The Little Book of Suicide

First my brother totalled my brand new Austin Mini, then he went and killed himself. Now all I'm left with is a book of poetry that my wife wishes I'd never written.
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I remember battering my younger brother Philip on a number of occasions but one in particular still stands out. I'd just acquired my first car - a two-tone green Austin Mini - for the then huge sum of £135. Despite numerous threats of what I'd do to him if he laid a finger on this prized possession, the little prat snaffled the keys and attempted to make off up the driveway in it while I was out.

Predictably, as he was four years younger than me and aged just 14, he managed to smash the Mini's side into the concrete posts separating our parents' Lancashire property from the neighbour's. When I returned from college in the evening, Philip actually greeted me in the street en route from the bus stop (I hadn't passed my driving test yet so couldn't swank around in the damn thing).

'I've crashed your car!,' he giggled, his blue eyes flashing with merriment. I didn't believe him at first. I think I laughed.

'No, I really have,' he insisted, twitching lank hair off his pale forehead in that way he did when he was nervous.'I've crashed your car.'

Philip's false mask of levity drained from his reddening face and I quickly realised he might be telling me the appalling truth.
By the time I'd jogged the rest of the way home and seen one side of my beloved vehicle stoved in, with its driver's door hanging off and its windscreen cracked, he had miraculously disappeared.

I caught up with him later skulking by our back door and I remember my fist pummelling into his bony chest and thick head as he squirmed and wriggled away from me on the floor. But I soon gave up. What was the point? The damage was done.
What was I going to do? Kill him?

Fast forward about a decade and by this time I'd been working all over the country for various newspapers. I'm finally shacked up with a girlfriend in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, working as a poorly paid freelance stringer for several news outlets, including the Press Association and tabloids. It was a particularly stressful time, not least because the said girlfriend and I were no longer exactly lovey-dovey and our split was in the wind.

"I remember my fist pummelling into his bony chest and thick head. But I soon gave up. What was the point? The damage was done. What was I going to do? Kill him?"

The call came through from Dad.

Philip had killed himself - thrown himself in front of a train near Chorley railway station. Decapitated. Died instantly.

The words were like broken teeth in Dad's mouth. He spat them out, one by one, in a hoarse whisper. It was the end of a long nightmare for him; the second youngest of his five sons sent mad from drug-induced schizophrenia; the window in Philip's bedroom still nailed shut to stop him vanishing on one of his crazy village walkabouts in the middle of the night.

For some reason, as Dad spoke, I was catapulted back to that day, the day I'd felt like killing Philip, when I'd had him on the ground at my mercy, when my fists were thudding into the side of his head - that bloody head now on some cold mortuary slab with the rest of his mutilated body. That body I would never see again or touch. So this is how it ended for him, I thought, still in his fucking early twenties.

'Shit,' I muttered, putting the receiver down. I hadn't had a proper conversation with Philip in years because of his increasing mental illness. But the last time I spoke to him before his death, he was upbeat, almost cheerful. As we chatted on the telephone, I hoped the demons tormenting him had been vanquished. (God knows, he'd had enough 'good' drugs pumped into him to counteract all the 'bad' drugs he'd apparently swallowed like sweeties down the years.) Yet he paused and announced that Scottish comedian Billy Connolly was talking to him from the television.

'What ? Does he do that often?,' I groaned, stomach sinking.

'Oh yeah and I talk back,' he said. Billy Connolly has never failed so dismally to raise a smile. But talking to comedians on the TV was not the worst manifestation of Philip's illness.

By now, following years working as a fitter and mechanic, he had grown physically powerful, a brawler, nothing like the skinny kid I had once been able to thrash. And the schizophrenia had made him reckless. In the midst of his delusions, he once climbed out of the emergency door of a coach racing down the M1, clambered over the roof, and dropped down at the driver's door, cheerfully hammering to be let back in. It's a wonder the driver didn't die of a heart attack.

Other incidents were less humorous - like the time Philip, once an award-winning trainee, failed to return after being sent out on some simple job by his increasingly exasperated boss. He was eventually found sitting on the bonnet of his car, weeping, not sure who he was anymore, his mind besieged by horrific psychotic images. The darkness was closing in.

"He once climbed out of the emergency door of a coach racing down the M1, clambered over the roof, & dropped down at the driver's door, hammering to be let back in."

At his funeral 'Whole of The Moon' by The Waterboys rang out in the chilly church from a crackly cassette recorder. It was a favourite track Philip had played over and over as a sort of comfort blanket against his troubles. The song itself seems to be a philosophical take on the meaning of life, about how some people keep searching for that meaning while others give up. It's the only song that's ever made me cry.

Now, over 20 years since all this happened, I've had a long time to think about Philip, and about suicide. Various articles and books I've previously tried to write about it have remained unfinished. But a couple of years ago, I turned to poetry. This is odd because I am certainly not a very good poet, nor am I even a very serious one.

For some reason, though, I found short, light, limerick-type rhyme a good way to explore this taboo subject, looking not really at Philip's suicide alone but more at suicide in general. The result was 'The Little Book of Suicide: 77 Reasons to Kill Yourself. In Verse,' published last year.

Needless to say, most people who have even heard the title have been outraged. There were howls of dismay when it was featured as a competition prize on angling website Fishing Magic. There was also a minor campaign launched in the States to get the book dropped by sellers. But it is still on sale and that produces mixed feelings in me, not least because my own wife hates the subject matter and would have much preferred the book not to be published at all.

Even so, it has been and it is dedicated to Philip.

'The Little Book of Suicide: 77 Reasons to Kill Yourself. In Verse.' £4.99 from Amazon.

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