After yesterday’s guest blog on happiness, today I turn to the subject of madness, more specifically my own.

I was approached a few months ago and asked to write a poem for a book being prepared by Bovington Middle School in Dorset, to raise money both for the school’s English deparment and for Help for Heroes. I tried all sorts of ideas before settling on this poem, WHEN THE MIND CRACKS, which is clearly inspired by my own crack-up in 1986.

I never knew why they called it cracking up

Until the crack up

Until I closed my eyes

To chase away the fear

And saw a plate glass

Where a moment ago I saw the world

Turning churning churning turning

Into a maelstrom of noise and colour and people

Who were there

I think they were there

But when I asked them why

Their eyes took them away from me

To a world I wasn’t meant for

So I closed my eyes

And hoped the noise would go

But it grew louder

Till the plate glass shook

The colours merged

Just as the brassband merged with the bagpipes

Merged with the orchestra

Playing the start of the opera

Merged with The Shadows

I’m cracking up … I want Elvis or Johnny Cash or no, Kris Kristofferson

Yes, Kris Kristofferson

And they give me Hank fucking Marvin

No offence Hank

But who put you there? And why?

Always why?

Why blue in the left corner?

Why red in the right?

Why God in the centre?

I don’t do God

But He’s testing me

If not Him who?

Something’s testing me

I’m failing

And the punishment must follow

The tiny hands before my eyes can hold the glass no more

So it shatters into a million shards

Of noise and colour, of voices and music and memory

And each one cuts into the skull

Yet there’s no blood

Or if there is it is

Blue red green brown yellow black

Now mixing so harsh so ugly I can look no more

So I open my eyes again

A man is standing there

His hand reaches out

Touches my shoulder

And he asks if I need any help

The plate glass has broken I say

He nods and I wonder how he can know it has broken

When all he can see is me

Not the millions of shards still flying behind my eyes


Enlightening me

As to why

They call it cracking up

** School of Poetry, which includes poems from author Terry Pratchett, TV presenter Robert Llewellyn, as well as students and teachers from the school, can be found at

** To order signed copies of Alastair’s diaries via Waterstone’s, click here