A beacon to us all + other writings

 A beacon to us all.        

When the angels opened the box that contained the body parts that would make Jaycee a recognisable human being, they must have been drunk. Either that or one of them had told a joke of such hilarious proportions that their concentration had wandered from the Conveyor Belt of Life and instead of fitting Jaycee together in an acceptable fashion, they had giggled uncontrollably and thereby botched the job. Whatever the reason, there was no doubt that with Jaycee, there had been…mistakes. Let me put it another way.

If there was such a thing as a shop where you could buy a limp of your choice then Jaycee had, without doubt, bought the best one in the store and that’s not all. On the day Jaycee visited they must have had a promotion going, an offer that included free ugliness with every limp purchased. I’m sorry and all that but someone has to say it and it might as well be me, poor Jaycee was one of the most hideous men I had ever seen. So alarming was his visage that handsome lessons for life would have been wasted on him. Jaycee had it bad. Someone, (and I guess I’m talking God here), someone had dealt him from the bottom of the pack. However, before I’m accused of being nothing more than a cruel and heartless beast, it really ought to be pointed out that Jaycee made no efforts to help himself.

In my defence I’d like to call as my first witnesses…Jaycee’s clothes. I’d like to call them but they couldn’t come…they‘re real tied up at the moment…they’re stuck to his body. This is what I mean about Jaycee not helping himself, Jaycee’s clothes have been with him for so long that they’d taken root and clung to him like a second skin.

On the whole Jaycee was a sorry specimen and like sorry specimens everywhere, he spent most of his waking hours as the neighbourhood target. Jaycee was there to be boffed, bashed and abused whenever it took anyone’s fancy.

It was his destiny, his job in life and before you raise your hands and your voice in protest, think about it. Jaycee’s lot was not without some historical context. Why, if this had been sometime in our not to recent past, Jaycee would have worn the mantle…village idiot. He would have been revered for his ability to remove the stresses and strains from so-called normal life.

Poor harvest? Punch Jaycee.

Wife gone down with boils.  Put Jaycee in the stocks.

Let’s face it, before the cat was domesticated enough to kick, the likes of Jaycee were seen as a godsend and were, more than likely, the first ever therapies.

Although, in our PC driven society we would like to push such memories to the back of our minds, the truth of the matter is times haven’t changed that much. People like Jaycee still exist on the edge of most so-called ‘normal’ communities and are still abused in that good-old time-honoured manner that we’ve all become so familiar with.

People like Jaycee are allowed to become part of the sights, sounds and smells of whatever it is that passes for everyday life. They’re allowed to wander around displaying their own particular brand of weirdness for all to see and no-one apparently, gives a damn. They can dribble, talk to themselves and shout at their invisible companions to their hearts content. However, working on the basis that you have to draw the line somewhere, what they must not do is…rock the boat.

Now. Rocking the boat consists of a small number of no-no’s, some of the more serious I will attempt to list.

On no account will Jaycee (or the likes of), take part in…

One. The frightening of small children.

Two. The keeping of unreasonable hours.

Three. The consumption of alcohol in the street.

Four…The opening of trouser zippers…and last but not least,

Five…The leering at women’s breasts.

Stick to these rules and everything is hunky-dory. If the weirdly strange like Jaycee can fulfil their set role with the minimum of fuss and bother, then they’re tolerated. Free to come and go more-or-less as they please. In truth of course, the old ways still apply. People like Jaycee serve a purpose. Jaycee was above all else, a Scapegoat.

Enough. I’m supposed to be telling a story here…so….


When we were kids, Fat Freddy and me would lean out of his mother’s bedroom window and wait for Jaycee to come stumbling past, which he did at four thirty every single day of the year, never late, never early, always smack on time and heading for God knows where.


Me and Fat Freddy, according to our mood at the time, would run to the window, stick out our heads and yell…

‘Hey…twisted man’ or…

Look at the freak…look at the freak’

Thankfully, (if that’s the correct way to put it), ‘Hey twisted man’ and “Look at the freak…look at the freak” was as bad as it got. At that time in our youth neither Fat Freddy or me, had ever heard of Victor Hugo or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so Jaycee was spared, ‘The bells…the bells’. Yes siree, Fat Freddy and me…we were evil little bastards.

For what we put Jaycee through both of us should have been birched within an inch of our lives or even worse. If there was truly a God, then he should have forced Fat Freddy to eat cabbage for the rest of his life and turned my anti-spot cream into cement. As it was, there was no justice heavenly or otherwise for Jaycee, life for him (like I said), was a round-trip of abuse and then some. However, and I promise you that this is not meant as an excuse, we were not the worst offenders.

What it was with the kids on my street and is with kids everywhere even today, is the big B.  Boredom. Idle hands and all that stuff. What kids need is a hobby…and boy did they find one in our neighbourhood. You can forget train spotting or stamp collecting, for hobby ..read Jaycee.


I didn’t see it and neither did Fat Freddy. What we got was the aftermath. We both missed the actual dirty deed because our attention was taken by other things, although I did, and still do, hear the screams.

Fat Freddie was studying himself in his mother’s full length mirror, admiring the way her wedding dress highlighted his curves, while I looked on in amazement at the deftness, skill and speed he made his way around the room wearing six inch stilettos, (a skill that would serve him well in later life-but that’s another story).

‘It’s a little tight under the arms, don’t you think?

I wasn’t really listening, at least not to Freddy. And if I had been, I would have disagreed, it fitted him perfectly. If it hadn’t been for the terrifying screams that were filtering up from the street below, I would have told Fat Freddy that he made a fine-looking woman.

It was just after four thirty…Jaycee time.

Odd, but on that particular occasion we had no mind to abuse him. He could have passed below that window and we couldn’t have cared less. Even little shits like us needed a break.

Suddenly a scream.

In our headlong rush to get to the window, Fat Freddie’s skill with high-heels inexplicably left him and he fell, losing two teeth to the corner of the bed. In normal circumstances Fat Freddy, who in those days was an out and out wimp, would have yelled the house down. As it was, something much more terrible was going on and Fat Freddie’s pain paled into insignificance. We took up our usual positions at the window and were stunned into silence at what we saw below us.

Jaycee was a column of red fire. Jaycee was burning.

I don’t know what was worse, Jaycee aflame or the group of mutant children clutching cans of lighter fuel and hair spray, who fell about laughing a few yards behind him.

Apart from my horror and my helpless anger, the other thing that will always stay with me was the smell. The odour of burning human flesh wafted up to our vantage point, causing me to puke violently over Fat Freddy and perhaps more seriously his mother’s wedding dress.

To this day I can’t eat barbecue food.

Fat Freddy never said a word. His total attention was fixed on poor flaming Jaycee as he clumped…dragged…clumped down that terrible and wicked street, seemingly oblivious to what must have been searing pain. What kept him going I don’t know but whatever it was it seemed like his regular 4:30 was the most important thing in his life..

Even screams we heard were not Jaycee’s. An unknown woman clutched at her ears, drew in enough air to deprive us all of oxygen and made a sound like god knows what, then promptly fainted. Me too.

This being the case I have no recollection of what happened next but was told later of Polly Riley’s welcomed intervention.

Polly Riley owned, as you might expect, Polly’s Bar, a lowlife establishment that I just couldn’t wait to be old enough to get into.

A massive bald-headed man, sporting what I would call a circus strongman’s moustache, he kept what angry folks on the street (overheard by me and Fat Freddy), called a whore house.

The only other real information that me and Fat Freddy ever gleaned about Polly’s place that wasn’t overheard on street corners, came more often than not from the constant press reports and photographs of Polly himself in the Weekly News. Standing outside his premises with the Polly’s Bar neon sign blinking away in the background, Polly would pose with his hands held open and his shoulders shrugged, staring wide-eyed and innocent into the camera lens. The headline would read something like…

Owner of Bar denies Brothel accusations…again.

Anyway, so I understand, Polly was in the process of cleaning out his pipes when he saw the action on the street. Without hesitation and pausing only to grab a pickaxe handle and a galvanised bucket full of beer slops, he ran to Jaycee’s immediate aid. Cracking a few heads with the hefty road implement as he went, the outraged Polly put paid to Jaycee’s illuminations by dousing him with the dregs, giving him artificial respiration and calling an ambulance.

Needless to say, a different picture of Polly Riley appeared in the Weekly News a few days later.

No longer labelled ‘Brothel Keeper on Street of Shame’, Polly Riley was declared a hero.

When I finally returned to the land of the living, the only thing that remained to remind me of the sheer horror of what I’d witnessed, was the impression of Jaycee’s footprints that were melted into the tar at the side of the road.

Well…all that was a long time ago. Fat Freddie’s gone and moved on to greater things and Mister Polly Riley died an old man…but not before he admitted on his death bed to being Jaycee’s long-lost father (yet another story).

Jaycee didn’t die. And oh yes, he’s motorised now. And every now and then, a guilty community remembers that terrible day and gets itself together to raise funds to update his top-of-the-range electric wheelchair.

Me? I feel guilty too. After all these years I still feel that me and Fat Freddy were somehow part of Jaycee’s sacrificial burning. Personally, I feel very, very guilty. To get through this, there’s no other word for it, to get through this burden, I Kid Myself.  This is how it’s done. This is how I deal with my guilt concerning Jaycee’s fiery fate. See, I tell myself that Jaycee’s had the last laugh, and it goes something like this…


Me, Fat Freddy and the actual perpetrators of the wicked crime against Jaycee, all of us, we’ve grown old and soon we shall die. Indeed, some of us have.  None of us can escape the ravages of time and all of us are moving physically and mentally slowly downward, closer and closer towards our last resting place. Time is short etcetera.. However, while all around him, innocent and guilty alike, sag, lean and totter, Jaycee stands (or rather sits), apparently immune to it all. While we crumble away to dust, he’s safely encased in that tight plastic-like excuse for skin that stretches across the place where his face used to be.

Shiny, new and seemingly untouched by time, eternally wrinkle and blemish free and able to service his complexion with a quick wipe over with a damp cloth.

And his story will be told forever by a guilty community.

Listen. While me and you are slowing rotting way unvisited in some nondescript old people’s home on the outskirts of the city, Jaycee will be fed, watered and generally watched over like some goddamn hero.

A lucky man.



The devil’s weapon

As a young child and in the company of the nervous Irish woman who was charged to watch over me, I made many a reluctant pilgrimage to the cold stone edifice known as St. Mary’s. Unfortunately, whatever it is that you’re supposed to get from religion, never rubbed off on me. I was an ungrateful, bitter child who tested the patience of the woman to extremes. In fact, so despicable a child was I, that today I often wonder if it was my outrageous and unrelenting misbehaviour that made her nervous in the first place.

I was an angry, disagreeable child for good reason. The way I figured it, my mother was giving away the love that was rightfully mine to the family of the wealthy socialite she cooked and cleaned for up on the hill. Through my eyes all I could see were kids who had everything and now they had my mother too. I was unhappy. So much so, that as an act of revenge on my missed mother, I performed a complicated mental adjustment and made the Irish woman my real mother, in all but name. All that for a woman whose name I can’t even remember. All that for a woman who left my life without so much as a goodbye. Personally, I blame Father Way.

Over the weeks I mastered the skill of entering St Mary’s huge granite arch without cowering. However, this regular trip into God’s cold house still provoked a feeling of dread, especially when my honorary mother disappeared into the square wardrobe that stood in a particularly uninviting, unlit corner of the church.

When I asked her where she was going, she would mumble, ’Never you mind sit there and be quiet’.  Her words evaporated into the dank air of St. Mary’s as I watched her disappear into the wardrobe, leaving me, my burning curiosity and my aching buttocks to a hard wooden pew.

Her business finished, she would reappear flustered and red faced. It was always the same. She would grab hold of my arm, pull me violently from my seat, then head towards the church’s heavy oak doors at high speed, dragging me behind her like an after thought.

I would lie awake at night trying to figure out why we walked in and ran out.  I knew that we couldn’t have been running from God. From what I’d been told about himself, it was highly unlikely. For one thing, he was extremely old and therefore unable to match the furious pace that we set in our race for the exit. Apart from that, he was a good guy. A good guy who liked kids.

That leaves only one other. The bad one. The devil.

That was who we were running from. The devil.

I had evidence. I could prove it.

Once, when no-one was watching, I crawled along the pew, dropped down onto the stone floor and tip-toed towards the box in the corner. Using fingertips, I pried the door slightly open and peered in. I saw the devil’s hand.

Pink and fleshy, I watched jaw dropped as it poked through a tiny wooden window and fumbled its way down the front of the nervous Irish woman’s open blouse. No idle hands here.

The game was soon up. The last I saw of my Irish mother was a mad stare and a high wind as she pushed past me and into the street. Gone forever. Although there was a story. Gossip and innuendo, but a story.

The story went that my nervous Irish woman had, unbeknown by even those closest to her, been plagued all of her life by an unusually high libido. Unable to live with the guilt that the affliction provided, she had taken the drastic step of removing herself from all temptation (and me), by joining a particularly ferocious order of silent and unseen nuns. On the advice of the Mother Superior, who it’s said was afraid that the Irish woman’s ‘disease’ might be contagious,  my poor put-upon Irish mother was moved to a derelict caravan at the bottom of the Convent’s garden. It’s there they say, she lived out her sex-free existence praying for forgiveness. Something the story goes on to say, she believed she never received.

Why else would she take the plain leather belt that she wore too tightly around her waist, fix it from a door handle to her neck, then hang herself on a cold, dark, winter’s morning?

When I heard this story, true or not. I cried like the baby I no longer was.

It was then that my many memories, most of them good, of my Irish mother were rekindled over a fire of curiosity, frustration and guilt. I found myself burning up with a desire to exact a kind of revenge on her behalf. Her death was not to go without serious comment. Or more.

I decided quite quickly that it was the Confessional box devil who should and would carry the blame for my honorary mother’s early demise. It was he that should pay. Lucifer, the way I saw it, owed me an explanation. I worked up the courage for a visit to hell.

As I squeezed myself into what I now know was the Confessional and sat down on the small wooden seat, I trembled in the knowledge that in just a few short moments, I was to renew my loose acquaintance with the Prince of Darkness himself.

A door opened and closed.

Someone farted, then belched.

The screen wobbled slightly and a wave of not too unpleasant whisky fumes drifted in my direction. I can tell you it was quite a relief to find that the devil, like myself, enjoyed a drink or two. A pair of red, watery eyes squinted at me from behind the screen and blinked twice. There was moment of silence before a voice bellowed out and filled the empty church with its fury.

‘All men and I don’t give a rat’s fart who they think they are, are destined to fall in love twice. Postman. Priest. Pope and Painter , it doesn’t matter. Twice. It can’t be helped and there’s no escape.’

The accent was familiar. Lucifer was Irish. He continued. Fast and furious.

‘And you needn’t think that you’ll get away with it young man because it’s set in celestial concrete. Twice. If it hasn’t happened yet then it’s just a matter of time. It’ll creep up on you and smack you in the gob. Something else you ought to know. It usually happens to mar an occasion. Just when you’re enjoying what you think are the happiest days of your life is the way it usually works. Oh yes it knows a good craic when it sees one. The day of your marriage for instance. What happens? You fall for a bridesmaid that’s what happens.

You lust after the mother-in-law. You suddenly realise you’re as gay as a goose and go for the best man. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.

It sneaks up behind you, catches you out and fucks up your life forever. Just when you’re bedding down with the only one for you, up it pops and before you can say condom, you find yourself in the arms of someone you barely know, copulating yourself to death and watching any life or future happiness that you might have had, drop down the U bend and drift away for good’.

Even the devil has to take a breath. It was the silence that bounced off the walls now.

Cue Old Nick.

‘In the end there’s only two things you can do. You can either lie back and enjoy it, going with the flow I think the expression is, or, you can take the easy way out. Any questions?’

It had been my plan to take the devil on. I was to ask him if my eyes had deceived me all those years ago and if not, what on earth did he think he was doing with the Irish woman’s breast in his hand?

The screen fell away and I found myself gazing into the gentlest face I had ever seen.

‘Don’t I  know you?’ it asked.

A fine spray of whisky droplets settled on my face and I breathed in deeply. I could smell the peat. I think I must have smiled again.

‘Something funny young man is it? Is it bollocks you think I’m speaking?’

‘No Father.’

‘You know what I speak is the truth then?’

‘If you say so Father.’

‘Of course I damn well say so. And don’t be so bloody patronising or I’ll thump the living daylights out your head. And don’t think that I’m treating you special either. I warn all my young men. I tell them all the same thing. Just be careful with the devil’s weapon that swings between your legs and all will be well. Heed my words and watch out. Don’t let it get a hold on you. Tighten your belt and zip or button your fly. Otherwise you’re a dead man. Like me. A dead man.’

‘You Father?’

I must have sounded surprised. He glared at me before launching another broadside.

‘A man will do anything to survive. Even become a Priest. But there’s no escape. When the desire gets you there’s no hope believe me. When the blood starts to pump and you feel the ducks flying up your arse that’s it, you’ve had it. The poor man smitten will live in a perpetual agony of lust and desire. Of wanting and refusing and wanting again. It’s a bastard believe me. And there’s no respite. Age doesn’t help, it just makes it worse.

A continual state of confusion and pain is the best to be expected. A veritable veil of tears will descend upon him and he will not know Monday from Tuesday. Or in my case, Sunday too.  In other words my son, you-are-fucked.  The sleeping pills and the razor blades will never be that far away and even the gravel-pitted front of the two-thirty diesel to the main station will look almost inviting. ‘Although personally speaking, death by train has no appeal. I would much prefer the seventh floor of the local multi-storey car park. Not the sixth floor or the eighth floor mind you, it has to be the seventh. The sixth is too low and could well result in brain damage which is not required and the eighth is too high. Jump from that height and you’ll spread yourself all over the tarmac like so much strawberry jam, which is unfair on those whose work it is to clean up the mess wouldn’t you say? The seventh to be sure. So far I haven’t found the courage, although I’ve got my parking space booked and I hope to be using the facility sooner rather than later. ‘

His voice dropped. I recognised despair.

He mumbled. ‘I can’t take much more of this’.

Neither could I.

I don’t know why I panicked. I can remember slamming the door of the Confessional and the repeating echo as I ran for the exit. It was like old times. The only thing missing was my Irish woman pulling my arm from its socket. But even though the devil priest had scared the living daylights out of me yet again.

I knew I would be back. He had caste his net and I had been caught.  Imagine. A priest who told it how it was. Now there’s a turn up for the book.




Should she awake

Then what do I say?

How do I explain

I’ve never been far away?


Should she awake

Do I muffle her scream?

Then do I step back

As though I have never been

Should she awake

Do I call out her name?

Then speak words of love

As though much were still the same

Should she awake

Should I just let her go

And accept my end

Knowing that she will still grow


What do I say to make things clear?

That the dead they never die?

They are always here.

Or say,

Just close your eyes, and let it be

Allow a smile and think, of me.



In heaven…

In heaven

You can drink at all the fountains

No matter the hue of your skin.

In heaven

The doors are always open

The diners will let you in.

In heaven

You can sit at any seat

At the back if it suit your mood

In heaven

Miracles of miracles,

The white man is never rude.

In heaven

You can learn at the same school

‘cause knowledge is free for all

In heaven

The boss man learnt a lesson

He no longer is a fool.



There is a bell that rings…

There is a bell that rings

Every time the truth is told

And every time a lie is laid to rest.

There is a bell that rings

When men and women can truly say

I’m tired but I’ve done my best.

There is a bell that rings

Every time the sun rises

And the darkness retreats

There is a bell that rings

When mercy is shown in retreat.

Every time a mother embraces her child

And rejoices in the fact that her work has just begun

You will hear the ringing of that bell.

There is a bell that rings

Every time a war comes to an end

And the soldier embraces a friend

And instead of the bullet, the bomb or the bayonet there is love.

There is a bell that rings

Every time a new crop pushes it way through the soil

To feed on the sun and the rain and to offer man toil.

There is a bell that rings

Every time a life well-lived ends.

There is a bell that rings.

There is a bell that rings…

Prepare to be deafened.

Ian F Harris. 2020



We are the perpetrators

Can we come and stay with you?

Once we had a planet

Now we don’t know what to do.


Didn’t listen to the warnings

Lost the roof above our heads

We thought that we knew better

Now no blankets for our beds.


We’ve travelled far to get here

You may be our only hope

We’ve such a lot to offer you

Can’t wait to shove it down your throat.


(Chorus. If and when)

We can pump your oil

We can mine your coal

We can teach you to fly through the sky

And how to dig a hole.

We can heat your homes

We can light your dark

We can show you how to fly through the sky

And teach you how to park.


We are the perpetrators

And we can show you the way

Show you how to live a better life

You should have seen us in our day.


We are the perpetrators

There ain’t no-one else to blame

In every part of the galaxy

Everyone knows our name.



Get me out of here

To somewhere safe.

With a clear blue sky

And an open space

Take me anywhere that ain’t here

Anywhere that ain’t so near

And I’ll be your friend…forever.


Put some space between

The here and now

Want to hide away

From the constant row

Take me anywhere that ain’t here

I just want to disappear

And I’ll be your friend…forever


Please don’t let them know

Where I have gone

That my secret place

Is where I belong

Take me anywhere that ain’t here

I just want to make things clear

And I’ll be your friend…forever.



Friends are hard to come by

Friends are just the best

Friends look past the fault lines

Don’t put you to the test.

Friends don’t ask no questions

Friends don’t make you pay

You my friend are everything

Just take me far away.


I’m not a lost cause

Just need a break

To a different scene

And a brand new take

On a life that’s going nowhere

Grass is greener over there

And I’ll be your friend forever.



There is something quite familiar

There is a memory there

I admit I can’t quite place it

Because my head is everywhere.

I’m sure I’ll soon remember

And make a quick connection

But the way it stands now

I have no recollection.


There’s just fragments

Of days that drift away

Just fragments

Like some half-forgotten play

Just fragments

It must or might have been

Just fragments

I’m stuck somewhere in between.


Perhaps just a brief encounter

Somewhere in the distant past

It must be a lifetime away

Because it is disappearing fast

This is a strange situation

I admit the embarrassment

Think I’d know that face anywhere

I can’t place the incident.


There’s just fragments

Of days that drift away

Just fragments

Like some half-forgotten play

Just fragments

It must or might have been

Just fragments

I’m stuck somewhere in between.


10 Modern Marriage Vows.


When I was a Church of England Priest back in the early ‘90’s, I remember being asked on a regular basis by couples a few weeks away from being married, if they could as it were, ‘invent (their own) marriage vows?’

Would it be possible they wanted to know, ‘to say what they really meant?’ as opposed to what the marriage service required them to say. The answer of course was a rather reluctant and sad, ‘no’.

As time has passed and soon-to-be-weds seem to making most of the important decisions for themselves especially as to when, where and perhaps more importantly, how they intend to be married, I wondered if at long last (and no longer a Priest), I might be allowed to put in my two-pennyworth…

So here it is, for what it’s worth, better late than never and just for starters, my ‘Ten Modern Marriage Vows’.

Think about them. Mix and match. Delete and add. But most of all, mean them.

TEN modern Marriage Vows by The Stratfordian.


We promise…To work in Partnership with each other, sharing without reluctance in all areas for the betterment of both our lives.


We promise… to recognise each other’s Individuality and acknowledge our Partner’s need to express their Uniqueness in this complicated world.


We Promise… to acknowledge each other’s need for Solitude. We recognise that to be alone in one’s own Time and Space, can be health giving.


We Promise… to be aware that Love can express itself even in the Deepest Silence.


We Promise… that when needed we will heed the call for Help, Ready always, to stand side by side with each other in the darkness and in the light, Willing to fulfil our role as comforter, lover and above all, Friend.


We Promise… to value each other’s contribution to our future life together. We will weigh, ponder and discuss all proposals and ideas equally, so that we may move forward together in agreement and harmony.


We Promise… to not only to listen …but to hear.


We Promise… that to the best of our ability our Home, for those that live outside, will be a Haven of Peace and Understanding…a reflection of our love for each other.


We Promise… that in our life together the Truth will always out. That there shall be no secrets between us, no darkness, always light.


We Promise that should our love for each other become exhausted, we will recognise the end with Grace and Fortitude.


We Promise we will always strive to treat each other with Respect and Patience, remembering the beauty of what we once had with Gratitude and the realisation that some, never fall in love.