Author Archive for Tom


Finished on a pun

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The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while.

Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we… kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok…

But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love.

Thanks for the ride. That’s all, folks.



Anachronism in A Knight’s Tale

Heath Leder's suit in A Knight's Tale

Heath Ledger's suit in A Knight's Tale

I was watching the film A Knight’s Tale (starring Heath Ledger, Rhys Ifans Paul Bettany and Rufus Sewell; directed by Brian Helgeland) during a class on history and film at my university. It’s set in the Middle Ages and features jousting to a Queen beat, an MCing Chaucer and Heath Ledger dancing to David Bowie at a medieval banquet in a green dinner jacket made from a tent. Historically accurate it ain’t.

Though that’s the point, as far as I can see. It’s also one which many people seem to have overlooked, based on the critical reaction to it. It’s only scoring 58% fresh over on RottenTomatoes, with most of the negative reviews mentioning the anachronistic elements of Helgeland’s film.

It seems to me that the charge most likely to be levelled against A Knight’s Tale‘s anachronistic elements is that they represent the film dumbing down; that they’re about Hollywood selling realism down the stream in favour of a more commercial film.

However, I think Helgeland’s doing something much cleverer with his anachronisms. He’s showing tournaments as popular and raucous spectacles, and he uses the Queen soundtrack and the Mexican wave as cultural shorthand for us to understand the spirit of the occasion. They didn’t sing along to Queen, but they may well have had similar rituals which were conducted in a similar fashion. Helgeland’s purpose is to show the meaning behind the events, rather than fixating on selling the audience an archaic version of events themselves.

Take Ledger’s dinner suit. When we see it, we understand he’s gone to an effort and dressed up smartly. If we’d seen him in some random tunic we don’t have the cultural context to understand that what he’s wearing is smart. To modern audiences, a tunic is a tunic is a tunic.

To fixate on the anachronisms is to miss their point: they’re to aid us in understanding medieval society by using our own culture analogously — the tale is placed centre stage.


Our Bodies

Our bodies are pretty special. They know things we don’t. They know how to die.

There’s this thing called the instinctive drowning response. It’s what your body does when you’re drowning. Your eyes glaze over, you stop making any noise, your motions slow, and you try and lie on your back in the water. It’s so… quiet. Isn’t that lovely?

Think about how we picture drowning. Think of how we imagine it to be a process of thrashing wildly against the water, how we see a person desperately fighting for life. No, that’s not how it works. Our bodies feel us beginning to die, and they relax. They let go of the world and gently push our consciousness from its control over them. No, hush little one, our bodies tell us, don’t be afraid. This is natural. It’s time, don’t panic. It’s ok.

Pain is unpleasant, but it’s removed from the process of dying itself. People who bleed to death are sedated by their bodies as they approach death. Everything slows down and fades, and their bodies guide them softly to sleep. Our bodies know.

I nearly died once. I had a massive blood clot in my lungs. My heart accelerated to over two hundred and fifty beats per minute, my vision blurred out and I felt as though I was on fire, desperate for air. And as it continued and the oxygen concentration in my blood fell and fell, I felt myself beginning to slip away. Oh, I thought clumsily, I’m dying.

And… it was ok. My consciousness began to slowly step backward from my mind, and instead of the panic which had gone before I began to feel the greatest peace and the most boundless freedom.  It was the middle of the night when it happened, and my brother happened to be going to bed and was on the landing as I’d called out. If he hadn’t been there I would’ve had no way to summon help because my body had stopped me speaking. Hush, little one. Don’t be afraid.

And you know what? There’s a part of me that resents that he heard me. What causes us to die might be painful or scary, but dying isn’t. It’s a release. Our bodies are pretty special. They know this. They know how to die. And after what happened, I do too. It’s ok.


If I’m Here (But Not Really)

I’m sorry if I’m not really here

(though I am here, it’s just perspective and

you never did like that nuanced shit);

it’s just that I’m there again when I see

that look in your eyes.


I don’t like being the one in the wrong,

so I’ll pretend you’re right about all this

and that it doesn’t matter. Yes

it’s some sick, wasted and empty fantasy

(I want to say it isn’t but I’m too tired to

argue anymore)

and yes,

here I am again putting myself at the centre of it all

(it’s not you that says that, just a voice in my head).


I don’t want to be a burden,

you don’t deserve it and I

might have done the same in your position

(I wouldn’t)

so let’s draw a line under it

and I’ll be there to support your future.


What we had was special, and you’re right

let’s keep it together

and learn

and grow.

I can adjust. I’ll see it your way (if only

because my way blinds me) and

we’ll be just like we were before.


But if you notice that I’m acting

or that my responses are mechanical or

I speak with a hard edge you didn’t hear before;

if I’m here with you but not really,

and you wonder why as I am myself muffled through

a layer of crepe paper

then it’s because when I see that look in your eyes

I am there again and

if I’m here but not really

I’m (not)



Born of the Blues

I sometimes feel as though I am built from sadness. I don’t mean that I am inherently sad, or that I’ve never known happiness. These things would be clearly untrue. Instead, there’s simply a nagging sensation I get when I’m feeling a bit down that I am the sum of so many unhappy events, a sculpture cast in a mould shaped by sadness.

I don’t mean to whine. My problems are my own, I try wherever possible to deal with them on my own. There are many worse off than me. I’m just introspecting, not moaning. I look at myself most often when I feel sad, perhaps it’s then I have the most keen insight to know myself.

And one thing I see most clearly is that I am the product of negativity. All the formative events in my life have been negative ones. These things which have defined who I have become, they have been things which have hurt me.

Perhaps it is because when I am happy I tend to coast. If I have some great success I will be pleased but it will not change me; even the greatest rewards will yield no lesson in life for me. If you want to affect a change in my personality, bruise me. It’s the only thing I’ll remember.

I don’t remember my first kiss. It’s not that I was drunk (though I was), it’s that it really hasn’t meant anything to me in the long term. I remember the first argument I had with a boyfriend. There are people I can’t remember entering a relationship with; there are no break-ups I have forgotten.

Memory is a net: one that finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook, but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.” For me, those things which have stuck have been the times I’ve been hurt, or done things wrong, or failed or not even tried. These are the fish my net is filled with. Such are the staple of my dinners and teas; the plates I set before myself.

I would like to think that I’ll have experiences, moments of joy or utter satisfaction, which will one day become part of the scaffolding which dictates my shape. I’d like to think that I’m not the negative result of an assortment of negative events. But life is what it is, I am what I am, and my tea is almost ready.

Bon appetit.


My Life in Hallelujahs

Three singers. Three versions. One song: Hallelujah. One life: mine. I am Tom, and this is my life in Hallelujahs.

Hallelujah One: The Fourth, the Fifth.

It was 2002 and I was fifteen when it started. I was an awkward kid; clever enough to succeed but lazy enough not to try, funny enough to get along with most everyone, shy enough to not get very close to anyone. If you asked me now how I looked then I’d be far kinder than if you’d have asked me at the time. That’s a battle I’ve since won; as the infamous warbler Gloria Gaynor once wrote, I am who I am.

The summer was unremarkable in reality, but I remember it being long and hot, a shimmering heat haze hanging over the days and nights of my school holidays. Year 10 was over, in September I would be in Year 11. The shit was going to get real: my GCSEs would be upon me, the culmination of those long years in schooling. What would I receive in GCSE Food Technology? This question and more bubbled in my febrile adolescent mind. Oh, and I was pretty sure I was gay.

I mean, I had resolved already that I must be bi. Boys were rather too attractive for me to pretend to myself that I was straight. A couple of childhood crushes on girls I’d known were the last bastion of what I thought would be a normal life, and I clung to them. The memories of the crushes that is, I didn’t cling to the girls — not least of all for legal reasons.

One morning during that summer, that last bastion was overwhelmed and swept away for ever. There was a boy in one of my classes, one of my friends, and I had a dream about him. I don’t even remember what the dream was — nothing sexy — but when I woke up on that humid summer’s morning I knew two things clearly. Firstly, I was gay. It was just that simple. The clarity was uplifting. The second was, I was in love with my friend. My straight friend. Ah, shit.

Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah was the soundtrack to my teenaged angst. And as the years passed, and I lost contact with the boy I had loved, it came to signify that pain that nobody forgets, ever — their first lost love.

She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah Two: The Minor Fall

I drifted. I dropped out of sixth form college, graduating with such impressive grades as an E in AS level psychology. I was unemployed for a long time, then I got a job I hated. And I was so, so unhappy.

I was a failure. That kid in those school photos, when did he die and what was this shell he’d left behind? Nothing mattered to me. I went to sleep at 7am and woke up at 4pm, I spent my time floating around on the internet in a state of perpetual angry boredom. I stopped seeing my friends, didn’t care about myself.

I resented everything I was missing out on, blamed myself for the lack of experiences and fed that back into even more introverted sadness and alienation. As my life went from bad to worse so any solution seemed to slide further beyond my grasp.

I felt bad, still feel bad, for the people I worked with. I wish I hadn’t been such an unpleasant person to be with back then. I was missing not just my love, but love itself. Was this what life was? I briefly tried a course of anti-depressants but they achieved nothing so I never got the prescription refilled. My life was broken and I hated not just living it but myself too, with a passion I’ve rarely felt for anything else since.

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Three: The Major Lift

I had to escape from the jaws of the steel trap which held me fast. I left my job, took better care of myself. It was… easy. Why did it take that long? I got back into my writing, found new ways to express myself, new things to do and see.

I’m not fixed. I never will be: I have bipolar disorder, I’ll always be prone to depression. And love, love is still my eternal tormentor. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt it truly. Was it real love, that tearing, soaring, terrible, beautiful thing I felt when I was young? Probably not, I’d say now, probably some adolescent approximation of an emotion which I feel continues to elude me. But that’s ok.

See, I haven’t overcome all my neuroses. I’ve just accepted them, accepted myself. I’m far from perfect, but really, what’s it to ya?

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah


Beat This Mixtape

If you have a better playlist than this, let me know in the comments.

1. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Just Like Honey

2. Tom Waits – Thirteen Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six

3. Sonic Youth – Teenage Riot

4. New Order – Temptation

5. Wolf Parade – I’ll Believe in Anything

6. The Blasters – Dark Knight

7. Cocteau Twins – Lorelei

8. Beastie Boys – Brass Monkey

9. De La Soul – Me Myself and I

10. Orange Juice – Felicity

11. The Flaming Lips – The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song

12. RUN-DMC – It’s Tricky

13. Echo & the Bunnymen – Dancing Horses

14. Squeeze – Pulling Mussels From a Shell

15. The Replacements – Can’t Hardly Wait

16. Eric B & Rakim – I Ain’t No Joke

17. Pixies – Wave of Mutilation

18. Berhaus – She’s in Parties

19. Jane’s Addiction – Jane Says

20. Wire – Kidney Bingos

21. English Beat – Save It For Later

22. Mikkey Ekko – Who Are You Really

23. Mission of Burma – That’s When I Reach For My Revolver

24. Berlin – The Metro

25. Violent Femmes – Gone Daddy Gone

26. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Deanna

27. The Romantics – What I Like About You

28. Modern English – I Melt with You

29. Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock

30. The Fall – Totally Wired

31. Atom and his Package – I’m Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer

July 2018
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