the assistant coordinator

I wasn’t out on visits today. Instead I was on the rota as Assistant Coordinator.

It always makes me feel I should be wearing a shiny foil suit, frantically working a console of levers, buttons and dials, whilst sparks fizz up and down a V-shaped wire and a theramin plays in the background. And up on a gold & tinsel draped dais behind me, The Coordinator, a pulsating brain in a bottle, where the plasma bubbles a soothing green when They are pleased, and boils red when They are Not.

Actually what it means is riding shotgun on the computers and phones at the operational heart of a madly busy community health team. It means being able to troubleshoot a hundred things at once, each as important as the next. A better analogy would be the floor of the Stock Exchange. Although, to be fair, that’s as removed from my experience as the sci-fi scenario I started with – and if there’s anything at all you can take from any of this, it’s that I watch too many films. In a Stock Exchange (I imagine), you’d be surrounded by people shaking bits of paper in your face shouting buy, buy, buy, or sell, sell, sell. So the only difference I can see between ‘Assisting the Coordinator’ and ‘The Floor of the Stock Exchange’ is that the latter has some money behind it. Here in the NHS, despite hospital avoidance teams being at the sharp and potentially very effective end of health care – and definitely the place you’d want to invest in if you were at all serious in freeing-up space in our overcrowded hospitals – well, apparently there isn’t even the money to put enough sockets in the room so everyone can charge their laptops at once, and there’s a sign up in the kitchen asking for donations for a new kettle.

So anyway. Assistant Coordinator.

It means taking a phone call from a tearfully furious daughter who is telling you their mother turned the carer away yet again this morning despite everything that had been said about it in the past and despite all assurances, because although she’s very convincing she actually has dementia you know and needs those medications (it’s the first you’ve heard of it) … whilst three people stand behind your chair, one with a folder, one with a sheet of paper, one with laptop … whilst someone the other side of the desk divide shakes their head with their eyes closed and waves a phone in the air for the second time like that’s all I need to leap over and grab it like a salmon responding to a cleverly manipulated fly … whilst fifteen other people around you are having conversations at an unhelpfully loud volume … and you suddenly remember you were supposed to ring that doctor back … and you haven’t saved the last information you inputted on the database … or have you? … and, great, your pen runs out.

Skills required: Communicator, Counsellor, Clinician, IT whizz, Diplomat, Strategist and Life Coach. But more than any of this you need to be able to look the Coordinator straight in the boiling brain and say WTF? Shall I make us some tea?

And when you get back, gently tip it in their bottle.

(original movie poster: ‘Invaders from Mars’ 1953, copied from : – a great film poster site!)

character lines

Ellie is a clinician with years of experience in hospitals, hospices and the community. Everything she does comes from a simple love of humanity, in all its mess and interest. And like all people skilled in their art, she practises it with a glorious kind of flow, intuitively adapting her stance to events, almost like a dance, making it look effortless and free. I’ve never seen her lose her temper. I’ve never seen her fail.

Which is why I’m glad we’re visiting Mr Coulsdon together.

There are so many exclamations, warning triangles and block caps on Mr Coulsdon’s record, it would be tidier if they simply replaced them all with a picture of a snarling beast and the words Here be dragons. Mr Coulsdon is notoriously, emphatically, tirelessly bad-tempered – a situation exacerbated by ill health, both mental and physical, of course, and his social situation. But it has to be said the starting point was maybe never that propitious.

Mr Coulsdon’s lounge window is just to the right of the entrance to the block. He has a tatty sheet permanently taped across it, bowed down in the middle. The TV is on full volume – Formula One, by the sound of it. We ring the bell a couple of times, but nothing happens.

‘He’s definitely at risk, so we’d better go in and see he’s okay,’ says Ellie. ‘A quick in and out. I’ll do the obs, you do the typing. How’s that?’
‘Fine by me.’
We let ourselves in using the ‘tradesmen’ button. His flat door is always open – taped up, dented, the scars of many forced entries in the past.

‘Hellooo? Mr Coulsdon? It’s Ellie and Jim – from the hospital. Come to see how you are…’

Other than a plain leather sofa in the far corner, the room is surprisingly, resonantly bare. No carpet, shelves or decorations, no pictures or home comforts. Mr Coulsdon is sitting in the middle of the room in an office chair, his bandaged, ulcerated right leg up on a stool. Just beyond it is the TV, cars screaming round a track. His foot is right in the middle of the screen, and you’d think Mr Coulsdon would angle things – the telly or the foot – so he could get a better view. But it’s hard to shake the idea that like a dodgy off-peak boiler, Mr Coulsdon will find a way of keeping the needle in the red.

‘Mind that!’ he snaps. I’m not sure what he means, because there’s really nothing to mind. ‘These people!’ he says, and links his fingers across his belly.

‘We won’t keep you long’ says Ellie, standing where he can see her, tilting her head on one side as if he’s the most fascinating thing she’s seen so far this morning. ‘How’re you feeling?’
‘How d’ya think I’m feeling?’ he says. Then he flicks me a sly glance and waggles his fingers in the air. ‘With my hands!’
‘Oh – that old chestnut’ says Ellie, putting her bag down. ‘Now then Mr Coulsdon. First things first. Can we turn the TV down a touch, please? Only I can’t hear myself think’
‘Who’s taken the bloody remote?’ he says, scratching his enormous beard as if he thinks it might feasibly be in there. He catches me watching him.
‘What’ve you done with it?’ he snaps.
‘Found it!’ says Ellie, picking it off the floor beside him and flourishing it in the air. The furious yowling of the racing cars eases up.
‘There! That’s better!’
‘For you!’ says Mr Coulsdon. ‘How long’s this nonsense going to take?’
‘Oh not long. Of course – you don’t have to have it at all if you don’t want.’
‘Well I don’t want it! All these people coming round here, messing me about. And nothing ever gets done!’
‘About what?’
‘What – the foot or your flat?’
‘The flat! The flat!’
‘What’s the matter with the flat?’
‘It’s a dump. A trash heap. I wouldn’t keep a dog here.’
‘It looks pretty tidy to me. Do you have people come round to help?’
‘If you can call them people.’
‘Well – look. That’s another matter. I can have a word with one of our social workers about it if you’d like?’
‘Social workers? Scum of the earth.’
‘I’m sorry you feel like that. I think they do a great job under difficult circumstances, Mr Coulsdon.’
‘Do you?’
‘Yes. Absolutely. But look – I’m not here for that. I’m here to do your obs and make sure your leg is okay. That’s it. I won’t if you don’t want me to, but I have to know you understand the consequences of saying no before we leave. Do you follow me?’
‘Jesus Christ! Just get on with it, will you? I haven’t got all day.’
‘All right, then. Thank you. Jim’s here to write the facts and figures down.’
‘Hi’ I say, perching on the edge of the sofa and opening the laptop.
‘I did wonder,’ he sniffs, his chair creaking dangerously as he shifts position. ‘I can see it wasn’t for his looks.’
‘No – you see? That’s what they call character lines,’ I tell him.
‘Oh is that right?’ says Mr Coulsdon. ‘I thought it just meant you were old.’

going viral

not alive, you said
but then – not exactly dead
& once they’ve duped those host receptors
to replicate their DNA vectors
they’ll ride you like a pony in a penny arcade
till you’re busted, broke and laid away
so – to me – I have to say with some insistence
that qualifies for some kinda existence
and another thing
just because I don’t got wings
don’t mean I can’t fly
the trick is knowing when to specialise
listen! a virus can drift through space
settle in some godforsaken place
wait for you to land and step out the rocket
take your hands from out your pocket
pull up your visor and sniff the air
and bang – they’ll get right up in there
and the next thing you know you’re back on the station
blabbering on in isolation
true story
so I’m sorry, people, but I have to disagree
viruses are very much alive it seems to me
and just because they don’t got no evolutionary fuss
hell – all it means is they’re cleverer than usimg_0183

the fabulous outlaw butterfly

what can I say? / I was feeling pretty much okay / when I wandered into Superdrug that day

and then – wow! / holy kapow!
(you’ve probably seen the news & know what happened by now)

I was dazzled by the rows of cosmetics / the hard white lights & glossy aesthetics / Maybe It’s Maybelline. Maybe not. / Imagine the Impossible – okay – then what? / Between Love and Madness lies Obsession / so many questions / subtle corrections / airbrushed imperfections / all those magical bottles / jostling / accosting me / Beautiful. Colourful. You. / who? / me? / yes – don’t you see? / Share the Fantasy / Sparkle on the Inside and Out

suddenly I knew what the trip was about

I started to gulp the perfumes down / shop assistants screaming & running around / as I worked my way steadily / greedily / concession to concession / without hesitation / Boss & Cerruti / Lacoste & Givenchy / give it to me! / and the very moment a bottle was done / I tossed it behind me and carried on / two whole bottles of Chanel no.5 / I never felt so alive! / Blossom by Jimmy Choo / an atomiser of Gucci Bamboo / Good Girl by Carolina Herrera / Issey Miyake, L’Eau d’Issey Pure Nectar / nothing was spared as I worked the row / hastily swallowed / followed / by an over-the-shoulder throw / a succession of shattering breaks /  scattering glass like tiny diamonds in my wake

and gradually I felt myself changing / stranging / dna rearranging / my eyes compounding / expanding / popping out / my tongue extending and whipping about / two diaphanous wings unfurling / extra pairs of legs uncurling / dangling from my shiny thorax / as I rose in a swirling vortex / and powered into the fragrant air / scattering bottles everywhere / skimming the shelves and heading out the shop / where armed police were screeching to a stop / (one jumped out & took a speculative shot / with her glock / but the bullet only nicked my hock / and ricocheted into the high street clock)

At first I flew low / waving to the crowds below / the lunchtime traffic swerving & cursing / desperately reversing / as they all got out to watch me go / holding up phones so their friends would know / and on I flew / higher & higher into the blue / exhilarated but terrified, true / because honestly what’s a man to do / who changed so much and so quickly too

I headed for the countryside / where a fabulous outlaw butterfly might hide / and after searching relentlessly / settled for an abandoned observatory / a quiet place I might / discretely & sweetly access and alight / through the hatch where the telescope poked out at night / and I soon settled into my beautiful home / my doorless, floorless, chitinous dome / and I have to say / I’ve been doing okay / & it certainly helps I’ve found  more like me / living marvelously / carelessly / insectivorously / out here on the periphery / c’mon! you know I’m not the only bug / who metamorphosed in Superdrugimg_0178 (1)


FAILURE knows all my faults / the darkest secrets in the deepest vaults / he knows all the tricks & combinations / the dust-covered abominations / Raspail in the Lincoln / what was I thinkin? / he was always hot shit with a puzzle / he’s the plump black nose on the bloodhound’s muzzle / when it comes to trickery he’s positively devout / he’ll always and I mean ALWAYS sniff this shit out / the tripwire primed with the manuscript trug / the pit of sharpened pencils under the tiger rug  / all the things I set around the house / the study, the garden & thereabouts / like a giant game of Mousetrap with me as the mouse / and FAILURE poised with his hand on the lever / as personally attentive as dengue fever

failureFAILURE looks a little like me / if you shuffled things round externally / hyde with a runny nose and sore throat / kicking through the lab trash for the antidote

FAILURE is access ALL my areas / he’s freakin’ hilarious / he’ll show me a view with nothing to oppose it / wait till I’ve definitely chose it / hide behind the door and then close it / man – he’s got great timing and he knows it

FAILURE knows I’ve been working on techniques / to shut him down as soon as he speaks / block him when he tweets / draw the curtain when he stands out in the street / whistling for attention / shouting words too horrible to mention / but he’s just so goddamned insistent / creatively persistent / mindfulness resistant / and when finally I give up on the book / slam the laptop and stop to look / as I frequently do / and confront him with the endless cruelties he’s putting me through / shoot / he turns mute / impossibly cute / dances like a sideshow freak / & suddenly he’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all week / twerkin / his merkin / it’s disgustin / but then – I don’t know / maybe it’s the sort of thing I should do / if I wasn’t so hung up on ideas of SUCCESS / any kind of attention on the radio or the press / so FAILURE – I’m through / we who are about to (write something) dire – salute you! / okay? c’est tout, that’s it / now piss off and let me get on with this shit


New book out today!

New Zealand native bushHardwicke is the story of two orphaned brothers, Ethan & Thomas, sent to work at the Enderby Hemp & Rope Works in Victorian London. When Ethan takes the blame for a fire at the factory, he is transported to Van Diemen’s Land, a penal colony on the other side of the world. Determined to survive, Ethan will do whatever it takes to find his brother again. Then he discovers that Thomas has been sent to Hardwicke, a remote colonial outpost on the Auckland Islands…

I hope you like it! Available as ebook or print on demand. If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them. It’d be great to hear from you!


rosemary & june

Rosemary sits at her kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee.
It was quite a business making it.

‘The pots there! The pots!’ she said, jabbing a bony finger in the general direction of the cluttered work surface.
‘What pots?’
I thought she meant a coffee jar. There was one with tea bags in it, one with sugar and another with receipts and coupons, but no coffee jar.
‘There! Where I’m pointing! Oh for goodness sake! What’s the matter with you?’
And finally I understood. She meant the foil wrapper of plastic coffee containers, the kind that fits over a cup and you fill with hot water. Like mini-percolators. It had been right in front of me all the time, but because it wasn’t what I was expecting, I hadn’t paid it any attention. So anyway – I made her a cup and set it in front of her.
‘That’s absolutely marvellous. Thank you,’ she said.
‘You’re welcome.’

The kitchen isn’t cold, but even so, Rosemary is sitting in a huge puffa jacket that completely swamps her. She’s not wearing anything else, though, other than a pair of Christmas socks with grippy soles and about a hundredweight of rings and bracelets. She has the kind of sharp features and Bloomsbury haughtiness that makes you think of Edith Sitwell or Virginia Woolf. Every time she goes to raise the coffee cup, she gives her right hand a peremptory little shake in the air – like the Queen waving from a carriage – and all the bangles slide down her arm, disappearing under the sleeve of the puffa.

Apart from some meals on wheels she has no carers or domestic help, which is worrying, given her reduced situation. It would have been a beautiful town house half a century ago. Now it’s sadly reduced, with the slumped and rickety feel of a place poised on the edge of serious disrepair. I can imagine it in a few years time, stripped to the bricks, airing out, radio on and a skip in the flattened garden, the snapping of tarpaulin on the stripped roof, whistles, shouts, nail-guns, boots. For now, though, it’s perfectly, eerily quiet, just me, Rosemary and the clicking of the kettle as it cools.
‘Do you have family nearby?’ I ask her.
‘Family? Good God, no!’ she says. ‘I’m ninety-five! No – it’s just me.’
She takes a sip of coffee.
‘And my sister, June, of course,’ she adds, shakily setting the cup down again.
‘Oh! You have a sister? That’s nice!’
‘It isn’t,’ she sniffs. ‘We don’t get on. Now – if you’d kindly finish your examination. And don’t try to kid me. I know all the terminology.’