Saturday, 6 March 2010

#11 - November Spawned A Monster

Dear Morrissey,

Here’s the thing: you might as well say goodbye to your life, because suddenly there isn’t any room for anything else anymore. It’s absolute – like love, or jealousy. A friend of mine once told me that if you let envy and paranoia into a relationship then it’ll take over and kill it. Then, in the end, there won’t be anything left. The connection will fall away and the passion will dwindle until there are just two people who really fucking hate each other.

Well, it’s a little bit like that.

I don’t want to think about it all the time. God knows my friends – or, at least, those friends who have not yet abandoned the Good Ship Loyalty – hate me for it, but it’s impossible to deny the urge. University, music, writing – these things don’t suffice in staving off the lust anymore. Take last Tuesday morning. Bizarrely, for a morning lecture, I was alight with inspiration. At the front of the room, standing stalwartly before us, Karl, the lecturer, was talking about the importance of Machiavelli in contemporary politics. I’d been waiting for this moment. Three months of Marx and Socialism, Marx and the Work Ethic, Marx and Globalisation, Marx and the fucking Philosopher’s Stone, and I was longing to move on… And then, half way through the hour, I remembered.

Panic struck.

My throat closed up.

The room spiralled in and out of focus.

Suddenly ridden with anxiety, I slipped out of the fire exit and headed straight for the nearest toilet cubicle. I knew nobody would find me there.

And, again, on Friday – just hours before the weekend began. All I had to do was hold out until four o’ clock and I would be free. Two whole days in which to kick the habit, or fall further into addiction. It didn’t matter… But I couldn’t wait. At quarter past two I feigned illness, fled the campus and came home to spend yet another wasteful evening with the curtains drawn against the world.

They say, don’t they, that the first stage in overcoming an addiction is to admit that you have a problem?

Well, I have a problem.

It started softly last November and has been worsening ever since. I should have realised then but the thing is: I’ve never been addicted to anything. I’ve barely taken an illegal drug in my life. Gambling doesn’t appeal. I don’t even put a quid on the Grand National anymore. As for binge shopping, I begrudge buying soap. It’s unlikely I’ll ever max out a credit card. I used to think, Morrissey, that I was the only person in Britain who didn’t have an addictive personality – whatever that actually means.

And then it happened.

The Guardian Cryptic Crossword.

Not an hour passes without my thoughts returning to its slender black and white frame. It is simultaneously beautiful and frustrating. The clues are subtle, intricate, mathematical and poetic. Like a great wine or gourmet meal, they demand time and concentration in order to be enjoyed. But you can’t rush. You can never rush.

Take, for example, yesterday’s Nine Across. ‘Timely old joke, consuming wine with last of cheese.’ Nine letters. The sort of clue that, six months ago, would have baffled and petrified a literal mind such as mine. But now – now - I have an inkling as to how these things work.

First: identify the keyword; the definition. In the case, it is ‘timely.’ Quickly, my brain attempts to summon the synonyms. Appropriate, punctual, apt – none of which are nine letters, and so I move on to the second stage: decrypting the cryptic.

‘Old joke, consuming wine with last of cheese.’

I know now that ‘consuming’ means I have to put one word inside another, and so this is as good a starting point as any. ‘Old joke, consuming wine…’ What’s another way of saying ‘joke?’ A gag? A yarn? A golden olden?

Or, a pun. A ‘joke’ is a ‘pun.’ It seems obvious when finally you stumble across it.

Suddenly I don’t feel quite so helpless. Now what I need is the wine, which – according to the peculiar science of the cryptic crossword – is ‘port.’ ‘Old joke consuming wine…’ I take the ‘O’ from ‘old’; a ‘joke’ is a ‘pun’; wine is ‘port’, which I place inside the word ‘pun’ to get – what? O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N. Opportun.
But that doesn’t make any sense. There’s still one part of the clue to solve. The last part. The part that allows the entire thing to come full circle…

I read it again:

‘Timely old joke, consuming wine with last of cheese.’

It’s so easy once you see it. O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N. I add an ‘E’ – the last letter of the word ‘cheese’ – and at last I can settle. ‘Opportune.’ A nine letter word for ‘timely.’

With baited breath, I take a black pen, put a line through Nine Across and neatly enter the answer. Nothing in the world can rival this feeling. Not sex, not heroin, not even The Smiths. Gratified, I pour a glass of wine, light a cigarette and bask in the afterglow.

And then I see it.

Three Down.

A thirteen character love letter, inked in black. A subtle reminder that this isn’t over yet. Nine Across might have felt like a victory but really it was just a breakthrough. There are still thirty-two clues remaining and time is running out.
It was here you would have found me at seven o’ clock last night. Not just ready but desperately needing to continue.

Sometimes I solve them all. Every last clue. Sometimes I slave and fret and worry and squint until soft sunlight forces me to retire. And sometimes I cannot sleep at all. A spectre is haunting your hometown, Morrissey – the spectre of the cryptic crossword - and I am powerless to resist it.

At least for the time being.

Yours Recklessly,

Jack x

#10 - I'm Not The Man You Think I Am

Dear Morrissey,

This is the part I like.

This state of elation. This two pint high before the world spirals and swirls out of control, and before the restrictive, persistent hangover of tomorrow.

This is my hour. I am never going to bed.

It is 6.05pm in your hometown and I am writing. (Not just this letter – but real writing. The kind of writing that novelists and playwrights and poets talk about in interviews.)

This afternoon and, to a lesser extent, this evening, I have sat and scribbled and scripted.

I shouldn’t ask for praise. But I have to ask somebody.

Every time I attempt to write anything, I want someone to wander in off the street and say, ‘Oh! You’re writing! That’s marvellous. Really, it is. You should keep doing it. Because what you’ve done so far is great…’

I want everyone everywhere to talk continually about how hard, how frustratingly difficult it is even to consider putting an idea down on paper. (Again, it’s less Romantic – with a capital R, you’ll note – to type rather than pen words…)

I am not a modest man.

But modesty is easy to play.

That’s why I’ll never understand arrogance, or people who continually talk about their own achievements. Musicians are the worst. Guitarists and singers. And God bless anyone who has the misfortune of ever conversing with a singer-songwriter.

I’ve met so many people, Morrissey, who talk for hours about themselves. About their gigs and their plays and their poems and their novels; their sculptures, symphonies and watercolours…

It seems they have not yet realised:

Modesty is a Virtue. Even if it isn’t real.

That’s a fact.

(And I should know…)

Jack x

Thursday, 4 February 2010

#9 - The Rain Falls Hard

Dear Morrissey,

It is raining in Manchester.

And I really don't want to go outside.

Jack x

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

#8 - Oh, the Alcoholic Afternoons (When We Sat in Your Room)

Dear Morrissey,

Today I awoke, at the usual time, to the usual dulcet sounds of Radio 4, to find a tie scrawled on my chest and stomach in eye-liner.

I'm trying...

Despite the headache, and the nausea, and the strange (but increasingly familiar) hangover-fuelled-detachment...

I'm really, really trying....

To remember how it got there.

But I can't.

Yours From a Distance,

Jack x

#7 - In the Days when You Were Hopelessly Poor (I Just Liked You More

Dear Morrissey,

There is little I can say or do to console myself.

I am poor. Not only in soul and talent, but (and this is infinitely more depressing) in wealth.

On Thursday mornings, my politics lecturer, Karl, talks nostalgically of student grants and anti-Thatcherism.

I don't know what's worse about 2010.

Having no money.

Or having nobody to blame for it but myself.

Yours Irrationally,

Jack x

Monday, 25 January 2010

#6 - Life is Very Long (When You're Lonely)

Dear Morrissey,

I think I am wasting my time.

Lately, two lines have been rushing - like express trains - through my mind.

The first is from the American TV programme, True Blood. It is something one the characters, Tara Mae, a young black woman living in the South, says to a police detective:

'College is for white people looking for other white people to read to them. I thought I'd save the money and read to myself.'


And the other is from Good Will Hunting - specifically, the part where Will is challenged by a group of Harvard students. In response to their despicable cleverer-than-thou arrogance, he explains:

'... in fifty years you're gonna start doing some thinking on your own, and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don't do that; and, two, you dropped 150 grand on a fucking education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.'


Sometimes, when I think about what I'm doing here, or about this creative writing dissertation I've lumbered myself with, it strikes me that Will Hunting is right. Wonderfully and heartbreakingly right.

Academically, I've learnt nothing at university that I couldn't have learnt by reading. On my own. For a few hours a night.

The Real World is waiting for me.

It's 'out there' - beyond the Butlins holiday camp that is Manchester Metropolitan University.

I have only a year left now.

A year to turn myself into a creative and original writer.

And the worse thing is:

I could have done that for free.

Yours Poorly (in Spirit and Soul),

Jack x

Sunday, 24 January 2010

#5 - Cemetry Gates

Dear Morrissey,

I am going to read a story out loud to some people.

I think.


I've booked an open mic slot at a reading night in town, and I intend to turn up and perform.

I think.


It's bizarre, actually, how alien standing up and reading something out can be to the writer. It's not as if publicly performing is literature's natural end-point. Most of the time (and this is both a wonderful and frustrating thing) a person writes down some words, prints out some words, passes the words on to someone else and quietly moves on to the next thing. They need never even meet the reader.

So why, then, do I want to stand up in front of a bunch of people I don't know (and some I do - which will be worse) and say unto them: 'Hullo. Sorry to bother you, but... I wrote a story. and for the next ten minutes you will have to listen to the story. I ask only two things: don't laugh and don't leave. Please.'

There are five possible answers to this question:

1. I want to be loved/adored/praised/talked to.
2. I think I have something interesting and/or important to say.
3. I want people to listen to me. And look at me. And like me.
4. I am a twat.
5. All of the above.

What do you think, Morrissey? Don't hold back. I won't be offended. Honestly.

Jesus. It's not for another week and already I am uncontrollably nervous. I'm not even sure what I am going to read yet.

Maybe I won't read anything.

Maybe the crippling anxiety and crushing panic will, at the very last moment, prevent me from sidling up to that stage, and to that microphone.

Maybe I will run away.

Maybe, in front of all those gathered, my throat will close up and I will be unable to speak.

Maybe I will die on stage. And not in a turn-of-phrase sort of way. Not like: 'How did Jack's reading go?' 'Oh, awfully. It bombed. He simply died up there.' Not like that at all.

I mean actually die. Literally. In full view of everyone. Like Tommy Cooper. (Is that insensitive? I don't mean it to be.) Expire. So that the following conversation might take place:

GIRL: How did Jack's reading go?
BOY: Oh, awfully. He had a heart attack and stopped breathing. It was horrible.
GIRL: God. Is he alright now?
BOY: No. He's dead.

I really hope this doesn't happen.

I don't think it will.

But you never know.

Perhaps I should have thought about all this before I booked the slot.


Jack x

Friday, 22 January 2010

#4 - Take Life at Five Times Your Average Speed (Just Like I Do...)

Dear Morrissey,

I fear I am in danger of living life entirely for cryptic crossword clues.

They are taking over. I am dreaming about them.

This morning I was dragged from slumber by the following words:

'No diamonds in Venice - time to get even?' (6)

All night, in a state of semi-consciousness and restless agony, those same thirty-one letters stalked the bedroom. Finally, at 5.47am, finding myself fully awake and already in motion, I pushed back the covers and headed for the kitchen table.

And there it was: yesterday's cryptic.

It wasn't until 6.23am - by then wildly caffeinated and buried deep in concentration beneath the dim light of the extractor fan - that I twigged.

Venice with no diamonds - no 'ice.' And time - 'age.'



A six letter word meaning 'to get even.'

It was too late to go back to bed. Instead, I waltzed - spring-heeled - to the newsagents and bought today's paper.


Crossword No 24, 914.

Set by Araucaria. The most impenetrable of them all.

It is presently 23.41pm in your homeplace, Morrissey. And it is here that you find me, still caffeinated, still haunted, with only five clues solved.

It's going to be a long night.

Love, Peace, Harmony,

Jack x

Thursday, 21 January 2010

#3 - If You Must Write Prose or Poems...

Dear Morrissey,

It is only five days until next I venture back into the writers' den.

And I have no idea what I'm doing.


It used to be so easy. Wrapped in a youthful, meloncholy candlight I would scrawl and draft and (barely) edit until what I had on those hand-written pages resembled a Stephen King novel, or a Tarantino screenplay. It was only when I realised - perhaps a little later than most - that originality was the key to an interesting piece of fiction that things started getting complicated.

Today, in the campus shop, one of the women behind the counter said to her colleague, 'Money doesn't make the world go around, but it helps.'

Well, I suppose the same is true of good, creative ideas.

They're not always essential.

But they certainly take the sting out of being boring.

Peace and Plagiarism,

Jack x

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

#2 - These Things Take Time

Dear Morrissey,

Woody Allen was right. The best an idea gets is when it's in your head. If it wasn't for these comforting and destructive words, I would have left university at 3.45pm today and returned home to write some actual real-life words.

But I didn't.

Instead, I headed straight to the union where - holed up in a window seat - I spent three hours looking over the Guardian cryptic crossword. I still can't do them. I'm not even close to perfecting their peculiar coded science. And yet, with cloudy head and cotton mouth, I dedicate these slow alcoholic hours to the pursuit of of a single answer.

I could be writing. Scripts or screenplays. Poetry or prose.

I am not writing.

When, finally, I stumbled into my bedroom, I sat at the end of the bed and wrestled the laptop from its carry-case to find the wires in a state of terrible disorder.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they untangle electrical cable. Some people find a thread and follow it patiently until there are no more knots; until order is restored. Me? I grabbed and pulled and tugged and forced before realising that a gentler, more considered approach was needed.

Writing is the same. I keep looking for a shortcut.

And there isn't one.

Yours Gracelessly,

Jack x