I’m sure there are just as many, if not more, acoustic, solo, guitar slingers around now than there ever has been. Sadly in this age where anyone on a gap year feels the need, and sadly the entitlement, to be a musician, the increased musical traffic has not resulted in an upsurge in quality songs from exciting songwriters. Thankfully we have people like Jamie R Hawkins, a narrative driven songster who flies in the face of the transient acoustic pop wannabe I have just described.
Remember when songs said something, well something more than bedroom droning and of aspirations to be famous? Well, Jamie does and here he offers up another batch of songs forged from personal experience or at least personal observation. But more than that, they are songs that you can relate to, built around small kitchen sink dramas, universal emotions and everyday situations, honest stuff delivered with…
I wrote this song a couple of years ago when I heard the tragic news that my 29 year old nephew, Darryl, had taken his own life. I remember it so clearly – that horrible, numb shock that rooted my feet to the spot and placed a cold, hard lump of lead in my belly.
And I remember the thought that immediately followed and ricocheted around in my my skull: “He beat me to it“
At the time, I was battling with my own demons. Having been a sufferer of depression for many years, since I was a small boy in fact, I was used to having days when life was drained of colour and when all meaning was sucked out of life. I’d had several years of intense therapy and so I had what I refer to as my ‘toolbox’ – a whole bunch of excercises and tricks that I’d use to help me climb out of the pit of despair I’d often find myself in. At the time of Darryl’s passing though, none of these seemed to be working.
I remember feeling a kind of envy for him – he’d found a way to end the pain by embracing oblivion, something I’d been too terrified to do up until now. One of the tricks in my toolbox is a simple but effective one. When I get these feelings, instead of fighting them, or running away from them, I’ll stop and question them. I asked myself, ‘but why are you terrified to end it all?‘ The answer when it came was swift: ‘Because I’m afraid of hurting my loved ones‘. And on the heels of that thought came the real truth, painful as it was; ‘and I’m afraid of what they’ll think of me.’ That’s when I began to think about Darryl’s family – those he’d left behind.
Darryl was a father of two, a husband, a son, a grandson, a brother, a cousin, a nephew and a friend to so many. He lived on a small island off the coast of Scotland and was a fisherman by trade. Those closest to him had no idea that he’d been suffering with depression – it is an invisible illness that affects 1 in 4 of us in the UK and, although it’s extremely difficult to live with, it’s not so hard to hide it from others – we become oscar worthy actors. The pain is internal. The curse of the human condition I think, is that we are all our own separate universes. We are isolated from each other in our own emotional space and nobody can feel what the next person feels. Our pain is only relative to our own selves. Darryl’s pain was too much for him to bear and so he found the only way out he could see.
Some years ago, I found out an important lesson about choice. I learned that, no matter how shit life can be, however much we feel that we’re up against a wall, there is always a choice. All too often I would feel like I was trapped in a situation that life had pre-ordained for me. I was stuck with no way out and I couldn’t kill myself because my loved ones would suffer and probably hate me for what I’d done, and that thought was unbearable to me – so I drove myself slowly mad, turning and turning in my emotional and mental agony. Then someone pointed out to me that there is always a choice. Sure, they were sometimes shit choices- a) continue to suffer, b) kill myself and put my loved ones through the mill, c) go and get help. Once I realised that I wasn’t trapped, that I could end it all if I chose to, the pressure lifted. I felt strangely empowered, as though I was in charge of my own destiny at last. And suddenly, I found that I wanted to live – not just for the sake of others, but for myself. This lesson has stayed with me and has kept me alive during those dark days that still visit me from time to time. When it feels like I’m being swept along by a merciless tide, I remember that I do have a choice and the feeling of powerlessness subsides allowing me to think more clearly and try to find a solution to what was a seemingly insurmountable problem. And when I don’t find a solution? Well, that’s okay, because that’s what life is; a series of ups and downs – I know that, sooner or later, things will start to look up again and that’s what I focus on.
I wish with all my heart that I could have had this conversation with Darryl – just maybe he’d still be around today.
Writing, for me, is a kind of therapy – it’s cheaper than counseling and allows me to explore the whole spectrum of my emotions. It helps me to understand what makes me who I am. I can honestly say that, if I didn’t have this emotional outlet, I’d probably not be here today writing this blog. There is not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars for this ability. I’d encourage anybody to write down their feelings regularly – whether it be a song, a poem, a journal, whatever – the simple act of writing stuff down, putting your feelings on a page so that they become a tangible, physical thing, really helps. It’s almost as if, by bringing them into the physical world, they cease to be these abstract problems that cannot be grasped, and become instead something that is easier to understand. It’s like removing a splinter – it can be painful at times, and there’s often some horrible puss to get out too, but once it’s out, you feel better. Talking works too but not as well, at least, not for me – but then, everybody is different…
When I wrote, ‘Those We Leave Behind’, I thought I was writing it for Darryl. Then I figured out that I was writing it for his mum, his wife, his kids and everyone he’d left behind. Looking back, I realise that I was also writing it for me. It was, in some ways, the goodbye note I couldn’t bring myself to write and the act of writing it reminded me that there is always a choice….. and I chose to live.
I’ve released ‘Those We Leave behind’ as an mp3 download and I’m giving all of the proceeds to CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a charity that focuses on suicide prevention in men in the UK. To download and donate, visit my Just Giving page here.
You can donate as much as you like although the suggested amount of £2 would be gratefully received.
Please remember, if you are suffering from depression – when life seems meaningless or too painful to endure, you are not alone. Talk to someone, write it down, do something. If someone you love is suffering with depression, reach out to them – let them know that they are loved and that they make a difference to your world. Trust me, you’ll miss them when they’re gone…
Here are some useful links and phone numbers:
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) – 0800 58 58 58
It’s taken me a while but I’ve finally gone and made another EP…
When I first started in this whole singer songwriter business I realised very early on that I needed something to sell at gigs and so I put together an EP, ‘Peachy – The Demo Sessions‘. I recorded it at home on an old BOSS BR-864 8-track digital recorder and, for all intents and purposes, it seemed to go down well enough (plus it kept me stocked up on baked beans when things got really tight)…
The problem was, I just wasn’t as proud of it as I’d hoped to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of the songs themselves – I wouldn’t have recorded them if I wasn’t. It’s just that at that time I had neither the experience nor the resources to translate what was in my head into an audible format. The result was a selection of raw, naked acoustic/vocal demo recordings that (in my mind at least) didn’t quite capture the vision – that’s why I added ‘The Demo Sessions’ to the EP title. Everybody tells me that it is still a great debut EP (which it is) and that I’m far too critical of myself (which I am)… but you show me an artist who doesn’t find holes in their work and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t invest the whole of their being into their creations. I don’t care how proud you are of what you’ve made – you’ll more often than not hear/see something you could have done better…. That’s how it is for me anyway…
And then I met Phil Cooper – a great singer songwriter who works the same circuit as me. He’s one of the few performers on the scene whose songs I could listen to all day and, to top it all off, one of the nicest guys I know. When I first heard Phil’s solo album ‘Half Live‘ I instantly fell in love with it. Not just for the beautifully crafted songs therein but for the raw, honest sound that Phil had managed to capture in his recording. So when Phil offered to help me record my next EP at his Number Nine Studios I all but bit his hand off.
‘Capacity To Change‘ is the end result. An EP that captures the raw honesty of a live performance whilst maintaining the integrity of the songs themselves. As tempting as it was to insist on ‘that perfect vocal’ or to fix that fret buzz, Phil quite rightly reminded me of our objective to record an EP with a live feel – and he was right. It’s the little rough bits that add to the whole in the end. It’s not so much that Phil helped me overcome my self-critic in this regard – he just showed me a different perspective. I will always be thinking ‘I could have done that better‘ but the difference now is that I no longer feel shame or regret at my imperfections – rather, I use them to my advantage – they have become a feature as opposed to a fault.
Working with Phil has proved to be an educational, valuable and surprisingly painless experience – he remained very respectful of my songs and, although we didn’t always agree on certain things (it’s always difficult to let somebody else loose on your babies), it was the easiest thing in the world to come to a compromise. Phil would respect my decisions at all times (“It’s your EP Dude”) although I often found myself stepping back and putting my faith in his choices when it came to areas in which my knowledge or expertise was lacking (technical stuff, bass lines and so on). Even though my initial reaction was to say “I don’t like that”, I soon began to realise that it wasn’t so much about not liking it, but more about it not being perfectly aligned with how I’d imagined it would be – once I realised this I began to see that, more often than not, Phil’s ideas and input, although different to how I would have done things, actually made it better.
We had a lot of fun working on this EP too. I remember turning up at
Number Nine Studios one evening feeling really, really low (I’m sure it will come as no surprise that depression features quite heavily in my life. In fact, one of the songs on the new EP, ‘Come Undone‘, touches upon this integral part of what makes me….well, me). So, when I turned up at Phil’s I figured I was probably in the best place, both mentally and emotionally, to do the vocal take on this song, but Phil had other ideas. He took one look at me, thrust a mug of ‘builder’s tea’ into my shaking hands and then, before I knew what was happening, he had us both crammed into the vocal booth doing the hand-claps on ‘Hey!.. Where’d Everybody Go?!‘ which lifted my spirits enormously. We were both grinning like idiots by the time we finished…
It was difficult to choose which songs to include on the EP – I have so many now. In the end I decided on the five songs that best represented what I do – a mixture of upbeat and downbeat songs that I hope will appeal to a wider audience. I’ve included ‘Denial‘, a song about unrequited love, ‘Capacity To Change‘, a somewhat philosphical yet humorous number and ‘Hey!.. Where’d Everybody Go?!‘, a tongue-in-cheek pop at fair weather friends. I’m often asked at my live shows if ‘Not Going Anywhere‘, a song I wrote for my daughter several years ago, is on the ‘Peachy’ EP(which it isn’t)and so I decided to include it on this one as a live bonus track with my JuicyacoustiC bandmate, Claire Gilchrist, who kindly provided backing vocals and percussion. This song I recorded myself on my trusty old 8-track, leaving the mixing side of things to Phil who, of course, did a great job.
I also felt that it was an absolute must to include ‘Keep Your Head On‘ which has proved quite popular with many on Youtube. This one I’d recorded (with my astoundingly talented brother, Tim) a couple of years ago and the audio was just too good to waste – once again, Phil’s mixing skills made this song shine.
‘Come Undone‘, as I mentioned earlier, is the song I wrote about depression and how it affects me from time to time. It was inspired by the same brother, Tim, who one day looked up in conversation and said, “Bro, I feel like I’m The Wizard Of Oz…. but, today I need my curtain.” I was so blown away by this beautiful metaphor that I scribbled it down on the first scrap of paper I could find. For a couple of weeks, it ricocheted around in my head – I could hardly think about anything else, so powerfully did it resonate with me. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to ask Tim if I could use the line and to my relief, he graciously consented. I was relieved because, up until then, I had found it all but impossible to write about this subject matter despite the fact that it was such a huge part of my life. Tim’s line opened things up for me and allowed the rest of the words to come pouring out. It was an emotionally taxing song to write (and will always be a hard song to perform no doubt) but if it helps others with this condition to relate, then that makes it all worthwhile… Sam Bitmead, a friend of Phil’s (and now a friend of mine), came and put such beautiful cello accompaniment to the song that it made me cry rainbows…
The final stage of the audio process was the mastering which was executed rather admirably by a guy called Pete Maher. Pete’s portfolio consists of some top level clients (U2, Katy Perry, Paul Weller, Damien Rice, Snow Patrol, Goldfrapp to name but a few) and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that his fee for mastering was actually pretty affordable. In the words of the man himself:
“All projects will be given my FULL attention. Rates are based on the artists financial background. I can’t offer lower rates to major labels and I wouldn’t feel good about charging full rates to unsigned artists. As a supporter of new music I believe that everyone deserves top quality professional mastering at a rate they can afford. Improving the quality of new music is a win/win for everyone!”
True to his word, Pete did an outstanding job on ‘Capacity To Change‘ and was a thoroughly nice chap throughout the whole process.
When we started this project I’d told Phil that I wanted to make an EP I could be proud of. He didn’t let me down – I am immeasurably proud of what we’ve made here and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I’ve enjoyed making it…
Right….better crack on with the album then….
‘Capacity To Change‘ is available as a physical CD at one of Jamie’s shows or as a digital download from Amazon, iTunes and other major download and streaming services.
For news, releases, gig dates and contact information please visit:
A stalwart of the local scene as part of the duo Juiceyacoustic, it is Jamie’s solo, original work that resonate most memorably with me, evoking such classic songwriters as Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook, Crowded House’s Neil Finn and Justin Currie of Del Amitri fame. There is something in the classic guitar lines and effortless melody that spring from his songs that make them so instantaneous and accessible, bonefide future classics in the making.
These five songs (plus a bonus demo) capture the natural, largely unadulterated, nature of what he does. Although there are extra guitars, percussion and strings present, they are put to sparing yet effective use, merely framing the songs and make the live experience and the studio recording largely interchangeable, something quite refreshing in this more is more modern age.
Something about the vocal delivery on opening number Denial just rings out like a long lost…
The funny thing about songs is that often, at the time of writing, you think you know what it is you’re writing about… it is only later, however, that you finally understand what it was you were trying to say….
‘Peachy’ is one of those songs.
When I began seriously applying my passion for wordplay into a songwriting context, I found myself trying to write lyrics that were in some way profound, clever, haunting. The end result however was usually a disappointing one – a slightly pretentious song that sounded nice but seemed somehow flat as though there were something missing. It was a while before I understood just what that missing element was: there was no emotional involvement – nothing for the listener to really relate to. Sure, a nice lyric can resonate on the ear but it wasn’t long before I realised that it wasn’t the ear I should be aiming for, it was the heart…
To my mind, it doesn’t matter what you write, just so long as you are writing the truth. By ‘truth’, I mean an honest interpretation of what you truly feel in your heart – an honest, (sometimes brutally so), reflection of your innermost thoughts and feelings. Anything less and the words are just words on a page with nothing substantial to back them up – nothing to drive them home with impact. A fantasy author can create a vast world, rich in vibrant detail, and people it with colourful characters of all shapes and sizes, but if it isn’t written from the heart the reader will find no purchase in this fictional world – they will have no emotional footholds with which to relate to their own personal experiences. In other words, if the writer is not moved by their own words, how can they expect somebody else to be? If the writer does not believe that what they write is true, you can sure that no one else will either.
When I began to write Peachy, I already had a chord progression and a rough melody in my head and I knew that I wanted to write a song with a story about someone who has lost in love and how he would cope by putting on a brave face the next time they met. I wanted to experiment with lyrics that said one thing, but meant something else.
I’ve always liked telling stories. When I was a boy, I’d make up all kinds of ridiculous tales – the kind of tall stories that made me feel as though my life was somehow more interesting and exciting than the dull, ordinary existence I inhabited. I’m pretty embarrassed when I recall this now – back then, I foolishly believed that others actually believed my stories of murdered best friends, kung-fu vengeance, evil drug barons and UFO sightings – it is only now that I see that they were all just humouring me and that, in all probability, they would have caught each others eye and made ‘here he goes again’ faces whenever I told them about my ESP abilities or my concerns that I may actually be a werewolf…
As foolish as I feel about this now though, there is a positive – I still like to tell stories. Only, now I apply my stories in their proper context instead of trying to somehow incorporate them into my own reality (which really isn’t all that dull or ordinary after all, I now realise).
When I write a song, I often try to present it in a traditional storyboard format – with a beginning, a middle and an end. I like to see some character development or a twist of some sort that transforms the lyrical hook or chorus so that by the end of the song it means something entirely different. Even my most depressing songs usually have some kind of positive slant towards the end.
When I wrote Peachy, I was happy enough in life – or at least, I thought I was. This was almost three years before my eventual marriage breakdown but in retrospect, I suppose even then some part of me already knew what was on the cards. Deep down I was unknowingly writing about what I secretly feared the most – that I would find myself in a situation where I was all alone in life nursing a huge, heart shaped hole.
Perhaps that was why it wasn’t so difficult to imagine how it would feel to have lost my love and then to suddenly bump into her by chance after some time had elapsed. I imagined how shocked I would feel and how that person would seem somehow, even more beautiful to me and how the hole they had left behind would suddenly feel like a yawning chasm once more. This would be magnified by the fact that they would have found someone new and had truly moved on, while I was still trudging along and getting nowhere… I felt the ache as though it was really happening to me. At the time it didn’t really register on a conscious level, but I suppose I was really writing about what I feared was already beginning to happen. I understand now that, for me, writing the truth requires absolute honesty with myself and, as much as this is often a painful process, it makes for a more compelling tale (and sometimes, I understand myself a little better too).
Having said all this, I still wanted the story to have a feel good factor – the melody and chord work was all very jolly and so the story needed to be fairly upbeat also. I asked myself, how can I turn this story around and give it a happy ending?
I briefly considered the other person having a sudden change of heart and come running back with open arms, but that just didn’t seem true somehow. It felt like too much of an easy way out.
I read a lot of fiction and, for me, the best stories have character driven plots – there needs to be character development so that, by the end of the story, the character has evolved to the point where they are often hardly recognisable from the person we met in the first chapter. This felt like the best direction to take with Peachy. The change of heart had to come from the main protagonist. I considered having him suddenly realise that his lost love was not quite as awesome as he’d remembered then concluding that he was better off without her – but this didn’t ring true either. This sounded like he was simply trying to convince himself which, of course, is not a development of character at all, nor is it a happy ending – he would be in exactly the same boat when they parted again.
Then it occurred to me that maybe what I was writing about was not loss or love, but about acceptance. With acceptance comes a sense of peace. By finding true acceptance the character would undergo a change deep in the very core of his being and he would finally be able to move forward instead of just treading water. He would find peace.
As it was a story of personal growth set in a social context I figured that, lyrically, the tone should be an informal, conversational one – and so this is where I started:
“Well, hello there. I’m just Peachy, thanks for asking.”
I liked the fact that this opening statement was just so typically British – when someone inquires as to our general well being, our instinctive reply is often: “I’m fine thanks”, even if we’ve just lost three of our fingers to a rabid squirrel…
What was more, this informal approach felt natural and in keeping with the upbeat feel I was going for. The rest just seemed to fall into place…
“It’s more than I care to admit,
but seven months and twenty days, not that I’m counting,
And seeing you still smarts a bit”
I wrote this song back in 2008, almost three years before my marriage fell apart. At the time it meant something different to me – it was just a story I’d made up and put to a catchy tune. Then eighteen months ago, I became friends with Marta – a lovely person who, at that time, was struggling with the breakdown of her own long-term relationship.
Naturally, we compared our stories and talked about how hard it is to let go of all that history and how we sometimes felt as though we were broken in some way – that we’d never be able to move on. As we talked, something Marta said reminded me of Peachy. I’d not thought of, or played the song for years. It had become one of my ‘old songs’ – a song that I’d cut my songwriting teeth on but would probably never be used for anything. But now, suddenly, it blazed brightly in my mind and I couldn’t wait to get home and dig it out to find out why it was tugging at me so…
When I played it for the first time after all those years, I cried. It wasn’t so much that it reminded me of all that I had lost since writing it. It was more because I felt as though the sun was finally rising after an eternity of darkness. I was experiencing an earth-shaking, honest-to-God epiphany – a character development of my very own. Everything I’d written way back then was suddenly, irrefutably relevant. It was almost as though I’d somehow reached across the fabric of space and time with a gift for my future self…
“And if fate can set you free, Then I guess we’re never meant to be.
Now the sun is in my eyes, And I begin to realise,
That there’s a little bit of hope for me”
I had taken my first step towards true acceptance – I had found a way to Peace.
I was suddenly gripped with the urge to share my vision of self-realisation with the world, and especially with Marta, so I hurriedly recorded a Youtube version and uploaded it with a dedication to her – if it hadn’t been for Marta, Peachy would still be just an ‘old song’, covered in cobwebs and dust, and I may never have had my epiphany…
Jamie R Hawkins is an Award Winning Singer Songwriter whose songs have won him critical acclaim in the UK and around the world. He has been described as “a powerful mixture of storyteller, philosopher and poet”, his lyrics as “poignant and witty’ and his performances, “emotive and captivating”.
Jamie can usually be found in the studio scribbling away in his dog-eared note book and both he and his acoustic are available for events.
“I’m angry!”,said The Apple, “To the centre of my core!
I tumbled from the highest branch and landed on the floor.
They put me in a basket then they dumped me here with you.
I’m bumped and bruised, a bit confused and now I’m fuming too.”
* * * * *
“Stop moaning”, said The Melon, “You are not the only one.
I was minding my own business, sitting, dozing in the sun.
They came along and squeezed me, then they took me from my bed.
Don’t focus on the negatives, Be positive instead.”
* * * * *
“Suspicious,” said The Orange, “There’s conspiracy afoot!
We’re all here for a reason, and I fear it’s nothing good.
I’ve heard the horror stories, how they like to drink my blood.
I should be planning my escape, not sitting on my butt”
* * * * *
They all looked at Banana who was drooling in his sleep.
Of all of them, he was the one who didn’t make a peep.
He was suffering from jet lag having come from far away,
And snoring was the only thing he was prepared to say.
* * * * *
“We’re not worried in the slightest,” said a pair of Loved Up Pears,
“As long as we’re together, we don’t really have a care.
There’s nothing like a cuddle when your worries get to you.
You really should all try it, maybe you’ll feel better too.”
* * * * *
An ancient voice said “Silence!”, and they turned toward the noise.
There, Old Man Walnut glared at them – he clearly was annoyed.
“The trouble with you youngsters is, you think you know it all!
But I’ve been here since last Christmas and I’ve seen what lies in store.”
* * * * *
Then lights came on, affording them a glance around the room.
They saw a block of gleaming knives and registered their doom.
So, screaming, they were forced to watch as, one by one they met,
A gruesome, nasty, slicing, dicing, slow and painful death.
Then once again, in silence, Old Man Walnut closed his eyes,
And waited in the fruit bowl for the next batch to arrive…..
* * * * * * * * * *
Moral: 5-A-Day isn’t for everyone…
* * * * * * * * * *
I’ve entered this at DudeWrite, the place where real Dudes Write …feel free to visit their man cave (even if you’re a girl!), read the other guys posts and vote for your favourites. It’d be cool if you’d Tweet or Share the ones you like too…maybe even this one…
Jamie R Hawkins is an Award Winning Singer Songwriter whose songs have won him critical acclaim in the UK and around the world. He has been described as “a powerful mixture of storyteller, philosopher and poet”, his lyrics as “poignant and witty’ and his performances, “emotive and captivating”.
Jamie R Hawkins can usually be found in the studio scribbling away in his dog-eared note book and both he and his acoustic are available for events.
Beelzebob – or Bob as he likes to be called – is the little devil who sits on your left shoulder and whispers advice in your ear. He’s the one who told you that it would be a good idea to pee in the plant pot and blame it on the cat. He may also have convinced you that consuming copious amounts of alcohol at your partners grandparents 50th wedding anniversary party and Cossack dancing on the kitchen table wearing only a strategically placed sock would liven things up a bit…
It would be fair to say that Bob has gotten you into trouble on a number of occasions…
His counterpart and sworn enemy is the little Angel who sits on your right shoulder, Godfrey. Godfrey is a pious creature by nature who tries to live up to the high moral standards of the divine being he professes to emulate. Do not be fooled – he is not a divine being, merely a one-sided extension of the human conscience. Some (Bob) would call him pretentious and self-righteous but the truth is, Godfrey only wants you to do the right thing – counteracting Beelzebobs nefarious advice is the sole purpose of his existence . Godfrey is the one who suggests that you offer your seat on the bus to the elderly lady. He will also encourage you to return the fat wallet to the gentleman who is completely oblivious to the fact that he has dropped it in the first place…
It would also be fair to say that Godfrey has gotten you into trouble on the odd occasion too….
The following is a shining example of one such occasion:
It was the day before Christmas Eve and Bob and Godfrey were perched on the shoulders of Working Man on his way back from his annual trip to the city dump. Working Man was in a good mood. He was right on schedule with regard to the pre-Christmas organisations – Presents wrapped; decorations hung; groceries purchased and now, old and unused toys recycled. He had also received a generous bonus from his employers and was on his way home to enjoy this twelve day work-free stretch for the holiday season. Life was good.
Working Man was shaken from his good-natured reverie when, without warning, a white van suddenly swerved into his lane. He slammed on the brakes just in time to narrowly avoid a collision and was about to follow Bob’s advice by sounding the horn and yelling a string of obscenities when he was distracted by the object that the white van had swerved to avoid.
It was a wheelchair trundling along at 5 miles an hour in the outside lane of a busy two lane stretch. Working Man sped past the wheelchair and then watched in his rear view mirror as vehicle after vehicle swerved to avoid hitting it.
Godfrey saw an opportunity and was quick to exploit it – ‘That physically challenged person is going to be killed if someone doesn’t do something…if you don’t do something…’
Bob saw this coming though and promptly interjected with: ‘Aww, the cripple will be okay… it ain’t your problem… let somebody else deal with it’… not the most original of arguments, true, but it was one that had served him well numerous times in the past.
And so the ancient battle between good and bad resumed once more…
Godfrey was on form today – he retaliated with: ‘But it’s Christmas!… a time of charity and goodwill to all men… there is no better time to help someone than at Christmas time…’ Godfrey likedChristmas – it filled people with a temporary (if somewhat misguided) sense of goodwill toward their fellow beings and made things much easier for him.
Bob also liked Christmas but mostly because alcohol was often heavily featured throughout the holiday season, and this made things easier for him – especially at office parties….boy, he’d had some fun at those! But Bob knew that, for the moment, he’d lost this bout and decided to keep his mouth shut. Let’s just see how it plays out, he thought as Working Man doubled back on himself at the next roundabout. Bob had won many a battle simply by sitting back and picking his moment carefully…
When Working Man eventually ended up back at the place of the near accident he looked ahead and saw that the wheelchair had pulled into a gravel lay-by at the side of the road so he turned in there. He got out of the car and walked around to where the wheelchair was situated. Bob began to rub his hands together with undisguised glee when the wheelchair occupant immediately began to hurl verbal abuse at Working Man who all but rocked back on his heels under the onslaught. Maybe Bob would have something to work with after all…
Godfrey showed no sign of concern however, and merely uttered one word in Working Man’s right ear: ‘Compassion’.
Working Man gauged The Wheelchair Man to be somewhere in the region of mid to late thirties. He was hunched over in a bulky electric wheelchair, clutching a plastic carrier bag to his chest with gnarled, misshapen hands. He glared out from a twisted, angry face with eyes that rolled around in their sockets reminding Working Man of a panicked horse. ‘He is obviously very frightened, poor, poor man,‘ said Godfrey, ‘You did the right thing, stopping to help him’. Bob thought he detected a note of smugness in Godfrey’s tone but of course, angels don’t express smugness – they express righteousness…which, in Bob’s view, is pretty much one and the same thing.
Working Man held out his hands, palms out, in the universal gesture of peace, and in even tones said, “Friend, I only want to help you. You seem as though you need it. You almost got killed back there”.
“I don’t need your f**king help!” screeched Wheelchair Man, spittle flying from his lips, “F**k off!”
‘You heard the cripple’, said Bob, ‘He doesn’t need your help… let’s just be on our merry way.’ He then filled Working Man’s head with an image of his warm, cosy family home and the cold beer that was just waiting for Working Man to christen the beginning of his holiday.
‘This man is in a bad way,’ said Godfrey, ‘imagine how frustrated he must feel being trapped in a broken body and unable to get about as easily as everybody else… it’s no wonder he is so upset…’ Each time Godfrey spoke, he would fill Working Mans head with images of Christmas goodwill and of Jesus Christ feeding the hungry, healing the sick and other such goodwill gestures. He threw an image of Ebeneezer Scrooge into the mix too, just for good measure…
Working Man kept his voice measured and calm. “Friend, whether you think you want my help or not, I cannot in good conscience leave you here. You could be killed on this road, or, if that doesn’t bother you, someone else could be hurt too.”
Wheelchair Man just glared at him and clutched his carrier bag tighter to his chest.
‘Screw him,’ said Bob, ‘He doesn’t want to be helped’… ‘
Help him’, said Godfrey, ‘He doesn’t want to be screwed’…
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do”, said Working Man, “I’ll call the police so that they can come and help you”.
An expression of panic swept across Wheelchair Man’s face for a moment but was gone before Working Man was even sure that it had been there at all. Bob produced an alarm bell and began clanging it in Working Man’s left ear. ‘That’s a great idea! Call the cops! They’ll look after the cripple…it is their job after all…’Wheelchair Man’s expression became almost sly for a moment and then he said, “Can you fit my wheelchair in the back of your car and take me to the services on the motorway? My own car is parked there, you see.”
Bob laughed uproariously at this. ‘A car?…a likely story!… This guy can barely drive a wheelchair, let alone drive a car!’…
A note of irritation crept into Godfrey’s voice. ‘I think you’ll find, Beelzebob, that people with physical limitations can do all sorts of things, driving cars is but one of them…’
‘Well, if that’s the case,’ said Bob, ‘how come he left his car at the services instead of driving it straight to where he wanted to go? How come he’s stranded here in a lay-by with his car miles away?…Doesn’t that strike you as ever so slightly… odd?’
‘I am sure that there is a perfectly plausible explanation.’ replied Godfrey, although he sounded somewhat less convinced than before. Godfrey pondered for a moment and then made the decision that would result in his downfall. ‘You have offered this man assistance – it would be wrong to take that offer back now that he has finally agreed to let you help him…’
The problem with two opposing sides is that, by their very nature, they are incapable of agreeing even if their enemy’s logic does make sense. Not even angels are perfect when it comes to admitting their own faults because they simply do not have any – Devils, on the other hand, will happily admit to their own faults – are proud of them in fact – and will often include extensive lists of them on their C.V.s to impress prospective clients.
Working Man reluctantly agreed to give Wheelchair Man a lift, although by now he was beginning to regret having stopped in the first place and, to be honest, just wanted to get this whole sorry business out of the way – Wheelchair Man had turned out to be rather unfriendly, not to mention ungrateful. Godfrey gently chided him for this last thought – ‘An act of kindness is not a truly selfless act if one expects gratitude for it…’
‘Shut up, you pompous idiot,’ said Bob. His instincts were telling him that Godfrey was painting himself into a corner with his ridiculous restrictive rules of behaviour… now it was only a matter of time.
Wheelchair Man manoeuvred his chair as close to the passenger seat of Working Man’s car as he could and proceeded to unfasten his seatbelt. Working Man leaned in and slipped his arms around under Wheelchair Mans armpits and around his back and lifted. Wheelchair Man was heavy. Working man grunted under the exertion. Halfway through the process, he felt a flash of pain as something in his back gave out.
Somehow or other though, he finally succeeded in lifting Wheelchair Man onto the passenger seat. During the manoeuvre he caught a whiff of Wheelchair Man’s foetid breath and almost retched. ‘Phewee!’ said Bob holding his nose in disgust, ‘Would it kill you to brush your damned teeth once in a while?… I’ve known festering cancer demons with better personal hygiene!’…
Godfrey said nothing – he was too busy losing his corn flakes – Angels have no stomach for foul stenches that could very well have been belched from the depths of Hell itself.
Then, straightening up and rubbing the aching part of his back, Working Man turned his attention back to the electric wheelchair to figure out how he was going to fit it into the back of his car and almost blew his groceries. In the seat of the wheelchair was a puddle of nasty, sickly yellow-brown excrement. Working Man looked from the puddle in the wheelchair to the Wheelchair Man himself who was sat glaring at him from the passenger seat of Working Mans car.
Both Bob and Godfrey stared at the puddle in stunned silence for a moment. Then Bob screamed with laughter, holding onto his sides with tears streaming from his eyes. Godfrey threw up again. Working Man just stood there looking from the puddle, to the Wheelchair Man, to the puddle, to the Wheelchair Man.
The Wheelchair Man glared up at Working Man and said, “So, are you just going to stand there all day or what?” Working Man felt his blood begin to boil – Wheelchair Man must have known that he had soiled himself and yet he had said nothing! And there he was, sat in his car!
Bob somehow managed to regain some control of himself but could not refrain from jumping up and down on the spot with glee – this one was in the bag!… ‘Okay, here’s what I suggest… drag him out by his hair and rub his face in his own excrement, then drive over him on the way out… actually, you’d better reverse over him too just to be sure…’
Godfrey weakly protested between bouts of dry retching, ‘Compassion… blurgh…’
‘Nuts to compassion!’ shouted Bob, ‘There’s cripple crap on your frickin’ passenger seat!’
‘Well, don’t do anything hasty at least,’ replied Godfrey straightening his halo and wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his tunic, ‘You don’t want to spend Christmas in prison… think of your loved ones…’
Working Man levelled a cold gaze at Wheelchair Man. “You know what? Thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure that I can fit your wheelchair in my car after all.”
Wheelchair Man rolled his eyes, “Oh for f**k sake! Well, you’d better put me back in my f**king chair then.”
Working Man reached down, and with much less care than previously, picked up Wheelchair Man by the front of his jacket and dragged him back to his chair, dumping him unceremoniously back into his own puddle with a sickening squelch. He looked at his passenger seat and at the disgusting brown smear that was rapidly soaking into the upholstery and, without wasting another word on Wheelchair Man, made his way around to the driver’s seat. Just before he climbed in he heard Wheelchair Man shout, “Don’t call the police! Ya’hear me? Don’t.. Call.. The.. POLICE!”
Working Man slammed his door shut, wound the electric windows down as far as they would go, gunned the engine and screeched out of the gravel lay-by. He glanced in his rear view mirror and felt a grim satisfaction to see Wheelchair Man waving and spluttering furiously at the cloud of dust and dirt that his spinning wheels had kicked up. The stench in the car was gut wrenching and the biting chill of the December air blasting through the open windows froze his hands stiff as they gripped the steering wheel in anger.
‘I still think you should’ve reversed over him.’ said Bob.
Godfrey was strangely silent. He knew when he’d been beaten…
As soon as Working Man got home, he called the police who told him that there were officers already on the scene and that Wheelchair Man was already well-known to them having escaped from his carers on a number of occasions. ‘That’s why he didn’t want you to call the police!’said Bob who was thoroughly enjoying the full employment of his gloating skills – he has an A-level certificate in Gloating.
The rest of Working Man’s day was spent calling around, desperately trying to find a car valet who had not yet closed for the holidays. All the while, Godfrey kept his own counsel while Bob climbed onto his soapbox and did his level best to convince Working Man that No Good Deed Goes Unpunishedand that helping others isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After about the eighth phone call, Working Man got lucky.
As the valet, dressed in what appeared to be a full radiation suit, worked on the seat with a powered suction cleaner, Working Man recounted his tale of misfortune. Bob made sure that Working Man punctuated the tale with the odd swear word. Godfrey remained silent in the wake of his own defeat.
An hour later, once the valet had finished removing the offending brown stain, Working Man dug out the agreed fee and handed it over. The valet looked at Working Man and said. “You know what? Just give me half. You were only trying to help somebody in need and it bit you in the ass. Besides,” he added with a smile, “it’s Christmas.”
Godfrey perked his ears up and Bob stopped doing his little jig for a moment…
Working Man returned the smile, shook his head and pressed the full amount, plus a little extra, into the valeter’s hand. “I appreciate that friend,” he said, “but I only did what seemed right to me at the time… despite all this, I’d do it again….Happy Christmas to you and yours”.
Godfrey placed his palms together, raised his eyes heavenward and smiled serenely….
Bob clenched his fists and stamped his foot. ‘Oh, Cripple Crap!’he said…