WEDNESDAY: Nine Out of 10


Copyright is held by the author.

“NOOOO!” SCREAMED a bystander. Two hundred tons of tube train screeched and juddered uncontrollably. Finally, silence.

What drives someone to end it all? I’d spread out my arms. That way the live rail would get me if the train didn’t. Only what I’d thought was the live rail wasn’t. Anxious station staff hurriedly helped me out of the dead man’s trench.

Half an hour earlier I’d been ensconced in a plush sofa in a gleaming office building in Mayfair — the most expensive street on the British Monopoly board. What a contrast to my windowless insurance office where I and graduate colleagues pushed pens. We were earning minimum wage before minimum wage was even a thing.

The first “interview” had gone well, mainly because I hadn’t had to speak. My would-be boss said what an exciting time it was for TV advertising! Even courier companies like DHL were coming on board! She’d happily work past 8 p.m. if only security didn’t throw everyone out then!

I didn’t fancy working late but “TV advertising assistant-highly competitive salary” sounded like a way out. My would-be boss concluded by saying she just needed her managing director to meet me. By now I was so confident of getting the job that I resolved to kill myself if I didn’t.

I know — a bit extreme. But I hadn’t yet heard terms like “self-care” and “resilience”.

Above the managing director’s even plusher sofa shone a gold disc honouring Scottish TV’s latest telesales campaign. This had sold 125,000 albums by Richard Clayderman — the world’s most successful pianist according to the Guinness Book of Records.

“How are you?” said the MD in a monotone, scanning my CV. He threw me a question. I mumbled something about wanting to produce results not record them. The sentence had looked so good in the Financial Times — the only paper we were allowed to read in my current crappy job despite having little to do.

The MD rose and stretched out his hand. “Good to meet you,” he said. Seeing me too shocked to respond, he explained: “My assistant’s usually good at recruiting. But she’s missed that you can’t actually do anything.”

At least he never found out I couldn’t even top myself. Richard Clayderman: the world’s most successful pianist. Me: Oxford University’s least successful humanities graduate.

Dazed, I stumbled out of the MD’s office. I had to follow through, didn’t I? “To thine own self be true” and all that.

I had just enough presence of mind to mentally score my life now in case I’d missed something. Reasonable salary? No. Job satisfaction? Hah! Decent accommodation? Yes, if you like your room reeking of gas and its damp walls spotting your good suit with purple mould. No girlfriend’s hand to hold for an occasional skip in my step. Not even the prospect of occasional sex.

But a few university friends I actually liked had ended up in London too, hadn’t they? Yes, but they all had girlfriends. A friend with a girlfriend is only half a friend.      

End it all? There was nothing to end. I headed determinedly for Bond Street tube station, briefly feeling in some sort of control. And jumped.


Despite my parents’ protests, my newly appointed psychiatrist soon said I could return to my rented room as long as we all agreed to family therapy.

“Will ‘e try again?” Mamma asked our therapist at our first session. She rammed her fist into her mouth. Rather than answer, our therapist said: “What words do you use to show you care for each other?”

Silence. From nowhere, I suddenly recalled a Saturday afternoon. I was 12. Mamma was trying on a coat. The shop assistant was pinning up the hem. “Pass me that pin, darling,” said the assistant. I looked on, motionless. The assistant asked me gently: “Has no one called you ‘darling’ before?”

I stared back at our therapist, unable to share some of Mamma’s epithets over the years as they flooded back. “Maleducato. Egoista. Disgraziato. Furbo. Bugiardo. Ladro.” Oh, and “stronzo”.

I’d not been a perfect child, but I suddenly realized in our therapy room that being regularly called a rude, selfish, ungrateful, deceitful, lying, thieving wanker by someone biologically programmed to love me might have dented my self-esteem.

Our therapist turned to Mamma to answer her question: “Research by Harvard suggests that nine out of ten suicide attempters who survive won’t kill themselves at a later date.”

Statistically, I was going to be all right.


Image of Tony Elston

Tony writes memoir, fiction and scripts. His publishing and prize credits include The Bad Day Book; honourable mention, Scriptwriters & Co. Festive Break Scratch Night; Stage-Write Plays Australia; longlisted, Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing; and joint winner, Radio Shorts — CornerHOUSE Arts Centre, Surbiton. Listen to his monologue “Looked After Child” on Sound Cloud.

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