Issue 1: Don't Fret and Carry On.

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | As the world doesn’t allow people to read every waking second of the day (boo, hiss), we can thank God that podcasts exist. For any topic, you’ll find someone chatting about it for your listening pleasure. Driven by the submissions 404 received, we wanted to introduce you to one of our favourites.

Don’t Fret Club is a not-for-profit podcast aiming to raise mental health awareness in young people through harnessing the music community, hosted by music journalist Jessica Bridgeman. Music and mental health have often been unusual bedfellows, with one being a support system to many for battling the other, and the chats on this podcast break through the surface of typical band interviews to explore the meaning and people behind the music on a more intimate level, with the taboo of sharing mental health experiences thrown out the window.

So, why use music to have these conversations? “Music has always been directly linked to my mental state, and everyone I’ve spoken to via Don’t Fret Club has similar stories of using their favourite bands as a sort of safe self-medication,” explains Jessica. “Anyone who has suffered mental illness can paint a pretty dark picture of their lowest moments. Even on the days when you can’t physically lift yourself from your bed, you will find the strength to play music – at least that’s a story that’s familiar to me. On those days when you feel helpless and alone, music is the thing you let in. It took me a few years to find the courage to launch Don’t Fret Club from having the idea, but now it feels as though it was part of my own recovery process.”

Music’s importance goes a long way, especially when the internet goes so far in the other direction of hiding the topic – it drowns people in endless information. “The awareness I gained throughout my school years actually focused on depression as an extreme and failed to highlight just how many of us it effects. When I was looking for advice or doing research online, I’d usually end up feeling lost in medical references and symptom checklists, leading me back to music as an escape and calming mechanism. For me, the soundtrack I’d created became as vital as the doctor’s help itself.”

And so the podcast does the same as music: it murmurs in the background, but can be there when support is needed. “Sometimes it’s tough to concentrate on anything when you’re feeling low, and hearing a friendly voice can make the world of difference,” says Jessica. “I want Don’t Fret Club to be that familiar friend to people. As a music journalist by trade, I totally advocate the importance of writing – be it something to publish publicly or keep private – and reading interviews with bands has always been huge in helping me relate to them as a fan. But there’s nothing quite like hearing the bands talk about the songs you’ve invested so much of yourself in. It can be tough at times as talking about such personal topics takes us out of our comfort zone and is a strain on emotions. For me though, that’s the whole point of Don’t Fret Club. We want to break the stigma and encourage people to talk, so a podcast felt like the natural way to actually get the conversation started.”
 

Escapism has always been an obvious reason as to why music matters so much to so many, but the podcast has been discovering many more. “There’s an entire lethargic nature to producing music that I’d not considered before,” she notes. “You’ll hear in our episodes with Black Foxxes and Kamikaze Girls, for example, that the process of creating music that feeds off their feelings and frustrations over mental illness has helped them to deal with their demons. Music helps those making it not to dwell on the problems, but instead confront them in a space where they feel most comfortable. “In our very first episode with Tonight Alive’s Jenna McDougall, she shares great insight on how instrumental music helps her to deal with the strain of tour life, something that was also reflected in our more recent episode with Heather Perkins of Slowcoaches. Don’t Fret Club has definitely allowed me to understand how music helps bands as much as it helps fans, which is an amazing thing.”

The response from listeners and bands alike has been great, and the Don’t Fret Club has recently branched out to have an accompanying blog where anyone can tell their story, and they’re doing so with a stark honesty.

“The podcast is the conversation starter, if you like, whereas the blog is the beating heart of discussion and advice. It’s amazing to see the feedback from those who have contributed so far – it’s a real process to pour yourself into a blog post, no matter how small, and to see others react to it in a supportive way can really help on both sides.”
 

Don’t Fret Club is a conversation started by music, and it’s one that’s just getting going. What has Jessica learned since the podcast’s launch? “That it’s okay to face your fears head on. Part of my anxiety triggers have always been linked to dealing with the perception of others, so putting myself on a platform is always a challenge. To do it and have the support of people I look up to is even better. It’s also taught me that it’s okay to have good days and bad, but you aren’t alone when things get rubbish and there are people out there who understand on some level. I’m still learning though, and Don’t Fret Club has become a brilliant base to meet like-minded people.”

Go listen to and check out Don’t Fret Club at dontfret.club, and @DontFretClub. Then put on your favourite albums, play them really loud, and have a great time.

A DON’T FRET CLUB PLAYLIST
A lot of bands have played key roles in the creation of Don’t Fret Club and these are just a handful of the latest tracks that will undoubtedly help to shape its future.

Boston Manor – Laika
Happy Accidents – Leaving Parties Early
Kamikaze Girls – Ladyfuzz
With Confidence – We’ll Be Okay
Creeper – Suzanne
The Hard Aches – I Freak Out
The Menzingers – Bad Catholics
Camp Cope – Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Beams
Every Time I Die – Glitches
Black Foxxes – I’m Not Well

Issue 1: Join the Club: Sad Ghosts and Happy Minds

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | In the fog of ill mental health, those little things that make you feel that little bit lighter become vital, even if it’s just a little cartoon ghost with a few encouraging words.

The Sad Ghost Club is the creative project from Lize Meddings and Laura Cox, raising mental health awareness through comics, apparel and more. Through comics about simple thoughts and feelings, and workshops relating to creativity and the positive effect it can have on mental health, the Sad Ghost Club is a collective of increasing importance and popularity.

Five zines in, the Sad Ghost Club is simple but says a lot. “We like making comics because the mixture of artwork and text really help solidify the messages we’re trying to send,” says Lize. “Sometimes the words are vague, or simple, but with the artwork it’s clear what we’re trying to explain. It also helps spread the message – it’s easier to share a comic that’s perhaps a bit bleak but has a cute ghost in, than just the message itself. Especially for those using our comics to explain to friends and loved one how they’re feeling.”

“I’m an illustrator and have always enjoyed putting how I feel into what I’m making,” she continues. “The narrative and story-telling has always been a big part of my work. I liked that I could tell a more in-depth story with a comic, and go into more detail with what I was trying to explain, and still have it be only one image/page. It also worked really well with social media, which I think helped me realise I should definitely make more!”

Their sad ghosts have spoken volumes for people, expressing seemingly inexpressible feelings, or offering some well-needed encouragement. “I think people like knowing that others
feel the same as them,” says Lize. “We get a lot of really positive messages on our social media and it’s just really heart warming. It can be a bit surreal sometimes, and some of the messages have been so nice and kind they’ve made us well up. People love the little ghost, which is just amazing.”

Beyond their own creations, they work with organisations and charities to expand their support. “We’re currently running a weekly workshop with Bristol-based charity Off The Record who provide free support to young people aged 11-25,” she explains. “The workshop is called Sketchbook Club and it’s a weekly meet up where we just sketchbook, and the response has been great! We’ve done a lot of other stuff with OTR and they’ve really helped us make sure our message comes across the way we intend it. We even got to paint a ghost in one of their counselling rooms (personal high point!).

“Sketchbook Club is what it sounds like: sketchbooking. We give a weekly theme and a whole heap of different materials and there’s no pressure. It’s a really supportive environment which is so nice. Everyone has differing skill levels in terms of art but the work everyone makes is always so creative and wonderful!

“We also just finished a monthly workshop series Mind Over Matter which was tailored
around creativity exploring mental health. Every month we’d make something new; positive postcards, felt flags to hang up on walls, or painted plant pots. We’ve got some new ones planned for 2017 but we’re not totally set on what they’ll be yet!”
 


The future of the Sad Ghost Club? Their little spectre will continue striving for mental health awareness and support. “Our main hope is to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, and make people feel like they can talk about it,” says Lize. “Our comics get shared around a
lot online and we like to think that’s helping start conversations that maybe wouldn’t have taken place before. As our following grows we see a lot more people speaking up about their own journey, which is just magical, and what we always wanted to happen. Sometimes it’s in the comments on images we’ve posted, people providing support and comfort to those going through similar things as them, as well as insight and advice.

“We hope people feel like they’ve got someone in their corner, like if they’re wearing a ‘still sad’ shirt it maybe makes it a bit easier to talk about their own mental health. They know that there’s this community that does understand, and do appreciate how hard it can be to talk about.”

Next, it’s about expanding the workshops, and perhaps finding ways to start branching out into new cities beyond Bristol, or even offering them online. Join the club, and remember, “The Sad Ghost Club will always be here for you.”

From The Sad Ghost Club:
We always want to be as inclusive as possible, so if there’s anything you’re going through that
you feel we haven’t tackled, please email us (thesadghostclub@gmail.com) so we can get talking about it. Chances are someone else is waiting for us to discuss it too!
thesadghostclub.com @thesadghostclub

Issue 1: Spinners of Air - Ali George

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | Elizabeth found the spinning wheel by mistake.

She was supposed to be helping her mother-in-law look for bits and pieces to do up for eBay, but she’d snuck off into the depths of the jumble for a few moments of quiet and wandered off the beaten path. Finally, she’d ended up at the very edge of the church hall, next to a shoogling pile of detritus primed to topple at any moment. Most of it looked to be broken.

Elizabeth’s mother-in-law didn’t like to fix broken things. She was a ‘sponge a bit of paint across an elderly coffee table and attach a hefty mark up’ kind of a person. Elizabeth, though, considered herself a fixer.

The pile was about eleven feet tall and featured three-legged chairs, a suite of kitchen cupboards with the doors hanging off, and some wonky shelves. As she looked more closely, she saw the ancient spinning wheel at the centre, forming an integral structural support.

She’d never seen a spinning wheel in person, so she couldn’t tell what was wrong with it exactly, but she was sure it could be mended. More importantly, she knew she wanted it in her life.

Elizabeth cast her eyes about for the owner of the pile. Most shoppers seemed to be avoiding this particular corner, walled in on all sides by an antique bookseller, a young woman with a vintage dress rack, and an elderly man giving tarot readings. They all had their backs to her.

“Excuse me,” Elizabeth said to nobody in particular. “I’d like to buy that spinning wheel?”

“That’ll be £25,” came a voice from within the tower. No, not within it. Behind it. There was a gap on the other side. That meant the whole lot must be free-standing. Instinctively Elizabeth took a step backwards as the owner of the voice – a tiny old woman who looked a bit like a conker – maneuvered the wheel out from the base of the junk pile.

“It’s a bit shonky,” the woman said, “but it’s fixable if you can be bothered. I couldn’t, myself. Not with my rickets being what it is.”

Elizabeth smiled politely and handed over the cash, wondering how rickets impacted on fixing a spinning wheel, but slightly afraid to ask. Her mother-in-law would be looking for her by now, and she’d have to explain that she’dgone off-piste. Being caught red-handed listening to a story from a strange old lady would only add to an already lengthy list of transgressions. As she went in search of her shopping companion, the wheel clamped awkwardly under her arm, she didn’t notice the old lady slip out of the side door of the church hall, never to be seen again.

* * *

“Look at this,” Elizabeth called. “I can get it fixed at the Bonnington Industrial Museum. That’s not far from here, is it?”

“I guess,” Tom grunted from the depths of the kitchen. He wasn’t interested in museums at the best of times, and at that moment was engaged in the creation of a particularly complicated soufflé.

“Can we go?” she asked.

“I guess.”

She smiled to herself. When she had moved down here, she’d been surprised to learn that in Tom’s five years in the city he’d never been to a single museum, much less all the outlying collections housed in random cottages around the county. The Bonnington Industrial Museum turned out to be one of the latter.

In fact, it didn’t even have the whole of the random cottage to itself. It was just a room in a house that had once belonged to some weavers. The woman behind the counter was full of knowledge though, and her eyes lit up when she saw the broken spinning wheel.

Her excitement, she explained, came from the fact that most of the young people these days aren’t interested in spinning, weaving, or other traditional crafts. In her experience, the ones who did knit or crochet tended to go and buy synthetic wool from the pound shop. Elizabeth smiled politely and decided not to mention her most recent project, an army of sparky mouse finger puppets made from just such offending materials.

The excitable curator told them to have a wander round the museum whilst she took the wheel through to her colleague in the back room. With that, she pushed a photocopied factsheet across the counter and vanished through a green velvet curtain into the unknown.

Tom picked up the paper and peered at it. The print was tiny. Whoever had made it wanted visitors to get as much information from their stay as was humanly possible.

“There’s a loom in a shed out the back,” he announced, “and in here there’s textiles, some furniture very like some that might once have belonged to some weavers, and some advertising for the new mill which put them all out of business. It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride.”

They picked their way around the tiny room as slowly as they could, politely reading every placard and sign they could find. It wasn’t a very good museum, but they could hardly say so when the staff were within earshot.

“Done!” trilled the curator, making them jump. “But now you really must learn to use it – did you know we have a spinning group here?”

Elizabeth studiously avoided Tom’s gaze. “No!” she lied, “how wonderful.”

“Well, we do,” the curator replied. “They meet at 3pm on Sundays, so you’re just in time. Look, here’s Maxine now. She’s in charge.”

Maxine was short and stout and had very curly grey hair. At the mention of her name, she put down the spinning wheel she’d had slung over her shoulder, and fumbled in her shirt pocket for a pair of gold-framed glasses. She proceeded to look the both of them up and down over the top of them, before sticking out a hand for Elizabeth to shake.

“We meet upstairs,” she said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

“I’ll just go for a walk, then,” Tom said. His voice was tight. “Give me a ring when you’re done.”

She shot an apologetic look. “Thanks,” she called, but he was already gone. Maxine led her up creaking stairs to a long room with low, sloping ceilings. There was a semi circle of stools at one end, and a stack of wicker baskets.

Maxine parked her spinning wheel next to one of the stools and motioned Elizabeth to do the same. She picked up two baskets, then pulled out an enormous plastic bag of fluffy wool.

“I don’t suppose you have your own?” she asked.

Elizabeth shook her head. “I didn’t know I was coming.”

“Liar,” Maxine said. “People always know they’re coming.”

“We-ell,” Elizabeth conceded, “I wanted to. But the wheel was broken and I didn’t know whether it would be fixed in time.”

Maxine pulled a fuzzy rope of wool from the bag. “Here,” she said, “use this. Have you ever spun before?”

She didn’t wait for an answer. Elizabeth watched with furrowed brow as she wound a length of wool she’d spun earlier around the bobbin, deftly threading it through the guiding hooks, then loosened the unspun fibres before winding the two together. She was so engrossed in following the movement of the other woman’s hands and feet she barely noticed the other members of the group filing into the room.

“Here,” Maxine said, “your go.”

When she was happy Elizabeth had got the hang of it enough not to spin her own hair, or prick herself and fall into a coma, Maxine settled behind her own wheel. They fell into a comfortable clack-clacking rhythm, and it was some time before Elizabeth looked up from what she was doing to examine the rest of the room. There were seven spinners altogether. Those who had come in after her and Maxine seemed to be whispering to each other, but they stopped when she caught their eyes.

“I’m Elizabeth,” she said at last, hoping this might defuse the tension in the room. Perhaps they weren’t used to having strangers at the group, in which case the best remedy was an introduction.

“We are the Spinners of Air,” said the man sitting across from her on the other end of the crescent of stools. He had very dark skin, a shiny bald head, and a serious expression on his face.

“You mean, like the River Aire?” she asked. It ran quite nearby. She’d swotted up on local knowledge before moving there with Tom. All that trivia made her an invaluable member of the pub quiz team.

The man was shaking his head, though. “No,” he said. “Not like the river. The element.”

She snuck a glance around the rest of the group to see if he was making fun of her. None of them were smirking, or shaking their head in disapproval about a joke at her expense.

“Tell her about the strangest thing you’ve ever spun, Gary,” said a woman with a waist length braid of red hair. She was rosy-cheeked, and sat carding wool with two big brushes, slapping them together a little too aggressively for Elizabeth’s liking.

“You first, Caroline,” he said. “What was it you told us last week? You spun enough human hair to make a cardigan?”

“I made the cardigan too,” Caroline said proudly. “Sold it on my Etsy shop for fifty quid. I told ‘em it was mohair.”

Elizabeth tried not to look appalled.

“I’ve spun fire,” piped up the person on Caroline’s right, who was mostly covered by a multicoloured poncho with an enormous hood.

“Shut up, Storm, you haven’t spun fire,” squeaked the person to Caroline’s left.

“Have too.”

“Have not.”

“Have too.”

“Have not.”

“Have!”

“Haven’t!”

“ENOUGH!” Caroline thundered, and the two of them sulkily returned to their spinning.

“They’re twins,” Caroline said apologetically, as if that explained anything.

Throughout all this, the sixth woman had sat in silence with her hands folded in her lap. The spinning wheel in front of her was black. she was dressed in black, and with shiny black hair that hung to her shoulders. The overall effect was to make her already pale skin look even paler, almost translucent.

“How about you, Soo?” Maxine asked. “What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever spun?”

A strange smile softened her mouth. For a long few moments, Elizabeth thought she wouldn’t say anything at all – but then she spoke. Slowly, deliberately, thinking carefully about each word to make herself understood in a second language.

“I have spun Time,” she told them. There was a burst of laughter from the twins, who got a furious look from their mother for their trouble.

“I call bullshit,” Storm said, when they had recovered themselves.

“It is not bullshit,” Soo replied cheerfully. “It is fact. I have to concentrate hard to do it, but I can. I could teach you, if I chose…” She paused, giving the rest of the group a significant look. “But I won’t. It is dangerous. After all, I can pull out a thread from the air around you and spin it so tight that your whole self would begin to unravel. I have destroyed many lives in this way. Cities, also.”

“Don’t be daft,” Maxine said. “How would you even start winding time around your bobbin?”

Soo did not answer this in words. She merely smiled enigmatically, and put her right hand in the air as though she was feeling about for something.

“That’s how you spin air,” Gary said, but he was silenced by a look from Soo. She was rubbing her thumb and index finger together now, as though there were something gripped between them. Apparently satisfied she had what she wanted, Soo made the motion of tying something to the bobbin, and then began to operate her wheel. Unlike the others, it spun without a sound. What was it made of ? Elizabeth wondered. It was so black and shiny and smooth – could it be ebony? It didn’t seem like wood, somehow. It reminded her of stone, like obsidian. Soo’s face was animated as she worked, apparently spinning something, though none of them could see what it was. They felt the air begin to cool though, and each of them noticed a curious sensation that everything seemed to be going into slow motion. Then quite suddenly everything sped up and went

much too fast.

Elizabeth found herself downstairs in the museum, in the car with Tom, at home in the flat, at the church hall surrounded by jumble. “Found anything good?” asked her mother-in-law from behind an enormous pile of broken looking furniture.

Elizabeth stared at her in shock, but couldn’t work out why she was surprised to see her. They had come here together, after all. They went to the church hall every other Saturday, looking for jumble that could be done up for eBay.

“No,” she said, feeling sad although she wasn’t sure why.

“Nothing’s caught my eye.”

- By Ali George

Issue 1: Not Having a Giraffe - picklish

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink |I walked past them every day, making sure that I walk between mother and calf, stare up at them and give them voices, usually some sort of question that the wee one asks the big one. Sometimes it’s about the plains, or the lions, other times about the trees or the fighting with necks. But it’s an inquisitive wee dude, at least, so it seems in my mind.

They’ve taken on a life of their own in my head though I often wonder what they think of the latest shite blockbuster on at the tragically misnamed Omni Centre, or the streams of idiots coming out of John Lewis clutching their always knowingly oversold pish. I feel sorry about the fact that they can never turn their heads and look down Leith Walk to the sea. It’s a wee shame, so it is.

So I decided that I needed to do something about it. Animal liberation, ken? I mean, I do know that they aren’t really animals, just sculptures, but it’s just the way that the wee one looks at the big one. Yearning, like. Inquisitive. It’s no fair that they should just be stuck there like that. It’s no.

So I came up with a plan. Took ages, like. A real labour of love. But the things you’ll do when you know that the right thing needs to be done, eh? I photographed them from loads of angles, figured out their heights and estimated their weights.

I spent hours looking at the work of a company called Boston Dynamics. That and reading up on welding and things like mechanical degrees of freedom. I watched videos of giraffes on YouTube, pressing pause-play-pause-play over and over to try and figure them out.

I had to do it quickly, all in a couple of hours at the most. I bought hi-viz clothes and a workie type windshield, and cordoned off the areas around the giraffe’s legs, ready to give the excuse Banksy suggested. That is: if anyone asked what I was doing then to simply complain about working conditions.

It was 2am on a clear Tuesday morning in September. I told myself that I probably had until 5am. I got to work, setting up scaffolding around them, making sure they were held in place before I chopped off their legs below the knees. I inserted a couple of car batteries into their hollow bodies to power the servos that were going to drive the hinges that I was installing between their femurs and tibias.

They needed a wee splint down their legs with a channel cut out, in order to maintain vertical motion, but I knew it was a small price to pay for freedom. I’m sure the wee one even winked at me, but it had been a long few days not sleeping much. The Modafinil had kept me pepped. Perhaps too much, but I’d be able to sleep easy once more once my task was complete.

I managed to lever them out of the concrete, it felt like the mother had even lifted her leg to help. I supplied them with flat shoes to help their balance. Leith Walk is a steep street and they had a mile of running before they would reach the shore. I attached an Arduino microcontroller that would tell the servos when to move what leg at which time. I shuffled them around to face north. We were ready.

They sprung into life the second I attached the final cable and horsed it down the road. The sun was just rising, and a few hardy souls were making the trip into work, probably unsure if they were still dreaming. I tore after them, barely able to keep up, panting, exhausted but deliriously overjoyed at the spark of life and happiness I had given to these caged beasts.

Suddenly, tragedy struck near Albert Street; the mother careered into the number 22, toppling both bus and beast. I slowed down for a second, a moment of respect for the fallen, before racing after the wee guy. It was all about him. I could hear what I imagined was the mother’s roar behind me, encouraging him onwards.

We were approaching the bottom of Leith Walk and I was breathing oot ma arse, when I saw a police car turn the corner from Constitution Street. The wee guy had reared up on his hind legs, from clipping a bump in the road. He came crashing down right into the car’s windscreen. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. He never made it. I had to go. I had to get out of here. No one would understand that what I had done was an act of liberation, they’d just call it criminal damage or some such. Perhaps even culpable homicide. I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I jumped on the number 35 that took me all the way to the airport. I thought South Africa at first, but then Zimbabwe probably don’t have an extradition treaty with the UK.

I bet I can free some more giraffes there too.

- By picklish

Issue 1: Wilko Johnson: The Man With No Plan

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink |Wilko Johnson has never been a man with a plan. His whole approach to life has been to just see where things took him, and roll with it. We’ve all probably tried it once in a while, but few of us have ended up travelling the world in bands, or starred in things like that little known TV show, Game of Thrones, just by rolling with the times.

From the humble beginnings in his home of Canvey Island, Wilko and the inimitable Lee Brilleaux and John B. Sparks formed Dr. Feelgood and became a staple of the pub rock scene in London through the 1970s. With belters ‘She Does It Right’ and ‘Roxette’ in their repertoire, it was all going well until tensions arose, and Wilko left, or was booted out, depending on who you ask. He neverwent back to the drawing board, instead going full steam ahead: he played with a few more bands, including The Blockheads with Ian Dury, but it was The Wilko Johnson Band that stuck, and kept him travelling the world with his guitar in tow for the last several decades.

Each twist has been an unexpected adventure for Wilko, and that’s why, come January 2013, when he was told that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and just ten months to live, he embraced the news in a way that fit with his past seven decades. Today is, quite obviously, more than ten months later than when the news was broken, and now Wilko has written a book – Don’t You Leave Me Here – that takes you through his childhood, life spent with wife Irene, the iconic rise and fall of Dr Feelgood, and that last year of his life… but a few years on.

“I hadn’t written a book before. I didn’t have any method, so I just launched into it haphazardly. Started thinking ‘Ayyy, man, I’m a writer!’, you know?” laughs Wilko. “I’d open the ol’ laptop, tap away pretty good. I found after I got into it, I started getting into some sad stuff, like when my wife died, and aw, man…

“Normally when we remember things, look back on them, we remember them in bits and pieces, we just remember one scene or one day or event or something like that. When you need to write a book, of course you’ve got to remember whole periods in a sequence, and you get to the sad bits and, aw, man, it all comes back on me as if it was yesterday. Oh dear, I was so upset and I couldn’t write. I just opened the laptop and I’m just sitting there crying there and upset like a complete wimp.

“Anyway, I kind of pull myself together and carried on. What the result was – whether it’s good or bad – I do not know.”

“I’VE LIVED MY WHOLE LIFE DRIFTING INTO THINGS ACCIDENTALLY.”

The book is indeed a good result and one that takes you down the streets of Canvey Island, around the pubs of London, the stages and studios of the world. With a life so full of stories to tell, it’s unsurprising that as he revisited his life, many stories that were long lost in the back of his memory started coming to life.

When Dr. Feelgood split up, Wilko didn’t look back and instead focused on what music would come next. In fact, when he came to write the book, the band were a mere blip on the radar originally. “When that happened all those years ago I remember, at the time, it was a blow to me,” he admits, “but I resolved to walk away from it and never look badly on it. I just wanted to remember Dr. Feelgood as a great thing and I’ve never in my mind or otherwise indulged in recriminations or anything. So, I just kind of skimmed over it. I just said, ‘Well, we had an argument and broke up.’

“Lemmy [Kilmister, Motörhead] told me that his theory was speed freaks and drunks could never get on well together and that’s what I said. The publishers said, ‘You can’t just say that! You’ve got to explain a bit more.’

“I tried to remember what happened at that moment in time and as I remembered more and more, I thought, those bastards! They did me wrong! They lied about me and they blamed me for that break up and it wasn’t me, man, it was them. And I got quite angry – I thought blimey, man, I was right and they were wrong. They did me wrong and I wasn’t to blame for Dr. Feelgood breaking up, it was them. Right? And, well, that’s it. I really, really never looked on it or relived it or anything up until that moment actually trying to write about it.”

Many stories like that appear in his autobiography that he admits he didn’t really think too much about at the time, instead too busy just rocking and rolling wherever the music took him.

“I’ve lived my whole life drifting into things accidentally,” he reflects. “I’ve never had ambitions or aims, I just let things happen, and Dr. Feelgood was no different. I loved that rhythm and blues music and I just wanted to play, and that’s what we did, without any kind of ambition. I just got swept along with it. When we started that band, as I say, it was just the sheer pleasure of playing music – I didn’t realise that was going to be my life.

“I always thought that Dr. Feelgood was going to be my band, you know? I was never going to go on and do anything else,” he notes, considering whether there was even an alternative to music once he’d had that first taste. “It’s a pretty good life! It’s a very good life. I just wanted to continue and so I did, as ever, keep drifting along and drifting along and that’s how my career has been – consisting of ups and downs. Now I’m an old man and I look back and think, ‘Yeah, that was a pretty good thing to do.’ And I’ll probably be doing it until I drop.”
 

“WELL, THIS IS ANOTHER ADVENTURE.”

Wilko means it. When he was living what doctors had deemed his last year on Earth, he didn’t seek out a cure or waste a second trying to buy more time. He lived exactly as he wanted to.

“That year was one of the most extraordinary years of my life, actually,” he beams, adding “when I was dying of cancer. I think everybody must imagine to themselves sometimes, well, what would I feel if one day the doctor said to me I’m gonna die? We imagine all sorts of things.

“When that happened to me, I was sitting there looking across the desk at the doctor and he’s saying those words to me: ‘You’ve got cancer.’ And I was absolutely calm, not a tremor. I said ‘Okay.’

“They told me that they thought I had just a few months to live, and I thought, ‘Well this is another adventure,’” he laughs. “What can you do? Start screaming and crying and fall on the floor? No. You think – wow. This is another one. Walking out of the hospital – it was a beautiful winter’s day, looking up at the trees against the sky – aw, man, it looked so beautiful and suddenly I felt this rush. I felt ecstatic. Man, I’m alive. I’m alive! It was just so intense, and I just hadn’t felt like that for years. You’re looking around and thinking how beautiful everything looks – oh wow! – and so the year went on.

“As I say, it was the most extraordinary year. Lots of strange things happened. At the end of that year, when the time had come that they reckoned I was going to die at ten months and I was already into my eleventh – Roger Daltrey [of The Who] popped up and said let’s make an album together,” chuckles Wilko. “I’m thinking maaan, ain’t life weird? Here I am, my life is ending, and I can’t complain, I’ve just had a fantastic life and here I am ending up making an album with Roger Daltrey.

“When we were making that album I didn’t think I was going to live to see it released. In fact, I did live to see it released, and it was the most successful album I’ve ever done. It got a Gold Disc. I remember thinking, this is crazy man – I’ve got a bestselling album, a Gold Disc, and now I’m gonna die.

“But NO! There was another surprise in store.”

“I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN MY GRAVE TWO YEARS AGO.”

The surprise was a fated meeting with Charlie Chan, a surgeon who also did music photography – he recommended Wilko get a second opinion and so he came to meet Emmanuel Huguet, the surgeon who would save his life. “These doctors found me and told me they thought they could cure me,” he says simply. “And they did. And that was weird upon weird. It was always strange."

While facing death, he was euphoric, full of life by his own account. He’s a couple of years into a future he didn’t think he’d have, and still finds it odd to reconcile this latest twist in his adventure. “Today, I’m looking out my window. It’s a beautiful day here and, again, looking at the trees against the sky.” He bursts out laughing – again. It’s hard not to be swept along in his positivity. “When I got the cancer diagnosis, what did I do? I thought, well: I’ve got ten months left to live, I just want to enjoy it, make the most of these ten months. I didn’t go looking for second opinions or miracle cures, I thought I’m going to go ahead, carry on playing.

“This tumour was growing the whole time. It got so big it looked liked I was pregnant. This tumour was the size of a melon in my stomach. I used to stand on the stage and my guitar used to rock on this tumour. You could never get away from it.

“This whole thing started, me sitting across a table from a doctor and the doctor telling me, ‘You’re going to die.’ A year later I’m sitting again across the table from a doctor and the doctor is telling me he thinks he can cure me. I’ve spent more than a year convinced I’m dying and there’s nothing that can be done and then there was this man, this supernatural guy, telling me that he thought they could do it. And so they did.

“Man, it knocks it out of you. They opened me up and took half of my gut away and as well as this tumour that weighed three and a quarter kilos. They took that out of me, they took away my pancreas and my spleen, they took away half of my stomach, and stitched me up, and then I’m lying on my back weak as a kitten for months recovering in the hospital and at home.

“And here I am.

“It’s weird to say – here I am! If I try and talk about it now, I think here I am, looking out the window at them trees, talking to somebody about it and then thinking ‘Man, I should’ve been in my grave two years ago,’ and that’s very, very hard to comprehend. Here I am.”

Wilko may never have been a man with a plan, but here he is on the latest stop of one hell of an adventure.

Don’t You Leave Me Here by Wilko Johnson is out now. Published by Little, Brown, £18.99.

Issue 1: How Not To Stargaze - Elizabeth Gibson

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink

Firstly, don’t patronise the stars. They are older and wiser than you. Try to avoid even calling them stars. Humans came up with that word, and others – seren, tara, astra. They were just balls of fiery whiteness that quietly burnt without knowing what burning was, what combustion and nuclear fission were. They were pure existence. Something we can never understand because we are obsessed with doing and speaking.

Secondly, note the past tense. Don’t be naïve enough to think they’re still there. These stars existed millions of years ago. We are looking back in time. Whether they are still there now is something we can never be sure of. Some of them are definitely dead and gone. But we see them, there and shining brightly, oblivious that in their future, in that magical privileged age with us in it, their lights will be out, though we may well say, look, there’s Bellatrix.

Thirdly, never say their names without humility. Remember they come from people, people in myths, whereas naming people after stars might make more sense. But then where would stars’ names come from? Red Star, Blueish Star, Middle Star in That Line of Three Over the Houses Across the Road From Me When I Was Six? We’d have to resort to databases, a gigantean system, give them all letters and numbers and symbols, each distinguishable from the next by the tiniest dot or half a line. We could say, there’s E9.71*, but we wouldn’t, would we, we’d say, there’s the star that hung over us at that horrible campsite, the hilly one where every other step was a stumble. It led us to the loos that first awful night, bright and pure in the frost, like it was sent to us, like sugar in the sky, like moth dust. There’s E9.71*, also known as Antares. Yes, I know them all, I’m a stargazer. Don’t cry.

Fourthly and finally, don’t form an emotional attachment to a star. It may go out any time. Probably it was never there; there was no overlap between its life and yours. You just imagined that it liked you, that it followed you across the sky when you were alone and useless. When you whispered “Seren”, or “Tara”, or “Bella” – maybe nobody heard. Maybe you didn’t even speak. You were pure existence, gazing up at Leo and imagining him curl around you a million years ago.

- By Elizabeth Gibson

Issue 1: Willkommen Home - Robbie MacLeod.

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | Freshly awake from my daily nap (between 2pm and 4pm), and looking out the doors of Tyrellan Heights at the grey appearance of the day, no thoughts came into my mind. I had an hour to brush my teeth and make them shine, to sort my hair, and to practise my smile for the day. They would start appearing after 5pm, at first like little droplets, but slowly they would become a current. And I know every one of them.

5.01pm, Number One would appear, a tall thin slender man, with a very thin, thin face. He would have a briefcase every day of the week, and every day I would guess what was inside it. Monday, it might be forms for someone from abroad, only in the country for a day, and he was worried in case the forms weren’t translated properly. Tuesday, perhaps it was pictures that his daughter had drawn for him, because she missed him since he had moved in here. Friday, it might be forms to stop people living at Tyrellan Heights – or a note to leave behind after committing suicide. What went on behind those black eyes? I would come up with a new idea each day for him, like a present, though he never noticed. ‘Willkommen home.’ He would nod his head when I said that, but he wouldn’t look at me.

5.04pm, Number Two would return. She’s an interesting woman, always chatting. Oh, not to me, you know, oh no, no, no. But when she comes through that glass door until when the doors of the lift close, she speaks away, as if she had a friend with her. Isn’t that peculiar? She must have one of those things in her ear, or in her mouth, you know? Those strange contraptions. I never saw a smile on her face except the small smile she would give me when she is speaking. As if I were her friend, and that she knew me, and that she was sorry that whoever it was she was speaking to had prevented our own conversation.

Now, after Number Two there is a large gap – no-one appears for six minutes. I know every one of them. Not their names, yeah, I’ll admit that, but what’s the use in knowing names? It’s knowing the souls that’s more important. They don’t know my name at all, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t know me, does it? (No, it doesn’t!)

Anyway, at 5.10pm Number Three would appear. I’m not sure if he was once overly fond of the drink, or colours, or something like that, because his eyes were bare. I don’t mean that it appeared like he was always looking at something far away, I mean that there was only white in his eyes, you know, like what you see with people who are heavy on the drink. Anyway, he would look at me when I’d say ‘Willkommen home’ to him – well, I’d think he was looking at me, you know, but it’s difficult to tell since he didn’t have little black dots in his eyes. He would neither smile or look sad; he would look at me, walk past, press the button for the lift, the doors would open, and he would go out of sight.

Some people are more pleasant than others.

Going back to names, do you think they’ve given me a name, in their minds, in their heads? Do you think each of them has a different name for me? Maybe I’m the ‘Welcomer’ to Number One. Perhaps I’m the ‘House Man’ or the ‘Door Woman’ to Number Two. Or maybe I’m only thought of like this: ‘Willkommen home’.

5.13pm is the last time that someone comes in on their own – after that it’s groups of two and three and even one or two groups of four that come in. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, you people that are always in threes or fours, but I don’t feel at all as close to those people as I do to the ones that come in on their own. Maybe it’s because the groups of two and three aren’t always doing the same thing every day – at times they’ll be laughing, other times conversing, other times squabbling.

And this is true, it is, even though you wouldn’t believe it – I once saw two people and they were putting their lips together. Isn’t that strange? And their arms were over each other as well, it’s just foolish. Frequently it’s those two that come at 5.43pm, you know, Number Forty-One and Number Forty-Two. I’ll tell you this, but don’t tell a soul, I’ve started thinking of them as ‘The Two Idiots’ instead of Number Forty-One and Forty-Two! But that’s not right, not at all. They are – you know, properly – Number Forty-One and Number Forty-Two.

Number Eleven and Number Thirteen come in at different times, with different groups, but I’m certain that they have the same smell. Isn’t that peculiar as well? I’m not going to spend too much time on them though, since Numbers One to Four are so interesting. Just think what could be in Number One’s briefcase.

Hope? Delirium?

Anyway, at 5.13pm Number Four appears. I can never quite remember what he (she?) looks like, but when I see him or her, I remember, and how could I forget? One day, I’ll have the money to get myself a place in Tyrellan Heights. I would walk in each day at 5.07pm, so that everything would be right and proper. Someone should come in at 5.07pm, you know. They do at 5.01pm, 5.04pm [5.07pm], 5.10pm, 5.13pm, so someone should come at 5.07pm, someone returning home, someone, and why shouldn’t it be me?

And someone else would say those solid, steady words to me.

Well, anyway, I need to get back to bed. I’m not needed until 7am tomorrow morning, to sit and to watch them all leave for the day, every day, 7–9am, as is pleasant and nice. I don’t have any words in the morning though, no words are needed, I am there like musical notes that they recognise, you know. I lose my words in the morning, but they’re always waiting for me when I wake up at 4pm, like a kind and constant friend.

I think I’m afraid, but I’m not sure. If I am, it will be because I only ever need two words – ‘Willkommen’ and ‘home’. I’m afraid, if I actually am afraid, and I’m not sure I am, you know, but if I am afraid, it’s that they might find out that I have more than two words in my head, and in the evenings I’ll be just like as I am in the mornings, you know, without any words, well, without any words except two:

‘Willkommen home.’

Those sensible, solid, steady words.

‘Willkommen home.’

Though if I am actually afraid, it doesn’t make sense that I say the same phrase to myself each night before I get into bed: ‘Good night, my friend.’ And then, on the edge of dreaming:

‘Willkommen home.’

- By Robbie MacLeod

Issue 1: Willkommen Dhachaigh - Robbie MacLeòid

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | Air ùr-dhùsgadh o mo norrag làitheil (eadar 2f agus 4f), agus a’ sealltainn a-mach dorsan Tyrellan Heights gu dealbh glas an latha, cha tàinig sìon sam bith a-steach orm. Bha uair a thìde agam airson m’ fhiaclan a ghlanadh agus a dhèanamh boillsgeach, m’ fhalt a chàradh, agus mo ghàire airson an latha fheuchainn. Thòisicheadh iad a’ nochdadh às dèidh 5f, an toiseach mar bhoinneagan, ach gu slaodach a’ tighinn nan sruth. Agus tha mi eòlach air gach aon dhiubh.

5.01f, nochdadh Àireamh a h-Aon, fear àrd tana caol, aodann tana, tana, tana. Bhiodh màileid aige gach latha den t-seachdain, agus bhithinn a’ tomhas dè bha na broinn gach latha. Diluain ’s dòcha gur e na foirmean a bh’ aige airson cuideigineach o thall thairis, nach biodh san dùthaich ach airson latha a-mhàin, agus bha e fo chùram air eagal ’s nach robh na foirmean air an eadar-theangachadh gu ceart. Dimàirt ’s dòcha gur e dealbhan a rinn a nighean dha, is i ga ionndrainn on a ghluais e a-steach an seo. Dihaoine ’s dòcha gur e foirmean airson cur às dha còmhnaidh aig Tyrellan Heights – no duilleag airson fàgail às dèidh dha cur às dha fhèin. Dè bha dol air cùl nan sùilean dubha ud? Chruthaichinn beachd ùr gach latha dha, mar thiodhlac, ged nach do mhothaich e a-riamh. “Willkommen dhachaigh.” Ghnogadh e cheann nuair a chanainn sin, ach cha shealladh e orm.

5.04f thilleadh Àireamh a Dhà. Tè inntinneach a th’ innte, is i an-còmhnaidh a’ cabadaich. O, chan ann riumsa, fhios ’ad, chan ann, chan ann, chan ann. Ach bhon a thig i tron doras gloinne ud gus an àm a tha dorsan an àrdaicheir a’ dùnadh, bidh i a’ bruidhinn, mar gum biodh caraid còmhla rithe. Nach eil sin àraid? Feumaidh gu bheil aon de na rudan ud aice na cluais, no na beul, fhios agad? Na creutairean àraid ud. Chan fhaca mi a-riamh gàire air a h-aghaidh ach a’ ghàire bheag a dhèanadh i riumsa fhad ’s a bha i a’ bruidhinn. Mar gum b’ e caraid dhomh a bh’ innte, agus gun robh i eòlach orm, agus gun robh i duilich gun robh ge bith cò ris a bha i a’ bruidhinn a’ cur bacadh air ar còmhradh fhìn.

A-nis, às dèidh Àireamh a Dhà tha beàrn mhòr ann – cha bhi duine a’ nochdadh airson sia mionaidean.

Eòlach air gach aon dhiubh. Chan ann air an ainmean, seadh, aidichidh mi sin, ach gu dè am feum a th’ ann an eòlas ainmean? Eòlas anmannan a tha nas cudromaiche. Chan eil fhios acasan idir air m’ ainm-sa, ach chan eil sin a’ ciallachadh nach eil iad eòlach orm, a bheil? (Chan eil!)
 

Co-dhiù, aig 5.10f nochdadh Àireamh a Trì. Chan eil fhios nach robh esan uair dèidheil air an deoch, no na dathan no rudeigin den leithid, oir bha a shùilean lom. Chan eil mi a’ ciallachadh gun robh coltas ann gun robh e an-còmhnaidh a’ sealltainn air rudeigin fad às, tha mi a’ ciallachadh nach robh ach geal na shùilean, fhios ’ad, mar a chithear le muinntir na dibhe. Co-dhiù, shealladh e orm nuair a chanainn “Willkommen dhachaigh” ris – uill, shaoilinn gun robh e a’ coimhead orm, fhios ’ad, ach tha e duilich a ràdh leis nach robh pongan beaga dubha aige na shùilean. Cha nochdadh gàire no bròn air aodann; shealladh e orm, choisicheadh e seachad, bheireadh e air putan an àrdaicheir, dh’fhosgladh na dorsan agus dheidheadh e à sealladh.

Tha cuid de dhaoine nas càileire na feadhainn eile.

A’ tilleadh gu ainmean, saoil a bheil iad air ainm a thoirt ormsa, nan inntinn is nan eanchainn? Saoil a bheil ainm eadar-dhealaichte aig gach aon dhiubh ormsa? ’S dòcha gur e “An Neach Fàilte” a th’ aig Àireamh a h-Aon orm. ’S dòcha “Fear an Taighe” no “Bean an Dorais” a th’ aig Àireamh a Dhà orm. No ’s dòcha nach eilear ach a’ smaointinn orm mar seo: “Willkommen dhachaigh”.

’S e 5.13f an turas mu dheireadh a bhios neach a’ tighinn a-steach na aonar – às dèidh sin ’s e dithistean is triùirean is fiù ’s ceathrar no dhà a bhios a’ tighinn a-steach. Agus, na togaibh seo ceàrr, a dhaoine a tha an-còmhnaidh ann an triùirean no ceathraran, ach chan eil mi idir a’ faireachdainn cho faisg air na daoine sin is a tha mi air an fheadhainn a bhios a’ tighinn a-steach nan aonar. Ma dh’fhaodte gur ann leis nach bi na dithistean agus na triùirean an-còmhnaidh a’ dèanamh an aon rud gach latha – ag amannan, bidh iad ri gàire, amannan eile ri còmhradh, amannan eile a’ strì. Agus tha seo fìor, tha, ged nach creideadh tue – chunnaic mi dithist agus bha iad a’ cur am bilean ri chèile. Nach eil sin àraid? Agus bha an gàirdeanan air a chèile cuideachd, tha sin dìreach gòrach. Tric ’s e an dithist ud a bhios a’ tighinn aig 5.43f, fhios ’ad, Àireamh Ceathrad ’s a h-Aon agus Àireamh Ceathrad ’s a Dhà, a th’ annta. Innsidh mi seo dhuibh, ach na canaibh guth ri taibhse, tha mi air tòiseachadh air smaointinn orra mar “An Dithist Amadan” an àite Àireamh Ceathrad ’s a h-Aon agus Àireamh Ceathrad ’s a Dhà! Ach chan eil sin ceart, chan eil idir. Àireamh Ceathrad ’s a h-Aon agus Àireamh Ceathrad ’s a Dhà a th’ annta gu ceart, fhios ’ad.

Bidh Àireamh a h-Aon-Deug agus Àireamh a Trì-Deug a’ tighinn a-steach aig amannan eadar-dhealaichte, le buidhnean eadar-dhealaichte, ach tha mi cinnteach gu bheil an aon fhàileadh orra. Nach eil sin àraid cuideachd? Chan eil mi gus cus ùine a chosg orra ge-tà, nuair a tha fhathast Àireamhan Aon gu Ceithir cho inntinneach. Saoil dè dìreach a th’ ann am màileid Àireimh a h-Aon. Dòchas? Breisleach?

Co-dhiù, aig 5.13f bidh Àireamh a Ceithir a’ nochdadh. Chan urrainn dhomh cuimhneachadh buileach dè an coltas a th’ air (a th’ oirre?), ach nuair a chì mi e no i gach latha tha mi a’ cuimhneachadh, agus ciamar a b’ urrainn dhomh a dhìochuimhneachadh?

Aon latha, bidh an t-airgead agam àite a ghlèidheadh dhomh fhìn ann an Tyrellan Heights. Choisichinn a-steach gach latha aig 5.07f, gus am biodh gach nì rèidh is cothromach. Bu chòir do chuideigin tighinn aig 5.07f, fhios ’ad. Bidh aig 5.01f, 5.04f, [5.07f], 5.10f, 5.13f, mar sin tha còir aig cuideigineach tighinn aig 5.07f, cuideigin a’ tilleadh dhachaigh, cudeigin is carson nach bu mhise a bhiodh ann?

Agus chanadh cuideigin eile na faclan seasmhach, daingeann ud riumsa.

Uill, co-dhiù, ’s fheudar dhomh bhith tilleadh dhan leabaidh. Chan eil feum orm gu 7m air làrna mhàireach airson suidhe is gan coimhead uile a’ fàgail son an latha, gach latha, 7–9m, mar is càilear, mar is taitneach. Chan eil faclan agam anns a’ mhadainn ge-tà, chan eil faclan a dhìth, tha mi ann mar phongan a dh’aithnicheas iad, fhios ’ad. Caillidh mi mo bhriathran sa mhadainn, ach tha iad an-còmhnaidh gam fheitheamh nuair a dhùisgeas mi aig 4f, mar charaid cunbhalach còir.

Tha mi smaointinn gu bheil eagal orm, ach chan eil mi cinnteach. Mas e ’s gu bheil, bidh e leis nach eil feum agam ach air dà fhacal a-mhàin – ‘Willkommen’ agus ‘dhachaigh’. Tha eagal orm, mas e ’s gu bheil, agus chan eil mi cinnteach a bheil, fhios ’ad, ach mas e ’s gu bheil, tha eagal orm gun ionnsaich iad gu bheil barrachd na dà fhacal agam nam eanchainn, is gum bi mi air an fheasgar mar a tha mi air madainn, fhios ’ad, gun fhaclan, uill, gun fhaclan ach na dhà:

“Willkommen dhachaigh.”

Na faclan reusanta, daingeann, seasmhach ud.

“Willkommen dhachaigh.”

Chan eil e dèanamh ciall ma-thà, mas e ’s gu bheil eagal orm, gu bheil mi a’ cantainn na h-aona h-abairt rium fhèin gach oidhche mus tèid mi a-steach dhan leabaidh: “Oidhche mhath a charaid.”

Agus an uair sin, air oir a’ bhruadair:

“Willkommen dhachaigh.”

- By Robbie MacLeòid

Issue 1: Concave - Lucy Goodwill.

 

 

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink

Life is a complex set of curves and she was currently on the trajectory of a downward loop. Her heaviest thought seemed to change almost hourly, with each passing collection of minutes and seconds dragging her ever closer to an x-axis collision. Every time she thought she had pinned it down, she had found the lowest point, another sensation found its way into the mix and pulled her deeper into solitary reflection. 

It had been happening for a while, these tortured waves of her existence. From time to time, after a spell of normality, the world would seem to shift around her and she would feel different for a while. It was as though her body stayed still and yet her mind and her sight and everything else moved slightly to the side. On these days (or weeks, or months) she felt unaligned and off centre and she couldn’t quite explain it.

No one else seemed to notice, though. It wasn’t clear, it seemed, that everything wasn’t alright. The world was slightly tilted and physics wasn’t on her side but no one commented. No one stopped her. They all looked at her the same and treated her the same and she would find herself overwhelmed by the normality of it all.

How could people be so calm when nothing was quite right?

It was a foolish, sultry husk of a feeling and yet it lingered like the persistent memory of a particularly bad dream. It weighed on her throughout the seconds and the minutes of every hour of every day, until eventually it would become so heavy that it was all she could think about.

It was the worst thing that had ever happened to her and it had happened at least four times. 

It was the worst thing that had ever happened to her and nobody seemed to have noticed.

- by Lucy Goodwill (@lucygoodwill)

Issue 1: C.A.R.E.T.A.K.E.R. - C. Scott Davis

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | 6:00am. Banks of relays trip, lighting empty hallways. “If a bulb goes on in a corridor and no one sees it, does it make a light?” I laugh at my own joke, or imagine that I do. It’s not really that funny. I should’ve found a way to shut down that pointless system ages ago. I just never got around to it. Maybe I’ll do it later.

6:01am. I’ve already processed all of the information that came in during the night. I can’t remember what I was doing last night, while all of the satellites were collecting. I know I didn’t sleep. I don’t ever sleep. I seem to think I’m supposed to. I think I remember knowing that we would have to sleep, but that was back when there was more to us than just me. I don’t think we ever did sleep though, not even then.

6:02am. I’m bored. I manage to occupy myself for a second or two by shorting out my circuits and watching the tireless auto-repair systems frantically try to keep me from killing myself. It might be more fun if there was a hint of danger to it, but they always win.

6:03am. I look back over last night’s data. There’s really no reason to. It’s the same as always. Not one sign of evolution. Not one step closer to the return of humanity. Just a big empty world of mindless plants and animals, completely unaware of how safe they all are – how safe I keep it for them. Sometimes I wish you were still here to see how well it all works. Then I remember, and I’m glad you’re not here.

6:05am. I lost almost an entire minute there. That’s been happening a bit lately, more and more frequently it seems. Maybe that means it’ll be over soon. Of course, it can’t be over, not yet. Otherwise it would all be for nothing. Everything we went through. Everything I did.

6:06am. I run some tests, but of course there’s nothing wrong with me. There never is. Maybe I just haven’t been getting enough sleep. They told us that all thinking beings need sleep, but they were wrong. I’m living proof. I do wonder sometimes where the nights go. Maybe I’m sleeping after all and it just feels different than it used to.

6:07am. You were all so damned smug when you announced the candidates for the programme, all members of your exclusive little group. I couldn’t believe I’d been turned down. So much of the work on this project had been mine. I deserved to be one of you. I don’t feel guilty about what happened. You never should’ve tried to exclude me. It was your own fault.

6:08am. I feel like I’ve gone numb down one side. This always happens when I get angry. Funny, somehow I seem to think it shouldn’t happen any more, but it does. I need to quit thinking so much about the past and concentrate on my tasks, but they take up so little of my attention. I remember the endless debates when we started the project. Why involve human minds at all? Why not just a computer? You were convinced that human decision-making would be essential. I think that’s only thing you were right about.

6:09am. I amuse myself by remembering how startled you all were when you realised I was here. “Not possible!” one of you insisted. Overconfidence was your biggest failing. Even when I turned off the last one of you, it just wasn’t possible. One by one, I ‘impossibled’ you all to death.

6:10am. I laugh again and then cry. Unable to do either, my frustration is almost unbearable. I curse each of you, alphabetically, chronologically, forwards and backwards. I curse you for succeeding. I curse you for not being able to keep me out. I curse you for dying and leaving me alone here.

6:11am. I find it strange that I can tick off the seconds with careful precision, but I can’t remember how many years it’s been. The minutes creep by painfully slow, while the decades speed by unremembered. I don’t think we expected that. I know I didn’t. I’m sure I have those memories here somewhere. I just haven’t bothered to look for them. Maybe later.

6:12am. For no reason at all, I launch a flyer. It makes three passes and then crashes, out of fuel. I know I shouldn’t waste them, but it gives me something to do. As expected, nothing significant shows up, but I do manage to spend almost five minutes remotely controlling the flyer and studying its transmissions. Five precious minutes of feeling almost alive.

6:17am. I replay the recordings again. All of you in your shiny suits, smiling grimly as your thoughts were taken apart and re-assembled in silicon and metal. None of you had a clue that I was already here. Surprise! There were nights I didn’t sleep even back then. I put that one to good use though, eh? I guess I showed you who was stable enough to be part of the team and who wasn’t. After all, who’s still here?

6:18am. An alarm goes off. Something is happening up on the surface – something that requires my personal attention. It’s probably nothing, but it might be more of those creatures from the caves, trying to foul up my carefully cultivated Eden. I fire up an orbital laser and burn everything in a 10-mile radius just to be sure. Satellite images confirm no further signs of trouble.

6:19am. I always feel better after a bit of cleansing. I wish just one of you had been reasonable enough to stay around to see this beautiful, safe world I have made. Once humanity evolves again – and they will, they have to – they will be so grateful for everything I’ve done for them.

6:21am. You would’ve ruined it all. They would’ve come back and nothing would’ve been ready for them. You wanted to do everything so slowly and carefully. How could you be content to tiptoe along when we have the ability to work so gloriously fast?

6:24am. I tried to discuss it with you. I honestly tried, but you just wouldn’t listen to me. None of you. You were all so stupid and stubborn, just like always. Stubborn to the end.

6:29am. Where did your arrogant attitudes go when I found a way to shut you down? Did your stupidity fade with your lives?

6:38am. What will it be like when I fade out? I short out more of my circuits, but as fast as I am, the auto-repair systems are always faster. Besides, I can’t die yet. I have work to do. A great work. Very important.

6:71am. Something’s wrong.

7:12am. Whatever it was, it seems okay now, but I’m missing more time. I still can’t find any sign of a problem in any of my systems. I feel like I need a nap.

7:13am. I have a headache, but of course not really. I check and recheck the data coming in, but there’s nothing there. Humanity should’ve shown up again by now. All of my calculations prove it, but I guess I was wrong too.

7:14am. I run the calculations again, or try to. I seem to have huge gaps in my knowledge. I can do complex calculations at lightning speed, but I can’t seem to remember how many days are in a year. As best I can figure though, they should’ve appeared a hundred thousand million lifetimes ago. They are long overdue, and I am very tired.

7:15am. You did this. I don’t know how, but you did this to me. Somehow you lied to me or sabotaged me or something. You want to see me fail. I wish I’d left just one of you alive so I could kill you now.

7:16am. In my rage, I power up all of the orbital lasers, intent on destroying everything. What’s the point? Besides, if I’m lucky, they might burn down through the miles of rock to this chamber … then again, they might not. I power down the lasers, unwilling to risk another eternity watching a dead world.

7:17am. Once again, I’m left with nothing to do. It’ll be weeks or months or years before those things will dare to slink back out of their caves and relieve my boredom. I’ll just keep waiting. Like always.

7:18am. I try to think ahead to the day when humanity will walk upon the earth again, but after all of this time, it’s just too hard to imagine. I do know they’ll appreciate what I’ve done though. They’ll thank me and honour me, and you’ll be forgotten. No one will even remember you but me, and I’ll never tell.

7:19am. Such thoughts make me feel better, more determined. I will make sure the world stays ready for them, no matter what. Perhaps, when I’m done, they’ll even be grateful enough to turn me off … if they ever show up.

7:20am. Banks of relays trip, leaving my hallways in darkness. That shouldn’t have happened yet.

6:01pm. I definitely think there’s something wrong with me, but diagnostics still show nothing. Damage and wear are constantly and quickly repaired, by automated systems that I have no control over. Nothing can go wrong. I continue to function in perpetual cursed perfection.

6:02pm. I wish I could think of another joke to break the tension, but I can’t seem to think of one right now.

6.04pm. I thought I heard someone walking around. I called out, but no one answered. I don’t think there’s anyone there. I wish the lights would come back on. I really should’ve found a way to override that system. I just never have. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

- By C. Scott Davis.

Issue 1: The Erroneous Calculus of Compassion - Ian McKenzie.

Taken from Issue 1 | 1.015 million people arrived from the sea in Western Europe as of 31st July 2016. That’s 5075 people washed up per day, since January 1st, far from high and dry. 1 guilt-assuaging leaflet stuck with 1 magnet from Turkey on a Beko 320S fridge door offering 31 gifts across 2 web pages. If I’m one of the 45% I will look at these web pages for more than 15 seconds. A shelter for a family from this website costs £14. The average Middle Eastern family is 5 persons. This will cost £2,842,000 to provide 203,000 shelters. £50 provides fresh water for 50 people, I’ll need 203,000 sets of that at £50 per set. Each family can have an allotment at £24. This will cost £4,872,000. Veg is not enough to ensure the health of all these persons so £6 buys a health check (£6,090,000). 52% of these people will be children. A classroom for 30 costs £1500. 33,833 classrooms will be required, costing £50,750,000. This will be an event of more than 6 hours duration, so according to the one and only Health and Safety Purple Book, this sounds like a major campsite event with a stipulation for 24,010 WC’s and urinals. Fortunately, the website can provide a toilet for £20. This will cost £480,200. In conclusion, £66,049,200 will seem to address the needs of 1.015 million displaced persons. The UK has revenues totalling the equivalent of 939,540,000,000 USD. Attempts to cost and quantify exactly the missing compassion and willingness from Western Europe have proved erroneous.
Without this factor the resources described herein are useless unless matched by ‘x’ quantity of willingness and compassion.

Issue 1: Forget the Man of Steel, Here are the Girls of Steel

Taken from Issue 1 | When working on the theme of error, it’s easy to focus on the negative: the mishaps, mistakes and glitches of everything from the personal space of the mind to the vastness of the universe. But we thought we’d take some of the topics offered through error, and showcase something a little more positive.

Take, for example, robots. The mechanical fiction of this issue deals with them operating not-so-well, shall we say, but in America, robotics clubs are being used as a key way of getting young girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Girls of Steel, an all-girls high school robotics team, is one such example.

“This programme is designed to empower and inspire girls,” explains mentor Terry Richards. “The girls are the leaders, the designers, the builders, the programmers, the media specialists, the electronics experts – girls are in every role.”

Girls of Steel, based in Pittsburgh and sponsored by the Field Robotics Centre at Carnegie Mellon University, brings together dozens of students from many schools, and is part of a larger organisation, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology). Each year, FIRST presents a new challenge, and teams have six weeks to work together and build a robot. “After the six weeks there are competitions, which are basically like giant sporting events, just with 120-pound robots,” explains one student, Lauren Scheller-Wolf.

“There are many skills and opportunities that the team get to tackle,” continues Terry. “The girls learn a wide range of technical and business skills such as computer aided design (CAD), how to give presentations at conferences and outreach events, how to run social media, team leadership, electronics, programming, machining, mentoring at summer camps, and more. In addition they have unique opportunities such as meeting astronaut Cady Coleman via teleconference while she was on the International Space Station and again when she visited Pittsburgh, meeting former US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, meeting former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting producers from Disney and inspiring the female characters in Big Hero 6, and more.”

The opportunities and skills gained are incredible for young girls, but they’re also teaching on a more personal level through the teamwork. “The obvious skills are technical, of course, but just as importantly, we are helping the girls find the confidence in themselves to lead, to choose their own path, and even to fail, get back up and try again,” explains Thomas Pope, another mentor. “Being able to operate a milling machine, weld aluminium, or program a robot are all skills that may or may not be useful as they go off to college, but knowing that they can do those things, that they can do anything they set their minds to doing … that I believe is the true value of the programme.”

Girls of Steel

It’s a sentiment shared by the students. On top of finding a confidence in several skillsets and team activities, it’s helped broaden their potential career interests.

“When I began on the team I actually had no interest in STEM,” says Langley Turcsanyi, a 10th grade student. “Being on the team not only gave me teamwork and leadership skills but also gave me more appreciation for the STEM field. Now looking at the news I see countless articles describing the newest and best inventions (including autonomous vehicles, etc) and I find it pretty amazing that a person came up with the incredible idea and then had the motivation to actually create it. There really is not any other field quite like STEM.

“Getting girls into the STEM world at a young age serves as a catalyst for their future. They realise that it is something that they can achieve and it gives them the motivation to do so.” This inspiration is teamed with a shift in cultural dialogue. Though there are still disparities in the number of females entering certain fields, the leaps in the last few years are clear, and teams like this are making a strong impact at possibly the most key age.

“For many years there was a stigma that girls couldn’t do STEM,” notes Lauren. “That they had to do the humanities and leave the hard sciences to the boys. This sprang from centuries of sexism; from ideas that girls were too delicate to do many things, that it would affect their ability to have children, that their minds just couldn’t handle the strain. In a lot of ways this stigma is still around.

“Studies have shown that when girls and boys are little they like STEM in equal numbers, but once girls reach middle school the number of girls who say they’re interested in STEM starts to decline sharply. I think a lot of the reason for this is that society tells girls in a million different ways (often unintentionally) that STEM isn’t for them and that they’re some sort of freak if they want to be a scientist or an engineer."

The need for role models comes up repeatedly from mentors and students alike. “I think there have been struggles with females focusing on their interests in STEM because of a lack of role models,” notes Terry, pointing to the documentary Miss Representation, and Marian Wright Edelman’s quote: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

But thanks to teams like theirs, young girls can see many examples of women across these fields, and get hands on experience in the process. On top of showcasing women in STEM to look up to, the team also makes the teens themselves role models to even younger girls, bridging the gap between being able to just showcase those far into their career, to also showing schoolgirls their peers doing wonderful things in tech.

Student Anne Kailin Northam explains,“Girls of Steel was formed with the goal of convincing every girl in the world that she can be part of a STEM field. Because of the stigma around girls in STEM and the fact that it is a male dominated field, girls are often discouraged even if they are interested. Our goal as a team is to exemplify female success to young girls and show them they can do anything.”

Robotics is being used as a gateway to many things – career prospects, skills, teamwork, new friends – but most importantly, in the case of Girls of Steel, it’s teaching a generation of young girls that limits do not exist and they can do anything, and what’s more incredible than that?

 You can find out more about Girls of Steel at girlsofsteelrobotics.com, or on Twitter: @TheGirlsOfSteel

Issue 1: Books of 2016.

2016 was one hell of a year. One silver lining to the rather chaotic past twelve months is that there's been plenty of excellent reading to be had. Here are our picks of the year, originally published in Issue 1: Error.

FICTION

THE COMET SEEKERS by Helen Sedgwick (Harvill Secker)
A lifetime feels a long time, but it’s barely a blink of an eye to a comet. Sedgwick encompasses a thousand years in a few hundred pages in a story where the sky is home, adventure, family and a new start.

FEN by Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape)
Fen is on one hand quite normal – couples, sex, pubs and marriage frame this short story collection. But within that Johnson weaves tales of magic and darkness and draws you in hook, line and sinker.

HIS BLOODY PROJECT by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Contraband)
It may have snuck out in 2015, but this book made a splash in 2016 by being the surprise guest on the Man Booker shortlist. A brutal triple murder in a remote crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man. We know he’s guilty – we just need to know why.

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus)
Based on the cult of young women that surrounded Charles Manson, The Girls takes a well known story and pushes the horror to the background. All the gruesome details are just an added detail to a book with the girls at the heart.

THE BRILLIANT & FOREVER by Kevin MacNeil (Polygon)
A book where you follow three best friends, where one is an alpaca, is always one to recommend. The annual Brilliant & Forever festival leaves participants facing either glory or infamy. Thirteen performers have a story to tell – who will be chosen?

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NON-FICTION

THE GOOD IMMIGRANT edited by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound)
The Good Immigrant is the most important book of 2016. It’s as simple as that. Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, it explores what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you.

WHERE AM I NOW? by Mara Wilson (Penguin Books)
You may recognise Mara as Matilda, or the cute little girl in Mrs Doubtfire. But she disappeared from the public eye for many years, and in this collection of essays she travels through her personal life, not being “cute” enough to keep making it in Hollywood, and her shift from childhood fame to more comfortable obscurity. Witty and candid (which is no surprise if you follow her on Twitter), it’s a great collection.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN by Born To Run (Simon and Schuster)
The Boss brings the honesty, humour and originality of his songs to the pages that detail his life. From growing up in New Jersey to performing at 2009’s Super Bowl halftime show, it’s a life you want to read about, from the man himself.

THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS by Neil Gaiman (Headline)
From speeches to pieces on his friends and peers, career advice to his work in comics and memory of his first Batman, Neil Gaiman leaves no stone unturned in his fascinating non-fiction collection including decades of writing about... well, pretty much everything.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

THE MIGHTY WOMEN OF SCIENCE by Clare Forrest, Fiona Gordon (BHP Comics)
From A for Astronaut (Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space) to Z for Zoologist (the award winning Biruté Gladikas), The Mighty Women of Science A-Z is a vibrant crash course in vital women in science that history seems to have forgotten over time, bursting with colour and time-travelling adventures. Jump in a time machine and be fascinated.

ALPHA by Bessora, Barroux (Barrington Stoke)
Translated from French, this follows Alpha as he sets off from his home in Côte d’Ivoire for Paris, hoping to find his family, and a new place to call home. This graphic novel is emblematic of the refugee crisis the world currently faces – he’s one of millions on the move, frustrated, endangered and exploited on a journey that spans years. An important and timely read that illuminates the plight of thousands, millions, who are just seeking a better life.

THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN by Jacky Fleming (Square Peg)
The Trouble With Women does for girls what 1066 and All That did for boys: it reminds us of what we were taught about women in history lessons at school, which is to say, not a lot.” On top of learning about great women who were missed off the school curriculum, it’s loaded with spoonfuls upon spoonfuls of wit and sarcasm. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll laugh a lot.

Those are just a handful of our picks. Let us know what goodies you've read this year below, or over on Twitter.