, while Aiden gets dressed. I can’t seem to get into telepathic mode with him shuffling about. I try transmitting to Mr Shoebridge to come over with an urgent task for Aiden, but give up. Even if he got the message, it’d take him hours to get here. Maybe I should help Michelle.

The moment I see the spaghetti of cables on the lawn, with lighting, sound and camera crew running around like ants, I know this is not a day for cosmic communing. Maybe I should zone in on the people here, hone my skills that way. There may even be some Sensitives and we could be talking and no one around us would know. The production team who came to recce the place last Sunday are having a conflab in the centre of the writhing ants. I’ll check them out.

Ted Randall, the cinematographer, is agitated, his shaggy grey hair shaking, his brow a lattice of angry lines. “Why are we setting up here, when rain is forecast?” he demands. I intuit that he’s pissed off at missing a day with his family. The tall art director, Don Silverman, is exasperated. He just wants to do his job and get out of here. “C’mon Ted. You’ve been grouching since we arrived.” Assistant director Peach Purvis, says “Our director says we’re shooting it here, so here’s where we’re shooting it.” Peach is very pretty but the bright sunlight reveals that she’s older than I thought, early thirties perhaps. She seems calm, but is gritting her teeth. Exploring her mind, I sense that she’s doing this for someone she loves. Is it Don? No. He’s ogling a fat woman in a big black sack, disappearing into the kitchen. “When you’re ready, I’ll inform our director” says Peach. They’re so nervous. Not that there’s anything I can do to help.

By contrast, the kitchen is awash with laughter and merriment, much to Megan’s displeasure. The celebs have arrived. Tyler is regaling them with hilarious cooking anecdotes. Judd Stone, former kids’ TV presenter cum heroin addict, hi-fives me, which irks Tyler, as he’s in the middle of a story. Judd tells me what a privilege it is to be in my home and how beautiful it is. Do I remember Olivia? “Welcome Olivia” I say to the attractive skull that looms up and kisses me on each cheek. “You don’t remember me, do you?” she asks, suddenly upset. “I do. We met at Lila’s. You’re an actress, a fine actress.” “Oh you darling. You know, it’s almost eleven-o’clock and I haven’t had any drinkypoos.” “We know all about your drinkypoos Olivia” shouts Tyler. Everyone laughs. Olivia murmurs “no one loves me”. I want to say that I love her, but then I realise that I don’t.

Megan is looking daggers at someone or something. Following her gaze, I come upon a dapper little man in tweeds and, wrapped around him, a skeletal man in sailor-boy blue with a bright orange tan. It’s lovely to see Gerald and Dennis so happy, especially as it means Gerald’s off the booze and isn’t going to top himself. And that means he’s come to terms with himself and realised that Dennis is his angel, which he is. Megan makes a move. I know she’s going to say something awful.

I dart in between and embrace Gerald and Dennis, leaving Megan fuming behind me. Gerald confides that our director, Greta Walsh, is having a spot of pre-debut nerves. Dennis tells me that my partner Michelle, “the lady with the fab red hair” is calming her down. Tyler, who hears everything, raises a glass and proposes a toast “To our friend Greta. We’re all here, without payment, to support you honey.” Coffees and juices are raised “To our friend Greta.”

Only the big woman in the black kaftan over by the puddings, doesn’t raise a glass, and it’s only when I get closer that I recognise pop princess, Tamara.Hello” she says, wiping cream from her lips with the back of her hand and licking it. I ask her how she’s been and she tells me that her mum, who has Alzheimers, is now in a home and her dad’s doing okay. “And your management company? Have they paid you?” “Yes, some” she says, with a sweet grin. They’ve also given her some time off from touring and recording. She’s writing a new album. “Stuff I want to write” she says. And are you in Wales?” I ask. “Yes, with dad, visiting mum” she says.

We’re interrupted by Peach Purvis and told to assemble on the lawn, as filming is about to commence. As I follow Tamara out, Don Silverman rushes up to her. “Hi, I’m Don Silverman, art director on this shoot. I just want you to know that I’m a big fan, Tamara. A big fan.” He’s all over her. Last week, when he was fondling Michelle, he said he liked a woman with some flesh on her. Maybe it’s the more flesh the better. We gather around the edges of the set, which is just a patch of lawn, among the cameras and crew. Including myself, I count thirty-two of us.

Finally, our director, Greta Walsh, appears, flanked by Michelle and Peach. Greta stops in the centre, looks around, looks up, looks around again and gasps. “Where is the camera crane?” “What crane?” asks Peach, mystified. “What fucking crane?” yells Ted, lumbering up. “The crane in the script” says Greta, looking as if she’s about to faint. We converge on the script. It turns out that, what I’d thought was a giant cigar, rising over a load of wobbly scribbles, is a crane. Ted goes apeshit. “How can anyone be expected to know that?” he screams. Don tells him to cool it, which makes Ted even angrier. Peach calls Greta’s husband, producer Stanley Walsh. Don reasons with Greta. “There must be other shots we can do.” “No” insists Greta. “It’s conceptual, each shot transforms into the next.”

The cast are being very jolly, chatting with the crew, trying to keep the temperature down. I notice a straggle of people wandering towards us and can’t think who they are. They don’t look like movie folk, more like a guided tour that’s lost its way. One of them, a bony man in a kilt, points. “You’re Tyler Hunt, aren’t you? What’re you doing here?” and strides over, followed by the others. “We heard there was a film being made” says a beaming lady. “What’s it all about?”

Peach announces that she’s been in touch with Stanley Walsh and Stanley says a crane is on it’s way, maybe an hour or so, Stanley estimates. Every time she says Stanley, her face lights up. He’s a Great Man. Michelle beckons me over. She’s so tense, she can hardly speak. “There’s obviously going to be a delay. Help Megan with the drinks, anything. Only don’t just stand there gawping. I help Megan with the drinks. A crowd of onlookers has gathered around the cast. It’s wonderful to see how performers perform when they find they have an audience.

Tyler is telling them about the movie, Infinite Intelligence, that he’s making as a favour for his friend. The other cast members are chipping in, smiling, trying to get noticed. The beaming lady asks him how he comes up with the recipes for his show. Fans are hurriedly searching pockets and bags for pens and bits of paper, to get autographs. Someone says they couldn’t eat Tyler’s food. It’s too rich. Tyler bristles. “No one gets fat on my food!” he roars. Realising that rage may not go down well, he laughs it off. “That’s how I know that Tamara here, doesn’t eat my food” he quips.

Everyone stares at Tamara, who looks shell-shocked at being singled out as fat. “You are Tamara? The Tamara?” asks a young bloke with a goatee beard, explaining “You’re very big in Poland”. The man in a kilt says “She’s very big anywhere”. The Polish youth is embarrassed. He means fame-big, not the bigness of her body. A rosy-cheeked girl in walking boots asks Tamara if she’s always been large, if camera tricks are responsible for making her look attractive. Tamara is lost for words.

Olivia takes the stage. When she made ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ for ATV, she insisted on her age lines showing, being a serious actress. But the pop industry is shallow so, for Tamara, they’re have to film her face from obscure angles and use a body double because, let’s face it, no one wants to see an obese pop chick. Tamara turns on Olivia who, she reveals, hasn’t worked for years on account of her drinking problem, which means she can’t even remember her lines. Olivia insists that she can remember her lines and starts spouting them. “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes magic! I try to give that to people.” Fans applaud. In her excitement, she knocks back a glass of scotch and asks Megan for another.

Recovering alcoholic, Gerald Mayhew, comes across, followed by loving Dennis. “Don’t drink Olivia” he says, taking her arm. “It’s not good for you and we’re here to support Greta.” Olivia wrenches her arm away. “You can talk” she says and regales her audience with Gerald’s dismissal from TV’s Antiques Roadshow. “He was so pissed, he crashed into a set of ancient Chinese vases, worth millions, and broke the lot!” Her fans roar with laughter. Dancer Dennis defends his partner by bitching that Olivia could never act, while he can still dance. He dances a medley of dances, calling out their names as he goes. “The Bossa Nova!” Judd, who’s getting the crew juiced up with joints and lines of coke, starts singing Bob Marley songs in an effort to bring about love and peace. “Don’t worry bout a ting. Ev’ry little ting is gonna be all right.” “The Charleston!”

Art director Don Silverman has found out that Tyler called Tamara fat and is laying into him. Fat is beautiful. Tamara tells Don to shut the fuck up. Olivia’s got hold of the bottle and is wailing. “Physical beauty is passing, but beauty of the mind, richness of the spirit, tenderness of the heart…” “The Twist!” cries Dennis, while Judd croons “Overcome dee devils wid a ting call love.” Dennis complains that Judd is ruining his dancing. Judd reggaes up to him. “One love, one heart, let’s get togedder and feel all right.” Tyler and Don look as if they’re about to come to blows. Olivia shrieks “I have always depended on the kindness of stranglers” and collapses. None of these people are Sensitives. All of them are locked inside themselves.

The camera crane arrives and completely digs up the lawn. Megan screams and races off to find Mrs Alves. Michelle orders Mr Shoebridge to get some old carpets for the crane to move on. Peach assembles the cast and positions them directly below the camera mounted on the crane. With everyone in place, Greta calls “Action!” Cameras whir, but no one knows what’s supposed to happen. Are the cast to just stand there? Do they have lines? Greta says they’re to wobble. Haven’t they seen the script? Peach is nervous. “Why are they to wobble?” Greta explains. “As the camera passes through the cat’s eyes that represent Infinite Intelligence, we come upon all these famous people, as in a dream.” Don explains that any rippling effects can be added in post production. Greta says no, she wants it real. Take two: The cast wobble. Greta cries “Cut!” She’s not happy. All we can see from the crane is the tops of their heads. They must lie on the grass and wobble. Take three: Cast on their backs, wobbling.

Into this shot, comes an ancient gardener and his slow, lurching assistant, half-carrying, half-dragging an old carpet. Greta screams. Michelle marches up and confronts Aiden. “Who are you?” “I’m Mr Shoebridge’s assistant.” Michelle stops short. “Assistant? Oh, I remember. Well, you’re sacked. As I’m racing over to try to sort this out, old Mr Shoebridge faces his employer. “Don’t sack him, Mrs Alves. He was only doing what I told him.” “I’m not interested” says Michelle, turning back to Aiden. “Get this carpet out of here, then collect whatever’s owing to you and leave.” I wonder if it’s okay to criticise your partner in public. She’s upset. I understand. I say “Michelle, darling, please don’t sack Aiden.” “Stay out of it Roo” she snarls and, peering down at Aiden, who’s trying to lift one end of the carpet, asks him “What’s taking you so long?” “He’s got ME, Michelle” I say. Shoebridge intervenes. “I’ve been your gardener and your mother’s before you, for forty-seven years. But if you sack young Aiden, Mrs Alves, I shall be forced to hand in my resignation.” “Good” says Michelle, without a flicker. “You’re sacked.” “Michelle!” I blurt. “No!” she insists. “I won’t have it. They’ve ruined the only shot we’ve had all day and it’s three-thirty! Let’s get this carpet off set and over to you Greta!”

Greta, however, has had a new idea and is sitting on the lawn, at the edge of the grassy knoll, busy scribbling in her pad. There is a mood of discontent. Celebs are bitching about each other and their fans are taking sides. I notice Ted throwing up his arms. “Even if we get the shot, it’s crap” he yells and stomps off, pursued by Don. Megan is serving little plates of oily delicacies, but she won’t serve fans. She tells them to clear off, it’s private property. Celebrities support their fans, taking matters into their own hands and passing out food to one and all. Megan grabs a plateful before they’re all gone and presents it to the man she’s been following about for most of the day. Tyler receive the plate but is more intent on seducing pretty Peach Purvis, who’s trying to get away. I hear her say “Get your hand off my tit.” Looking across, I see Tamara. As she passes, she elbows Tyler in the back, causing him to drop his delicacies and fall into them. When he rises, to see who did it, his crutch is splattered with oily goo. Peach laughs at him and strides off to the grassy knoll to discover what our director has in mind.

Michelle’s business partner, the avuncular Johnny Andrews, arrives, expecting to see the last few shots being filmed. He is receiving an update from her, on the day’s events, when the heavens open. Everyone rushes indoors, except the crew, who rush to save their equipment. The house fills with mud, celebrities and fans tripping over cables. Peach speaks with Stanley on the phone. Michelle and Johnny announce that there’ll be no more filming today. Ted adds “Or any day”. Megan, wheeling in a trolley full of rain, sees the muddy mess and goes berserk. Making a beeline for Gerald and Dennis, she tells them they’re disgusting homosexuals. She won’t have them fouling her house with their excremental habits. They’re an abomination. Next she turns to Judd, who should go back to Africa. She addresses fans as stinking krauts, dagos, spicks, wops and polacks and demand that they’re to get out now. All except Mr Hunt, who’s better than the lot of them put together. There’s a horrible hissing in the room. Tyler seizes his opportunity. “The only disgusting filthy abomination here, is you!” he tells Megan. Everyone voices their agreement. So Tyler gives a speech about the unacceptability of racism and homophobia. Megan, betrayed by the one she worships, grabs a large sticky cake and hurls it at Tyler. It misses, but lands on Michelle’s forehead and slides down her face. Michelle sacks Megan. Megan shouts “You can’t fire me. I’m the Housekeeper”.

Peach has news. Stanley has authorised a second Sunday’s shoot. No one can help it raining. Everyone groans, me too. The thought that we’re going to have to go through all this again. Ted says he won’t do it. Greta appears at the kitchen door, sobbing. She’s been redrafting the script, but her pencils have cut into the sopping paper and the dripping pad is in tatters, her ideas lost. Departing celebs confide to fans that their director, Greta, is, unfortunately, mad. But her husband Stanley is a big producer.

The empty house looks like a bombsite. Michelle ignores it. She and Johnny intend to write a proper script. I also ignore it, trudging down through the rain to my dome, to hone my psychic skills, only to find two very distraught sacked gardeners.

 

While organising therapy sessions for the coming week, I hear a voice in my head, telling me that he’s Doctor Richard Carroll from Vancouver. He practices psychic pulsing, whereby he can, for example, notice two people arguing in the street and cause them to make up. “How?” I ask. He tells me that, although Sensitives can’t connect with Insensitives, we can affect them by psychic pulsing, which triggers the pleasure centres of the brain. “It’s an approved research program” he assures me. “Sharer’s everywhere are exploring its potential, but you might like to try it, since it might help you professionally.” “How?” “Your patients are distressed. You can relieve their distress.” I see his point. “How is it done?” “You simply project pulses from your nucleus accumbens and ventral palladum.” “What are they?” “Your pleasure centres. But Rupert, don’t think technical. Did you ever experience a sudden warmth for someone?” “Yes of course” I say. “Well that’s it!” “But how, actually, do you, er, pulse?” “In the same way that, if you want to pick up a cup, your hand will automatically do it. Simply give the command. You feel the feeling and you want to communicate it.” I promise Doctor Carroll I’ll give it a try. Zoning out, I imagine my patients turning up, full of their sadly woes and bouncing out two minutes later, full of the joys of spring. What a scam!This Sunday I’m up before the film crew arrive. I find Megan in the kitchen. Michelle sacked her but she won’t leave. Nor will she speak. A small mercy. It occurs to me that I could psychically pulse her. For that, I’d have to instruct my nucleus accumbens and ventral palladum to direct their bonhomie at Megan. Easier said than done. Especially as, every time my pleasure centres think of her, they are repulsed. Suddenly she turns to me. Maybe she’s got it. She fixes me with her little piercing eyes and I fill up with terrible feelings of bitterness and depression. It’s all I can do to slide out the kitchen door and collapse on the grass. I’m not trying that again.

When my eyes open, they’re surrounded by people. A film set has materialised. Everyone from last week seems to be here, even grumpy Ted. Not that they look all that pleased to be here. Beyond the cast and crew, I see a crowd of excited faces. Could they be extras? Or members of the public? Perhaps the fans who turned up last Sunday told all their friends. Within the arc of cameras and cables, celebrities stand alone, dotted about like trees. Michelle and Johnny are handing out copies of the new script. I’m privileged to have been the first to read it. It’s packed with wonderful lines, like “Our global corporate systems and identity management solutions are second to none, and that’s worldwide!” I notice Peach Purvis, Don Silverman and Ted Randall converging on the new scriptwriters. There are no directions for them. It isn’t a shooting script. Michelle explains that we pass through the eyes of Infinite Intelligence, into a virtual world, where celebrities in different departments, describe the company’s selling points. Ted, Don and Peach nod dumbly and wander separately away.

Why isn’t anything happening? Everyone’s here, looks like everything’s in place. Where’s Greta? Oh, I get it. No director. Cast and crew looking at their watches. Michelle and Johnny standing pensively. No one feels like discussing it. There’s nothing to say. Megan appears with a trolley of iced water and fruit juices. Dennis says no one wants anything from her, as it’s likely to contain poison. Somehow the word poison puts people off. Without a word, Megan returns to her kitchen, leaving the trolley. No one goes near it. The ice in the water melts, but not the ice in people’s hearts. I ask Michelle and Johnny if anyone’s spoken with Greta. Michelle gives a tight little shake of the head. Johnny mumbles that producer Stanley Walsh is off filming in Norway. As the hours pass, people wilt, shrinking into any bit of shade they can find. A few fans wander away. Others get out packed lunches, folding chairs, picnics. Some get frustrated, prowling in small packs, demanding to know when there’s going to be some action. No one answers them.

There’s a sudden stir, a gasp. “Look.” “There.” Director Greta Walsh emerges from the copse of beech trees. She’s brimming with excitement. She’s found the perfect place. We’re to follow. From one moment to the next we’re following, down through our grove and into the woodlands beyond. We scramble down ditches, clamber up banks, technicians struggling with heavy gear, cast in posh togs, high heels. No one’s helping anyone, except Dennis and Gerald, who are keeping each other going, by quietly bitching about everyone else. They’re so frail, I fear for their lives. But it’s Tyler who falls. No one helps him. Fat Tamara laughs like a drain. He’s sprained his ankle. When I offer my support, he tells me, between gritted teeth, to fuck off.

Michelle gives a little shriek. At the same instant, I too realise what’s happening and run ahead to support her. As I wheeze up, she’s trying to reason with Greta. This is not our land. We’ve got to turn back. Greta ignores her, just marches right on. “Pease Roo, stop her” pleads Michelle. I obey, skipping past Greta and turning with my arms out, barring her way. “This land belongs to Magistrate Finch. We can’t film here. The last time I strayed onto Magistrate Finch’s estate, she threatened to shoot me. Get it?” Greta doesn’t get it. She just marches through me and I have to give way. Michelle and I stare at each other, not knowing what to do, as muddy wounded celebrities traipse by, followed by crew weighed down with equipment, followed by a gleeful throng of fans, as excited and determined as Greta. Michelle and I shrug. There’s nothing for it. Hand in hand, we follow the joyful throng. “Just remember” I say. “Life is an experience.” “Shut up Roo” she says.

Greta Walsh is standing on a little bridge that crosses a babbling brook, looking radiant. Cast and crew are seething. “Isn’t it magical” she swoons, wriggling with pleasure. None of us respond, though the setting is magical. She instructs the camera crew to climb trees. They refuse. Cinematographer Ted Randall backs up his team. “You’re fucking kidding.” The crowd cheers. Greta shrieks that they’re to do what she says now, or she’s going to have a breakdown. The camera crew won’t budge, so the crowd starts chanting “Climb! Climb! Climb!” Then Magistrate Finch arrives with the police.

 

Aiden has been staying with Cyril Shoebridge since Michelle fired them. But tonight they’re in my dome to talk things through. They’re both sympathetic to Mrs Alves, what with all the pressure she’s under, and they appreciate my advice to lie low until all this blows over, but they’ve got themselves to think about.

There’s a knock at the door. All three of us know instantly that it can only be Michelle. “Just a minute” I call. “Hide” I hiss and rush to the door. Michelle has her hands over her face. She’s sobbing helplessly. I have to guide her in and sit her down. Johnny Andrews has pulled out of the partnership. It’s over. There’s no Infinite Intelligence, no intelligence at all. And the worst thing is, it’s her fault. She took the decisions. She fucked up. And she’s hurt so many people. She shudders. She’s done awful things, she says, looking up for the first time. “Like sacking old Shoebridge. And the lad. I knew he had ME, Roo. What was I thinking?” Michelle’s eyes come upon old Mr Shoebridge under the table. He waves. Turning, she sees Aiden, pressed against the wall, as if that might make him invisible. He grins.

 

Doctor Richard Carroll in Vancouver wants to know how I’m getting along with my psychic pulsing. I say the only time I got through, I felt depressed and had to go and lie down. I can’t pulse to save my life. I’ve pulsed and pulsed and everything’s gone from bad to worse. I tell him about the collapse of Michelle’s new company after the disastrous second day’s filming. “Pity” he says. “We could have globally pulsed through you.” “What?” Doctor Carroll explains that if all of us Sharers psychically pulsed through me, Michelle’s film would have been made. “You mean the pulsing would have placated everyone?” I ask. “Who knows? Its an experiment waiting to happen.” “Are you saying it’s never been done before?” “Never.” I’m glad that the opportunity has passed, jubilant even. I’m not ready to have millions of minds pulsing through me and vow never to be ready.

 

Michelle is exultant. Producer Stanley Walsh has authorised a third day’s filming, which he will personally oversee. “But what about Johnny Andrews, has he…” She shakes her head. “I’m going it alone, Roo.” I embrace her. That’s my Michelle. I tell her I’m with her every step of the way. So are Cyril Shoebridge, Aiden, even the still-mute Megan. It’s all hands on deck as the cameras, consoles, cables and crews arrive. Stanley Walsh is there, a handsome tanned man in his fifties, organising everything. And it runs like clockwork. Celebs with professional smiles, busy technicians and a carpet of eager fans. It’s blisteringly hot. Cast and crew crackle with animosity, cold white rage on a red hot day. The crowd are buzzing. I hover among the crew, pretending to learn how to operate a camera, while ready, at any moment, to jump to, to avert any disaster, solve any problem. Today has got to work.

Peach Purvis calls for quiet. She smiles at Stanley. We watch him position his cast and instruct his crew. He’s quiet, precise, everyone listens. Are we ready? “No!” wails a voice. In steps Greta. “I’m the director. This is my movie. I call the shots!” Stanley tries to calm his wife, but she won’t be placated. She’s not standing for her husband’s sweet-talk. He’s undermining her again. The crowd are thrilled and side with her. Stanley says that, as producer, he is ultimately responsible. “In charge you mean?” she asks. “Yes” he admits. He gets booed. He says that, as director, she’s welcome to take over now. But she’s not having any of it. She wants her husband off the set and he can take his fucking mistress, fucking bimbo Peach Purvis with him. The crowd gasp. The humiliated Peach runs to her lover’s side and, automatically, he puts his arm around her. The crowd hiss. A stone wizzes past Stanley’s cheek. The adulterous couple duck. More missiles are thrown, stones, apples, sandwiches, until Stanley and Peach have to make a run for it.

The moment they’re gone, Greta announces that she’s got another idea, starts scribbling and fights break out. Celebrities who’ve learned to loathe each other, suddenly feel free to express it, in a flurry of kicking and punching, head-butting, rugby-tackling, scratching and gouging. Fans take sides and join in, hurling abuse and anything that comes to hand. Equipment gets broken. I catch site of cinematographer Ted Randall strangling art director Don Silverman. Michelle walks over. “They’re all fighting” she says, limply. I say “What can I do?” “Nothing” she says and wanders away. The battle glows red in the afternoon sunlight. It’s as if a tinderbox exploded. Through the flaming bodies steps a figure in a sari. Passing unnoticed, Maryam Mazari walks down to me and whispers in my ear. “Doctor Carroll asks if you are ready now.” I have absolutely no desire for millions of minds to psychically pulse through me. But that is what she means. And if there’s any chance that it could save Michelle’s company, what choice do I have?

I feel the whole world wobbling, rippling. The mound of violence slows down and stops. People step back, haul each other up. It seems to be working. They shake hands. They embrace. They start kissing. And cuddling and writhing and ripping their clothes off. Psychic pulsing is supposed to bring people together, but not this together. Not an orgy, which is what this is. I gaze at the frothing mound. The couplings are astounding. Not to mention the treblings and quadruplings, like strings of sausages, bunches of grapes. I notice Megan latched onto Tyler, Don Silverman blissfully engulfed by Tamara. Old Mr Shoebridge sandwiched between two grips and a spark. Spellbound by the ever-changing pudding of sex, an idea comes to me. It’s marvellous. I run to a camera, switch it on, and run to the next. Switch them all on. An orgy of film-makers, fans and celebrities. This will make one hell of a promo for Infinite Intelligence.

 

6 – Lips

Renowned holistic guide, Rupert Alves is currently hosting The SandPaper. He feels it is best read in chronological order, beginning January 2015. If you’d like to respond to any issues raised in any of the monthly issues, or read other readers’ protests, here is a link to the GuestBook

 

Birds are twittering. It’s a lovely sunny day. But I’m troubled and can’t seem to shake it off. The fact is, I’ve been giving patients advice that doesn’t come from me, including saying ‘God’s will be done’, which I would never say. I’m a therapist, not a vicar. No therapist should refer their patients to God. It’s an abrogation of responsibility.

And I know who the advice has been coming from. The ancient songstress Lila Kane. Because, after she sang to me at the party, she said ‘God’s will be done’. And the way she looked at me. She knew she was putting thoughts in my head, words on my lips.

How can I guide distressed people through their darkest hour, if someone else is controlling me? I might say anything. I might tell them to jump off a cliff or eat their babies. I can’t do my job, I mustn’t. I should report her to the police. The trouble is, the police may not believe in telepathic mind control. And nor do I. No. So it can’t have happened. In which case I can see patients. Okay. But check every thought, everything I do, to make sure it comes from me and me alone!

I think I’ll have a few more minutes sleep. Dozing off, I hear a voice in my head. It’s telling me to vote Labour. I sit bolt upright. This is not my voice. It’s nasty, nasal, crackly, like a loudspeaker. As the voice fades, I realise it is a loudspeaker, a travelling loudspeaker and today is polling day. I imagine I’ll vote for the brilliant Mr Cameron, not that I know what any of the parties stand for.

In the shower I remember my son Jason, rising through the floor outside Lila’s loo, and walking through a wall, onto a farm, when he’s in Thailand. How could I have imagined that? I’m going to be clearminded from now on. Grabbing the pile of election brochures that’s been shoved through the letterbox, I fling them on the kitchen table, ready to set about learning what they’re on about, so I can vote as a responsible British citizen.

The whole of the kitchen is bathed in golden morning light. Our big table top, hewn from a single oak and polished for a hundred years, shimmers. I notice last night’s dirty dishes, but decide to leave them for later. I hear my mother’s voice saying I should wash them now. They’ll attract flies in the heat. Mould will grow and the walls will cave in. I ignore her. It’s a beautiful day and I am a responsible citizen.

Mum warns me to move the kettle away from the overhanging shelves as, over time, the steam will rot them and she isn’t made of money. I tell her I’ll put the kettle where I like and I don’t want to hear her voice ever again. Bringing my coffee over to the table, I start sorting through the literature, trying to work out parties, policies, similarities, differences…

Okay, so the ‘UKIP’ Party will cut public spending, end the national health system, leave Europe, stop immigration, make sure everyone here is speaking English and not some foreign language. It will build nuclear missiles, pursue a mass programme of nuclear power stations, scrap all renewable energy, blow up windfarms, oppose same-sex marriage, legalise guns and double prison places. That sounds good.

There’s a Green Party, which will protect all the animals and plants, spend £44-billion on renewable energy sources, protect us from climate change, abolish plans for nuclear submarines, end nuclear power stations, restore health, education and public services to public hands, end prescription charges, make eye tests and dental care free, renationalise the railways, scrap university tuition fees, increase pensions, increase the minimum wage, build half a million homes, create a million jobs, initiate a 35-hour week, end austerity and tax the rich. Tax the rich? I don’t know about that. That might affect me.

The LibDem Party will also tax the rich, protect nature and fight climate change. The Labour Party will cut the deficit. The Conservative Party will eliminate the deficit. The LibDem Party will balance the budget. Conservatives will cut taxes. Labour will increase national health spending by £2.5-billion, while the LibDems will increase it by £8-billion. They’ll also make education free from nursery to nineteen, while Labour will slightly reduce university tuition fees, while Conservatives will help children reach their full potential and hold a referendum on Europe.

I’m interrupted by our cleaner, Megan, who bustles in and starts stacking the dishwasher with my dirty plates. She is employed by my partner, Michelle, and can be very short with me when Michelle is away. Today I get a verbal lashing from Megan’s thin lips, because she’s angry at the garbage spewing from travelling megaphones. I ask if she has a particular party in mind. There’s only one party you can vote for” she informs me. She’s UKIP.

I seem to recall that UKIP proposes guns, bombs and doing away with foreigners. “Yes!” she says, shaking dirty cutlery at me. “All these lazy sex-mad foreigners coming over here, stealing our jobs, eating our food and raping our women. Send them all back to Africa!” I enquire if she’s actually a member of the UKIP party or even, possibly, the candidate? No she says. She’s her own woman. “Oh dear I murmur, wondering who to vote for. “Sorry to hear that.” “No. It’s good” she calls, as I step out into the sunshine. “It’s good to be your own woman.” “I’ll bear that in mind” I call back, noticing our gardener, down below, in some difficulty.

Old Mr Shoebridge is cursing between his cracked lips, trying to lift a small branch. His movements are slow, but his mind is on fire. As I help him, he explains why he hates this time of year. “Everything growing. Bloody spring! When I casually ask who he votes for, he says he’s votes for autumn.

I think I’d better do some more thinking. What are the parties again? Wandering down through the grove, my space-pod dome appears like a heavenly mirage, haloed by lush tree fronds, bushes, vines and grasses, a vision of sparkling green and suddenly I know who I’m going to vote for. I’m going to vote Green. So I turn about, stride over to the garden gate in a manly fashion, and set off for the polling station.

Strolling across the tarmac of the local school playground, closed for the day, no doubt to kiddy delight, I’m enshrouded in a bouquet of party representatives. When I say I’m going to vote for the foliage, a smiley woman with a green floret and two toddlers in tow, takes my details, so she can tick me off. Quipping that I don’t want to be ticked off by her, I turn and see a plump woman in a rich purple sari, staring at me. It’s Maryam Mazari. She’s just come out from voting.

Our eyes meet and I feel frightened. What if Lila’s voice is real? Maryam studies the mind. I must not let her voice invade me or change my course of action. She’s inviting me to tea at Lila’s, when Harry and Lila get back from their little holiday. There is something so beautiful, deep within Maryam’s eyes. A huge wave of longing makes me want to throw my arms around her. Luckily I’m saved by a rebounding wave of fear, which makes me twist round and bash my head on a doorframe.

Her face looms up, full of concern. I grin, to cover up, to resist her wicked charms. “Will you be there?” she asks. “Will I be where?” “For tea.” People are trying to get through and we’re in the entrance. “Sure. You can bet on it!” I say, in a strangely American accent, as if I think that’s cool. She turns and walks away. I can’t stop looking at her, at the way she moves in her swirly sari. Someone steps on my foot. I turn and am immediately plunged into darkness.

Slowly, I make out shadowy figures behind a trestle table. It was as if Maryam were in my head and there was nowhere to hide. How can you ever decide anything if someone has taken over your mind? I’m staring at a piece of paper with a list of names and my mind’s gone completely blank. The only way you can know if you’re your own boss, is if you make sure the voices in your head are really you. Yes, only listen to voices that belong to you. Yes, only you.

The sunlight outside dazzles me. The smiley woman with the green floret winks. She’s from the Green Party. I’m sure mine began with a ‘U’.

 

I’ve just come from visiting Gerald and Dennis and my heart is throbbing. They were sitting in Dennis’s little rose garden, holding hands. Gerald is recovering from having tried to drink himself to death. I get a pang the moment I see those knowing but utterly vulnerable eyes. Dennis has recovered the use of his spine, though he’ll be giving my whooshes a miss for a while. The two of them make me so welcome. I feel ashamed of my part in their pain. But Dennis thanks me for my advice.

As far as I know, I told him to keep away from anyone who damages you, meaning Gerald. But no, apparently I told him to listen to his heart, it was God’s will. The awful moment comes back to me. I said it, but it wasn’t me speaking! I almost blurt this out. But Gerald says he’s grateful to me, that Dennis is wonderful, that he loves him, which makes Dennis tear up and me blubber uncontrollably. And all the way home, the birds sing and flowers flutter gaily in the breeze in this world of unconditional love.

But I know I didn’t say God’s will be done. Furthermore, I’ve been monitoring my every thought, my every action, my every impulse. And I can’t tell where they’re coming from. A thought just whispered “butter them scones”. What scones? I’m at my desk in the dome, nowhere near any scones. Who’s manufacturing this nonsense? I don’t even like scones, horrible dry things.

If I think thoughts I’ve thought before, they’re probably normal and come from me. But what about new thoughts? How will I know? And even old thoughts might just be pretending to be old. Any voice may be tricking me into believing it is my authentic self. Even the me that’s monitoring, could be someone else. Or lots of other people.

Closing my eyes to think clearly, I find myself in a cave, freezing cold, looking down at a steep valley, beneath a starry sky and wondering if they’ve discovered me. Why? Thoughts and actions arise spontaneously, without my sayso. Someone must know the answer.

Online, I ask “what is real?” The oracle delivers a kaleidoscope of answers. A scientist informs me that my thoughts come from my brain. Another insists that they come from my whole body. The visionary face of Guru Sri Aurobindo intimates that “all thoughts come from outside, although some get trapped and keep circulating”.

A sallow man with a long face, long nose and long hair, stares at me from the screen, claiming “I think, therefore I am”. He says he’s René Descartes and he can prove it. “Even should I doubt, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that I doubt, proves my existence.” I’m very relieved to hear it. But isn’t he dead? He must’ve stopped doubting. Anyway, there’s a loophole. He doesn’t seem to know if the ‘something or someone’ dooubting, is him.

A small ferretty man called Schopenhauer, with tufts of white hair shooting out of his skull like horns, says “the world is my idea” which seems a bit arrogant. My head fills with quarrelling philosophers. To do is to be, is to think, is to imagine. Dreams are real and atoms are made of buzzing electricity.

Their words whir round and round until the horrific though hits me: No one knows. We may be deceived about everything, we wouldn’t have a clue. A hideous figure in frock coat and wig looms up. “Who are you?” I cry. “I am Voltaire, philosopher of the French Enlightenment, poet, playwright, novelist, historian, scientist…” I hear myself screaming “Fuck off Voltaire!”

The telephone rings. I put it to my ear. A voice says “Is that Mr Alves?” I say “I don’t know”. I’m about to ring off, but the voice persists. “He’s taken to his bed and I can’t rouse him.” “Who?” “Aiden. My boy. I’m ever so worried.” Aiden is my patient. He’s got ME. So this is his mum, Molly. Another voice growls “You don’t want to be bothering Mr Alves, the boy’ll be alright.

I don’t like that voice, though I can’t remember its name. I hear Aiden’s mum sayLeave me alone and the growling voice saying “Will you put that phone down Molly? There’s a kerfuffle, then Molly Winkley whimpering down the line “Will you come?” The voice without a name snarls “Put that phone down or I’ll.. It’s Luke Chapps. The line goes dead. I scoot out the door, heading for the Winkleys.

Outside their little terraced house, warped by decades of trucks roaring by, I ring the bell and wait. After a while, I knock the knocker and wait another while and then ring the bell again. I know they’re in there. I’m not going away. I knock the knocker. My mind conjures up images of Luke Chapps attacking me with a knife but, when the door opens, it’s Aiden’s dad Alf, who can hardly walk, since he did his back in. Inside, Molly’s sitting staring at the floor. Luke Chapps strides up to greet me. “I’ll come up with you” he informs me. “No” I reply, barring his way on the stairs. “I’ll see Aiden alone.” “He won’t talk to you” Chapps insists. “You stay down here” I say, looking him in the eye. He flinches. I wait. He stomps back down into the room, waving his arm, as if dismissing me and grunting “You’re wasting your time”. I continue up.

Aiden is almost catatonic, face to wall, lanky frame curled foetally beneath bedding. I sit on the edge of the bed, place my hand on his shoulder and wait. The room is rancid. Stinking clothes, crumpled newspapers, a broken clock. Time here has ceased to pass. Aiden twists his head round, peers at me and hides his face again. His young face is bearded, gaunt, old.

Finally, a guttural voice deep in a pillow splutters “Can’t get a job. Can’t escape.I bite my lip. Aiden was so optimistic when we were planning how he could get a job and leave home. But he can’t get a job. Of course he can’t, the state he’s in. He says he’s applied for umpteen jobs, since our last session. No one’s going to employ him. We fall quiet. There’s nothing to say. I’m just as in the dark as he is. And those people downstairs, those broken people. If he was my kid, I’d do anything for him.

In the darkness, a patchwork of reds appears, surrounded by a ball of white fluff, a craggy weathered face, staring at me, trying to tell me something. It’s bending over. Old Mr Shoebridge is struggling to pick up a stick. Before I know it, I’ve employed Aiden as our gardener’s assistant. “Really?” he asks, as if it’s too good to be true. “Really!” I say, wondering if it really is true.

There’s no one downstairs. I let myself out. A brisk wind is whistling down the street, gusting me along and I feel alive, resolute, motivated. Stars twinkle and I am at peace. How could there ever be a problem? I know who I am. I’m a good person. Let the wind carry me. At home, I flop into bed, feeling marvellous and looking forward to the first good night’s sleep in yonks.

 

I have been discovered. I know it, waking, a moment before dawn. As the rising sun bathes the valley far below this cave, I can hear it. A fluttering wing, the ghost of a sound, a faraway insect. And in my chest, the dull thud of a heart, that knows this life will now end.

There is no longer a reason to hide, so I am sharing this with you. Understand that, if they can find me, they can find you. Adapt. Use our openness to avoid invasion. Have faith. For what is about to happen, there are solutions, insights which you will receive.

I can see it now, flying out of the sun. A black speck with a halo of whirring light, following the course of the river up the valley towards me. Only moments away. Its glittering blades hum, now they roar. After all we’ve been through, I regret that I shall not be able to continue the journey with you.

I thought they would fire from the helicopter, but it is landing on the ledge above. Rocks are falling, dislodged by vibrations. Footsteps skitter down the path, to this dark opening and my naked body. I am with you in my heart. Goodness, they’re wearing spacesuits. They must fear us. They don’t understand.

A blast of light and I am back in the schoolroom, with its smell of dust, cardamom from the fields, a goat bleating and Mrs Kumaraswamy droning on about the value of pi. I am watching Sunita, her back, her shoulders, every little movement she makes. All I can think is you are so beautiful over and over again. A voice within me whispers Why do you think that? This question throws me into some confusion. I don’t know” I think you just are. Slowly, Sunita turns, turns right round, and smiles at me. That is the beginning, the first time. Oh Sunita…

 

I’m dead. I’ve been incinerated. The world to me is infinite darkness. Only the echo of a scream and the ticking of a bedside clock. A bedside clock? I’m in a bedroom. Whose bedroom? Rupert’s. But who is Rupert? Rupert is me. So perhaps I’m alive. But someone died. I know it happened.

Can’t stop shaking. If you have a dream where you die, aren’t you supposed to die? I pinch myself. It hurts. I think I’m alive, but how can you know? I’m certainly never going back to sleep. Never dreamt anything like that before. Unless this is the dream.

No, I won’t let it be. Run out of the house, into my dome. Switch on all the lights and write the dream down before it fades. I’m terrified they’re going to come after me, like they came after him. After all, if they can find him, they can find me. Shockwaves of grief pour through me as I scribble. A world in mourning, an unbearable sense of loss. And fear.

Sit back, glance around this luminescent dome, take stock. I need to pull myself together, reassemble myself once and for all. This is me talking, no one but me. There’s no one in my head, no one influencing me. There’s only one me. And it’s me. Unless it isn’t and I don’t know it. But, apart from that, I’m probably me, so all that ‘voices in your head’ stuff is probably crap. Do you understand? It’s fearful, weak, like that UKIP party I might’ve voted for. It’s paranoia. Madness! A demonic laugh roars out through my lips, but I control myself. I tell myself I’m on a mission. “I’m on a mission” I say.

I ask Google about my dream and the oracle reveals that “a dream where we have touched the consciousness of another person, their thoughts and experiences, is referred to as a telepathic dream. So it exists. It has a name. A telepathic dream. And a person who has telepathic dreams is a ‘psychic sensitive’. Wow! And there are loads of psychic powers. Maybe I have them all.

A clairvoyant can see other dimensions, energies, auras. A clairsensitive can feel them. A clairaudient can hear them. I hear voices. Blimey. So I might not be mad. It says “the key to develop all psychic abilities is energy, and hence how you work with energy. You can “exteriorise your sensitivity to the periphery of your energosoma, thus becoming a full body energosoma radar”. Some Sensitives are also good at smelling non-physical fragrances. I think I might have smelt some of them.

A remote-viewer can see consciousnesses, places, and events happening far away, even in different dimensions, in real time. A lucid projector, astral traveller or sky walker, can “leave the physical body and, with the psychosoma, travel to other physical or non-physical locations”, gathering information from anywhere and anyone. These lucid projections amplify one’s awareness of oneself and the reality of all consciousnesses.

Oh my goodness, there are ‘lucid dreamers’ who can control their dreams and induce conscious astral travelling”.Precognitors can gather information from the future. Retrocognitors can get information from the past that isn’t in the history books. And here it is: Telepathy. A telepath, or medium, can receive information from other ‘sensitives’. Wow! “Some telepaths can also transmit.” Lila can transmit.

A psychometrist can read the energy of objects. An ‘intuitive grabs insights that escape the rational mind, “jumping over reason” and representing a shortcut of the mentalsoma”. Blimey. A psychographer does psychic writing, being the instrument of “the non-physical consciousness”. Is that supposed to be God? Or all of us put together? Either way, this non-physical consciousness can use a psychophoner’s body to speak through. I could speak the voice of God. Can it be true?

A physical ectoplasmic medium works through ectoplasm, a “dense semi- and non-physical energy, containing leukocytes, epithelial cells, fat, albumin, combined with other non-physical substances, presenting an unstable form (vapours, spirals, threads, cords, webs, rays) and seems to be an intelligent being. That’s a bit scary. I don’t think I’ll believe in that. Psychic surgeons operate on people intraphysically, using ectoplasm. Yuck!

Telekinesists can move things around the room without touching them. I’m going to move my pen. Concentrate. This a waste of time. Okay. Levitation means you can rise in the air and fly. I’m going to do it. Do I just stand here, or do I have to flap my wings? Do I have to jump, to get it going? Ouch. Bloody hell. Never jump sideways. If I could fly, I’d bloody know it. Pyrokinesis means you have the power of fire. No fire coming out of my fingertips. It’s bullshit.

It’s all bullshit, bunkum, balderdash. I jump around the room. I’m rid of it. It’s claptrap, poppycock, tripe and twaddle. Good! I’m feeling so tired. I’ll just rest my head on the desk for a moment and let my eyes close. I can feel something dribbling on my hand and an unearthly voice snoring.

 

It’s a beautiful day. Even Megan the cleaner seems attractive. I haven’t seen her for ages. “What days do you do, as our cleaner?” I ask. Her fists clench, her lips disappear down her throat and steam comes out her ears. “I am not a cleaner” she says, every word a bullet. I am The Housekeeper!” But she doesn’t tell me which days she comes. I’m probably too lowly to be told. To make the peace, I decide to confess. “I have to admit” I say “that I voted UKIP”. “Oh?” she asks. “Yes” I say “but I’m still my own woman, because I did it by mistake.

She tells me not to be ridiculous. But I don’t care and, to prove it, I hang about on our sunny veranda, gazing out at mother nature, not a care in the world and master of all I survey. I even stretch, nonchalantly. I feel good, especially as I have a new client. Her name is Chedeline Duffault. She’s from Haiti, over here visiting her aunt. And she is not a neurotic celebrity. In fact, I’ve a couple of new bookings and they’re both normal. And I’m normal.

Sauntering down the grassy knoll, I come upon old Mr Shoebridge and remember. Oh” I say. “There’s a lad coming over later to give you a hand. His face peers up at me, like a beetroot covered in white mould. He lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t want some young whippersnapper leaping about, pulling out all his lagoonias, crushing his prize pompadoodle tree and leaving all the weeds. (He’s referring to my brief burst of gardening, some years back.) What’ll I do about Aiden?

The garden bell tinkles. Chedeline must be early. I stroll over in an unhurriedly fashion. I’m self-possessed, even as I draw back the gate. There stands a slim but muscular black woman in a sleek silver-blue business suit. “Welcome Chedeline” I say, warmly. She beams at me as if I am God. As I lead her down to the dome, she tells me she’s sorry she’s early, but she just couldn’t wait to be free of her big problem. And whenever I look, she’s gazing as if she cannot express the joy she feels.

However, when I ask what’s troubling her, her eyes darken. It seems that she’s been sensing evil forces in the village, specifically in the pub. I pass no judgement. “Very strange vibrations she says. It is troubling me. In Haiti, we have witch doctors, spirit guides who draw out evil. You are a holistic guide. It is the nearest thing to a voodoo priest. So you must help me to root out the evil.”

I say I have no mystical powers. But I have heard you have great powers” she says, flashing her eyes. “Well, I’d love to tell you about my great powers” I say, making light of it “but I think we should concentrate on you. She’s not listening. She’s pouting, thrusting out her chest and slowly licking her upper lip. “Can you tell what I’m thinking now?” she asks, fluttering her lashes and starting to pant. “No” I say, rather too quickly, “I jolly-well can’t!” She laughs.

I suggest that the ‘evil forces’ are in her mind and it is her mind that needs exorcising, not the village pub. “Sure” she purrs. She wants a whole lot of therapy. But could I not put her mind at rest by meeting her at the pub and making it pure? I peruse the matter. “I don’t see why not” I say. “Tonight?” she asks. “Okay, no harm in it” I say, with a shrug. “Good” she says. “And then we can talk about your powers. So now you can tell me about my mind.”

I tell her the mind is a very delicate thing. It can break up into hundreds of pieces and you don’t know whose is which. It is very exciting she says. She wants to know all about it and books a block of sessions.

Aiden’s at the gate as Chedeline leaves. “Wow” he whispers, once the gate is closed and she won’t hear him. I ignore his incredulous grin, a bit worried about how old Cyril Shoebridge is going to take Aiden’s arrival.

Shoebridge is immediately suspicious. “What’s wrong with you?” he asks Aiden. “What?” asks Aiden, taken aback. “Why are you walking with that strange, shuffling gate?” “I’ve got ME” he explains. “My muscles and joints get weak and I get tired and…” “Ha!” says Shoebridge, turning to me. “So is this the lad?” I nod. “Ha!” he says and storms off very slowly. Aiden shrugs. I shrug. “Just follow him” I say “and help him.” Aiden shuffles off behind the ancient horticulturist.

I’m thinking about having a quiet drink with Chedeline tonight. Despite her obvious admiration for me, I don’t find her attractive, personally. But I am attracted to her admiration. And it’s nice to have a patient who’s not self-absorbed. How am I going to purge the pub for her?

 

I enter The Goat’s Neck, brandishing bulbs of garlic to purify the place. Chedeline is already here, sitting primly, while oggled by regulars. There’s an audible chorus of “pity” when I join her. She asks “why the garlic?” “To ward off the evil spirits” I say.Oh sure” she says, beaming as if I’m her god, “but first, let’s talk about you and your magical powers.” A murmur goes round. Someone says “magic” in a baby voice and there’s suppressed laughter. “I haven’t got magical powers” I admit, with an embarrassed chortle. “And no drink” she says. “What will you have?”

Everyone’s watching her, leaning on the bar, while the bartender draws me a pint of local bitter, that I’ve only chosen to try to placate the locals. A rough, hairy fellow tells her he has magical powers. Giggles and guffaws emerge from every nook and cranny. They all fancy her. Why don’t I? Am I racist? I didn’t used to be. I mean, the way she sashays back, not spilling a drop, is dynamite. And she’s interested in me. She wants to know how I got into therapy, what my strengths are. And she’s so attentive.

This drink is horrible. It’s bitter. But it loosens my tongue and, as the pub fills up, I find myself waxing lyrical on the metaphysical paradoxes of being and nothingness and how you can never know who you are, or what’s happening, when, suddenly, a voice in my head says “I knew it was you”.

Looking up, I see a woman grinning down at me. She has long hair, a slim freckled face, simple floral dress and sandals. I recognise her. It’s Katy. She’s a wiccan, married to a much older wizard who can no longer wiz. She came to me as a patient, suggesting we might have an affair, which I, of course, refused. But, being caught here with Chedeline, I’m embarrassed.

Katy says “you look so different, I almost didn’t recognise you without the wispy beard”. I introduce Katy as a neighbour and she promptly sits down, asking Chedeline about herself. Chedeline explains that she’s from Haiti, visiting her aunt and has booked a series of sessions with Doctor Alves, whose special gifts will no doubt cure her of the evil spirits she senses. “No doubt” says Katy, somewhat tartly and, turning to me, asks why I’ve turned into Mr designer-cool. “Are you still in there?” she asks.

She has long salt-and-pepper hair, no makeup, wide lips and lines from all the smiling she’s done. I assure her that I’m still me, whatever that means. “I’m glad to hear it” she says. Next thing I know, Chedeline is rising, apologising that she has to leave, to be with her auntie. “It was nice to meet you, Katy” she says. “And I’ll be seeing you soon, Doctor Alves.”

With Chedeline gone, I find I’m a bit relieved, to be honest. What if Chedeline had actually propositioned me, what would I have done? My pride wouldn’t let me say no. And then maybe I couldn’t. But I mustn’t. Never. Katy’s talking about her husband, Bill, who is much older than her and wheelchair-bound, so he doesn’t get out much. Would I like to visit? He would so appreciate the company. I’m touched by her concern for Bill and tell her, of course I’d like to meet him. How pleasant.

I realise I’ve been quite tense. No one’s looking at us now, the way they were when I was with Chedeline. And Katy’s so relaxed and warmhearted. She’s chatting about some druid May Day festival called Beltane, she attended recently. Have I ever been to a traditional May festival? I admit that I haven’t and she tells me how jolly it is, meeting up together to welcome the spring. They’re having a little private festival soon. Perhaps that’s the evening to visit. Then you could meet Bill and see the festival. Sounds great I say. She writes the address and date on a napkin.

As we stroll through the village, Katy is telling me her beliefs. “Since all form, all matter is created by vibration, the world is made of sound. And not just random noise” she insists “but musical harmony. Look at the stars.” I look at the stars. “Spheres spinning around spheres.” I nod. “So harmony is one of the great truths” she informs me. And disharmony is distance from truth.” “So we should all be in harmony, is that it?” I ask. “Yes” she says, in a soft, calming voice. “And is this religion Druid or Wiccan?” I ask, feeling marvelously relaxed and intelligent. “Both” she says, with a twinkle in her eye. “And not really a religion, more a philosophy, a spiritual path.” I watch her follow her spiritual path for a moment, as we part on the edge of the common.

Back home, I stretch out in bed, feeling blissfully normal. I might even have a nice sexy dream

 

A labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys, stuffed with cows, goats, bikes, carts. I am running. I duck under a gold-clad corpse being carried on a stretcher, past a food counter, swarming with flies. I know they have found me. They are all around me. I must get to the river, where a boat will take me downstream to the airfield in the desert. Please alert them.

So sorry, Sunita here. I’ve hardly been able to think since Kabir’s death. And I can’t help the tears. So sorry to shower you with my feelings. But I am afraid. The moment I open my mind to connect with you, it is invaded by psychic spies. I know, even as I run, that a moped is forcing its way through the passage behind me. I can’t believe this is happening. He created something so beautiful for us all to share. And they killed him. Now I will die too. If only I had his courage.

A brown limousine bars my way. It has no numberplate. Behind me, the moped swerves to a halt. I duck down a stinking alley and run. I will try to send you his last insights when I can. Must hide. So sorry.

 

I am running. Wading through lung-numbing effluent, tangled in bedding. Bedding? Oh, I’m back at home. Thank goodness. I sit up, try to catch my breath. That was no dream. She contacted me. She’s in grave danger. I am aware of her fear and the love and loss of her partner. And I know it’s a ‘her’, so she can’t be me. And they’re chasing her. They’re going to get her if she doesn’t get to that airport. Where do I know an airport, somewhere in a desert?

I google ‘deserts’. Saharan, Arabian, Patagonian, Taklamakan, Gobi... The world is littered with deserts. And which airport? Useless. I try looking up ‘psychic spies’ and, to my horror, stumble upon half a century of secret military research.

In 1960, the French scientific journal ‘Science et Vie’, publishes ‘The Secrets Of The Nautilus’, an article claiming that the US government has secretly used telepaths to communicate with the first nuclear submarine, while it is under the Arctic ice pack. As a result, the Russians develop their own military telepathy operations.

In 1978, the US Defense Intelligence Agency establishes the top-secret Stargate Project, to apply clairvoyance, telepathy, remote-viewing and other psychic phenomena for military and domestic applications.

This is all supposed to die out in the 1990s with the end of the Cold War, though many online commentators suggest it just becomes more secret. After all, what we get told is only the tip of the iceberg. Low and behold, in 2011, the US announces plans to turn soldiers into telepaths”, to “allow them to communicate just by thinking. And last year, The Smithsonian reports “the first instance of brain-to-brain communication on record.” So it’s real.

And it is real. Her name is Sunita and she’s on the run. She called to me in my dream, so I could help. But how can I help? Unless it’s in the news. I look up ‘psychic on the run’ and get ‘What do you call a psychic midget on the run?’ Answer, ‘A small medium at large’.

I don’t know if she’s small. My windows are glowing. It’s almost morning and I’m shivering. I don’t even know anyone called Sunita. It was an anxiety dream. Like the one I had before, where our great leader Kabir, was killed in a cave by spacemen. Except that he wasn’t. My head made it up.

I’m just in a mess, because of Lila’s voice and monitoring my every thought. Such as this one. And going round and round. I’ve come to this conclusion before. Am I destined to go through this cycle of delusions forever? Has my mind been deranged by evil forces? Do I require professional help?

Every therapist needs a therapist. Mine is a Dr Reginald Blatt, BACP HCPC and XYZ, whom I haven’t seen in years because he is the dullest man on earth. On balance, I think I would rather be devoured by demons than face an hour with Doctor Blatt.

 

A cloud has bumped into this hillside and enshrouded us. I am lost within it. Soon, I must leave to meet Katy’s husband, Bill. It can’t come soon enough. The cloud inside me reveals nothing. The cloud outside me reveals a medieval view. Crooked trees. Two figures in silhouette, carrying a small, but no doubt precious bag between them, slowly descend towards me through the mist.

“What are you carrying?” I ask. “Manure” says Shoebridge. “Can you handle it on your own, lad?” he asks Aiden. “Only, I want a word with Mr Alves.” Shoebridge waits until Aiden has passed out of hearing. “He’s a good lad” he murmurs. “I know him. Didn’t recognise him with all that hair. Knew him when he was a little’un.” “Oh” I say. “So, is he doing okay.” “He will, once he’s got the hang of it.” “Good” I say.

I should leave for Katy’s, but Cyril Shoebridge isn’t a fast man and shows no sign of moving. “Thing is” he says “the lad’s taking a bit of stick at home and I thought you could put in a word.” “A word?” “Just that he’s gainfully employed, not skiving off.” “Don’t they believe him?” “It’s not Molly and Alf, they’re alright. It’s that Luke.” “Luke Chapps?” “Nasty piece of work. Gets his claws into people.” “I know” I say. Cyril Shoebridge looks up at me and notices my lips tightening. He nods. “Alright” I say. “I’ll pop by, on my way.”

Puffing across the village green, I reckon I can still get to Katy’s on time if I hurry. I like Cyril Shoebridge. I’ve always thought of him as something to do with Michelle. And he was her mum’s gardener before that. Head gardener to Anthea Gladwish. Bet he liked it better back then. So he sort of came with the property. But he’s kind, perhaps even wise. What did he say? “Don’t get involved. Just reassure Molly and Alf.” Which house is it?

Molly answers the door. She’s pleased to see me. Would I like a cup of tea? No thanks, I shan’t be stopping. I greet Aiden’s dad, who smiles. I’ve not seen Alf smile before. I look around for Luke Chapps but he’s not about. Good. “I just want you both to know how well Aiden is doing, as our gardener’s assistant. Mr Shoebridge thinks highly of him.” “He’s not too slow?” asks Molly, nervously. “No, in fact he’s just about the right speed for Mr Shoebridge.” “Oh, that’s lucky” says Molly. “Sure you won’t stay for a cuppa?” “No, I’m on my way somewhere. I just wanted you to know.” Alf takes my hand as I go to say goodbye and, with great feeling, says “thanks”. “I like Aiden” I say.

Katy and Bill’s place is at the end of a private road and emerges out of the mist like some gothic Zanadu, replete with wrought iron gates. I ring the bell and imagine a butler with a bolt through his neck, but it’s Katy.

It’s Katy and she’s swathed in a gold cloak, her hair piled up high. We live in such different fantasies. Me in my dome, the Winkleys in their twisted little home, Katy in her castle. I follow the swoosh of her cloak, up to a grand Victorian drawing room with a balcony, where an elderly gentleman in an Edwardian suit with high wing collar, sits in a wheelchair by a blazing fire. He reaches forward and grasps my hand, staring into my eyes as if trying to read my thoughts. Deep-cut lines run vertically down his face, connecting his piercing eyes to his small clipped beard and moustache.

Sir William Rosenthal” he rasps. He’s a ‘sir’? “And you are?” I ferret about for my name. I want to say Sunita. “Rupert, I think. Rupert Alves.” He releases my hand. I step back, glad to get away from the heat of the fire. As Katy explains who I am, his eyes flick from me to her and back again. “This is Rupert’s first Beltane she says, with a nervous laugh. “Oh” says Sir William. “So you are a therapist.” His lips stretch into what might be a smile. “Yes” I admit. What exactly does that involve?” I burble on about helping people, about kindness, love, healing and other nice things. I can’t quite get to the beginnings of my thoughts with his eyes on me. I feel as if I’m being judged and found wanting.

Katy comes to my rescue. She’s worried about the weather. Kneeling before him, she cups her hands around his and asks if he can help. “How would you like it?” he asks. “You know” she says. There is an intimacy between them. He obviously cares about her. “Then open the windows” he says. Katy opens two great french windows. Cloud billows into the room. “Excuse me” says Sir William. “Of course” I reply, as his wheelchair wizzes past, out through the french windows and onto the balcony.

Katy takes my hand. We stand behind him, staring into grey, swirling nothing. “Ye who makes the sea to rise, the winds to roar” he croaks “and the mighty earth to crack asunder Are all humans mad, or just the ones I meet? Katy smiles at me. I smile back, feeling a bit queasy.

After he’s told all the pagan gods what kind of weather he wants, and we’re back inside by the fire, windows closed, I ask Sir William about his line of work. He says “finance, this and that, you know.” I say “I mean your wizardy skills”. He frowns and, turning to Katy, wonders if her little friends might not already be waiting. “Oh” she says, beaming. “Yes, we better go.”

“Please send my apologies” he says and looks at me. I hope you will treat my Katy well, follow her guidance and fulfil her requirements.” “Oh, yes, of course, sir” I stutter, led away by Katy’s firm hand.

Beyond the house I can see nothing. I only know we’re treading on grass. “We’re about to descend into the sacred grove” she whispers. “Watch out, it’s quite steep” she warns, holding my arm, to guide me. Strands of cloud, like ectoplasm, drift between the dark limbs of trees, soaking my clothes, dripping down my face.

I hear giggling and see a glade below, in the ethereal glow of a bonfire. And shadows moving about. “Hi Katy” “Hi Rosie” “Is Natasha with you?” “I’m here.” “This is Rupert.” If they are witches, they must be the prettiest witches in celtic legend. But I’m suspicious, they’ve both got mobile phones. They’re decked in garlands and very little else. I don’t know where to put my eyes.

I’m to be dressed in fine raiments. First they’ve to remove my earthly garb. I’m a bit embarrassed. In my earthly garb, I manage to look strong. Without it I’m skinny and weak with a pigeon chest. I thought I was coming to watch a ceremony, not be part of it. Katy is explaining that Beltane is the great fertility rite of life, the union of the god and goddess to conceive the sun-child.

I’m beginning to feel a little nervous. What was it Sir William said? Follow her guidance, fulfil her requirements? What did he mean? “Behold the Queen of the May” chant the pretty girls. Ceremonially, they remove Katy’s golden cloak. I behold. She isn’t wearing anything. Nor am I. Where are my fine raiments?

We’ve to jump the bonfire. I bet I land in the middle of it. Rosie skips over. Natasha leaps. Katy seems to float across, her back gently arching as she lands. I almost make it, landing in hot ash and helped by the girls. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

I am seated on a treestump, beside a hollow, lined with straw and strewn with petals. Rosie presents me with a horn filled with mead, which I’m to drink. I’ve never had mead. It’s thick and tastes more like blood. It couldn’t really be blood could it? Whatever it is, it makes me feel very different.

I’m drawn to Rosie’s lips but they whisper “look at Katy”. I look at Katy, lounging in the bed of straw and petals. Natasha is uncoiling her hair. Katy looks up at me, smiling, as her hair falls around her freckled face. I realise I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in all the universe. She opens her arms and I am drawn towards her, while the pretty girls giggle and run away.

I know I should resist. I’m married. Katy says ours will be a spiritual union. “Not sexual?” I ask. As if to reassure me, she cups her body in mine from behind and whispers. “We seek to uncover the wisdom of the ancient world, to usher in an era of harmony between men and women, between science and spirituality, between humanity, nature and the divine worlds.” “Oh” I murmur. I am dissolving, don’t know who I am and it’s bliss. There are times when you don’t need an identity, when you join and just feel. Katy says “our spiritual faith puts love, freedom, beauty and kindness above all learning. The spirit of wisdom lies out of doors, surrounded by the mystery of sun, moon and stars. Look at the stars.” I look up and the stars shoot down and fill me with light.

Waking in a warm misty dawn, I find Katy, skipping about starkers, clearing up the fire. I feel strangely wonderful. Perhaps it was the potion. Katy beams at me. She hands me my clothes. I tell her I must be going, though why I don’t know. But she understands. “I really enjoyed the ceremony” I say “and give my regards to your husband”. She kisses my cheek and whispers “take care of yourself and from now on, keep away from psychic spies.” “What?” “Like that woman you were with at the pub.” I’m speechless. “I’m glad you enjoyed the ceremony” she says. Now off you go.”

No one’s mentioned anything about psychic spies. That’s my secret. How could she say that? What’s happening? As soon as I open my mind to the possibility, it rings with alien voices chattering in tongues. Help! I need help. The moment I’m home, I try ringing my old pal Dow Jones. But Dow claims he doesn’t know me. Afterwards, I realise I don’t have a pal called Dow Jones. But how come I’ve got his number? I discover that I don’t have his number. But I spoke to him. I check my ‘calls sent’. No call was made. But I remember it. I AM mad. I run around clucking, as if it’s a joke, but it isn’t. I need a therapist, quick.

My fingers call Reginald Blatt’s secretary and my lips book an emergency Saturday consultation. I spend the night walking round the living room in circles, with my hands over my ears, singing ‘la la la la la’ to prevent any voices from taking me over.

 

I am on a crowded train to London. I can hardly keep awake. The rocking of the carriage, the mewling of infants, fades into silence. A voice whispers.

 

Sunita here. The moonlit surface of the water is now a mass of floating candles, drifting past like spirits of the dead. In the orange light of fires, people tend the gold-shrouded corpses, chanting mantras, tinkling bells. A small wooden boat creaks past, pushed by boating poles, with young children swimming alongside in the filthy slime.

It is cold. I am hiding among the ash faced sadhus and beggars, yet constantly sensing interlopers, infiltrating my thoughts, probing. Please. You must make provision for the onslaught. Learn to identify intruders, withstand invasion and control.

I have been waiting for a moment of safety, but I dare not wait any longer. I must pass on Kabir’s last insights, before my mind is taken over and its treasure stolen. Please be ready. There is a great deal of information. It will rock you. Are you ready?

 

I lurch forward, pinning down a commuter opposite. “Sorry. Sorry.” Everyone’s getting off. I’m in London. People pushing past, their voices ringing in my ears. “Is she alive?” “Did you get the download?” “Anybody?” “I fancy a jam sandwich.” “No one?” “Get out of my way.” I stumble, as I’m pushed by an angry traveller.

Out of the station, into the light and more voices, choirs of voices, weeping like fallen angels, a cauldron of voices echoing across the hot, crowded city. “Have we truly lost her? Will she no’ return? “Have we lost his last insights forever? Have we lost Lord Kabir’s Last Insights? Are we doomed?

I feel increasingly deranged and, tripping on the steps of the Blatt residence, land in a heap. Reginald Blatt answers and looks down on me.

Doctor Reginald Blatt takes a rational view of the world and becomes increasingly irked at what he calls my senseless metaphysical questions. He refuses to accept my dreams. Lots of people have recurring dreams, he says. I tell him that mine are not recurring, they’re continuing, but he refuses to acknowledge the significance. When he insists that Lila saying “God’s will be done” after I’d said it to my patients, was just a coincidence, I try to tell him. “It wasn’t just the phrase, it was her character, the smell of lavender, the… It was a coincidence! thunders Blatt. But I can’t let it go. I challenge him. “How do you know your thoughts are your own?” “All my thoughts are my own!” he booms. “How can you be sure?” “Because they occur to me, they’re my thoughts!” “Can you prove it?” “Get out!” He’s pushing me towards the door. “But what’s your diagnosis?” I beg. “You’ve lost your marbles!” he shouts. “But what should I do?” “Get yourself sectioned immediately. I won’t charge you. Goodbye.” I’m pushed out, the door slammed. Find myself on the steps, looking at a dog owner, pausing while her dog piddles against a gatepost. As I start walking back, I find myself repeating “it’s a coincidence” in time with my steps.

 

It’s a coincidence. A pure coincidence. And I am pure. Because I am rational. Everything I think is rational. Furthermore I have a new patient, with whom I am being purely rational. He is an Iranian student of philosophy, stressed about his forthcoming examinations. So, rationally, I tell him not to be. He says he still is. I tell him it’s a coincidence. He says he isn’t just stressed, he hears telepathic voices. He senses I am telepathic too and I could earn good money if I worked for his organisation. I tell him there’s no such thing as telepathy. It isn’t rational and I can prove it. Instead of being glad, he seems disappointed. He says he was sure I was psychic. I tell him he’s mad and chuck him out.

Doctor Blatt would be proud of me. Good. Especially as I’m to have tea with Lila tomorrow afternoon. But she can say ‘God’s will be done’ as many times as she likes, I won’t go bonkers, because I am logical and that makes me strong. Good.

Even the news is good. Islamic State militants in Syria have taken control of the ancient city of Palmyra. Good. It’s good to take control. Also, five of the world’s largest banks have been fixing the foreign exchange market. Well done, I didn’t know it was broken. To cap it all, a wounded dog, found in her dead owner’s arms after the fatal tornado that ripped through Texas two weeks ago, has found a new home. I can’t help weeping for joy.

The garden bell rings in my ears. If it’s that student again, I’ll break his kneecaps. Grabbing the only weapon I can find, I run up the path and fling open the gate, brandishing my pencil. But he isn’t there.

Aiden’s there with an old suitcase, a rucksack and all manner of plastic bags. He’s been kicked out. He’s made the mistake of giving his mum his wages, infuriating Luke Chapps, who pays for Alf and Molly, in return for controlling them and having his way with her, causing a set-to which Aiden lost. I make him up a bed in the dome. I tell him other people are mad. He agrees.

 

It’s a warm sultry day, soft as a peach, as I pull up outside Harry Burke and Lila Kane’s wraparound eco-bubble that melts into the chalk cliff. It’s mad. There’s no one about. I go to ring the bell but the door is open, so I tiptoe in. Peeking from the safety of a chalk-white column, I observe a circle of strange folk, with black armbands, sitting in silence, eyes closed.

They seem troubled, heads lowered. A man, who looks like an ancient boy, has tears flowing down his soft pink cheeks. A fat lady in an emerald green dress is slowly shaking. At the far end of the circle, Lila Kane and Harry Burke are holding hands. I’ve only seen them in their spangly performance gear. But Lila’s wearing an old yellow dress and Harry’s in dirty orange dungarees, long white hair flopped forward over a face like parchment. Beside him sits a little girl, all in red, maybe eight or nine years old. Her arms are raised, hands splayed above her lowered head. They’re weirdos!

I close my eyes to give myself a last reminder to remain rational and keep an objective distance. Others are allowed to believe whatever they wish to believe. I shall not condemn their crazy ideas. But I shall only accept that which stands the test of reason. I shall be pleasant, but clearminded.

I open my eyes and they’re all smiling at me. Do they think I was sharing their prayer? Lila rises to welcome me. She holds my hands in hers. I smile professionally, remaining detached. She tells me I’ve arrived at a sad time. “We’re in mourning for friends.” That explains the armbands. So far so good. “I’m sorry” I say. “Perhaps I should leave you to your misery.” “Oh no” gushes the fat green lady. “We’re thrilled to be meeting you.” Her whole body shakes like jelly and her head wobbles. It’s hard not to stare. “Especially now” adds the ancient boy, peering at me. He tells me that his friends call him ‘ghost’, without a capital G, and intimates that “in our little psychic community, we have discovered that there may be those who would like to use our skills for nefarious purposes”. In my head I’m going ‘la la la’, because it’s poppycock.

A pretty mincing man with flaxen hair and pale blue eyes confides that “the true purpose of telepathy is to bring us together, to ensure that knowledge and experience is shared for the good of all. This” he says “is the voice of God”. Inwardly I smirk. God is irrational. He divulges that “the corrupt use of telepathy is to spread suspicion and dissent. To divide and rule. To use for surveillance, even weaponry. This is the Devil in humans.” Devil? Humph. Likewise irrational. He lays his hand upon my shoulder. I do not flinch. He tells me I am to distinguish a pure voice from a corrupt voice. I may need training. “Thankyou” I say, concealing my indignation and making a note never to let myself be trained by this gay Jesus. He can’t do it, if I don’t want him to.

A large white tea trolley rattles in. Behind it, Maryam Mazari smiles at me. Her eyes are always so full of feeling. This is the tester. I instruct my eyes to look away but they won’t budge. Luckily everyone flocks around the tea trolley and I flock too. Splodgy pink cakes, cups of tea piled high with clotted cream.

I stand aloof, leaning on a white column, watching the weirdos fan out, balancing teas and cakes, forming little groups like petals of flowers. Something is creeping around my leg. I dare not look. It’s tugging at my trousers. It’s the spooky little girl. She wants to tell me something. I bend down. “Psychic energy is an electromagnetic medium” she says in a low monotone. “Oh” I say “I’m glad to hear it, er...” “Peggy” she says, continuing “it’s no mistake that psychology, electricity, spiritualism and relativity enter our minds at the same time a century ago. These wonders are revealed as humankind evolves.” “Really” I say, shuddering involuntarily. “Yes” she says. “It’s nothing to be frightened of. The unknown is only frightening because it is unknown. Your scepticism is only another form of fear.” My spine tingles. This is one scary kid. I want to kick her away, but think the better of it.

Between plump Maryam, twirled in her violet sari, and scary Peggy, I don’t know where to hide, so I wander about, haphazardly. Bonny, the shaking fat lady, wants me to know that all true thoughts are messages through the ether emanating from the one universal source. Noel, the gay Jesus, adds that, indeed, such intimations are the only source of truths. Ancient boy, ‘ghost’, says “you can always tell an evil one. They have dark corners, crooks and crannies they won’t let you see.” I certainly won’t let him see mine. I nod and smile, smile and nod, without letting their madness in. Harry Burke, on his way back to his seat, winks at me, saying “Openness is the key”, as if winking and wearing dungarees make him the acceptable face of craziness.

I find I’m standing alone in the centre of the circle, with everyone looking. There is only one space, which is next to Maryam, and I wish it wasn’t. Her body smells of warm cinnamon. She turns to me and I have to avert my eyes. “They want to know about your talents” she says. “I’m just a therapist” I say. “I try to help people through their troubles.” “But are you just a receiver, or a transmitter too?” asks ghost. I say “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” There’s silence. No one says a word, but I’m holding tight.

“Rupert?” It’s Lila’s voice. “I have an apology to make” she says. “A few weeks ago, I was trying to help my friends, when, surprisingly, you picked up on it. I didn’t mean to speak through you. I’ll never do it again.” I look up at her. She says “You guessed, didn’t you”. I nod, helpless. “I never say God’s will be done I admit. “No” she says “and I apologise. Though, in a way, God’s will has been done.” “How?” I ask. “He has sent you to us.” “I don’t believe it” I say, reeling from her admission that her voice really was in my head.

I can’t believe in it. I mustn’t believe in it. A question comes to mind. “Why are these cows not laying eggs?” I ask. Lila glowers at her friends. “Who did that?” she demands. The spooky kid giggles. “You’re not to do that Peggy. “Well, it proved it. “What’s going on?” I ask. “Oh, Peggy just put a thought in your head.” “What about?” “Cows laying eggs.” Everyone giggles except me. I feel as if all my floors and walls and ceilings are caving in, turning to dust, wind howling through.

Would you mind?” Maryam is standing in front of me. Automatically I rise. She places her fingers on my temples. I suddenly remember my night with Katy, so warm and safe. Maryam looks surprised. I quickly hide the memory. Letting it go, I feel a marvellous humming in my head and down through my body, a feeling of infinite freedom. I hear Maryam saying Amazing. “What?” ask others eagerly. Why, there’s no one at home she announces, removing her fingers. A rare talent says ghost. Amazing they agree. I ask “what does it mean ‘there’s no one at home’?” “It means you can empty even the last vestiges of your identity.” “And that’s good?” Maryam smiles “You have the ability to possess a perfectly clear mind.” Lila and her friends gasp.

“Wow!” I say. “But, what if I don’t believe it?” Harry explains that, if I remain in denial, I could be vulnerable. He sites Lord Kabir’s wise words about safety in sharing. I realise I’ve heard that name before and wonder how it all joins up, or if my mind is broken. Lila seems to sense my confusion. “Let us form the psychic circle.” I look around the faces in the circle and, seeing their eyes close, close mine. Something starts to move, to whir, a spinning wheel of feelings and bodies.

Young Peggy, uncertain, fierce, a brilliant red. Harry Burke, quiet, knowing, warm orange glow. Dazzling songbird, Lila Kane, canary yellow. Fat Bonny, trembling in a haze of emerald green. Sky-blue Noel, faithful and helplessly kind. The deep indigo flame of ghost seeking shadows in light and Maryam, a shimmering violet. I feel wonderful. Floating through them and them through me, mingling, coalescing, disappearing, leaving one clear thought. God is love. God is love. Spinning to infinity, God is love. It is so overwhelming, Maryam has to help me to my chair.

“Last time I was here” I say, “I had a vision outside your loo. I saw my boy, Jason, rise through a trapdoor in the floor, open a door in the wall and step out. But Jason’s in Thailand, so what can it mean? There’s no trapdoor outside the loo says ghost. No. I know. I checked.Sweet Bonny, who shakes, tells me she is consulting her pathway to the unknown. I wait. She asks if Jason might be a Martian spider? I rule this out. He’s my son. And he’s in Thailand. Sky-blue Noel with the flaxen hair says Perhaps your son experienced this and, as he did so, you picked up on it. But it would’ve been evening in Thailand” I say. ghost suggests that maybe he rose through a trapdoor in Thailand and your mind naturally adjusted it to British Summertime. But he walked through a wall. That’s because, where he was, there was a door. I consider this. But he opened the door on a traditional old English farm, with an old English farmhouse and sheep. How could that be in Thailand? Oh the farm is real enough says Lila. He means our little community. Show him Maryam.

I follow her up to the top of the house, where, behind a curtain, a tiny staircase spirals up through chalk, to a viewing tower embedded in the cliff, which reveals a farm, deep in a hollow below, cut off from sea and land by cliffs. Even from this angle, I know its the farm in my vision. Maryam is describing their little community and asking if I’d like to visit. I would. The moment I turn to face her, I’m lost in her eyes. They make me feel so emotional.

You mustn’t worry when you don’t know who you are” she says. You are not defined by your shell, but by your gifts.” “Yes. What are they again?” “You have the gift of total vacancy.” “So what does that mean I can do?” “Everything. You are holy.” As she explains, I suddenly realise that her lips aren’t moving. I say “your lips aren’t moving.” She says “neither are yours.” “So are we just?” “Yes.” A wave of dizziness almost sends me over the edge of the tower. She grabs my arm to steady me. “I’d love to study you” she says. I gurgle like a baby.

Driving home, I feel happier than I’ve ever felt in my life, my confidence surging, my powers radiating from my being. I can treat hundreds of patients, thousands. Indeed, its my God-given duty. I possess a direct line to the Almighty. I’m going to be rich.

Aiden’s in the dome. I’d forgotten. I thought I’d take some time to sit, and possibly emanate. He’s just getting into bed. I’m surprised to see that his lips are moving as he speaks. “Your lips are moving” I say. Aiden asks me if I’m feeling alright, but I get another thought. “Are my lips moving?” “Yes” replies Aiden, nervously. He says if you ever need help, Mr Alves, you can count on me. I’d do anything for you.” I lay my fingertips upon his brow to bless him and probably cure his ME.

Coming up the track to the house, I hear Maryam’s voice again and can’t help letting out a whoop. I always knew I was special. But it all makes perfect sense now. I have the gift of total vacancy.

 

5 – Puzzle

The woman’s name is Maryam Mazari. She has a cultivated Indian accent and at first I think she’s phoning from a call centre, enticing me into some new energy deal. But she’s inviting me to a party, 2pm on the 26th, at the Kane and Burke residence. “Who?” I ask. She tinkles with embarrassed laughter. “Lila Kane and Harry Burke. They’re friends of Gerald Mayhew, Tamara Lovell, Tyler Hunt, Greta…” As her melodious voice sings on, the penny drops. “Oh. …I’ve been there before.” “Yes you have” she confirms warmly, sending an involuntary little tremor down my back. “Lila is very keen for you to attend. Will you?” “Yes.”

I’ve made it! I’ve arrived! I run outside to give praises to the Sun God. Kane and Burke may just be a couple of ancient songwriters, well past their sell-by, but they’re the hub of high society round these parts, replete with celebrity nutters all gagging for my therapeutic services. And to be invited specially! And why? Because I have transformed myself. My geodesic dome no longer looks like some old woody hippy thing. It looks like a spaceship has landed in a forest glade. Inside gleams with minimalist surfaces and technology. Gone the cobwebby, jossticky personal touch. Everything to impress.

There’s my new designer clothes. My new clean-shaven face. With no expression, it looks like an old rag. Yet when I stretch it into a broad smile it looks, well, a bit frightening. But, if I go halfway, ease the facial muscles into a gentle, reassuring smile, head lowered, meeting others eye-to-eye… Not bad. Have to practice. Thing is to cultivate a modern, rational approach. I am no longer the spiritual wizard. I am now the modern clinician, objective, cool, procedural, precise. Get the new image right. Grow into it.

I’m so busy rearranging my expression in the mirror, I don’t notice that popstar Tamara is already online. “Hi” I say smoothly, easing myself into position, adjusting the tilt of my head and assuming the smile I’ve just perfected, ready for our Skype session. For some reason Tamara is off-screen. Her disembodied voice is introducing me to her Mum. A frightening face looms up, all bones and wrinkles and mad staring eyes. I do not flinch, but introduce myself with a calm reassuring smile. “Hi. I’m Rupert Alves.” But the camera lurches backwards and, when it settles, I can see the mad staring woman in an armchair and a small crouching figure beside her, who briefly turns towards me as Tamara introduces her Dad.

I know why Tamara is doing this. Her Mum’s got Alzheimer’s and her Dad can’t cope. She told me. Now she’s showing me. As if on cue, her Mum starts asking if the Admiral has arrived. “No” says Dad. Mum asks again. Dad confirms that the Admiral hasn’t arrived. Mum repeats her question. Dad keeps his voice controlled. The Admiral has not arrived and he’s not coming. Where’s the Admiral? Dad buttons his lips. He’ll answer no more. Tamara’s voice hisses “now you see what I’m up against”. “Where’s the Admiral?” asks Mum. “I certainly do, Tamara” I say, keeping my professional smiley face on, in case anyone ever looks at me. “Where’s the Admiral?” asks Mum. Suddenly the Dad leaps up as if to attack his wife, screaming “The Admiral is dead. And he wasn’t an Admiral.” I think I’ve been dropped on the floor. I can hear Tamara shrieking at her Dad not to yell at Mum and him roaring back at her. They’re shouting at each other and Mum is wailing like a police car.

Suddenly I’m scooped up. The screen image whirls, making me feel nauseous, and I’m whipped into an adjacent room and put down beside a sound mixing console, while Tamara plugs something into me, so I can see a secret film she took, of a meeting with her management team. I tell her I don’t need to see it. I need to talk to her. But whether she hears me or not, she’s intent on showing me and won’t be a tick. I keep calm.

Tamara’s problem is simple. Her management company have her on endless tours and, despite charting in several European countries, haven’t paid her. So she can’t spend time with her parents, nor pay for care. It’s a practical problem and it will have a practical solution. Nonetheless, I’m forced to endure a business meeting where a chubby lawyer explains the legal situation, a skinny accountant explains the financial side of things, while a benign personal manager nods wisely. Several times I ask Tamara if she can hear me. I think I must be disconnected, plugged into the video. When her manager says “Well I hope we’re all in agreement and can move forward together”, I hear Tamara scream “You fucking bastard” and I’m launched towards the manager and used to physically attack him until, abruptly, the video ends.

Again I hear her voice “just a tick”. I’ve only a moment to compose myself before her face reappears and she’s ranting on about those crooks. In the lower right corner of the screen, I notice the time and realise an hour has passed. “Time’s up” I say. “What?” she asks. She’s outraged that I’m ending the Skype session. Cool and calm, I say it was her choice to spend the hour in this way and, furthermore, if she wants another session, she’ll have to come and see me personally. Afterwards, I feel a little guilty and perhaps a little nervous that I’ve lost her. But I am no longer the warm-hearted hippy guide. I am a modern professional therapist and I don’t take no shit.

 

This morning Michelle said let’s have an evening together” and when I come in from work, floating up through the warm april twilight, she’s cooking. Turns out it’s thirty years since we first met. To the day. She remembers how spontaneous, wild and imaginative I was, whereas she was so literal, a library of dead conventions. I remember it differently, that I was lost in mid air, waiting to be caught, when the apparition appeared, a creature of fire, of breathtaking beauty. And practical with it, so I knew I’d be alright.

While serving up, I casually mention her dad’s funeral. I know step-sister Noreen has invited us. Perhaps it might be good to go. “No. He was a drunk, he left us” she snaps back. “I wouldn’t see him when he was alive, why now?” I shrug. To make sure he’s dead, you mean?” “No, for closure, for acceptance, I don’t know…” “Here, grab these” she says.

We eat. She’s so excited about the new company launch, her words fly up, forming citadels in the sky, visions of corporate ecstasy. How fine and marvellous she is. With the right look, right promotion, they’ll attract a higher tier of client, even government, banking systems, the military. And Johnny Andrews, her new partner, knows the right people.

We talk about our kids, about Jason’s venture, Susan’s pregnancy, Alicia’s silence… talking in shorthand, finishing each other’s sentences, our minds entwined telepathically by thirty years of love.

After the meal we settle on the sofa and I flip on a Swedish Wallander I’ve recorded. Michelle doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like it when the blood spurts out. She doesn’t know why people watch this crap. I pause the programme. I say it isn’t the blood, it’s the puzzle. The murder’s only to entice you in. After all, everyone wants a murderer off the streets. It raises the pulse. But really it’s about solving a puzzle. Michelle says the puzzle’s obvious. Someone murders someone and they’re going to get them in the end. So who’s the murderer? I ask. She doesn’t know or care.

But life is about solving puzzles I reason. “The right look for your company is a puzzle to be solved.” “But that’s an imaginative challenge” she says. “Notoh look, here’s a clue placing the murderer at the scene of the crime, giving him motive and, what ho, we’ve solved it.” She’s teasing me. “You don’t treat your nutters like logic problems, do you?” she asks. “Yes” I say, “that’s exactly what I do. A problem may not be rational, but the solution must be.” “Oh Roo” she coos. “You’ve got old. Can’t you be spontaneous anymore?” “Of course I can!” I retort. She slips a hand around my waist and with the other, caresses my cheek. “Well, what’s stopping you then?” she asks in her warm breathy voice. I get it, switch off my mind and dive into her arms.

 

Tyler Hunt is a nauseating narcissist, so quick to put you down and big himself up, you might think he has no saving grace. I’ve heard him say that if the Bible was being written now, he’d be like Moses. So it came as a shock when he told me the abuse he suffered throughout his early life. His egomania is a defence mechanism. Tyler Hunt is as fragile as a house of cards. Having had time to think, and in preparation for this session, I’ve decided that we need to get to the heart of his condition and its roots in his dad’s and others’ abuse. By isolating the past events which have disconnected him, I intend to reconnect Tyler to people, and the love he so dearly needs.

When I open the garden gate to welcome him, I have to jump two steps back. He sports bright tweed jodhpurs, high fluorescent boots, a tight paisley waistcoat that flares just above the waist to reveal two inches of hairy muscle, while a pied piper hat crowns his broad, overwhelmingly handsome face. He is jetlagged, he says, having flown in from LA earlier this morning, after recording a Hollywood special of Tyler’s Table. While he lists the world-famous stars whose flagging careers he’s revived by having them on his cooking programme, I face my first hurdle.

It’s good to let patients talk but if I let Tyler talk, he’d never stop advertising the wonders of guess who. The only payoff there would be if he actually came, and messed up his jodhpurs at the crutch. I remind him I’m not an interviewer but his therapist. I don’t need to hear his triumphs, I need to understand his tragedies. Giving me a slow understanding nod, he says “My greatest tragedy is that I will never be able to see myself perform live, to feel the awe and magnetism that others feel.”

I try again. “You’re obviously a very attractive man, but..” He’s wagging a finger at me. “That’s just envy” he says. “A lot of men feel threatened because I’m too sexy. It’s just something that happens when my confidence meets other people’s insecurity. Don’t worry about it. I didn’t choose to be me, any more than you chose to be almost completely unknown.” I tell myself I don’t want to hit him. “I’m like a vessel” he says “and God has chosen me to be his voice.” I’ve got to find a way to burst his balloon or I’m going to vomit. If he’d only stop talking I could think. “I wouldn’t even say I’m a chef. I’d say I’m more of a messenger. I mean, my food isn’t just food, it’s medicine. I want my recipes to touch the little people, to give them what they need, to cure their cancer gastronomically.”

“What age were you when your father first abused you?” I ask. His eyes flare with rage but a softer sound escapes his lips. “Three.” “You remember?” “Yes.” “What did he actually do?” “Licked me.” “All over?” “Just …between the legs.” “Did you like it?” He shrugs. “I didn’t know.” “Didn’t know what?” “Maybe that’s what all daddies do.” We’re talking so softly now. “And was it only you dad?” “And his friends. They called me the little prince.” “When did you realise?” “At school, when I was fourteen. We had sex education. Then I knew.” And what did you do?” Tyler starts to sob. I let him, better out than in. “Did it continue, after you knew?” “What was I supposed to do?” “Did you like it?” “I liked the attention.” His eyes flick up at me. His face darkens. “Why are you asking me all this?” He rises, sending his chair skidding backwards. You’re just like them, poking, prying...”

He’s shouting, accusing me of voyeurism, of sadism, of abuse. He’s yelling so loud, someone might hear. I know I’ve pushed him too far. I’m ashamed. I can’t bear it when people shout at me, can’t think. Wrapping my arms around my head to protect myself, to screen out the noise, I fall sideways off the chair. Curled in a ball on the floor, I cry out, as if to Lord God Almighty “I give up!” I mean I give up everything, my work, my life. I give up trying. He’s staring at me, as if at a worm. At least he’s stopped shouting. I zone out.

Yanked to my feet, dropped in my chair, he’s glaring at me. “Well?” he demands. “I’m so sorry” I say. I can’t help you.” He’s horrified. “Why?” “You’re poisonous …and I’m weak.” I close my eyes in disgrace. We’re both so mad, so lost. He’s ranting again. “I can change. I can do anything. I’m no ordinary schmuck. I am as deep as the ocean, as high as the sky. Try me. I can do it. I am infinity. I… His ego drones on and on, until it becomes a bee buzzing in the garden, until the bee buzzes away leaving silence, until, somewhere in that silence, a voice I’ve never heard, whispers in my head. “Teach him to fake it.”

Before I can stop myself, I’m counselling heartless empathy, self-seeking altruism, venomous sweetness. Butter people up, use your superiority to fool the schmucks, make morons feel like God’s gift, disarm a rival’s putdown with innocent niceness, control with flattery, kill with kindness. Con the bastards into liking you. They’ll think you’re brilliant, if you tell them they’re brilliant!” Tyler is astonished. He wants to give it a go.

Imagine you’re introduced to Lord Fauntleroy” I say. “How would you greet him?” Grasping me in a bone-crushing handshake, his face just inches from mine, he booms “Hi, I’m Tyler Hunt. You may be a lord, but I’m a genius. “Wrong!” “What? “Big me up, not you.” “Okay.” He tries again, taking my hand and pressing it to his forehead as he kneels. “Oh Your Lordship. I grovel before you.” He has no idea. Try something else. “Supposing I’m just an ordinary person. How would you make me feel good?” “Well, you’d already feel good, if you were meeting me.” “Yes, but what would you say?” “ I’d say Hi, I’m Tyler Hunt. You probably recognise me. Everyone does. I’ve just returned from Hollywood, where I met…” “Not about you!” “Oh. What then?” “Wouldn’t you ask my name?” “Oh. What’s your name?” “Phillip.” “Phillip? I knew someone called Phillip once, complete nonentity, used to shit himself in class.” “Stop. Give me a moment” I beg.

No matter what I try, it goes wrong. His interest in others, becomes their interest in him. Any words of encouragement are so exaggerated they turn into mockery. Compliments become nasty insults. He’s either bragging or fawning, contemptuous or triumphantly malicious. Nothing he says rings true. Even when the words are right, they sound preposterous, like Frankenstein’s monster reciting Shakespeare. But he’s enthused, insists he’ll get the hang of it. And I’m exhausted.

When Tyler leaves to practice, I’m appalled at what I’ve done. Faking empathy will only make things worse. Instead of reconnecting Tyler to others, I’m cutting him off even further. Especially as he’s so bad at it. They’re going to hate him. And it’s my fault. I think I must have done it out of anger or despair.

Intuition can be a dangerous thing. Fine if it works, but it can go wrong, do real damage. I could even end up being unable to explain myself to some professional body. I must cut it out, particularly as there is a rationale here. The words of A J Hutchins come to mind. “If we look at a person as a journey, a doing rather than a being, the idea of ‘personality’ or ‘character’ changes. Think of a person as a stream of impulses and responses. Increasingly, these become formalised into habits, characteristics which masquerade as character. In a safe society, habits and traditions can take over and the challenge is to re-open the psyche, to become sensitive to new stimuli and new responses.” Brilliant. In other words, don’t get lost in the maze of a patient’s psyche. Do not blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. Keep your distance. Observe. Be objective.

I promise myself (and my clients) I will not to make these mistakes again. And I will find a way to make it up to Tyler, such that he can ‘become sensitive to new stimuli and new responses’, rather than enmeshed in a web of lies, doomed to play-act the rest of his life, trapped in his own hatred and deceit. Everytime you poison others, you poison yourself. And that goes for me as well as for him.

I find myself wandering into the house, with the subliminal super-objective of cheese on toast, only to find Michelle in the hall, putting on her coat. I help her. “Who took the sausages from the fridge?” she asks. “I know I bought them.” I shrug. She’s checked at the butchers. She did buy them and she didn’t leave them there. She thought perhaps she’d dropped them. But she’s checked everywhere she could’ve dropped them. She’s sure she put them in the fridge. Where are you off to?” I ask. An ideas bash with Johnny.

I’m wishing her luck, when the phone rings. It’s Gerald Mayhew, former Antiques Roadshow expert and pisshead, inviting me to some antiques dealers’ shindig at his local. He’s slurring his words and, despite the new regime we’ve agreed on, I’ve an idea he’s plastered. Are you drunk?” I ask. Drunk as a lord. But it’s only three o’clock. Is it? Which day? But our plan… Gerald burbles on about exceptions that prove the rule.

I close up the house, leap into my little Citroën, zoot along the A27, screech to a halt outside his house, find his local, barge through an array of antique folk and march over to Gerald, as he’s about to take a swig, whip the glass from his hand, swig it back and announce that “from now on, I’m going to be your drinker. Whatever you order, I’ll drink it for you. It’s a service I’ll provide. You can have my drinks.” Gerald is outraged, may even be on the brink of turning nasty. But others laugh.He’s got your number” chortles a jolly fat bloke with long dank hair and a billowing cravat.

    All around me, the merry throng are discussing Sandwich glass, Duncan Phyfe tables, Chinese porcelain, Cartier necklaces, japanned cabinets, bewailing the present situation, with antiques increasingly hard to find and prices rising. I overhear a button-faced woman with high frizzy hair like Marge Simpson, describing how she prised a mid eighteenth century mahogany tea caddy from one elderly couple, by convincing them it was a fake, adding “more fool them”. As Gerald glides around the room being charming, I glide after him. Whenever Gerald’s hand instinctively reaches out for alcohol, I knock it back, handing the surprised Gerald a juice.

The downside of this policy comes suddenly. “Get me out of here” I whimper, struggling to remain standing, as the room whirls around me. Next thing I know, I’m at his place, being plied with coffee and water. “Feeling better?” he asks. I’m not. An image flashes into my mind, of people holding me up and a woman being helped out of her wheelchair. Then of being wheeled down the steep road, presumably by Gerald. I feel sick.

After a visit to the bathroom, where the contents of my stomach erupt somewhere between toilet bowl and sink, I do start to feel better, though my head’s still throbbing. More coffee, more water. Gerald is dubious about whether I should drive. “Why not take a taxi?” But I’m sure I’ll be okay. “Just a minute” he says, using a silk handkerchief to wipe a slimy mixture of peas and carrots from my shoes.

Something seems to be wrong when I get outside. I can’t see. Everything seems to be swamped by a kind of blackness. As I feel my way to my car, I’m relieved to realise it’s evening and not my eyes. I have the same problem driving. It’s not clear which is the road. Stopping at a junction, a fellow driver rolls down his window and shouts “Lights!” I find the headlights switch. That’s better.

Gerald’s probably gone back to his party. Perhaps not, more likely scrubbing out his bathroom. He’s so kind. Probably couldn’t wait to get rid of me. I got drunk so easily, he’s probably lost all respect for me. Probably. On the other hand, I’ve probably been quite clever, drinking his drinks and then reversing roles, making him the carer. An imaginative use of logic. But why did I do it? Why did I drive out to a patient and drink his drinks? I’ve never done that before. Am I being brilliant or losing the plot?

At home, Michelle is buzzing with ideas for the new company launch. They’re going to make a classy corporate promo. Get a load of this” she says. We open on a scene of biblical proportions, where two great tribes are thundering towards each other, charging into battle. We see their daggers glint, the horses hooves galloping. At the last moment, instead of hacking each other to bits, they turn and present themselves to us as two great flanks of one vast army. The camera pans back. That’s when our logo comes up, “Aye-aye”. And that’s just the beginning.I ask if that might not cost billions of pounds. Oh nonsense, Roo, you’re out of touch. They can do anything now with computer graphics. I ask what ‘aye-aye’ means. It’s the new company name, ‘Infinite Intelligence’. Great isn’t it!” I agree and wish I possessed it.

Suddenly she jumps to her feet. She wants to show me something and leads me into the kitchen. There’s a bit of paper stuck on a fridge shelf. It’s part of the paper the sausages were wrapped in” she explains. I peer in. She remembers debating whether to give her friends quiche or sausages and deciding on the quiche because she could just serve it up. She wonders if any of her friends, who came to lunch that day, nicked the sausages as a joke. Or maybe one of them put their own stuff in the fridge and, after lunch, collected them, also taking the sausages by mistake. She doesn’t remember anything like that happening and surely they would have realised by now and called her. Perhaps Megan took them when she came in to clean. Though why…

I ask if she’s told Noreen that we won’t be attending the funeral. What’s dad’s funeral got to do with the sausages? asks Michelle. Nothing I admit, staring at her. Michelle lowers her head, bites her lip. “What’s the point of rehashing the past?” “I don’t know” I say. “How are you feeling at the moment?” “A bit up in the air, a bit lost, what with all the changes.” “Me too” I say.

 

Dennis says his problem is that there’s nothing wrong with him, other than being old and alone. I think he’s joking. No, really, what’s wrong with you? Nothing. I’ve just said. He’s wearing a natty blue and white sailor outfit, sporting a bright orange tan and beaming as if everything’s a joke. You’re not one of those who needs it coaxing out of them are you? I ask, joining in the fun. No. I’m telling you, there’s nothing wrong with me. Well, why are you here then? I want spiritual moves. What’re they? Don’t you know? Well there are exercises, meditations… Yes, that’s it. I’m a dancer. I need gentle therapeutic movements which, I’m told, can reunite body and soul. Do you know any of them? Nothing filthy, mind you! I frown, but he grins. He is joking this time.

While I take him through some hurriedly remembered Ayurvedic exercises a pretty Brazilian girl taught me in Wales, Dennis confides that he was Gerald’s one and only boyfriend, the one who left. He explains Gerald’s dark side, that he’s in a continuous state of confusion about himself so he can never give or receive love. And if you do manage to show your love, he’ll immediately prove himself unworthy. I nod, taking this in. “He can give you things, he can help you, he can be very generous. But he can’t get close. It’s very upsetting in the end. I’ve had to accept that he’s a lost cause. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t try. I hope you succeed. But for my own sanity, I mean we’re cordial, but I steer clear of him.”

I agree that you should keep away from someone who damages you and teach him to ‘whoosh’ out the bad energy and ‘whoosh’ in the good. Dennis likes it. I watch in alarm as this skeletal old man goes whooshing around the room, uncoiling, springing about. Noticing that he’s about to lurch backwards into one of the new lights, I grab his arms and a strange thing happens. Our eyes meet and before I know what I’m saying, I hear my voice say “You need to listen to your heart. Do you understand?” Dennis nods. “God’s will be done” I say. Dennis nods.

I suddenly feel exhausted and fall back into my chair. When he writes me a cheque, it’s all I can do to murmur “thanks”. He says he can see himself out and I let him. I am in shock. What did I say? God’s will be done? I’ve never said that in my life.

 

The church is crowded. We perch at the back. We don’t know anyone here. Michelle is the only child of a previous marriage that most of them don’t know about. We are saying goodbye to James Gladwish, Michelle’s father, whom I only know as the drunk who left. There are prayers and hymns. The twenty-third psalm echoes around us. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.” The vicar reads beautifully. I find it oddly moving.

Then members of his second family get up and speak. The warm, loving, kind, funny, clever, generous person they describe is so different from the image I’ve always had. A large woman reads a poem she has written. “As a child I’d sit upon your knee, as you read a bedtime story and I hugged you happily, you were always there for me, thankyou dearest daddy.” I let out a sob. People turn. Glancing round, I notice Michelle’s face, white with rage, her hands fists.

At the end, she can’t get out quick enough. The large woman comes over. She’s Noreen, Michelle’s step-sister. I realise they’ve never met. She holds Michelle’s hands, pressing them. We follow the coffin to the grave. Strange to be watching another family’s grief. Too much for Michelle perhaps. Too late to melt her heart. Silence all the way home.

 

Greta Walsh was once a TV floor manager, aspiring to direct and produce, when she met Stanley. Now producer Stanley’s success has bought them a beautiful place in the countryside and they have two wonderful children. Greta should be content, with wealth, a happy family and a wide circle of friends. But she’s losing her mind, feels there’s no way out and is plagued by terrifying thoughts. My plan is to provide strategies to raise her self-worth and, hopefully, for her to return to the workforce, perhaps on a part-time basis.

When she arrives, she doesn’t seem depressed at all, chatting about what her fab hubby’s working on right now, about how the children are doing at school, about lunches and parties with her wide circle of talented friends. I asks her what her talents are. “Oh” she saysboring, washing up, stuff like that. When I press her, she admits she’s always loved drawing. She draws fast, she says, and it’s exciting. I hand her a pad of paper, and she’s off, scribbling all sorts of shapes and patterns over page after page of my notepad, while burbling on, nineteen to the dozen, about how she sees things in four dimensions.

“A tree is growing. It bursts open with human fruit-pods. At night the stars come down and fertilise the pods until, warmed by the early morning sun, the pods open and a great wind carries the human fruit across the roaring seas, the burning deserts until, landing on the magical summit, they rise from the sacred earth like green bottles and…Each page gets layers of emerging story till it’s a massive scribble. It then gets flipped back and another innocent leaf gets raped by violent scribbling.

Good Lord, I think. She’s not just clinically depressed, she’s barking mad. And this art therapy is a way into madness, not out of it. I’m about to suggest taking a part-time job, when a soft presence suffuses my mind and, when I open my mouth, it says “This is genius. You must share your visions with the world”. Greta stops scribbling and stares at me in shock. “Should I?” “It’s your destiny.” I find myself leaning across and gently squeezing her arm. “God’s will be done.” “Yes” she says, rising, her eyes gleaming with saintly light. When she’s gone, I’m shaking.

Am I mad? Therapists, psychiatrists, doctors and the like, do go mad. It’s a cliché. There’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There’s psychologist Emily Dearden of Yonkers, arrested last november for, allegedly, shooting her husband in the head while he was asleep, to be with her lover (bonkers in Yonkers). In december, psychologist Maria Caso, of Mexico City, allegedly drugged her husband, took a chainsaw and chopped his body up. Police launched an investigation after children discovered his head whilst playing in a local park. There’s Dr de Souza, a Brazilian doctor, who killed patients to free up beds at the Evangelical Hospital in Curitiba. In 2013, she was charged with killing seven, but it’s thought the number was nearer three hundred. The accused, Dr Virginia Soares de Souza, said “I want to clear the intensive care unit. It’s making me itch.”

And that’s just the women. The internet is full of therapists with pornographic practices, including one who’d suck his patients’ breasts. Presumably he felt it was therapeutic. In Britain we have our own Dr Harold Shipman who put people out of their misery by administering morphine, as he’d watched his own cancer-ridden mother put out of her misery when he was seventeen. …When curing becomes killing. Why? Does healthcare attract the diseased?

Online I find reasons why people choose psychotherapy as a career: Therapists were marginalized as children, or experienced more pain than others, creating a “heightened awareness of inner events and a strong need to heal oneself and others” or “giving them the opportunity to develop intimate relationships without the risk of pain or disappointment”.

The field of psychology is apparently attractive to those who feel “frightened and impotent” in their own lives. Being respected by patients allows the therapist to create a pleasing illusion of competence. Therapists may even choose their career out of a sadistic desire to crush their patients’ spirit. By focusing on the frailties of their patients, therapists elevate themselves.

So, perhaps I must have mental health issues, simply because I became a therapist. Certainly, my Dad’s bi-polar condition and then his suicide, was my reason. But I always thought it was a good reason. Freud said that ‘childhood loss’ is the underlying cause of an adult’s desire to help others. His daughter, psychoanalyst Anna, said “The most sophisticated defence mechanism I ever encountered, was becoming a psychotherapist.” And then there’s John Fromson, director of a Massachusetts program for impaired physicians, who describes the mental health field as one in which “the odd care for the id”.

So a therapist is likely to be mad, certainly odd, and not know it. He or she may be good at diagnosing and helping others, while being in total denial about their own mental health. They may ascribe their own psychosis to a patient. Or just be so nuts, they drive their patients nuts. Or do it intentionally. I’ve certainly met a few, whose characters I thought must be damaging.

So maybe you go into mental health because you’re loopy. But it can also make you loopy. You have to empathise, almost enter, certainly connect with madness, psychosis, neurosis, fixation… on a daily basis. You wouldn’t necessarily notice you were going round the twist. You just would be, because you can’t see yourself.

The blindspot is always the self. For example, I can write all this, perfectly sane, and yet, have no idea why I’ve started giving patients advice I don’t understand and envoking God. If I had to guess, perhaps my makeover is now growing a new evangelical me inside. Or, maybe I’ve stretched too far and been infected by the madness I encounter. Or I’ve always been mad and never known it. Or maybe I’m becoming religious and the voice really is God, telling me what to say.

No. Whatever happens, no more God. Keep rational. Think straight! This is your Last Warning!

I saunter into the house, hoping to find someone to talk to, to make me feel normal. Megan and Michelle are in the kitchen. Megan, our cleaner, is outraged to be accused of stealing the sausages. Furthermore she distinctly remembers seeing them on Friday. Michelle has asked all her friends and none of them admits to taking them. She wonders if one of my crazy clients might have stolen them. After all, I leave the back door, annex door and sometimes even the conservatory doors open when I’m in my shed. “No!” I scream. “That’s not the answer. I see my clients on and off the property!” They’re looking at me oddly. To divert attention from me, I ask Michelle how plans for the new company launch and the classy promo movie are going. She shrugs and wanders off, probably on the trail of the sausages. I grab a couple of bottles of wine and hide in the annex. There’s golf on TV, The Masters, where the winner gets a green jacket. A twenty-one-year-old, Jordan Spieth, is winning against all the famous names. Coverage is scheduled to go on for hours. Good.

 

Tamara has called. I’m relieved not to have lost her, but make very careful preparations for her visit. I must be sure not to say anything weird, especially nothing religious. I note that Brit-pop starlet Tamara Lovell presents her problem as entirely practical. Her management company contract keeps her working nonstop but does not pay her, while her Mum has Alzheimer’s and her Dad can’t cope.

Yet the Skype call revealed that Tamara can’t cope either. When her Dad got cross with her Mum, Tamara shouted at him, Mum shrieked, and round and round it went. A spiralling feedback loop, no resistance from any of them, no sanity. Then the wobbly video of her management meeting, where the accountant and lawyer spoke fiscal and legal gobbledygook, whereupon she physically attacked her manager, suggesting that whenever she doesn’t understand, she blows a fuse.

One of the nice things about Tamara is her peasant body, her forthrightness. But when she arrives, she’s shrouded in black, as if she’s just come from a funeral, and radiating rage. It slightly frightens me. I steady myself and invite her to say what’s on her mind. Out pour a stream of complaints. Everyone’s fucking her over. And what’s more, Joni Mitchell is in hospital, in intensive care!

I try to pass over the Joni Mitchell bit, but Tamara won’t let me. “You probably don’t even know who she is.” “Folk singer in the seventies, I think.” “She is a Major Artist! Like Rembrandt or Bach! And she’s got Morgellons! And those bastards are just telling her she’s hysterical. But they’re worms!” I have to admit I don’t know what ‘Morgellons’ is, or who the worms are. “It’s a horrible disease. You get sores, lesions. You itch, you crawl and multicoloured filaments emerge from your skin, microscopic worms. And they say it’s delusional. But if you see the pictures, they’re red, green, gold, blue…” And Tamara starts singing “I am on a lonely road and I am travelling, looking for something, what can it be?”

I sense that, at the centre, is distress about her disconnected mother, in whom she can no longer confide, at a time when she needs to be able to rely on someone. So she rants at and complains about all those she feels she can’t trust. (She may also fear for herself, since Alzheimer’s is genetic.)

Gently, I observe her need to trust someone. “Who?” she demands, followed by a catalogue of reasons – malice, self interest, cynicism, stupidity, insanity – proving that this person, then that person, in the end that no one can be trusted. Just when I think she’s done, a comical thought seems to occur to her. “Oh, do you mean I should trust you?” The thought triggers a stream of abuse. I’m in it for the money. I’m in it for what I can get out of it, not what I put in. I’m just like everyone else. I throw my arms up in theatrical despair. “But if you can’t trust me, I can’t help!” “You do mean you!” she cries, and laughs at me.

I am about to shriek ‘Yes!’ when a gentle presence descends upon me. It smells of lavender. I find myself saying “No. Not me. Choose the one person you really trust. A singer-songwriter like yourself, perhaps. Someone older and wiser. You know who it is. You just have to remember.” And then, I can’t help it, the words squeeze through my lips “God’s will be done”.

As with the others, this, shockingly, works. It’s as if she’s hypnotized. She stands, wanders out along the path to the garden gate. I skitter after her, open the gate and she’s gone before I realise she hasn’t paid. But what would she be paying for? God’s will? Am I becoming a vicar? Why have I told her to seek Joni Mitchell’s advice?

My phone bleeps. I almost jump out of my skin. It’s a text. Gerald has been rushed to hospital. I’m in my car, driving as fast as I can, blaming myself. Rushing in, I notice a hooped figure leaving. It’s Dennis. “He’s alive” he says softly in passing. “What happened to you?” I ask. “Put my back out doing one of those whooshes.” “Oh, I’m sorry.” He shakes his head. “I’m alright. Go and see him.”

I’m allowed to see Gerald but, not being family, I’m not given any information. However, when I quietly inform a nurse on duty that I’m the patient’s therapist, she indicates that he’s been at the ‘bottle’ and that his liver is touch-and-go. When I ask if she thinks it was a suicide attempt, she rocks her wrist, meaning maybe-maybe not, but her head nods. I sit, holding the unconscious Gerald’s hand. If I could pray, I’d be praying now. I suppose I am praying. Sometimes my hand squeezes his, without my say-so. When I open my eyes and see his eyes open, staring at me, tears roll down my face. “Sorry …I let you down.” But when I look again, his eyes are closed.

 

I can’t sleep. I’ve told a narcissistic patient to fake friendliness and interest in others. A depressed patient to share her mad gabbled and scribbled visions with all and sundry. Both strategies are likely to alienate people, causing the patients’ conditions to worsen. I’ve told Tamara not to trust me, but to ask Joni Mitchell. Am I mad? Yes, because I’ve also told them that it’s the will of God. I’ve shown Dennis how to ‘whoosh’, causing him to do his back in. While Gerald, in my care, has tried to do away with himself and may die. It’s not a good CV.

Sitting in my dome for hours into the night, I’m so full of shame that I start to imagine my patients turning on me. And it’s not unrealistic. Patients often target their therapists. Sometimes it’s infatuation. More often it’s anger. And who’s to say they’re not justified? Therapists get threatened, attacked, sexually harassed. They get stalked.

Online I find that “More than a third of health professionals surveyed in some studies were subject to threats to harm them or other parties, including family members. Physical and sexual assaults were not rare.” Patients also frame their therapists, such as stealing their online identity and, in their name, sending malicious emails, which convince others of the therapist’s instability or guilt. Or physically attacking the therapist and then reporting to the police that the therapist has attacked them.

In a case series compiled by Lion and Herschler, one of the health professionals ultimately strangled the patient who stalked him. In 2012, A French psychiatrist, Danielle Canarelli, was convicted of manslaughter for failing to recognise that her paranoid schizophrenic patient Joël Gaillard (who hacked an elderly man to death) posed a public risk. In 2014, psychiatrist Mark Lawrence, M.D., of McLean, Virginia, was reportedly shot and killed by a patient who then killed herself.

I can’t sleep because everytime I close my eyes, I see enraged crazies coming to get me. And they’re right to. I’m certainly not going to Lila’s party on sunday. No, I’m certainly not going to show my face there. Or anywhere.

 

Sunday blinks open its beautiful eyes, filling the room with light and I realise I must attend the Kane and Burke Spring Soirée’. It’s one thing to fuck people up, quite another to run away. I must face the music.

I’m at the door when Michelle appears. Everything’s turned to dust in her hands. There’ll be no big launch, no promo. The promo estimates are huge. Even when pared down to a nothingness, it’s still too expensive. There’s no money for anything. And Otto, who might’ve taken the sausages, is of course a vegetarian. I can’t take it in. I’m just about to leave. I explain. “A party?” she asks. Suddenly she’s coming. I can’t bear it. I’ve to face all those people I’ve betrayed and Michelle’s going to see.

On the way, I realise I’m shit-scared. Clients I’ve fucked up are going to be there and in any case everyone will know. And what am I going to say? I don’t know why I’ve done anything. I mention my nerves about some of my clients being at the do. Michelle brakes suddenly. “This is a party for nutters?” “No. And my nutters aren’t nutters. They’re human beings.” “Roo…?” she purrs “I am aware that nutters are human beings. I just want to know that, if they say they’re Queen Victoria, they actually are Queen Victoria.” I don’t respond. “Oh well” sighs Michelle, setting the car back in motion. “Off to the Nutter’s Ball.”

I remember the place where the B road twists away from the coast across the wild grassland, and the little track that slips off, plunging downward. I warn Michelle to take it real slow. Even so she gasps as she sees the sheer drop beneath, swerves as dirt becomes gravel and screeches to a halt in front of Harry Burke and Lila Kane’s cocoon-shaped palace, cut into the cliff, looking out at the ocean. Guests are arriving. Michelle stares at the wrap-around glass rising to white honeycombs that melt into the chalk cliff. “It’s weird” she says. “Like an illusion. I bet if you were on a boat looking up, you wouldn’t even see it.”

A plump woman in a spangly sari is walking up, her beautiful eyes fixed on me. I hold out my hand to shake hers, but she embraces me, planting a kiss on each cheek. “Welcome” she sings. “I’m Maryam Mazari.” “Oh, the woman who called, inviting me. I guessed you were Indian.” “Technically the part of the Punjab I was born in, is in Pakistan.” “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Don’t be sorry. It is a beautiful place.” “I mean I’ve brought my wife along.” Michelle gives me a look, but Maryam beams. “I can see. You must be Michelle Alves. You are most welcome.Michelle is surprised both by the recognition and the warm embrace.

Maryam leads us in. I notice a double-bass player tuning up beside the white baby grand, on the little art deco stage, unlit as yet. Harry and Lila’s colourful celebrity friends are scattered about, like a garden of exotic blooms, each with a drink and small-eats. I ask Maryam if she is a celebrity.” “Unfortunately no.” “What do you do then?” I ask, smiling. Maryam smiles back. “I am a scientist.” “Oh!” I say, in a high, impressed voice. “What’s your subject?” “The mind.” Oh, I think. That’s my subject. Mind you, I know nothing about it. I mean to ask her, but we’re being given drinks and little plates with colourful splodges on them that might be food.

“Everything’s weird here” says Michelle, gazing around. Even the people are weird. Which ones are your nutters?” I’m about to say I don’t see any, when I see Tamara and our eyes meet head-on. She’s sitting like a black cloud on a vast ornate chaise longue. Beside her, is our hostess Lila Kane, her ancient frame held together by a shimmering lycra sheath, her mottled face moulting powder. The moment Tamara sees me, she turns to Lila and starts ranting. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but I can guess. She’s telling her that I’m a fraud. I’m drawing Michelle away, towards glass doors that lead out to a balcony, when a smiling vicar shakes my hand.

“I’m told you’re Rupert Alves” he says and starts quoting from the Bible. “The Lord is a jealous God, filled with vengeance and wrath. He furiously destroys his enemies. Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk, Exodus 23:19. She lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses, Ezekiel 23:20. Jesus was hungry. Seeing a fig tree with no fruit, he said May you never bear fruit again! Immediately the tree withered, Matthew 21:18.

Michelle whispers in my ear. “He’s not a vicar, he’s a nutter.” “Could be both” I whisper back. We giggle but the vicar doesn’t draw breath. “You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head. Deuteronomy 28:30”

Finally Michelle asks him. “Are you really a vicar?” He stops in his tracks. That’s what I’m trying to tell you” he says, his voice imploring, his head lowered in shame. “I think I’m losing my faith. Please help me. “Faith is not in the Bible” I say. “It’s in your heart.” Michelle wanders away. The vicar’s face shines. Good. I stride away, straight into a fierce-looking woman with facial warts. Veering to avoid her, I see Tyler Hunt swagger in. He’s wearing white linen trousers and a simple white T-shirt with the inscription ‘God is in the house’. I turn, cupping my hand across my face, so he can’t see it. He lunges past, throws his arms around the warty woman, booming “Adina, you look ravishing”. Adina giggles helplessly and almost falls over when Tyler lets her go because he’s noticed someone else. “Sid, you look amazing. You’ve lost weight. And you’re looking more intelligent than you used to. Almost a spark.” Swivelling, he cries “Wendy!” I want to hide behind Michelle but where is she?

When I find her, she’s being performed at by middle-aged, out of work actress, Olivia. “Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say!” I rush in to save Michelle but Olivia is a gushing fountain of Shakespeare and cannot be switched off. I notice Greta Walsh, collaring guests and gabbling and scribbling her visions. When I turn back, Judd Stone, Jamaican former kids presenter and heroin addict, has replaced Olivia and is leaning on my wife, asking her if she wants to come outside. He’s got some great weed. “Have you?” I say, stepping in front of Michelle. Behind me, I hear Tyler boom “Wow! And who are you?” I hear Michelle say “I’m Michelle Alves. Who are you?” “I’m Tyler Hunt, TV’s most famous chef.” “Oh really?” she says, laughing. “Well at least you’re not Queen Victoria. Seeing scribbling Greta making a beeline for me, I run away, zigzagging to avoid the smiling vicar. Where’s a loo? Find a loo and hide in it.

A curving white corridor displays gold and platinum discs, awarded to Kane and Burke for songs that sold millions. Finding a loo, I sit inside, door locked, head in my hands, hearing the hum of people outside in the real world. Angry faces loom up, enraged celebrities. I hear an in-out whooshing sound and realise it’s my own breath. How long can I hide? Forever?

Peering out, no one about. Dazzled by white walls, I hear a whirring sound. The floor in front of me seems to slide away. A young man steps out. His eyes catch mine and I realise it’s my son Jason. “Jason?” He opens a door in the wall. Sunlight floods in. Beyond, I catch a glimpse of an old farmhouse and outbuildings, nestling in a dappled vale, with trees and sheep like puffs of white amid the lush green paradise. The door closes. I stand, holding onto an alabaster bust of Lila Kane to steady myself. As my eyes acclimatise, I can see no trace of a door in the wall and go to inspect. Someone is watching. It’s Maryam Mazari. Instead of greeting her, her beautiful eyes frighten me, so I hurry back into the party. Safety in numbers.

I’m aghast to find Michelle with Greta Walsh. When I mention having just seen Jason, Michelle says nonsense darling, he’s in Thailand and goes on listening avidly to the gushing Greta, who’s positively frothing at the mouth. …as we zoom in on the closed eyes of a beautiful woman. One eye blinks open. It’s like a cat’s eye, with a vertical pupil that glows. The other eye blinks open, also vertical, like the letter ‘I’ and glowing. As we pass in, we carry the two glowing letters with us and find ourselves entering the brain.”

She flips back a page almost black with scribble and attacks a new one. “The two letter ‘I’s become ‘Infinite Intelligence’, as we hurtle into the labyrinth in ever more detail, discovering an infinite workforce. From here we can highlight all your company’s services, skills and talents, in scenes featuring all my famous friends.” She waves her arm around the room with a flourish. It occurs to me that Greta’s vision is for Michelle’s promo. Should I tell her Greta’s nuts? What do I know? I’ve just seen a vision of my son who’s in Thailand. I hear Greta laugh “they’re not insane, they’re very famous people. Look, that’s Tamara!”

“But but but but but but…” It’s the smiling vicar. “But the Bible’s full of contradictions, cruelty, even lies.” “So?” I ask. “So why is our religion right and others wrong? What can you believe?” “Listen” I say. “I don’t know anything. So don’t ask me.”

The stage lights up. We turn. Tamara steps into the light and, amid warm applause and wolf whistles, introduces her fellow songwriter and her mentor, Lila Kane. We cheer. Lila fumbles with her microphone. “Can you hear me?” “Yes” we cry. “We usually perform our own songs, but today I’d like to begin with a song by my friend Joni. May our thoughts be with her today.

She smiles at her partner Harry. He smiles back, all white hair and blue eyes, his wrinkles a sunburst. For some reason, the look they share makes me gasp. He tinkles a little introduction. Brushes swish across a drumskin. A deep note is plucked from a double bass and, incredibly slowly, Lila’s warbling voice fills the air. “Bows and flows of angel hair… Time seems to stop. “The dizzy dancing way you feel…” I remember being very young and hearing this song and here I am now. “Tears and fears and feeling proud…” All around, people are holding hands, or standing arm in arm. Tamara is perched on the side of the stage, looking up at Lila in adoration. I remember telling her to seek out an older, wiser singer-songwriter. “It’s life’s illusions I recall…” Lila is an older wiser singer-songwriter. “I really don’t know life at all…” I feel queasy.

Rushing out, amid the applause, I almost bump into a mummified corpse swathed in silk, flanked and surreptitiously supported by two handsome uniformed men. I gather, from the voices that whisper about me, that this is none other than fifties pop legend Nicki Amore. I flee.

Outside, I share a joint with Judd Stone. Judd thinks it likely that I saw my son. “Most likely. Probbly visiting the community. Anything can happen round here. It’s a very spooky place if you’re not in tune, man. Sometimes the whole side of this hill opens up. I don’t think I’ll take his word for it. I suck on the joint and bathe in the sunshine. I couldn’t have seen a farmhouse and sheep. This place is embedded into the side of a cliff. “Oh there you are!” Tamara has crept up on us. We’re wanted inside. On the way in, she thanks me for guiding her back to Lila. I don’t understand how. I’m stoned.

Lila and Nicki are ending a duet. Lila is doing all the singing, except for an occasional toneless ‘ooh baby’ rasp from Nicki. As deafening applause dies down and Nicki Amore is surgically removed from the stage, Lila tells us that she wants to introduce us to a new friend, who is doing so much to make to make our lives happier. Please welcome the wonderful Rupert Alves.” I don’t understand. I’m Rupert Alves, aren’t I? I back away. Maryam appears, slipping her arm around my waist, guiding me onto the stage, where I’m seated beside Lila and spotlights blind me.

The band strikes up. Lila sings. “Hey There Handsome. I smell lavender. It’s as if she’s singing inside my head. Suddenly I know she’s the voice. Daring to look, she’s staring at me, telling me I’m right, that it’s okay, reassuring me. At the end, she squeezes my hand and, amid the applause, murmurs “God’s will be done”. I almost fall off the rostrum.

Greta is introducing Michelle to celebrity friends, thrilled about her new company launch. All I want to do is fall into her arms and disappear. But they gather around her, like bees to honey, wanting a part in the movie she and Greta are making. While Tyler is flitting in between them, telling them they’re marvellous. When he tells Tamara she’s the most wonderful singer in the world, she falls into his arms, and the affection he shows, kissing her all over her face, makes me wonder what the hell’s going on.

When Michelle finally extricates herself, she says she’s been advised to inform the police about the sausages. “Why?” “Could be a thief, casing the joint.” Completely disorientated, discombobulated, lost, I own up. “It was me. I stole the sausages.” She gasps. Why?” No idea. Something to do with solving murders. “Oh, that silly Swedish programme.” “Well I was just trying to show you how people are addicted to puzzles.” “Addicted to sausages you mean. What did you do with them?” “Ate them.” She taunts me. Maybe she should tell everyone. Perhaps Lila should sing ‘Hey There Liar’. I beg her not to. She says she’s only joking. She’s thrilled about meeting all these stars.

Maryam’s voice calls across the room. “Make way. They’re here.” The crowd parts and I watch hooped Dennis slowly wheeling Gerald in, amid cheers. I notice Tamara, Greta, Judd, Olivia, eyes bright with tears, Tyler sobbing, the vicar wailing “hallelujah” and everyone joining in. Hallelujah.

I notice Lila, across the room, smiling at me. I tell Michelle I need to leave. Now! Maryam is at the door as we approach, as if she knew we’d be leaving at this moment. She thanks us for coming, tells me how much she admires my talent. “I hope we’ll see you again soon she purrs, in her silky Punjabi accent. “Perhaps you’ll come to tea one afternoon.” I mumble something indecipherable and drag Michelle out to the car.

Michelle sings Greta’s praises all the way home, her head full of the plans they’ve made. I decide not to divulge that Greta’s a patient. I’m in a state of shock about Lila’s voice and the implications. She’s been taking me over, psychically controlling me, prescribing treatments to my clients. It’s unethical, criminal even. My decisions are not my own. I’m a cipher. How can I be a therapist, if someone else is controlling me? I tell myself it’s a puzzle to be solved. But my mind can’t fathom it. No ball of string to unravel here, just a black hole to fall into. Let it go. God’s will be done. I must let it go, or my brain will fuse. If someone else is controlling me, how can I even think? I don’t even believe in telepathy.

4 – Kids

Spring is in the air and so am I. Everyone is surprised by my new image (except Michelle, who immediately knows it’s Larry’s doing). I may only have a few clients but, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, it feels as if it’s all just about to happen. And I am getting new bookings.

Ever since evangelical psychologist Lorenz deMille (my old friend Larry) gave me and my website a 21st century makeover, I’ve been wondering whether Hollywood-chic would work in a little village on the South Downs. But what Larry created, by rebranding me (and running off with my patient, the stunning if psychotic Rebecca), former Antiques Roadshow expert and drunk, Gerald Mayhew has merchandised.

When Gerald phones to book a session for himself, he asks if I’ve had any calls yet. “Not so far” I admit. He says many of the guests at the soirée we attended have said they’ll call. And he’s been spreading the word since.

Almost as soon as I’ve put the phone down, a Tamara Lovell calls. A friend of Gerald, who describes herself as a rock chick. She doesn’t give much away, except that she wants a session in a couple of weeks time, after she’s been to Wales.

Knowing that most of Gerald’s friends are celebrities of one kind or another, I try googling Tamara Lovell and discover that she is none other than Brit pop sensation, Tamara! Although she’s only had one chart entry in this country so far, she’s had several in Europe, including three in Holland.

If all the people Gerald says will book, do book, I’ll be be full to overflowing. And I’m charging double. I can see my gorgeous partner Michelle outside, doing some gardening. I’ll tell her. She’ll be pleased.

My mobile rings. It’s Molly Winkley, about her son Aiden. Aiden isn’t a celeb. Nor is he a new patient. He’s a local lad with ME, whom I was counselling until sometime last year. Molly says no one can believe how my friend got Aiden walking. “And we didn’t know your friend was Lorenz deMille. He’s famous. Luke will be bringing Aiden down Thursday week.” I hurriedly check my availability. No one booked in yet. “Yes, I have got a space that day I say. I haven’t the heart to charge them my new prices.

Outside, the light is dazzling. The cool shade of my little geodesic dome gives the wrong impression. It’s really warm out here, sumptuous. Birds flitting between trees. My beautiful partner Michelle, a nature goddess, is digging up weeds, her frizzy red hair shimmering like a halo in the sunshine. I’ll surprise her.

When I leap up, singing “the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la!” she’s not best pleased. In fact she gives a scream and glares at me. I’m about to apologise for shocking her, when I notice that something’s wrong. She notices that I’ve noticed and immediately goes back to furious digging. I mustn’t ask. Every relationship develops its own patterns of communication. In ours, I’m to wait until she’s ready to tell me.

“If you want to help, grab a trowel” she says, throwing me one. When I’ve found it, I join her. The ground is still quite hard. It turns out that our youngest, Susan, has asked us to donate a large sum towards a house in Dulwich for her and Greg (and their baby, when it arrives). Dulwich, in south London, is very posh. Susan likes posh. Posh is the reward for wealth and she’s an accountant.

Apparently Greg’s folks are putting in their share. So we’re supposed to put in ours. Michelle is scandalised. Susan’s even had the temerity to say that, if we can’t help, they’ll have to ask Greg’s parents to cough up our share. Michelle says it’s blackmail and she won’t do it. When I suggest that we should at least talk it through, she jumps up, wipes the dirt from her hands and asks if I’ve any idea how long it takes her to earn that amount? I back off. Grabbing the trowels, she marches up to the house. I saunter back to my geodesic shed. As the ‘daddy’ of the family, it behoves me to remain silent and neutral in all disputes. That way, everyone gets to express themselves and discover their own true paths.

Michelle’s own path begins in 1965, as the only child of wealthy parents, James and Anthea Gladwish. Her father is a boozer and ignores her. Her mum, feminist and real live wire, divorces James in 1974 (when she inherits from her side) and never remarries.

Programmed by mum Anthea to succeed, Michelle takes a degree course in electrical engineering and computer science, but finds university stultifying and drops out, much to Anthea’s dismay. She finds the course boring, it doesn’t lead to a job and why work? Her family are rich. If she wants to make money, she can buy property, get it done up and sell it on. But she doesn’t want wealth. She wants to ‘find herself’.

On her quest, Michelle finds Larry and me at the Findhorn Community in 1985. Larry meets her first. They may have a dalliance, everyone does, though Michelle’s never admitted it. Anyhow, I’m the one who helps her to get over the traumas of her fatherless only-child upbringing and who gives her the courage and belief that she’s a strong and charismatic spirit in a new age.

However, her mum Anthea is unimpressed with her weirdo (and lower class) beau. I’m not suitable. She cuts the pregnant Michelle off. And being a strong and charismatic spirit in a new age, doesn’t pay the bills when you find yourself with child. In 1991, rediscovering her interest in electronics just as the boom in personal computers begins, Michelle takes the reins. I can be a holistic guide. She’ll make the money.

By 1994, she’s got the internet bug and starts coding simple (text based, first generation HTML) websites. There’s almost no profit in it at first. But Michelle likes being at the cutting edge of this revolution, as well as being a woman in a man’s world. Anthea would’ve been proud of her. But by the time the real money starts to pour in, in the early 2000s, her mother has died. When Michelle inherits, she moves her company out of London and we move to her mum’s hillside home and grounds.

The point is that Michelle not only makes it on her own, but in a new and exciting profession. The thought that Susan should expect a handout, is anathema to her. Like her mother Anthea, she expects her children to fly, not to be given a plane.

It’s funny, I knew Anthea well, but I’ve never met her dad James, and I have it in mind that he’s still alive (somewhere up north, living with one of the children of his second marriage). I’ll have to ask her.

 

It’s the end of a warm hazy day on the cusp of spring, as I prepare for my first session with antiques guru and pisshead, Gerald Mayhew. In the magical dome, fairylights are sparkling and I’m suitably attired, in the Ralph Lauren brushed linen trousers and sky blue block jacquard shirt by Paul Smith. I’m nervous as to how I’m going to be able to help him.

Gerald is fifty-something, a small spruce man in a tight-check tweed suit with a twinkle in his eye. At first he waxes lyrical about all the people he’s recommended me to. Although I thank him time and again, he doesn’t stop. When I suggest we’d better get started, he starts talking about Lorenz deMille. He’s remembered where he met him. I realise it’s a smokescreen. He’s scared of talking about himself, of letting the mask slip.

Sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance. Imagining what Lorenz deMille would do, I suddenly clap my hands. It works. Gerald Mayhew shuts up. “I know very little about you” I say, looking down. “I know you’re an expert in antique furniture. You drink. You have hundreds of friends, for whom you’ll do anything. You were part of Antiques Roadshow until, perhaps a little the worse for drink, you avoided putting your hand through a Picasso by falling onto some ancient Chinese vases and broke the lot.”

Gerald is about to comment, when I add “I’ve also been told that you’re gay, although you’d never admit it. That you had a boyfriend, who left.” When I glance up, he’s looking daggers at me, certainly no twinkle in his eye now. “Do you want to fill me in?” I ask.

Gerald has no problem with being gay, except that he isn’t. That’s why his boyfriend left. If he’d gone the other way, he’d have a family around him now, as I do. (I resist the temptation to say it’s no bed of roses.) He tells me that, even if he parties twentyfour-seven, he feels alone. As if something terrible happened once. As if he took the wrong turning. He drinks more and more, as he feels there’s no way back.

I ask him if he wants to find a way. He nods. “I suppose you drink at parties and continue when you get home” I say. “I start drinking at midday, when I get up” he retorts, with a gallows grin. “Do you think you’ve already lost the ability to think straight?” I ask. “Well I managed to get myself here” he says, sarcastically. I tell him “I’ve known reformed drunks and other addicts who, shall we say, had become simplified”. “I don’t think I’m that far gone” he says, nervously.

“Have you been to AA?” I ask. He give a tight shake of the head. He wouldn’t countenance it. His pride is all he has. “But you do want to give up the booze?” I check. “Cut down” he says. I nod. He adds “I mean, what would I do for pleasure?”

“Pleasure” I repeat. “So your love life didn’t work out and you wish you had a family.” He nods. “But it didn’t happen and you can’t go back, so you’ll have to adjust.” “How?” he asks. I shrug. “Accept your life as it is, accept living alone and cut down the drink until you don’t need it.”

Gerald is disappointed. He had hoped for a panacea, like the ‘happiness’ Lorenz deMille claims to instil. “The hardest thing is keeping the faith” I say. Gerald bristles. He’s not religious. “I mean the faith that if you do the right things, the right things will happen.” “They don’t” he says. I say “I know. That’s why it’s hard.” “But what’s the point?” he asks. “Because they can, good things can happen. But only if you’re in a fit state. Do you want to sort yourself out?”

Fighting me all the way, we devise a daily routine for him. On waking, instead of being tempted by a drink, he’s to throw himself energetically into work. Hell maximise social engagements, where he’ll abstain from alcohol. Only, just before bed, may he enjoy a favourite tipple. I tell him that the next stage, the prospect of pleasure, lies out of sight. But if he can manage the new routine for a week, we can begin to entertain it.

Bringing our session to a close (after almost two hours) I say “If you can keep the routine for a week, you’ll be a hero in my eyes.” He doesn’t seem convinced, so I add “and you’ll feel very different.” Rising to leave, he asks if a pop singer called Tamara has called. I say she’s booked a session. He’s pleased she’s a real sweetie. I tell Gerald he’s a sweetie. Look at all the people he helps. “So do you” says Gerald. “Yes” I sayand helping’s the thing to do. It may be your way through. It’s certainly mine.

When he’s gone, I’m not sure. It’s a hell of a thing to limit yourself to a midnight tipple when you’ve been pouring it down your neck day and night for decades. And drinking is just a symptom. The real problem is his loneliness. Some of Gerald’s despair seems to have rubbed off on me, as I shut up shop and go indoors.

Michelle has already eaten. “Sorry” I say. “It took longer than I expected. I’ll get myself something.” When I casually ask her if she has responded to Susan’s request yet, Michelle flies off the handle. She has enough problems without her daughter’s infantile demands. It turns out, she has the opportunity to enlarge her company. However, as a larger concern, she’d have less control. “But you’ve got to move with the times” she says or you get left behind.

When I ask her what the opportunity actually is, she says she’s thinking of accepting a merger. I’m stunned. “Who with?” When she says Jonathan Andrews, my mouth drops open. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks and starts listing his company’s attributes. But Johnny Andrews is Michelle’s main competitor, offering a similar range of corporate IT services. Michelle’s always thought of him as synonymous with the plague. So is the merger really a positive step or is her company failing? These are deep waters and this is not the moment to ask.

In an effort to change the subject, I say I can’t remember if her father’s still alive. “Why do you bring that up now?” she asks. “Because, I was just thinking…” I burble. “He’s gaga” she informs me. He’s gone into a hospice. Noreen, her stepsister, has just emailed. “Oh” I say, taking it in. Michelle chooses not to see her dad and she’s defensive. Change the subject. “So, any other news?” “Yes.” Her troubled face opens into a warm smile. “Jason’s coming home for a while.” “Jason’s coming home?” I repeat like an idiot. “Didn’t it work out?” “He’ll tell you” she says, taking her wine upstairs.

We have three children. Our eldest, Alicia, a fiery redhead like her mum, was born at Findhorn in 1987 and now has a lucrative job with a biochemical corporation in California. Our youngest, Susan, was born in Camberwell in 1992. Having got her CCAB accountancy qualifications just last year, she is now ‘with child’ and has secretly married Lloyds of London apprentice Greg, much to Michelle’s chagrin. In her own dogged way, Susan is as motivated as her elder sister.

Between the two girls, we have our only son. Jason is born at a Welsh Buddhist retreat in 89. He has his mum’s eye for business, her charismatic showmanship, though as yet hasn’t found his calling, that is, the enterprise that will get him where he wants to be. It isn’t for lack of trying.

At sixteen he becomes obsessed with currency markets, gets a grand from his mum and invests it online. From now on, he’s glued to the screen, watching the numbers, the graphs, jumping from currency to currency, until he’s almost doubled his money. When he goes off on a spree with one of his stunning girlfriends, he loses the lot.

At eighteen, leafing through the local paper, Jason notices complaints about the appalling refuse collection and street cleaning in the district. He realises that these complaints come from a single enclave of expensive properties. So, doing his sums and getting some start-off cash from us, he offers these residents an exclusive service. They not only buy his proposal, they publicise it, to shame the council. On the first day, half of his employees, actually his mates, fail to show. Jason and a couple of others struggle on for a few weeks, by which time, becoming tired and careless, the area’s a tip and his services are quietly discontinued.

Airline tickets. Cheaper than anyone else! The secret? Who knows. Something to do with agency commissions, taxes, fees, duties… Anyway, after a month he’s lost thousands and we have to bail him out. Then there’s profit-share time-shares in Andalucía. I’ve no idea what happened there. He hasn’t been back to Spain.

More recently Online Pet Dating. We think he means pet-lovers dating. But no, that’s been done, he means the pets themselves. I ask him how actual pets are going to date online. He says they’ll Skype each other, or at least their owners will. I say “What’s to stop pet owners skyping friends with pets without your help?” “That’s just with friends” he says witheringly. “We can put them in touch with millions of pets all over the world!” Amid massive publicity, Online Pet Dating is launched and that’s the last we hear of it.

One thing that can always be said of Jason is, he has stunning girlfriends. This one’s new. I think her name is Monique but apparently that was at Christmas and we never met her. This is Sadie. She’s so young and good-looking, I mustn’t look at her.

At the evening meal, Jason lets slip that he’s approaching potential investors about his exciting new venture. My heart goes cold. Michelle is excited and wants to know what it is. It’s something to do with the systems that underpin the internet itself. Michelle’s in her element and soon they’re talking techno-babble. Sadie smiles at me. “Your son is very clever” she says. “That must mean youre clever.” I say I don’t understand a word they’re saying. “Nor do I” she says “but the pea soup is good.I smile at her. She hurriedly looks away, realising that I may not be clever, but I do wish I were twenty years younger. Jason’s new venture is certainly different to his others, in that I can’t even grasp the premise.

 

My ME sufferer, Aiden, is due. I’m mentally preparing myself. ME (or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is characterised by extreme tiredness. It may be caused by viruses, genetic susceptibility, stress, depression or a traumatic event. Over-exertion, stress, poor diet, social isolation, depression or environmental pollution may make it worse. Some sufferers have improved with graded exercise therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy’, which is what I do (essentially energy management, goal setting and psychological support).

There are no known cures. Painkillers may be prescribed for joint and muscle pains, uppers for depression. As to living with the condition, all we can offer is to sleep only at night, relax and eat well. The truth is, we’re in the dark here.

However, people do recover. Some people recover in less than two years. Larry gets Aiden walking in seconds, after months in bed. When Aiden says “he gave me the magic energy” I think he must be stupid. But Aiden isn’t stupid and the ‘magic energy’ is exactly what ME sufferers require. How can I give Aiden the magic energy?

Luke Chapps delivers him and, while Aiden is slowly getting out of the car, tells me he really hopes I can help this time, that it’s worth all the money, because his mum Molly is going spare and it’s breaking dad, Alf’s heart. Although Luke is acting as if he has everyone’s wellbeing at heart, there’s something threatening (you better cure him) and I can’t believe he’s telling me that Aiden’s breaking his parents’ hearts, in front of Aiden.

I remember noticing this Luke Chapps contradicting Aiden’s mum Molly all the time with Aiden’s dad Alf silent in the corner and thinking there’s something wrong here. Whatever the truth, I say anything to get rid of Mr Chapps and help Aiden, who’s already started walking down the path.

I ask him “Did you hear what Luke was saying?” He shrugs. “How does that make you feel?” Again he shrugs. Aiden is tall and brawny, with tawny tousled hair above a broad affable face. He could be a jolly farm labourer, but for the look in his eye, perceptive, intelligent, lost.

On a whim, I ask “Is there something going on between Luke Chapps and your mum?” His head jerks up. He stares at me. Before he can answer I ask “How long has it been going on?” “Years.” “Why didn’t you tell me before?” “Didn’t think it was relevant. No one talks about it.” “But it is relevant, isn’t it?”

It is relevant. He suffers silently with his dad. Mum cons herself that no one knows, so it can’t make any difference. Aiden has no faith in women and, given the alternatives of his redundant dad and the controlling Luke, little respect for men. He doesn’t want to be like sister Sarah, managing Hebden Feed Store, or brother Noah, with a steady job at an agricultural equipment suppliers. In fact, Aiden has very little respect for greedy manipulative bomb-chucking mankind. So his way is blocked. This may not be the reason for his sickness, but it sure as hell won’t get him out of it.

When I put this to him, he says “I know”. I say “But the sickness isn’t yours. You’ve inherited it. If your mum and dad were happy, it’d be different and you’d think differently.” He says he supposes so. I say that, while humans can be greedy, manipulative, aggressive, not all people are like that, not be any means. “The sorrow you’ve imbibed has skewed your thinking. The most important thing for you, is your motivation. Right now, that’s to separate from your dad, from your family, to get away. And, to do that, you need to believe that there’s a good life for you outside. Fire up that dream and it will give you the ‘magic energy’.” He grins. He’s willing.

We play some mind games, where he sees his dad Alf in his mind’s eye, his character, his age and so on. Now we switch to Aiden and how different he is from his dad. We do the same for the other members of his family. At the end, Aiden is able to describe himself, as distinct from all the others. What’s more, he’s fired up with the prospect of getting away. The first thing he needs is money. That means a job. He’ll search for a job. He won’t tell the others, it’ll be his thing.

I’m shaking as I trudge back to the dome, having delivered him to Luke Chapps (who’s playing a game on his phone and won’t acknowledge us until he’s finished it). It’s unusual that I get such an optimistic feeling at the end of a session. On the other hand, I’m reminded of the damage that parents can do their children. Here’s Philip Larkin on the subject.

This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

 

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

 

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

 

I’ve just pasted the poem into this blog, when my pregnant, newly-married daughter calls up, sobbing. Mum has completely refused to help and accused her of blackmail. I try to calm her. I’ll talk to Mum. Susan insists, if we can’t afford to help financially with the house, it’s no problem. She has never meant to coerce us in any way. “Of course not” I say and comfort her, asking how she’s feeling, what Greg’s up to, etcetera.

Afterwards, as I’m wondering what I can actually do, if there’s some compromise where we can give something, Jason knocks and enters. “I thought I’d find you here” he says, as if that makes him wise, and before I know it, he’s selling me his new enterprise in terms I can understand. Only I can’t. I’m still wrapped up in Susan’s distress and only come to, when he says he thinks Mum’s just about bought it. “What do you mean?” I ask. He means she’ll invest.

Later on, I ask Michelle what she thinks of Jason’s new scheme. She’s very impressed, believes it will work and admits that she’s considering it as an investment. I’m so traumatised by this, that I can’t keep silent, as I should. How can you give to one child but not to another? The moment I’ve said it, I know it’s a mistake. She turns on me. “Whose business is it, who I give my money to? Whose business?” “Yours” I say. “Right” she says and storms off.

 

On entering, Brit-pop star Tamara says, matter-of-factly “Oh I expected everything to be spacey and modern, I mean, you’ve got the view.” She means my dome is dingy and hippy, not in keeping with the new me. I wonder if she wants to abort the session on account of the décor, but she’s just being forthright. When asked what’s wrong, she says “the usual, drink, drugs, men”. Despite her hits, she’s broke, having been ripped off by every company, fucked and fucked over by every prick in the business.