JOSIAS: Why is it that the feelings we have towards suicide victims are so different from those we have for other violent murderers? Why do we call them victims, not culprits?
FANNY: Max Wormwood was more than a director or mere curator mind you, he was a star of the show in his own right. What had begun life as a YouTube video, of him and some scaffolding, in a comic scrape with the laws of gravity, had grown into the hugely successful website and franchise ‘what-goes-up.com.’ His clip remained one of the site’s most popular hits and one of the funniest things you’ll ever see.
I first met Max through work, on a case. One he would caringly refer to later as ‘the pencil case’. My Name’s Fanny, by the way, Fanny Satterday, I’m a Coroner’s Forensic Psychologist. Meaning I grub around in the ugly-lobes of dead people’s heads. I’m not poorly suited to the job.
Max was being sued over a piece on the site that the plaintiff believed had led her twelve-year-old sister Effie, to attempt suicide. The piece in question was about a Japanese schoolgirl who became so desperate during an exam, she took her own life, then and there, by shoving pencils into each of her nostrils and slamming her head face first, into the desk.
This, of course, is not true! Its an urban myth! You couldn’t possibly kill yourself like that! Its insane! You could however do considerably more than just give yourself a bit of a headache.
When Effie tried, the pencils snapped. She was spared the horrors of permanent brain damage but trauma like that can leave much deeper scars. Without medication, Effie is unable to fight a morbid fascination with putting things up her nose. Mealtimes are a nightmare. I won’t ask you to picture toilet time.
The case was easily resolved in Max’s favour, of course. There were numerous references to the original story all over the web and the fact that Effie had found it on ‘What-Goes-Up’ did not suggest any culpability on Max’s part but he was ordered to put up warnings on the site, which he did. Huge, red, flashing letters, ‘Do. Not. Try. This. At. Home.’ I think he thought it was funny.
MAX: Not everybody appreciates my sense of humour. I get a lot of hate mail, most of its hilarious. I encourage it, I throw the meanest and sickest, like gauntlets, onto the site. My favourite goes “How does a one armed man cut his wrists?” Of course, this is completely wrong. You can see that. It should be ‘wrist’ not ‘wrists.’
an excerpt from my first radio play, ‘entrance of the gladiators’. the whole thing can be heard here.
FANNY: I click. There’s a brief pause before the home page climbs, stuttering, into the screen. It looks just like it did six months ago. It would. With one exception, its not been touched since then. It actually feels neglected. Lonely. If that’s possible for a website. Like its haunted, like there are electronic cobwebs in there. I click some of the dust away.
The site, ‘What-Goes-Up dot com,’ was at heart a comical collection of bizarre accidents, a little bit like ‘You’ve Been Framed’ on the telly but not so tasteful and without the fluffy animals, apart from one clip, featuring a puppy and a lawn-mower. ‘A celebration of the spectacularly stupid,’ its owner and creator Max Wormwood had once called it.
One character that ably satisfied both these criteria and who dropped in on the site with frightening regularity, was Osgood Hardbach. Its hard to know, really, how best to describe Osgood. His daughter Tory doesn’t do a bad job.
TORY: Dad has attempted suicide forty-five times. Its an official world record. The TV show ‘Never Mind the Buzz-Saws’ have named an award in honour of him – for ‘persistence in the face of overwhelming stupidity.’ There are three different websites devoted to him, he’s got two fan-clubs and is the inspiration behind a sick computer game. There was even talk of a movie.
It started when he was eight, when he jumped off the garage roof. And, as a child, if he wasn’t trying to swallow stuff from under the sink, he’d be throwing himself off it or trying to drown himself in it. I don’t think he was very happy.
He’s tried fourteen times in public, seven have been videoed. He’s been on the news over twenty times. Two attempts are records in their own right and there have been three copycat deaths attributed to his infame.
He’s only tried to kill himself in front of me twice. Once, he got me to hold the camera while he slit open his throat. They didn’t name any awards for that. I was six. Or discuss making a movie. I was all alone in the house and he just lay there gurgling, and I didn’t even know how to turn the video camera off. That was attempt number twenty, it cost him eighteen months in the loony-bin. It was my worst birthday ever.
an excerpt from my first radio play. the whole thing can be heard here.
He tries to convince himself again that he doesn’t believe in this sort of thing. He says it out loud “You do not believe in this kind of shit.” and looks back. Its still there, perched on the edge of his oak desk. He has a degree in physics, he is a professor of it and has spent his life fighting against such nonsense, but its still there. He is overworked, that’s all it is, its stress, he needs a break. Still there. He doesn’t even believe in God, never mind this crap. “I’m a fucking atheist!” he shouts at it. The tiny little girl flutters her wings and smiles at him in response. She waves a wand, sparkles jumping from it, tracing its movements. ‘A wand!’ he thinks ‘It has a fucking wand?’ “Jesus Christ!” he mutters “if I am gonna have hallucinations can I at least have one’s that are not so bloody corny?”
“Fuck!” he screams and brings his hand down on the fairy girl, feeling her tiny, fragile bones crack and splinter under his palm, feeling her pathetic little struggles. For a second he even imagines he can hear her cries. There will be more though, he knows this, there always are. He watches the twisted, broken body twitch, its life fade away. He should phone his shrink, its what she said he should do when this happened and he should stop thinking of her as a shrink; she is a doctor he reminds himself and well qualified and he is clearly not well and she is trying to help him. “It happened again” he tells her when she answers.
“And did you engage? she asks,
“No.” he says but the pause that follows shows he is lying and he knows that she knows this.
“Ok.” he confesses. There is another pause but this time it is more like the doctor is thinking.
“Can i ask you to do something?” she says,
“An exercise”, pause, “think of it like an exercise.”
“Imagine they are real.”
“Ok?” he replies but feeling angry, of course fairies are not real but he wants help, knows that he needs it, this doctor is his lifeline back to reality.
“Would you still kill them if they were real?”
“Well of course not!” he snaps, as though this were a dumb question and for him it is. He tries to explain the biology of it, how for a creature to fly there has to be a certain proportion between body mass and chest cavity size, that these things, these damn hallucinations do not follow known laws of physics. There is another one now, was bound to be, a male, weeping over the dead one. He lifts the coffee cup, ready to crush his hallucination’s skull.
Yesterday his cleaner had mentioned some stains that she could not remove. He’d told her that there had been a bug or two that he had squashed and she had looked at him strangely, said something in Spanish and crossed herself and he had decided that it was probably worth paying out another quid an hour to get a decent cleaner. Should probably report the bitch to immigration too. There had been no bugs.
Now he looks at the boy fairy weeping over his lost love. It looks up at him, sees the mug hovering there and shrugs. It is a shrug that says ‘I have nothing left to live for anyway,’ that says ‘go on then, do it.’ How many has he killed this week? 17? 18? something like that. No, not killed, they’re not real. it is all in his mind.
“There’s another one,” he tells his doctor.
“Listen to it.” she says. Shit is he going to have to find another shrink too? Listen to it?
Then comes the noise, the crash. He has never had his door kicked in before, never been the victim of a home invasion, but there is no mistaking the sound, no misunderstanding what is happening. Brash, violent young voices rage in the hall below him and he hears his old grandfather clock crash to the floor. His first thought is to hide, but where? Under the desk? Ridiculous. In the cupboard? Shit, no. He has never thought about this before, has nothing he can use as a weapon and he cannot fight even if he did. They burst into the room, spitting loud, ugly words. There are three of them, one has a bat. They laugh at his obvious fear and weakness. This will be fun they think, they intend to take their time with him. Then they stop and freeze, staring at him, or rather around him. Terror runs across their faces like water down a window pane and they turn and flee. the bat is dropped and they scramble in panic over each other to get down the stairs and out of the flat.
There is silence again and he sits puzzled beyond explanation, still shaking. Something gentle lands on his shoulder. He turns and looks, it is a fairy and it is smiling at him. He smiles back.
“We were seriously considering giving up on you.” it says.
Picture taken from Terry Jones’ Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book
“ooh, look at the stars!” said brian cox as he was led away by the cops for the murder of patrick moore. “ooh!” he said as he tried to explain why. “ooh, i’ve always wanted to do drawings on t’telly, bollocks to all this CGI stuff!”
“ooh!” he said as two burley coppers beat the living shit out of him.
“kill paddy moore would ya?” they screamed as they battered him.
“use magnificent backdrops would ya?”
“be all pretty and make women interested in astronomy? Eh?”
“fuck you cox!” they screamed as they stamped on him ’til he pooed himself.
“ooh!” said brian cox, “look at the stars.”
Champion by nature was a short story I wrote that I was invited to read live for Resonance FM on March 5 2010.
SpaceSnot was the second radio play I wrote. I also performed all the parts myself and created the sound effects.
It went out on Resonance FM on the 13th Feb 2009.
Listen to it here.
Entrance of the Gladiators was the first radio play I wrote. It was broadcast on Resonance FM on 15 Feb 08.
Here are some of the things that were said about it.
“Terrific. Sour, wild, moving, furious and odd as hell.”
“There’s no way I’d act in, or have anything to do with this sick shit!”
“Powerful, original and grippingly told.”
You can download or listen to it from here.