Welcome to my 'blog'. Enough, I think, has been said about Hamilton Coe the Detective, particularly in the wake of Nina Kelly's so-called biography. Anyone who wishes to know what it might be like to assist Coe in an investigation (or, heaven forfend, be investigated by him) should consult the glossary. The purpose of the 'blog' is the simulate the experience of joining me for a chat over coffee.
It's nearly thirty years since Aunt Alice conceived the original Hamilton Coe bulletin, a photocopied newsletter distributed to subscribers in three continents. While copies are collected in the Hamilton Coe archive, it's years since I read any of them: as I frequently remind my sister's depressives, a man who wallows in the past is incapable of fulfilling his role in the present. Last week, however, researching the glossary entry for my Uncle Gregor I referred to the file containing Aunt Alice's newsletters and was instantaneously transported back to the realm of childhood.
An hour later, as I returned the newsletters to their cellophane sheaths, it occurred to me that future historians, equipped with an intimate memoir of Coe the child, would be frustrated by the absence of a similar record of his manhood. They might, of course, access official records of my various adventures, but these will leave only the vaguest of impressions of what it would have been like to know me as a neighbour or a friend. This 'blog', I hope, might be of use to these unborn students of Coe. They enter with my best wishes, as, indeed, do their counterparts of the present. As always, I regard every man as a friend until he proves himself pernicious.
11/12/2010 The Age of Deference has passed. It's natural, I suppose, that subversive comics, finding the sacred cows goaded by their predecessors slaughtered or sent out to grass, turn to those previously deemed sacrosanct on account of their vulnerability. The consequence, unfortunately, is that the comedian is no longer punching above his weight but pounding the easiest available target, turning occasionally to wink knowingly at onlookers whose reluctance to appear squeamish makes them half-hearted accomplices. Frankie Boyle, currently Britain's pre-eminent "sick" comedian, has attracted opporbrium for a joke in which he alluded to Katie Price being sexually assaulted by her disabled son. Earlier this year, he was apparently embroiled in an on-stage altercation with the mother of a Downs' Syndrome child who took exception to his humorous observations about mentally handicapped people. It could be argued that Boyle is boldly confronting taboos for which some might applaud him. Taboos, however, tend to have a purpose: their violation invariably co-incides with the sort of upheaval from which few emerge unscathed.
Arriving at my sister's yesterday, I commandeered the computer and watched some of Boyle's skits on YouTube. "He looks like a mongol!" he observed of Wayne Rooney in the first of these, delighting an audience with his frankness. "I don't want to sound like a prig," I said to Christine, "but how do you think they'd respond if they were instantaneously transported to 1930's Berlin and invited to compare Max Schmeling to a Jew?" My flight of fancy was interrupted by the doorbell. As Christine left to admit Spencer, I pondered the analogy's logical conclusion: there are no death camps in twenty first century Europe, but there are Swiss suicide clinics and an apparently benign preoccupation with "quality of life." Voicing my concern on their return, I was irritated by my brother's response of, "Tell the Daily Mail," a knee-jerk reaction to opinions he considers evidence of my rigidity. "Do you seriously think it's unreasonably stuffy," I demanded, "to expect better of a grown man than to stand in front of an audience and make fun of 'mongols'?" Spencer, who considers taking offence equivalent to donning a cardigan and slippers, merely shrugged. "What about D.J. Abortion?" I persisted, referring to a comedian, billed as 'Saying the unsayable' (a boast I thought as much a recommendation as 'He Eats His Own Vomit') who recently performed at the Red Lion.
"He wasn't offensive," said Spencer. "He was just an idiot."
"He was offensive and an idiot," I corrected him, remembering an excruciating fifteen minute set
through which D.J. targeted the physical defects of audience members ("who ate all the pies?") and aped disability by slapping the back of one hand with the palm of the other before concluding with a pointlessly horrible monologue about a children's home supervised by Fred and Rosemary West. "You're not exactly Lenny Bruce, are you?" demanded Spencer in the horrified silence that followed an inconceivably witless reference to molestation. This subdued heckle was sufficient to cause the manchild to visibly swallow before squawking a strangled, "Just forget it" and fleeing the stage. "I owned him," said Spencer to Christine, brightening as he recalled his paltry triumph.
At lunch, we were joined by Muriel and her friend Jackson for whose benefit I repeated a story told by a friend who embarked on a career as a psychiatric nurse in the 1960's. Early in his tenure, he referred to a patient as an "imbecile" only to be corrected by a senior colleague who insisted, "He's not an imbecile - he's a cretin !" Other formerly clinical terms "retard", "mongol" and "spastic", consigned to a linguistic black museum are rediscovered by successive generations of adolescents (Muriel and Jackson included) who find the combination of blunt syllables an irresistible means of causing offence. "We don't mean it, though," protested Jackson. "It's just a joke." The humour of child-hood with its emphasis on bodily functions and cruelty, is a rebellion against adult manners and propriety. Both Muriel and Jackson, I opined, had passed an age at which shocking for effect was acceptable. " This is a joke," I started, only to be interrupted by Christine who said, "At least you're telling us it's a joke. I always feel ambushed. By the time I work out you've embarked on a joke, I worry about when I'm supposed to laugh." I have to confess to being stung by this unexpected confession. Realising that she'd hurt my feelings, Christine, backed by Jackson, encouraged me to continue: Spencer and Muriel, however, quite deliberately talked through my preamble causing me to abandon the joke entirely, muttering "Forget it" and instantaneously realising I'd repeated the abject surrender of D.J. Abortion.
Later, making my way home through the slush, Frankie Boyle's mean-spirited brussel sprout of a face loomed in my thoughts. "He's like some malign child, sitting on a bus and laughing at everyone falling about on the ice," I said to Spencer who merely grunted in a manner that indicated that he had lost interest in the topic. "A joke that's intended to wound," I persisted, "is like a chocolate laced with strychnine." At which Spencer interrupted, saying, "But as long as you're not the victim, it's funny. Your stuff about talking horses and... leprechauns is just... " At this he faltered, doubtless judging my ego to have been sufficiently bruised. "Long winded?" I offered tentatively at which prompt he nodded, patted me, not unkindly on the shoulder and, breaking into a slow jog disappeared in the direction of the Red Lion. As I approached the house, I wondered if I'd over-reacted: time will tell, but I rather think not. The age in which we live is reflected by the brusque crudity of its jokes. Whatever unkindnesses they might inflict, though, comedians should resist the temptation to entirely dehumanise their victims. To mock someone without reason, aside from the fact of his otherness, is to accept a logic by which, followed to its conclusion, we might strike him, drug him or remove him from the proximity of merriment altogether.
*"I say it as I see it," is the self-regarding conceit of the boors and bullies who traumatise acquaintances with witheringly frank advice and observations. Those who pride themselves on "speaking their minds" can be recognised for the frequency with which they change them. To speak without reflection is equivalent to incontinence. Similarly, those who say anything that might elicit a laugh indicate a terrible neediness in their willingness to simultaneously demean and be demeaned.
5/12/2010 The depressives with whom my sister works are currently petrified by the prospect of the assessments to which the long-term unemployed are to be subjected by the Department of Work and Pensions. Their concerns have been exacerbated by reports that private firms, offered 'bounties' for the apprehension of benefit scofflaws, have been scouring social networking sites for evidence of inconsistency between applicants' claims and reality. "It's not as if there are jobs for them to take ," says Christine whose clients, already living in dread of penury and prosecution, were most recently confronted by the prospect of forced, unpaid labour, an experiment by which Ian Duncan-Smith hopes to re-invigorate a diminished work ethic.
It's several years since my presence was requested at Drumfeld Job Centre. Assuming that I'd been invited in an advisery capacity, I was astonished when, introductions concluded, I was asked, "So, Hamilton, what sort of work do you see yourself doing?" Initially amused by what I imagined was an honest mistake, I tried, as modestly as possible, to list my qualifications. "I know who you are," interrupted Gavin Rennie, the Assessment Officer, at which point the niggle that had hovered on the periphery of my consciousness since I entered the office identified itself. "You're Stig!" I blurted, remembering the despised acquaintance of my brother's adolescence. As Rennie glowered at my reference to a nickname which, on reflection, might not have been a source of pleasure, I recalled his desperate efforts to ingratiate himself to Spencer's clique and the indignities with which he had been rebuffed. "Spencer's home just now," I said meekly. "I'm sure he'd love to catch up." As Rennie's eyes narrowed, I offered a shameful appeal to his better nature: "Our mother died." It was to no avail.
Browbeaten and bewildered, I returned home from my excruciating interview to find a balefully hungover Spencer slouched in front of the television. "Your past has come back to haunt us," I announced, opening the tightly drawn curtains to admit the full terror of revelation: "Gavin Rennie is assessing my role in the workplace!" At this, Spencer's lips quivered. Assuming him to be overwhelmed by remorse, I continued, enumerating the insults Gavin had endured in my presence: "You wouldn't let him in your room; you made him smoke chocolate !" The grim satisfaction elicited by the sight of Spencer covering his face with his hands and shuddering turned to anger as I realised that he was laughing. "It's not funny," I protested, repeating Gavin's vindictive parting shot, that I'd be allocated a training placement in "supermarket skills - nothing too specialised" after being subjected to the intrusion of a "means assessment and audit." This caused Spencer to throw back his head and emit a skirl of laughter that can only be described as fiendish. "These are your chickens coming home to roost!" I protested, prompting the gleeful response, "But you're the one covered in bird-s__!"
That night, Christine suggested that Spencer treat Gavin to a night in the Red Lion and apologise for his youthful folly. This was emphatically rejected. "I'm not going anywhere with Stig," said Spencer before indicating me with his forefinger and continuing, "Anyway, they're not my chickens: they're his ! Remember Stig's party?" This allusion caused Christine to snort violently while I was rendered light-headed by the memory of my apprehension in the guise of 'Tommy the Punk', branded with the word 'Spy', scrawled on my forehead in marker pen, and confined within a laundry basket. "That's what you get for clyping," continued Spencer, referring to the dossier containing evidence of sexual impropriety and drug abuse, waiting for the senior Rennies on their return from Portugal. Adopting a pompous voice, he concluded, "Every act has repercussions," the same admonishment with which I'd berated him earlier. Smirking provocatively, he drew his forefinger across his throat before rising and leaving the room.
*A prolonged unpleasantness was only resolved after the intervention of the Guisler Institute. Rennie's allegations that he was compromised by material obtained by hacking into his Bebo account remain sub judice. I last saw him in the Drumfeld Asda: a badge attached to his tunic which read "Gaven (sic) - I'm here to help!" seemed at odds with the terrible glower with which he responded to my request for assistance in locating an imported French coffee.
27/11/2010 Last week, I was forewarned that Christine's socialist friend, Pauline, would be joining us for Sunday lunch. "You don't have to come," said Christine, doubtless recalling Pauline's last visit when I was browbeaten and manoeuvred into expressing opinions that were scathingly dismissed as "quasi-fascistic". On that occasion, Pauline was aided and abetted by a new boyfriend, Martin, whom she had met on a dating site for lonely Trotskyites. Martin, a pot-bellied gnome from Nottingham whose prematurely wizened features contrasted jarringly with his child-like ensemble of red combat trousers and converse boots, established his status as a free-spirit by smoking at the table (laboriously rolling a succession of straggly cigarettes that disintegrated in his saffron coloured fingers) and making indiscriminate use of a swear word I thought proscribed by right (i.e. left ) thinking people. "I'm sorry, Martin," I interjected as he used the word to describe Nick Clegg, "I don't want to seem stuffy, but I don't think that's an appropriate way to talk in front of a fifteen year old girl." My well-meaning intervention caused Muriel to redden and fix me with a look of intemperate loathing while Martin embarked on an irrelevant diatribe about child-slavery in South East Asia.
The militant dwarf, I was reassured, had been sent back to Nottingham shortly afterwards when Pauline, already concerned about missing books and c.d.'s, found her lap-top still logged into the e-bay home-page from which he'd been selling them. "So much for her principles," I scoffed. "Whatever happened to 'property is theft'?" This spontaneous sally prompted an accusation of gloating and a tedious re-iteration of the various heartaches by which Pauline has been afflicted since she first visited the House of Coe as a sullen sixteen year old. "Life keeps kicking her in the teeth," concluded Christine sadly. My sister's loyalty does her credit but, on occasion, she gives me cause to doubt her common sense. Like many idealists, Pauline is judgemental, intolerant and addicted to conflict. The alacrity with which she proceeds from "I love you" to "I need you" and, finally, "I hate you and want you to die" has accounted for at least a dozen boyfriends, each subjected to a withering assessment before being dismissed from her history as completely as Stalin's victims were airbrushed from official photographs.
While natural spontaneity and a breadth of general knowledge are assets to any conversationalist, the key to genuine accomplishment lies in preparation. My brother mocks the diligence with which, anticipating likely matters arising, I scour my text-books and Google for nuggets of relevant information. (Needless to say, Spencer is the one who looks foolish when his contribution to the subsequent debate is limited to rolled eyes and splenetic outbursts, invariably directed toward me.) On this occasion, surmising that Pauline might know most of the protaganists in the Tommy Sheridan perjury case, I spent the week engrossed in the minutiae of his protracted humiliation. By Sunday, my disdain had turned to sympathy: his heroic bumptiousness notwithstanding, Sheridan whole-heartedly allied himself to noble causes; that he should end his political career tearfully defending himself against allegations of pettiness, venality and lechery is a terrible warning against the danger of hubris.
"Now he knows how Danton* felt," I offered feebly as Pauline, concurring with the former comrades summoned to give evidence against him, denounced Sheridan as a demagogue, liar and humbug. Spencer immediately contradicted me: "You mean he knows how Jeffrey Archer felt," he said, visibly brightening as his predictable quip elicited appreciative laughter. "I suppose so," I acknowledged, turning my attention to the cous-cous that appeared to have congealed on my fork.
* Immediately before his execution on the guillotine, Georges Danton turned to his executioner and said, "Don't forget show them my head. It's well worth seeing!"
19/11/2010 Toward the end of October in 1990, monitoring a procession of magpies from my bedroom window, I was surprised by the sight of our neighbour, Jenny Glover emerging from behind the garage, hunched and purposeful, and striding rapidly across our lawn. On reaching the washing line, she cast a furtive glance to either side, before taking a pair of my underpants, cramming them into the pocket of her anorak and quickly departing by the same route from which she had arrived. It took me several seconds to recover my wits and make my way to the street, by which time the front door of the Glover house, immediately opposite ours, was closing behind her. At any other time I might have taken time to ponder the most sensible course of action. Having only recently, however, been an object of infatuation which had culminated with the imposition of a court order and a (slightly dubious) suicide attempt, I thought it best to acknowledge Mrs Glover's interest and politely but firmly discourage its development.
Twenty years on, my recollection of the ensuing exchange on the Glovers' doorstep still brings an instantaneous warmth to my cheeks. A verbatim account would challenge the abilities of a court stenographer. Suffice to say, I was disabused of the notion that Mrs Glover's attentions toward me could be anything other than hostile. "What would any woman want with your underpants?" she demanded with such incredulity I was stricken by a momentary conviction that I had lost the capacity to distinguish between reality and precognition. On returning to to the scene of the crime, however, I was reassured by a cursory inspection of the washing line on which disordered pegs and a gap commensurate with the breadth of a pair of boxer shorts indicated a recent intrusion. That night, I dicussed the matter with my parents. Neither seemed overly concerned by the violation I had suffered. "I couldn't go through a repeat of the Alexander business," said Mum, unfairly citing a long resolved unpleasantness precipitated by Dr Alexander's intemperate response to finding me in his wardrobe. Dad, meanwhile, restricted himself to the undeniable observation that, "It's your word against hers." Neither favoured police involvement: "It would be a bit of a cheek after what you said about them," said Mum referring to an interview in which I injudiciously referred to their work as 'janitorial'. On reflection, it was evident that further action might would, at the very least, prove a distraction to more pressing commitments and could leave me vulnerable to accusations of slander. Determined to remain vigilant, I decided, for the time being, to let the matter drop.
As any doctor will confirm, apparently trivial symptoms often indicate a darker malaise. Over the course of a long, troubled winter: I was debilitated by a succession of bugs compounded by the constant sensation that nemesis lurked in the lowering gloom. By spring, my spirits were bolstered by the return to lighter nights and the coincidental departure of the Glovers who moved to Glasgow in order to assist in the care of a grandchild who had been born with significant health problems. I thought little of them until several years later when Mum drew my attention to a notice of Jennifer Glover's death in the Glasgow Herald. "Loving wife, mother and grandmother," she read, emphasising the last word with a sharp glance, as if to say, " See ? Nothing about stealing your underpants." Mrs Glover's posthumous exoneration was short-lived. Only weeks later, Gavin Sutherland, who bought their house, appeared unexpectedly at my door. "I think these are yours," he said, proferring a filthy rag which, on closer inspection, proved to be adorned by a tag on which the words 'Hamilton Coe' were still legible. "I found them when I was fixing the floor-boards in the shed," he continued with a slight shudder. "They were wrapped around some kind of carcass."
As a child visiting the David Livingstone Museum in Blantyre, I was thrilled to contemplate the explorer's jerkin torn in a lion attack. Future visitors to the Hamilton Coe House, I thought, would be similarly intrigued by evidence of my own attempted bewitchment. Mum, unfortunately, had less consideration for posterity: "Don't be so disgusting," she snapped as I argued the case for their retention. After a brief tug of war, I snatched the disputed underpants from her grasp and fled, hiding them under my mattress. Years later, months after Mum's death, I decided to move my bed. Removing the mattress, I was irritated by the realisation that the underpants were no longer there. With the unerring instinct, formerly used in the location of my siblings' cigarettes and contraceptives, Mum had found and, presumably, destroyed them. "For goodness sake," I muttered before, quite unexpectedly, my legs buckled and I sprawled beside my partially stripped bed, overwhelmed by a keening regret.
17/9/10 While I'm known as a martial artist (in particular, the founder of Cung-Coe*), my first sporting love was for boxing, an affection that has endured. No other sport, in my opinion, can boast a tradition, history and mystique comparable to that enjoyed by 'the sweet science'. The sporadic sicknesses that blighted my childhood were brightened by my grandfather's boxing anecdotes through which I became engrossed in a lineage stretching from Mendoza to Dempsey. Grandpa, an S.A.B.A. judge who officiated at bouts involving Ken Buchanan, Jim Watt, Walter McGowan and Peter Keenan believed the sport was character building. "Anyone can have a square-go," he told me. "It takes guts to fight by the rules." His sense of fair play would have been outraged, I suspect, by the perfunctory manner in which boxer James Toney, making his mixed martial arts debut, was recently despatched by Randy Couture.
An equivalent to Toney's baptism of fire would be Linford Christie returning from retirement to enter the Olympic Decathlon. The difference being, of course, that while Christie might make a fool of himself in the process, the risk of serious injury would be minimal. Toney, a blown-up middle-weight whose style might have been made for a grappler, has been ridiculed for his performance. His detractors should consider the feckless courage with which he insisted on being matched against a world champion, contemptuously dismissing a proposed bout with YouTube bully Kimbo Slice. Couture himself graciously acknowledged that were the pair to box the outcome would be reversed, though it's unlikely that such a potentially catastrophic mis-match would even be sanctioned. Toney's willingness to fight Couture by his own rules is irrelevant: he was a novice at the sport and should have been matched according to his level of experience.
*Last October schoolboy boxing champion, Paul Forrester, recently relocated to Drumfeld with his family, joined my Cung-Coe class. Encouraged by his fellow students, he challenged me to a no holds barred contest. The consequences of defeat would, naturally, have been disastrous. As Paul weighed forty-eight kilogrammes compared to my eighty-one, I was aware that I would have to contend with his wiriness and superior speed. Despite these natural advantages, I accepted his challenge on the condition that we both don blind-folds in order to simulate an authentic 'back-alley' environment. Nullifying Paul's attack by grabbing his leading leg, I managed to take him to the floor where he was helpless against my bulk. A satisfying victory was, unfortunately, soured by Paul's insistence that my blindfold had been tampered with, allowing full vision.
15/10/10 Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the duel between Francis Middleton and Basil Culshaw. New York historian, Helen Curry, Middleton's great-great grand-daughter, intends to commemorate the anniversary by erecting a plaque at the scene of their confrontation in Central Park. "It's not an exaggeration to suggest that, had he lived, Frank might have been the equivalent of a John F, Kennedy," she says. "It such a shame that, if he's remembered at all it's for his feud with Basil Culshaw." Surprisingly, objections to the memorial have been raised by New York artist, Marvin Kelly, a self-proclaimed descendent of Culshaw's, who accuses Helen of defaming his ancestor's memory. "It's ludicrous," sighs Helen. "For starters, I've no idea how Kelly's related to Basil. He was an only child and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that he had any children. Nor have I any intention of defaming him, though, to be perfectly honest, if you're presenting a dispassionate account of the affair it's difficult not to."
The tragedy has its origins in the meeting between Doctor John Holloway and Caroline Culshaw some fifteen years earlier. Holloway had recently become a widower, losing his wife to typhoid while Mrs Culshaw's husband had died ten years earlier, a suspected suicide. "By all accounts they were extremely well matched," says Helen. "They were nice people and easy in each other's company. It was a second chance for both of them." Within six months, they announced their engagement. "It seems a bit rash by our standards, but there was nothing unusual about it. Marvin Kelly refers to Dr Holloway as if he was an austere, domineering figure, but there's no evidence of that at all. I think he imagines that any man of that class and period behaved like Mr Murdstone or something. It's simply not the case. If anything, he was extremely tolerant."
Holloway's indulgence of his step-son certainly indicates an almost saintly level of forebearance. On being informed of his mother's engagement, Basil, only fifteen at the time, accused Holloway of drugging her and threatened to have him horse-whipped. In the month leading up to the wedding, he fulminated against Holloway in the letters page of New York Post, writing several hysterical diatribes in which he levelled allegations of general negligence, poor hygiene and performing surgery while drunk. At around this time, Basil was also suspected of attempting to poison Holloway's household staff, presumably in the hope that suspicion would fall on the doctor. Fortunately, a vigilant house maid noticed the distress symptoms exhibited by a household dog immediately after sampling from a plateful of mutton pies around which Master Basil had been hovering. Despite being handsomely bribed, he then ruined the wedding service by pelting the couple with coins (possibly a reference to Judas Iscariot's pieces of silver) and responding to Holloway's nephew's protestations by setting about him with a home-made cosh. "Basil was a brat," says Helen. "There are no two ways about it. He was an only child and, since his father's death, he'd been indulged by his mother, his grandparents.... everyone. For some reason a myth persists that he was precociously gifted but there's no evidence to support it whatsoever."
The situation would have become unmanageable were it not for an affinity developing between Basil and Holloway's daughter Eleanor. "She was two years younger than him," says Helen, "but certainly more sensible. Their friendship might have been the making of him, unfortunately, he fell in love with her." With an unerring instinct for an inappropriate gesture, Basil decided to declare himself at Eleanor's eighteenth birthday party: Arriving drunk, he pulled a sheaf of papers from his pocket and, after demanding silence, recited the first seven stanzas of a poem he had written in her honour. "I can hardly imagine how embarrassing it must have been," says Helen. "Honestly, it doesn't bear thinking about. After sitting through several stanzas of escalating intensity, Eleanor, covering her face with her hands, succumbed to a nervous compulsion to giggle. "At first, Basil thought she'd been moved to tears. Then he realised she was laughing - that everyone was laughing - by all accounts, he just froze - It must have been terrible. Eventually someone, I think it was a waiter, in fact, took him by the shoulder and, not unkindly, led him to the door."
Dr Holloway found Basil a position in Maine where he sulked for the next four years. "He's supposed to have worked as a journalist," says Helen, "but I can't find a single piece of evidence to back that up. As far as I can tell, he lived on hand-outs from his mother's family and - surprise, surprise - his step-father. Basil had no compunction about accepting the charity of people he detested." Helen isn't being entirely fair: throughout this period, Basil was fairly prolific, though his output seems to have been restricted to letters sent to New York newspapers excoriating Dr Holloway (of which he wrote several hundred) and meandering poems reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe. The occasional impenetrability of the latter might be attributed to the opiate based medicines he took to ease severe stomach pains.
In January, 1900, Caroline Holloway died after a short illness. Basil, convinced that his mother's death would remove any impediment to his marriage to Eleanor, returned to New York in the highest of spirits. On the evening after his mother's funeral, he demanded an audience with Dr Holloway and requested permission to propose to Eleanor. "It's bad enough that, despite everything, he thought his affection might be reciprocated," says Helen, "But it seems inconceivable that he'd play the dutiful suitor for someone he'd libelled and flagrantly despised." Holloway, grief-stricken and possibly alarmed by irrefutable evidence of Basil's derangement, prevaricated, suggesting that Eleanor be given time to recover from her step-mother's death. Basil, mollified by an invitation to remain in the Holloway house, agreed to bide his time.
For the next month Basil lingered, apparently oblivious to the fact that Dr Holloway's staff, most of whom remembered the incident with the mutton pies, treated him with overt hostility. An already desperate situation was exacerbated by the attentions that Francis Middleton (familiarly known as Frank), a rising star in Tammany Hall, was also paying Eleanor. Middleton, whose cautious but earnest courtship had preceded Mrs Holloway's death by several months, had no idea that Basil's obvious affection was anything other than brotherly. Basil, for his part, considered Middleton, in his mid-thirties at the time, too old to be a suitor. Eleanor, with remarkable subtlety, supervised their encounters, anticipating and diverting potentially hazardous conversational paths. Initially, she was so successful that Basil and Middleton became friends: Middleton introduced Basil to contacts in the New York publishing world while Basil treated the older man with the benign condescension peculiar to the grandiloquently insane.
Revelation, of course, was inevitable. Eleanor, attending a political fundraiser with Frank, was appalled by the appearance of Basil. "Unbeknown to her, Frank had invited him," says Helen. "She must have known that this was an environment she couldn't control." Her alarm was almost immediately vindicated when Chester Broomfield, Middleton's aide, proposed a slightly suggestive toast to Eleanor and Frank. Basil, enraged by what he considered an unwarranted affront, punched Broomfield to the floor and dealt him several blows with his cane before being manhandled out of the hall. Surviving correspondence demonstrates Broomfield's determination to have Basil prosecuted: apart from being humiliated, he suffered a concussion and a perforated ear-drum in the course of the assault. Middleton, however, in a final attempt at conciliation, negotiated Basil's release from custody on the condition that he leave New York.
Expressing his intention of travelling to California, Basil, depressed and stricken by stomach pains, only made it as far as Willow Creek, Minnesota. For the next eighteen months, he boarded on South Street with a Mrs Rachel Geddes. "It seems to have been a very strange household," says Helen. "Rachel's daughter, Isobel, had killed her baby and was under some form of house-arrest." Perhaps as a consequence of this, Mrs Geddes' only other tenant was a young missionary called Edward Bennett who ministered to the ragged army of indigents who infested the surrounding forest. Basil, whose letters from the period betray a condescending but genuine fondness for Bennett, accompanied him on several of these potentially dangerous forays. The hair-raising narratives sent to Eleanor presents an occasionally moving account of a forgotten underclass. Unfortunately, Basil's descriptive talents are constantly undermined by a tendency to blow his own trumpet. Whether recounting the details of a conversation or a brawl, Basil is incapable of presenting a version of events in which he doesn't have the last word. His attempts to impress Eleanor can only have been undermined by his compulsive boastfulness.
In July, 1902, Frank and Eleanor, unexpectedly and without ceremony, married. Basil's response to the news can only be surmised, though in a letter to Eleanor (pointedly addressed to Eleanor Holloway) dated August the fourth, he alludes melodramatically to a suicide attempt. "There's a story that he cut off his ring finger and posted it to Eleanor," says Helen. "But I can't find a single reference to this in his correspondence." For the next six months, he dedicated his energies to an anti-Middleton campaign, sending a succession of increasingly demented libels to New York newspapers unsympathetic to the politician's liberal agenda. The modern reader can only be perplexed by the willingness of editors to publish Basil's obvious lies (in one letter Middleton is accused of rape, devil worship and mesmerism) and Middleton's apparent reluctance to respond. Most politicians will probably sympathise with his predicament: a dignified silence is often the only sensible counter to unwarranted criticism. Middleton, I suspect, was prepared to let Basil complete a portrait that reflected the nature of the artist rather than its subject. His reticence might have been effective were it not for a twist in the inexorably darkening farce.
On the evening of March 27th, two men of nondescript appearance were seen making their way down South Street and pausing outside the Geddes' boarding house. At approximately eight p.m. shots were reported and Sheriff Patrick Roberts, accompanied by a group of Mrs Geddes' neighbours entered the house. Mrs Geddes and Edward Bennett were found murdered: Mrs Geddes on the upstairs landing, Bennett in his room. Both had been shot in the head. Isobel Geddes was found hiding in wardrobe - uninjured but witless with terror, she was to spend the rest of her life in an asylum. Of the house's occupants, only Basil was absent - he had spent the evening in a tavern, returning as the bodies were being removed. A posse was quickly formed and sent in pursit of the two men spotted earlier - while various suspicious characters were seized on the periphery of the forest and dragged back to Willow Creek for interrogation, all were released. Matthew Cullen, the father of Isobel's strangled baby, was also questioned, but established an alibi for the duration of the evening.
Nobody in the Middletons' circle was surprised by Basil's response to the tragedy. In a letter sent to the editor of every newspaper in New York, he claimed that he had been the target of assassins' hired by Middleton. A total absence of evidence didn't prevent nearly half of the letter's recipients from publishing it in its entirety. Speculation intensified with claims of a furious row between Middleton and his long time aide, Chester Broomfield, from which Broomfield reportedly emerged with a bloodied nose and swollen eye. Less than a week later, Middleton, announcing the birth of his first son, Francis Jr, confirmed that Broomfield had resigned. Uncharacteristically tongue tied, he failed to adequately explain his aide's departure, irritably grabbing one persistent questioner by the lapel, a display of temper he later dismissed as "horse-play". As his sangfroid disintegrated, his resilience was further tested by the sudden death by heart failure of his father-in-law, John Holloway, and, worst of all, Basil's return to New York.
For most of us, the potentially violent antagonist remains confined to the ungoverned realms of childhood and adolescence. Middleton, blessed with a genuinely affable nature, was accustomed to civility, if not deference. He now found himself pursued by an adversary whose nature was unconstrained by the dictates of fear and reason. Taking a room less than a minute's walk from the Middletons' apartment, Basil dedicated himself to a relentless campaign of persecution. "Within forty eight hours of returning to New York, he'd nailed a copy of the Code Duello to the Middletons' door," says Helen. "When Frank refused to fight, he threatened him with a dog-whip.Frank was a nice man, but he was conceited. He thought that he could reason with Basil and make him like him. By the time he realised what he was dealing with, it was too late Basil hounded him. He followed him into restaurants, he waited outside his club. Where-ever Frank turned, he was there."
Incredibly, Basil was allowed to persist in his menaces. Bumptious and absurd, he played to an audience eager to side with an outsider taking on the establishment. "He was a buffoon," says Helen, "but it didn't make him any less volatile. Frank should have called the police, but he didn't want to look any more ridiculous." Paralysed by uncertainty, Middleton's prevarication lent credibility to a growing consensus that the allegations against him must have a basis in fact. Formerly a confident and prolific speaker, he developed a stammer and withdrew from public life. The brief respite earned by his apparent capitulation ended when the body of Chester Broomfield was fished out of the Hudson. Within twenty four hours Thomas Ellington, a former friend (and possibly lover) of Broomfield's approached John Nicholl of the New York Post. Broomfield, he claimed, had confessed to contracting the assassins responsible for the Willow Creek murders. That Ellington was known to the police as a blackmailer and a fence was dismissed as a quibble. In the public consciousness, Middleton's transformation was complete.
On the evening of November the Twelfth, 1907, Frank Middleton, seconded by Henry Smallwood, an old school friend, met Basil Culshaw in Central Park. Basil, typically, had fallen out with his second en route and left him in a bar. "We offered to postpone the duel until he could find a more reliable second," wrote Smallwood years later, "but having inspected the weapons, he was happy to continue. Apart from the absence of Culshaw's second, the duel was conducted according to the Code Duello. The combatants stood twenty feet apart and fired simultaneously. Culshaw fired his bullet into the ground - I'm not sure whether by accident or design - but Frank's found its target. He must have died instantly. As I examined the body for signs of life, I heard Frank say something - I think it was 'Sorry, Henry' - as I turned round, he pressed his pistol against his temple and put a bullet in his brains."
In 1917, Robert Carr, a twenty seven year old transient sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of a barman, confessed to seven other murders, including the shootings in Willow Creek. "The old man was meant to keep money stashed under his quilt," he explained, prompting speculation that he and his accomplice (a fellow drifter he remembered only as 'Herman') had blundered into the wrong house. "I wouldn't have shot no-one," he insisted, "only the preacher boy recognised us." Asked to comment on her husband's exoneration, Eleanor Middleton expressed concern for Carr, remarking that, "Nobody ever benefited from an execution." The journalist to whom she spoke concluded that she had been "deranged by an insuperable grief."
10/12/09 As many readers are probably aware, I (sporadically) post on both MySpace and Live Journal. This week, however, I was intrigued to learn that somebody has taken the trouble to copy and paste significant chunks from my archive onto a blog entitled 'Disturbing Thoughts'. Spencer, always eager to anticipate the worst possible scenario, particularly where my well-being is concerned, gleefully predicted that I've attracted the attentions of a "bona fide nut-job". He proceeded to improvise a bleak fantasy in which my protege, summoned to Drumfeld by a subliminal message contained within one of my (discontinued) motivational cassettes, eviscerated me with a scythe. While I'm, naturally, concerned that someone might be presenting my life and work as his (or her) own, this seems an over-reaction. On the whole, I'm quite flattered by the considerable time and effort expended by the 'author' in transferring material from my blogs onto his . I'd be grateful, though, if, for the benefit of casual browsers, he'd clarify for that some of the less elevated preoccupations evident elsewhere on his page are neither shared nor endorsed by Hamilton Coe.
1/12/09 Marilyn Manson, then known by his given name, Brian Warner, first came to prominence as a teenager in his home town of Canton, Ohio. When his high school, Glen Oaks, launched a radio station, Warner, who had previously worked on the school newspaper, was invited to host the lunch-time show, 'What's Happening, Canton?' "I knew Brian from church youth groups," recalls high school contemporary Tracy Ebert. "He was incredibly po-faced but essentially harmless. Given the choice, you probably wouldn't have wanted to listen to him but, at that time, I don't think anyone found him especially objectionable. Nobody wanted to punch him or anything." Ensconced in his basement studio, Brian spent his lunch-hours warning his fellow students against the consequences of glue sniffing or skate-boarding down the corridors. "He had all of these catch-phrases," remembers Tracy fondly. "He'd always say, 'You know folks, that's not a rule someone's just made up to annoy you - if you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense!' It got that most of the kids could anticipate what he was going to say and finish his sentences for him. They'd shout back at him or throw things at the speakers. He wasn't exactly hated at that point, though. I think most of us kind of liked him, really. That was before Michelle Studmeyer got involved and ruined everything. She was his Yoko."
Michelle's initial contribution to the radio show, a semi-improvised horoscope, was abandoned after three weeks. "It was full of right-on stuff about self-empowerment," recalls Tracy. "Like, 'Leo, today you conquer your inhibitions' or 'Sagittarius, how can you expect to be loved when you refuse to love yourself?' It was actually kind of creepy and hateful." The slot was cancelled after pressure from the school's Aquarians who had noticed that premonitions for their sign were invariably baleful. "Every day it was, like, 'Aquarius, why do you keep ignoring the voice of your conscience?' Everyone else was beautiful but Aquarians had to take a long, hard look at themselves." Responding to complaints, Michelle apologised for an "unintentional bias" tearfully acknowledging that "someone has hurt me very badly". This was assumed to be a reference to (Aquarian) ex-boyfriend Terry Hibbert, who cheerfully admitted responsibility for breaking Michelle's heart, adding in mitigation that "she's a fruitcake". The daily horoscope was jettisoned, but Michelle lingered.
Surviving tapes of the show provide an emphatic, if indistinct, record of Michelle's escalating influence on proceedings. Her initial interventions are hesitant: "Do you mind if I add something here, Brian?" she asks on an early recording as Brian, somewhat awkwardly, alludes to the short skirts favoured by prominent female clique. "Shelley Robson's a lovely girl and, personally, I think it's terribly sad that she feels she has to flaunt herself." Weeks later, she interrupts an admonishment against rowdy behaviour in the male toilets to fume, "When Mike Fischer sticks someone's head down a toilet, it reflects badly on the entire school community." After a crackling pause, Brian adds, "Well, Mike Fischer can consider himself named and shamed," the first use of the phrase with which Marilyn Manson is still primarily associated in Canton. Over the course of one surviving episode, he uses it on twenty seven separate occasions. "I'm afraid some characters will never learn," he starts with sombre relish, the falteringly pedantic delivery of earlier shows replaced by a grim self-assurance, "so they'll just have to be named and shamed." He then proceeds through a list of scofflaws and details of their offences - ranging from reckless skate-boarding to subjecting his grand-mother to prank phone calls - while Michelle eggs him on in the background, her voice occasionally rising to a squawk of indignation
"It was classic case of folie a deux," recalls Tracy. "Without Michelle's encouragement, Brian would have just bumbled on endearingly. Unfortunately, he became a monster. I actually tried to warn him, but he named and shamed me. Honestly, he was hated. Kids would be pounding on the door of the studio, looking to lynch him - the police were called more than once - but he kept right on talking." Matters came to a head over the course of a momentous week in April, 1986. On the Sunday morning, Michelle, an avidly proselytising vegetarian, woke up to find her front porch spattered with what police later identified as animal viscera. "It was like Altamont," she wailed the next day on a show dominated by the attack. Tuesday's show was similarly themed, though Brian briefly digressed to name and shame a school caretaker Michelle had spotted leafing through top-shelf magazines in a 7-11 ("and what I want to know, Brian, is how I'm supposed to feel if I see Eric looking at me"). Glen Oaks principal, Michael Stone, later conceded that, had it not been for the "meat incident" he would have taken them both off the air immediately. Instead he demanded that they broadcast an unequivocal retraction and, for future shows, specifically forbade any combination of the words 'name' and 'shame' in the same sentence. His half-hearted intervention came too late: on Wednesday, making his way home, possibly still brooding over the mortification of having to deliver an on-air apology, Brian was seized by two men and bundled into the boot of a car.
"An elderly woman witnessed the abduction from her apartment window and called the police immediately," recalls Lawrence Stokes of the Canton Police Department. "Unfortunately, she struggled to provide a description of either of the men or their vehicle." Over the course of the next week, seventeen individuals including Terry Hibbert, Eric Ross, the pornography browsing caretaker, and, intriguingly, Michelle's father, Roger Studmeyer, were questioned in relation to Brian's disappearance. Speculation about Mr Studmeyer's involvement intensified when officers emerged from a routine search of his house with firearms, a computer and eight large boxes. "When a child goes missing you have to pursue every lead," explains Stokes. "We had it on pretty good authority that Roger Studmeyer wasn't especially thrilled about Brian's interest in his daughter.We also had to examine the possibility that Brian might have been involved in the desecration of the Studmeyer porch." Studmeyer, a high school counsellor, was sufficiently concerned by gossip associating him with Brian's abduction to write to the Canton Repository categorically denying any involvement. Tellingly, though, asked by a Repository reporter to provide an assessment of Brian's character, he replied with a terse "no comment".
Officers working on the case were almost unanimously of the opinion that Brian's disappearance was linked to his relationship with Michelle. "I went through Brian's journals," says Stokes, "and it was evident that he was besotted with her. It might be overstating things to say that he was stalking her but he was certainly more aware of what she was doing than she probably appreciated." Most pertinently, Brian knew that she had secretly resumed her 'friendship' with Terry Hibbert. "He was beside himself." say Stokes who remains convinced that Brian was responsible for the attack on the Studmeyer porch. "On Saturday afternoon, he actually disguised himself in a trench-coat and a fedora and followed Michelle and Terry around the state fair - it's in his journal - when they went onto the Love Train, he was sitting in the carriage behind them. It's like something out of Hitchcock. Hours later, after he's had time to mull things over, her porch is covered in entrails. I'm sorry: this isn't fiction and, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when a guy wakes up next to a corpse with a smoking gun in his hand, there's no twist in the tale - he's the killer." *
On the second Sunday after Brian's abduction, his parents' church hosted a vigil at which friends could pray for his safe return. "It was surprisingly well attended," says Tracy Ebert. "When something bad happens to someone, no-one likes to acknowledge the fact that they couldn't stand him. If anything, I think everyone over-compensated: it was an exercise in hypocrisy, really, but it was nice for his parents." Only Michelle deviated from the spirit of the occasion, appearing arm in arm with Terry Hibbert. "It was incredibly tactless," remembers Tracy. "I mean, Michelle ticked all the boxes - she lit a candle, she stared at Brian's picture, she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief - but she might as well have brought a monkey with her. Terry Hibbert just didn't know how to conduct himself. He still doesn't, to tell you the truth. Remember, this is someone who once threw eggs at a wedding party. He exchanged high fives with his buddies, he cracked jokes. He actually caressed Michelle's ass while she was trying to talk to Brian's mother. It was excruciating."
The Canton Police Department, meanwhile, had been inundated with reported sightings of Brian. "It goes with the territory," says Lawrence Stokes. "Any cop will tell you that there's direct correlation between one person going missing and a dozen nuts popping up to tell you they've seen him. For whatever reason, the Warner abduction attracted an inordinate level of interest. Of course, you have to follow every lead." Stokes was particularly irritated by the persistent calls of a local woman, Barbara Wallace, who claimed that Brian had appeared to her in dreams. "She was a crackpot, but we had to indulge her because she'd managed to insinuate herself with Brian's parents. Whenever we went to the Warner house, she'd be there with her sketch-pad and dream journal." At Wallace's prompting, officers returned to the Studmeyer house and partially excavated the basement. Roger Studmeyer, dismayed by the renewed speculation, suffered a mild heart attack while remonstrating with a Repository photographer who had followed him to work. Happily, his ordeal by suspicion was soon to end. The next day, three weeks to the day after his abduction, Brian re-appeared.
John and Shelley Palmer, walking their mastiff, Tess, in the woodland that skirts the northern periphery of Canton, were surprised by a the appearance of a face peering at them from the undergrowth. "What a fright he gave us!" remembers Shelley. "I can't really explain it, but there was something unnatural about his appearance. Normally, Tess was the most placid of dogs, but she didn't know what to do with herself. First she growled, then she whimpered and finally she just turned tail." The Palmers, who recognised Brian from photographs in the Repository, alerted nearby park rangers who spent the better part of an hour trying to coax him into the open. "He threw sticks at them, he bit them.... He was pretty much feral," says Shelley who watched the pursuit from a safe distance. "Eventually, they dragged him out of a tree and bundled him into a net."
Malnourished and completely shaved, Brian was otherwise physically unharmed. The only blemish on his body was the letter 'M' tattooed onto his left shoulder blade. The psychological damage, however, was immediately evident. "He couldn't speak," recalls Stokes, "and, what's more, he didn't seem to understand what we were saying to him." For the next six months, he underwent extensive therapy in Madison House, a Maryland institution that specialises in the care of traumatised children. "After a month or so, he started talking again," says Stokes, "but we never got anything out him. I wouldn't say he was unco-operative, but I always got the impression that he remembered more than he was letting on." Brian, recovering steadily, spent the latter part of his stay in Madison House helping in the kitchen and working on a mural that remains on the wall of the facility's east wing. He might have been remembered as a model patient were it not for the occasions on which he was observed slyly goading some of the younger children on his ward. "He was pleasant enough when there were adults in the vicinity," says Stokes, "if anything a bit too pleasant - but, for whatever reason the staff were wary of leaving him alone with the other kids." This trait, inconceivable to any of Brian's lunch-time listeners, might have accounted for the discharge the senior Warners and his frequent visitors from the Canon Police Department all considered premature.
"Brian once asked me to a Laurel and Hardy movie," says Tracy Ebert. "It was a year or so before he went missing. Marilyn Manson fans might find it hard to believe, but he was crazy about them. He used to go to conventions all over the state with his grandfather. I turned up with my friend Karen Shaw and he was there with all of these old guys in these little red hats, you know, fezes. Karen was beside herself, she was like, 'Oh, God, Brian Warner's a Shriner.' She could hardly stand for laughing. I mean, I was laughing, too. I couldn't help myself. They all started singing this goofy song and Brian looked as if he wanted the ground to swallow him up. We had to leave: it was terrible. If I close my eyes, I can still see him, looking sadly after us. That's the way I remember Brian. I don't know what happened to him, but he changed. After he got back, I used to see him flapping through the mall in his black coat and these enormous boots. I'd say 'hi' to him, but he'd just look through me. It was strange. I don't think he was snubbing me, exactly. I honestly don't think he even knew who I was."
* Tracy Ebert insists that Stokes is mistaken. "A lot of people know who dumped meat on Michelle's porch. I'm not saying anymore but I can assure you, it certainly wasn't Brian Warner."
25/709 On the 12th of November, 2004, an awards ceremony hosted by the Scottish Labour Party at Edinburgh's Prestonfield House Hotel was rather spoiled by an act of wilful fire-raising. At approximately two a.m. an alarm was raised that curtains in the hotel's reception area had been set alight. As staff members extinguished the flames, they were alerted to an identical offence in a lounge known as the Yellow Room. Fortunately, this was also dealt with before it blossomed into an inferno. The arsonist, however, made good his escape, stepping into the chill of the Edinburgh evening amidst the throng of departing guests.
The next day, the front pages of Scottish newspapers were dominated by a ghostly image captured by the hotel's internal security cameras. The kilted man responsible for the fire-raising appeared in a succession of pictures. In the first, crouching at the foot of the curtains, in the second, walking quickly away from the nascent conflagration and in the third (and perhaps most sinister) returning moments later to check on its progress. As the picture quality was poor and male guests were almost uniformly clad in formal Highland attire, it was impossible to positively identify the figure. One improbable suspect, however, was already the subject of dark speculation by staff and fellow guests.
As he came to on the morning of November the 13th, one can only surmise as to how much Michael Watson, or, to give him his full title, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, recalled of the previous night. By all accounts, he had behaved churlishly from the evening's outset, his escalating belligerence finally causing bar staff to refuse to serve him any more alcohol. I've seen my brother subjected to a similar snub on more occasions that I care to mention. The difference between Lord Watson and Spencer, it goes without saying, is that my brother is accustomed to being the cause of irritation and disappointment. Their response to rejection in this case, I suspect, was similar: a chaotic succession of emotions encompassing embarrassment, indignation and excruciating shame. The last of these was in all likelihood pre-dominant as Watson, chastened and hungover, struggled to reconstruct fragments of recollection into a coherent whole. "I'm sure there was something else ," he might have muttered to himself, cringing from the insinuating shadows clustered around the periphery of his consciousness, still oblivious to the full horror that awaited him on the front page of his newspaper.
"A moment of madness" is often cited in instances of inconceivable folly. In Michael Watson's case, this seems completely inadequate. His years of public service instantaneously forgotten, he was reborn in the public consciousness as a skulking, nebulous figure, casting a backward glance toward his potentially murderous handiwork. For months he protested his innocence until, overwhelmed by the evidence against him, he changed his plea midway through his trial in order to negotiate a reduced sentence of sixteen months, of which he served eight. He has subsequently returned to the House of Lords,but his contributions have, understandably, been minimal.
24/7/09 It would be an overstatement to suggest that poltergeist activity has become a significant on-line menace. Most social-networking sites and independent safety watch-dogs are, quite rightly, preoccupied with the dangers presented by sexual predators, con-men and bullies. It's interesting, though, that in the wake of the Caroline Haan affair described in my last post, administrators of both Facebook and MySpace confessed to having consulted exorcists (though I'm not sure if the ritual was actually performed or, indeed, how .) Nearly every aspect of the Haan phenomena, of course, might be attributed to pranksters. While decent people find it inconceivable that anyone would assume the identity of a recently deceased friend with no purpose other than to frighten mutual acquaintances, the seasoned investigator recognises that human malignancy is often most pronounced in trivial endeavours. I've not entirely abandoned my initial suspicion that human agents were responsible, but various factors continue to confound me. The inability to trace the source of Haan's messages is the most significant of these but equally troubling is the gradual decomposition apparent in her icon pictures and the co-incidental misfortunes endured by those 'befriended' by her.
Astonishingly, the most worthwhile study into haunted websites has been conducted by 'celebrity' psychic, Ronald Hawthorne. As regular readers might recall, I've little time for Hawthorne's antics. Banished from the salons of Mayfair after being identified as a persistent source of gossip column fodder, he was reduced to trawling crime scenes, a vocation for which he had neither the sight nor the stomach . His technique never varied. On arrival, having attracted sufficient attention, he would sink to his knees, never missing his strategically placed towel, clutch his temples and softly gibber while his 'personal physician' took notes. These performances invariably conluded with Hawthorne, completely overwhelmed, screaming and gnawing on his trademark beret. Eventually rendered housebound by the accumulative effects of trauma and disgrace, he devoted himself to the investigation that might yet rescue his reputation from the peculiarly British purgatory reserved for spivs and poltroons.
Hawthorne identified seven hundred and fifty six instances of what he referred to as "inexplicable phenomena", mainly websites or messages without a logical source. He considered fifty seven of these "potentially harmful" and twenty-three "unequivocally malign". Of the latter, he was particularly concerned by the circulation of an unidentified picture unsuspecting recipients of which, he feared, "are in grave danger." Several paintings exist with evil reputations, but I have a hunch that he's referring to Oswald Perrin's 'Hilary'. It's unfashionable to advocate the destruction of art-works, but nothing produced in a malevolent spirit can do anything other than replicate that ill-feeling in others. Perrin's apparently unremarkable portrait of his sister has been associated with illness, suicide and murder. One former owner reportedly suffered a seizure after the subject of the picture suddenly raised her head and stepped toward him. Others claim that Perrin himself lurks somewhere in the painting's periphery. The original was destroyed in a house fire in Dublin in 1970 and, while prints are rare, I know of several that remain in circulation. Without wishing to cause undue panic, I'd strongly recommend that anyone receive such a picture (or, indeed, anything else that causes them instinctive unease) delete it immediately.
23/7/09 Facebook, as most readers are surely aware, is a social networking site through which subscribers can keep tabs on the activities of acquaintances whose actual presence would cause them to feign serious illness or run into traffic. Friends of Caroline Haan were alarmed by the regularity with which she continued to apprise them of her moods and interests for months after her death. Her refusal to conform to Facebook's unyielding stance on posthumous postings eventually caused site administrators to cancel her account. Undeterred, she continues to circulate under a variety of pseudonyms, all linked by the same untraceable IP address. She also maintains a presence on both Bebo and MySpace where her Blake's Seven fan page enjoys an appreciative audience. An urban myth has evolved that anyone 'befriended' by Caroline will die within a month but the, admittedly high, mortality rate of her subscribers might be attributed to any number of factors.
21/7/09 Some might consider it prissy, but it's been my lifelong habit to retreat to a toilet or, at the very least, leave the room before breaking wind. My sense of humour is robust but, frankly, I would as soon expose myself as playfully subject my company to my feculence. Christine and Spencer attribute my fastidiousness to the influence of our Grandfather Sneddon (as, indeed, they do many of my personality traits they consider peculiar.) Certainly, with the benefit of hindsight, Grandpa's aversion to flatulence seems indicative of what what Muriel knowingly refers to as ' issues '. The mildest of whiffs was sufficient to trigger an instantaneous transformation from jollity to nostril-flaring rage. At my fifth birthday party, having identified a bewildered Billy Ure as the source of an insidiously pungent odour, he threatened to confine him within my sister's rabbits' hutch reasoning that, "if he wants to act like an animal, he'll be treated like one." Only my mother's intervention prevented Grandpa from making good his threat. The image of Billy's tear stained face, plaintively protesting his innocence still hovers around the periphery of my conscience. More than thirty years on, I blush to acknowledge responsibility for the impropriety. An analyst might argue that repressed guilt has contributed to my own subsequent attitudes: having spent a lifetime examining humanity at its most egregious, I still wince before even typing the word " fart ".
The latter part of Grandpa's life was beset by various health problems. My sister frequently attributes the mild intestinal disorder that left him at the mercy of involuntary lapses to 'poetic justice'. His unfailing response to this recurring mortification was to excuse himself from the company and, at the first opportunity send a written apology to his hosts. It should be noted that these displays of self-abasement often provoked more concern than the original offence. Unless the circumstances are particularly inappropriate, etiquette demands nothing more than an acknowledgement and sincere verbal apology.
20/7/09 Early in our acquaintance, I injudiciously mentioned to Rob McCaskill that, as an occasional childhood treat, my grandfather had taken me to Ibrox Park to watch Rangers. Rob, determined to engage me in 'banter', seized on this with the hopeless tenacity of a senile dog gnawing a discarded slipper it imagines to be a bone. “Not such a great weekend for the Gers, H,” he'd crow if Rangers had been beaten while their successes prompted a request that I refrain from “any of that sectarian nonsense* or you'll have Big Malky** to answer to.” With hindsight, it might have been better to stick to my guns but it was easier to continue to respond to Rangers' triumphs and failures with muted pantomimes of jubilation and dismay. The charade came to an abrupt and mortifying end when special guest, Dr Bluenose, smirkingly introduced by Rob an “expert on alcohol related offences” turned out to be former Rangers player, Andy Goram. “It's the bloody Goalie, Hamilton!” shouted Rob when it became apparent, even to him, that my confusion was genuine. “But he doesn't know what he's talking about,” I hissed, as bewildered by our guest's meaningless nickname as I had been by his ignorance of his purported realm of expertise.
“Even I know who Andy Goram is,” said Christine later as she drove me home. “What on earth made you pretend to be such a big Rangers fan in the first place?” The honest response, that I was trying to be polite, seemed woefully inadequate. “It's not as if I perjured myself,” I protested. “I'm not a bigamist!” Nonetheless, I was stricken by the knowledge that I'd compromised my credibility in a pointlessly shabby deceit. The extent to which my standing had been damaged became apparent the next Saturday at Radio Tay's annual charity picnic. Sitting down at a trestle table, I was increasingly discomfited as one by one, my colleagues glanced in my direction, quickly walked on and sat at the next available table. “Why is Hamilton sitting on his own?” asked Dr Henry, the station's resident medical expert, one of the last to join the happy throng. “Because,” came back the horribly distinct reply, “Hamilton sat down first!” Feeling my face redden, I turned away and affected absorption in an impromptu football match, punctuating proceedings with perfunctory shouts of encouragement while listening out for further insults from the ‘popular' table. “Come on Rangers!” shouted Rob, before adding helpfully, “They're the ones in blue, Hamilton.” As I turned to acknowledge his lame jibe, the ball hit me on the side of the head, knocking me clean off my seat.
As any semi-competent medic will confirm, a head wound should be attended to immediately. That I was left stricken on the soggy grass for two hours is an indictment against Radio Tay and, in particular, Dr Henry who, according to video evidence, was content to sip Pimm's while I lay motionless less than ten feet away. I was eventually roused by the violent intrusion of nicotine flavoured fingers into my mouth. “His airwaves might be blocked,” rasped a voice, soggy with intoxication. Opening my eyes, I was confronted by a bearded face hovering inches from my own. “Don't worry,” he slurred as I struggled to repel him. “I'm a qualified first aider!” Ignoring the hoots of derision, I called Christine who drove me to the outpatients' department of Perth General where I was thoroughly examined by Doctor Euan Spowart and prescribed a course of Anadin Extra before being dismissed with the stern proviso that I “come back immediately if you feel dizzy or nauseous.”
* For most contemporary Britons, virulent Christian sectarianism of the type endemic in the immediate wake of mass Irish immigration, is now as relevant as a terror of witches. Londoners, Liverpudlians or Mancunians would regard a violent preoccupation with the Battle of the Boyne or the iniquities of the Black and Tans as evidence of mental derangement. That such attitudes continue to thrive in the west of Scotland can be attributed entirely to the connivance of the country's most prominent sporting institutions, Rangers and Celtic football clubs.
**Rob, whose knowledge of psychopathology has been gleaned in its entirety from Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus books, was woefully ill-suited to the role of Crime Time host from the outset. An honest and diligent journalist would have acknowledged being out of his depth: “Look here, Hamilton. I've no idea how I'm going to muddle through here, but I'd really appreciate your help.” Instead, he retreated behind the haphazardly contrived ‘bampot' persona with which, over the course of three months deputising for the convalescent Peter MacFarlane, he'd successfully alienated 20% of Radio Tay's breakfast show listeners. Reluctant to accept the overwhelming evidence that his favourite alter egos, Big Malky, a Glaswegian hard-case and Aggie MacAnespie, an incontinent cleaner, had already prompted an actual boycott , he allowed them free rein to disrupt my carefully prepared lectures, occasionally interjecting as ‘Rob', the voice of reason, struggling gamely to maintain order. The reader, I'm sure, can appreciate impossibility of discussing Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy while Rob, his face puce and voice rising to squawk of indignation leaned over me to chastise Aggie for what he invariably referred to as a “ disgusting abandonment of protocol”.
18/7/09 In 1916, W.B. Yeats, having been rejected by Maud Gonne and her daughter Iseult*, proposed to Bertha Hyde-Lees (familiarly known as Georgie). If Yeats was hoping that one or other of the Gonnes, dismayed by the prospect of his imminent unavailability, would finally surrender to his advances, he was to be disappointed. If anything, both seemed relieved by the transfer of his affections. Worse still, Georgie unexpectedly accepted his proposal with the consequence that within months the poet, chagrined and bewildered, found himself honeymooning with a woman whose very presence was a source of irritation. Having already used Georgie shabbily, Yeats, whose advanced years came without the compensation of sensitivity or experience, had little compunction about confessing the cause of his unhappiness. Understandably bemused by developments, Georgie struggled to compose her thoughts by writing them down. Distracted by Yeats's self absorbed interruptions, it suddenly occurred to her that, while she continued to write, the words no longer came of her own volition - she was merely a conduit for some other source of inspiration. Pointing out to her husband the vaguely promising sentiments " With the bird all is well at heart " and " You will neither regret nor repine " she triggered an obsession that would dominate the rest of their lives.
The sceptical reader might find it inconceivable that a fifty one year old man would attach cosmic significance to his wife's scribbled response to crisis. Certainly Yeats, having shattered the mood of the honeymoon might have felt obliged to retrieve the situation by encouraging Georgie's new interest. It should be remembered, though, that throughout his life, his habitual response to a fat headed notion was to lend it his whole hearted approval. Whether as a teenage theosophist or elderly fascist, he evinced an almost heroic indifference to the suggestion that he might be making a fool of himself. There seems no reason to doubt that he was similarly galvanised by this new enthusiasm. Misgivings forgotten, he spent the remainder of their honeymoon badgering Georgie into increasingly intensive periods of communication with her spirit guides. A more worldly individual might have been alerted by the constancy with which they took her side. They chided him relentlessly for his insensitivity, criticised his sexual technique and only stopped short of materialising on Georgie's hands like glove puppets and belabouring him with blows. Meekly, he accepted every admonishment and remained in thrall to his wife's unexpected genius. By the time they returned home she had filled ninety three pages. Hundreds more would follow, their observations informing Yeats's 'Vision' and prompting the productivity that continued through the latter part of his career.
Whether one regards the Yeatses as recipients of secret information or participants in mutual folly, it's evident that neither was harmed by the project. Their apparent successes notwithstanding, I'd implore anyone determined to experiment with Automatic Writing to proceed with caution. As is the case with any system in which a spirit is invited to impart information, it's often impossible to determine whether the driving force is an external influence or a repressed facet of the subject's own unconscious. Nonetheless, experiments should only be conducted in environments in which the author (or conduit) feels entirely comfortable while the hyper-sensitive would be well advised to abstain from the practise entirely.
The experience of Canadian poet Barry Gulliver should serve as a deterrent to the curious. Barry had no particular interest in automatic writing. His first half-hearted experiment, conducted after consuming two bottles of red wine, represented nothing so much as an attempt to kill time as he waited to fall asleep. Looking over his notes the next morning, he was astonished to find seven pages covered in a barely decipherable scrawl bearing not even the slightest resemblance to his own handwriting. "Midnight in the City of Angels," started the first page causing Barry to momentarily wonder if he was in receipt of some apocalyptic prophecy. The next few lines were illegible but the final sentence of the first paragraph - "It was quiet.... TOO QUIET!!!" - reinforced his sense of foreboding. This turned to bewilderment, disappointment and finally self-reproach as, over the following pages, a story emerged in which the narrator (identified only as 'Steve') became embroiled with an undercover female detective (" A different type of detective !!!"), itinerant Shaolin monks and a drugs cartel. The final page concluded with him chained to a radiator stoically awaiting execution by a man with "the sort of face you only see in dreams... Bad dreams !!!!"
Having attributed the entire episode to over-work and intoxication, Barry was astonished when he woke up the next morning to find more of Steve's adventures scrawled across ten pages of his notepad. Rescued from certain death by the detective, Steve became embroiled in an apparently pointless car-chase which culminated in an explosion and a gratuitous sexual encounter with a glamorous but sassy librarian ( A different type of librarian !!!") The rest of Barry's day was wasted as he struggled to find some hidden meaning in the text: was it possible that Steve represented humanity or simply unexplored aspects of his own personality? It occurred to him that a message of genuine significance might be extricated from the intricate banalities of the plot. For hours he pondered the purpose of the monks and analysed Steve's leering asides but to no avail. If he was being tested with a code, it was beyond his powers of interpretation. " Who are you?" he eventually wrote but no direct response was forthcoming, merely a resumption of the increasingly hare-brained narrative.
Over the course of a month, 'Steve' filled seven narrow lined A4 work-pads. Worse still, his adventures started encroaching into Barry's other work, in particular a sympathetic reassessment of the dynamic between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Every morning, Barry scanned the manuscript for the inevitable profusion of exclamation marks and margin notes (" Cheryl Ladd ????") that indicated Steve's presence. Barry's intention of rescuing Hughes's reputation from feminist opprobrium was complicated by the appearance of a sub-plot in which the poet pursued a murderous vendetta against prostitutes. Sylvia, meanwhile, (" A different type of poet !!!!") joined forces with a wisecracking American detective determined to enlist her assistance in bringing 'The Hawk' to justice. Around this time, Barry's sleep was disrupted by vivid nightmares in which Ted Hughes, portrayed by the actor David Soul, stalked the Devon countryside clutching a claw-hammer. Visitors to his apartment remarked on an unusual chill while his girlfriend tentatively broached a "body odour issue" that she attributed to his fondness for vintage clothes.
Matters came to a head when Barry's girlfriend, spending the weekend at the apartment, was surprised in the shower by a bearded face peering at her through the partition. Barry, alerted by her scream, hurried to the bathroom where he was confronted by a fat, gnomish figure in a surf shirt. The apparition waved his hands frantically as if to semaphore innocence before dissolving into the steam. Previously loath to acknowledge Steve's existence lest it be attributed to a mental disorder, Barry now confided a full account of his ordeal. His girlfriend, a practising Catholic, flatly refused to remain in the apartment or, indeed, return until an exorcism had been performed. This proved effective, though, interestingly, Barry abandoned his defence of Ted Hughes and, finding himself utterly bereft of ideas, wrote nothing for months.
* Neither Gonne married happily. Maud's husband, John MacBride, was executed for his part in the Easter Uprising while Iseult was treated abominably by the deranged Irish novelist Francis Stuart.
12/7/09 In 1923, A.A. Milne wrote Vespers, a whimsical account of his infant son, Christopher Robin, at prayer. "Mr Milne crept in and watched for a few moments," remembered Christopher's nanny, presenting a slightly sinister picture of the doting father. "Then I heard him going away down the stairs chuckling as if he was very pleased about something." The poem, published later that year in Vanity Fair, was well received and Milne, determined to capitalise on its success, immediately started work on the poems that would appear in the volume When We Were Very Young.
It's fitting, perhaps, that the bulk of these poems were drafted over the course of an otherwise disastrous holiday at a country house in North Wales. Bad weather kept the Milnes confined to the house and Milne, whose manner could be prissy and superior, managed to antagonise their fellow guests. Even the butler made a point of serving him last at every meal. When the family eventually left, their car was surrounded by a happy throng eager to herald their departure with a chant of "The Milnes are leaving, Hurray! Hurray!' This memory must have remained with Christopher Robin, though any lasting psychological damage inflicted was to be overshadowed by the creative fruits of the hours his father spent skulking in his room.
When We Were Very Young was published in 1924 and rapidly followed by Winnie the Pooh , Now We Are Six , and The House on Pooh Corner . In 1934, Christopher Robin was listed by Parents' Magazine as one of the most famous children in the world - the others were Yehudi Menuhin, Jackie Coogan, Crown Prince Michael of Rumania and the then Princess Elizabeth. The ramifications of his celebrity from which he'd hitherto been sheltered were now fully apparent. His schoolmates tormented him by mimicking his stammer and endlessly replaying a gramophone recording of him reciting Vespers with its refrain "Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! Christopher Robin is saying his prayers!" (They eventually relented and allowed him to smash it to pieces. Years later, his cousin Angela allowed her children to use her copy of the record for target practise.)
It hardly seems conceivable that Milne could have remained oblivious to the psychological land-mines he was blithely planting in his son's path. Nothing in his writing or correspondence betrays the slighted concern that Christopher might be overwhelmed by his alter-ego. In 1931, he told an interviewer, "If I make a success of Christopher Robin as a person, I will consider it my greatest creative work." Twenty years later, as he recuperated from a serious operation, he read a Sunday Dispatch interview in which Christopher was quoted as saying, "Ever since I was quite a small boy, I have always hated being Christopher Robin." The remainder of Milne's life was overshadowed by illness and heartache. He died on the 31st of January, 1956. Christopher Robin appalled his mother by attending the memorial service in a shabby rain-coat. Later she instructed that a sculpture of her son's head be buried in order that she never have to see it again.
11/7/09 In 1698, Peter the Great returned from his first visit to Western Europe intent on modernising Russia. His reforming zeal became apparent almost immediately as officials and boyars gathered to welcome him home were subjected to on the spot shaves. The twenty-first century reader might consider such behaviour inhospitable and eccentric. To seventeenth century Russians, most of whom had inherited the opinion of Ivan the Terrible that "to shave the beard is a sin that the blood of all the martyrs cannot cleanse", it was an inconceivable affront. Unmoved by his boyars' anguish, Peter persisted in his campaign against the hirsute, employing Ivan Turgenev, his court fool, as a barber and, on occasion, tugging off particularly intransigent beards with his own hands. Having exposed the hitherto hidden faces within the Kremlin, Peter imposed a general proscription excepting only peasants and clergy. This ban was eventually relaxed and a Beard Tax introduced with a scale of payment according to means. Merchants paid up to two hundred roubles for the bronze medallion that entitled the bearer to ape the appearance of his ancestors. Anyone flaunting an illicit beard lived in constant dread of discovery. Scofflaws had the unlicensed growth removed without benefit of emollients or even water, a painful and humiliating procedure invariably endured before a jeering mob.
It's easy to dismiss the zeal with which Peter conducted his campaign as evidence of eccentricity or prejudice. In 1682, when he was ten years old, he watched helplessly as the Streltsy (any one of whom might have doubled for St Nicholas) conducted a murderous rampage through the Kremlin. One might argue that the balance of his mind was disturbed by the experience, but it's worth noting that, nearly two hundred years after his death, the architects of Russia's destruction all sported some description of facial growth. A glance through my 'rogues' gallery', provides further evidence that Peter's instincts were sound. Throughout history, villains have attempted to conceal their true intentions behind what Fabrice Dupont referred to as "the mask of Cain". Even putting more serious delinquencies aside, whiskers frequently indicate sloth (determined by discoloration by food stains), vanity or furtiveness. (The presence of a beard, of course, might be attributed to some physical incapacity or harmless affectation, but only the most slap dash investigator will ignore the red flag presented by a naked chin accompanied by a moustache .)
As regular readers of this 'blog' are probably aware, my efforts to engage my niece, Muriel, invariably meet with hostility or indifference. Last Sunday, though, at my sister's regular Sunday gathering, she expressed a genuine interest in the life of Peter the Great. When she was six years old, Muriel watched from her bedroom window as Edwin Watson, an indigent befriended by her parents, danced around a bonfire constructed from a Goodwill Package comprising their own unwanted Christmas gifts. It might seem ludicrous to compare Watson's drunken antics to the depredations of the Streltsy, but, having been menaced by one bearded maniac, Muriel clearly felt a particular affinity to the boy confronted by thousands. Even Spencer, whose complexion betrayed a hangover of unusual toxicity, contributed to the conversation. His suggestion that facial hair be anathematised by a publicly funded advertising campaign met with with Muriel's approval, though I had to demur that civil libertarians would almost certainly object. Only my sister and her new 'friend' Fergus remained aloof from the cut and thrust of debate. Christine attempted to interrupt with various tedious digressions ("So, what about Andy Murray?") while Fergus affected preoccupation with his risotto before abruptly excusing himself to prepare coffee.
"Has it occurred to any of you," asked Christine before any of us could question the presumption with which Fergus assumed control of the kitchen, "that Fergus has a beard?"
I had to confess to surprise that anyone might refer to Fergus's carefully maintained stubble as a 'beard'. "What sort of detective are you? Of course it's a bloody beard ," hissed Christine, an assertion in which she was supported by both Muriel and Spencer, neither of whom seemed even remotely concerned that Fergus might have found the conversation offensive. At this stage, I belatedly identified a slyly goading aspect to Spencer's repeated references to the Yorkshire Ripper and the scornful emphasis Muriel lent the first syllable of the word 'beardie'. "It's not Hamilton's fault that Fergus looks like a paedo," she interjected now, an unexpected defence in which she was, astonishingly, joined by Spencer. "You should listen to what Hamilton's trying to tell you. He's spent his life peering into puddles of piss!" Naturally, I objected that I'd spent my life peering into the abyss and wasn't, in fact, trying to tell Christine anything. I also thought it judicious to caution Muriel against the use of the word 'paedo' to dismiss anyone of slovenly or unusual appearance. "Fergus is not slovenly," objected Christine, apparently oblivious to the fact that I was trying to protect him from the sort of aspersions that might attract the attention of self-righteous arsonists.
By the time Fergus returned with the coffee the mood was irretrievably soured. After five minutes of awkward silence, I thought it sensible to gnaw on the bone of contention. "Do you think you have a beard, Fergus?" I asked causing Christine to deal me a sharp kick to the shin and Spencer to regugitate a mouthful of coffee over the table-cloth. Fergus, compressing his lips into a prissy squiggle, shook his head slowly: I'm not sure if he was denying beard ownership or indicating that he considered the question unworthy of a response. His surly demeanour for the remainder of the afternoon suggests the latter. On reflection, aspects of the conversation probably were tactless but any insults Fergus might have imagined obliquely directed toward him (allusions to child abuse and serial murder aside) were relatively innocuous. Later, as Spencer and I shared a cafetiere, we agreed that a grown man should be better equipped for the rigours of family debate. "You've laughed off much worse," acknowledged Spencer with grudging admiration. As we basked in the evening sun, I dismissed Fergus's gloomy presence from the periphery of my conscience and savoured the moment of camaraderie he'd unwittingly inspired.
5/7/09 Seven clandestine societies operate within the rarefied confines of Yale University. The most notorious of these, the Skull and Bones, was established in 1832 by William H. Russell and numbers amongst its alumni some of the most prominent figures of the American establishment. Living members include both George W. Bush, his opponent in the 2004 presidential race, John Kerry, and comedian Ben Stiller. Comparisons to the mystical masonic sects of the 18th century and, in particular, the Bavarian Illuminists (or Illuminati) probably flatter the 'Bonesmen' whose initiation ceremonies blend the pretension of cabalistic ritual with run of the mill adolescent fantasy. My own investigations revealed a preoccupation with group masturbation, coprophilia and graveyard desecration (it's rumoured that the skulls of Pancho Villa, Geronimo and Johnny Weissmuller are hidden in the vaults of the society's headquarters.Prescott Bush, grandfather of the last president, was allegedly responsible for the theft of Geronimo's.) This desire to shock, borne perhaps, of sheltered childhoods, is a recurring theme in the Bonesmen's antics. Most recently, they outraged fans of Marilyn Manson after reports that their hero, invited to conduct a Black Mass, was stripped of his robes and forced to participate in a humiliating ritual known as the "chicken run".
2/7/09 To date, I have received forty seven death threats, not counting those dispensed by Spencer on a daily basis. For most people, the fear of assassination would cause an intolerable strain which is, nine times out of ten, the entire point of issuing the threat in the first place. To put the matter into perspective, of the people who've promised to kill me, only four have made genuine attempts on my life (not counting the most serious, committed by my Grandfather Coe when I was seven years old and not preceded by a warning.) When some thwarted bully starts bellowing the odds about wringing Hamilton Coe's neck or sewing him into a sack and beating him into mincemeat, I politely repeat the adage of sticks and stones and give the matter no further thought. False reports of my actual death, however, representing as they do, an element of wish fulfilment, have to be taken more seriously.The death prayers and spells of the old religions, currently enjoying a resurgence through internet access, are based on straightforward visualisation. The bogus obituarists who recently scripted a full stop to the existence of, among others, actor Jeff Goldblum should realise that by creating a belief in someone's death, they destabilise the very life force that protects them. Whether their intention was to harm Mr Goldblum or, as I suspect, simply to amuse their friends they have unwittingly indulged in a form of black magic and almost certainly attracted the attentions of nemesis. Few modern practitioners of the secret arts possess the knowledge or temperament to successfully ally themselves to hovering entities or the elements. Their efforts invariably rebound with terrible consequences.
Over the years, I've been subjected to various false death rumours, most of which can be traced back to my brother. To my certain knowledge, he has informed eight separate people (including our parents) of my demise by causes ranging from plane crash to cerebral haemorrhage. When I returned from my last (aborted) American lecture tour, my appearance in the Drumfeld Spar caused pandemonium among fellow shoppers convinced that I'd perished on the Pacific Coast Highway. Most recently, he collaborated with Rob McAskill in perpetrating a staggeringly tasteless April Fool. Jeff Goldblum, I'm sure, will be reassured that I have not committed suicide (and certainly not for the reasons speculated on McAskill's spoof ‘tribute') though I remain convinced that the stress induced by the necessity of refuting the broadcast contributed to a complete breakdown of my immune system from which I'm only just recovering.
15/1/09 Last week I was informed that Muriel has been studying the 'career' of Callander medium, Helen Duncan, with a view to preparing a retrospective defence against her 1944 prosecution under the Witch-craft Act. Guided by the promptings of their history teacher, Megan Perry, the class has unanimously concluded that Duncan was the victim of prejudice and should be posthumously exonerated. A project borne of stupidity, then, lumbers inexorably toward a fat-headed conclusion. Many readers, I'm sure, will be familiar with the mythology of Duncan's prosecution. It's widely assumed that she was tried after inadvertently jeopardising national security by materialising the spirit of a sailor from H.M.S. Barham before the ship's destruction was common knowledge. This, in fact, occurred three years earlier in 1941. Duncan was actually charged with Vagrancy, Larceny and 'falsely pretending that she was in a position to bring about the appearances of the spirits of deceased persons.' Section Four of the Witchcraft Act WAS cited in her prosecution, but by the 20th Century, this was almost exclusively used against imposters . Nobody involved in Duncan's prosecution believed in her ability to materialise the dead. Portsmouth's chief of police went so far as to dismiss her as "an unmitigated humbug and a pest." It wasn't suspicion of witch-craft that appalled the authorities but the brazen cynicism with which they considered her to have exploited the bereaved.
With hindsight, the most astonishing aspect of the Duncan case isn't the 'draconian' manner in which she was eventually punished but the indulgence with which she was allowed to persist in her deceptions. More than ten years earlier, in 1931, Harry Price, the great researcher of psychic phenomena, was invited by Helen and her husband to assess one of her seances. While Price expressed incredulity at the performance's conclusion, his disbelief was prompted by the ineptitude with which they'd attempted to bamboozle him. Offended by their affrontery, he set about demolishing their credibility by establishing the presence of puppets, photographs and, in particular, yards of cheesecloth which she regurgitated to create the illusion of ectoplasm. Two years later, at a sitting in Edinburgh, a suspicious client seized one of Duncan's 'apparitions' revealing it to be a stockinette undervest. Price, who attended the subsequent trial, commented on the "credulity bordering on imbecility" exhibited by witnesses for the defence. Despite their gullibility, Duncan was found guilty of fraudulent mediumship, charged £10 and sentenced to a month's imprisonment.
Having, at various stages of my career, come into contact with mediums of varying levels of competence, I felt compelled to contact Ms Perry in order that someone might a) represent the innumerable victims of fake mediums and b) discourage any of Muriel's classmates tempted to dabble in the their preposterous but potentially catastrophic 'art'. "I'd have thought that you of all people would have been more tolerant," said Ms Perry before dismissing my offer on the grounds that I've not been cleared to enter the school premises by Disclosure Scotland. The fact that I already possess separate disclosures to teach Cung Coe and conduct tours in Drumfeld Museum cut no ice. "I'm sorry, but I can't possibly invite you into the school."
This resistance to my well meaning intervention was, sadly, entirely predictable. Most of the teachers charged with instilling good sense and order have, in every significant aspect, failed to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Desperate to be liked, they pander to their charges, eagerly responding to contemptuous nicknames and affecting an interest in sci-fi and pop groups.The board of Drumfeld High, meanwhile, has repeatedly rejected my offer to oversee a mentorship programme or deliver a series of lectures while headmaster, Richard Bryant, thinks nothing of publicly referring to me as a 'nut-job'. My niece's evolution toward truculent nonentity is evidence of their incompetence. While Muriel might not be especially 'gifted' in any respect, her curiousity was indicative of an enhanced sensibility which might, at some stage, have resulted in a career in one of the forensic sciences. For years, in fact, members of the family referred to her as 'Hamilton's assistant', a joke that, admittedly, became wearing (Muriel wasn't qualified to be my assistant). She displayed, however, a serious interest in my work which, allowed to develop, could have resulted in some kind of apprenticeship. After two years in secondary school, unfortunately, Muriel has become less interested in investigative technique than hanging round Drumfeld Churchyard, smoking cigarettes and presenting vicious lampoons of her former mentor for the amusement of her idiotic new cronies. (Last year, I inadvertently stumbled upon one of these performances while studying the gravestones of Covenanters for which the churchyard is, rightly, renowned. If anyone was guilty of ‘spying' on that occasion, incidentally, it was Shaun Magennis who had no business clambering over the Farquharson Memorial in the first place.)
* * *
I'm not a natural sceptic. The evidence of my own (psychically enhanced) senses has been sufficient to bolster my conviction in worlds beyond our ken. It would be fat-headed to attribute rules and boundaries to kingdoms whose very existence defies logic. I'm in thrall to no dogma beyond a belief that the sphere of consciousness that bubbles chaotically between our ears persists and, at some stage, escapes its current limitations. Spencer, irritated by any reference to an afterlife (a predictable prejudice in someone raised to expect the harsh judgement of a Calvinist God) responds to any attempted dialogue on the topic by scoffing, "Oh, God, Hamilton's doing that creepy religious thing again!" As far as he's concerned, any notion of emerging from death is borne of fear, gullibility and convention. There's every possibility, of course, that he might be right: a universal inability to come to terms with the concept of oblivion may have caused the human race to seek consolation in innumerable alternatives to the void. As a child, I remember glum, sleepless nights struggling to imagine myself ceasing to exist. More than thirty years on, this horror persists to the extent that the Hamilton Coe Foundation has frozen samples of my blood, mucous, hair and toe nail clippings in order that, should such developments materialise, scientists of the future will be able to summon my holographic equivalent. I'm reassured by the notion that one day visitors to exhibitions devoted to Drumfeld past might be greeted by a cheery, "Hello, everyone! I'm the ghost of Hamilton Coe! Welcome to my world!" (A nightmare scenario, in which I'm reconstructed as a dull-eyed, soulless husk, set to menial tasks and taunted by tourists is too grim to contemplate.)
"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's..."
10/1/09 I've always considered early January to be the most dispiriting part of the year. All that remains of Christmas are the remnants of trees, dumped in gutters like the corpses of deposed monarchs. However plump and luxuriant in mid-December, every last one is destined to be unceremoniously removed via a back door and left for the cleansing department. Can anyone passing their sodden remains avoid pondering how closely the existence of a Christmas tree resembles that of a man? The baubles of accomplishment can only distract us from the fact that whatever triumphs we might enjoy are fleeting. As the year dies, we find ourselves forlorn and without purpose. The gifts piled beneath our branches have been found wanting and discarded. The laughter over which we presided turns into the roar of the incinerator. Nothing remains but regret for what might have been.
The most cursory inspection of global suicide rates is sufficient to confirm that those with a predisposition to melancholy, for the most part, fail to be reassured by the opportunity to 'turn over a new leaf.' Those who do enter the spirit of the occasion can only be dispirited by the realisation that feelings of loneliness and alienation survive the traditional application of alcohol. For many, in fact, the illusory glow of well-being instilled by a Hogmanay binge is quickly dimmed by the encroachment of an annihilating darkness.
My research has established the importance of exercise and perspective in the treatment of depressives. Is it necessary to expand on the pointlessness of drugging office workers whose day to day existences are equivalent to those of battery hens? An afternoon in the countryside is often sufficient to trigger the sort of instantaneous catharsis coveted by the manufacturers of 'wonder drugs' whose benefits are nullified by seizures, blind rages and cancer. In Minnesota some years ago, compulsory wilderness rambles were introduced as a response to the growing problem of depression related absences from work. This particular experiment was, unfortunately, abandoned, when a group, lost in a storm, regressed to a state of savagery, tying their leader to a tree and threatening to eat him, an incident that caused an international reassessment of therapeutic treatments of depression. There's a human tendency, of course, to over-react to isolated instances of cannibalism. The seasoned investigator, particularly one with experience of depressives, responds to the Minnesota incident with no more than a wry smile. Throughout history frightened people have attempted to appease nemesis with sacrifices. Sawney Beane and his incestuous brood of prototype hippies had access to any number of alternative food sources: in choosing to exist on a diet of travellers, they were effectively goading the very God they imagined responsible for their creation. Similar offences are still committed against tourists throughout Scotland, particularly in Fife where walkers are occasionally abducted from the coastal paths around Kirkcaldy. Such outrages, however, are rare and we shouldn't let an incorrigible minority deter us from making full use of our countryside.
It's four years since I initiated the first 'Saunter and Song' excursion for Outreach Scotland, the mental health facility whose southern Highland initiatives are administered by my sister. A dozen or so similar ventures have followed that first 'Oliver!' themed outing. Unfortunately, elements within the Drumfeld group, whether oblivious or indifferent to my efforts on their behalf, have turned against me. "Who's Hamilton to dictate what we sing?" has become a constant complaint as my carefully selected themes are resisted. Last year, the entire group dispensed with the pre-agreed Tribute to the Proclaimers, instead singing Pink Floyd's monotonous dirge 'Another Brick in the Wall'. After three or four repetitions, this became so irritating that I walked ahead until I could no longer hear the refrain of "Hey, HAMILTON , leave the kids alone!" For the next hour or so I enjoyed the view of Loch Voil while snacking on the sausage rolls I'd kept in my back pack. About four miles from Strathyre, unfortunately, the weather turned. By the time I reached the visitor centre, I was drenched, my wretchedness compounded by a badly twisted ankle.After waiting for two hours, I checked my mobile phone and found a text from Christine: "2 cold 2 walk. Gone 2 pub." In fairness, this had been sent shortly after I left the group, but it might have occurred to her to make further efforts to make contact. For all she knew, I could have been lying injured somewhere. When I called to remonstrate, it was immediately apparent that she was as drunk as a skunk on his twenty first birthday. "Do you still have the sausage rolls?" she slurred. "We're all a bit peckish." The confession that I'd eaten all but three, relayed by Christine to the others, prompted another chorus of 'Another Brick in the Wall'. They were still singing an hour later when the mini-bus eventually arrived to pick me up.
I'd been particularly looking forward to Sunday's proposed hike from Balquhidder to Killin. Unfortunately, relations with my sister remain frosty in the aftermath of my poorly judged recitation at the Southern General and her determination to undermine me was apparent from the outset. "Hamilton thought you all might like to sing some nice Joy Division songs," she said as we left the rendezvous at Balquhidder Church. "I don't actually know any Joy Division songs," I replied with forced affability, "But I've printed some lyrics from My Fair Lady..." My efforts to distribute these, unfortunately, were met with responses ranging from indifference to overt hostility. Christine, who would normally have attempted to negotiate a compromise, only exacerbated the situation by talking loudly throughout my attempted rendition of 'I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face'. Feeling snubbed and somewhat foolish, I walked ahead, dissembling nonchalance by continuing to sing until confident that I was out of earshot at which point, I'm embarrassed to confess, I briefly abandoned myself to self-pity.
* * *
Whoever assumes the mantle of nemesis must prepare to be ostracised. Over the course of my investigative career, I received forty seven death threats, not counting those dispensed by Spencer on a regular basis. At the time the strength of my conviction rendered me impervious to insult and menace. Just as Crusaders of old entrusted themselves to the protection of the cross, I remained in thrall to my own savage genius. Whenever some thwarted bully started bellowing the odds about wringing Hamilton Coe's neck or sewing him into a sack and beating him into mincemeat, I'd politely repeat the adage of sticks and stones and give the matter no further thought. Subsequent to my illness, though, I'm oppressed by the knowledge of being hated. Having stared into the abyss without flinching, I find myself recoiling from the mundane terrors lurking in every supermarket and garage fore-court. My mind, formerly attuned to a purpose, lapses into periods of rebellion, resisting sleep and creating figments. Rogue versions of myself haunt my thoughts, repeating my blithely offered pearls of wisdom in tones soggy with idiocy. This, it should be noted, is the potential fate of anyone who surrenders himself to the expectation and perception of others. Whatever worth you think you might possess will be obliterated when viewed through prisms of mediocrity and resentment!
As I approached Lochearnhead, my spirits lifted. A direct insult is easier dealt with than a sly glance or insinuating remark: we needn't waste time in trying to interpret its intention, all that we should consider is whether or not it's justified. Clearly, on this occasion, it was not . If I were to board an Inverness bus, I could hardly berate the driver for not taking me to Glasgow. By the same token, if I were to book my place on an excursion specifically billed as a "Song and a Saunter" it wouldn't occur to me to turn on the organiser. Anyone else might have been tempted to find a stout stick, wait for the scofflaws and then belabour them until they entered the spirit of the event. Whatever momentary satisfaction it might afford, little good ever comes of beating depressives until they sing 'Get Me to the Church on Time.' Anger, as I'm often given cause to remind Spencer, is the most disfiguring emotion. While in other respects I'm only too human, a man who tries to goad me into losing my temper will be frustrated. Had I brooded on the slight, the walk would have been wasted. Instead, by the time I reached Glen Ogle, I was suddenly enthralled by the possibilities of existence.
* For several years now, this part of Scotland has been plagued by a host of Rob Roy impersonators who pester tourists and squabble amongst themselves. Their number is mainly comprised of Tartan Army ‘foot soldiers' and absconded mental patients from Glasgow. The problem is particularly pronounced around Balquhidder where McGregor is buried. Andrew Morton, who lurks about the churchyard in full Highland regalia, face daubed in flour, claims to be the actual ghost of Rob Roy and invites visitors to have their photograph taken with him, demanding fees of up to £100 from anyone foolish enough as to capitulate to his badgering. The area's other Rob Roy's defer to Morton's heightened lunacy and allow him to intermediate between them. While it could be argued that his allocation of zones and time-tables has partially stemmed the Rob Roy profusion, many locals argue that the McGregor name should once again be proscribed.
4/1/09 On Christmas Eve, my ninety seven year old great aunt tripped over a step, breaking her wrist and suffering a mild concussion. As a consequence, I seem to have spent much of the festive season travelling to and fro Glasgow's Southern General Hospital. While my visits have been restricted to the blue shaded areas of my sister's intricately scheduled rota, I already feel a familiarity with the ward's interior that, by logic, should only be attained over a period of years. Frequent hospital visitors will, I'm sure, recognise the various distortions effected on the fabric of reality within the confines of a ward. The passing of time is particularly altered, each second being laboriously mangled through a filter of despair. How much worse, then, for those condemned to remain, particularly in a geriatric ward in which residents might consider their status permanent?
As my aunt's eyesight has deteriorated to the extent that she can no longer enjoy the distraction of a book, my visiting hours have been spent reading to her. I've taken care in selecting appropriate texts: while I don't want to contribute to her natural despondency, it seems important not to waste our limited time together on frivolities. On New Year's Day, after an evening of reflection, I decided that nothing could be more appropriate to the occasion than James Joyce's 'The Dead'. Naturally, I was slightly concerned that the story's theme might be considered gloomy and stuck an Agatha Christie paperback in my pocket in case I had to resort to Plan B. As I proceeded through the initial pages, though, my aunt showed every evidence of enjoyment. It became apparent, in fact, that other patients and their visitors were also becoming absorbed in the narrative. Standing and projecting my voice to accommodate them, I continued, eventually reaching the story's beautiful conclusion: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
As I sat down, pockets of spontaneous applause broke out around the ward. " Thank you , Hamilton," said my aunt. "That was very nice indeed!" Momentarily overwhelmed by the unexpected thrill of communion, I pretended to drop the book in order that I could dab my eyes without being observed. As the bell was rung to signal the end of visiting hour, I exchanged handshakes with my fellow visitors. "One day," I announced as we waited for the elevator, " we'll be the ones left behind with the nurses and the babbling t.v.. We'll all end up covered by a layer of frost...." Given the opportunity, I'd have expanded on the theme but, as the elevator reached the ground floor, the other passengers hurried away. "We're all in this together!" I shouted after them.
Yesterday, unfortunately, Christine returned from her visit to report a change of mood: my aunt has been moved to a single room while I've been barred from making 'unsupervised' vists. "What were you thinking ?" she demanded when I confirmed the nature of my Ne'er Day address. "What sort of person visits someone in hospital and reads them a story about death ? They think you're a mental case! " As Christine hadn't actually read the story, and refused to be cajoled into doing so, the ensuing discussion escalated into an exchange of unkind observations. For most people self perception is largely determined by the response they elicit from others. Experimenting with volunteers, I've established how effectively the average person can be demoralised by candid observations. One negative comment is sufficient to cause anxiety, five or more total despondency! By the I was forced to retreat from the house, I'd been bombarded by no less than nineteen separate insults, not counting repetitions or variations on a theme. "You're about as sensitive as Idi Amin ," Christine shouted after me, making it a round twenty.
As I wandered the silent streets brooding over the injustice of my sister's tirade, I gradually identified a doubt. The notion that, to an extent, she might be right asserted itself like nausea. In selecting that particular story, was I concerned with my aunt's predicament or my own . My happy recollection of the reading was suddenly clouded by troubling intrusions - a glower from the vicinity of one bed, raised eyebrows at another. At this stage, I should probably confess to a prologed period of reassessment. A life of attrition has certainly taken its toll. In August, I turned forty - while I'm loath to acknowledge the banality of such an arbitrary milestone, I'm unnerved to find myself closer to decrepitude than youth. My hair has greyed and my stomach is peppered with ulcers. Having concentrated my energies on excoriating my enemies, the intimacies of friendship have turned to rancour and mutual bewilderment. My argument that solitude is a prerequisite of genius is soured by the inescapable knowledge that any genius I might have possessed abandoned me when I lost my powers. The true man of destiny might be condemned to walk alone but so, too, is the misfit, the alcoholic and the crank! As I continued through the steady drizzle, I was stricken by the terrible, overwhelming fact of myself and the total pointlessness of a life lived apart.
3/1/09 In 1966, Findlay Gibson created world's first facility for the analysis and nurturing of psychically advanced children. My Aunt Alice, dipping into personal savings, took me to the Gibson Institute's deceptively homespun Florida base on three separate occasions. For successive years, I was subjected to stringent examinations under laboratory conditions, each time emerging with the Gibson Certificate of Authenticity, a guarantee of psychic ability accepted by police departments all over the world (if not Drumfeld!) While the Gibson 'seal of approval' validated its recipients as dependable psychics, Dr Gibson, recognising the solitary and often frightening lives of his subjects, was determined that they become better equipped as human beings . "This is the Age of the Worldly, Hamilton," he explained. "Four hundred years ago you'd have had a prominent position in court. Kings would have deferred to your judgement! Now you'll be lucky to find a job in a supermarket and, if you do, you'd better not blow it by telling customers that their children are emissaries of apocalypse!"
Thanks to my grandfather's efforts, of course, my social skills were already highly developed. My knowledge of jokes, limericks and comical songs was so exhaustive that Dr Gibson presented me with a special 'Good Companion' certificate and made a video recording of one of my 'routines' for subjects he thought might benefit from 'lightening up'. "If Hamilton Coe can come away from the abyss with a smile on his face," he'd say, "then so can you !" I've rarely attended a convention at which some former Gibson initiate doesn't treat me to a rendition of 'I'm Henry the Happy Hippo!'. The most cursory inspection of the lives of certain non-Gibson endorsed psychics is sufficient to confirm the wisdom and humanity of the this approach. When Phyllis Yuill is at liberty to conduct an investigation, she sleeps rough on the proximity of the crime scene, harasses legitimate investigators and invariably attributes responsibility to the Pumpkin People. Her technique consists entirely of throwing teabags at people. To the best of my knowledge, she's never told a joke and even if she did, I dread to think what she might consider an appropriate subject for humour.
Our mentors at Camp Killarney, placed a similar emphasis on the development of communication skills. This was, perhaps, just as well. While well-intentioned, our camp mentors were ill-equipped to execute the most rudimentary analysis of an individual's psychic capabilities. Practical exercises were limited to daily two hour sessions at which it became apparent that some of my fellow campers would have struggled to intuit the difference between a rabbit and a giraffe. "What exactly was the selection criteria for this camp?" I asked Bernie Sludden, the senior co-ordinator, as Fingal Leary, my partner in the 'What am I thinking?' exercise (a Gibson staple) said, "Hamilton's thinking of Agatha... again " before contorting his malign, freckled face into a hideous leer and vigorously pumping one, lightly cupped hand over his crotch. Seonaid, meanwhile, already traumatised by the assault of the Jesuits, responded to associations triggered by his frenzied gesticulation, as she did nearly every provocation, by whimpering softly about the inevitable 'Woman of the Shells'. Fingal, who insisted that Seonaid's father had been a ranking officer in the I.R.A.summarily executed for double dealing with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, interrupted his pantomime of lust to deliver a sardonic salute and a chorus of the Boys of the Old Brigade.
As the prescient reader has doubtless surmised, Fingal had become a significant impediment to the camp's success. Within hours of arriving at Killarney, my efforts to coax him into entering into the spirit of the camp had been rewarded by a physical humilation when he pinned me to the ground and dangled strands of saliva over my face. On that occasion, Bernie's uselessness became apparent: despite the evidence of Fingal's drool and written (if anonymous) statements from three witnesses to the assault, he failed to take any action beyond making us shake hands and suggesting that if acrimony between us persisted, we might like to "get the gloves on and sort it out like gentlemen." Fingal, who constantly bragged about his brothers boxing for Ireland, would obviously have liked nothing more. At the time, Cung-Coe was a pipe-dream and the thought of having my head reshaped by Fingal's pale, freckled fists caused my stomach to squirm as if it was inhabited by a mud dwelling species of eel. For the next two days, I attached myself to the vicinity of the formidable Agatha Sweeney, even going so far as to improvise a disastrous premonition that necessitated my sleeping in her tent.
On the fourth day, matters came to a head. Patrick Googhan who was celebrating his twelfth birthday obviously hadn't the slightest idea of how to respond to the presentation of a cake. Noticing his discomfiture, I sought to spare him further embarrassment by deflecting attention by means of an improvised 'Happy Birthday' dance. As I cavorted around the cake, Fingal stuck out a leg, causing me to trip face first into the intricately iced 'Happy Birthday, Patrick!' "Hamilton's face is melting!" wailed Seonaid whose hysterical response to the most mundane events had, frankly, become wearing. "And how does that make you feel?" asked Bernie, eagerly opening the notebook in which he was in the habit of recording evidence of psychic phenomena. "For goodness sake," snapped Agatha. "He's just covered in chocolate." At this, she grabbed me by the arm and wiped my face roughly with a towel. As my glasses were cleared, I was confronted by the provocation of Fingal Leary's freckled face contorted in a malevolent smirk. Naturally, I pointed out the part he'd played in the catastrophe with the mortifying consequence that we were both sent back to our tents to think about our behaviour. "I'll smash your bollocks for that, Hamilton," hissed Fingal, waving a horrible, pale fist under my nose.
For the next two hours, I listened to distant cries if merriment emanating from Patrick's party and pondered my imminent annihilation. It occurred to me that if I could get to the nearest village, I could present my dossier on Fingal to the Garda. A happy image in which I personally co-ordinated his departure from Camp Killarney in manacles alternated with one in which I was escorted back and forced to box him. The latter scenario eventually prevailed. As I glumly resigned myself to the inevitability of a trouncing, I was distracted by a commotion in the wooded area that skirted the rear of the camp. A visceral yowl, unremitting and escalating in volume as its source came closer, might easily have been dismissed as the cry of an animal. Having spent my life at the periphery of the abyss, however, I immediately identified the incoherent, human response to terror .
It's impossible for me to explain to the layman precisely what causes the symptoms of apprehension that alert me to the vicinity of menace. The causes vary, as indeed do the symptoms themselves. At various times throughout my career, the presence of evil has manifested itself aurally, as a low cacophony of urgent voices, visually, in the form of visions or dark, pulsating auras, and even as a smell. When I was a child, such impressions caused me to suffer palpitations, nosebleeds and sensations similar to electric shocks. As I refined my technique, however, and mastered a child's natural fear, I experienced nothing more than a tingling sensation, most pronounced around the extremities of nose, feet and hands. (This sensation, not unpleasant, had various minor side-effects: watches and digital devices in my vicinity malfunctioned, dogs whimpered or snarled, according to their temperament, and balloons stuck to me.) On this occasion, my symptoms were so pronounced that I struggled to negotiate my way out of my tent. Turning toward the wood, I noticed a profusion of small birds frenetically circling overhead. " Stay away !" I shouted as Agatha hurried toward the scene, followed by a gaggle of campers still wearing their party hats. "Who gave you permission to come out, Hamilton?" replied Agatha, precipitating a ridiculous exchange in which I tried to impress upon her the proximity of dark forces while she manhandled me back in the direction of my tent. She was only distracted from our scuffle when a shriek from Seonaid momentarily preceded the emergence from the wood of Fingal Leary, his mouth, now silent, still frozen in a rictus of dread. As he approached the centre of the site, the other campers, repelled by stark evidence of literal derangement, scattered. Even Agatha seemed at a loss. It was left to Bernie to escort him back to his tent where he sat with him for the remainder of the evening. When we got up the next morning, Fingal had gone, a source of jubilation only slightly tempered by a lingering sense of something awry.
Nearly thirty years on, I can only conjecture as to what might have happened in the woods that day. At the time, for reasons I could never identify, I had the strong impression that Seonaid was somehow implicated in Fingal's ordeal. The other campers seemed to be of a similar opinion: while nobody went so far as to confront her, she was tacitly excluded for the remainder of the camp. While my empathetic nature compelled me to try and befriend her, my efforts were repeatedly rebuffed. "I don't really like you, Hamilton," she explained eventually, freeing me from any further obligation. The last time I saw her was in Dublin, disappearing into the night with a small, bird-like woman I assumed to be her mother. Ten years later, Agatha Sweeney, with whom I sporadically corresponded, wrote to inform me that she'd died. That night, I dreamed that I was in the woods behind Camp Killarney, petrified by the fumbling but inexorable approach of a woman whose eyes were sealed by flesh. I had the same dream for three successive nights. The day after the third, my grandfather died.
* This has a tragic footnote: At the 'Responsible Clairvoyance' summit in Chicago in 1996, Gibson graduate Paul Bloomfield, clearly the worse for wear, insisted on treating me to slurred rendition of my entire repertoire before embracing me, returning to his room and shooting himself in the head.
1/1/09 The original aims of the Hamilton Coe Foundation were three-fold: to encourage research into the use of psychic ability, to encourage potential in genuine clairvoyants and and debunk fakes and scofflaws. To that end, I've delivered lectures across Britain and North America, endorsed eight young psychics, exposed seventy-three frauds and introduced a laminated Hamilton Coe Certificate of Authenticity recognised by police forces around the world. At some stage in the (hopefully not too distant) future, I hope to establish a holiday retreat for young psychics where they can develop their powers in a 'fun' environment. The Trossachs or any of the Inner Hebrides would provide an ideal base for Camp Coe. My ambitions, unfortunately, have been circumscribed on account of financial restrictions imposed by Mark Lewis's continued disputation of his mother's will*. Our only outing to date has been a sponsored walk around Millport. On that occasion, it became obvious that six of the seven children in attendence were bogus when Findlay Duff, the only genuine clairvoyant, later complained to his parents that he'd been bullied into sharing his psychic impressions by means of Chinese burns. Were it not for the senior Duffs' magnanimity, the dream of Camp Coe might have been still-born. Fortunately, their wrong-headed conviction that Findlay "needs toughened up" prevented them from taking further action.
Summer camps, of course, are a fabric of American society. The Gibson Institute has run residential retreats for Children of Clairvoyance since the early 1970's. I've visited several. Anyone inviting Hamilton Coe to participate in camp life, incidentally, can rest assured that he won't be content to simply rest on his laurels. On occasion I've served as counsellor, table tennis coach and even short order cook! Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, though, my real function is to inspire. Children enduring strange and torrid circumstances can only be reassured by the testimony of someone who has survived them. The Ballad of Hamilton Coe (written by Jack Morley, the Gibson Insitute's Outreach Director, with the merest assistance of the song's hero) has become a camp-fire anthem: "In realms of desolation/The connivance of the foe/Is matched and then confounded/By the wonder that is Coe!" I can think of no greater gift than the confidence of those whose lives are largely dominated by wretchedness. The voices of the Gibson kids are often dulled by medication or the repetition of deaths and calamities foretold. A cassette recording of them singing merrily in my honour is sufficient to bolster me for the darkest of dawns. (It's also, unfortunately, sufficient to reduce Spencer to a state of incoherent rage.)
To the best of my knowledge the only European equivalent to the Gibson Camps was organised by the psychology department of Trinity College in 1981. My own inclusion was ensured by my Aunt Alice who corresponded with the organisers for months in advance to ensure my inclusion. Reservations that my 'celebrity' might intimidate my fellow campers, several of whom had never be separated from their families before, were dispelled at an induction weekend in Dublin. By the time our bus set out for the camp site at Killarney, my social skills and, in particular, knowledge of jokes had helped instil a spirit of camaraderie that, for the most part, persisted for the camp's duration. "You're a real asset, Hamilton," said co-ordinator, Bernie Sludden, as I reassured Seonaid Haggerty that the Women of the Shells were unlikely to follow us to Camp Killarney and, even if they did, we'd just ignore them.
As we approached the campsite, our bus was surrounded by teenage Jesuits from an adjoining pitch. "Look at the weirdies!" they piped, banging on the windows and gesticulating. As most of our group recoiled from this exhibition of the sort of persecution that dogged their day to day lives, Fingal Leary, a gangly adolescent from Cork whose dubious credentials had already triggered my suspicions, responded with extravagant cut-throat gestures of his own. "Don't provoke them, Fingal!" I shouted, prompting a response of, "Piss off, speccy!" Without some decisive action, the entire venture might have been doomed from the outset. One of the group mentors, Agatha Sweeney, thankfully, proved up to the task. Having witnessed some of my aunt's confrontations with jobsworths at crime scenes, I was already familiar with feminine methods of intimidation. I was impressed, nonetheless, by the confidence with which Agatha stepped from the bus, grabbed the ringleader by the ear and marched him toward a priest who had belatedly appeared on the scene. That night, as we munched contentedly on sausage and beans around the campfire, the still of the night was disrupted by the dull thwock of the ferrula and the yowls of our tormentors. As the shrieks of pain subsided into muted sobbing, Bernie produced a guitar and struck up a chorus of 'Climb up Sunshine Mountain', a song for which I already knew the actions. As I demonstrated them for the benefit of my fellow campers, only the baleful glower of Fingal Leary bode anything other than happiness for the remainder of the camp.
* I always enjoyed a cordial relationship with Mark's mother Constance. Our friendship was cemented when my investigation revealed irregularities in the Lewis household that resulted in the dismissal of a gardener and Mark's departure for boarding school. Discretion prevents me from elaborating, but details are contained in the Hamilton Coe archive, scheduled for release in May 2020, a definite black letter day for Mark! I was of further use to Mrs Lewis on various further occasions, once locating a missing cat and later exposing the roguish intentions of a salesman introduced to the household by her son. At other times, I would simply enjoy Mrs Lewis's company, occasionally dropping in for a cup of tea and a chat. When Mark was present, he did nothing to conceal the fact that he didn't welcome my presence: a natural hostility from one whose wiles had more than once been thwarted by my intervention. Later, immediately prior to Mark's marriage to Barbara, relations between us deteriorated when my investigation revealed not only her grandfather's war-time association with Mosley's black-shirts, but his subsequent rapid departure from a series of teaching positions. As the old man was scheduled to play a prominent role in the wedding, providing a bible reading, I thought it only fair that Mrs Lewis be aware of his calibre. My own presence at the wedding, in the guise of ‘Sammy the Sweep', a caution against further shenanigans on the part of the bride's family, caused further problems when Barbara's grandfather, startled by my sudden appearance in his wardrobe collapsed and, unfortunately, suffered a stroke.
When Mrs Lewis died in 2002, I was more surprised than anyone by the revelation that she had rewritten her will in my favour. Mark, I regret to say, took the news without grace, alleging that I'd taken advantage of his mother's dotage, insinuating myself into her affections and encouraging her to alter her legacy. This is as unsubstantiated as it is offensive. If I visited Mrs Lewis it was out of concern. I've never had any interest in financial gain, as many grateful recipients of my assistance will attest. Mark's claims reflect on his own perspective far more than they do mine. When my mother died I'd have been unperturbed to learn that she'd left everything to the paperboy (though, admittedly, I would have been concerned had Spencer been given the opportunity to squander an undeserved inheritance.) Despite the fact that he is, by any standards, a wealthy individual, Mark was still pre-occupied by his mother's will at the funeral and caused a disgraceful scene when he spotted me in the front row. His demands that I be removed, I'm happy to relate, were ignored, but he's subsequently made a nuisance of himself, objecting to various Hamilton Coe Foundation initiatives on the grounds that they're funded by the ‘contested' inheritance. The inheritance has not, in fact, been contested by anyone other than Mark and he'd be advised to swallow his sour grapes lest they choke him.
31/1/2008 Three years ago, when my sister first announced that she'd invited her friends Isobel and Lizzie to join us for Christmas Eve, my response was less than enthusiastic. Christine's assertion that I "sulked" is an overstatement, but I was certainly concerned that our (already beleaguered) festive traditions would be further undermined by the introduction of such vociferous adherents to an 'alternative' lifestyle. Spencer's pub friends have already subjected our simple but sincere celebration to a withering analysis: five years ago my attempt to sing Here We Come A-Wassailing were punctuated by shouts of 'Let's crucify Hamilton!' and culminated in the necessity of calling P.C. Jackson. "Well, that was a total over-reaction," said Christine when I reminded her. "And I've never seen Isobel or Lizzie pelt anyone with empty beer cans... however much he might be monopolising proceedings!"
I'm happy to concede that my fears were confounded. From the outset, in fact, Lizzie and particularly Isobel's participation in communal singing and games has been so whole-hearted that Muriel and even Spencer are invariably cajoled into entering the spirit of the occasion. This Christmas, nothing has given me greater satisfaction than the sight of my brother's normally sullen features brightening as he secured his team victory at 'Cards in the Hat' by successfully tossing a succession of playing cards into my grandfather's upturned trilby from a distance of twelve feet. Admittedly, my proffered hand and exclamation of "Well done, sir!" caused an instantaneous reversion to his habitual expression of subdued loathing, nonetheless, the glimpse of the child within, however fleeting, vindicated my faith in the possibilities of Christmas.
For the second successive year, the only element of awkwardness was caused by Christine who persists in referring to the coincidence of Isobel and I both being recipients of a Henderson crystal for Children of Courage and Achievement. "Izzie and Hamilton can be the Henderson kids," she said as she organised us into teams at the start of the evening. Despite my warning glower, she proceeded to repeat the offence at every opportunity. Her insensitivity would have been galling enough even were it not for the fact of my specifically cautioned her against the same gaffe last year. On that occasion, I was eventually goaded into pointing out the fact that while I received my award in 1984 under the late Gordon Henderson's stewardship, Isobel's 'achievements' were recognised in 1987 by which time his son Dougal had taken over, precipitating a terminal decline. "So you don't consider Isobel a worthy winner?" said Lizzie, forcing me to acknowledge that while her struggle against gender confusion exacerbated the difficulties of adolescence, it hardly entitled her to a place on the Henderson pantheon of honour alongside such luminaries as Angus Nicol, Margaret Farquhar and (dare I say it) Hamilton Coe. Spencer, naturally, seized on the opportunity to capitalise on my alienation. "What were you nominated for, anyway, Hamilton? Services to homophobia ?" Further unpleasantness was only averted by the unexpected arrival of Christine's estranged husband Guy whose presence provided the temporary bond of a common enemy.
In her book about my career Nina Kelly argues that my nomination was only accepted after Gordon Henderson, beset by family problems and the initial symptoms of senility, capitulated to my aunt's incessant campaigning and, she implies, blackmail. This is completely erroneous and offensive to Hendersons and Coes alike. While various other parties might have suggested my nomination, my aunt and I were too busy pursuing cases to expend our energies soliciting awards. For his part, Gordon Henderson would never have considered a candidate he considered unworthy. His calibre can be gauged by his refusal to capitulate to the anti-Coe campaign prompted by my nomination. In the weeks preceding the ceremony, I was renounced from seventeen separate pulpits (of all denominations) and excoriated in a Glasgow Herald editorial in the course of which I was described as "possessing a face like a malevolent planet", an insult to which I'm still regularly subjected. By the time of the ceremony at Dundee's Caird Hall, the mob had been thoroughly riled. My investure as 1984's Child of Courage and Achievement was punctuated by terrace style chants and bouts of egg throwing that compelled Mr Henderson to act as a human shield. By the end of my acceptance speech, we were both covered in yolk. "Friendship! Integrity! Valour!" I concluded defiantly, turning to acknowledge the man who had shown such faith in my abilities. Sadly, Henderson was already being escorted from the stage, a broken man. By the end of the week he'd resigned his position citing an unspecified stress related illness. Within a year he was dead.
While his father had no compunction in rejecting nominations based entirely on affliction and misfortune, Dougal, cursed by a weakling's need to be liked, rubber stamped every application with the consequence that the awards became meaningless. Incapable of self-assertion, he was coerced into accepting nominations of parties unfit to share a roster with the Children of Courage and Achievement of the past. I'm a compassionate person, but sickness is no achievement in itself, however stoicially borne. Further damage to the awards' credibility was caused by Dougal's indulgence of the politically driven celebrities who were offered honorary directorships. Their influence resulted in the Hendersons coveted crystal trophies being presented to a succession of smirking activists whose only 'achievements' had been to picket, pester and harass people trying to go about their business.
Comedienne Elaine C. Smith was particularly culpable in adding a political element to the ceremony. .I knew Ms Smith even before she was opted onto the Henderson board. While I was still active in criminal investigations it wasn't uncommon to arrive at a crime scene to find her already in attendance. In 1992, we were both guests on the Jackie Park radio show discussing crime trends from the respective points of view of acknowledged expert and minor-celebrity. Miscalculating her own status, Smith reduced what might have been an informative interview to farce, contradicting me by repeating what I later discovered were her television catch phrases. The next week she referred to me as a ‘ghoul' in her Daily Record column an example, if I may say, of the pot calling the kettle black. At the time, I argued that she exhibited pronounced symptoms of a psychopathic personality disorder. If anything, this opinion was vindicated by subsequent developments, in particular her intemperate response when a botched surveillance operation resulted in my being trapped overnight in her conservatory.
As a past winner, I objected to Ms Smith's elevation to a dual role of jurist and presenter. Unfortunately, my reservations were ignored with disastrous results. Ms Smith, as any sensible person might have anticipated, completely hijacked the proceedings. Starting with a huskily bellowed rendition of 'Try a Little Tenderness' she would then embark upon a grisly bombardment of 'patter'. This was so excruciating that there was a gradual exodus of people unable to endure any more of her gormless observations. By the time she got round to tearfully acknowledging the nominees (all, incidentally, selected on the basis of belligerence or misfortune) the hall was only half full and remaining audience members so heartily despised her that her every announcement was greeted with jeers. After the third of these travesties, I returned my own Henderson crystal in disgust.
* * *
The slanders I endured at the time of my nomination were obviously damaging on a personal level. My brother, Spencer, and his friends rejoiced in imitating the freakish version of myself featured in The People Who Saw Tomorrow and there was a brief craze amongst the district's ‘alternative' set of Hamilton Coe themed parties, one of which Spencer tricked me into attending. I received anonymous letters threatening to have me killed, exorcised or forcibly baptised while The Hamilton Coe Society formed by my aunt to keep well-wishers updated on my activities was deluged by enquiries from unsavoury characters demanding Hamilton Coe information packs and lapel badges. Rival societies were established by unauthorised persons disseminating completely false information and my aunt was eventually so destabilised by the pressure that the official society ceased operation, leaving six bogus versions competing to invent increasingly sordid and ridiculous Hamilton Coe adventures. These, incidentally, were the original source of many of the rumours propagated about my activities, several of which have been recounted as actual occurrences in Nina Kelly's recent book. While all of the authors united in predictably crude innuendo (that Hamilton Coe is a chronic masturbator, that he is a peeping Tom, etc) some indulged in extravagant flights of fancy that suggested I was a superman. One in particular sent out weekly cliff-hangers, each of which was produced with intricate attention to detail. I remember one in which a villainous confectioner baked me into a cheesecake, another in which I was lured into a so-called Chamber of Feculence in which I was slowly asphyxiated by foul emissions. Each of these episodes would conclude with the query, “Is this the end for Hamilton Coe, boy of mystery?” and, in truth, for most people it would have been. To construct a false identity for someone is a form of black magic. You force your victim into a limbo between his real self and the image you have constructed for him. It's a dangerous experiment, particularly when conducted by those too stupid to appreciate the consequences. I was determined, however, not to be overwhelmed by malice. When my aunt recovered from her stress induced breakdown we set about the grim task of identifying the various authors, compiling a dossier on each and distributing the information in a special thirty page newsletter, incorporating particularly foul samples of their handiwork. These newsletters were sent not only to our regular subscribers, but also friends, colleagues and employers of the perpetrators, not one of whom was under the age of twenty- five.
The most obsessive, the author of the weekly cliff-hangers, was William Fletcher, an art teacher from Callander and author of the first 'Harrison Poe'. Stripped of his cloak of anonymity he first protested that he was, in fact, an ardent admirer of my and intended his work as a tribute. When this tactic failed, he resigned, attempted suicide and eventually left the area entirely to live with his sister. I often say that this is the Age of the Man-child: I might add that William Fletcher was one of its first prophets. A second Harrison Poe 'fanzine', incidentally, was run by his niece, Madeline Curran, a young woman who is still, apparently, not ashamed of the fact that her most significant achievement has been the construction of mischievously perverse images of myself.
*It's over twenty years since I first encountered Nina, although even then I remembered her from her previous career as an actress. Anybody who watched the first series of the 1970's detective series Dirty Secrets might remember her portrayal of Detective Katie Wilson. In the opening credits she pursues a large, bald headed miscreant, her face rigid with concentration and arms extended on either side, as if the expanse of pavement was a high wire. Every time I watch one of the show's very occasional reruns, I'm amazed by the folly by which Nina, a trust fund maintained flower-child, was cast as a streetwise cop. In retrospect, it's such an obvious blunder that it seems like an act of deliberate mischief perpetrated by one of her many personal enemies. Anybody else would have been humiliated, but Nina, apparently oblivious to the catastrophe of her performance, in her inevitable web-site attributes her replacement after a single series to political differences. Of course, the fact of being woefully miscast shouldn't necessarily entail the destruction of an actor's entire career. One might wonder why she never resurfaced in less significant roles more in keeping with her talents. Nina would have made a perfectly adequate barmaid or prostitute. As long as the part didn't require any depth of understanding, I'm sure it would have been within her capabilities. She possesses, after all, the essential thespian traits of insincerity and over-reaction. I should really have no compunction in relating the exact circumstances of how she managed to render herself unemployable. She's hardly exercised restraint in relating her version of my history. The fact is that her subsequent banishment from the television studios was unrelated to her relative absence of talent. I won't, however, stoop to dealing in gossip. This isn't the place to trot out Nina's various personal crises. All that need interest us is what qualifications she might possess to write about me.
Several years after the disintegration of her acting career, Nina visited my home in her new role as a researcher for the television series The People Who Saw Tomorrow. My mother, expecting a camera crew, prepared a buffet. Instead a solitary fat woman appeared. Nina, who had bloated considerably since her Detective Wilson period, was unsteady and slurred her words, she devoured most of the food with her fingers, failed to ask a single intelligent question and responded to my answers with snorts of disparagement. As the interview developed, I was bombarded by images of a basement lit by a single bulb and a red-headed girl with plaintive eyes and flared nostrils. When I mentioned this to Nina, she recoiled, excused herself and went to the bath-room where she remained for fifteen minutes. On returning, she crammed some sandwiches into her bag and fled. The next morning we woke to find her car still parked outside the house. Nina was curled shivering and clutching her stomach on the back-seat. Further investigation revealed that she had pilfered and devoured the contents of our medicine cabinet. We complained to the production-company. It's very poor etiquette to turn up at someone's house and attempt to commit suicide. We didn't even know the woman.
Naturally, we expected Nina's employers to dismiss her and send someone competent to the task of investigating my powers. Instead they produced not one, but four episodes of The People Who Saw Tomorrow in which I was portrayed by the late Samuel Nimmo, a malign looking dwarf with a metabolic disorder who attempted to convey an impression of psychic intuition by pointing at people and shrieking in a hideous falsetto. Nimmo, incidentally, has subsequently been arrested on numerous occasions for acts of gross depravity. Nina, meanwhile, wrote her first book on the subject of psychic detection, a volume in which charlatans and schizophrenics are glorified and I'm dismissed in the chapter Frauds, Sharks and Weirdoes as a “morbid Scottish adolescent who spends his time stealing underwear and sifting through his neighbours' rubbish.” This was a deliberate misinterpretation of incidents that occurred in the course of investigations. Phyllis Yuill's technique, in contrast, comprises entirely of throwing teabags at people, yet Nina, perhaps empathising with the plight of a fellow psychotic fat woman, afforded her an entire chapter, crediting her with the resolution of various cases including at least one that occurred in the realm of fiction. The fact that I had been extensively tested under laboratory conditions and had received laminated certificates of authenticity from research facilities and universities in London, Munich and Tampa Bay, Florida went unrecorded.
15/11/08 The potential hazards of an attachment formed over the internet and initially conducted by e-mail must be apparent to any sensible person. However frankly correspondents might set about describing themselves, their actual presence will often occasion a feeling of anti-climax if not savage disappoinment. My files contain several examples of on-line romance gone wrong. Readers might remember the case of Keith Collymore, a forty-seven year old bachelor from Bolton whose long distance courtship of New Jersey secretary Valerie Judd culminated in a tentative engagement. It would be ungenerous to ridicule either party for the fecklessness of making such a serious commitment to someone they'd never actually seen . Solitude, as I often say, is a prerequisite of greatness but only the dullest investigator remains oblivious to the possible consequences of loneliness. In this instance, the affection engendered between the pair was no less real for being based on mutual delusion. As Valerie refused to fly and Collymore, unemployed and responsible for the care of a sickly mother, lacked the resources to travel, they might have persisted in their intense, bloodless friendship until one or the other died or simply lost interest. Unfortunately, a lottery windfall (not particularly remarkable, but sufficiently significant as to entitle the description “life changing”) enabled Collymore to have his mother taken into private care and buy himself a ticket to America.
Valerie was immediately dismayed by the realisation that her mental picture of Collymore's personal appearance had been based on twenty year old photographs, not one of which had caused her to suspect a lack of stature which, years later, caused members of her family to refer to him as "the dwarf". Never having actually spoken to him, her expectations were further confounded by the subtle but pronounced speech impediment that caused his rendition of words containing the letters ‘c', ‘g' or ‘k' to be accompanied by a catarrhal roar as he attempted to tear recalcitrant vowels from the rear of his throat. This complication didn't deter him from talking incessantly: almost exclusively about personal problems to which he had only fleetingly alluded throughout his correspondence. “He was a monomaniac,” recalls Valerie's sister, Gayle. “He'd had all these issues with people. It had obviously never occurred to him that he might get on better if he bathed once in a while. When he arrived we thought, okay, he's been sitting on a plane for hours but three days later and you could still smell him coming about ten seconds before he actually arrived. You want Keith in a nutshell? He was short, boring and he smelt like a kebab. If Val wasn't such a nice person she'd have left him at the airport.”
Most damaging of all, though, according to Gayle, were the panic attacks triggered by a variety of causes (the most troublesome being the colour red) that caused him to lock himself inside her toilet for periods of up to an hour. (“Not that it ever occurred to him to wash while he was there.”) This disorder, a factor in Collymore's long term unemployment, was almost certainly exacerbated by his relocation to a strange environment. “He never left the apartment. For two weeks, he just lingered. You couldn't put on the t.v. in case it upset him. You had to be careful what you wore in case it freaked him out. You couldn't pour a glass of cranberry juice, for God's sake....”
It's impossible not to empathise with Valerie's predicament: the annihilation of a dream is painful enough in itself without the expectation that we accept responsibility for the agent of its destruction. Apparently oblivious to the awkwardness of the situation, Collymore assumed the role of ‘house-husband', cleaning Valerie's apartment and preparing meals she couldn't bring herself to eat. “She used to stay at work or come by my place,” remembers Gayle. “By six o'clock he'd start phoning to see where she was. If he'd left the apartment just once she could have changed the locks, but he was like dry rot.” The reader might wonder why Valerie didn't simply ask her guest to leave : my guess is that a fear of confrontation combined with a reluctance to acknowledge the full extent of her misjudgement caused Valerie to tolerate him until he recovered his equilibrium sufficiently to appraise the reality of the situation for himself and go home. After a month, however, he remained in situ , the only consolation for Valerie being his panic related inability (explained and apologised for at length) to consummate their engagement.
Most of us can withstand a private humiliation: as long as Collymore remained housebound, Valerie was spared the ordeal of acknowledging her folly to anyone other than her sister. Crisis was finally precipitated by his sudden decision to end his period of reclusion. With an unerring sense of timing, he materialised at Valerie's office as desks were cleared and bottles corked for an impromptu birthday celebration. Valerie's colleagues had long been intrigued by the enigmatic Englishman with whom she'd fallen in love. His adventures, as recounted by Valerie, had assumed the proportion of radio serials while his opinions were routinely offered as the last word on whatever topic had divided the office. While Valerie, by all accounts, maintained her composure as Collymore, bolstered by champagne, introduced himself to everyone, repeated various indiscretions and, finally, demanding attention by rapping his glass with a spoon until it smashed, declared his intention of “making an honest woman of Valerie”, we can surmise the full extent of her mortification from the fact that, an hour after leaving the party she telephoned her sister to confess to her fiance's murder. “I didn't mean to,” she sobbed. “I couldn't help myself.” When Gayle arrived at her sister's apartment, Collymore was, in fact, still alive. Within forty eight hours, however, he'd succumbed to wounds inflicted by a hammer with which he'd been effecting household repairs. Pathologists estimated that he'd sustained thirty seven separate wounds, any one of which might have proved fatal. “I just couldn't stop,” explained Valerie at her trial. Despite mitigating circumstances, she was found guilty of second degree murder, a verdict against which her sister has subsequently campaigned. “My sister's a good person, but she was driven beyond her tether,” says Gayle. “I don't think any reasonable person could expect someone to endure what she did. At the end of the day, she's been punished because she tried to be nice to the guy. I can assure you that anyone else would have shown him the door.”
31/10/08 The immune systems of psychically gifted children are often depleted by negative energy absorbed from those around them. Until embarking upon a daily regime of vitamins and stretching exercises, My Uncle Gregor's presence invariably caused choking fits while a visit from the Hegartys was sufficient to induce seizure. It gives me no satisfaction to record that in both cases my instincts were subsequently vindicated, but at the time I was accused of play acting and, on occasions, dragged to my room. Parents and babysitters should note that this is a potentially fatal response to a clairvoyant child's distress symptoms. Unsupervised, he might choke on his own drool or bludgeon himself to death in an effort to obliterate the unwanted images gathered in his mind. In fairness to my parents, until my aunt contacted the Gibson Institute, neither was offered any guidance in the specific needs of clairvoyants. Many gifted children, of all types, have their fiery essence drenched by incomprehension and disapproval. Ninety per cent have their potential nullified by the time the can walk. How many parents are competent to the task of raising a special child? Obviously, it's difficult to identify gifted children at an early age. My solution is that all children by removed from the home and reared by qualified nurturers until their individual capabilities become apparent.
The period leading up to Hallowe'en is particularly fraught for children of clairvoyance. As a five year old, I had a terrible experience of psychic transportation while dunking for apples. I still retain a vivid memory of rough handed men in coarse leggings holding me underwater while their wives encouraged them from a distance, banging tambourines and singing "Green Grow the Rushes", a song I've subsequently associated with acts of cruelty. For some reason, the name Goodie Protheroe and the English county of Hampshire come to mind whenever I think of the incident. Consultation with local historical societies confirmed a spate of witch purges in the county throughout the mid 17th century. Though no record exists of the victims' names, I'm confident that Protheroe might be found among them.
Many of the playful traditions enjoyed at this time are rooted in a sinister reality. I'm aware of how eagerly some of my friends anticipate Hallowe'en: it pains me to seem a killjoy, but please be aware that the enaction of certain rituals, even in jest, invites catastrophe. Children of enhanced intuition are especially vulnerable to the psychic disruptions caused by the reckless agitation of spirits. How many are permanently traumatised by oblivious parents determined that they 'join in the fun'? The same tragic scenario is repeated every year: "Will you please stop squirming?" demands a fractious mother as she unwittingly forces her special child's head into a pumpkin shaped mould in which he'll be permanently transported to a realm of darkness*. "But, Hamilton, my child is as sensitive as a door-knob!" This might be the case, but he should be discouraged from blundering around, provoking entities that might attach themselves to his friends. All parents should exercise caution at this time, particularly as event organisers increasingly refer to the internet to tap into the festival's origins. The potential damage is sufficient to seriously consider a ban. At the very least, certain types of costume and rituals should be legally proscribed with on the spot fines imposed on scofflaws.
*Parents who insist on forcing their children into costume for Hallowe'en should be wary of allowing them to adopt personae with negative connotations. The post-modern parent might consider it amusing to dress his child as Crippen, Lizzie Borden or Tom Baker's Dr Who, but the psychic repercussions are potentially devastating and permanent.
29/10/08 My brother, with a characteristic lack of self-awareness, makes occasional unkind observations about what he scathingly refers to as my 'celebrity'. Obviously, this is an ironic insult from someone who has sent approximately three thousand unsolicited cassettes to record companies, but allowances must be made for Spencer's extreme unhappiness. Like many people who consider their own lives unsatisfactory, he's particularly diligent in finding fault in others: it's his only solace. Over the years, he's expended so much energy in disparaging me that it's hardly surprising his 'pop' career has foundered. The fact that my opinions are sought and disseminated to the audience he feels should, by rights, be his, is a source of terrible resentment. When I return from my weekly 'Crime Time' contributions to the Rob McAskill radio show, I invariably find Spencer belligerently drunk and eager to criticise my performance. While he professes to hate the show, he never misses my appearances. In fact, he records them in order that he can re-listen while sober and repeat the same sarcastic observations to which I've already been subjected.
Spencer is, of course, completely unqualified to discuss my realm of expertise. Despite the impression of worldliness he attempts to convey, his own life experience is so limited that he's barely qualified to discuss anything beyond what food he enjoys. In a society in which everyone's opinions are considered valid, though, I can understand how frustrating it is for Spencer that, after a lifetime of attempted communication, nobody is even remotely interested in his.
Dealing with the inanities of Rob's listener's in fact, is something I find increasingly irksome. Normally I'm eager to accommodate anyone who might ask for an opinion. When other people 'zone out' (as my niece, Muriel, says) my own focus intensifies. All I can discern of these people, though, is that they're boring me. Out of politeness I try and dissemble an interest, but I can't help dread the pre-occupation with trivia that Rob, despite the best of intentions, shares with his listeners. “What are Hamilton's opinions on such or such a pop star?” they ask, or “What does Hamilton think about such or such a marriage?” The truth is that Hamilton thinks very little of such things if at all! How can it possibly interest me if a movie actor I've never heard of has drugged himself into a state of incapacity or left his wife for someone he's met on a goodwill tour of Africa (whatever that might entail)? Unless his personal depredations lead him into my own realm of expertise, aberrant and criminal behaviour, I can only say “good luck to him” and try to negotiate a change of subject.
Last night's show was (predictably) dominated by discussion of the Andrew Sachs debacle. Caller after caller excorciated Ross and Brand with a vehemence that recalled the response to the attempted destruction of Glasgow Airport. Having already committed myself to a public opinion, it seemed churlish to express a lack of interest in everyone else's, but a disproportionate amount of energy has already been expended discussing the matter. Even Gordon Brown, briefly replaced by the pair as national scapegrace, has felt compelled put aside the financial crisis in order to condemn his successors with an alacrity which, I fear, reflects as badly on his empathetic qualities as his ability to prioritise. Messrs Ross and Brand might have behaved thoughtlessly toward the extended Sachs family: it doesn't necessarily follow that we retaliate on their behalf. When broadcasters (and audiences) insist on celebrating cretins, it seems a colossal humbug to recoil when they fully reveal themselves. Was anyone really astonished that Ross and Brand were capable of such crassness? In my experience, an excess of indignation often masks the vindictive spirit of schadenfreude. Modern Britain is frequently compared to ancient Rome: a more appropiate analogy would surely be to the Incan Empire where sacrifices were lavished prior to their destruction. Just ask poor Jade Goody!
My relationship with Rob's listeners has been fractious since my contributions were rewarded with the ( ostensibly light-hearted) 'Rat of the Year' accolade. My continued participation might be attributed to a reluctance to be bullied by a vociferous minority. Last night, for the first time in months, I initially found myself in accord with the majority of callers. As the show progressed, though, and the anti-Ross and (particularly) Brand sentiments became dementedly overwrought, I was stricken by qualms about my own contribution to the debate, particularly the (genuine) concern that Brand's personality might have been destabilised by self-abuse. "Are you saying Russell Brand's a wanker , H?" squawked Rob, reddening with excitement. Naturally, I was loath to resort to exactly the sort of mean-spirited name-calling against which Rob and his callers had been fulminating. Pressed on the point, I merely confirmed that I suspected solitary over-indulgences might have contributed toward Brand's delinquency, adding pointedly, "he's hardly an isolated case ." It was a fatal prevarication. For the remainder of the show, my attempts to return to a level of measured debate were completely overwhelmed. "From the criminologist's viewpoint," I countered as a caller from Dundee expounded on the treatment Ross and Brand might expect in the (unlikely) eventuality of their attempting to disgrace a member of his family. "I'm not interested in the criminologist's point of view," he interrupted. "What about the grandparent's point of view! If Russell Brand thinks he can sleep with my grand-daughter and tell everyone about it...."
Today, the saga continues: Brand has resigned while Ross clings to his position at the BBC with the tenacity of a flea attached to the coat of a wolfhound; Georgina Baillie, the grand-daughter scorned, apparently having learned nothing from her liaison with one dubious partner has agreed terms with Max Clifford and the Sun; Andrew Sachs, probably embarrassed by the entire sorry business, continues to conduct himself with a terrible dignity which must chasten the culprits more effectively than the denunciations of a thousand and one prime ministers. The rest of us, having been irritated by the affair might wonder what else we might have been thinking about. There are great Kingdoms to be conquered, if only we could resist the temptation to peer into whatever squalid corners might distract us en route!
28/10/08 Poor Andrew Sachs! At seventy-eight years old, he must have considered himself beyond the reach of playground indignities. In the aftermath of the prolonged and goading verbal assault to which he was subjected by BBC radio presenters Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross*, however, he must reconcile himself to an unexpected new status as a prominent victim of bullying. It's impossible to imagine Brand and Ross filling, say, Nigel Benn's answer machine with similar messages. Sachs must feel as belittled by their confidence that they could target him with impunity as the pointlessly sordid nature of their abuse. "Why me?" he might plead. "What did I do to arouse such contempt?" It was this very inoffensiveness, I suspect, that made him Brand and Ross consider him an irresistible target. "The worst thing you can do to a man is pity him," said my grandfather. Unfortunately, as Sachs and his family veer between outrage and bemusement, sympathy seems the only appropriate response.
"Who are these people, Hamilton?" readers outwith the central London area might demand. "What possible effect can their squabbles have on me? You're meant to be authority on detection and the paranormal but all you seem to do is witter on about celebrities and talent contests!" I can only apologise. Normally, I'd consider the subject as unworthy of discussion as a fracas outside a chip shop. The entire episode, though, seems indicative of a wider malaise. Having investigated so-called 'prank' calls on numerous occasions, I can assure the reader that they invariably indicate something darker than juvenile high-jinks: the neophyte investigator ignores their significance at his peril. That, however, is by the by. What concerns the social analyst in this instance is the fact that two prominent broadcasters should commit themselves to an act of public vindictiveness, apparently without fear of censure.
As a television licence scofflaw, I know little of either of Sachs' tormentors: Ross has hovered unpleasantly on the periphery of my subconscious for a number of years, but until now Russell Brand's existence had almost entirely escaped my attention. Looking at photographs of this unkempt and flagrantly dissolute young man, I find myself harking back to a lost age of stammering relatives confined to attics and cellars, only occasionally released as a terrible warning against the consequences of self-abuse*. This summation might seem gratuitously coarse, but as it suggested itself to me spontaneously, it would be remiss not to offer it as a possible cause of Brand's appearance** and behaviour.
Reviewing the transcript of the messages left by Brand and Ross on Mr Sachs' answer machine can anyone fail to be disturbed by the pair's complete inability to control their darker urges? Either oblivious or indifferent to the seniority of their victim or the inevitable revulsion of their audience, they conducted themselves like Regency yahoos. Apparently revelling in their power to wound, they instinctively returned to images most likely to cause their victim dismay: the sexual violation of Mr Sachs' grand-daughter (by leering oddball Brand, no less!) and the elderly actor's own self-destruction. Even Spencer, not normally an adherent to the demands of propriety, was moved to vehemently express a desire to punch Russell Brand (a sentiment I've seen repeated on various forums dedicated to the incident.) No more than fifty years ago, such an outrage would have certainly resulted in Brand's being dragged from his lair and flogged****. In this instance, though, I feel we should examine the possible causes of his behaviour. Rather than resort to his destruction, I suggest that he be subjected to some benign form of supervision, if only to identify and discourage whatever habits have contributed to his delinquency. Given the choice between seeing Brand physically chastised or released from the dungeons of his imagination, I'm confident that Andrew Sachs, a transparently decent man, would opt for the latter.
* Apparently Jonathon Ross's annual salary exceeds £18million. Ironically, the proposed radio show, Hamilton Coe's Scotland, which would have cost a fraction of this was dismissed as "a complete waste of money."
**Solitary pleasures, formerly deplored as a contributory factor to deformity and madness, are now indulged to the extent that public conveniences are monopolised by pale misfits compulsively clawing at themselves and desecrating every available surface with illustrations of their maddening fantasies. The notion of self-control is, of course, considered ridiculously old fashioned. "Our private moments are our own!" protest libertarians. This, in fact, is a very recent concept. For centuries, the fear of being watched over was a sufficient deterrent to forming demeaning and furtive habits. A century of scepticism has, however, heralded an age of depravity. Last year, a collection of minor celebrities threatened to participate in a sponsored ‘self-love in' proceeds of which would be donated to the BBC's Children in Need charity. This plan was only thwarted by last minute police objections prompted not by the scheme's hideous nature, but fears that central London, the proposed scene of the outrage, would be flooded by voyeurs and rendered vulnerable to terrorist attack.
***Non-specific side effects of this demeaning habit are depression, energy depletion and premature aging. Specific symptoms include swollen joints (particularly on the fingers), excessive nostril hair, mouth ulcers and facial tics. The notion that compulsive self-abusers can be identified by hairy palms is, however, a myth.
**** Such summary justice is still routinely executed in parts of Fife.
6/9/08 My so-called biographer, Nina Kelly, writes that as a child I possessed a ‘vast, wall eyed face, bulging from the pram like a malevolent planet.' Photos from the time of my infancy tend to vindicate her unnecessarily cruel assessment. According to my mother, my appearance was only slightly less alarming than the hoarse bellow with which I remonstrated against the encroachment of unfamiliar parties. While I'm sufficiently robust to enjoy a joke at my own expense, I feel a retrospective sorrow on my parents' behalf. All they wanted was for the world to love their son. How terrible it must have been for them to see him rejected on account of the very attributes that made him special! While there is no professional support network available to the parents of unprepossessing children, the tendency to automatically condemn them helps no-one. We should be considerate toward people whose offspring squawk, kick and sulk until we've established the cause of the child's discontent. Then we might apply compassion or condemnation, whichever is appropriate. Even though I was in my infancy when my powers became apparent, I can still vividly recall the ostracism to which I was subjected as I struggled with the initial confusion familiar to any child of enhanced intuition. These problems were merely compounded by the matter of my personal appearance.
The ability to look into men's hearts is often dispiriting. What some people blithely refer to as a ‘gift' is, actually, a terrible thing to bear. The depiction of young detectives in popular fiction tends to be misleading. They're popular and constantly surrounded by admirers. Did either Hardy boy resort to going to the prom with Aunt Gertrude? Of course not! This is a popular misconception. In reality, the young person who exposes wrong doing is shunned, ridiculed and dangled from the flagpole with the word “spy” daubed on his torso. And this human aversion to the truth-teller doesn't take into account the fear inspired by the supernatural elements of clairvoyance. The average child is intolerant and cruel. He detests anyone who's different. If another, more sensitive, child intuits that his father beats his mother or stays out late with other women, he doesn't acknowledge the truth in the revelation or even accept it as a possibility. Instead he points his finger and shouts “freak!” encouraging his friends to surround the truth-teller and pummel him.
I can think of few more damaging environments for a sensitive child than a 1970's Scottish primary school. Teachers, circumscribed by their own limitations, have always championed nonentity. Whatever the weapons at their disposal, tawse, indifference or withering rebuke, they have proved themselves the age-old enemies of promise. This has always been the case. Had Mrs Black, headmistress of Drumfeld Primary at the time of my attendance, even attempted to comprehend the problems unique to clairvoyant children, my school career might have been entirely different. With reference to the guidelines supplied by the Gibson Institute (and binned in my presence), my fellow pupils might have been coached in their dealings with the special individual in their midst. On reaching adulthood, they might have remembered their assocation with Hamilton Coe with pride and affection. Instead, I suspect, the mention of my name might rouse the inconsolable hounds of conscience.
As is often the case in such circumstances, my rejection was preceded by a brief period of popularity. An article about my endorsement by the Gibson Institute which appeared the Drumfeld Gazette ("Hats Off to Hamilton, Drumfeld's Very own Boy of Mystery!") initially encouraged my classmates to consider me someone to be admired rather than detested. For the first months of my school career the role of class scapeagoat was occupied by Heather Spink*. In the interests of candour, I have to confess to responsibility for identifying Heather as an undesirable. She immediately attracted my notice as she skipped around the playground, her blonde fringe ringed by a garland of daisies. To the untrained eye, she gave impression of harmlessness. Softly spoken and shy, her imposture might have been effective anywhere else. She had not, however, reckoned on the presence of a classmate with enhanced intuition. A vivid, red birth-mark on the back of her left hand, throbbing with malign energy, alerted me to the fact that simpering Heather was not as she appeared. Later persistent impressions of semi-transluscent fat flies hovering around her, gorged on blood caused me further concern. The final, and as far as I was concerned, conclusive piece of evidence against Heather came in the vision of a tiny old woman who crawled behind her, dragging herself by her knuckles.
Naturally, I was eager to warn our classmates of these presentiments. One might argue that I acted rashly, but circumspection only comes with age. For Heather, the consequences of exposure were immediate: found guilty of witch-craft in a playground trial presided over by Judge Hamilton Coe, the first and last time I assumed such a role, she was immediately ostracised. This was never my intention. I'm not, by nature a cruel person: regardless of the shadow that clouded her personality, the pain Heather endured on account of her isolation gave me no satisfaction. As far as I was concerned, it was sufficient for our classmates to be forewarned of the potential repercussions of her friendship.
By the time Heather's parents removed her from the school some of the other children had become dependent upon the presence of a whipping boy. After a week of simmering resentment, they turned on me. The trial of Hamilton Coe was brief and brutal, the verdict 'Guilty' and the sentence that I be tied to a tree and pelted with mud, the first of several mortifications that eventually led to my own removal from Drumfeld Primary.
* * *
In the 1930's, Gideon Kester, arriving in Britain from Berlin where he had established a reputation as an iconoclastic but brilliant lecturer, established the world's first Kester school in Kent. A residential facility, the school, in keeping with Kester's philosophy, was devoted to nurturing the diverse talents of gifted pupils which had been stifled in more traditional estblishments. Over the next twenty years, five more Kester schools opened across the country. In 1979, after a stringent interview and background checks, I was accepted as a day pupil in Meredith House, the only Kester endorsed institution in Scotland. This offer was subsequently withdrawn when the school's headmaster, George Findlay, was placed on a sabbatical amidst rumours of alcoholism and nervous collapse.
Naturally, this was devastating. My imminent enrolment had already been featured in the Drumfeld Gazette accompanied by a photograph of me in my distinctive Kester uniform of neckerchief and liederhosen. My subsequent rejection was noted by a malevolent sub-editor who ran a story headed "Hamilton Coe - Not Even Remotely Gifted", this apparently being a quotation from the school's interim headmaster. Drumfeld Primary School's headmistress, Irene Black, a woman who had singularly failed in her duty to protect me from the vengeful incomprehension of my classmates, was also quoted saying, "I find it inconceivable that Hamilton would have been considered in the first place." For the next five years, the Coes' lawyers pursued an apology from the Kester Foundation and a retraction from Ms Black. Neither was forthcoming. My education, in the meantime, was delegated to a succession of tutors, culuminating in the monstrous Ronald Beith.
At the time of Beith's employment, my own stock was low. Ridiculed in The People Who Saw Tomorrow television series and widely ostracised in the wake of the Karen Gardner affair, my judgement was considered flawed. My parents, beleaguered by public disapproval were determined to curb my investigative instincts while my aunt, normally my staunchest supporter, was absent, suffering the effects of nervous exhaustion. Beith's interview was further complicated by the presence of a social worker who turned out to be a relative. “Stop staring at Ronald like that,” she snapped as I struggled to intuit something more specific than the overwhelming sensation of dampness prompted by his presence. As Beith stammered and compulsively swallowed his way through the interview, I tried to interject with questions of my own: “Who is Nicola?” I demanded. “Why is her tongue so dry?” Before I could reach a satisfactory conclusion, though, Beith's relative intervened. I was ordered from the room – my own family sitting room! – and he was employed in my absence. Thus began a relationship that, in its way, was as intimate as any marriage. Until his demise in a fume filled garage five years later, Ronald Beith was to establish himself as my Moriarty. Without my constant attention, Beith, whose malign genius ensured brief careers in St Andrews, Durham and Swansea, would have attained a position from which he might have wrought chaos on a grand scale. Legal constraints and the discretion essential to any effective investigator prevent me from being more specific. When eventually submitted to the public domain, however, my complete Beith files will present a portrait of a monster.
* Throughout my teens, I closely monitored the behaviour of Heather and her younger brother Declan. My early intuitions were entirely vindicated as their transgressive behaviour led to both being expelled from a succession of schools. Declan, with whom Spencer, always attracted to bad character, attempted to forge a friendship, attained notoriety as Drumfeld's first teenage Hitlerite, shaving his head and strutting around town in bovver boots. I suffered more than one pummelling at his hands, indignities reversed when my investigation was instrumental in his apprehension for substance abuse, assault and twenty seven separate counts of vandalism. Relocated to a residential school and surrounded by more accomplished thugs than himself, the menace was menaced and eventually broken, returning to Drumfeld a stammering advocate of sandals and non-confrontation.
Heather, however, persisted in transgressive behaviour. When she was eighteen, she moved to Glasgow, ostensibly to study but, as it turned out, to pursue a drug habit and immerse herself in the city's netherworld. Ten years ago, I adopted the persona of 'Donald the Druid' in order to investigate her activities. After inadvertently rendering myself insensible with a drug-spiked cake, I came within seconds of being subjected to a facial tattoo, emerging from my trance as the needle whirred hideously over my left cheek.
Three years ago, Heather returned to Drumfeld suffering the effects of septicaemia caused by a profusion of bacteria on her numerous facial piercings. Rendered hideous by her seeping wounds, she is largely housebound.
** It's essential that the effective investigatory eschew any notion that he represents the spirit of revenge. His primary interest must always be in truth. Once the facts have been established, his role is over.
21/8/08 Following yesterday's entry, it's probably only fair for me declare my position on the Drumfeld's Got Talent* panel of judges. I can reassure incumbents in the national equivalent that I'm not angling for an invitation to participate. They might, however, refer to dvds of the show for examples of how to realistically assess a performer without demoralising him. If in doubt about an act's quality (and admittedly, on occasion, sanity ) I placate him or her with an affable, "well, it's certainly different !" I've repeated this non-commitment so frequently that it's become something of a catch-phrase. "It's certainly different, Hamilton!" someone might shout as I cycle past on my Pashley or browse in the Spar. Fellow panellist, newsagent Hamish Duff, invariably followed this with "It's not different, Hamilton, it's drivel ...." Unfortunately, his commitment to 'telling-it-like-it-is' precipitated a spate of broken windows and the appearance of the words 'Death to Duff' sprayed on his lock-up.
Last year, following Hamish's resignation, the event's organisers introduced two new judges to the panel. Semi-professional curmudgeon Hugh Walker and T.V. talent show contestant and model Lindsay Carmichael (I've italicised the second of Ms Carmichael's qualifications because, according to my research, she's never actually modelled. It's a small point. She may intend to model, but until she does so, I'd advise her against padding out her c.v. with empty boasts.) Lindsay did appear briefly on the show's national equivalent, but failed to impress the panel of judges and was, in fact, reduced to tears by a unanimously harsh assessment of her singing ability. It could at least be argued that she had some experience in the field, albeit with a suspect temperament. Walker's appointment was more contentious and I opposed it from the outset. The event's organisers insisted that he'd fill the 'Simon Cowell' role recently vacated by Duff.
For years, the mere sight of Walker's vivid mop of dyed blonde hair in an audience has been sufficient to cause the most assured actor to stammer and fluff his lines. Since his appointment as the Perth Advertiser's Arts Correspondent, local drama groups have been traumatised by his withering assessments. As verbose as he is vituperative, his reviews often take up entire pages as he minutely details a production's flaws. Not content with dissecting deficiciencies of acting, writing or direction, he's has been known to castigate those responsible for lighting, musical direction and set design. When satisfied that he's adequately established the absence of talent, Walker's not above pointing out actors' physical defects. Drumfeld Players' stalwart Sandy Hall consulted lawyers after being repeatedly referred to as 'the cabbage' while Sheila Carruthers, from the same group, was identified as 'surely the most wizened and least desirable Principal Boy in the history of theatre. In assuming a role that traditionally prompts the first sexual yearnings, she's nudging a hallful of young boys toward homosexuality.' **
My objections to the new panellists were over-ruled. It gives me no satisfaction to record that, on the evening of Drumfeld's Got Talent, 2008, my fears were fully vindicated. Lindsey's contribution was inoffensive but negligible. Walker, however, was in his element. The first act of the evening, septugenarian dog handler Cyril Rilley and his musical Spaniel, Trudy, lasted three minutes: Walker's critique (including a lengthy digression over the course of which he dismissed my "it's certainly different" as 'insipid' and 'gutless')stretched to half an hour. Simon Cowell's put-downs, however feeble, are at least succinct. By the conclusion Lindsey and Rilley were both in tears while a third of the remaining contestants had left rather than subject themselves to a similarly merciless assessment.
By the time the last contestant, Frank Burns, took to the stage, it was nearly 2a.m. I was surprised that Frank had even entered what was, essentially, an amateur talent show. A passable singer and enthusiastic pianist, he's long been a fixture on what I've heard referred to as ‘The Trossachs Scene'. Better known as Rockin' Robin, The Boogie-woogie man and the Highlander, all names he has attributed to himself, he ruins songs, in my opinion, by frequently referring to himself in grotesquely whimsical, self-pitying terms: “Poor old Frankie can't take it no more,” he might whine or, “Spare a thought for poor old Frankie when you're lying next to Steve.” Of course, I can't claim any expertise in the realm of rock and pop. I rarely listen to anything other than Holst or my beloved Mahler. I'll concede, though, that on the occasions I've seen him play, I've found my foot tapping along to his repertoire. He's certainly a more accomplished entertainer than my brother, though his style is unnecessarily flashy and he dyes his hair. While I'd also contest his oft repeated assertion that “Freedom's just another word for nothing else to lose”, I'd advise against discussing the fallacy of the argument with him. He's a notoriously volatile individual, particularly when in his cups. Rumours that he summoned the devil in Aberfoyle churchyard and exchanged his soul for a skull ring and a sixteen year old girlfriend led to his being excluded from Drumfeld's Hogmanay celebrations. (His girlfriend has since had a child, Frankie Junior, whose welfare is monitored by the social services: Frankie commemorated the occasion by setting fire to a phone box in Aberfoyle, an act of delinquency for which he was subsequently barred from re-entering the town.)
It's fair to say that if Hugh had been less thorough in his condemnation of the preceding acts, Frank might have been capable of delivering a lucid performance. According to bar-staff, in the two hours immediately prior to his own audition, he worked his way through seven pints of Guiness, each accompanied by a shot of whisky. This, however, doesn't take into account what he'd been drinking earlier or, indeed, consuming over the course of what witnesses described as 'suspiciously frequent' trips to the toilet. By the time he shoved aside Colin Nicol, the evening's m.c., and sat down at the piano, his eyes were ablaze. His extended family and entourage, meanwhile, gathered menacingly in the front rows, where they started a chant of " Fran -kie, Fran -kie!" which he milked before embarking on an original composition, the lyric of which consisted entirely of the repeated assertion that "I'm a one man gang...."
"It's certainly different," I ventured as Frankie (having been frustrated in his intended finale by doormen who confiscated the lighter fluid with which he'd sprayed both Colin Nicol and the piano) stood before us for appraisal. "I loved it," concurred Lindsey in a strained voice that indicated the imminence of more tears. "Frankie," concluded Hugh after an agonising pause, "has enormous energy .... " He would doubtless have continued were it not for the commencement of a slow hand-clap at the rear of the hall where the other contestants and their friends had gathered. Walker's uncharacteristic equivocation had alerted them to a collapse of nerve that could only herald a (wholly undeserved) victory for Burns. Responding to chants of "Fix!" one of Frankie's friends lobbed a tumbler in the direction of the malcontents, inciting a general fracas that persisted until the arrival of police reinforcements from Stirling.
In ensuing weeks, I'm afraid, there were no more cheery cries of "it's certainly different!" as I went about my business around Drumfeld. Instead I was routinely assailed by shouts of " cheat " and " shitebag ". The accusation of cowardice, of course, is a particular slur against the founder of Cung-Coe. I can only counter that the first principle of a martial art is to realistically assess any given situation. On this occasion, my instantaneous assessment led me to barricade myself in a toilet cubicle from which I was rescued an hour later. The subsequent Examiner article, "Hamilton Coe Abandons Beauty Queen to Mercy of Mob", was inaccurate in every respect. Without wishing to be ungallant, I have to reiterate that Lindsey isn't a 'beauty queen'. More pertinently, having established that she and Hugh had sought refuge under the table, there was little else I could actually do.
* The second Drumfeld's Got Talent, in fact, featured two Hamilton Coes. When ventriloquist Craig Sanderson introduced Hamilton Coe, Junior to the audience there were concerns that the joke might rebound. Investigators with less confidence in their abilities would have bridled at the affront. Had Sanderson attempted to introduce a Ronald Hawthorne puppet to its source he'd have provoked an immediate tantrum and received a lawyer's letter within the week. I'm made of sterner stuff. As anyone who knows me would have anticipated, I laughed louder than anyone and, at the skit's conclusion, applauded until my hands were raw. So pronounced, in fact, was my enjoyment that my sister and niece removed themselves from my vicinity and sat elsewhere. Nobody who has witnessed the extent to which I enjoy a good joke would ever accuse me of lacking a sense of humour.
In the weeks following the event, I did everything possible to assist Craig in making his creation credible, sending case studies and suggestions for future performances. It occurred to me that Hamilton Coe, Junior might be an ideal means of conveying my message to youngsters, contacted schools and youth groups on Craig's behalf and even sent him some appropriate scripts for such a venture. Craig, unfortunately, thought he knew better. Having harnessed the essence of Hamilton Coe, he tried to channel it in directions from which it could only rebound against him. In subsequent performances, Hamilton Junior became increasingly objectionable as Sanderson capitulated to the demands of adult audiences. “Stop that right now, Hamilton!” became his catch-phrase as the puppet rubbed himself aggressively against whatever young woman had wandered into the vicinity, his hinged jaw fixed in a leer of idiot yearning. After cautioning Sanderson against the path he'd followed, I was compelled, as was my right, to demand the puppet's destruction thus establishing a legal precedent for others parodied in this fashion.
** Like many who are excessively critical of others, Walker, beneath his bluster, is a sensitive and fragile individual. When the Gazette printed a letter critical of the quality (as opposed to the tone) of his writing, he threatened to resign his position. Bumptious and vain, he's in his element when regaling listeners with details of his own acting career, truncated, ironically, in 1970 when his interpretation of the leading role in Eastwood Theatre's The Importance of Being Earnest caused a reviewer to refer to him as 'nervous and unengaging'.
20/8/08 As a child of clairvoyance, my susceptibility to negative impressions rendered television viewing equivalent to peering through the window of an abattoir. Most people would regard Hughie Green or Noel Edmonds as minor irritants. To the young Hamilton Coe, however, they appeared as Angels of Desolation, their heads ringed by crackling auras the colour of suicide. At this time, of course, the celebrity assiduously ingratiated himself to the public. However hateful his thoughts or private behaviour, no-one was in any doubt that his public role was comparable to that of a trained parakeet. If a passing drunk were to kick his shins, he would force a smile and obligingly repeat whatever inane catch-phrase had provoked an overwhelming compulsion to assault him in the first place.
The advent of reality television has heralded a bewildering role reversal: members of the public audition for panel of personalities whose own accomplishments are so insignificant that their collective 'Who's Who' entry might be limited to the insertion of a full stop. Nor do these Ambassadors from the court of Nonentity feel obliged to count their blessings and behave charitably toward the (frequently deranged) exhibitionists who vie for their approval. (Piers Morgan in particular should be grateful that anyone will tolerate his company for more than five minutes before reaching for a horse-whip.) Snorting with derision, they turn to Simon Cowell, the only member of the panel capable of linking one coherent sentiment to another, for an adequate summation. Cowell has been accorded an inexplicable renown for the asperity of his put-downs: in reality, he's nothing more than the equivalent of the leader of school clique telling a prospective member that he's wearing the wrong type of shoes. The ghosts W.C. Fields and Dorothy Parker have little to fear. While his wit might be more aptly compared to a rubber mallet than a rapier , it has to be a concern that some of his victims are ill-equipped to endure public ridicule, however lame. It's all very well arguing that individuals are responsible for their own decisions, but in a civilised society we do what we can to coax our fellows away from harm: we don't point and jeer at their folly.
*Now we refer to the most obscure television personalities as if they were descended from an entirely separate lineage. Traditionally the phrase "members of the public" has broadly encapsulated all but the Royal Family. Celebrities now routinely use the phrase to dismiss those who gawk, demand autographs and harass them in restaurants. Conversely, fallen celebrities are sentenced to psychic annihilation: shipped to jungle studios and forced to eat insects. Any reality television show featuring celebrities is the modern equivalent of a public execution.
19/8/08 For years, Billy Ure and I celebrated the successful conclusion of a case by going to Jurassic Burgers, a now defunct Stirling restaurant with a prehistoric theme, where we would open and conclude proceedings with a cry of “ Friendship! Integrity! Valour! ” After the Karen Gardner case, recounted in detail by Nina Kelly, I altered the last of these to “ Justice ” in order to spare Billy, who hadn't covered himself in glory in the course of that particular investigation, the embarrassment of extolling a virtue he clearly didn't possess. Billy's role in my investigations gradually diminished: stricken by several breakdowns, he spent weeks at a time in a series of teenage psychiatric gulags. By the conclusion of my investigative career, he was effectively housebound and I commemorated the resolution of a case with my sister and my niece. I also reverted to the original slogan, though, I have to say that neither Christine nor Muriel ever declaimed it with much gusto.
Had I realised that the supper marking the successful conclusion of the Andrew Forrest investigation, was to be the last of these celebrations, I might have done more to savour the occasion. How easy it is to take things for granted! We wander blindly through life, committed not only to the same routines, but the same thoughts. How many of us spend hours brooding over the same scenarios, while remaining oblivious to our simple joys. We revist events and reflect on what we should have done and said while failing to give our full attention to what we're doing now. Retrospection is as pernicious as any other addiction. What we commonly refer to as nostalgia is just an affectionate word for a compound of senility, surrender and regret. We stare into the mirror wailing, "Whatever happened my youth!" and all the while, the shadows gather around us.
The Forrest celebration was, at the outset, a pleasant enough evening, albeit one tinged by its association with shattered lives. I remember attempting to lighten the mood by explaining to Muriel how, if necessary, I could simulate Houdini's Chinese Water Torture stunt by escaping from Marcocilli's ornamental fish tank. (I've always felt an affinity to Houdini: according to various theories, he was killed by a blow to abdomen, poison or black magic - all methods, co-incidentally, used in attempting to despatch Hamilton Coe.) This conversation was overheard by members of the party at the next table who, with escalating belligerence, encouraged me to put mytheory into practise. They were drunk, of course. While they weren't deliberately offensive, their intemperate hilarity in summoning inappropriate images of me chained and confined within the tank soured the evening, as did the repeated offer of financial incentives to make good my boast: grubbily crumpled pound notes pelted in my direction. My niece, who was twelve at the time, had always seen me in a heroic light which others might consider incongruous with reality: Muriel is now sixteen years old, prone to moodiness and burdened by the occasional presence of a father who is fat-headed and vain. Nobody enjoys seeing his or her hero debunked and, while I'm accustomed to derision, she was obviously distressed by my treatment at the hands of our fellow diners. I'm not sure that our relationship has ever fully recovered.
Marcocilli's superb coffee is normally my favourite part of the meal. On this occasion, with consideration to Muriel, I chose to forego the pleasure. While I was waiting for the bill, however, one of my tormentors turned sideways and sneezed, propelling a viral spray into the side of my face. While I don't dispute that this was unintentional, the consequence was a virus that incapacitated me for weeks and depleted my psychic abilities. To splutter over someone is equivalent to hawking phlegm into his soup or punching him in the face. Young people, who claim expertise on any conceivable topic, now fail to recognise the simple courtesy of despatching their germs into a handkerchief. This negligence will at some stage, inevitably, result in a global pandemic. That however, is by the by. Suffice to say, the incident precipitated the first protracted period of illness I'd suffered since childhood. By the time we returned to the house, I was already unsteady on my feet while my brain simmered like a poisonous yolk.
Weeks later, the Bucharest police department invited me to assist in the investigation of Cosmin Balescu's murder, a crime that exhibited signs of magic ritual, not uncommon in that part of the world. I've worked with police in Central and Eastern Europe on various occasions. Detectives in poorer countries are more inclined to respect the expertise of outsiders. Our own policemen have an unrealistic confidence in their own capabilities and resent what they perceive to be interference. At the time, I was still convalescing, but, having been entrusted with the resolution of a case which had thrown Transylvania into a panic, I was reluctant to prove the Rumanians' faith misplaced. While I prevaricated, a local psychic, Iorgu Zeklos, insinuated himself. I knew Zeklos from a conference in Vancouver from which he'd been sent home in disgrace after a horrible incident in his hotel bathroom. The thought of him swanning around Bucharest stroking his greasy moustache and ogling street-children while charging his bar-bills to an already impecunious police department caused me to behave rashly. I had only partially recuperated when I attempted to scrutinise the objects sent for analysis. My sister, who was attending me, tried to intervene, but I wouldn't listen. Whether I was intent on exposing Mr Balcescu's killer or thwarting Zeklos, as Christine subsequently insisted, is irrelevant. Evil is evil, whatever form it might take. The experienced detective recognises this. The space between an evil thought and an evil act is non-existent. The neophyte might find this concept hard to grasp. He'll have to take my word for it. Where evil is concerned, there's no grading system, simply right and wrong.
In her account of the Karen Gardner investigation, Nina Kelly refers to me constantly appearing in trees or patches of foliage, items of underwear pulled tightly over my scalp, a comical image, perhaps, but one with little bearing in reality. While this isn't the place to go deeply into my method, I should briefly explain the art of the psychometrist. To the receptive mind, every object retains impressions. It's entirely possible reconstruct an entire life-history from a discarded cigarette butt. Certain objects can be analysed more effectively than others. Underwear, for example, retains the essence of its wearer. An experienced psychometrist knows that a sock, vest or pair of underpants will yield more information than less intimate items. Over the years I've been the victim of various misunderstandings on this account, most of which have been repeated by Nina with leering relish. Anyone who knows me, however, is aware that if I'm wearing a bra on my head, some darker business is indicated than the indulgence of a puerile fetish.
Like most forms of clairvoyance, psychometry is potentially hazardous. An emotionally or mentally fragile practitioner has to exercise caution. Every clairvoyant knows at least one horror story of someone overwhelmed by what, for want of a better phrase might be termed the psychic residue contained within some apparently innocuous object. I've always been robust. Perhaps that's why in investigating the murder of Cosmin Balcescu I behaved so incautiously. When I held his glove over my brow I immediately went into a seizure. I've no memory of what happened. According to Christine, I convulsed violently and bellowed in a dialect she instinctively associated with the Middle East. When I emerged from the fit, the front of my brain hissed gently, like a damp sponge placed on a hot ring. The mind previously sensitive to information gleaned from a bar of soap or a cigarette butt, was as sluggish as gum discarded on a radiator. For the first time in my life, my mind was blank.
Since this initial period of illness, I've been particularly susceptible to bugs. This latest, co-incided almost exactly with my fortieth birthday. I spent the evening shivering in a blanket as Christine and friends from the Drumfeld players performed a pagaent ('Hamilton Coe at 40!') incorporating episodes from my Case Book. "He's already lapsed into mid-life crisis!" said Spencer as their rendition of my adventure in the Cottage of Concupiscence momentarily caused my eyes to brim. This, of course, was nonsense! 'Mid life crisis' is nothing more than a ridiculous justification for caddish behaviour imported from Hollywood. A sense of anti-climax and failure is, of course, to be expected in those who have lived as slaves to compromise. Anyone who imagines that squandered potential can be compensated by means of an illicit affair or purchase of a sports car probably had little to recommend him in the first place. It's true, however, that having spent the bulk of my life peering into the abyss, I've struggled to adjust to a more routine existence. A lot of my time, obviously, is taken up by writing, lecturing and broadcasting, but this is mere retrospection. My place in the history of detection is assured. My role in the present, unfortunately, is less clearly defined.
18/8/08 Having devoted much of the past, flu-ridden week to updating my own journals and contentedly browsing through other people's, I've given some thought to the extent of the 'internet revolution'. To be honest, I think there's a tendency to overstate its significance: the bulk of the world's population has never used a telephone , after all. Of the people I actually know only a handful regularly use a computer for anything other than the most practical purposes, far less maintain a personal web-site. At a superficial level, though, it appears that a section of the human race, finding the actual world unsatisfactory, has migrated inwards and set about colonising the realm of the imagination. To a certain extent, I'd compare 'cyber-space' to a vast frontier throughout which innumerable travellers have erected memorials to themselves. It's easy to dismiss the authorship of a 'blog' as a slightly preposterous conceit ("Nobody's interested in your stupid opinions, Hamilton!" - thank you, Muriel) but the human compulsion to record his day to day existence precedes the digital age. Had similar methods of instantaneous communication been available at any other period of history, we might be able to ponder excerpts from William Bonney's MySpace or Samuel Johnson's Bebo. Future historians of the early twenty first century will almost certainly refer to 'blogs' for information and some of their authors will be accorded a posthumous renown. Unfortunately, I suspect that within ten years a combination of misinformation, intensive marketing and mischief will have rendered the internet an ill-tempered, virus ridden Babel.
As the pioneers of the past discovered, encroachment into uncharted territory does nothing to reinforce the frailties that led us to seek an escape in the first place. Having alienated most of his actual friends, it was inevitable that my brother would embark upon a series of feuds with some of the ones he's made 'on-line' (or 'on- the -line' as I sometimes say mischievously to goad an irritated correction from Muriel!) When Spencer set up his MySpace account at the start of the year, he assiduously set about befriending the artists he most admires, crowing ludicrously whenever one accepted. "I'm friends with Nick Cave," he bragged to Muriel, prompting a scathing response of " who isn't ?" This was only a slight exaggeration. It took me seconds to establish that Mr Cave has over 20,000 'friends'. I anticipated the realisation that Spencer enjoyed the status of a fan rather than that of a peer would inevitably become a cause of shame and resentment. Sadly, my fears have been vindicated.
Most of my internet business is conducted from my lap-top. Spencer, however, has to use the 'family' computer in the living room. As he conducts most of his correspondence late at night while drunk*, he invariably neglects to sign out. On occasion, struggling to get a connection in my room, I've tried to access my page from there, only belatedly realising that I've blundered into his . The last time this happened, my perusal of a succession of offensive messages I assumed were intended for me was interrupted by a roar of "what the f__ _ do you think you're doing?" and an open handed cuff to the rear of the head. My embarrassment was tempered by relief that, for once, I wasn't the target of such bilious missives. This gradually turned to astonishement as I reflected on the fervour with which he'd pursued the most meaningless disputes with total strangers. Everyone, I'm sure has read similar exchanges on forums and comments boards ("You are sad!" says A, to which B replies, "I am not sad, I am great. You are the one who is sad!"). There was, however, something uniquely depressing about the image of my brother staring bleakly into the void and laboriously typing out a pointless and semi-coherent rebuke to some faceless adversary.
Unless it's pertinent to an investigation, I'm scrupulous about the sanctity of other people's personal correspondence. I will not, then, divulge details from Spencer's. Suffice to say that someone who bites must prepare to be bitten. Initially cordial, Spencer, increasingly irked by what he perceives to be a lack of respect, started responding to more successful 'friends'' updates and bulletins with bitter rejoinders along the lines of "so what?" and "why are you telling me this?" As is often the case with drunks, the encroachment of dawn causes Spencer's belligerence to revert to pusillanimity. He cringes before the screen and tries to summon the energy to re-engage in the cycle of recrimination. "Just apologize," I say. "Send out a bulletin of your own and explain that you're an alcoholic." Unfortunately, Spencer who prides himself on a fat-headed reluctance to back down, remains committed to denial and error.
* * *
My own habitual response to adverse comment is to ignore it. The universal arrogance of the narrow-minded makes scant allowance for possibilities beyond the realm of logic. More often than not, the so-called voice of reason has a limited vocabulary and is overly reliant on the word 'no'. Dolts and malcontents nearly always justify their petty squabbles by assuming for themselves the mantle of the righteous. "I'm just sticking up for myself," someone might say, oblivious to the fact that an existence of perpetual self-assertion is emotionally and physically harmful. The late Richard Malarkey, a near neighbour of Billy's, was a case in point. In ten years, he had over three hundred letters published in a variety of newspapers. The topics ranged from Scottish Independence, of which he was a passionate advocate, to the sort of local government issues in which no sensible person takes more than a passing interest. “Why haven't the Station Road plant pots been painted?” he demanded. Or “Whatever happened to the proposed Elder Road play area?” While this compulsion to meddle might be attributed to loneliness it often indicates a potential menace. My investigations into Malarkey's past (his origins were in the Huddersfield area) concerned me sufficiently to commence a surveillance operation in the course of which I was trapped while trying to escape his house via the kitchen window. Malarkey's demeanour on this occasion made it clear that, if not for the fact that I had not summoned assistance by means of my emergency whistle, he'd have cheerfully throttled me. Billy Ure, incidentally, failed to distinguish himself on this occasion, fleeing and watching from the safety of his bedroom window as the fire brigade arrived and, after an hour's negotiation with Malarkey, released me by first removing his window.
Malarkey's retaliation was predictable. He bombarded the social services with letters regarding my absences from school several of which resulted in visits from social workers my grandfather referred to as ‘the great unwashed'. My occasional newspaper appearances never failed to prompt a missive from him demanding an explanation as to why I was being ‘dragged around crime scenes like a performing seal' rather than attending school. When he wasn't attempting to interfere in my upbringing, he was dashing from his house to force cyclists onto the street from the pavement or berate dog owners for failing to scoop their pets' waste. He eventually died of an apoplectic seizure while attempting to stop an able- bodied woman from using a handicapped toilet.
* People exist in a state of constant flux. Famous cases of multiple personality disorders in which victims are 'inhabited' by various entities bear closer resemblance to our day to day lives than most of us would like to acknowledge. We may not attribute names and histories to our moods, but our memories, opinions and expectations can be significantly altered according to circumstance. The Hamilton Coe who has just stubbed his toe, for example, is an entirely different person from the Hamilton Coe who is relaxing with a cup of coffee. Having abandoned himself to the basest part of his nature, the drunkark rarely says anything of any merit. The phrase 'In Vino Veritas' is only partially accurate: however vehemently expressed, the opinion of a drunk may be a source of bewilderment and repugnance to him in the morning. Having committed himself, however, he feels compelled to persist in his folly. In capitulating to his bleakest instinct he becomes the equivalent of a human leashed by his dog.
I've never touched alcohol, save for the occasion of Spencer's 21 st birthday when I was tricked into drinking a large quantity of coca-cola laced with vodka: a dangerous prank that resulted in the necessity of having my stomach pumped. A letter of apology from one of the perpetrators, incidentally, is included in the Hamilton Coe archive. Spencer, the stunt's instigator, however, only expressed regret that the party (to which he resentfully insisted I gained entry by the subterfuge of adopting the identity of ‘Heavy Metal Harry') was fatally disrupted.
16/8/08 I'm occasionally given cause to regret the repercussions of what I commit to the public domain. In alluding to Patricia Cornwell's demented vendetta against the late Walter Sickert, I gave Spencer the opportunity to peel the scab from a wound I'd considered healed. Passing his room this morning as he talked on the telephone, I overheard a snatch of his conversation: "Remember Hamilton thought Patricia Cornwell was coming to Drumfeld ?" he crowed, his face locked in a rictus of malevolent glee. Overwhelmed by the memory, he then doubled over and emitted a series of guttural 'whoops': anyone unfamiliar with Spencer's response to a situation he considers humorous might have assumed that his room had been leased for the purpose of a seal cull. By the time I made my way back to my own room, he was helpless with laughter, pounding the floor with one palm in the manner of a wrestler imploring his opponent to yield.
The source of such intemperate mirth was a practical joke which the most backward ten year old might have considered unsophisticated and pointless. Collaborating with our cousin Pamela (who impersonated Ms Cornwell over a series of telephone conversations) he successfully duped me into anticipating a weekend visit from the author. There was nothing remarkable about this scenario. I'm frequently consulted by novelists and students of criminology. I was aware at the time that Ms Cornwell was researching her book about the Whitechapel Murders: my indifference to the topic is a matter of record, but I hope I'll never be so churlish as to deny someone an audience. Naturally, I set about making preparations to make Ms Cornwell feel welcome. Spencer, who has never been honoured with a civic reception, makes much of the "Drumfeld Welcomes Patricia Cornwell" banner I extended between lamp-posts on the immediate approach to the house. This was, in fact, no more than a common courtesy: I've received similar welcomes throughout the United States and it would have been remiss not to reciprocate. Similarly, commissioning the Drumfeld High School band and Mange Tout Catering for the occasion represented nothing more than an extension of traditional Highland hospitality. Have we become so mean-spirited and boorish that simple gestures of goodwill are attributed to opportunistic toadying ?
As the hour of Ms Cornwell's arrival drew closer, I confess to uncharacteristically frayed nerves. Spencer, who had unexpectedly returned for the week-end, vetoed my intention of clearing his bedroom (preserved like the tomb of a sulky teenage pharoah) for our guest. "Why can't she sleep in Hamilton's room?" he suggested. As my room also serves as an office, this was clearly unpractical: our mother, still alive at the time, suggested we convert the attic into a makeshift guest room and I wasted an hour negotiating a sofa bed up the Stanley ladder (with no assistance, I might add, from Spencer.) While I was distracted, Mange Tout's representative, Suzanne arrived with the buffet. The company brochure included a 'small family funeral and christening' option which I anticipated would be adequate to the occasion. As it turned out, this comprised of vast quantities of sliced pizza, chicken nuggets and pakora. By the time I finally emerged from the attic, overbrimming platters had been stacked on every conceivable surface. "But this is children's food!" I remonstrated. "And it's stale ! I can't give this to Patricia Cornwell!" The ensuing argument was exacerbated by the fact that we had to shout over the band rehearsing outside. Their inexplicable choice of music, a rendition of the theme from 'Starsky and Hutch' had already prompted complaints from several of our neighbours and, had it not been for Muriel's participation on second recorder, I'd probably have sent them home.
As Suzanne concluded the argument with a crudely predictable suggestion as to exactly what I might do with my buffet, I followed her outside to be confronted by a dozen or so members of Spencer's clique, liberally daubed with tomato sauce, who had prostrated themselves around the garden in the attitude of murder victims. "It's a tribute," explained a smirking Spencer. At this moment, Drumfeld's notoriously hopeless community police officer, Paul Jackson, appeared, summoned by an anonymous complaint about the noise. I was beseeching him to take the bogus murderees into custody when I was interrupted by the voice with which I'd been negotiating details of the visit for the previous week: "Hamilton, what on earth is going on?" Turning, I was confronted by a woman in sunglasses sporting a mass of perm that resembled nothing so much as the nest of some vast, prehistoric bird. Discombobulated by a compound of embarrassment and alarm, I stepped backward, inadvertently stepping on one of the 'corpses' and lurching into the hedge. Struggling to retain my balance, I identified a shrill skirl of laughter rising above the general uproar: Pamela! The realisation of being tricked was instantaneous. "Well done, Pamela," I said coldly, attempting to deliver a round of sarcastic applause. Unfortunately, I still needed my hands to steady myself and the gesture caused me to fall over again. "It's just a joke, Hamilton," said Pamela, removing her grotesque wig and advancing to help me up. "No, it's not!" I replied, using my elbows and heels to manoeuvre myself out of range of her assistance. "It's an act of attrition!" As the band embarked on a final rendition of the 'Starsky and Hutch' theme, I finally regained my feet, fixed all present with a withering glance, raised my chin and returned to the house. For the rest of the day, I busied myself with my files, playing Mahler's sixth symphony at a sufficient volume to drown out the sound of my tormentors working their way through the buffet downstairs.
* Practical jokes, requiring, by necessity, a victim, have always been the realm of the sadist. The offence is compounded by the expectation that the victim accept his humiliation in good part. While I've learned to expect no better of Spencer, I was bitterly disappointed by our cousin's enthusiastic co-operation. In our younger years Pamela was an enthusiastic investigator. A more natural and courageous detective than Billy, who feared and resented her, she played an integral role in several of my most challenging early investigations. Without Pamela's cool head, I might never have emerged unscathed from the Thompson farmhouse. She was also on hand to rescue me from the incoming tide after the sham Christians of the Summer Crusaders buried me up to my neck on Kiloran Bay. Nearer to home, her intervention was critical on various occasions when I was threatened by louts and delinquents hell-bent on countering the powers of intuition and logic with violence. Anyone eager to pummel Hamilton during the months of summer or Christmas, invariably had Pamela to contend with. At any other time, I'm afraid, Billy Ure was the only deterrent and his instinctive response to encroaching menace was to chew his lips into a jelly or crawl under the nearest hedge.
In 1984, however, Pamela's dedication to investigations diminished as she became enthralled by the malign influence of Valerie Cuthbert. That summer, Pamela arrived in Drumfeld with her new friend en tow. Valerie immediately made herself objectionable, making provocative observations and turning my shed into a smoking haven. When I reported this latter offence to my parents, she and Pamela responded by refusing to speak to me and, incredibly, smoking openly. As both were under sixteen, this behaviour wasn't only offensively precocious, but against the law. With hindsight, the official complaint I lodged at the Drumfeld Police Station (still in operation in these days) might have been an over-reaction. Certainly, the ticking off the girls received from P.C. Quigley did little to improve relations between us. For the remainder of the holiday I was left to conduct investigations with only Billy to assist me, while Pamel and Valerie consorted with Spencer and Pamela's brother Richard. To add insult to injury, the four connived in sending me on a wild goose chase with a series of cryptic messages and archaic diagrams chalked on walls around Drumfeld. After weeks of false clues that led me into nettle patches and fields inhabited by vicious geese, the mystery was resolved by the discovery of a parchment on which was written 'Hamilton Coe is a speccy, fat snitch' hidden inside a hollow tree.
Is it possible to overstate the importance of the quality of forgiveness? A soft heart can be wounded, but it recovers. When we harden our hearts against others, however, we abandon ourselves to a darkness from which there's no prospect of dawn. However gross an insult or profound a betrayal, we must endeavour to forgive it. Likewise when our best efforts are ignored or rejected, it remains incumbent upon us to force a smile and persevere.
14/8/08 I recently received an e-mail from an acquaintance inviting me to befriend him on a new networking site called 'Hi5'. Out of politeness, I looked at his page, but decided against etablishing one of my own. Imagine my surprise, then, when a succession of phone calls and e-mails enquired as to why I had sent a similar message. Shock turned to dismay when I realised that an invitation (purportedly from Hamilton Coe) had been sent to every contact in my address book including individuals under investigation, most of whom were unaware of my interest. Note to neophyte investigators: short of requesting the use of his toilet, the surest way of alerting a suspect to your attentions is to send him an e-mail requesting a 'high five'!
Joking apart, the repercussions have been embarrassing and unpleasant. "How did you get my e-mail address?" demanded an incandescent Karen Balsillie yesterday morning. " I'll high five you, all right!" Ten minutes later I received an even more alarming call from Mark Lewis's lawyer who gave short shrift to my explanation that I hadn't deliberately approached his client. "You invited him to befriend you," he insisted. "Mr Lewis doesn't want to befriend you. He wants you to leave him alone !"
I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't consider such an method of promotion an invasion of privacy. There are numerous circumstances in which the delivery of such an invitation would be horribly inappropriate. Someone having negotiated his (or her) way out of a destructive relationship might unwittingly rekindle a dimmed flame; a junior employee might enrage an old fashioned boss. I've already been compromised by this insidious trend: I'd encourage everyone to be on the look-out for similar e-mails and to delete them unread.
13/8/08 While it's nice to have one's contribution recognised, congratulation is all too often the herald of complacency. The true enthusiast in any field, be it detection or tiddly winks, has no interest in baubles. An investigator expecting his endeavours to be gratefully acknowledged is invariably disappointed: those who covet pats on the back should eschew truth-seeking for a career in voluntary work or light entertainment. it should be remembered, though, that mere popularity is no measure of a man's worth. The man of calibre is prepared to walk alone: he's not dependent on the reassurance of someone else's opinion. Show me someone who's cultivated a thousand friends and nine times out of ten I'll show you a scoundrel! Let posterity judge us! The only reward I require in the present is to go to bed with a clear conscience.
Since the inception of Drumfeld's Man of the Year award in 1998, I've been nominated on seven occasions. Spencer, enraged by any recognition he considers rightfully his, has perpetrated the myth that on each occasion I've nominated myself. This is nonsense, of course, but a how often is a lie, repeated with conviction and persistence, accepted as a truth? This week's Examiner carried an interview with Calum Livingstone, Chairman of this year's Awards Committee in which he decreed that no anonymous nominations would be accepted. As justification, passing reference was made to "a relentless self-publicist who presents himself to the world as the voice of Drumfeld." Livingstone, it should be noted, was careful not to name this " relentless self-publicist " but nobody reading the piece could have failed to realise that he was talking about Hamilton Coe.
I'm naturally disappointed that the Examiner should publish such a sly aspersion, particularly when the article omitted to mention two salient facts. The first that every Man of the Year Award since 2000 has been won by a member of the Callander and District Rotary Club, the second that the aforementioned organisation's secretary is none other than Calum Livingstone.
I'm not in the habit of blowing my trumpet. My record speaks for itself. Any reasonable person surveying the most cursory list of my accomplishments would acknowledge my contribution to society. My endeavours in the realm of investigation have been well recorded, but when future generations mention Hamilton Coe, I'm confident they'll also allude to qualities of philosophy, philanthropy and goodwill. The Rotary Club of Callander and West Perthshire, however, despite being offered leather bound dossiers and video presentations containing evidence of accomplishment, have rejected my application for membership on three separate occasions. “You're not a professional person,” explained Livingstone on the last of these, “and you've been harassing our members.” To the first of these charges, I'd respond that my purpose transcends the inconceivable, office-bound pettiness of such labelling. If however, I'm forced to argue the point, I'd contend that Billy Ure, a Round Table member for the past two years (and, co-incidentally, Mr Livingstone's sister's fiancé at the time of his induction) works at the Drumfeld Museum on a voluntary capacity. If Billy qualifies as a ‘professional' person then so does the octogenarian who welcomes me into the supermarket. The allegation of harassment is more serious: if I've ‘harassed' members of the Round Table, it's on account of criminal or anti-social activities on their part. The suggestion that my investigations have been prompted by petty motives of jealousy or resentment is offensive, not only to me, but the victims of transgression I've dedicated my life to representing.
The next time Livingstone is interviewed by the Examiner, he might be asked about links between the Rotary Club and the Sons of the Morning. This cult, formed by feckless members of the minor aristocracy alienated by Puritanism, became notorious in the seventeenth century. Their depredations ranged from the church desecration to the mutilation of livestock, offences punishable at the time by death. By the nineteenth century the group, still outlawed, had lost many of its anti-Christian associations and was primarily a networking group for well-to-do Hell-raisers. In the 1880's Francis Gibb* attempted to revive the society's former traditions, hosting black masses and initiating neophytes with 'missions'. The Whitechapel Murders of the period, wrongly associated with Freemasonry, were almost certainly linked to his offshoot of the society. When Gibb disappeared in 1890, the Sons of the Morning ceased to operate in any capacity: in 1905, however, they resurfaced in America as ‘The Rotary Club'.
* In recent years, the image of the magician has been sanitised by the sort of sentimental individuals who enjoy the company of dogs. As I write this, computer screens flicker across the country as a thousand would-be alchemists steel themselves against the dictates of nature. Liars and fantasists have always constructed alternative worlds in which their yearnings are satisfied and pasts undone. Access to previously secret rituals, however garbled or mistranslated, has now ensured that misguided individuals can summon entities to do their bidding over the internet, invariably with terrible consequences. The problem has become so sufficiently pronounced for a secret government department to monitor the activities of occultists. This concern is not as ridiculous as it sounds.
The last great period of occultism created a universal psychic imbalance that contributed toward World War One and the subsequent depredations of the 20th century. The most talented, and nefarious, practitioner of the age was Francis Gibb, who resurrected the long dormant Sons of the Morning, a society dedicated to offences against reason and propriety. A glimpse at the Sons of the Morning manifesto, written by Gibb in 1884, reveals an adolescent preoccupation with self-abuse and human waste, albeit one couched in the sort of pompous prose style familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance of the black arts. To the sensible reader, the author comes across as a dirty minded fat-head. Colossal self confidence, however, combined with an undeniable charisma ensured the sort of attention currently enjoyed by contemporary attention seekers such as Marilyn Manson.
15/8/08 I can't help but feel a certain sympathy for British diver Blake Aldridge. Having seen his Olympic dream evaporate, he injudiciously inferred that responsibility could be attributed to his diving partner, fourteen year old Tom Daley. Daley, for his part, was publicly magnanimous, refusing to be drawn on the contentious point as to whether or not Aldridge should have taken a phone call from his mother immediately before their third and crucial dive. Aldridge himself, it should be remembered, is still a young man. He undoubtably expected the Olympics to present him with his moment of glory. Instead, he's been reduced to the role of bit player from the outset. Daley has been feted for months in advance of the tournament: how many people, I wonder, realised he even had a partner. I certainly didn't! How galling, then, it must have been for Aldridge when the prodigy subsequently failed to perform. He'd have been well advised, of course, to bite his tongue but is it entirely reasonable to ask a young man to articulate his thoughts in the immediate aftermath of such a crushing disappointment?
My own experience of diving is limited to being thrown into the outdoor pool in North Berwick when I was fourteen, the culmination of a miserable October holiday. Within hours of arriving in the town, Spencer, who was going through one of his phases, fell in with a group of Moddie Boys who frequented one of the town's amusement arcades. As his older brother, it was obviously incumbent on me to keep him out of mischief. My attempts to engage with the group, however, met with bewilderment and then antipathy: "Get tae f___ ya speccy wee grass ," snarled the group's leader, a scrofulous Glaswegian called Neilly after I cautioned Spencer against participating in a proposed shoplifting expedition. Naturally, I refused to simply abandon my brother. My appeals to his better nature, though, prompted a further barrage of profanity. As a last resort, I threatened to take the entire group under my own personal custody. At this, all (including Spencer), responding to a signal from Neilly, turned and ran. For the rest of the week, I was forced to follow at a distance as they strutted around town in their ridiculous striped blazers and black and white shoes. "What are you lookin' at, ya dobber?" Neilly would demand of any normally attired adolescent they encountered. The entire group would then circle their victim menacingly, delivering jibes about flared trousers or Beetle Crushers.
The day before our scheduled departure, Spencer approached me after lunch. "Neilly wants to know about being psychic," he said. "He's really interested." This seemed manifestly improbable. Even while Neilly had tolerated my company, he'd persisted in referring to me as a ' spastic '. Only after several corrections had I realised that he was being deliberately offensive. Having been shunned for a week, though, the prospect of belated acceptance was sufficient incentive for me to follow Spencer into an ambush. Naturally, I put up a stout resistance, but not even the founder of Cung-Coe can contend with an entire gang. "Enough, Spencer!" I cried as they swarmed around me, "I'm defeated!" No mercy, however, was forthcoming. I was lifted bodily and marched through town attracting the sort of gawkers who always attach themselves to a mob, but refuse to accept responsibility in its aftermath. " We are the Mods !" they chanted, drowning out my pleas for assistance as the procession made its inexorable progress toward the pool into which I was unceremoniously ducked.
14/8/08 For purposes of focus, I'm in the habit of drinking large quantities of coffee while on a case. Over the years I've trained my bladder to the extent that I still have a 36 hour retention capacity. Even without adding coffee to the equation, most martial arts masters can only boast twenty four. Despite these powers of self control, I'm not embarrassed to confess to having used adult nappies as a safe-guard. Scoffers fail to appreciate the necessity of exemplary bladder control to the successful investigator. This is a prerequisite, in fact, of excellence in any realm of human endeavour. The talents of the most naturally gifted performer or sportsperson would be completely nullified by a preoccupation with bodily functions. A professional footballer could hardly request a break in play for a comfort break, nor could a conductor increase the tempo of a symphony in response to a sudden distress call from his nether regions. An 'accident' at a public event would more effectively end the career of a Premier than any sexual scandal or economic collapse. Similarly, many potentially successful investigators are stymied by a limited bladder capacity. How many carefully planned surveillance operations have been compromised by an unscheduled toilet break? When the Adventure of the Squeaking Shoe is released into the public domain in 2015, the reader, I'm sure, will be astonished by the manner in which my efforts to thwart a fiendish plot were almost undermined by Billy Ure's constant need to urinate. Note to neophyte investigators: the surest way of alerting a suspect to your attentions is to request the use of his toilet!
I'm wary of encroaching into the realm of crudity. (It's interesting, though, that so much humour is derived from the sources of flatulence and procreation. Even the great puritan, Oliver Cromwell, was routinely reduced to incoherence by the sonorous parp of his own anal eructions.) The expulsion of waste is a straightforward necessity. On a deeper level, though, it represents mortality and the constant potential for humiliation. As an investigator, I've observed suspects in a variety of compromising situations, never, though, have I provoked such fury as the occasion on which I surprised Aiden Beattie in the Station Rd toilet. Precariously perched on the cistern of the adjacent cubicle, the merest of slips was sufficient to cause Beattie to look up: eye contact was momentary but the expression of loathing with which he fixed me remains seared in my memory. That was over twenty years ago, but to this day Beattie (now sadly diminished by illness) recoils from my presence.
I'm sympathetic, then, to the plight of Plymouth teacher Steven Robinson, whose misadventure while trapped in traffic on returning from a school trip to Stonehenge was witnessed by a bus full of pupils. This was nearly two years ago. Citing depression, Robinson has subsequently failed to return to work. His local education authority, however, have decided that he's not so much depressed as embarrassed with the consequence that his mortification is now being publicly dissected in the courts and local newspapers. No powers of enhanced intuition are necessary to bring to mind Mr Robinson's escalating panic as he stared bleakly at the unyielding traffic-jam while desperately estimating his capacity to withstand the inevitable. The defenders of Rorke's Drift at least had an outlet for their fear: Robinson's can only have returned to its source, festered and eventually devoured him. One can imagine the cries of adolescent incredulity that followed his capitulation, the exlamations of "Oh, my God!" he had to endure until the toilet-less purgatory in which he was confined finally cleared the roadworks and continued toward Plymouth.
Death is inevitable but the quality of anyone's life is largely determined by the stoicism with which we endure the small deaths we encounter along the way. As terrible as it is to be blighted by illness or misfortune, the human spirit perseveres. To be made hateful or ridiculous, though (whether by our own actions or the slanders of others) precipitates the sort of crisis from which many lack the fortitude to recover. I wish Mr Robinson well, as I do anybody else who happens to be reading this in a mood of hopelessness. The harmful potential of humiliation is only nullified by the realisation (and full acceptance) of the fact that we're fallible, insignificant and often ridiculous.
13/8/08 I'm the first to concede that much of my investigative career has been devoted to the persecution of what some might consider 'minor' transgressions. I make no apology for this: accumulated acts of pettiness contribute more to human unhappiness than any Mafia. While a cursory inspection of my Case Book is sufficient to detect the hand of Coe in the resolution of various high profile cases*, I'd acknowledge, that the police are better equipped to deal with the professional criminal than the best intentioned amateur. Apart from the impracticality of their assistance, career psychics are nearly always tempermentally unsuited to the investigations in which they insinuate themselves. Ronald Hawthorne's plaintive appeals to the spirit world invariably conclude with his being led away by his ‘personal physician', screaming and gnawing his trademark beret. On at least two occasions that I know of, he's been so traumatised that he's required hospital treatment. Quite simply, he has neither the sight nor the stomach for the role and would be well advised to return to the salons of Mayfair where, I'm sure, former clients Cherie Blair and Elton John might be prepared to forgive his previous indiscretions. I'm made of sterner stuff! If I hesitate to involve myself with the sort of sadistic criminal who has thrived in the latter part of the 20th century, it's because, nine times out of ten, the police are competent to the task. No great genius is required for an analysis of the habitual murderer. We should be wary of flattering the boors, numbskulls and misfits responsible for such crimes with the notion that they are, in fact, intellectually superior to those who pursue them, or indeed their victims. The source of this myth can be attributed to the creative imagination. Novelists and film-makers will, naturally, attempt to imbue their creations with emotional depth. "What manner of deep seated resentments," they wonder, "would cause a man to make a hobby of murder?" The fact is that so-called serial killers resent society no more (and in most cases a great deal less) than gluttons, poison pen writers or obsessive newspaper correspondents. Their personalities are unremarkable save for a lack of restraint and total absence of imagination.
Some psychics, as viewers of certain cable channels must be aware, are so manifestly unbalanced that their appearance at any crime scene would cause them to be listed as suspects. Margaret Beck, when she's at liberty to conduct an investigation, sleeps rough on the proximity of the crime scene, harasses legitimate investigators and invariably attributes responsibility to the Pumpkin People; Phyllis Yuill's technique comprises entirely of throwing teabags at people. While such misfits are, fortunately, precluded from contemporary investigations, there's nothing to stop them from passing retrospective judgement on cause celebres of the past. The identity of the the Whitechapel Murderer (genuine criminologists rarely refer to ‘Jack the Ripper': the name is in poor taste) is considered the Grail of the celebrity fixated psychic. Naturally the purpose of the pursuit is titillation rather than enlightenment: I've been invited to participate in 'investigations' into the case on numerous occasions and always refused. Most recently, Patricia Cornwell, the crime writer, requested my assistance in apportioning responsibility for the slayings to artist Walter Sickert. Until being taken on a conducted tour of the Scotland Yard Museum, Ms Cornwell claimed never to have heard of the Whitechapel murderer, a claim I find improbable. Having been apprised of the circumstances of the murders, though, she set herself to resolving matters with such vigour that within weeks she had struck upon what she considered compelling evidence against Sickert. Unfortunately, this was almost entirely conjectural and dealt with inconvenient details that exculpated the (such as the murders' explicit links to Rotarian ritual) by ignoring them. The fact that Sickert lived in London at the time of the Whitechapel murders is possibly the basis for an investigation, but no more. After failing to convince me as to the merits of her case, Ms Cornwell turned to Ronald Hawthorne, who could be convinced that black was white if he could argue his case on television. Three weeks into the investigation, however, he withdrew, claiming that Sickert's ghost, enraged by his imminent exposure, had daubed the words 'Young Holborn Posse' on his fence: a terrible warning against further meddling! The book was eventually written without any psychic insights.
*No police force in the western world, incidentally, will admit to seeking my assistance. Detectives in poorer countries are more inclined to respect the expertise of outsiders. Our own policemen have an unrealistic confidence in their own capabilities and resent what they perceive to be interference. This is why so many investigations are botched.
11/8/08 Anyone who invites Hamilton Coe for a meal can rest assured that responsibility for the evening's success will be a shared one. I'm not the sort of person who simply turns up expecting to be fed and entertained. As a cook, my oeuvre is straightforward but extensive and I'll willingly supplement the host's efforts with my special mash or my mulligatawny soup. My primary social gift, though, is as a bon viveur. The art of the conversationalist has been eroded by modern tendencies to monomania and self-interest. "You're not on the This is Your Life," my Grandpa Sneddon would interject if anyone threatened to monopolise a gathering by droning on about the minutiae of his day to day existence or blowing his trumpet about some achievement in which no sane person could be expected to take the slightest interest. Grandpa, who made a lifelong study of social strategies, conducted conversations with the subtle skills of a great conductor. I was a willing pupil. It was Grandpa Sneddon who first encouraged me to write down jokes and anecdotes to use as icebreakers. Consequently, I have one for every conceivable situation, written down in thirty leather bound journals. Having instigated a discussion, of course, the accomplished conversationalist allows others to participate. Few things are more tiresome than the misplaced confidence of the dullard who imagines himself to be a raconteur.
Another technique I learned from Grandpa Sneddon, one which continues to elicit Spencer's particular scorn, is to take the effort to remember things about people. Obviously, a good memory is an invaluable asset to any kind of investigator, but it's also a social skill. Today people tend to be self-absorbed. Why should a busy businessman remember a waitress's name or hairstyle? Unless she's particularly attractive, he barely even looks at her. She serves no purpose other than to serve his food speedily and without spillage. I know the name of every waitress within a thirty mile radius of Drumfeld! Within seconds of entering an establishment, I can tell if any staff member has changed her hairstyle, bought new shoes or lost weight. People like to be remembered, so I then make sure I tell them. For some reason, when I'm with Spencer, which, admittedly, isn't a regular occurrence, this never fails to prompt groans and apologies. “Nobody wants you to notice them,” he says, a point of view one might expect from someone who recognises nobody's needs but his own. Of course, someone in Spencer's position, who frequently needs to shave and exhibits various tell-tale symptoms of a recent debauch might not want to be noticed. It's a habit of nonentity, I find, to project our own preferences onto everyone else.
My natural instinct to reach out to people is, unfortunately, frustrated by a lack of opportunity. Drumfeld is a small town: it's social life tends to revolve around evenings in the Red Lion which, for a teetotaller such as myself, are extremely tedious. "Why didn't you ask me?" I often find myself demanding on hearing about some dinner party or games night. As a single person, people seem to assume that I'll be bored by conversations monopolised by issues pertaining to relationships and children. Nothing could be further from the truth! Recent acquaintances, I suspect, are often surprised by the enthusiasm with which I set about tackling their various crises. According to the creed of Coe, a friend in need is a work in progress! If someone mentions being troubled by insomnia (for example) I'll make a mental note to drop by with some helpful literature or my 'Good Night's Sleep.... With Hamilton Coe' auto-suggestion cassette. My international reputation as an investigator, I suppose, might intimidate some potential hosts: "What if he notices your lapsed tax disc?" To these fears I can only reiterate that discretion is the first prerequisite of an effective detective. The occasions on which I've been compelled to investigate a fellow dinner party guest have been few and far between.
With this in mind, I'm sure the reader can appreciate the importance of my Sunday evenings at Christine's. The Coe family Sunday has always been an inclusive affair: my mother nurtured a large extended 'family' and Christine has inherited the same values. Recently, however, this has entailed the nurturing of Muriel's 'friend' Rhys who has insinuated himself at my sister's table with the diligence of dry rot. "Doesn't he have a home to go to?" I asked Christine yesterday as his pale face appeared at the kitchen window. "Don't you?" snapped Muriel. This, unfortunately, set the tone for a strained evening. Rhys (upon whom nobody has impressed the courtesy of eating what's put in front of you) responded to my cream of celery soup with an expression of disgust more appropriate to the slow motion repeat of a particularly gruesome football injury. "Rhys doesn't like celery," said Muriel. Her explanation was unnecessary. Rhys doesn't like anything except for chips, chicken and beans, portions of which Christine had especially put aside in anticipation of his arrival. "Would you like someone to cut the chicken up for you?" I asked, prompting Muriel to shoot me a glance of intemperate loathing.
One of Grandpa Sneddon's conversational tricks was to anticipate a probable topic and research it. This week, for example, I thought it likely that the Olympics might merit at least a passing mention and had honed up on relevant points of interest. Having embarked on an account of the famous 1908 marathon at the conclusion of which Dorondo Pietri was assisted over the line by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I was intensely irritated to be interrupted by Muriel's muttered but clearly audible "Why is this interesting?" Rather than rise to the bait, I continued eating in silence. Later, returning from the toilet, I paused outside the dining room to hear Muriel repeating the story in a voice sonorous with feigned idiocy. "And who should have been passing but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the creator of Sherlock Holmes!" As I re-entered the room Muriel and Rhys both snorted cola through their nostrils. "I don't think I'll bother with coffee tonight," I said with as much dignity as I could muster. "I've a terrible headache." Gathering my things, I avoided looking at Muriel, but I was aware of her violently shuddering in an agony of suppressed mirth.
10/8/08 Nobody who frequents Drumfeld High St can be oblivious to the impending third anniversary of Lochside Crystals. Illegally posted fliers anticipating the event have defaced the town sonce January. "Three years?" scoffed Spencer who has whole-heartedly detested the store's proprietor, Malcolm Cooper, since he publicly corrected his pronunciation of 'Brion Gysin'. "Mackenzie and Whyte have been there since 1860 and they're not making a song and dance about it." While it's true that Cooper has rarely been reticent about trumpeting the most meagre of accomplishments, it could be argued that convincing the lonely and unfulfilled of Central Scotland that salvation might lie in the worship of brightly coloured stones is an achievement in itself. "Mackenzie and Whyte might have dressed the gentry;" I reminded Spencer, "But Cooper has persuaded a generation to invest its faith in rocks." Since the store's recent extension, clients whose problems have proven resistant to the contemplation of crystals can be ritually thrashed with rattan canes or isolated within slime filled tubs. Spencer was particularly irritated by the Examiner's uncritical assessment of Lochside Crystals new facilities. "That's just wrong," he spluttered, prodding Cooper's photograph with a saffron stained forefinger. "I'm glad I broke his nose!" (This isn't actually true. Spencer often inflicts retrospective wounds on those who have somehow offended him. Their brief, undignified altercation didn't so much bring to mind Hearns vs Hagler as two discarded bags being tossed about a gusty lane. The wistful smile that accompanied his false recollection convinced me against correcting his version of events.)
Rather than be rebuked for tormenting the desolate with false encouragement, Cooper was recently nominated for Drumfeld's Man of the Year award and invited to address pupils of Drumfeld High School on the subject of 'responsible entrepreneurism'. This, it should be noted, is the same 'responsible entrepreneur' whose previous ventures include Highland Fling, a service for 'swingers'* that resulted in public indecency charges and the ill-fated Great Beast Way, a fat-headed tribute to Aleister Crowley, more of which shortly. I'm frankly dismayed by the prospect of him being presented to the youth of Drumfeld as anything other than an example of gormlessness and preening self-regard.
I've not spoken to Cooper since I caught him in the act of chalking the words 'Acid is Groovy' onto my bedroom door (his parents' indifference, incidentally, to the revelation that their son was a vandal and a drug abuser augured ill for his future.) Weeks later, he'd committed the Gysin gaffe and been banished from the House of Coe. By the time of the Great Beast debacle, several years later, my investigations revealed him to be an aspiring magician, albeit one lacking the focus or primal energy required to operate successfully. His technique was largely limited to absorbing subliminal messages from cassettes and saying 'thee' instead of 'you' when attempting to attract sexual partners by the application of magic(k). When he somehow acquired a hunting lodge near Loch Ness (where, incidentally, Crowley is still remembered without affection for strutting around, brandishing his swagger stick at locals and threatening to turn tradesmen into camels) he immediately embarked upon the scheme which the most generous assessment might describe as 'hare brained'. Within months the area being deluged by unsavoury ramblers, some of whom caused disruption by experimentally summoning entities. "Do what thou wilt," is all very well until we encounter someone who does. Copperthwaite became a victim of his own stupidity when an ill-judged piece of sexual magic(k) caused his dreadlocks to fall out.
* Swinger: a euphemism for individuals who indulge in a succession of unsatisfactory sexual escapades, occasionally disrupted by the encroachment of dog walkers
8/8/08 Throughout my investigative career, I've been subjected to various malign fixations. Most recently, Krome666, a barely literate Marilyn Manson fan from Worcester, taking exception to my opinion of his idol, has littered my in-box with personal observations by which, I assume, he intends to demoralise me. Having spent the past months with limited internet access, I'd amost forgotten about the attentions my self-styled "nemesis". On returning to Drumfeld, I found in my in-box twenty nine messages escalating toward a frenzy of semi-coherent renunciation. Krome might be interested to read that in 1984 my nomination as a Child of Courage and Achievement prompted members of notorious 'Brockville Sect' to recite passages from Psalm 109 while pelting my window with polished, black pebbles. I was fifteen years old! If I stared them down without flinching, am I likely to be dismayed at being dismissed as a "fat granny face" and a "spaz"?
Anonymity is the cloak of cowardice. Those who scurry fearfully through real life, pick 'fights' in cyber-space with impunity. Anyone trying to goad me into losing my temper will be disappointed. Only a fool provides a secret tormentor with the satisfaction of a response. It's more sensible by far to pity someone who obsessively dedicates him or herself to unprovoked malevolence. The internet, of course, makes such demeaning behaviour horribly straightforward. A normally decent individual might easily succumb to a moment's irritation and furtively make himself hateful. As recently as ten years ago, however, the dark art of the poison-pen writer required levels of preparation and cunning that deterred all but the mentally deranged.
To the best of my knowledge, Alexander Coull was the most prolific author of anonymous letters in modern times. An otherwise respectable and benign individual, his solitary transgression, nonetheless impacted upon numerous lives, not least mine .
Apparently timid and inoffensive, the teenaged Coull became prone to palpitation inducing fits of rage. For months he struggled to find an outlet for his moods that didn't result in personal endangerment. More robust youngsters might have turned to sport, but Coull had a horror of physical contact with other people. Unable to channel his aggressive tendencies, he was bedevilled by stomach complaints and disrupted sleep patterns, both common symptoms of repression. He eventually stumbled upon the outlet that would define his future when, having nurtured an inexplicably intense loathing toward Richard Hearne, creator of Mr Pastry, he wrote a thirty item list of why he found the character and its creator offensive. On sending this, Coull found himself at peace with the world, a brief respite ended when he was visited by police officers responding to a complaint from Mr Hearne.
Discouraged from further correspondence, Coull tried to channel his energies into charity work becoming a stalwart of various church initiatives. The experienced investigator recognises this symptom of transgression: my case files contain numerous instances of desperate efforts to placate inner demons with good deeds. In Coull's case, the distraction was initially successful. In 1970, however, a chance meeting with George Harrison at a sorting office for items to be shipped to Bangladesh, enraged Coull in a way that could only be expressed in a ten page letter of breathtaking vituperation. On this occasion, he didn't sign it.
While we'll never know the full extent of Coull's correspondence, it's been categorically established that over the course of thirty years, he sent over ten thousand such letters to recipients ranging from Lulu and child singer 'Wee' Stewart Anderson to David Blunkett and 'Bono'. The Hamilton Coe archive contains five letters I received from Coull. The last of these, a neatly written diatribe in which I'm described as a 'snitch', a 'buffoon' and a 'bulb-headed freak' resulted in his capture. Using a combination of intuition and graphology, I set a trap into which Coull blundered: unwittingly responding to an offer of a half-price Christmas hamper, his reply contained thirty seven separate hand-writing quirks identical to those of the anonymous author. In most cases in which handwriting analysis is employed, fifteen such instances are considered sufficient to establish responsibility for a text. Coull had effectively doodled a noose for himself.
Need I describe Coull's astonishment when, on delivery of his unexpectedly heavy hamper, he opened it to find nemesis in the form of the investigator he had dismissed as a 'bulb headed freak'? On this occasion, I was nearly undone when an attack of cramp gave Coull the opportunity to return the hamper's lid and secure it, confining me for several hours until Christine, eventually responding to calls from my mobile phone, arrived with assistance.
An otherwise decent man, unbalanced by a solitary character aberration, Alexander Coull has now returned to charity work and is often to be seen behind the counter of Pitlochry's Oxfam shop. I bear him no ill will.
4/8/08I was interested to note that this year's Edinburgh Festival fringe boasts the debut of 'monologuist' Peter Cullen. A phone call was sufficient to establish that this is the same Peter Cullen whose teaching career was truncated by allegations that he'd embarked on an inappropriate relationship with one of his female students. Arguing that their friendship was based on a shared interest in music and cinema, he refused to admit to any wrong-doing. "A society that can't accept the possibility of platonic friendship," he insisted, "has serious problems." Predictably, the directors of Aberfoyle High School sided with society and Cullen was suspended. I have a certain sympathy for him. British people have become enslaved to the lure of gossip. My own friendship with my niece Muriel has provoked similar sordid innuendo. "She's not your date , Hamilton!" responded Spencer when I announced my intention of asking her to accompany me to Billy Ure's wedding (an invitation which was subsequently rescinded). Later we were subjected to various items of offensive graffiti. While I regard such sallies with indifference, Muriel's confidence was undermined. Shortly afterwards, she took to loitering in the cemetery where she tried to distance herself from me by smoking and entertaining her ghoulish new friends with Hamilton Coe impressions. I inadvertently stumbled upon one of these performances while studying the gravestones of Covenanters for which the churchyard is, rightly, renowned. If anyone was guilty of 'spying' on that occasion, incidentally, it was Shaun Magennis who had no business clambering over the Farquharson Memorial in the first place. That, however, is by the by.
Shortly after his dismissal, Cullen was offered a contract with a London publisher on the strength of the opening chapter of his first book, a children's story based on the adventures of a young, female wizard and her mentor, Timothy Coffy, Master of Grimoires at the Wizard Academy. Cullen's success was widely featured in local papers. He was photographed celebrating in a wizard's hat, brandishing a wand. Unfortunately, the offer was subsequently withdrawn when a reader employed by the publisher noted eighty seven separate incidents drawn directly from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.
I wonder, incidentally, if the success of the Harry Potter books can be attributed to a readership of children or adults . I'd like to think the former, but I suspect that the influence of television and video games has subtly altered the mechanism of the imagination. Time will tell. That I read voraciously was a matter of necessity: my childhood was punctuated by the sort of metabolic collapses suffered by most clairvoyant children. The human immune system can only withstand so much and psychics are often as sensitive to germs as they are impressions. When I was twelve I embarked upon a regime of vitamins and stretching exercises that bolstered my constitution to the extent that, until I succumbed to the virus that virtually stripped me of my powers, I suffered nothing more than the occasional cold. Throughout my early childhood, though, my name was a by-word for sickliness. Between the ages of seven and ten, I spent successive Christmases in bed, listening to raucous laughter emanating from downstairs. The confinement might have been intolerable had my Grandfather Sneddon not introduced me to Ralph Steadfast, the hero of a series of stories he had written for publication in the boys' comics still popular at the time of my own childhood, but now sadly obsolete. The Ralph Steadfast stories, first illustrated by my grandfather's friend, Malcolm Crossley, and latterly my Aunt Alice, made such a profound impression on me that these Christmases spent in his company were possibly the happiest of my life.
Parapalegic from birth, Ralph, despite being confined to a wicker bath-chair, pitted his wits against sundry enemies of humanity. Assisted by slow-witted but able bodied accomplices, Timmy Rogers and Rosco Mulhearn, Ralph thwarted the machinations of Nazis, voodoo priests and cannibals, none of whom reckoned on his powers of persistence. At various times, Ralph was lowered into wells, attacked by wild dogs, fired from a cannon and, on one terrible occasion, cooked alive by the magician Obu. Malcolm Crossley's illustrations, tragically destroyed in the course of one of Spencer's drunken rampages, perfectly captured the indefatigability with which Ralph confronted these ordeals. A glower of indignation from the simmering pot in which he was confined was all that was required to alert both the reader and Obu to the imminent triumph of good over evil, triumph assured on that occasion by the timely arrival of Rosco with a detachment of marines. It was this story, 'Diving For Peril', incidentally, that prompted the Victor comic to express an interest in adopting Ralph Steadfast as a regular character, an offer withdrawn after a change of editor. I still have the letter withdrawing the original agreement. The Steadfast stories, it asserts, are "too peculiar and sadistic for a modern readership." Since this readership subsequently deserted the comic in droves, it would appear that the editor miscalculated. One can only imagine what sort of generation might have evolved had Steadfast been available as a role model.
Neither Christine nor Spencer shared my enthusiasm for the Ralph Steadfast stories. Spencer's loathing was obviously connected to his own justifiable feelings of inadequacy. Christine, however, claimed that the stories gave her nightmares and, several years ago, was so enraged by my reading them to Muriel that I was banned from the house until promising never to repeat the 'offence'. I can't help but think that Steadfast's influence might have discouraged Muriel from her current life of loitering about churchyards with assorted undesirables!
3/6/08 At Christmas, I was dismayed to discover that 'Hamilton Coe – The Power of Insinuation' is still available in the Pitiful Lives section of certain book-stores. Readers might recall my attempts to replace it under the appropriate 'True Crime' category being thwarted by an officious assistant. "It's a pitiful life," she insisted. "We're under strict instructions to keep them apart from the other biographies." She refused to even acknowledge my response that it was my life and that I should be the best judge of its classification. Eventually, rather than have my name sullied by association with sundry exhibitionists and Children Called It, I was forced to buy it. The waste of a book token rankled enough in itself. That it contributed toward the sordid lifestyle of Nina Kelly, my so-called biographer, remains a source of irritation.
Nina Kelly refers to her ridiculous book as a 'definitive account' of my career. We can dismiss this particular claim as vainglorious piffle. Let's not be mealy mouthed about it. Nina isn't even qualified to give a 'definitive account' of my breakfast. While the cover notes (accompanied, incidentally by a photo which, at the time of publication, must have been least twenty years old) refer to Nina as 'the undisputed Queen of True Crime', the most cursory reading of anything she's ever written is sufficient to establish it as the work of a text-book hysteric. Over the course of a sporadically pursued writing career, she's perpetuated innumerable distortions, accusing the innocent, exonerating the guilty. She's the equivalent of a taxidermist taking unconnected animal parts to create a monster. The head of a German Shepherd crammed onto the body of a turkey, teetering on the mangled hind-legs of a fox. Not to put too fine a point on it, the woman is a maniac.
As with any of Nina's previous books, there's as much point rebutting specific details as trying to convince a lunatic that his dog can't actually talk. If it weren't for the potential damage to the Hamilton Coe Foundation and the slanders she's perpetrated against individuals less able to defend themselves, I'd be inclined to maintain a dignified silence. Nina's ill-will will eventually destroy her before it does me. She's already housebound by paranoia and panic attacks.(Incapable of conducting her own research, she sends emissaries in Team Kelly tracksuits to gather information, subsequently rearranged to suit whatever fat-headed theory she's trying to promote.)
It's over twenty years since I first encountered Nina, although even then I remembered her from her previous career as an actress. Anybody who watched the first series of the 1970's detective series Dirty Secrets might remember her portrayal of Detective Katie Wilson. In the opening credits she pursues a large, bald headed miscreant, her face rigid with concentration and arms extended on either side, as if the expanse of pavement was a high wire. Every time I watch one of the show's very occasional reruns, I'm amazed by the folly by which Nina, a trust fund maintained flower-child, was cast as a streetwise cop. In retrospect, it's such an obvious blunder that it seems like an act of deliberate mischief perpetrated by one of her many personal enemies. Anybody else would have been humiliated, but Nina, apparently oblivious to the catastrophe of her performance, in her inevitable web-site attributes her replacement after a single series to political differences. Of course, the fact of being woefully miscast shouldn't necessarily entail the destruction of an actor's entire career. One might wonder why she never resurfaced in less significant roles more in keeping with her talents. Nina would have made a perfectly adequate barmaid or prostitute. As long as the part didn't require any depth of understanding, I'm sure it would have been within her capabilities. She possesses, after all, the essential thespian traits of insincerity and over-reaction. I should really have no compunction in relating the exact circumstances of how she managed to render herself unemployable. She's hardly exercised restraint in relating her version of my history. The fact is that her subsequent banishment from the television studios was unrelated to her relative absence of talent. I won't, however, stoop to dealing in gossip. This isn't the place to list Nina's various personal crises. All that need interest us is what qualifications she might possess to write about me.
Several years after the disintegration of her acting career, Nina visited my home in her new role as a researcher for the television series The People Who Saw Tomorrow. My mother, expecting a camera crew, prepared a buffet. Instead a solitary fat woman appeared. Nina, who had bloated considerably since her Detective Wilson period, was unsteady and slurred her words, she devoured most of the food with her fingers, failed to ask a single intelligent question and responded to my answers with snorts of disparagement. As the interview developed, I was bombarded by images of a basement lit by a single bulb and a red-headed girl with plaintive eyes and flared nostrils. When I mentioned this to Nina, she recoiled, excused herself and went to the bath-room where she remained for fifteen minutes. On returning, she crammed some sandwiches into her bag and fled. The next morning we woke to find her car still parked outside the house. Nina was curled shivering and clutching her stomach on the back-seat. Further investigation revealed that she had pilfered and devoured the contents of our medicine cabinet. We complained to the production-company. It's very poor etiquette to turn up at someone's house and attempt to commit suicide. We didn't even know the woman.
In the wake of Nina's disgraceful conduct, we expected her employers to dismiss her and send someone competent to the task of investigating my powers. Instead they produced not one, but four episodes of The People Who Saw Tomorrow in which I was portrayed by the late Samuel Nimmo, a malign looking dwarf with a metabolic disorder who attempted to convey an impression of psychic intuition by pointing at people and shrieking in a hideous falsetto. Nimmo, incidentally, was subsequently arrested on numerous occasions for acts of gross depravity. Nina, meanwhile, wrote her first book on the subject of psychic detection, a volume in which charlatans and schizophrenics are glorified and I'm dismissed in the chapter Frauds, Sharks and Weirdoes as a “morbid Scottish adolescent who spends his time stealing underwear and sifting through his neighbours' rubbish.” This was a deliberate misinterpretation of incidents that occurred in the course of investigations. Phyllis Yuill's technique, in contrast, comprises entirely of throwing teabags at people, yet Nina, perhaps empathising with the plight of a fellow psychotic fat woman, afforded her an entire chapter, crediting her with the resolution of various cases including at least one that occurred in the realm of fiction. The fact that I had been extensively tested under laboratory conditions and had received laminated certificates of authenticity from research facilities and universities in London, Munich and Tampa Bay, Florida went unrecorded.
The slanders I endured as a youth were obviously damaging on a personal level. No adolescent enjoys being alluded to as possessing “a face like a malevolent planet”. My brother and his friends rejoiced in imitating the freakish version of myself featured in The People Who Saw Tomorrow and there was a brief craze amongst the district's ‘alternative' set of Hamilton Coe themed parties, one of which Spencer tricked me into attending. I received anonymous letters threatening to have me killed, exorcised or forcibly baptised and the Children of Courage and Achievement Award at which I was honoured (after a long campaign to have my talent recognised) was sabotaged by demonstrators and orchestrated egg throwers. I left the stage triumphant but covered in yolk. The Hamilton Coe Society formed by my aunt to keep well-wishers updated on my activities was deluged by enquiries from unsavoury characters demanding Hamilton Coe information packs and lapel badges. Rival societies were established by unauthorised persons disseminating completely false information and my aunt was eventually so destabilised by the pressure that the official society ceased operation, leaving six bogus versions competing to invent increasingly sordid and ridiculous Hamilton Coe adventures. These, incidentally, were the original source of many of the rumours propagated about my activities, several of which have been recounted as actual occurrences in Nina Kelly's ridiculous book. While all of the authors united in predictably crude innuendo (that Hamilton Coe is a chronic masturbator, that he is a peeping Tom, etc) some indulged in extravagant flights of fancy that suggested I was a superman. One in particular sent out weekly cliff-hangers, each of which was produced with intricate attention to detail. I remember one in which a villainous confectioner baked me into a cheesecake, another in which I was lured into a so-called Chamber of Feculence in which I was slowly asphyxiated by foul emissions. Each of these episodes would conclude with the query, “Is this the end for Hamilton Coe, boy of mystery?” and, in truth, for most people it would have been. To construct a false identity for someone is a form of black magic. You force your victim into a limbo between his real self and the image you have constructed for him. It's a dangerous experiment, particularly when conducted by those too stupid to appreciate the consequences. I was determined, however, not to be overwhelmed by malice. When my aunt recovered from her stress induced breakdown we set about the grim task of identifying the various authors, compiling a dossier on each and distributing the information in a special thirty page newsletter, incorporating particularly foul samples of their handiwork. These newsletters were sent not only to our regular subscribers, but also friends, colleagues and employers of the perpetrators, not one of whom was under the age of twenty- five. The most obsessive, the author of the weekly cliff-hangers, was William Fletcher, an art teacher from Callander. Stripped of his cloak of anonymity he first protested that he was, in fact, an ardent admirer of Hamilton Coe and intended his work as a tribute. When this tactic failed, he resigned, attempted suicide and eventually left the area entirely to live with his sister. I often say that this is the Age of the Man-child: I might add that William Fletcher was one of its first prophets. A rogue Hamilton Coe website, incidentally, is sporadically run by his niece, Madeline Curran, a young woman who is, apparently, not ashamed of the fact that she has dedicated her entire life to the construction of mischievously perverse images of myself.
30/5/08 Spencer is currently labouring under the delusion that I'm somehow enraged by reports that our cousin, Pamela, has resumed work on the chronicles of my boneheaded American equivalent, 'Harrison Poe'. "Whatever you do, don't mention Pamela to Hamilton," he repeats about fifty times a day in a sly, goading voice that infers he's actually like nothing more. Other people, I suppose, might be angered by the prospect of being pilloried by a former protege: I've learned to channel my wrath. An angry or judgemental investigator is completely ineffectual. His resolution is inevitably tainted by personal prejudice. While in other respects I'm only too human, a man who tries to goad me into losing my temper will be frustrated. (Anger, as I'm constantly given cause to remind Spencer, is the most disfiguring emotion. If it were only possible to step aside from our rage and see how hateful it makes us!)
The experienced investigator recognises that the most elaborate of fantasies are invariably constructed around a kernel of truth. Pamela's original narrative (sent to me, I suspect, either by mischief or accident) unravelled over the course of 'Harrison's' mother's funeral. It's indisputably based upon actual events. Pamela makes a great deal, for example, of the reception 'Harrison' hosts to give notice of his mother's passing. I've no compunction in conceding that a similar event was held in the House of Coe. I'm not sure why she finds this so remarkable. She must have witnessed stranger events during her time in Los Angeles. Certainly there was a minor incendiary incident involving one of my mother's friends, but the blaze was extinguished without any of the hullaballoo described by the story's precocious narrator 'Patsy', (a figment borne of characteristics borrowed from Christine, Muriel and Pamela herself.)
While I can withstand the derision of numbskulls, I have to consider the people I've represented over the years: those without the means or the fortitude to stand up for themselves. The man who mocks me, also mocks them. I'm not, however, incapable of enjoying a joke at my own expense.Within minutes of meeting me, people, often enduring torrid personal circumstances, find themselves succumbing to a rib-tickler. This surprises people who expect me to be po-faced, but I know more jokes than anyone else I know. It was Grandpa Sneddon who first encouraged me to write them down to use as icebreakers. Consequently, I have one for every conceivable situation, written down in thirty leather bound journals. Spencer refers scathingly to my books of Jokes and Humorous Incidents, a phrase he claims originated from our Grandfather Sneddon. Not so! The only person who has ever referred to my journals as books of Jokes and Humorous Incidents is Spencer, so if anyone is to be mocked on that account it should be him.
My brother's humourlessness precluded him from bonding with our Grandfather. While Spencer enjoyed tormenting other children with jibes and fiendish contraptions, he bridled when the tables were turned. As a child, for example, he had disproportionately sized ears, something that became less pronounced as he grew older. Grandpa would gently tease him about this attribute. “You could save money on electricity and let Spencer listen to next door's radio”, he might say, or “why do you need a kite when you can just put some string round Spencer's ankle?” It wasn't as if Spencer was singled out as the butt of the joke. When Christine entered adolescence and erupted in spots, Grandpa referred to her as Madame Vesuvius, while the standard joke for me was I was an escapee from Easter Island, this being on account of my large head. Admittedly, there were occasions, particularly as Grandpa grew deafer and started to shout, when Christine failed to get the joke and either started to cry or stormed up the stairs to her room. I had no such problems and, consequently have always been able to laugh at myself. If someone wants to crack a gag about the size of my head, I'll immediately confound him with three more, all recalled from Grandpa's repertoire. The very mention of large ears, however, is still sufficient to cause my brother to bare his teeth.
'Harrison Poe', incidentally, is neither the first nor even the most scurrilous invention based around my persona. At last year's Drumfeld's Got Talent evening, ventriloquist Craig Sanderson introduced Hamilton Coe Junior to the audience. Investigators with less confidence in their abilities would have bridled at the affront. Had Sanderson attempted to introduce a Ronald Hawthorne (or, indeed, Spencer Coe) puppet to its source he'd have provoked an immediate tantrum and received a lawyer's letter within the week. I'm made of sterner stuff. As anyone who knows me would have anticipated, I laughed louder than anyone and, at the skit's conclusion, applauded until my hands were raw. So pronounced, in fact, was my enjoyment that my sister and niece removed themselves from my vicinity and sat elsewhere. Nobody who has witnessed the extent to which I enjoy a good joke would ever accuse me of lacking a sense of humour. In subsequent performances, unfortunately, Hamilton Junior became increasingly objectionable as Sanderson capitulated to the demands of adult audiences. “Stop that right now, Hamilton!” became his catch-phrase as the puppet rubbed himself aggressively against whatever young woman had wandered into the vicinity, his hinged jaw fixed in a leer of idiot yearning. After cautioning Sanderson against the path he'd followed, I was compelled, as was my right, to demand the puppet's destruction thus establishing a legal precedent for others parodied in this fashion.
29/4/08 Even as a child, my brother had a fractious relationship with my mother's side of the family. While his tendency to furtiveness must have been obvious to everyone, my Grandfather Sneddon was the first to actually mention it. "The boy won't look you in the eye," he noted. "He's got a guilty conscience!" Any suggestion that Spencer's aversion to eye contact could be attributed to shyness was dismissed with a snort of contempt. "The boy's not shy: he's sleekit!" Readers who consider my grandfather's judgement harsh should bear in mind that his character was borne of adversity. Relocated from his native Colonsay to Glasgow at the age of five, he was forced to endure the taunts of his new schoolmates who dubbed him ‘Island Boy' and ‘Rufus' on account of his red hair. Further scapegoated by teachers unaccountably antagonised by his sense of fair-play, my grandfather was regularly tawsed for other people's misdemeanours (often ones to which he himself had drawn the teachers' attention). I remember lying stricken by one of the illnesses that dogged my childhood, listening as he recounted these injustices from my bedside. If I close my eyes, I can still see him kneading his brow with taut knuckles, tears of anger rolling down his cheeks. The man of calibre, of course, is galvanised by adversity. "Pucker your lips, Donald, old son," he'd say, wiping his eyes as he dragged himself from the depths of memory. As I watched him from my sickbed, he did just that, sending out a whistle, initially hesitant but gathering strength until the room was filled with a trill of celebration. "As long as I have enough breath in my lungs to whistle," he said, "and someone to whistle for, I feel like the luckiest man alive!" (Neither Spencer nor Christine, incidentally, enjoyed our grandfather's spontaneous melodies. "I wish he'd shut up," Christine once hissed as he accompanied a tune on the radio. "If they wanted some idiot whistling along, they'd have put it on the record." Within three months, he was dead. While we've never discussed it, I suspect that repressed guilt contributed to the peculiar virulence of her acne.)
Had Spencer possessed a sense of humour, he might have retrieved the situation. There was nothing our grandfather enjoyed more than a good joke. Unfortunately, while Spencer enjoyed tormenting other children with jibes and fiendish contraptions, he bridled when the tables were turned. As a child, for example, he had disproportionately sized ears, a peculiarity that became slightly less pronounced as he grew older. Grandpa would gently tease him about this attribute. “You could save money on electricity and let Spencer listen to next door's radio”, he might say, or “why do you need a kite when you can just put some string round Spencer's ankle?” It wasn't as if Spencer was singled out as the butt of the joke. When Christine entered adolescence and erupted in spots, Grandpa referred to her as Madame Vesuvius, while the standard joke for me was I was an escapee from Easter Island, this being on account of my large head. Admittedly, there were occasions, particularly as Grandpa grew deafer and started to shout, when Christine failed to get the joke and either started to cry or stormed up the stairs to her room. I had no such problems and, consequently have always been able to laugh at myself. If someone wants to crack a gag about the size of my head, I'll immediately confound him with three more, all recalled from Grandpa's repertoire. The very mention of large ears, however, is still sufficient to cause my brother to bare his teeth.
In the summer of 1980, my cousin Pamela and I, conducting a completely separate investigation, stumbled over proof of Spencer's origins. A blabbermouthed investigator, as I'm frequently given cause to reiterate, is a liability. Quiet satisfication should be sufficient to the successful conclusion of any case. Anyone who feels compelled to blow his trumpet should join a band and leave the delicate business of investigation to those who can keep their own counsel. After twenty minutes of serious reflection, however, I decided that Spencer was entitled to the truth. With hindsight, this might have been a mistake. For the remainder of the summer, he wandered the house muttering variations on a theme of "woe is me!" Mum and Dad tried to reassure him that he was, in fact, all the more special for being chosen, but Spencer's inclination has always been to create a problem where none previously existed. Rather than revel in being slightly different, a non-pedigree Coe, he chose to stand apart. To this day the notion that, as a Child of Adoption, he was somehow less valued than Christine and me is a persistent theme of his diatribes. As evidence, he often recalls the occasion when he was forced to eat his Christmas dinner at a separate table. Naturally, he omits to add that he was banished from the main table for biting me and fortunate to be allowed to even enjoy the occasion from a distance. Thirty years on, he still enjoys propagating the myth that he was rejected on account of not being a thoroughbred Coe. This is a ridiculous argument. If he was rejected, it was because he was a particularly nasty child, full of sly tricks. The one thing I've learned from my investigations is that bad character is insurmountable. This position might be controversial, but only to those without experience of criminal behaviour. The term ‘bad seed' is old fashioned but apt. Some people have no redemptive qualities. They're incorrigible. I'm not presenting a judgement, merely a fact. Nobody's to blame for this. An individual is as responsible for his nature as a snake for the fact that he's compelled to slither along on his stomach. What option does he have? A great deal is now made of analysis: why is a man thus? What led him here? This sort of thinking, in my experience, leads to the logic of the scoundrel. Any offence can be exculpated by referring to some damage inflicted in childhood or adolescence. The effective investigator shuns analysis. He merely observes. His interest lies entirely in what a man is. Any fool can conjecture why .
More than twenty years later, Spencer finally set about effecting the reunion he'd sporadically threatened throughout his teens. At the time I was encumbered not only with my parents' respective illnesses, but the after effects of the virus that had depleted my psychic abilities. Had it not been for a conversation with a drunken Colette, I might never have realised how shabbily Spencer had repaid our patronage. "The cuckoo has landed," she slurred when I telephoned to enquire as to his non-appearance at Dad's birthday barbecue. Two hours later, the penny dropped. "What's wrong with Hamilton?" asked Mum as I failed to entirely suppress a cry of anguish. Improvising a stomach ache, I returned to the house and called Colette again. She confirmed my worst fears with obvious pleasure. "Spencer's spending the weekend with his brother," she goaded. My protest that he already had a brother prompted the uncalled for response "now he has one that he likes."
The next Saturday, I checked into a bed and breakfast five minutes from the Paterson home on Brunton Avenue in Musselburgh. Unfortunately, within an hour of commencing surveillance, my cover (as my American colleagues might say) was blown. In conducting an investigation, I'll occasionally resort to disguise. In my experience, a surly teenager reluctant to communicate with Hamilton Coe is invariably less reticent in the company of ‘Tommy the punk'. The efficacy of any disguise, however, depends entirely upon its bearer's ability to immerse himself entirely into his new character. While investigating Spencer's liaison with the Patersons, I lazily assumed the role of Marius, a trinket-selling gypsy with whom I had zero real affinity. As I followed the family as they strolled toward the High Street where, presumably, they planned to lunch, Spencer suddenly stopped, turned and sprinted across the road to attack me, landing several blows before assorted Patersons intervened to drag him away.
By necessity, my investigation was now limited to whatever information neighbours and colleagues of the Patersons were willing to volunteer and the public testimony of Spencer's new half-brother. Douglas(or 'Dougie') Paterson had a comedy act that he performed in local night-clubs. This comprised of a litany of tedious observations about day to day life: toilet paper running out, dates taking a long time to get ready. Although I don't watch television, I could tell from audience anticipation of his punch-lines that most of his material was second hand. My brother's appearance obviously offered him a fresh, original approach. As he started incorporating Spencer into his act, I made a point of attending performances, taking care, naturally, to adopt a more thorough disguise. I'm ashamed to say that I felt the thrill of vindication watching Spencer watch Dougie recount the various complications entailed by the appearance of a thirty-two year old baby brother. From the rear of the hall I could see his neck redden and foot tap the parquet floor in a semaphore of agitation. Part of the new routine involved his difficulty in dealing with an attractive new half-sister. Watching Spencer writhing in his seat, I could tell that Doug, whether by accident or design, had struck a nerve. Like a dog that habitually attaches itself to its owner's leg, Spencer has always been incapable of separating affection of the heart from that of the groin, an affliction that has clouded his judgement since puberty and blighted nearly all of his male/female relationships. I'm occasionally thankful that Muriel's transformation into womanhood has been blighted by acne lest she become subjected to her uncle's unwholesome fixation. His newly discovered half-sister, Lisa, certainly possessed the sort of charms to which someone like Spencer might be susceptible and, having observed his body language around her, I suspect that it was some compulsive indiscretion that contributed to their estrangement.
Spencer has always made much of the three restraining orders to which I was subjected in my teens. These were heavy handed instances of police over-exuberance and on each occasion my 'harassment' was eventually vindicated. The measures taken against Spencer were of an entirely different type. In a matter of weeks he managed to destroy a family that, apart from a little public teasing, had only shown him kindness. By January of 2005, Spencer was no longer welcome in Musselburgh and all contact between the estranged semi-siblings was being conducted through lawyers. The local papers ran a story about Spencer's demands that the Patersons hand over items of sentimental value from the mother he never knew. The story was accompanied by Spencer standing at her grave, looking the worse for wear. For their part, the Patersons alluded to sexual indiscretions, drunken rages and soiled sheets. Having already rejected Spencer thirty years ago, they now took legal steps to ensure the distance between them remain permanent. With horrible irony, the court order banning Spencer from approaching the Patersons was imposed three days before our mother's death.
Apart from confirming Spencer's tendency to grossly inappropriate behaviour, my investigation into the Patersons, now concluded, established that at least four members of the extended family suffered from depressive related illness while three others were alcoholics. Spencer's 'mother' was hospitalised on at least three occasions and died of drink related causes. His father was married four times and twice charged with spousal abuse. The entire Paterson dossier was testament to a collection inherited traits replicated in Spencer and imported into the house of Coe.
28/4/08 It hardly seems conceivable that only a year has passed since Spencer's return to the family home. My misgivings (that he was a parasite seeking sanctuary from the consequences of his own appalling behaviour) have been subsequently vindicated, but at the time they were dismissed as sour grapes. "He's your brother," cajoled Christine, conveniently forgetting the fact that only months earlier he'd banned me from his ridiculous beach wedding, causing me to endure a humiliating and potentially life threatening ordeal in a pedalo. This, admittedly, is the sort of incident that, given the healing effect of time, might be recalled with a rueful smile. The same, unfortunately, can hardly be said of his neglect of our dying mother in order to insinuate himself with his so-called 'birth family'. This offence, unforgivable in itself, was compunded when he sabotaged the carefully planned tributes I'd prepared for Mum's funeral. I rarely flinch from insult or derision but I can still feel my cheeks redden as I recall his refusal to read "that stupid f__ing poem from Four Wedding and Funeral..." A lifetime might have been encapsulated within the silence that followed: an existence borne of misadventure, played out in a state of persistent mortification and finally ended by my aunt's slurred but emphatic, "Who on earth put Hamilton in charge?"
"He only wants to help to look after Dad," argued Christine when, less than a fortnight later, Spencer reappeared unannounced, stinking of alcohol and still limping from the deep laceration to the buttock recently inflicted by his wife. "I didn't think it was fair to leave it all to you," concurred Spencer from where he was perched awkwardly at the other side of the table. "I'd like to... pitch-in." The last two words were uttered with an involuntary grimace. Whether this could be attributed to shame or an aversion to the trite phraseology of the motivational speaker is irrelevant: The very notion of "pitching in" is anathema to Spencer. For the period between his return and Dad's relocation to the Room With a View (to Happiness), his contribution was limited to reading to Dad. Even this was reserved for the presence of visitors who might witness his benevolence. "Time for your book, Dad," he'd announce, a compulsive smirk tugging at his lips. Taking whatever was at hand and, randomly selecting a passage, he'd then recite it in the sardonically earnest tone of a boarding school bully reciting excerpts of a letter from some crushed adversary's mother.. It almost came as a relief when the departure of whomever he was trying to impress allowed him to revert to type, responding to Dad's demands for attention by increasing the volume of the television or simply returning to his room.
Within days, Spencer had established a routine consistent with every symptom of addiction. Rising late, he'd spend the latter part of the afternoon slouched in an armchair, his face fixed in a rictus of dread. Anybody passing could hear his stomach percolating, a guttural gargle like a drain blocked by slurry. As evening approached he'd set about working his way steadily through the collection of wine accumulated by over twenty years by our father and decimated by Spencer in mere weeks. Sufficiently bolstered, he'd phone Colette, his estranged wife. When his whimpering entreaties proved fruitless, he'd retreat to his room (appropriately preserved like the tomb of a sulky teenage pharoah) where he'd wallows for the remainder of the evening. In the next bedroom, I could gauge his escalating level of inebriation by the volume and tempo of his music. As he became incapable he'd replay the ponderous songs I remember from his adolescence at an anti-social volume. When I occasionally looked in on him before going to sleep he'd be staring into space, tears glistening on his collapsed cheeks like a child bewitched by goblins.
Estranged from most of his friends in Drumfeld, Spencer forged an unwholesome alliance with Dad's home-care assistants. Even before his return, Charlene, Mandy and Bea had conspired to alienate me. Oblivious to my international reputation, they treated me with unfeigned contempt, demanding constant cups of coffee and referring to me within earshot by offensive nicknames. When I retreated to the sanctuary of the shed to listen to Mahler, they followed me, banging on the door and shouting, “What are you up to in there with Mallard, monkey man?” a joke of which they never tired. People resent those they consider useless – in tribal societies non-contributors were cannibalised or sacrificed. Today they're subjected to medical experiments, or forced to scrub industrial vats. Spencer, who is useless, somehow escaped their scorn. As I worked on my files in the living room, I could hear idiotic skirls of laughter from the kitchen as Spencer, having identified the mood, ingratiated himself with his tiresomely inaccurate Hamilton impression. "Billy," he brayed in a voice soggy with feigned idiocy, "the wardrobe appears to be locked. I'm trapped!" As I opened the serving hatch that links our kitchen and living room to indicate that I could hear everything that was being said, Charlene snorted my imported Italian coffee through her nose while Mandy squawked, "Oh my God, he was listening! That's so creepy!"
Had she realised she was being recorded, Mandy might have been more circumspect. Three weeks later, this exchange was included in sixty minute compendium of insults which comprised just part of the dossier I presented to Gillian Carr, director of Drumfeld social services. Also included were photographs of Mandy and Charlene emerging from Spencer's room (on separate occasions) and 'roaches' from cannabis joints collected from behind my shed. Laboratory tests, I suggested, would prove that all three were taking drugs while in charge of a patient. Spencer, meanwhile, was nonplussed by recordings of Charlene's impression of his whimpering justification for unsatisfactory performance. I hoped that my dossier galvanise the social services into providing adequate support. By then, however, it had been decided that 14 Beech Crescent was no longer a suitable environment for an Alzheimer's patient. Despite my objections, Dad was removed to the Room With a View (to Happiness). Spencer, however, lingered.
24/4/08 It's over three years since Ewen Murray protested against limited access to his children by donning a Spiderman outfit and gluing himself to the Sherlock Holmes statue in Edinburgh. Expecting a sympathetic response, he was disappointed to be spat upon and pelted with various objects. Edinburgh is, of course, an unfriendly city whose inhabitants nurse a visceral resentment toward the performance artists who hog its by-ways through-out the summer months. As Murray neglected to make clear his dubious purpose, passers-by assumed he was a left-over from the Festival. "I'm a father," protested Murray, writhing helplessly against the imperturbable Holmes as his costume was spattered with lager and half-eaten kebabs. By the time he was rescued, bruised and bedraggled, a mob, enraged by reports of a lingering mime artist, was en route from Leith. Typically, Murray failed to credit the courage of the firefighters who risked the indignation of the rabble to save him. Instead he berated them for the roughness with which they separated him from the monument on which, had they dallied, he might have been sacrificed.
Subsequent legal attempts to negotiate meetings between Murray and his estranged sons were complicated by his habit of dressing as Spiderman or Father Christmas. The boys, having entered the age when the very presence of a parent within a ten mile radius is sufficient to incite fits of squirming embarrassment, were understandably dismayed by their father's insistence on drawing attention to himself by assuming the identities of role models only considered impressive by much younger children. Murray, hurt and bemused by their sudden hostility, planned to retaliate by denouncing his sons on huge banners hung from the Houses of Parliament. His ploy was thwarted when members of his own organisation (Kids Need Dads) reported him to the authorities.
Murray might be unusually preposterous and malign, but he's hardly unique. My casebooks contain numerous instances of culpable fecklessness. The younger members of my own family are encumbered by the (occasional) presence of an idiotic male parent. Should anyone be surprised that my niece spends her free time smoking cigarettes in Drumfeld churchyard when her father thinks so little of being exposed as a cheat and a poltroon? Far from cringing in terror of the horsewhip, my former brother-in-law swans around Drumfeld in a velvet bow-tie! He participates whole-heartedly in karaoke nights, braying Ring of Fire to whatever teenage assistant from the garden centre he's currently attempting to seduce. The youngest of my cousins, Fraser Christie, the Prince of Numbskulls, fittingly conceived in Las Vegas, the numbskull capital of the known uninverse, was sired by a man who once appeared to me in a vision clad entirely in a suit of rotting meat. "Go to your room immediately, Hamilton," ordered my mother as I denounced him. Less than two years later, having successfully spawned an imbecile, he recoiled from the terrifying emptiness behind his son's gaze and abandoned himself to an alcoholic torpor.
The Age of the Manchild will soon enter its fifth decade. Its heralds (those who've survived the crushing banality of mid life crisis) now confront eternity with the mindset of querulous adolescents. Their descendents, meanwhile, would think little of murdering them. Witness the regularity with which care home workers entertain themselves by subjecting their charges to experimental overdoses. Three hundred years ago, Elspeth Sproule, the witch of Kennoway, prophesied that the Forth would "be dammed by bones and flood the country between Berwick and Perth with blood!" Hounded from village to village, Elspeth repeated her terrible prediction until she was sewn into a sack and drowned, a punishment still reserved for shrill women and 'unnatural children' in parts of Fife. Alarmists might insist that the reckoning she foretold is now imminent! Today's adolescents, contemptuous of the sentimentality that's governed the lives of their parents, gather silently in churchyards around the country, hoods pulled over their eyes, their chests emblazoned with the ancient insignia of nemesis. The Great Beast of Revelation (preceded, it should be recalled, by a 'man-child') has seven heads, each of the same accord. It's easy to scoff, but mass communications now ensure that ten million might simultaneously experience an identical emotion. The threat, whether from Beast or Idea, isn't represented by one man so much as by a multitude all thinking the same thoughts.
20/3/08 The effective investigator knows when to muster compassion and when to summon wrath. Any individual inspired by anger is liable to blunder. His judgement his inevitably flawed, his motives open to question. Miscarriages of justice are invariably perpetrated by detectives who have allowed themselves to be riled into frenzies of indignation. Few, if any, policemen will concede the fact that their role is (or ought to be) largely janitorial. Their talents are adequate to the apprehension of muggers and wife-beaters and in this realm of what I refer to as basic criminality, their diligence is invaluable. In dealing with more complex issues, however, the average policeman, immaterial of how many courses he's been through, is hopelessly out of his depth. I've no intention, at this time, of further debating the potential role of gifted amateurs in detection. The facts speak for themselves. More often than not, entrusting a complicated investigation to a police officer is like putting a microwave in charge of a kitchen. He is functional, but lacks inspiration. Of course, since television writers encouraged policemen to construct images of themselves as mavericks, the issue has become even more confused. Fifteen years ago, a policeman could be identified by the combination of scowl and moustache. They were robotic but, by and large, competent. Now they've assumed artistic licence. They gel their hair, wear clothes their predecessors would have considered grounds for suspicion and openly discuss personal crises. They consider themselves creative, a terrible misconception that has undermined the quality of justice in this country to the extent that the very word elicits involuntary smirks.
"Is there a point here, Hamilton?" demands the reader. "You started out on compassion, which was very interesting, but somehow you ended up drivelling on about the use of hair gel in the police force which, I can assure you, is not." The more tolerant reader will forgive my assumption: I'm basing his hypothetical response on Spencer and Christine's. For everybody else, I can only apologise and concede that my prevarication is caused by an uneasy conscience. The point is my irritation with John Smeaton, the baggage handler credited with thwarting the attack on Glasgow airport. Anger, of course, is an impediment to clarity. While I defy anyone not to be irked by the presence of a leotard clad poltroon intent on a charity 'cage fight', my own response should have been tempered by empathy. The purpose of this post is to apologise.
I've been predisposed to disapprove of Smeaton from the outset. A smalltown nonentity thrust into the role of global spokesman, it seemed that he was demanding praise for nothing more than kicking a man when he was down (or, more precisely, on fire). Now it's alleged that he didn't kick anyone at all, but hovered on the periphery of proceedings, only coming to prominence when the dust had settled and cameras appeared. After lavishing in his unexpected celebrity, he's discovered what any countryman might have told him from the outset: the cock that crows the loudest is the first to find his neck on the chopping block.
"We'll set about ye," he famously squawked on behalf of his fellow Glaswegians. With horrible irony, Smeaton himself has now become their prey. After an initial period of indulgence, he's perceived to have become too big for the polished Ghillie brogues in which he's been swaggering around civic receptions from London to New York and Los Angeles. Despite acknowledging the part played by others in subduing the hapless assailants, he finds himself increasingly excluded from the circle of have-a-go heroes resentful that their own efforts haven't been similarly recognised. "Smeaton's all talk," they scowl bringing to mind a modern day equivalent of the tailor who killed seven flies before convincing his fellows that the notches on his sword could be accounted to desperados. Smeaton, whose public statements have evoked a band of brothers forever bonded by the co-incidence of their presence on that fateful day, can only be wounded by their revised assessment of his own role. One can only surmise why individuals ostensibly determined to avoid the limelight should denigrate someone who revels in it. Like it or not, the roles have been cast! Smeaton is the undoubted star. Can we not share his pride and enjoy his bumptious exuberance? I urge his detractors to return their daggers to their scabbards before farce becomes tragedy.
As the dark clouds of envy and contention cluster around Smeaton's briefly iridescent star, we should recognise the plight of ordinary people who subject themselves to the limelight only to be found wanting. Which of us could withstand such remorseless attention? Like participants in reality television shows, Smeaton is discovering that those who enjoy his personality are less likely to make public their opinion than those who don't. "Nobody asked him to strut around blowing his trumpet," the reader might retort, but that's not the case. We invite people to express themselves and then make them egregious. Is there a more terrible reflection on our age than the sight of some unfortunate numbskull emergin from the Big Brother house, a tentative smile compressing into a pout of dismay as the disapproval of the mob becomes apparent. "We don't like you," they yell, regressing to the level of children turning on a red-headed class-mate. Let's not abandon John Smeaton to the same psychic annihilation!
15/3/08 My active involvement with charity stretches back to 1980 when I modelled knitwear for the Enable catalogue. At the time, my aunt was working as a fundraiser for the charity. Accompanying her to their Edinburgh offices one afternoon, I was inveigled into participating in a photo shoot. For the next three years I was the charity's unofficial 'face'. This role ended when the administrators capitulated to a spate of poison pen letters prompted by the proposal that I be presented to Princess Anne, Enable's recently appointed patron. While this was neither the first nor last co-ordinated campaign to which I've been subjected, it was possibly the most spiteful. "There's nothing actually wrong with you, Hamilton," explained chairman Dr Colin West after the crisis meeting at which it was decided to dispense with my services. "It's unethical to carry on using you just because you look peculiar." Naturally, I accepted the decision, but the entire episode left a bad taste, particularly when I was replaced by Robbie Henderson, the son of director Margaret Henderson. No great graphology skills were required to identify Margaret as the author of seven of the anonymous letters. Unfortunately, my dossier was dismissed unread. It gives me no satisfaction to record that Robbie, ill-equipped for the occasion, suffered a failure of nerve, throwing a bouquet at the Princess before turning tail. His behaviour, I fear, precipitated Enable's demise two years later. Happily, Robbie survived this trauma and currently manages a sports shop in Falkirk.
Undeterred by this rejection, I've badgered on behalf of numerous causes. The entire creed of Coe, after all, is based on the desire to help others. At various times, I've bagged clothes for Oxfam, solicited donations for Mencap and manned the till at Age Concern. The Hamilton Coe archive contains twenty seven letters from other charities thanking me for my participation in fund raising campaigns, while my practical assistance has been instrumental in weeding out unsuitable volunteers. The Hamilton Coe Foundation (which, for reasons beyond my comprehension, has been refused Charity status) has published an employer's guide, a chapter of which is specific to the voluntary sector. Most of the charities with which I've been involved over the years have been riven by internal divisions. Pilfering, threatening behaviour and even blackmail, however, are small beer when compared to the ill-will caused by ideological divisions between pragmatists and dreamers.
After a lifetime peering into the abyss, how could I be anything other than a realist? From the earliest records, humans have compulsively lied, stolen and marched on their neighbours with drawn swords. After millennia of behaviour which, by the most generous assessment, can only be described as poor, what can we realistically expect of our peers? We should be grateful barbarities are at least partially circumvented by a combination of brute force and red tape. The idealist, however, is governed by principles he feels should be universal (as, indeed, they would be if logic had any influence on human behaviour.) In demanding an end to poverty, war, hunger or whatever, he might as well call time on jealousy, anger or wasps. When his expectations are confounded, though, he's inflamed by the same savage indignation that turned the Utopias envisaged by Lenin and Robespierre into gulags.
This was the gist of my response after Muriel asked me to sponsor her for Sport Relief. "Stop being such a pompous ass, Hamilton!" interrupted Christine who has a tendency to miss the point. "She's signed up for a fun run. What on earth's Robespierre got to do with it?" I was on the verge of retorting that, for a twenty a day smoker such as Muriel, strenuous exercise is hardly compatible with fun. The fact that she intended to participate in the sort of civic-minded project at which I would have expected her to curl her lip, however, caused me to bite my tongue. As she eyed me contemptuously from the far side of the room, I remembered when she sought my opinion and breathlessly confided her joys and sorrows. (Breathlessness, I should clarify, caused by exhilaration rather than pulmonary congestion.) How, I wondered, had we reached this impasse of mutual incomprehension? Momentarily overwhelmed by the sadness of estrangement, it occurred to me that Muriel wanted nothing more than my encouragement. "Well, if Muriel's going to run," I said, "I'll run, too...."
Over the course of the next week, my training schedule was disrupted by a succession of accidents. First, a carelessly abandoned skateboard propelled me down the stairs. Only reflexes honed by Cung-Coe prevented me from suffering serious injury. The next day, as I waited for Christine to answer her front door, a falling plant pot missed my head by centimetres. Returning home, I found Spencer nursing a twisted knee having slipped on the icy front path. Closer inspection revealed the danger to have been greatly exacerbated by the liberal application of water. A surveillance operation confirmed my direst suspicions three days later when I caught Muriel in the act of severing the Picador's brake cable. No great interrogation was necessary to extract a confession. "I don't want you to run," she said bluntly. "It would ruin my life."
My enthusiasm for the fun run, I have to confess, was dampened by Muriel's behaviour. "She's just going through a very difficult time," argued Christine without any great conviction. "She didn't actually mean to kill you...." My mood wasn't improved by the appearance of fliers around Drumfeld advertising a charity 'Cage Fight' between me and Glasgow Airport blowhard/scourge of menace (so-called!) John Smeaton. These posters, in which 'The Smeatonator' and I square up to each other, our heads superimposed over massive, tattooed torsoes, were obviously the work of a prankster. This didn't prevent various unsavoury characters from appearing in Drumfeld and enquiring as to the availability of tickets. P.C. Jackson, obviously anticipating trouble, asked if I couldn't "just find someone to fight.... It is for charity, after all" while a persistent and obnoxious sports reporter phoned at thirty minute intervals asking how I intended to nullify Smeaton's 'flying monkey kick'. Smeaton, though taken by surprise when contacted by the Rob McAskill show, was predictably eager to participate. "I'll set about him," he bragged before embarking on his entire inane reportoire.
As I type this 'blog' I can still hear sporadic chants of "Hamilton's a shite-bag!" emanating from the High Street. I don't suppose it should surprise anyone that Smeaton actually turned up . Accompanied by three busty females wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the Sun logo, he held court outside my house for the best part of two hours. Clearly oblivious to the danger in which he was placing himself, he used a megaphone to challenge me to come out and fight him "for all the hungry kids out there." I resisted the temptation to go out and teach him a lesson: as I frequently remind my students, mastery of any martial art must be accompanied by the responsibility of restraint. Eventually Smeaton, frustrated, no doubt, by a lack of attention, wandered in the direction of the playing fields where, I gather, he presented prizes and delivered an impromtu motivational address. In my mind's eye, I can still summon an image of him shivering in his leotard and gesticulating toward the house: the hapless redeemer unwittingly summoning nemesis as he blows into his trumpet. How could anyone have prophesied this interminable darkness into which we've blundered?
14/3/08 My policy regarding financial remuneration is straightfoward: I have never attempted to negotiate a fee prior to an investigation. It would be easy to follow my so-called rivals in the pursuit of celebrity and fiscal reward. Ronald Hawthorne, for example, has created a niche for himself on programmes such as 'On the Trail of Jack the Ripper' and 'Hanratty, the Final Verdict'. As he works himself into a frenzy of agitation, chewing his trademark beret and whimpering incoherently about red-headed strangers, the sensible viewer can only conclude that this is a man who will jump through any hoop placed in front of him. His occasional appearance at high-profile crime scenes is inspired by the same knavish craving for recognition. "Spirits guide me!" he wails, his fat face contorted by anguish. These performances inevitably conclude with a seizure as Hawthorne surrenders himself to whatever fat-headed entity he's summoned from the Dunghills of Perfidy. As medical attendants rush to save his tongue from self-mastication and restrain his thrashing limbs, the spirit introduces himself. "I am Ezekial Cluttershaw," he squawks indignantly. "Listen well! A red headed stranger walkest amongst thee.... He is the third of seven.... His lips are scarlet for he suppeth from a flagon of blood!"
Let's not be overly harsh, though. It's easy to dismiss someone as a scoundrel without considering the factors that made him so. Children of clairvoyance are often alienated by their precocious insights. My own experience is probably typical: at various times I was shunned, slighted and dragged around the Drumfeld Primary playground by the ears. By the time I reached my teens, I'd been denounced from seventeen different pulpits, ridiculed on television and subjected to unimaginable indignities in an anonymously circulated comic strip. "Is this the end for Hamilton Coe, boy of mystery?" concluded each intricately sketched episode and, had it not been for the support of my family, my self-esteem would have disintegrated. The preposterously clad psychics of bohemia with their polished pates and dyed beards are similarly wounded by the rejection of childhood. I feel enormous pity for them. My compassion, however, shouldn't be interpret as an endorsement. Their gifts have been corrupted by the need for acceptance. A man who prognosticates for approval or profit should be treated with caution. Of the current crop of psychics only one refuses to fudge or flatter and asks for nothing. He stands alone on the very edge of the abyss. His name is Hamilton Coe.
"That's very commendable, Hamilton," the reader might observe, "but bread can't be buttered with goodwill!" Naturally, I'll accept donations when I consider them appropriate. The Hamilton Coe Foundation has benefited from various legacies, most significantly that of Mrs Constance Lewis who, shortly before her death, actually outlined plans to adopt me. (Mrs Lewis's son, Mark, subsequently alleged that I'd taken advantage of his mother's dotage, a transparently spiteful allegation that has, nonetheless, hindered the work of the Foundation.) Such donations enable me to pursue cases, but I'm still very much restricted by financial constraints. My recent investigation, The Mystery of the Skulking Groom, for example, involved two weeks board in St Andrews and the purchase of a golfing outfit essential to the successful imitation of 'Clarke Schulz'. It seemed reasonable to assume that the beneficiaries of my efforts might want to contribute toward my expenses. Today, however, my scrupulously itemised balance sheet was returned with the scrawled addition, "Nobody asked you to stick your nose in!" As he watches his daughter rebuild the dreams almost destroyed by her association with a scoundrel, I hope that Mr J____ might come to regret this mean spirited response. The reader, meanwhile, can surmise why the professional psychic often prefers to reassure his clients with lies. The truth teller rarely enjoys the approval of his peers.
12/3/08 What on earth," regular readers might wonder, "has Hamilton been up to?" A very good question! I've certainly been neglecting this journal. In mitigation, I can only plead that my primary purpose isn't to 'blog' but to investigate. For the past month or so, The Mystery of the Skulking Groom has taken precedence over any obligation to present day to day incidents from the House of Coe. "A mystery?" interrupts the reader. "Why didn't you say? Stop beating about the bush! Who is this Skulking Groom? He sounds like a rascal!" He most certainly is, though currently chastened by exposure and the wrath of Coe. "So what was his modus operandi? Where did he skulk and to what effect?" Unfortunately discretion, the freqently ignored pre-requisite of any effective investigator, prevents me from going into any great detail. It will be 2015 before I can release an unexpurgated account of this particular investigation and in particular the terrible secret of C____ L______.
For now, the best I can offer is a precis of the case. I can safely divulge, I think, that the entire investigation was prompted by nothing more promising than a wedding announcement in the Examiner. How can I describe the half-forgotten tingle that indicates something amiss? My initial enquiries, while establishing nothing that would have alarmed the layman, did nothing to dispel my disquiet. Instinct led me to St Andrews where I boarded for two weeks, first in the guise of archeology student Arthur Ramsay and later, when exposure seemed imminent, American golf enthusiast Clarke Schulz. Without wishing to tantallise the reader, I can further allude to a moonlit vigil along St Andrews' north beach, the wedding that was not and Karen Balsillie's shrieked, "What's he doing here?" as the lemon clad American stepped from the shadows, removed his dark glasses and revealed himself to be Coe. Beyond that, however, I'm bound by responsibility to innocent parties already wounded by events.
For the compassionate investigator, the exhilaration of the chase is inevitably nullified by the pain of revelation. Having presented his case, he must step back into the shadows and quietly observe the repercussions. As I often caution more zealous peers, the role of the detective is to detect, not to judge. While a court of law can be a forbidding environment, its judgements are subject to appeal. A sentence imposed in the court of the heart is irrevocable. Throughout my career, I've witnessed the disintegration of many relationships. Certain factors recur. The perpetrator, realising he's unstuck, makes a last, desperate attempt to defer responsibility. "You're not going to take his word for it!" he cries, gesticulating toward investigator. Reminded that evidence has been carefully compiled and presented in a leather bound dossier, he resorts to threats. "I'll kill you!" you bellows, finally revealing himself to all present, saliva and tears mingling on his shirt. At this stage in proceedings, the investigator will invariably become the focus of the perpetrator's need to lash out. Rather than engage physically, he should take evasive action. A basic knowledge of the defensive techniques of Cung-Coe should be sufficient to avoid the inevitable clumsy lunges. This phase is nearly always brief. Energy spent, the perpetrator is overwhelmed by self-realisation. "I'm so sorry!" he grovels. Judgement is then instantaneous. In approximately ten per cent of cases, forgiveness is forthcoming. In the case of the Skulking Groom, I'm afraid, it was not.
30/1/08 For years, Spencer has derived inexplicable enjoyment from spreading false death rumours. Gleefully oblivious to my warnings that by creating a belief in someone's death he destabilises the life force that protects them, he sentences those he despises or considers most expendable to a variety of ignominous departures. One might imagine such an obnoxious pastime restricted to morbid adolescence. Not so in Spencer's case! As recently as Muriel's birthday last October, he partially ruined the day by solemnly informing her gathered cronies that Marilyn Manson, their favourite 'pop' star, had been fatally gored by a bull. Much wailing ensued before Spencer blithely confessed to having made it up. I know for a fact that, in the past year, he's informed eight separate people of my death by causes ranging from traffic accident to cerebral haemhorrage. When I returned from my last (aborted) American lecture tour, my appearance in the Drumfeld Spar caused pandemonium among fellow shoppers convinced that I'd perished on the Pacific Coast Highway.
The pointlessness of such a ruse is so overwhelming that, on occasion, even I've been taken in. This morning, however, when he excitedly informed me that Samuel Nimmo had died suddenly of a massive heart attack, I smiled and said, "very good, Spencer. Let me look out my black tie." Not even the paragraph pertaining to his death in the Herald convinced me. Had Nimmo attained a level of celebrity for his demise to merit a mention, however brief? It didn't seem entirely inconceivable that Spencer, stooping to unplummeted depths, might have somehow planted the story. Only reference to the internet convinced me that Nimmo, the boy who would have been Coe, was, indeed, no more.
In casting Samuel Nimmo as Hamilton Coe, the producers of the People Who Saw Tomorrow demonstrated both contempt and ignorance of their subject. Nimmo, at the time a fifteen year old actor stunted by a metabolic disorder and physically unsuitable for most of the parts he auditioned for, had no conception of how to tackle the role. I don't know how much research he did, if any, but his performance exhibited zero comprehension of the clairvoyant experience. The repercussions were immediate. I was deluged with hate mail and renounced from seventeen different churches. One particular zealot threatened to have me forcibly baptised, adding that contact with consecrated water would cause my skin to melt. For weeks I was unable to venture outside without an adult escort and on these occasions children would point at me and emit a bloodcurdling shriek, an impression of Nimmo's version of my investigative technique. It took years for my reputation to fully recover from the damage inflicted.
Nimmo's freakish performance attracted the interest of the sort of voyeurs who intentionally seek out bad art in order to reassure themselves of their own intellectual superiority. The influence of such champions was, however, minimal. Blindly encouraged, Nimmo briefly re-located to Los Angeles, the worst city in the world for someone of his temperament and appearance, where he auditioned for various ‘Child of Satan' roles popular at the time. In this, he was stymied by his unequivocally sinister appearance: in the popular imagination, the son of the devil is superficially cherubic. Nobody glimpsing Nimmo would imagine him to be anything other than a bad egg.
An outsider by appearance only, Nimmo craved acceptance and was mortified by his treatment in America. In Britain, his rejections had been sweetened by words of encouragement: nobody would have referred to his appearance as a factor, however obvious. L.A. casting directors, however, thought nothing of laughing incredulously as he entered the room. One was so incensed by Nimmo's temerity in auditioning that he emptied the contents of his ashtray over his head.
Embittered by rejection, Nimmo returned to Britain where he was reduced to appearing in pantomime and being physically demeaned in rock videos. Footage of him dressed as an imp or satyr occasionally resurfaces on the music shows Spencer watches in the early hours of the morning. It was at this time that he formed an unreciprocated fixation on the actress Kate Winslett with whom he appeared on an episode of Casualty, a BBC soap opera set in a hospital on which Nimmo regularly appeared as a corpse or malign, inner city child. To this day, Nimmo claims to have secretly married the actress: in an eerie parallel to my own problems with Samantha Eadie-Coe, he was, in fact reported for harassing her after an incident outside her apartment reported in various newspapers.
Later that year, Nimmo (now calling himself Sammy Nemo) increased his notoriety by claiming to be fourteen years old and attempting to join a scout troupe. Attributing his haggard appearance to a rare disorder, he eagerly participated in a Duke of Edinburgh camping exhibition before being exposed by concerned relatives. Nothing excites British journalists more than the suggestion of paedophilia to which Nimmo's subterfuge was attributed. Almost certainly innocent of this, his behaviour was, in fact, a desperate attempt to reclaim the innocence lost when he fell in with the makers of The People who Saw Tomorrow.
I was surprised by how saddened I was by Nimmo's passing. In posturing as Coe, however ineptly, he represented the insecurities of my childhood. Had I lacked resolve and the capacity to channel my energies, I might have followed the same path. By whatever quirk of circumstance, some of us are destined to follow a separate path from that of the herd. Solitude is a prerequisite of genius in any endeavour: the man who walks alone, however, must possess the inner fortitude to master his emotions. How many sensitive souls are deformed from within, helplessly becoming sad, isolated misanthropes, tormented by what might have been?
24/1/08 Throughout my career, my enemies have sought to discredit my work and opinions by means of childishly sly defamations. At various times I've been referred to as a pervert, a schizophrenic and a fantasist. Christians have threatened me with forcible baptism while Satanists have attached hexes to my door. My own brother has threatened to kill me on numerous occasions while my successes have earned me the undying hostility of celebrity driven psychics who vainly consider themselves my 'rivals'. "Mars circled Neptune at the instant of you birth!" observed sham astrologer Maurice Gibson when presented with evidence of his actual (non) credentials. He might have added that the creatures of nemesis have howled at my heels ever since! In nearly four decades, however, my resolve has rarely faltered. The entire creed of Coe is based on good humour and perseverence: at times of adversity a smile has proved my most effective shield. This month's gloom, unfortunately, compounded by flu, has all but overwhelmed me.
The extent to which despondency has prevailed can be gauged by the regular appearance of Edgar Allen Poe in my dreams. Since my earlest childhood, before I even knew who he was, Poe's saturnine presence has anticipated periods of trauma and illness in the House of Coe. "Mr Grumpy was here," I'd explain to my mother as she remonstrated with me on account of a sodden sheet. "There is no Mr Grumpy," she'd retort, but there most assuredly was! When I was nine years old, I finally identified him while browsing through one of my Grandfather Sneddon's encyclopaedias. That night Poe pranced triumphantly around my room like the great 'I Am', spouting reams of his morbid drivel, pausing occasionally to brag, "I wrote that!" As the diseased content of his imagination unravelled, I wondered what sort of person would proudly claim responsibility for less wholesome thoughts than those scratched into the walls of public toilets.
A so-called creative person is invariably driven by exactly the same motives that might compel someone else to break a window. It's unfashionable to advocate the destruction of art-works, but nothing produced in a malevolent spirit can do anything other than replicate that ill-feeling in others. Poe's entire ouevre was written in such a foul humour that nobody reading him can fail to be effected. Spencer, became infatuated with his work while in his early teens and was subsequently prone to bad skin, moodiness and solitary pleasures. I vividly remember the embarrassing circumstance of being trapped under his bed while he unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Tara Gibb. Looking up, I was startled by the appearance of Poe's scowling face pressed against the window-pane, forefinger pointed toward me. Unable to restrain myself, I cried out and suffered the indignity of being dragged from my hiding place by the ears. To this day, Spencer remains afflicted by Poe's baleful influence. Billy Ure's life has been similarly blighted.
Last night, Poe loomed at the foot of my bed, his face distorted by a cruel smirk as his parrot flapped frenetically overhead. (I'm aware, incidentally, that Poe is primarily associated with cats and ravens, but for as long as I can remember, his presence has been accompanied by that of a large yellow parrot.) How, I'm often asked, should one confront an apparition? In exactly the same manner, I reply, as you would any other intruder. Whether the intrusion is psychic or physical, an uncompromising response is required for pests and interlopers. A stern rebuke would normally be sufficient to see off the arch-skulker of Baltimore. Like most bullies, he has no real stomach for confrontation. On this occasion, however, he lingered, singing to me in the harshly monotonous tones of a drunkard. This was the first time Poe had actually serenaded me and, while I wouldn't have imagined it to be an agreeable experience, it was more unnerving than I could have possibly anticipated. Suspended helplessly in the limbo between sleep and wakefulness, I ordered him to stop singing, but to no avail. "Because you're mine," he droned, "I walk the line." As I gradually came to my senses, I realised that the song was, in fact, emanating from Spencer's room. My momentary relief was almost instantaneousy dispelled as I identified a second voice coming from the furthest corner of my own room. As the music gradually faded to silence in Spencer's room, the solitary voice in mine continued, accompanied only by the electric hiss of menace I needn't describe to any fellow psychic.
I defy anyone to successfully negotiate the trials of a day preceded by dreams of Poe and his infernal parrot. There are few things I deplore more than rudeness, but today I presented a snarling response to the slightest of provocations. Gayle, my housekeeper, particularly irked me by dipping into my diminishing stock of imported Italian coffee. I'm not so mean spirited, of course, that I wouldn't share my coffee, but Gayle has more than once insisted that she actually prefers Nescafe, an unopened jar of which was in an adjacent shelf. As I remonstrated with her I was aware that my response was intemperate to what was, after all, a minor irritation. Part of me concurred with her muttered retort that I was being a "pompous idiot". Had Spencer not appeared, I might have been able to back down and negotiate a reconciliation, but he took Gayle's part so enthusiastically that I ended up banning either of them from using my coffee or my biscuits. Before leaving I snapped, "I hope you're both still this friendly the next time Spencer clogs the shower with his seminal discharge," an admittedly below the belt reference to last year's contention which resulted in Gayle demanding a pay rise and Spencer her dismissal.
Normally, a spin on the Picador would have enabled me to gather my thoughts. Today, I lacked the energy to cycle for more than ten minutes. My mood wasn't improved when, for the third successive week, neither Connor Sumner nor the Lang twins attended my Cung Coe class. My only student, in fact, was Penny Findlay who, after attending sporadically for nearly a year, has still to recite Rudyard Kipling's "If..." from memory, a pre-requisite before being introduced to any of Cung Coe's offensive (as opposed to defensive) techniques. For forty five minutes, she struggled to replicate my demonstrations of the Beetle Defence, at one stage giggling in such an asinine manner that I snapped, "If you're not prepared to take this seriously then I can think of about a thousand other things I could be doing." To my mortification, she promptly burst into tears and I spent the rest of the evening trying to mollify her.
20/1/08 Reading a newspaper article about some outrage or other, I often find myself muttering, "Only in America!" in response to which some smart alec in the vicinity will invariably pipe up with, "No, Hamilton, not only in America. Also in Korea! (Belgium, Ardrossan or where-ever else might be applicable)" Certainly, while Americans might be less reticent about exhibiting personal eccentricities, the vagaries of human behaviour are, for the most part, universal. Certain recurring phenomena, apparently peculiar to that part of the world, however, defy explanation. To what, for example, might one attribute the spate of spontaneous human combustions within a ten mile radius within Parry, Michigan? Photographs of the victims suggest that all were overweight and, despite being aged between twenty-nine and forty-seven, dressed like children. These traits, however, are commonplace, not only in North America, but throughout western Europe. What imbalance, then, has so destabilised the atmosphere in Parry that its inhabitants are statistically more likely to die of spontaneous combustion than in a car accident? In this instance, I think I might resort to my customary exclamation without fear of contradiction!
Considering the fate of the Michigan Eight, I'm reminded of the strange case of Canadian impressionist Mark Sangster, a moderately successful nightclub entertainer whose repertoire included the usual cast of movie stars, politicians and television personalities. Following the psychic upheaval of a divorce, his impressions became increasingly violent. He spoke in strange languages, unfamiliar to any of his audience members, while his features contorted until he became unrecognisable. On several occasions, witnesses claimed that, in the course of an impression, he grew a thick beard. At other times he shrank in stature, clawed at his eyes and vomited ectoplasm. On leaving the stage, he would have no memory of the performance. After a spell in a private mental facility, Sangster returned refreshed and was offered a place on a televised talent show. His performance, however, was disastrous: after embarking upon a conversation between Humphrey Bogart and Woody Allen, he suddenly digressed into a foul diatribe about Jews in the entertainment business, his points punctuated by violent blows to his own nose. Apparently oblivious to the audience's boos, he tore open his shirt and, smearing a cross over his chest with his own nasal blood, he bellowed an oath in Aramaic before vomiting translucent bile and collapsing. Reduced to unsolicited performances in bars and nightclubs, Sangster spontaneously combusted when trying to impress a group of women with an impromptu impression of Peter Lorre in the course of which, three of those present attested, his features blurred before briefly revealing the leering face of Adolf Hitler.
While my knowledge of television personalities is limited, the most cursory inspection of tabloid newspapers is sufficient to determine that they lead lives of relentless unhappiness. Separated from their roles and audiences, they struggle to function, their own flimsy personalities being insufficient to the demands of day to day existence. They're the equivalent of black holes into which other people instil ideas and expectations. Away from his stage, an actor is akin to a prop abandoned to a cupboard. According to my research, the most troubled entertainers are impressionists. This is no mere co-incidence. To successfully impersonate another human being is to abandon oneself entirely to exterior influences: to step out-with one's own skin. In so doing, and without appreciating the possible consequences, impressionists render themselves extremely vulnerable.
14/1/08 My first Rob McAskill show of 2008. Dealing with the inanities of Rob's listeners is something I find increasingly irksome. Normally I'm eager to accommodate anyone who might ask for an opinion. When other people 'zone out' (as my niece, Muriel, says) my own focus intensifies. All I can discern of these people, though, is that they're boring me. Out of politeness I try and dissemble an interest, but I can't help but dread the pre-occupation with trivia that Rob, despite the best of intentions, shares with his listeners. “What are Hamilton's opinions on such or such a pop star?” they ask, or “What does Hamilton think about such or such a marriage?” The truth is that Hamilton thinks very little of such things if at all! How can it possibly interest me if a movie actor I've never heard of has drugged himself into a state of incapacity or left his wife for someone he's met on a goodwill tour of Africa (whatever that might entail)? Unless his personal depredations lead him into my own realm of expertise, aberrant and criminal behaviour, I can only say “good luck to him” and try to negotiate a change of subject.
My disenchantment with Rob and his listeners has (quite naturally) been exacerbated by last month's 'Rat of the Year' debacle. Not many people, I suspect, would tolerate having three years of counsel and forbearance rewarded by the most childish of slights. "It was just a joke," protested Rob when I raised the topic prior to tonight's broadcast. "I thought you had a sense of humour, H." This asset (which, incidentally, I most certainly do possess) is increasingly cited by bullies and boors as justification for what, viewed objectively, amounts to anti-social behaviour. What they claim as humour is, in reality, a total absence of self-restraint, the abandonment of reason to the darkest human urges. Every day, people endure the grossest indignities rather than leave themselves vulnerable to the accusation that they can't take a joke. They tolerate having their chairs whipped from under them as they sit down, insects introduced to their lunchboxes, their personal details plastered over the walls of communal toilets. It's only a matter of time before ‘it was only a joke' becomes a legitimate criminal defence. We must see things for what they are. A man whose handshake transmits electric shocks harbours a pathological yearning to inflict more serious pain. In appropriate circumstances, the whoopee cushion is a harmless source of fun (I've owned several myself), the packet of gum that conceals a steel snapper, however, is a weapon of attrition. An insult is an insult. It's humbug to try and pretend otherwise.
The theme of tonight's show, ironically, was cyber-bullying. My own mortification aside, I've witnessed various instances of this phenomenon. "Dark Maestro Happy Slapped" read the Advertiser headline after Billy Ure was ambushed by adolescents he'd been hired to entertain at a gothic themed 16th birthday party. Footage of his ordeal was posted on social networking sites for months afterwards. Closer to home, Muriel and her cronies tormented her former best friend, Hilary, with text messages ostensibly from the devil. "It was just a joke," sneered Muriel when confronted about her behaviour. "Everyone knows the devil doesn't send texts." Muriel, of course, isn't qualified to comment on how the devil might choose to communicate. It's entirely conceivable that he skulks in a foetid bedroom e-mailing videos of men being decapitated or fornicating with dachshunds.
The majority of tonight's callers considered themselves victims, though a significant minority acknowledged being bullies. How many, I wondered, whether victims or victimised, lurked behind the cloak of anonymity to vote me 'Rat of the Year'. Rob, who orchestrated that particular humiliation, became particularly agitated when 'Death Walker' from Stirling confessed to bombarding his Radio Forth webpage with offensive messages. "I strongly advise you to cease and desist, Deathwalker," he squawked, his face reddening. My own discreet enquiries have revealed that, shortly after leaving school, Rob spent several months in a teenage psychiatric gulag. As the sinister 'Death Walker' chuckled like a drain blocked by slurry, I glanced across at my co-host and saw the flustered adolescent destabilised by teasing and sexual frustration. "Steady," I whispered kindly, placing a reassuring hand on his knee. "Hamilton!" parped Rob in a strangulated falsetto. "Please control yourself! I didn't actually think tonight could get any worse, but H. has just tried to touch me up. Complete and utter ignominy!" For the remainder of the show I contemplated the instinctive cruelties inflicted by those the world has already broken.
12/1/08 My research has established the importance of exercise and perspective in the treatment of depressives. Is it necessary to expand on the pointlessness of drugging office workers whose day to day existences are equivalent to those of battery hens? An afternoon in the countryside is often sufficient to trigger the sort of instantaneous catharsis coveted by the manufacturers of 'wonder drugs' whose benefits are nullified by seizures, blind rages and cancer. In Minnesota some years ago, compulsory wilderness rambles were introduced as a response to the growing problem of depression related absences from work. This particular experiment was, unfortunately, abandoned, when a group, lost in a storm, regressed to a state of savagery, tying their leader to a tree and threatening to eat him, an incident that caused an international reassessment of therapeutic treatments of depression. There's a human tendency, of course, to over-react to isolated instances of cannibalism. The seasoned investigator, particularly one with experience of depressives, responds to the Minnesota incident with no more than a wry smile. Throughout history frightened people have attempted to appease nemesis with sacrifices. Sawney Bean and his incestuous brood of prototype hippies had access to any number of alternative food sources: in choosing to exist on a diet of travellers, they were effectively goading the very God they imagined responsible for their creation. Similar offences are still committed against tourists throughout Scotland, particularly in Fife where walkers are occasionally abducted from the coastal paths around Kirkcaldy. Such outrages, however, are rare and we shouldn't let an incorrigible minority deter us from making full use of our countryside.
It's three years since I initiated the first 'Saunter and Song' excursion for Christine's depressives. A dozen or so similar ventures have followed that first 'Oliver!' themed outing. Last October, several of the group entered the spirit of a ramble dedicated to 'The Sound of Music' by donning dirndls and liederhosen while Malcolm Gribben, the least effectual member, found conviction in a uniform of the Third Reich. "Schnell! Schnell!" he bellowed at unsuspecting hikers. "Ve have vays of making you valk!" By the time we reached Balquhidder, his normally leaden features were animated by an inner fire years of therapy had failed to ignite. "I'm not really a Nazi," he reassured the waitress at the Old Library coffee house as we tucked into buttered scones. Before we left, he insisted on serenading her with a chorus of 'I am Sixteen (Going on Seventeen)', a gesture that would have been inconceivable less than twelve hours earlier.
For today's walk, after a risk assessment prompted by the Minnesotan outrage, I commemorated the new year by adding 'Sausage Rolls' to the tried and tested 'Saunter and Song' combination. At our last outing, we'd agreed to pay energetic tribute to the songs of Craig and Charlie Reid, a.k.a. The Proclaimers. This was not, admittedly, my choice. My knowledge of rock and pop is limited and I was concerned that their subject matter might not be conducive to a general elevation of spirits. Anyone singing one of Spencer's songs in the countryside might be accused of worrying sheep, an offence for which injudicious ramblers have been shot. Despite my initial misgivings that the Reid twins might share his morbid preoccupations, online research reassured me that their songs are perfectly suited to good tramp. The day's potential for success, however, was undermined from the outset by the mutinous presence of Katherine Dyer.
Katherine, who's never even participated in any of our previous rambles, immediately objected to the day's theme. "I don't like the Proclaimers," she moaned. "Why should Hamilton dictate what we sing?" Incredibly, Sharon Patrick, who had been the Proclaimers' most zealous advocate, also quibbled. "There are a million other songs," she ranted. "What's Hamilton going to do if we sing one of them? He shouldn't even be here. He doesn't know what it's like to be depressed!" By the time we reached Callander, the group had decided to sing Pink Floyd's monotonous dirge 'Another Brick in the Wall'. After three or four repetitions, this became so irritating that I walked ahead until I could no longer hear the refrain of "Hey, HAMILTON, leave the kids alone!" For the next hour or so I enjoyed the view of Loch Voil while snacking on the sausage rolls I'd kept in my back pack. About four miles from Strathyre, unfortunately, the weather turned. By the time I reached the visitor centre, I was drenched, my wretchedness compounded by a badly twisted ankle. After waiting for two hours, I checked my mobile and found a text from Christine: "2 cold 2 walk. Gone 2 pub." In fairness, this had been sent shortly after I left the group, but it might have occurred to her to make further efforts to make contact. For all she knew, I could have been lying injured somewhere. When I called to remonstrate, it was immediately apparent that she was as drunk as a skunk on his twenty first birthday. "Do you still have the sausage rolls?" she slurred. "We're all a bit peckish." The confession that I'd eaten all but three, relayed by Christine to the others, prompted another chorus of 'Another Brick in the Wall'. They were still singing an hour later when the mini-bus eventually arrived to pick me up.
3/1/08 I've always considered early January to be the most dispiriting part of the year. All that remains of Christmas are the remnants of trees, dumped in gutters like the corpses of deposed monarchs. However plump and luxuriant in mid-December, all are destined to be unceremoniously removed via a back door and left for the cleansing department. Can anyone passing their sodden remains avoid pondering how closely the existence of a Christmas tree resembles that of a man? The baubles of accomplishment can only distract us from the fact that whatever triumphs we might enjoy are fleeting. As the year dies, we find ourselves forlorn and without purpose. The gifts piled beneath our branches have been found wanting and discarded. The laughter over which we presided turns into the roar of the incinerator. Nothing remains but regret for what might have been.
I'm of a fairly robust and cheerful temperament. How much worse this invitation to brood must be to someone as morbid as Spencer, particularly in the aftermath of such a painful rejection. Despite my best efforts to clear away evidence of Colette's recent presence, small reminders remain to torment him: the glove partially concealed behind a cushion which Spencer cradled in his hand and contemplated as if it were a living creature; the cheap coffee she presented me on her first night; the cigarette ends stamped out on the patio, still glistening with her saliva. An accumulation of small kindnesses mean more than any single grand gesture. The same, sadly, can be said of heartache. However irrevocable the severance, there are a thousand tiny remnants to evoke its memory!
With uncharacteristic pluck, Spencer seems determined to move on. While he still refuses to communicate directly with me, I discovered from Muriel, whose help he enlisted, that he's set up a My Space account. Under normal circumstances, this isn't something I'd encourage. That a moody teenager, ensconced in his or her room, might be 'chatting' with Spencer should be a matter of concern to any responsible parent. That he's distracted from wallowing in alcohol or chopping off his own fingers, though, can only be a good thing. Listening outside his room, I could hear him talking happily on the telephone about his new 'friends'. "Wait until Colette sees I'm pally with Nick Cave," he bragged. Going to my own computer, I established within minutes that Mr Cave has nearly twenty thousand 'friends'. While, at some stage, the realisation that he enjoys the status of a fan rather than that of a peer will inevitably become a cause of shame and resentment, the main thing, at present, is that Spencer emerges from his pit of despair. His online activities will have to be discreetly supervised lest he become a bad influence, but that shouldn't pose a problem. Within ten minutes, I set up my own My Space account from which I'll be able to monitor his activities. If I spot anyone on his page who might be vulnerable to his negativity, I can warn them off. My Creepwatch initiative, launched last year on Live Journal, proved overwhelming due to the sheer scale of unfettered transgression to be found online. With only one subject, though, Creepwatch Mark II should be entirely manageable. A presence on My Space might even reap dividends for the Foundation!
2/1/08 How many of us really live in the moment? Most people seem to be anticipating some eventuality a week or a month hence or else complaining, "I was so much happier a year ago!" This is never so evident as at New Year when we brood over the disappointments of the past and resolve to do better in the future. The determination to start afresh is admirable but, without self-knowledge, completely meaningless. "This year I'm going to assert myself," someone might say, oblivious to the exchanged glances of friends who think he asserts himself quite enough already and might benefit by being a bit less of a bully. "I'm going to get myself really fit," pipes up someone else, somehow refusing to recognise that pathological jealousy rather than a lack of physical activity keeps her awake all night. The resolutions we make are merely distractions from the unacknowledged issues we carry through our lives. Only the harshest reassessment could possibly contribute to a genuine change. For any resolution to be truly effective, it would have to be made for us and enforced by neural implants or auto-suggestion cassettes. "Never mind stopping smoking, this year you have to stop leering at schoolgirls! And you have to stop spreading spiteful rumours about your neighbours!"
The '...With Hamilton Coe' series of auto-suggestive c.d.'s were recorded as an aid to addressing issues identified by reassessment. With the assistance of Drumfeld Parish Church organist, Helen Protheroe, herself a beneficiary of the Coe method of self-analysis, I made ten recordings ranging from 'Managing Wrath' to 'Maybe You're not as Special as You Think You Are'. Helen's musical arrangements provided the perfect backing to my narration which was reinforced by subliminal messages. Unfortunately, members of Christine's encounter group, on whom I tested the c.d.'s, all identified the same problem. My voice, while mellifluous enough in normal circumstances, is not pitched at an appropriate level to induce relaxation. Several of the listeners referred to a catharral burr, as if something was caught at the back of my throat, while others complained about a nasal parp. There was a nearly unanimous consensus, however, that my voice was an impediment to self-transformation. The only subject who persisted with her c.d., Diane Noble, was hospitalised when she complained that she could hear me chiding her in the supermarket and while she was trying to watch television. The Examiner, latching onto the fact that the c.d. I'd given her was entitled 'In Many Respects, I'm a Parasite', ran such a hysterical piece about the initiative that Helen withdrew permission to use her music.
Even when the will to change is combined with clinical self-assessment, is it possible to impact on attitudes that have hardened since infancy? In some instances, we might as well will a mountain to get up and walk. It's one thing for someone to shamefully acknowledge being a liar or a backstabber, something else entirely to desist in patterns of behaviour that may be as integral to his make-up as D.N.A. Despite this apparent hopelessness, though, it remains incumbent on him to at least try.
1/1/08 Some years ago, Elliot Young, Spencer's closest friend, anaesthetised himself with a bottle of vodka and attempted to saw off his own thumb. For some reason, he imagined this act of melodramatic stupidity would impress a girlfriend already disenchanted by his tendency to self-pity. The operation was aborted when he fainted, but the damage inflicted was sufficient to present a significant handicap. Elliot had somehow muddled the thumb with the pinkie and thought it was expendable. For the next three months, his girlfriend was obliged to assist the semi-invalid perform the most rudimentary functions. The last time I saw him was at my mother's funeral. I remember watching as he staggered out of the toilet, his shirt only partially buttoned and his shoelaces trailing behind him. "Can you zip me up, please, Linda?" he wailed, eliciting a glower of contempt that stopped him in his tracks. Linda's inability to conceal her irritation, I suspect, precipitated Elliot's second grand gesture, the overdose of anti-depressants that, quite unexpectedly, killed him.
It's often occurred to me that this is exactly the sort of wrong-headed response to adversity that my brother might emulate. In Spencer's world, the amputation of a finger is probably a romantic gesture equivalent to the composition of a sonnet. Rather than leave him unsupervised to dismember himself, I decided to spend the evening at home. Christine, who usually hosts the Coe Hogmanay, prepared a cold buffet while Muriel agreed to come on condition that she could bring her friend Jackie. This proviso, I have to confess, didn't please me in the slightest. The coincidence of Spencer's predicament and New Year had presented an ideal opportunity to alert Muriel to the consequences of hanging round churchyards, smoking cigarettes and indulging in unkind impersonations of well-meaning relatives. I'd gone so far as printing a list of resolutions for her to consider. While Muriel's old best friend, Hilary, cruelly jettisoned after a disagreement about Marilyn Manson's allegiance to the church of Satan, would have earnestly participated in any such discussion, Jackie's smirking presence, I anticipated, would undermine the entire exercise. Despite my objections, though, she tagged along. Within minutes of arriving, she and Muriel were sprawled in front of the television, watching a d.v.d about a cod-philosophising American vampire who swanned around in a leather trench-coat, seducing waitresses and quoting Neitszche to anyone who'd listen. As anybody who attends the Drumfeld Film Club will confirm, I practise a zero tolerance policy toward people who insist on chattering through movies. The Coe Hogmanay, however, is traditionally about communication and reflection. Ignoring Muriel's sighs of exasperation, I tried to explain this to Jackie, mentioning the importance of discussing our resolutions. "I think that Hamilton should resolve to shut up and let us watch the film," muttered Muriel, causing Jackie to snort diet coke onto the carpet.
Spencer, who spent the bulk of the evening skulking in the bedroom he's preserved like the tomb of a sulky teenage pharoah, eventually emerged five minutes before the bells. While he was intact and less drunk than I'd anticipated, he refused to acknowledge my heartfelt "Happy New Year, Spencer!" with so much as a nod. "Stop bugging him, Hamilton," hissed Christine after I'd followed him round the room, hand extended, repeating the greeting. Christine's tendency to condone rudeness, particularly when I'm the recipient is another matter that will have to be addressed in 2008.
A row was averted by the arrival of Christine's friends Isobel and Liz, a bright spot almost immediately nullified by the unexpected appearance of her estranged husband Guy Pearson with his father en tow. Despite my protestation that we didn't have enough food to cover for uninvited guests, the pair lingered. Spencer, who would normally have backed my objection, returned to his room leaving Pearson, Senior, a cash-crazed dwarf who once offered me a job shifting bags of mulct in his garden centre, to take over."What sort of party is this, anyway?" he demanded. "There's no music!" My explanation that we were going to discuss our resolutions was dismissed with, "Why don't you resolve to get a job?" a lame jibe that caused Jackie to snort more cola onto the carpet. In the time it took me to go to the kitchen and find the stain remover, Muriel had put on a c.d. and Pearson, Senior, had commandeered the centre of the room where he was belligerently stamping one foot in time to the music and encouraging Liz to join him. When I protested that Liz would rather discuss her resolutions as planned and that if she were to dance at all it would be with Isobel, he shouted, "I thought you'd gone to look for a job!" The mere repetition of such a pathetic joke didn't, of course, make it any funnier, but ensured the desired response nonetheless with embarrassment prompting everyone present to laugh. "He's quite a character," said Isobel as we watched him bob gnomishly in front of Liz, his face twisted into a leer of thwarted yearning. This is a description I often hear apportioned to pests, loudmouths and misfits about whom we don't wish to be unkind. Consideration of other people's feelings is, of course, an admirable quality, but having idenified someone as a knave we should treat him with the ruthless detachment we'd apply to a verruca. Malfeasance is invariably infectious. This was the case last night. Within ten minutes, Pearson, with the insistence of someone used to getting his own way, had everybody, quite literally, dancing to his tune. The party ruined, I went up to my room, returning in my pyjamas at four a.m. as an indication that it was, perhaps, time for everyone to go home.