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Common Ground

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Sometimes when I’m in counselling I feel like I’m trying to win something. I chip away at my counsellor, finding new angles and new ways of expressing how troubled I am in the hope that eventually he’ll say, “You know what, you are the most mental person ever.” I’ll then leave the session as the certified Champion of Being Unhappy. The King of Being Depressed. There’ll be a huge handover ceremony where I receive my Sadness Crown from current holder Claude from The Apprentice*. Oasis will reform for a special one-off performance of Stop Crying Your Heart Out. Girls will line up to give me a big hug and tell me how I’m the bravest and most emotionally vulnerable and sensitive boy they’ve ever seen and if it’s not too much trouble, and if I’m feeling up to it, then maybe I could go for a drink with them after the coronation. I’d then choose my favourite one. Based on looks.

“Since it happened, I just feel like there’s something wrong with me,” I say. “Like I’m ugly.”

“Do you think that’s how other people see you?” My counsellor says.


“We discussed last time keeping a diary of positive things that happen throughout the day. Have you managed to keep that up?”

“No. I don’t think it will help.”

I’m not conceding anything to this motherfucker. Keep my defence strong and organised, and leave with a clean sheet.

“Have you ever felt like me? Like everything that happens is a complete shit-fest?” I say.

This is one of my favourite things to do – I flip the session, hitting him on the counter-attack. The student becomes the master.

“Well actually,” he says, “when I was your age, I had quite a similar sense that the world was against me. My mother was ill, she had breast cancer…”

How is this like your mate having sex with a girl you fancy? I think.

“…and I found it hard to process, I saw it as an injustice. It took a lot of effort but eventually I managed to start seeing things in a different way, and began to look at the positives.”

“What happened to your mum?” I say.

“She survived, luckily.”

SHE DIDN’T EVEN DIE! Sick of this geezer. Cry me a river, mate!

40 minutes later I leave the session. I was on top form. I told him about all the bad things that have happened to me in the last year, and batted away all of his suggestions. I picture him at home, unable to sleep, telling his wife about this new patient of his that he can’t take his mind off.

“He just can’t be saved, Claire. There’s no one like him.”

He frantically emails all the world’s leading Psychotherapists, pleading for their help on this vital case. They get together in a secret location in Stoke. Looking over my file, they scratch their heads and bang their fists on the big oak table they’re sat around. Rejection from girls he likes; his friends don’t message him that much; he sometimes worries about money. There’s no solution – the frustration is too much for them. Finally the lead-shrink, who is called Vince, screams:


I often get so excited fantasising about my sadness that the happiness induced threatens to blow the whole thing. It’s a delicate balance.

I walk into Greggs to get a tasty-yet-affordable snack for the bus journey home. In the shop a guy is talking bollocks to his girlfriend**.

“They just need to get on with it. We should send Farage in. He’d get us out straight away. That’s what we want. That’s what we voted for. Half of ‘em wanna stop it still.”

“I guess there’s a lot for them to sort out,” his girlfriend says.

“You sound just like one of them. Never mind Europe, I’m gonna have to leave you if you carry on like this***.”

I hate this guy – I can’t wait until the Economic Apocalypse that Brexit causes destroys his life. His face will be a picture.  A picture of a stupid, greasy man. The audacity to do a pun as well. Who does he think he is? I bet he’s never even done stand-up.

On the bus I get my phone out and read the Guardian to make sure I know why that guy was a knobhead. After this I think a bit about how bad my life is and how counselling can’t help. As the bus comes to my stop, I’m lost in one of my fantasies again. Before stepping off, I look at the driver and try to say “thank you” but instead say “it was nice to see you.”

Colossal error. You couldn’t write it, guys. And if you did, no one would believe you. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to say. It was kinda nice to see him.

Walking home, I prepare for battle. I share a room with Danny, my little brother. He used to be alright, but because of either puberty or the mixture of starting GCSE Food Tech and lifting weights at the gym he’s become really volatile and we’re all scared of him. Someone not liking your Battenberg cake isn’t a reason to get violent, Danny –  you massive meathead. We argue a lot because my mum’s flat is really small and the best way to improve that situation is to act aggressively towards each other.

“Fuck off, I’m using the desk,” he shouts as I walk through the front door.

“Don’t be a dickhead, I’ve got writing to do.”

“Ooh my name’s Eric, I need to write.” He says. The accuracy of his impression startles me. It was like he knew me better than I knew myself.

He’s set up his Xbox on the desk. This happens a lot. I wanna be alone so I can think about life and then put together some phat prose – but he says I’m just a sad, little nerd with a sad, little blog and tbf to the lad he could well be spot on.

I lean over and turn the Xbox off. He punches me in the arm.

“I’ll knock you the fuck out,” he says.

“Do you wanna say that to my face?” I say, which doesn’t really make any sense because he did say it to my face.

I use those few seconds of confusion to run into the bathroom. The bathroom is the place I go when things get too much for me. I’ll sit on the toilet for a while and gather my thoughts. The problem is, when you stay in there for longer than a few minutes, everyone assumes you’re having a wank. Then if you leave and realise you need a poo, it’s proper awkward going back in there. Everyone assumes you’re having a second wank. Then if after that you actually do need a wank, you’ve just go to leave it. Everyone will assume it’s your third wank. There’s no way you can pull it off. So to speak.


I’m not sure that works as a euphemism actually. Anyway, Danny is banging on the door.

‘I’ll knock you the fuck out!”

He’s such a little dickhead. It’s my room. I’ll knock him the fuck out.

I unlock the bathroom door and open it so gingerly that I almost burst into Shape of You. Danny immediately swings a punch which I duck. I push him into the wall of the corridor and then twist his nipples. He knees me in the balls and shoves me into the opposing wall. A mirror falls and breaks.

“You fucking dickhead,” I say.

I lunge back into him. We grapple each other and stumble into the living room. He’s pulling on my hair and it proper wrecks. I bite down hard on his arm. He screams and recoils into my mum’s wine rack. Bottles smash. He punches me in the stomach in retaliation and I fall back and knock over a bunch of books. I rugby tackle him to the floor and we both start rolling around.

I need a weapon. I look around and there are two books within reach: a Nigella cookbook and John Bishop’s autobiography. I dunno what to do – the cookbook is heavier, but I quite like the symbolism of twatting Danny over the head with a book made for stupid idiots. Always a sucker for metaphor, I grab the autobiography. The front door opens.

“Eric! Danny! What is going on?”

Mum’s back. Shit.

“Erm… we’re just doing some reading,” I say.

There’s a pause as she digests the scene in front of her. Furniture is knocked over, wine on the carpet, broken glass, autobiographies scattered about, there’re Rice Krispies all over the kitchen floor. The Rice Krispies thing I did earlier actually – I’m very clumsy when I pour cereal. But now I can make it look like it was part of the fight so I’ll only get told-off once.

“The Rice Krispies on the floor are also related to this incident,” I say.

I expect her to go apeshit. But she doesn’t say anything. She just looks sad. It makes me feel sad. And not the kind of sadness that makes me happy, that gives me a crown, that makes Oasis reform. Nah. Like proper realising-that-I’m-causing-sadness sadness. I look at Danny. He’s looking at the floor.

What are we doing? Fighting like this, just for the sake of it. Fighting hasn’t solved my counselling issues, or Brexit, or the existence of John Bishop fans – I’m just using them all to pretend that conflict is progress. But it’s not, it’s just another way of staying sad. And I’m not sure any of this sadness is really making me that happy. It’s just got my Mum worried sick, and I’ve been completely oblivious to her feelings because I’m off reading the Guardian trying to prove everyone else wrong.

My counsellor isn’t the enemy. Neither’s Danny. And people who voted Brexit aren’t stupid; like John Bishop fans, they’re just a bit misguided****. That guy in Greggs was right – we need to get on with it. We need to work together. At the end of the day, we’re all united against the same thing: Neoliberalism.

I think.

I get my phone out and read the Guardian to make sure I’m right.

Yep. Neoliberalism can fuck right off.

If we carry on like this, tearing each other to pieces, then nobody will win. Post-Brexit Britain will be a wasteland with broken glass on the floor and Rice Krispies everywhere.

There doesn’t need to be an “other” side. It’s not a game. We should all learn to live with each other.

I give Danny a look like, Let’s clean this mess up. Danny gives me a look like, Yeah let’s get to work. I give Mum a look like, I’m so sorry about this. She gives me a look like, It’s okay, it’s done now. I give Danny a look like, We can’t let this happen again. Mum gives us both a look like, Why aren’t we verbalising this conversation?

We spend the next hour working in silence while giving each other extremely articulate looks. When we’re finished, the place is as good as new.

A few hours later I’m at my desk putting together some phat prose. I hear laughing behind me. I turn around.

“Listen Danny, I don’t want another fi—“

“That Ed Sheeran joke is well funny,” he says.

“Oh. Thanks.”

“I brought some cookies if you want one? We made them at school.”

I take one of the cookies and bite into it.

It’s absolutely disgusting.

I give him a look like, This is delicious.

Anyway, that’s about it.

Cya x


*He’s bare dour that lad. Cheer up, Claude – you’ve had a fantastic career in business!

**How do you know it’s his girlfriend, Eric??? Men and women are allowed to be friends or blood relatives, you know.

***That’s how, you prick. Cut me some slack ffs.

****Tbh I think I might’ve been the one who bought his autobiography.


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