Photo by Joost Heijthuijsen
My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 42-year-old who has started empathising with Johnny Nice Painter from The Fast Show.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, "menk" is Scouse/Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."
MENK 64: Three for My Heartache and Four for My Headaches
It’s funny how you can pick up ideas without even noticing it and have them stay with you for the longest of times. In 1977, during Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, when I was six years old, I saw the Red Arrows performing aerobatics. As they flew overhead in formation, the Folland Gnat planes left vapour trails behind them in red, white and blue. I was very taken with the coloured smoke and how it left very well-defined patterns in the sky. The next day (or perhaps later on the same day) I imagined that I was a plane, with my arms outstretched and my hands leaving vapour trails behind me as I ran down the road.
At some point after that – for reasons I can’t remember – I started imagining that my individual fingers left coloured jet trails behind them as I ran along. Without noticing it happening, it became something that I would think about all the time, imagining the trails I would leave behind me on the way to school or the shops and then down motorways en route to family caravan holidays in North Wales, Devon or Yorkshire. In my mind, the smoke trails never dissipated and I imagined that I could see dense three-dimensional highways of colour at waist height down roads I used frequently; becoming thicker and more tangible with every repeat journey. I thought, ‘What if the Earth completely disappeared – what would be left behind? How many caravan holidays would I have to take before you could see a rough outline of the British Isles? Could I leave some kind of real trace behind me?’
At some point – probably around 1982, when I joined secondary school and probably after reading Cosmos by Carl Sagan – the imaginary smoke trail that I was leaving behind me suddenly took on a dramatic new form. For reasons I can no longer remember, I decided that the vapour stayed put in real universal terms, marking out exactly where I had been in the bigger scheme of things. I figured that even if I took the same route to school and back every single day, the pattern I was creating was not just a loop but one of much deeper, three-dimensional complexity because of the rotation of the Earth, the movement of the Earth round the Sun and the movement of the solar system inside the Milky Way. I would wonder what kind of weird – but presumably more or less geometrical – pattern I was leaving in interstellar space.
Probably when I started drinking, I thought of this less and less but when I did I would spread my fingers if no one was looking and imagine blue, red and white trails coming from my hands and spiralling up into the sky behind me and then away to god knows where. And even though I thought of it less and less as I grew up, when bored on long journeys I would still try to work out what frequent trips up and down the M62 were doing to my interstellar trace.
I don’t know why it came back into my head recently but I realised that if I wanted to know what pattern I’d made in my own infinitesimally small bit of the universe I would have to factor in how the Milky Way itself was moving inside the entire universe. I emailed my friend Phil about it. He is a learned man and I figured that if anyone that I knew would be able to give me a clearer picture of what was going on, it would be him.
I said: “Imagine you left a trail behind you, from the day you were born until the day you died and it always stayed where you left it. I used to think about this all the time when I was a kid. An outline of me, following me out the house in the morning all the way to the bus stop, round school and then back home again in the evening. Then I started to factor in things like the Earth turning, the Earth going round the sun, The solar system moving in relation to the centre of the galaxy and the shift of that galaxy moving in relation to the space of the entire universe. Taking into account all the various speeds and movements, what pattern do I carve out during my short time alive? Is it, for all intents and purposes a straight line? Do you have to start thinking about relative observation points for it to have any kind of meaning? Do you have anything else you can tell me about how we move in the full totality of existence? If this is just nonsense, feel free to tell me - I won't be offended.”
He replied: “'Do you have to start thinking about relative observation points for it to have any kind of meaning?' Yes, that's exactly it. Your path depends entirely on the frame of reference: the state of motion in which the observations are taken. It's not entirely arbitrary, in that some possible frames of reference are kind of natural and others would be frankly perverse, but there isn't really any well-defined and objective way of defining what your path is. ‘Centre of the galaxy’ is probably the closest we can get, I guess and in that frame of reference, your path will look like a kind of looping Spirograph pattern in 3D, with some short-range wrinkles arising from your (relatively) short and slow journeys on Earth.”
I said: “I suppose there's no point in me asking about the ‘frankly perverse’ frames of reference is there?”
And he replied: “Well, for example, there's a frame of reference in which you've been entirely stationary your whole life…”
The whole business of stopping taking anti-depressants hasn’t been going very well. In fact it’s been going quite badly. Even by its own unpleasant standards the depression has become untenable. So yesterday I took a half day off work to go to the doctor’s – my first time off ill in ages – and not really knowing what to do before the appointment but needing to get away from the internet, I went to watch the film Gravity in 3D. The (fabulous) Rio in Dalston helped to recreate the terrible conditions of an accident in the unforgiving vacuum of space by giving us 3D glasses and leaving the heating turned off. It’s a great film, of course. The people who call it bunkum are kind of missing the point by a large margin and probably complain loudly at weddings about the drinks being “sparkling wine not champagne, actually”. There’s an amazing scene very early doors which is essentially a close up of Sandra Bullock’s hyperventilating face, dominating the entire screen. She is stock still at the centre of all things, as the rest of creation spins vertiginously round her.
I’ve been building up to taking action about the depression for a while now. On Sunday, while visiting Crystal Palace with Maria and Little John, I was hit by an urge to vault a fence and to wade out into the lake to join the anatomically incorrect statues of ichthyosaurs, like some melancholy Virginia Woolf-reading palaeontologist on Blue Tuesday. I thought about Christmas coming up. I thought about how my dad would spend the entire Christmas break from his factory in bed with the curtains drawn staring at the ceiling in silence when I was a kid. I realised that my experiment with not being on any kind of medication had failed. For the time being, at least. I tried to tell Maria but what came out of my mouth was a dry strangulated gargle of nonsense. 'Jesus Christ! I can’t even talk! It’s like I’ve got stones in my mouth,' I thought. She asked what I had said and I repeated, this time more clearly: “It’s no good, I need to get some help.” The admission was a blessed relief.
After Gravity, I killed time until my appointment. My doctor’s surgery is completely surrounded by scaffolding and full of builders drinking mugs of tea at the moment. I had my consultation in a Portacabin.
I found myself saying something along the lines of: “I had this idea that I could fix myself, if I had a check list and worked my way through all the things that were wrong with my life. Drink, drugs, depression, illness, weight… everything… I could get myself sorted out. It’s weird though, ever since I was about 14 I’ve always been able to control my mood with something or other. The last month was my first time ever with nothing. And I thought, ‘Is this what I’m like? Is this what my bedrock personality is like? Is this what I’m all about – all this anger, nihilism, self-pity, violent thoughts, bitterness and mean spiritedness? Maybe it would have got better, but I’m not sure I can wait to find out at this time. It’s like I haven’t moved. Or I’ve come back round full circle to where I started from. You don’t need to worry, I’m never going to hurt myself or anyone else but there would need to be some kind of alleviation; some kind of respite eventually. Nah, I’d never drink again – it’s fucking horrible. I hate it. It would probably be drugs. If I carry on like this I’ll find some way of putting myself in a void before Christmas.”
And I walked out of there with a prescription for the same tablets that I just spent four months trying to come off and some sleeping tablets for the insomnia.