Sunday, 3 October 2010

I only blog when I'm angry!

My regular friends know that I'm not a regular blogger by any means. I used to be what now seems a lifetime ago, when my body was more or less still working and not flashing the warning lights at me constantly. So, what exactly is it that has got me to take an extra morphine pill, prop up a few extra pillows behind me and take my keyboard in my hand? Well, it is topical and certainly not something that has not already had people blogging away for a few days. See, this is another problem with living with my body, I am always running late it seems with everything, but I won't let that stand between me and another blog, oh no, not when I have downed drugs!

This blog is dedicated to the mutterings of a little known backbench Conservative MP who hails by the name of Nadine Dorries. Frankly, until a few days ago I had never heard of her, and I could happily have gone through the rest of my life without that little bit of information becoming known to me. Sadly, life never is happy to leave me in ignorance, not when I can be upset, offended and angered in one fell swoop. 

So what exactly has Nadine done to upset me do much? Well, in order to understand that question, I need to digress a little and fill in some blanks about myself. Honestly, I am not simply seeking to have a moan about how fortune has visited more often than I deserve and left me with pitfalls in my way, but to explain why her comments got to the core of who I am today and frankly, made me detest and pity somewhat a woman I have never met, nor if I am honest, want to. 

I am a recently turned forty something dad of 3, divorced man, non of these is really that important, however, I am also disabled, and that is the salient point. In 2003 after working for 20 years, starting and running 2 successful businesses, creating jobs, training kids and long term unemployed, paying lots and lots of taxes, I had a massive breakdown which meant I lost everything I had worked so hard to build. I don't blame anyone for that, life is a roller coaster after all, sometimes you win, sometimes you loose. What made this situation hard to deal with was that despite paying taxes and contributing to society over the preceding years, when I needed help the government made me feel like a complete scrounger. It wasn't that it was going to give me huge amounts of money, oh no, just a meagre amount of incapacity benefit, hardly enough to keep a family going for a month, but despite that, somehow we managed. The breakdown left me with devastating agoraphobia and anxiety problems such that leaving the house was impossible for a long time, and even now, some 7 years after the fact, those problems are still very much here and something I need to deal with daily. These problems are not what made me write this blog. 

In 2007 I suffered from agonising back pain, 6 months of being rushed to hospital in ambulances, once I had to be rescued from my home by firemen as I collapsed in my bedroom and passed out and the stairs are so narrow, the ambulance staff could not get me down in my passed out state, and then sent home after a cursory visual check up and being told I had a sciatica. All it needed was an MI scan, but I was too large for the local scanner, and it was too much trouble for them to tell me or my GP that, and too much trouble to book me in anywhere else. In March 2008 after another collapse at home, I was back in hospital, being told the same things, refused a scan. I ended up hacking the bedside internet to search for a place that could do a scan and arranging everything myself in order to get one. That done, the incompetant doctors at my hospital told me to go home, loose weight and keep mobile, all I had was a slipped disc and I would be fine. Given that I could barely move, was in constant agony and taking more morphine than it would take to knock out an African elephant, I asked for a second opinion from another hospital, where upon it suddenly transpired I was in imminent danger of paralysis from the chest down and needed a major 10 hour operation on my spine to simply keep me walking. The operation worked thankfully, well, it worked to the extent that I can use my legs to walk, not far though, 10 feet is about the max really, and it has left me in constant pain, I can't sit or stand or walk, 5 minutes sitting up and the pain is beyond anything I would wish on my enemy, not even on Ms Dorries. This also is not the reason for this blog. 

Today, my life is a very limited and simple one. Because of the pain, I can't really do very much at all. I spend a lot of time on my back, either on the bed or the sofa. I walk very little, even trips to the kitchen are kept to the bare minimum. outside activities are limited to school trips in the car, the walk to the car being the hardest, and getting out after the drive means being a bit braver each time as I know what the pain is going to be like afterwards. Even shopping is planned so as to do as few trips as possible, it is not only the physical issues, but being outside and around other people still gives me panic attacks. I can only manage any of this with a cocktail of medication. Anyone who has taken strong opioid pain killers such as Tramadol or Morphine will know just how many side effects there are. On top of that I also have anti-anxiety pills, muscle spasm pills, neuropathic pain killers. To stop the side effects I need other pills to stop my stomach being eaten through my acids the other medications cause, pills for diabetes which was triggered by the high doses of steroids I needed after my surgery, blood pressure drugs to stop the neuropathic pain killers making it too high, Quinine pills to stop cramps... I could keep on going, but I figure you are getting bored about now at my drugs regimen and want to know how this all is relevant to Nadine Dorries. 

The answer is simply this, I don't have much of a life really. Other my home and my kids, I can go for long periods where I don't see any other human being, not even my mother who only lives 10 doors away from me. She is 76, and is still more mobile even with her dodgy knees and worn out hips than I am. I keep in touch with the world and attempt to feel part of society by spending time online. Yes, I tweet and I blog. It has become my social circle, my friends are online, the ones who would miss me and give a damn if I disappeared are online. When I need support, they give it freely, if I need advice, they offer up pearls of wisdom I value, when I am reduced to tears, they make me feel valued. I don't tweet for the love of tweeting, I tweet because my life has become so closed off that it is my tiny window on the world. This is why Nadine Dorries has upset and offended me. 

I don't demand to be kept in luxury by the state, a roof over my head, a shirt on my back and food on the table is all I ask for. I don't have much in life, no flat screen TV's or games consoles for the kids or wads of cash in my wallet, the burgler who broke in to my house a few weeks ago found that out all too quickly, althouh he still stole my wallet! 

I don't want to be a burden, I worked from the day I left school until I became disabled. I still live in the vain hope that I might be able to do something, be helpful to my community and society in some way. For the last 3 years I begged the DWP to let me study from home, gain some new skills that in the future if my physical condition can be improved with new medications or techniques I could put to good use. They ran me and my support worked round and round in circles and then offered me a Introduction to ICT course. The fact that I was an I.T. consultant had simply not registered in their minds, obviously, making me learn how to open word, move a mouse and print a letter was going to suddenly make me a viable person for a job, forgetting for a second that I can't walk, I can't sit, and I am hopeless if there are other people in the room with me. 

So Nadine Dorries, I won't ask you to forgive me for tweeting, yes, I tweet a lot, usually flat on my back, on my sofa. Report me to the DWP if you wish, I mean, I get such a huge amount of benefits that by taking mine away will reduce the countries deficit completely in one fell swoop. I honestly hope that you never have to spend a day with the pain that I have to, it is debilitating and soul destroying, but please, don't have the front to stand on your pedestal and look down on me and those like me. Don't label us as scroungers and idle and lazy workshy people, because we are not here by choice, but because of circumstance, a circumstance neither of our wanting or our choosing. We the disabled are NOT the ones who brought this country to its knees and have caused a huge deficit, it was the bankers, and those who were greedy and thought that betting huge sums on a bubble was the way to go. 

Society is richer, and my life certainly is because of the love and caring of the disabled people who each day not only cope with their own problems, but take time out to support and care for their fellow disabled people. Society is richer because even though they have little, they would give of the little they have to help people who they feel are worse off than themselves, give of their time, their love, their patience, their caring and even of the little money they have. 

They say society is only as civilised as the way they treat their weak, needy and poor, what does it say for our society that elected people such as you, feel that it is the disabled that should be the target of your attack and not the tax evaders who leave our country £48billion short of tax revenue each and every year? What of the bankers? What of the members of parliament who fiddled expenses on already substantial salaries? We may be ill, we may be poor, but we are not going to remain silent while you defame and slander us.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Trust deficit - A prescription for failure.

I'm 40, and over the years I have had many different doctors at a fair number of different surgeries. During that time, relationships that we the patients have with our GP's have changed a fair amount, and that has not always been a bad thing. In the past, doctors were very likely to prescribe us something, not really explain what was happening, and seemed to many of us to be somewhat aloof and apart from us the patient. Today, they are less likely to simply send you home with pills, mostly will explain more about what is going on, offer advice and in the main, more of us feel more in control of the whole process, these are all changes that most of us are happy with. 

There are some basic things that our relationships with our 'healers' need in order for the relationship to work and ultimately give positive outcomes. The most important one is trust. Without trust, the entire relationship simply fails. We have to trust doctors on more than one level. We have to trust that they are competent and knowledgeable, that they provide treatments for us based on what is the best solution for us and not one that has been biased by third parties such as drugs companies, and that they respect us as patients who by necessity have to put our faith in them. If you cannot trust that your doctor, then it becomes impossible for you as a patient to be treated by them. 

Thankfully, there are things in place to help us ensure that our doctors are competent, there are always a few who fall through the safety nets, but in the main we can be confident of that. There are undoubtedly doctors who are more influenced by certain treatments than others, but again, there are guidelines and safeguards which although not perfect, do give us some confidence that at the end of the day, we will be making an informed decision about our treatment. 

Lastly, is the whole question of knowing that your doctor respects you as a patient and as a person. That your concerns for your health are going to be listened to and accepted, and that no matter what you symptoms or illness, that your doctor will do their best for you. This at its heart, comes down to the professionalism and attitude of the doctor and their willingness to have a proper professional and respectful relationship with you, the patient, the person. We have to take on trust that when we go to see a doctor for say chest pains, and he sends us home and tells us to take 2 paracetamol and not to worry, that he knows that it is simply an infection which will get better by itself and not warning of an impending heart problem. 

But, if you have a mental health issue, it is critical to your condition and your treatment that you can have trust in your doctor. If you felt that the doctor felt you were simply a malingerer or that your condition was not a genuine one, then how could you feel able to go and see that doctor and talk to them about your condition? Many mental health issues leave the person with little self esteem, they have little or no confidence in their own judgement and may also have feeling of paranoia. It is enough of a challenge in that state to go to your doctor and bare you soul to them, to then feel that your doctor will ridicule you to his friends and peers is something that would stop many of them from trusting their doctor and seeing them. 

It was shocking then, to learn of this article in The Pulse, a magazine for medical professionals in general practice.  For those without a subscription, the text of the article is below;

I’d thought, hoped even, that the recession and the inevitable cuts to frontline services that will follow might rid us of hare-brained ideas that do nothing except chomp away at the NHS cake. But then I came across a scheme designed to lift the spirits of melancholic patients by treating them to a few days out on a farm.
Anyone living within welly-throwing distance of Ipswich and feeling a bit down in the dumps can ask their GP (who is ideally placed, etc, etc) to refer them to Farmer Giles’s homestead for a few afternoons of milking and muck-spreading. Which rather ignores the obvious fact that each and every depressed patient on the books will exclude themselves by claiming to be ‘allergic to dairy’.
But that apart, what’s not to like? It might encourage the punters to take an interest in agriculture – it could even reduce their tendency to mount phobic avoidance responses at the first mention of fruit and veg. Although if a heartsink did happen to be bitten by the organic produce bug there isn’t a lot of farming to take an interest in around Basildon – not counting the ubiquitous cultivation of cannabis in the loft, of course.
‘Lettuce and lovage’ is one thing, livestock is something very different. OK, we’ve all seen the research showing that keeping a pet dog or cat is good for Grandma’s mental health. But anybody proposing that the benefits might be proportional to the size of the animal is talking complete bullocks, even when you factor in the substantial savings in follow-up costs when you replace Purrikins with a Bengal tiger.
And then there are the health risks inherent in every trip to the farm. As sure as free-range eggs are well, just eggs, at least a dozen of the participants are bound to succumb to E. Coli or Campylobacter infections after petting the cute ickle lamby-wambies or stroking the nice horsey.
Click here to find out more!
Not to mention the possibility that the Wurzels might turn up, knock off an impromptu rendition of Combine ’arvester and provoke the depressed into enacting a tragic suicide pact.
You might accuse me of getting soft in my old age, but I really don’t want to see any of my serotonin-depleted melon farmers chucking themselves under the wheels of a passing tractor or into the jaws of the threshing machine in a plot line that would even make the script editors of The Archers pause for a reality check.
Why worry? It’s far more likely that I’d see them making a beeline for Ye Olde Worlde Home-Made Fudge Shoppe in the converted barn for some serious comfort food, followed by some even more serious purging and vomiting.
We could scale the whole thing down, I suppose. ‘Mrs Glum, would you prefer your repeat prescription for Prozac or a hamster this month?’
It’s just a shame that we’ll never be able to properly take it to a grander scale… include trips to the zoo, county agricultural shows or American state fairs. I can just imagine the YouTube footage of my heartsinks dodging violently-hurled chimpanzee droppings in Regents Park or wrestling grizzly bears in Wyoming.
Now, that would be worth shelling out for the cost of their hotels and transport, recession or no recession.” Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.

Now, I have no issues at all about doctors unwinding and comparing notes with their peers about the issues they have had with some of their patients, but this article goes much beyond that. To label patients as 'Heartsinks', "Mrs Glums' and 'seratonin-depleted melon farmers" shows nothing but simple contempt. That this pseudonymous Dr Tony Copperfield claims to be saying only what most other doctors are too scared to openly admit leaves patients wondering just what is their doctor thinking about them when they visit them. Indeed, this is a quote from the publisher of one of the books published by Dr Tony Copperfield.

'Few people realise it, but underneath the caring demeanor of the nations GPs there lurks a darker side - a side which gets fed up with the frustrations of the NHS and loses its sense of vocation. GPs won't admit to these thoughts, though - and they don't have to, because Dr Tony Copperfield does it for them, even at the risk of his own career. His fearless writing, well known to readers of Doctor Magazine, gives vent to the anger and frustration which bubbles just beneath the surface of so many family doctors.'
For me, as a patient with both physical and mental health issues, this article I found to be both shocking and offensive. It is never easy to visit my doctor, and to now have a feeling that behind my back, my GP may well be branding me and my symptoms in the way that the article has done, simply makes a hard task simply much harder. To the doctors behind the Dr Tony Copperfield articles, it may simply be humour, for many of us patients it is a betrayal of trust, offensive, and unprofessional. One of the real doctors behind the Dr Tony Copperfield pseudonym is Dr Keith Hopcroft.

I know that some have already sought to defend them by saying the article was published for a select audience, but in todays world of the internet that simply was never going to be a possibility, but even that argument does not hold water when it appears that collections of these articles have been published and are available at bookshops. 

Doctors are only human, but by their chosen profession they also bear added responsibilities. They swear to do no harm, they are obliged to hold our consultations in confidence, but they also need to maintain our trust, and it is at the patients cost that they loose that trust, but ultimately, the cost may be their own.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The unseen pain of the hidden victims.

I have been posting articles from some of my old blogs, here is one I found that given todays story on BBC Breakfast about the increasing number of men who are the victims of domestic abuse, seemed to merit being posted on here to be shared again. 
Some of the original readers of this assumed I had some personal experience of this, that is not the case, I merely stumbled on some forum posts from actual victims  on an completely unrelated forum and felt compelled to read more on it.

Take any week in the news, and you will come across multiple stories of women who have been the victims of rape. It is a horrid crime that destroys the victim emotionally in addition to the physical issues and not for a moment do I want to minimise he horror and magnitude of it.

There are however a class of victims who for many reasons such a social taboos, stigma, shame or a mixture of those, go not only unreported in the media, but also unreported to a large extent by the victim to the authorities. I of course mean the issue of male rape.

Official statistics from the Home Office show that 3.6% of women reported they had been raped, with 0.4% of men who reported a rape. Studies have found that men may be un-reporting rape in the vast majority of cases and the true figure of male rape may be as high as 3%.

There are still many myths surrounding the whole issue of male rape, the most predominant being that it is not possible for a man to be raped. This is of course as with all myths founded on the fiction that a man can choose not to become aroused. Sadly, it is a biological function well beyond the mental control of most men, if the nerves are stimulated, a man will become aroused.

Another favourite myth is that men are somehow physically able to be able to prevent themselves from being raped. Men and women react to danger and stress in similar situations, just as most women rape victims report that they "froze" and were unable to do anything to protect themselves, this is also the case with most male rapes. The rapist relies on this reaction in order to be able to perpetrate their crime, add this to the fact that most men will not consider themselves to be a possible attack victim, means that when this occurs, mentally they are unprepared.

It is also a fallacy to suggest that only gay men are rape victims. While there is a slight higher ratio of gay men to heterosexual men, the figures show that around 40% of male rape victims are heterosexual.

Although some 96% of all male rape perpetrators are males, it is also possible for a woman to rape a male as the statistics show. Rape need not be penetrative, although in many of the reported cases, women used sex toys such as vibrators to penetrate their victims.

Some commentators refuse to accept that male rape leaves as severe a mark on the victim as female rape victims. This is to minimise the real grief, trauma and physical injury that a male rape victim can suffer. Although there are gender specific differences, for example, a man has no fear of an unwanted pregnancy, male rape victims are on the whole subjected to greater physical violence, are more likely to be carried out by multiple assailants, and anal penetration can result in far more serious internal injuries and give a much greater risk of infection of HIV.

Many male victims feel ashamed and confused if they have become aroused during the rape, and in some cases the perpetrator will ensure the victim ejaculates. Surely, if they became aroused and they ejaculated, then they must have enjoyed it, must have been a willing accomplice in the act? Medically, it has long been known that a Rectal Exam can cause not only arousal, but pressure on the prostate can cause ejaculation, indeed, it is a medical procedure used in some cases to collect semen from men with impotence during fertility treatment. Anal penetration will cause pressure on the prostate and this may lead to the victim having an erection and may even cause ejaculation.

Sadly, this is one of those crimes that goes on all the time with little reporting occurring. Society as a whole is geared up to support women for rape, and it is right that female victims get the support they need, but it is high time that male rape was given the profile the crime deserves and that similar resources are made available to provide support and counselling for the many thousands of male rape victims. It is high time the myths were put to bed, so the many unknown and silent victims can come forward without the stigma and shame they believe they will be subject to.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

What Friendship means to me.

A little poem dedicated to friendship.


When I was young, the sun that shone was the one I see today
As I ran around and rode my bike in innocent child's play
But now I see with older eyes, the world that surrounds me
Where once I saw smiles in my innocence, I now see woe and dismay 

When I was young, the houses were the same as the ones today
And people young, fat, thin or old lived in them the same way
But now I see with eyes that have known hurt and pain and sorrow
Where once I saw family and love, I now see lonely tomorrows  

When I was young, I never thought that friends would be hard to find
All kids were friends it seemed back then, thought it would last for all time
But now I watch with tired eyes, those souls whose paths I cross
Where once friends came and went, if you left I would mourn my loss.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Moons caress

Some more from the archive! A little poem I wrote about 4 years ago.

The Moons Caress.

The moon gently holds me in its ethereal caress,
It whispers to my heart, of another embrace,
When the fetters of harsh reality fall from my eyes,
And the hard light of day becomes the soft mist of dreams.

This yearning for the time when I can touch your soul,
The gossamer strands of our beings entwine,
My naked heart stands before you like an open book,
No secrets hid, all to be seen is love writ large

Alas time maintains its relentless drive onwards,
Carries away this brief realm of dreams,
Setting moon, takes with it your soul, despite my striving,
Alone I greet the cold dawn, the tale of my heart remains unread

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The perils of the wrong number.

I found this going through some of my old stuff, and it gave me a giggle recollecting the incident, so, with no more waffle from me, here is my post, The perils of the Wrong Number! Happy dialling!

 The Perils of the Wrong Number.

I'm a bad typist, despite over 20 years of pounding on keyboards; I use the delete key more often than any other it seems. This fumble fingeredness isn't just manifested at the computer keyboard, it follows me to phone keypads, ATM keypads and fax machines.

Now, mate that ability to get things wrong with the fact that fate likes to play games with me, as anyone who knows me well will have worked out for themselves, and a simple wrong number for me can lead to all sorts of strange things happening.

Take for example something that happened a few weeks ago. A friend who I had not seen in years had come around when I happened to be out, scribbled his number on the back of a envelope and shoved it through my letter box, telling me he was a night owl and to phone him when I got back, no matter how late.

Having spent the day being my mothers private chauffeur, I neglected to see this tatty scrap when I got home, got on with sorting out the cats, having a bite to eat and relaxed, and eventually found it when I was checking all was locked up before going to bed.

Seeing it was 2am, and knowing my ability to get things wrong, I thought I would be clever and send a text message first! Thinking myself clever, I sent the following txt;

"Hello! Thought I would send a txt first in case you are asleep, I don't want to wake you. If you are up, please text me back and I will phone you."

Got a text back 5 minutes later which read;

"Call me."

Right, I thought, all is well, although something was giving me the distinct feeling that this was going far too well for me, and I should be careful. So, I instructed my mobile to dial the number I had earlier entered in my contacts and heard a friendly "ring, ring" in my ear. After the fourth ring, it was picked up, and I heard... silence.

"Hello?" I said, sort of feebly, by now, my sense that all was not right was screaming at me.

"Hello!" said a cheery voice from the other end.

Stunned, I almost dropped the phone. I had been expecting the gruff voice of my old friend; instead, there was a very cheerful sounding young lady!

"Erm... You aren't ***** are you?"  I asked, which was a pretty stupid question as modern medicine can do much, but it can't change voices to that extent.

"No, I'm not." said the voice, "But, seeing as you woke me up with your text, you can keep me entertained now until I am ready to go back to sleep."

"Erm...." I mumbled into the phone.

So, the next hour was spent discussing the weather in true British style, although we did digress into politics, science, work, economics and history. Then she said she was ready to go back to sleep, thanked me for the chat, said goodbye, and put the phone down.

I have to admit, as far as wrong numbers go, it could have been a lot worse!

I have also been the victim of a wrong number, or rather, a over zealous phone company re-using a number far too quickly.

When I got my new mobile, I would often get calls for "John" with an order for fish and chips and a juicy sausage. It seems John runs a mobile fish and chip van in Northern Ireland, and had neglected to take his old number, my new number, off his van. Some of his customers were very persistent, so in the end I would give up and tell them that that the order would be ready in 20 minutes, and they got a 50% discount for being such lovely regulars. I feel for John...

So, do any of you have tales of wrong phone numbers?

Valentines Day

Don't worry, I know it is nowhere near Valentines day, but as I promised at the start of this blog, I am putting up some of my old blogs, and today I decided to put up a short story I wrote a long time ago. I was called by a family member to help with a competition they were running. I was expecting to be asked to judge, but seemed there were very few entrants, so would I please help out and write a story straight away! Oh, and it had to include Valentine in the title, have a box figure in the plot and be horror, and be a certain length. Nothing like making it easy to help make the numbers up! I was also told I would not be winning even if it was the best story! Thanks for nothing! Anyway, without further ado, here is Valentines day. 

NB. This is written for adults, and contains adult themes and language. Please be aware of this if you choose to read further. 

Valentines day

The late autumn afternoon, was as usual, dark and dismal. A light drizzle half heartedly fell, illuminated by the pale yellow street lamps. A dirty red bus pulled up outside and sat rocking slowly at the kerb, discharging a steady stream of cleaners and early evening drinkers, a second shift, to people the arteries of the city.

Valentine liked to look out of the tiny window by the side of her desk, it took her away from the tedium of the dead end job she commuted into the city for daily.

Idly,she wondered if it was maybe time to change. As a rule, she preferred not to stay too long in any single place, she preferred not to make friends, after all it only served to complicate matters.

As she tidied away the last of the paperwork she had been allotted, she allowed herself to think of the hunger than gnawed away at her insides. She felt tired and drained of her usual energy, her skin had a pallid grey sheen instead of her usual rosy complexion. She glanced at the un-eaten sandwich in the shiny cellophane packing and her empty stomach churned and roiled at the site of the now flaccid and wilted lettuce mingling with the occasional flacid prawn. Quickly, she dropped the sandwich into the bin, she knew she needed to eat soon, but not now, she could wait a little longer.

The bright cheery glow of the monitor faded to black as she jabbed at the switch, and collecting her coat and bag, she made her way out into the wet and drizzly street, to join the throngs she had observing moments before. The queue at the bus stop seemed to stretch forever down the litter strewn pavement, fading in and out of view in the pools of light cast by the mock Victorian lamp posts.

With a resigned sigh, she hefted her bag higher onto her shoulder and faced into the gentle drizzle deciding it would be quicker to simply walk home. It really wasn't that far, not now that she knew all the short cuts, by foot it was as quick as by bus most days. She passed the lighted shop windows, this road could have been in any of the places she had lived in, the same brands, the same architecture, the same street furniture. She didn't pause to look in at the elaborate displays of shoes or dresses, she had seen the same before a hundred times, maybe a thousand, it no longer held any attraction for her.

As she walked, she felt the hunger pangs growing, reminding her constantly that she needed to attend to it. She looked skywards at a flickering lamp, the dampness of the drizzle giving her a lover's caress as it gently touched her face. The steady click, click, click of her heels changed tone as she walked into the narrow alley next to the fast food restaurant, teenagers in colourful street fashions talking loudly and gesturing with hands full of greasy burgers and fries crowded the pavement on the corner. The smell of the food hit her and her, and her stomach tried to rebel and retch, but the emptiness ensured there was nothing but a rising taste of bile. Soon she told herself, just a little longer now.

The yellow glow of the street lights faded behind her, now the only illumination was that coming out of the upper storeys of the buildings that rose up along both sides of the alley she made her way down, a concrete gorge, sounds of couples arguing, children playing loud children's games and countless televisions showing the same soaps filtered down, to mingle with the clicking of her shoes.

A grimy rat darted out from under a tattered and soggy fast food carton and peered at her with its small eyes, whiskers quivering as its pink nose sniffed the air. She could see the ribs below its matted fur and she could almost believe they both shared the same deep pervading hunger.

The sound of a kicked stone rolling into a empty beer can caused her to come back to the present. She turned and just caught a movement in the pools of shadow that clung to the sides of the alley. She waited but nothing else stirred, so she resumed her walk down the alley, increasing her pace in her nervousness. Up ahead she could see the darkness grow as the flats on each side were replaced by warehouses, no windows to cast even a soft safe light to keep her company.

She walked forward and the darkness closed in around her like a velvet cloak. In the silence, she heard the sound of soft footfalls behind her. Her heart thudded in her chest, but she resolutely faced the way she was going and carried on homewards. The footsteps came closer and she resolved to see who was following her, but before she could do more than begin to turn, she felt a cold hand clamp over her mouth and saw a glint of metal flash towards to her throat.

"Pretty girl like you shouldn't be coming this way, it aint safe" said a mocking voice from behind her. "You keep quiet and be a good little girl and we might even let you go" said another. The pressure behind her made her begin to walk again, and she saw herself being led deeper into the dark shadows, the dirty hand still clamped over her mouth and the knife still pushing against the pale skin of her neck.

In the gloom, she could just make out the darker shape of an open door in the wall they were approaching. In the dark, her feet caught at the sill of the door and she almost stumbled. She felt the hands release her and instead give her a final push forward, in the dark something caught at her foot and she fell. The second man was momentarily framed by the door, then he entered, pulling the door shut after him, closing it with a solid thunk. She could see nothing in the total pitch blackness, so she lay silent and unmoving on the hard floor where she had fallen, the cold seeping into her where it touched the bare skin of her legs.

She could hear soft sounds of movement around her, one of the men stumbled in the dark and cursed. She could make out the faint sound of hands brushing across a rough surface as if searching for something. Harsh white light suddenly flooded the room as the hand found a switch and flicked it on. For the first time she could see the men who had dragged her in here. They looked much younger than she had expected, dressed in the latest street fashion, gold glinting at their necks, fingers and wrists. They looked her up and down, a their leering lust filled eyes that sent cold shivers down her spine. "Please, don't hurt me" she begged in a soft voice, "Take it, just, don't hurt me". She gestured with her hand to her bag, which had come off her shoulder and had fallen to the floor, the contents spilling out in a lazy arc.

The taller man with the knife glanced at the items that littered the floor, and nudged them with a foot. "You know what we want, Cmon, you know you enjoy it." The second man came and knelt by her side, running a hand up her leg, past her knee and continued on up under her skirt to her thigh, his other hand fondled her breasts. She shuddered and held herself still as his groping fingers worked ever upwards. She felt his hot breath on her neck, the sour smell of stale beer mingled with that of a cheap heavy, aftershave. She felt his rough fingers pull aside the sliver of fabric and thrust themselves inside her, she bit back a scream.

"Please" she whimpered, "Not like this" Hot, salty, tears coursed down her face. The man roughly pushed her down to the floor, the spilled contents of her bag breaking and shattering under her, jabs of pain as sharp edges pierced her skin through the thin jacket.

The tall man stood watching with a smirk as his accomplice roughly pulled up her skirt and began to unfasten his belt. He slowly ran a finger up and down the blade of the knife, his eyes roving over her now semi naked body, feasting on her. She held her breath as she saw the second man move himself over her, his erect manhood glinting in the harsh light. She closed her eyes, and despite trying to keep still, her hands frantically moved over the floor with a mind of their won, striving to find something, anything that could help her. Just as she felt his weight begin to press down on her, the fingers of her left hand closed on a familiar shape. The small intricately carved wooden cube fitted neatly into her palm, suddenly hope filled her and she slowly raised her hand as if to embrace him and touched it to the back of his head.

Immediately the weight on her vanished and she opened her eyes to see the man who had been prone on her an instant before hanging above her, suspended in mid air. A stream of blue light was being drawn from his wide open, shocked eyes into the cube. A scream of terror and agony issued from his throat. Almost as quickly as it had begun, the blue light flickered out and the man hung limp in the air, the body began to shimmer, as if seen through a heat haze. The man with the knife stood transfixed, staring at the body hanging there, the knife now dangled, forgotten in loose fingers at his side. The shimmering gave way to smoke, then flames poured out in an inferno and within seconds all that remained was a slow drift of fine ash, and a small splash of gold on the floor.

She stood slowly from the crouch she had pulled herself into in the far corner. Leaning on the wall, she tugged her torn and dirty skirt back down covering her modesty. The look of fear in her eyes had been replaced by an steely and determined coldness. She looked at the tall man who stood transfixed, looking at small pile of ash that until a short while before had been his  partner in crime.

Valentine extended her will and beckoned him to her with it. As if her will was being obeyed by an invisible giant, the man was dragged across the floor, and dropped at her feet. He looked up at her, into those cold hard eyes. She smiled at him, a cold smile that chilled him to the core of his soul. Slowly, she bent down and gently kissed his cheek, her soft lips tenderly brushing against his rough skin, un-noticed by him, her other hand rose and pressed the cube to his head.

Valentine closed the door behind her and walked slowly down the dark alley. Despite the darkness and the drizzle, she felt elated. The hunger was gone, she felt sated. Her formerly palid skin had its customary rosy blush and she no longer looked tired and gaunt. She carefully opened the lid of the small wooden cube to look again at the slowly pulsing tiny blue pearl that sat within. She smiled, the hunger in her had been fed and was now merely a memory, she had been spared the ordeal of the hunt, and the soul that still pulsed in the catcher would save her the need for a few months. Today had been a good day, but then it always was, when it was Valentines Day.