Monday, December 26, 2011

Neigh, Neigh and Thrice Neigh

One of the awkward things about being the child of divorced parents is the extended family. I've never got on with my stepdad's sons and their families. But my mum and sister do and yesterday we were the only ones left out of Christmas Dinner at my stepbrother's.

And so to the presents.

My mum likes going to see musicals in the afternoon. She's 80 and an evening performance is really a bit too late. So as a special treat she is now to see an evening performance of a play with her husband, stepchildren and step-grandkids.

Not any old play, though. It's War Horse.

From what I can gather, War Horse was originally a children's book written in the early 80s, for readers aged under 10. The play based on the book includes lifelike mechanical horses. It is a real tearjerker. Steven Spielberg has jumped on the bandwagon and made a film of the story.

From what I can gather, a book written for 8 year olds is seen as raw material for a family show. Not for 8 year olds but for a 13 year old boy, a 16 year old girl, a 45 year old woman, a 50 year old man, a 78 year old man and an 80 year old woman. All together, all feeling the same emotions, all releasing their inner child.

When I was 13, when I was 16, I would have hated the idea of my parents deciding my entertainment. It was my entertainment, my choice, I was an individual with my own ideas, would have hated to be associated with children's entertainment, wanted to be a grown-up.

I am now 50 and feel the same way and I'm sure I will if I reach 80.

But we have a generation of middle aged parents who refuse to grow up living vicariously through the inner children of teenagers and pensioners. "We've been and we know you'd love it. This is our gift to you, a chance for you to come back with us in wide-eyed innocent wonder to the land of childhood."

I'm sure my mum and stepdad will love it, despite the lateness of the performance. I'm sure the teenagers will love it, too. I'm sure I'd hate it as since I was 8 I've been old and cynical and unable to fit in with the crowd.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aimless (8)

I joined the local junior tenpin bowling club which met every Saturday morning. We had a competitive league and played the odd match against other clubs, as far flung as Tolworth and Whistable. At Whitstable it felt like you were bowling into the sea. And we all got to play in the National Championships! It may sound grand but if you were a member of a club and weren’t rubbish at bowling you got to play in the National Championships. We were the cream of Britain’s young bowlers (the only ones practising on a regular basis). I bought my own bowling ball, inscripted with my misspelt name ‘Jeff’ and we had yellow bowling shirts with cloth badges sewn on showing our achievements. We hadn’t really achieved anything, we just turned up and enjoyed knocking as many of those pins over that we could.

Moving on from the Focus compilation, the next prog record I bought was a single, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It wasn’t until I got a Saturday job, though, that I began to buy records in any quantity.

The kids I knew were into prog and heavy rock and I went along with the fashion. Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd. School was prog-a-go-go. And in 1976 I went to my first gig, if you could call it a ‘gig’.

There was a new radio station opening in London called Capital. The big cheese at Capital was Dear Dickie Attenborough. To commemorate the opening of the station Dear Dickie held a bow-tie reception and concert by none other than Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. We arrived at the Wembley Exhibition Centre in time to see Dear Dickie roll up in his Roller. It was such a special occasion and Rick didn’t let us or the occasion down as he played a selection of his hits from albums such as King Arthur and the Knights of The Round Table and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, real toe-tappers. He blew our young minds with his stagecraft wizardy. It was an excellent introduction into the world of excess that was prog. I recorded the show for posterity as the whole gig was broadcast on Capital.

I settled down into the corner of the living room, large 70s headphones cutting me off from the family life going on around me. This corner of the room with its ‘music centre’, record player, radio and cassette deck all in one, was to be my home every evening after homework. I’d be taken to other worlds by ‘Little’ Nicky Horne, Tommy Vance and David Rodigan. ‘Little’ Nicky, as opposed to ‘Diddy’ David, played me not only the AOR stuff I was beginning to get into such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger, but tracks from the exciting pub rock scene, The Motors, The Tyla Gang and Greg Kihn. Punk was not an issue, in fact I only heard about it when my dad asked me if I’d heard about this new form of music played by young idiots who didn’t know how to play their instruments. I didn’t read the papers or watch the news in those days so I hadn’t heard. And I was learning the guitar at that time so I dismissed the young idiots completely. I thought you had to learn your licks and chops to rightly have an audience.

As with Tony who taught me tennis, Brian was another of my dad’s friends from work who kindly agreed to teach me guitar. My dad would take me to Brian’s flat and he would patiently show me how to play chords then write out the words and chords to easy songs and we played and sang together. I had no discernible talent but Brian got something vaguely listenable out of me. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold was a particular favourite of mine, though I was embarrassed by playing Free’s Feel Like Making Love with Brian, especially when his wife walked in on us. Though I was past puberty, the last thing on my mind was sex and I wasn’t really ready for singing about my sexual longings in front of a married couple. I don’t think I ever will be ready for that!

Nonetheless, I enjoyed going to Brian’s and used to look forward to him teaching me another chord and playing me another song from his extensive record collection. Where else would I have heard Trapeze?

My musical career never came to anything. I practised and practised but all I could do was efficiently strum chords. I wanted to be a guitar wizard. Instead I was a prototype tube station busker, blowin’ in the wind, would never have made a fortune out of it in a million years.

The AOR I was listening to on ‘Little’ Nicky Horne’s show I was also lapping up from the local library and illegally recording onto cassette tape. I would cycle to the library, leaf through the wonders on offer, pick out something by Neil Young or Bob Seger, check that there were no more scratches on the records than on the illustrations accompanying them and cycled them home, flapping against the side of my handlebars in the wind and rain. To my immense pride, I never scratched a single LP.

My dad asked me a few times to get him some records from the library. I got him a Rolling Stones live album and several James Last records. My dad most enjoyed big band music, the big band sound was wired into his DNA. And James Last was the man to make modern chart music palatable for an older generation.

My dad’s favourite chart song in the mid-70s was Heart of the Union by The Strawbs. He took it at face value as a pro-union singalong though we know now The Strawbs were taking the piss out of working class union members and their sheep-like adherence to a movement which had outlasted its relevance in the modern world which was fast approaching its Monetarist nightmare.

My mum’s song was Art Garfunkel’s I Only Have Eyes For You, a beautiful version which I would have hated then.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tears of a Clown

We've all got a story to tell. We've all lived our lives, interesting or not, it's not important. It's the way we tell the story that matters.

And, of course, comedians are the best at telling their own stories. Although they may not have had the most fascinating lives, they are all natural story tellers. The way they use their words, well, they can make the most banal situation glitter. Take Russell Brand. Not one autobiography, but two, the second very necessary to give us a glimpse into the world of a transatlantic star.

Today, pushing a trolley up and down the aisles at Asda, I was encouraged several times to buy the autobiographies of James Corden and Rob Brydon. They were both addressing me, the customer, directly. James said his book was only £9. Imagine the value in that! James and Rob were speaking between the Christmas songs. Rob did his little man in a box voice which always cracks me up. It sounds like a tiny little man speaking from inside a box.

James and Rob starred together in my favourite sitcom of this century, Gavin and Stacey. James not only starred in it, he also co-wrote it! Imagine the stories he has to tell in his autobiography just pertaining to that sitcom alone. And Rob, giving his own unique view of the whole Gavin and Stacey experience. A different view from James's.

I am fascinated by comedians, what makes them tick, how they grew up different from but the same as the rest of us. I am fascinated by their relationships, how they relate to family and friends. I am fascinated by their addictions, their failings and their triumphs. The modern comedian's dissection of his life is an insight into the human condition, how we deal with the ups and downs of the most stressful age in our history. They are us, magnified.

I urge you to go out and buy these two books for your loved ones this Christmas. They will love you all the more for it.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

I associate work with anxiety and depression. I have just done four days' work and I feel pretty anxious and depressed. I haven't got depression, though. I passed the NHS online questionnaire with flying colours so I know I'm not depressed.

Before I was made redundant in June I'd had two years of worry at work. The company was insolvent and it was my job to decide which Peter to rob to pay which Paul. The creditors all took their turn to be Peter or Paul. I had sleepless nights and panic attacks, finally culminating in a redundancy ending 25 years at the same firm, the first 22 years being reasonably happy ones. There were plenty of other redundancies too and our working family had been destroyed. It was a hell of a wrench leaving but a hell of a relief, too. My emotions were all over the place.

And so to jobseeking. I was calmer on the dole, though sleeping too much. I went through the jobseekers' hoops, applying for jobs I didn't want just to get their measly £67.50 a week. But I wasn't getting shortlisted for these shit jobs, anyway. After 100 applications and three failed interviews I was giving up hope of getting one. I didn't need them, anyway. I had money in the bank to keep us going for some time.

Then I struck lucky. I got two interviews in a week. Shit money, highly pressurised. I couldn't believe my luck. I had a bath, dressed up in my suit, had a shave, combed my hair, just like they advised me to on the Getting a Job course. I got on well with both the interviewers. They both said how extremely busy the jobs were and I said I don't like sitting around doing nothing. They reiterated just how busy and stressful the jobs were. One of them said she'd been to see the Foo Fighters at the O2 with her daughter. I said I would have liked to have seen Nirvana at their peak. She said she really liked Seasick Steve. I said I had a friend who used to like Seasick Steve! We were getting on like a house on fire.

She didn't get back to me but the other woman offered me the job. I accepted and told everyone I knew that I wasn't a loser any more, after five months' unemployment I'd got a job and I was back in the land of the normal.

I received congratulatory texts and cards. I geed myself up for the job. I'd have to start sleeping less. I did. I had hardly any sleep for the next six nights.

My manager worked from six in the morning till eight at night. There were two other staff in the office. Nobody spoke to anybody else about anything other than work, and that was a rare occurrence. The three of us had our desks facing in the same direction, one in front of the other. My desk was in front of the window, looking out on miserable buildings, cranes and piles of skips. Most of my job involved matching up copies of purchase invoices with purchase orders, scanning them and sending them to other members of staff to authorise, then when I'd received the go-ahead to pay, initialising the original invoices and filing away the copies and purchase orders under the relevant job numbers. All very simple except looking for the purchase orders on the server was complicated by the fact that every purchase order initiator had his own way of saving them or didn't save them at all. Oh, and we were two months behind with entering invoices on Sage because my predecessor had left without warning at the beginning of October.

I had half an hour for lunch and nowhere to go for a sandwich. I made my own sandwiches to bring in - cheese and piccalilli, cheese and Branston pickle, cheese and Vegemite. I ate at my desk, reading Twitter on my phone. Nobody spoke in their lunch hour. Nobody had anything to say about anything. The world outside did not exist.

On Monday I had another batch of invoices placed on my desk. I looked in vain for the purchase orders. I stared at the computer screen for five minutes, stared at the miserable buildings and the cranes and the skips for five minutes, holding back tears of frustration. I decided to leave that evening and never come back.

So since then I've got all emotional. My anxiety is back. I can't imagine a job I'd be able to get without the result being this reaction. I've booked an appointment with my doctor for next Tuesday. I've never met him before. I don't know what to expect from him.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Notes for a Comedy Writing Workshop - Introduction

(DAVID FROST VOICE) Hello, good evening and welcome. (WAIT FOR LAUGHTER - THEN OWN VOICE) Hope you all found the place alright. I see one or two of you have made yourselves very comfortable imbibing the atmosphere all afternoon. (WAIT FOR REACTION) Thanks to Anna for organising the time and place (THUMBS UP TO ANNA) and thanks to Julian for that awful smell. (WAIT FOR LAUGHTER) What is that awful smell, Julian? (WAIT FOR JULIAN TO REPLY. ADLIB CONVERSATION. SEE WHERE IT TAKES US)

Before we go any further, shall we introduce ourselves? I'm Bernard. Yes, that's my real name. (WAIT FOR LAUGHTER) I was born to do comedy, as you can see. Shame I'm so misunderstood. Born at the wrong time, you see.

Right, we've started in order of beauty, let's continue in order of where we're sitting, shall we? Tell us a bit about yourselves, what you've written, how many rejection letters, your three favourite comedy shows that really make you laugh. (LISTEN TO EACH OF THE GROUP IN TURN, ADLIBBING FUNNIES)

Right, now we know who we are, what sort of things we like, except for yours truly - I'm 41 years young, divorced 5 years ago, 2 lovely kids who I see at weekends - Sorry, wrong meeting. (WAIT FOR LAUGHTER)

No, seriously, I've written comedy ever since I was so high (HORIZONTAL HAND AT COCK LEVEL) I've written performance poetry, sketches, tried a sitcom in 1997, I've done stand-up totally wankered and totally sober, both disasters, open slots but you don't want to know about those, being told you're a "fucking unfunny cunt" by morons out for a piss-up and a heckle is no fun and I think that's why we're here - not being the kind of people who want to perform comedy but want to get all this funny stuff that resides up here (POINT TO HEAD) out and in the open and make our fellow human beings laugh. They say laughter is the best medicine, though I'd say it comes a close second to Night Nurse. (WAIT FOR LAUGHTER)

Yeah, I've lost count of the number of rejection letters I've got but the secret of comedy writing is to never give up. If you've got talent, in the end you will succeed. (PAUSE) Look at Ricky Gervais. (WAIT FOR BOOS) The cunt. (WAIT FOR LAUGHTER)

My favourite three comedy shows? Python. Python. Python. No, you can't go wrong with Python. The other two? Today I'd say Alan Partridge and Father Ted but tomorrow it might be two others. But the thing all three have in common is that they are brilliantly written by masters of their craft.

So before we delve into what scripts you've all brought along today, I'm mightily parched and I think it's Julian's round. So over to you, Julian. Mine's a London Pride, my good fellow. (AND...RELAX)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing a Winning CV

Because I'm getting nowhere with accounts vacancies I'm investigating other fields of employment. I completed a government sponsored online skills check and now I've seen a government sponsored careers adviser. The conclusion of the online questionnaire was that I am not at all interested in working with figures, numbers and data. Apparently I should be working in medical technology or medicine and nursing. But of course I'm not trained for these things and I'm nearing fifty.

So the adviser said I need to broaden my scope. Look at administrative jobs as well as accounts jobs. Of course there are more people going after administrative vacancies than accounts ones but chin up.

So I've got a course to go on to improve my IT skills and yet another day's CV workshop to cobble together my "admin" CV.

She gave me some CV examples. The only problem I have with CVs is how to make the hobbies and interests section stand out from the other 199 candidates.

These are the examples of interests I've been given:-

Elizabeth enjoys swimming and running and she also regularly enters short distance running competitions.

Frederick's leisure activities include sailing, travel, and old motor vehicles. He also enjoys socialising with his friends and family.

Tony enjoys watching movies, listening to various kinds of music and spending time with his family.

Jane enjoys playing the guitar and piano. She also enjoys socialising with friends and family.

Ann enjoys all things horticultural, as well as playing and watching sport, and socialising with her friends.

Pauline enjoys reading, watching movies and socialising with friends.

Oliver is very musically orientated and enjoys singing and listening to various genres of music. He also enjoys spending time with his family and friends.

Joe enjoys watching sport on TV, attending the gym, listening to music, and socialising with his friends.

They are all going for different jobs, so they're not in competition. But if they were going for the same job and you were choosing who to interview, which one would you choose and why? Assuming you would have to make conversation with them if you employed them. Bear in mind that Elizabeth either doesn't have any friends or family or if she does she chooses not to see them. But she is very fit.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Aimless (7)

Christmas drinks at home divided our family. Me and my mum got by on port and lemon, snowball, and shandy made with an inch of beer. My dad bought the drinks, though. And most of it was for himself. There was his Pernod period. He would drink a bottle of Pernod in a couple of days. My mum would have a go at him for drinking the disgusting stuff so fast but she never had an inkling that his actions were symptoms of a bigger drink problem. She thought it was just a couple of days at Christmas. But this was the tip of the iceberg.

My dad brewed his own beer for a while. He added more sugar than the recipe suggested to make it stronger. He gave me a taste and it nearly put me off beer for life. Why would anyone want to drink bitter this bitter?

My dad loved his garden and his allotment. He grew potatoes, tomatoes, runner beans, broad beans, marrows, purple-sprouting broccoli. He tried to get me interested but I was having none of it. He would have liked to have lived The Good Life, except unlike Tom and Barbara his dream was not only to opt out of the rat race and become self-sufficient but to move away to the country, too. His relations with his boss at work were getting worse and his boss's surname had become a dirty word in our house. My dad thought the company needed a union to stand up for its workers.

Meanwhile he was getting closer to my sister whilst I was growing apart from him. Maybe it was me hitting those awkward teenage years, having a downer on everything, not communicating, withdrawing to my room, not being enthusiastic about anything, not speaking clearly, not standing up straight. He helped me with homework for the first few years of Big School, even with my favourite English, but after that I was on my own. My sister got more and more attention when he was around at the weekends and I became the independent one. We had no common interests.

In my early teens I was persuaded to join the Scouts by the twins. I hated the Scouts. God and Queen and all that bollocks, unfurling the Union Jack, standing to attention, the awful games like British Bulldog which involved a mass free-for-all and bruised knees on the hard Scout hut floor, horrible greasy gristly sausages wrapped in stale sliced white bread, sleeping on the floor of the Scout hut because the tents had collapsed in the driving rain in the field, the creepy short-arse boy-loving scout leader, the other gigantic sadistic scout leader with a need to drive vulnerable boys at 100 m.p.h. around roundabouts.

I took the O-Level for my favourite subject, English Language, at the end of the third year. This was where I lost a lot of academic motivation. I would have been enthusiastic about developing my writing further but English Language is seen as the most important subject to pass but the least important one to improve your skills over the years. So I studied my favourite subject by far for just three years, got it out of the way so I could concentrate on English Literature, the study of the greats, no matter what innate talent we may have had ourselves, we had to devote our future writing to an understanding of the experts, our papers marked by more experts who all came to the same conclusions about the same works. Creativity in writing was stamped out of us in Year 3.

So we moved on from reading lists of books which were rewarding and interesting and easy to understand in the third year to Shakespeare and Milton and Hardy and Lawrence and Woolf in the fourth. The greats of English Literature. Bollocks to the rest of the world. No, let’s make things complicated, let’s expand their elastic minds. How many teenagers were put off reading by being made to study incomprehensible texts? How much better are things today with set books by Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons? Hmm…

In sharp contrast to my literary studies, cultural life at home was whatever I found funny on the telly. Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Dave Allen, Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery, Benny Hill. All shared with my mum. Crying with laughter along with my mum to Benny Hill! Strange days. I even at one point believed Freddie Starr was a genius!

I went to the cinema, too, with my mum. The Railway Children, On The Buses, Steptoe and Son. The days of film versions of popular television sitcoms. They won’t come back again and I am proud I was around to see them.

After years of sitcoms such as Are You Being Served? Dad’s Army, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, programmes that had no relevance to my life, 1976 saw The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin which was a rite of passage for many teenage boys, me included. It got me thinking about my future, what I was going to do when I left school in a few short years. What I definitely didn’t want to do was a Reggie, commute to a boring office job and come home to a blissfully domestic household. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I didn’t want this. But did I want to go to university and become a teacher? No way! I’d had enough of spending my days with teenagers. A lifetime of the bastards would be impossible to bear.

Some kids were prepared from an early age. My friend who came to Big School with me from primary school wanted to be a G.P. from a young age. Presumably from some very grown up discussions with his parents. But I had no idea. My one piece of careers advice left me absolutely depressed. The room was full of careers brochures which I was left alone to browse through. I wasn’t interested in doing anything. Everything seemed so boring. Then I happened to come across a brochure advertising oceanography, the most ridiculous field of employment I could think of. The careers adviser asked me whether there was anything that stood out to me. I said oceanography. He asked me if I had an interest in the deep. No, of course I didn’t. A lot of use he was.

Everything was falling apart. Even my skill on the cricket pitch. Where once I could bowl accurately at perfect length, now the ball stuck to my hand as I tried to release it, I would hold onto it for too long and the ball would land halfway down the pitch and roll apologetically to the batsman who would scratch his head in bemusement. I wasn’t being picked for any football teams, the twins were happily playing in the team their dad ran and I didn’t get a sniff. Rugby at school was Hell. Being a little overweight, I fitted in nicely as prop forward. I hated those sweaty, cramped conditions in the scrums. Why would I want to get this close and personal with smelly teenage boys?

I had always been a big eater and was on the chubby side. But at age 15 I was active enough and my metabolism was fast enough so that I could lose weight just by cutting down on the gross amount of food I was putting away. I still had school dinners and seconds but when I got home I restricted myself to cheese and Ryvitas and a Mars bar straight from the fridge. I lost weight quite quickly but I never had a flat stomach like most of the boys no matter how hard I tried to pull it in. Even using a Bullworker a few years later only my shoulders developed that manly look. I suppose had the shoulders of a swimmer. A swimmer with a fear of water.

My dad took me swimming in a final attempt at conquering my fear. I now wish he had taken me at a young age as he did with my sister but football was our only common ground back then.

I seemed to have beefburgers every day before I went swimming with my dad. They would repeat on me and I would use my belching as an excuse for not being able to breathe properly as I attempted my strokes. I was at my best underwater where I would keep my breath held and paddle furiously with my feet, my arms outstretched in front of me. Anything above the surface, though, was fraught with breathing problems.

When I was 17 I decided to take the bull by the horns and teach myself properly. I cycled to the baths, psyched myself up and it went pretty well, I was even beginning to do the crawl, breathing quite confidently. It probably helped that I hadn’t had beefburgers beforehand. But at the end of my session I noticed my right ear was filled with water. Over the next week the inner ear was becoming more and more irritated and on holiday in Pendine at the beginning of the next week white gunk started coming out of the ear. I spent all week in bed with a painful ear infection, in the same ear that had the perforated eardrum caused by my measles at the age of four. I saw a surgeon about repairing the eardrum but my dad didn’t want me to have the operation, not trusting the medical profession so I was never to swim again.

The holiday in Pendine was notable for one other thing, the first time I’d noticed my dad might have had a sex drive. The antibiotics were working and I went out to the camp’s clubhouse with the rest of my family. Dancing to the music was a large woman wearing a dress that showed rather too much. From out of nowhere my dad leaned over to me, nudged me in the ribs and said, rather too loudly, ‘That…is a whole lotta woman!’ She was, indeed a lot of woman. But really there was no need to point it out so blatantly.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I Know What I'm Doing

I've been on a two day course the Jobcentre sent me to. "Finding and Getting a Job". Because I sat there for two days I've got a certificate, not yet framed.

Most of it was common sense, though I still don't know which companies I'm supposed to target with my speculative CV and accompanying letter. "Dear Tantric Tiles, I think you're a fucking fantastic company doing fucking amazing things in the fucking fascinating world of tiles and I'd love to stick my tongue up your arse five days a week."

The method of teaching was something I'd never come across before. For each part of the course, CVs, interview techniques, etc, we were first handed ridiculously awful examples and asked to list everything that was wrong. One of the application forms was so badly completed the tutor's opinion was that the employer should get that person in for an interview to piss them off as they obviously did not want the job. We eventually had to give our examples of what to do rather than what not to do and the tutor ticked our answers and scribbled little smiley faces.

We all passed with flying colours, except for the ultra-cynical man who didn't come back for the second day. The friendly tutor tried to get us to talk amongst ourselves whenever she left the room, which was pretty frequently. We didn't say much, not really wanting to discuss our reasons for being unemployed in front of a group of five or six people we'd only known for a short time and may never see again.

I left the course with the encouragement that I am doing the right things but a dulling sense that if all of us are doing the right things why are we not successful in finding work? Maybe because hundreds of other applicants for the same jobs are doing the right things, too?

In my class there was a bookkeeper (me), a couple of construction workers, a waiter, a receptionist, an IT engineer and a gas engineer.

It's good to meet people from other walks of life.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Watch Out, There's a Humphrys About

Being a man of leisure, I am now able to further my career as a writer of letters, or "emails" as they are now known, to institutions. What follows is the email I have just sent to the BBC concerning their programme The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys.

The Future State of Welfare with John Humphrys chose its interviewees, not as a representative sample of the UK's population, but in order to confirm commonly held prejudices about the kinds of people who are supposedly "being given something for nothing in this country", unrepresentative of the vast majority of claimants but always brought up in conversation by people who are well off themselves and not interested in finding out the whole story of who gets welfare and whether it is, in many cases, enough to live on.

There was the newly immigrant family who are receiving an incredibly high amount in housing benefit for a spacious, extremely habitable looking flat in Islington. This panders to the prejudice we hear time and time again of immigrants jumping to the front of the housing queue and living in expensive properties.

There was the single mother with seven children living on benefits which panders to the prejudice that thousands of young women keep giving birth just because they know they'll be looked after by the state no matter how many children they have.

There was the woman on incapacity benefit living with ME, or "yuppie flu"as the prejudiced might say when asked what sort of people are getting benefits when there is nothing seriously wrong with them.

The programme did not qualify as impartial, saying that there was a consensus amongst political parties in the UK about welfare, ignoring the millions of people who are not represented by the main political parties. The programme looked for welfare solutions from the USA, hardly a good example for the eradication of "squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease" which was the aim of the Beveridge Report.

Opinion was taken not from just America but also from young Poles working in this country who were of the opinion that welfare in the UK was too generous as compared to Poland where it is not possible to live on state benefits. Nothing was said about poverty in the UK and the difficulties millions of people have making ends meet not just on welfare but on the poor minimum wage and above. Although two of the interviewees said it was not worth their while working because they would end up with very little more in their pockets, the obvious solution of a higher minimum wage was not mentioned. It was all about making life more miserable for people, not about giving them a decent standard of living.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Spitting

It looks like El Hadji Diouf could be on his way to West Ham. And West Ham fans are furious. Because years ago, when he was playing for Liverpool, he spat in the general direction of West Ham fans.

You see, spitting is the worst thing you can do to someone. It makes you less of a human being than, say, a hero like Paolo Di Canio who has described himself as a fascist.

A spit is beyond the pale. Much worse than a good old honest punch.

Well, I don't see people dying from being spat at. Unlike the local man who was punched outside a kebab house last week.

The most recent spitting I've seen is from footage of The World at War which we are currently watching. Russian women who had experienced the horrors of invasion were spitting at captured German soldiers.

Just maybe El Hadji Diouf had provocation. But spitting at someone, no matter what they've said to you, has no place in a civilised society. We are English. We only spit on the pavement or at the urinal. We punch people, we kick people, but we don't spit at them. We are civilised.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Standard of Living - Part 2

Though a couple both on jobseeker's allowance just about make 40% of the average British household income, a single person doesn't. £67.50 per week is a mere 34% of a single person household's average income. Maybe the single unemployed ought to give up their computers, their link to the outside world, so they can have a healthier diet. Yes, that's what they should do.

But once again the poverty experts make a minimum standard of living sound so luxurious that policy makers are not going to take them seriously.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned a survey of the great British public to ask them what they think people need to reach a minimum standard of living.

You can do the questionnaire here and it basically says that after rent, mortgage interest, council tax, buildings insurance and water charges, a single person needs £163 per week or 82% of average income to maintain a minimum standard of living. A couple would need £259 or 76% of a couple's average income.

The public doing the survey were asked what the minimum should be that nobody should fall below. I don't know whether they were then asked what the level of jobseeker's allowance should be. I doubt it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Standard of Living - Part 1

As I was saying, it's not the unemployment that gets you down, it's the poverty. And we're now officially living on poverty income. Though it doesn't feel like it. Why not? Let's take a look at the figures, shall we?

Relative poverty, or low income, in the UK is 60% or less of the average (median) British household income in that year, measured after income tax, national insurance, council tax, rents, mortgage interest, buildings insurance and water charges have been deducted. It's therefore based on what a household has to spend on everything else it needs, from food, clothing, light and heating to travel and entertainment.

In 2008/09, 13.5 million people, 22% of the population in the UK were living in households below the 60% threshold. That is a fuck of a lot of people and these are official figures used by the government for poverty in the UK, don't forget. So why hasn't there been a revolution?

Let's see what under 60% of the average couple's income of £343 per week looks like for a couple like us who are non-smokers, home drinkers at weekends and home broadband users at a minimum (because the government want us all online, of course).

60% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), save up for repairs and renewals and have a holiday abroad.

55% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), save up for repairs and renewals and have one holiday in the UK.

50% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), save up for repairs and renewals and have no holidays.

45% means we get to run a car, have Sky (as we love Mr Murdoch's service), not save up for repairs and renewals and have no holidays.

40% means we have no car, no Sky (even though we love Mr Murdoch's service), not save up for repairs and renewals and have no holidays.

At the moment, in our circumstances, I'm budgeting for 45-50%. We'll see how it goes.

40% is about the level of jobseekers' allowance for a couple, assuming housing costs are paid for by the state.

The number of people in the 50-60% range, the reasonably well-off low-income people, has remained stable in the range of 4 to 4.8 million between 1979 and 2009. The 40-50%, not particularly well-off low-income people, have had more of a rocky ride and are up from 2 million in 1979 to 3.5 million in 2009. But the poor sods on 40% or less have rocketed from 1.3 million to 5.9 million (up from 2.4% of the population to 9.8%).

I know the Tories like to create poor people, but surely New Labour did a Hell of a lot for the less-well-off, I hear you say.

Well, New Labour took two million people out of the 40-60% range but added nearly a million to the under 40%s.

So when a government says they want to get people out of poverty, they mean relative poverty and they mean getting those who are pretty well off in the scheme of things to above 60% of average income. If they were serious about giving the poorest people a bit of a life they'd increase benefits by at least 15-20%, double the pathetic minimum wage and make sure everybody is living in reasonable housing conditions.

Next I'll be looking at single people on the dole and the incredible Minimum Income Standard funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


*all figures for the above from www.poverty.org.uk

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Aimless (6)

Since we’d moved to Crayford, my dad had been working at silk-screen printers David Evans, just down the road. He left early in the morning and came back early in the evening, then de-camped to the garage or his allotment. It was about this time his world started falling apart.

His sister, a kindly generous woman, had died at the age of 42 in the early 70s. She had a brain tumour which was operated on. She died from the operation. My dad wouldn’t accept her death, blaming the surgeon. A man who had said his prayers religiously before going to bed now lost his faith and became vociferously atheist. He now asked if there is a God, why did he allow his sister to die at such a young age? She’d never done anything to deserve that.

My own road to atheism was not so fraught. I’d never believed, never been brainwashed by my family or school. In fact at primary school I couldn’t believe that any of us believed. We used to take the piss something rotten out of the school’s vicar. The Grumbleweeds were a crap childishly-humorous pop band at the time and one of the band was introduced with the call ‘Watchya, Baldy!’ Our vicar was almost bald so he got the same treatment from our class when he came to spout his Christian bollocks.

Not long after my dad's sister's death, his mum went, too. My grandad was in hospital with lung cancer and my dad went to check up on his mum as usual and found her slumped in her chair, dead from a heart attack. Or the heartbreak of losing a daughter.

My grandad came out of hospital and came to stay with us, in my little box bedroom. My sister moved into my parents’ bedroom as I had hers. I kept myself to myself, carried on with my studies and my tennis and my music and my reading.

After a while my grandad was taken to hospital to die and my dad was left with no mum and dad and no sister. He withdrew into himself and would spend more and more time by himself over the next few years, making things in the garage and growing things in the allotment. Brewing his own beer, drinking his home-brewed beer. Christmas was the time we noticed him getting drunk but in reality he was getting drunk all the time. He was becoming a secret alcoholic.

But those Christmases were the worst. My dad was bitter that he’d lost his family and my mum’s were all intact. Especially as his family were so much friendlier and down to earth, salt of the earth. He didn’t get on with his mother-in-law who he thought sucked the life out of life with her expectations of her daughters to come running at a moment’s notice and her philosophy of life as ‘hell on earth’.

So because Christmases were seen as big family occasions, my dad resented having to spend every Christmas from now on in the company of my mum’s family. The three sisters took it in turns to cook and we’d all get together, pussyfooting around my grandmother as she sat in the corner of the room, a few feet from the television set, the television turned up loud when anything came on which she wanted to watch. My grandmother had fucked her hearing earlier in her life by cleaning the wax out of her ears using knitting needles which presumably, like the opening medicine, would never do her any harm.

Of course the Queen’s Christmas Message was the highlight of the day for my grandmother who couldn’t get enough of what the Queen was wearing, how she was looking so good for her age, how she was speaking directly to each and every one of us although if you’d asked my nan after the event what the Queen had actually said I’m sure she wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Some bollocks about the Commonwealth I’m sure with pictures of black children far away, far away enough not to worry about being swamped in this country by non-whites. My dad, being a staunch anti-Royalist from birth, seethed as the Queen blared out at maximum volume. Meanwhile I was sitting there in my uncomfortable Christmas clothes of itchy polo-neck jumper, itchy tight-crotched trousers and too-tight oxblood shoes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fourteen Weeks and Counting

At 5 p.m. today I will have completed fourteen weeks of unemployment. Although I've had three interviews in that time I've got nowhere near getting a job, not being invited back for second interviews. I'm guessing I was too old and too experienced for the jobs, they wanted some keen young thing to concentrate on a few repetitive tasks all day long. I can do that. Gizza job!

I have plenty of experience but not qualifications. I was never interested in studying such a boring subject. They tried to get me motivated to study in my first job but I gave up after a week and handed my notice in. If only I had those qualifications I could be getting rejected for better paid jobs than I am presently.

People give you advice. "Go down the entrepreneurial route, set up your own business, get yourself some clients." As if there aren't hundreds or thousands of people trying to do that already. "Don't worry if you haven't got the qualifications, apply for everything!" Ok, so what do I write in my covering letter? I'm not qualified to do this job but I make a nice cup of tea?

Maybe I need to think about what I really want to do and go for it.

Well, there is nothing I really want to do that will earn me money, never has been, never will be. Everything I have ever done to make money has been done with absolutely no enthusiasm.

I don't feel bereft now I'm out of work. I'm not depressed. I don't desperately need the company of others. I haven't lost my confidence or my sense of self-worth. I still think I'm better than those bastards. You know who they are.

It's poverty that fucks people up, not unemployment. But there aren't enough jobs to go round and unemployment can cause poverty because benefits are so shit. Benefits are so shit because of the attitude of the majority of well-off people who actually believe there is a job out there for everyone. "All you have to do is get off your lazy arse. If I was unemployed I'd do anything, I'd even stack shelves."

So there are shelves out there waiting to be stacked, are there? Dickhead.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Aimless (5)

Maths was a subject I found easy in the early years of Big School. I suppose I had an aptitude for it. But I had my limits and Maths would cause me more tears than any other subject over the years. Maths teachers seemed to me to be the most blinkered. They just couldn't understand why a pupil could not understand. They were explaining it. They understood what they were explaining as clear as day. Surely you must understand this, boy. But I didn't really get this feeling until doing my A-level. My early Maths years were a piece of piss.

Even though I'd been a big football cheese at primary school, captain of the school team, when I got to Big School I had lost any confidence my old teacher had tried to instill in me and, not being the most forward of eleven year olds, didn't get a sniff at the big boys' school team. It was a case of the louder the mouth the further you got, a real lesson for life there. There I was expecting to be passed to every now and then because I was in a good position but because I wasn't demanding the ball I was never given it. Oh well, my loss was England's loss.

I took to cricket, however, like a duck to water. For some inexplicable reason I found I could bowl on target and at a similar length each time. I had no idea how to hold the ball, just cradled it in my small hand as if I were holding an apple, but my run-up and action were decent enough. Playing with and against eleven and twelve year olds on a full-size pitch, you could get away with bowling accurately and not have to worry about complicated things like swing or spin.

I enjoyed fielding, too. Because we had a few accurate bowlers, the fieldsmen crowded the batsman. I was silly mid-on, not so silly when the batsmen could only play weak defensive shots. I got a thrill from anticipating dives to clutch the results of pathetic shots close to the ground. The big, booming Geography teacher enjoyed this mini version of real cricket as we did. Nobody shined and boundaries were very rarely hit.

That was until we played a school which contained black boys! We didn’t have black boys at our school. Bexley was a London borough but by no means integrated. The nearest any of us got to black music was a love of Jimi Hendrix who was lumped in together with white rock, his blackness never mentioned, though of course all white rock was based on the blues. So to come up against a school with black boys, well, it was like playing against the best young cricketers the West Indies had to offer! They hit the ball so hard! One boy was smashing our bowlers all over the pitch, boundary after boundary. I was standing at square leg, not my usual silly mid-on. But square leg seemed a bit silly as the boy hooked a shot with tremendous power straight towards my gut. I caught the ball but, God, the pain! My team came over to congratulate me, my big, booming teacher patted me on the back. It was the greatest act of bravery the school had ever known. I watched the batsman stroll off and we exchanged smiles of mutual respect. Of course everybody that day thought I was a fucking idiot. They were thrashing us and I wouldn’t have lost much face by jumping out of the way.

At school the weedy kids played tennis. They were taught by the vicious one-armed Art teacher. This was in the days before two-fisted backhands, of course. The Art teacher would serve by resting the ball on his stump, jerking it upwards and hitting the ball at about head height. It was embarrassing watching the kids at school play tennis. They weren’t suited for sports at all and I couldn’t see what enjoyment they got out of it. It must have been hell for them.

I was qualified to look down upon the quality of school tennis as I had learnt the game outside and belonged to a tennis club.

My dad’s friend at work had taught me tennis, a few lessons at the local council courts. And luckily one of the twins had learnt himself and his dad belonged to a bowls and tennis club. He got us in and we practised whenever we could, baseline rallies that went on forever. I was the master of the topspin forehand though little else. My serve was perfectly performed yet slow and my volleys were powder-puff. So the baseline it was for us.

We visited my tennis coach a few times in Chatham. And my dad got so friendly with Tony that he even agreed to us going on holiday with Tony and his family.

For a few halcyon years we took our holidays in the south-east’s holiday camps. Butlin’s and Pontin’s were too common but Warners was more in line with our upper working-class credentials. I would spend hours looking through Warners brochures, comparing facilities. Sinah Warren had a glamorous name and offered everything a family needed. But it was out of our league, too expensive. I liked the name ‘Dovercourt’ and this became my second favourite, having most of the facilities Warners offered. I lf I liked a name back then that was the most important thing. Castleford became my favourite rugby league team because I liked the name. Not that I liked rugby league at all but it was always fucking on on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve heard too much of Eddie Waring’s voice in my life if you add up all those boring rugby league games, It’s A Knockout, Jeux Sans Frontieres.

So Dovercourt was my second choice and we got to go there with Tony and family. Except what was intentioned as a pleasant family holiday turned into a piss-up for Tony and my dad. One night they took it in turns in a wheelbarrow on the journey back to the chalets.

Warners had snooker, table tennis, as many servings of food as you could eat, rude lunchtime comedians in the bar which was open to all the family, and even a tennis competition which I won because the other players were as bad as the tennis players at school. A highlight for me was seeing the great snooker player and Pot Black star Graham Miles up close as he demonstrated his shots for the men and his firm buttocks in his tight trousers for the women. I got to drink cheeky shandies half-filled with beer unlike the half-inch measures I got at home.

School summer holidays were filled with tennis, cycling and reading. Like a posh girl with a healthy body and a healthy mind. My dad’s favourite books apart from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist were the adventure novels of Wilbur Smith which I lapped up along with the Ian Fleming Bond books and Hawaii by James A Michener which, to my shame, I have still not attempted to read. My dad never wanted to go anywhere overseas except for Hawaii. He never did leave Britain.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hourglass Economy

IMAGE A

IMAGE B


It is now generally accepted that most western countries now have an "hourglass economy" with a thriving top and bottom and a greatly reduced middle.

The hourglass economy is illustrated in Image A above. As you can see, it has three sections:-

TITS
WAIST
HIPS

The TITS (Those In The Sun) are those at the top of society, the lucky bastards earning lots of money for being able to fit perfectly into a society which rewards privilege, nepotism, luck, and, sometimes, intelligence.

The WAIST (Why Am I So Thin?) are those in the middle of society, not to be confused with the "squeezed middle" which doesn't really exist except in politicians' speeches and if it did exist would need to be illustrated by a fat person wearing a corset. The WAIST includes middle managers, skilled manual and office workers, etc.

The HIPS (Humans In Poverty Situations) are those at the bottom of the working society, those in shitty jobs in which you have to smile and pretend you're enjoying yourself in return for shitty money.

As you can see, the WAIST is so much thinner than the TITS and the HIPS. It wasn't always this way.

From the 50s to the late 70s, the economy was shaped more like Image B, the bloated economy. As you can see there were still TITS around then but TITS growth has rocketed in the past 30 years. And just look at the bloated WAIST! (We're All In Society Together, in this case). There has been some movement from the WAIST to the TITS over the years, and plenty of movement from the WAIST to the HIPS. In addition, technology has acted as a form of liposuction on the economy and taken the excess waste, or fat, out of the WAIST and HIPS and into the corner of the room where it grows as a constant reminder of what could befall the bottom two-thirds of the economy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eleven Nine

I was in the office on 11th September 2001. There were a lot of serious faces about. The management had the radio on all afternoon. But we were safe in our building. We each had a job for life.

Now the management have gone, plenty of others, too, me included. Jobs for life don't exist in an increasingly technological world in which jobs are being replaced by computers every day. Where there were six people in my old department when I started in 1986, now there is one. I was in charge of coping with the reduction from six to two over the years, never thinking my reward would be the two becoming one.

And more people have joined the jobs market. Labour force growth, which had been moderate in that supposedly golden age from post-war to the mid-sixties, stagnated until the mid-seventies, then rocketed. The baby boomers wanted jobs, yes, even the women.

Then there weren't enough jobs to go around. There haven't been since. There won't be in the future. And since the number of people in the UK in work peaked in 2008 and has fallen sharply since, employers now have a flood of experienced, trained and suitable applicants for each job. Getting an interview is down to sheer luck. Getting the job is down to chemistry. Any one of hundreds of applicants could do the job well, but only one is apparently the right personality fit.

I wonder how many of the two hundred applicants for the poorly paid part-time job I applied for are unemployed? How many are desperate for a job? How many will never get another job, if they've ever had one in the first place? How many have the right personality if they ever get to the interview stage? How many don't need the job but need the social side of working? How many are in a job they hate and need a change? How many need two jobs to survive?

Where do I stand? I'm lucky, I don't need a job to survive. I was lucky enough to have been able to afford to save well over the past several years. If I want holidays, yes, I'd need to work. But what percentage of even the world's working population can afford to go on holiday?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

It's Patrick Bloody Hamilton, Man!

I went for my third interview since my redundancy yesterday. It was all going well until I was asked the question, "And what about Geoffrey in his spare time? What does Geoffrey like to do?"

Of course I wanted to say, "I don't know, you'd better ask him." But I thought I'd better mention my more intellectual pursuits.

"I like to read, watch television and films, listen to music."

"What are you reading at the moment? Which author?" she asked.

For the life of me I couldn't remember. I knew what the book was about but I couldn't remember the name of the author or the book's title. I'm like this with books quite often nowadays.

"I'm afraid I can't remember. It's a trilogy. It's very good."

I didn't really want to describe the book and thankfully she didn't ask me to. If she had asked I would have had to describe it thus...

"I'm quite a way through the first part, the part seen through the eyes of Bob, the waiter at a London pub who falls in love with a 'beautiful' young prostitute, Jenny. He gives her money, not for sex, but because every time he meets her she seems to need money for rent or for a dress for a job interview, etc. He knows she's using him but he's so besotted with her that he cannot give her up even though the more he finds out about her the less he likes her. It is an autobiographical novel as the novelist, whose name currently escapes me, fell in love with a prostitue himself in his twenties and started to drink heavily. The second part of the trilogy is written from the point of view of Jenny and the third is about Ella, a 'plain' barmaid who works with Bob and seems to be in love with him. Even though the book is very much about sexual infatuation there is no actual sex in the book, purely chaste kisses between the protagonists, though of course what Jenny gets up to when apart from Bob, God only knows, and for the purposes of this job interview I think I should leave it at that."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Aimless (4)

In my last year at primary school I was a bit of a rebel. I just didn't treat art seriously, preferring to draw cartoons rather than the serious painting my classmates were doing. I was developing a political mind, my dad's bible was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and his beliefs were rubbing off on me. He hated the Tories, so did I. Ted Heath was an idiot and I entitled one cartoon '3 Eyed Ted From Number 10'. Ted Heath with his big toothy laugh and three eyes, one in the middle of his forehead. I didn't know what political point I was making, maybe that the Tories were aliens and should head off back to their own planet. I have a suspicion that Steve Bell somehow saw my cartoon and somehow made a career out of portraying Tories as monsters. Tories are not of this world, though. There's something inhuman about them.

I gained another friend who played David Bowie and Alice Cooper to me and his mum gave me tea. Tea always included baked beans with something, fish fingers or sausages. Tea away from home in my primary school days was accompanied by Blue Peter which I hated and Wacky Races, which I loved.

The Alice Cooper boy also supported West Ham and one day he planned a trip for us. We were to get a Red Bus Rover and visit every London football ground in a day. We got as far as West Ham, Leyton Orient and Arsenal before having to turn back as it was getting late.

The way to West Ham was the 96 bus from Crayford to Woolwich, Woolwich Ferry to Canning Town and 101 bus from there to East Ham Town Hall. Big bovver boys got the 101 on a Saturday and walked through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. The ferry was much more romantic, second only to the Mersey Ferry with its Gerry & The Pacemakers' romance. Maybe the Woolwich Ferry should make itself more of a tourist attraction by playing some Cockney Rejects or something.

Apart from cheesy Top of the Pops albums with their scantily clad girls next door on the covers and abysmal cover versions of the days hits and my groovy K-Tel albums with the wonders of glam rock and Python Lee Jackson, my first real musical purchase was Tony Orlando & Dawn's Tie a Yellow Ribbon in 1973. OK, it wasn't bought with my earned money and I think my mum had some say in the choice of record as I immediately asked her to take it back to the shop. I was embarrassed by its mawkishness. It is not even one of my guilty pleasures today.

Now and again I heard a tune called Sylvia by Dutch rock band Focus. I loved it and wanted it. I saw a Focus LP in the music shop in Crayford and my mum kindly went to buy it for me. Unfortunately what she bought was not the LP but some complicated Focus sheet music including yodels. Another embarrassing return to a shop ensued.

I didn't make the same mistake twice. I got the Focus compilation album from the same shop and played it to death. And so my prog journey began. Sorry, not very punk, is it?

I started Big School in 1973. Having passed the 11-Plus I had the choice of a grammar or a technical high. There were two other boys in my class who passed their 11-Plus and they were going to the technical high. Having somebody I knew going to the school, including a boy I had been to tea with several times, overrode the opinions of my parents that a grammar school would be better for me. Of course the grammar would have been more suitable but all I could see at the grammar was nobody I knew and lots of girls.

So, without an interest in science or technology or making things, without an interest in Doctor Who or science fiction or Tomorrow's World, I decided to go where the boys went. The boys who were shy of girls.

I turned up on the first day in full school uniform, one of only two boys wearing a cap. The other was called Cheeseman. I was assigned to the same class as Cheeseman and sat next to him as the seating plan was alphabetical. Two little boys with two little caps. It breaks my heart to think of the naivety of it and the potential for piss-taking. But this was a nice school. Bullies were few and far between and didn't pick on me for some time. I settled into certain classes with ease. English, maths and French. Everything else, I hated.

Physics. Nice teacher, yes, into his trad jazz, but what the fuck was Physics all about? And why those tall stools, why the long benches? So uncomfortable. I liked a desk with a chair, a stool and bench were so uncivilised.

Chemistry. Teacher a bit distant. And there we were in the lab again. I didn't belong in a lab with its tall stools and long benches and bunsen burners. I didn't want to be anywhere near fire! Physics, Chemistry, how things worked. I couldn't give a bollock how things worked. Never have done, never will. I want to take it all for granted. I want to turn on the telly and let magic happen. Magic is what it's all about.

Technical Drawing. Dull teacher. And even that fucking desk was too big and not flat! It was on a fucking incline! I didn't want to be on an incline, I wanted to be parallel with the ground. And the pencil was too hard. 2H! I was making indents into the paper. I am just not interested in how things are designed, whether by God or by man. God designed this little green apple. Let God draw the fucking thing. Nuts, bolts, screws, not interested. Give me a pencil and paper and I want to draw silly things. Paper's there to have fun with.

Art. Vicious one-armed teacher. Expert at throwing things at naughty boys. More inclined desks and high stools. And so serious! Yes, I wanted to draw and paint better but I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to enjoy myself. Who in our class was going to become a serious artist for Christ's sake? Come on, let's be honest. Just how many artists has this school produced in its history? I bet it's none. Then why in God's name were we doing this? We might as well have been having fun, taking the piss out of things. You never know, there might have been some budding cartoonists.

Geography. Big, booming friendly teacher, cricket fanatic. But really. I wasn't interested in the earth and what it's made of and why weather does what it does. Why couldn't it just be a mystery? Couldn't we just be surprised by things? '5, 10 and 21, Winter, Spring and Summer Sun.' That's all I remember from Geography. What about the world's resources and why they're owned by cunts and not by everyone? Why is there poverty, hunger, genocide?

Woodwork. Oh dear. Nice teacher, old school Jack Hargreaves type and if I had my grandad's carpentry genes, maybe. But I haven't got a clue and I couldn't care less. Someone's got to make chairs and tables and desks and fucking high stools and benches I suppose, but that's not me, buster! I wasn't put on this earth to make things. Hammers, planes, chisels. I am not an artisan.

Metalwork. Oh dear, this teacher's a bit, how do you say, let's just say he runs the Railway Club which over the course of my school days was a front for middle-aged men and young teenage boys to get away and experience a nature of sorts. Days out photographing impressionable boys. That didn't float my boat nor did drilling and cutting metal. Bollocks to rivets.

History. Incredibly dull young teacher. And we're starting from the very beginning of humanity. What do we actually know? That's not history, it's speculation. Who's to say the earth wasn't run by aliens who kept us for their entertainment as we hunted animals and cut them up with our primitive utensils? The aliens pissed themselves laughing for years until they got bored and pissed off to their own planet.

PE. Psychopathic teacher in white shorts. Ex-army. Made us shower before, after and during Games and PE. Took glee in our failure to climb ropes, jump horses, pull ourselves up on the rings. One day the cunt brought in some shitty 50 year old pairs of boxing gloves. What did he expect us to do with them? He thought he knew it all. The healthy life. It was his dream to go to America. When he retired he landed at the airport and dropped dead of a heart attack. We were in mourning. Mourning, I tell you.

So Big School was all work, no play, cramming in subjects till they came out of our ears. We were exam machines, there to get good results for the school's reputation.

My favourite subject was English Language. And I was Best in Class. I sat in the corner, furthest away from the teacher because I was the best. The worst at English sat next to the teacher and they would get hit regularly. Nice. The school had an annual anthology and a couple of us from our class got something in there. Shit poems, you know the sort. Teenage boys' poetry is the worst. Especially when you throw in some prog rock lyrics.

French was enjoyable, too. The teachers made it sound so easy. First we had a nice yet violent teacher who could turn on you if you were being disruptive in his eyes. Once I dropped a chair off the desk by accident and he brought his knuckles down on the top of my head with some force. The only time I was ever hit by a teacher and I still feel the sense of outrage. But other than that he was nice.

We soon got another French teacher, a young attractive woman who got us eager to get near the front of the class. Not only was she good-looking but French seemed to get easier. This beauty was magical. She just made it seem so easy. We were having tests and getting percentages in the late 90s. I got 99% in one test! You can't imagine the self-confidence eye contact with a beautiful woman, a smile, a 'congratulations' for being damn near perfect in her tests gave us. French was a wonderful language, the language of love and success. It wasn't until we got a proper French teacher that we found out how far behind in the syllabus we had got. She was teaching us baby stuff.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ratco's Goes Punk

Phil Garvey's Aunty Maureen said there was a Saturday job if he wanted it. At Ratco's, where his cousin Lisa had been working since she'd left school at 16 a year before.

‘This Saturday?’ said Phil. ‘I’ll be there, Aunty.’

Ratco’s was where Phil’s mum went when she just wanted the odd thing she’d forgotten. A tin of pease pudding for Phil’s dad, something like that. His mum normally went to Nicebury’s, a further ten minutes’ walk away. It was better stocked than Ratco’s and the meat wasn’t as rank.

***

Phil turned up at Ratco’s at 8.25 on the dot. Lisa was outside already, smoking a cigarette.

‘Here he is, my little cousin,’ she said, through a cloud of smoke.

‘I can’t wait to get my hands on those tins of pilchards,’ said Phil.

‘Sarcy,’ said Lisa. 'Ratco’s stock only the best pilchards. Pusscatlyck. They’re bloody gorgeous, Phil.'

Lisa smacked her lips against her fingertips.

‘Well I can’t wait to get my hands on ‘em. Stack ‘em. Price ‘em up.’

Phil wasn’t looking forward to the day. He’d never worked before and he never wanted to work in his life. Yes, he wanted to meet girls but he’d seen Lisa’s friends from Ratco’s and they weren’t his type. They were boring and normal, not intelligent. Phil prided himself on his intelligence. He wanted a girl he could listen to his music with, a prog rocker, not a soppy girl who was into sentimental pop songs. Phil was serious about his music and if a girl couldn’t appreciate Steve Milton’s fretwork she wasn’t the girl for Phil.

‘Lisa!’

‘Who the fuck is that?’ thought Phil. The girl was a punk. She had pink, spiky hair.

‘Watch out, Phil!’

Lisa’s warning was too late. The girl had spat a greenie into his hair. His freshly washed long hair.

‘What the fuck?’ said Phil, pulling at the grollie. ‘What the fuck did you do that for?’

The girl who had come out of nowhere gave Phil a withering look.

‘I’m a punk. And you’re a boring old fart,’ she said. ‘A dinosaur. Part of the bloated establishment.’

‘You spat in my hair!’ said Phil.

‘Clever clogs,’ said the girl-punk.

‘This is Belinda,’ said Lisa. ‘She’s new at Ratco’s. Started on Wednesday.’

‘But she’s a punk. Punks are outside of society. Punk bands can’t play their instruments,’ said Phil.

‘I’m still ‘ere, you know,’ said Belinda, lighting a cigarette. ‘Who’s she? The cat’s mother?’

Phil wiped the mucus onto his handkerchief. It made him retch.

‘Ratco’s wouldn’t let you serve the public. Would they?’ said Phil.

‘Ratco’s are very forward-thinking and with-it,’ said Lisa. ‘It’s their new employment policy.’

‘That’s bollocks,’ said Phil. ‘Lord Reece wouldn’t allow it. He’s an old Tory.’

Lord Reece was the chairman of Ratco's. The firm had been founded by his grandfather.

‘But Lord Reece’s son is in a punk band. You’ve heard of The Knob Cheesers?’ said Lisa.

‘The band that got banned on the radio?’ said Phil.

‘They said the ‘c’ word on the Bill Munday Show,’ said Lisa.

‘Drunk old pervert,’ said Belinda. ‘I bet he wanks off to pictures of punk girls on the King’s Road.’

Two weeks previously The KCs, or Knob Cheesers as they were known by the kids who read the music papers, appeared on the Bill Munday Show along with a few of their girl-punk fans. Munday was obviously drunk and up for an argument. The Knob Cheesers’ guitarist was one Mickey Mucky, a skinny working-class urchin with a penchant for speed and fast chord changes. Phil had seen them on a late-night programme called In The Ear presented by ex-hippy now punk fan, Nigel Goodman. Phil thought they were a noise who had first picked up their instruments only recently.

‘Lord Reece’s son can’t be in The Knob Cheesers,’ said Phil. ‘He’s an accomplished session guitarist. He played on Brian Winsome’s Last of the New Borders.’

‘All I know is what we’ve been told by management,’ said Lisa. ‘Ratco’s has gone punk, a new punk ethos, they said. And it’s all down to Mickey Mucky being Lord Reece’s favourite son.’

‘I can’t believe Simon Reece is Mickey Mucky,’ said Phil.

‘He saw the light,’ said Belinda.

***

The store manager arrived and opened up. He was a 52 year old balding depressed-looking man by the name of Peter Durnley.

‘Hello, girls,' he said, then opened the door and went straight to his office.

‘Am I invisible?’ said Phil to the two others.

‘He’s been very within himself recently,’ said Lisa. ‘He's losing interest. He’s pissed off about the direction Ratco’s is going in. This punk thing is too much for him. Come on. I’ll introduce you.’

Lisa knocked on Peter’s door.

‘Come in!’ said Peter.

Phil followed Lisa in. Peter held his head in his hands, looking down at a ledger half the size of his desk. Behind him was a certificate awarded to Peter as Ratco’s Store Manager of the Year, 1972.

‘This is my cousin, Phil,’ said Lisa.

Peter looked up, looking at Phil with defeated eyes.

‘You’ll have to get your hair cut,’ he said. ‘The new punk ethos ‘n’ all.’

‘Lisa hasn’t cut her hair,’ said Phil.

‘I wear one of these,’ said Lisa, and produced a multi-coloured mohican wig from her bag.

‘Oh, no,’ said Phil. ‘You’re not getting me wearing one of them.’

‘What if I were to say to you your manager wears one,’ said Peter. He produced a mohican wig of his own from his desk drawer.

Peter put the wig on his head. Lisa put hers on her head. Phil was the odd one out in a room of fake punks.

‘What Lord Reece says goes,’ said Peter. ‘You may not like it, I may not like it, but when he gets a bee in his bonnet, it don’t go away.’

‘And then there’s the uniform,’ said Lisa.

‘Not bondage gear?’ said Phil.

‘Lab coats,’ said Peter. He went to a cabinet and took out a coat for Phil. It was a long lab coat, dyed orange with a silver anarchy symbol in the middle of the back.

‘Lord Reece’s design,’ said Peter.

Ratco’s logo was silver on an orange background. It was designed by Lord Reece’s father when the company was re-invented in 1927. Bold colours for a bold, forward-thinking company. Ready for the space age. Phil thought it looked cheap and tacky and these anarchy coats looked like an experiment gone wrong. Why associate a successful retail business with a worldview that there should be no political structure in society? How could Ratco's exist in a world without rules? Lord Reece’s father was eccentric but lucky with his logo. He'd tripled turnover in the year after introducing it. But the current Lord Reece had lost all business sense, surely?

‘What do the customers think?’ said Phil. His mother hadn’t been to Ratco’s for a couple of weeks so wouldn’t have known about the changes.

‘What do you think?’ said Peter. ‘They hate it. They’re nervous of the outfits and the hair. You can see the fear in the eyes of some of these little old ladies. All they read about in the papers is how the youth of today have lost all respect for their elders. And they come in here and instead of getting service with a smile they’re getting bad attitude. Staff spitting in their blue rinses. It doesn’t make my job easy. I’m used to running a tight ship with staff who would bend over backwards for the customers. You know that saying ‘The customer is always right’? Lord Reece has us thinking the customer is a 'boring old fart'. A 'dinosaur'. There is 'no future'. What kind of a message are we sending out? How do we expect to hold onto our customers? We used to be a respected part of the community, somewhere where local people could buy cheap products and not feel guilty for their lack of status. Now we treat people like scum.’

‘Wow,’ thought Phil. This was the manager talking, the man who was supposed to instil a sense of discipline into his staff. What had he walked into? Surely Lisa would have told his Aunty Maureen what was going on. But she never mentioned the punk thing to his mother at all.

‘It’s time I opened up,’ said Peter. ‘Uniforms on, everyone.’

Peter walked out of his office and headed for the front door. Phil and Lisa put on their lab coats and mohicans.

‘I suppose we’re lucky really,’ said Lisa.

‘Lucky?’ said Phil.

‘Lord Reece is anti-drugs. Just imagine if we had to take something, too. Though it might make the day go quicker.’

‘Christ, what have I let myself in for?’ thought Phil.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Crown Jools

"ATTENTION!"


Jools Holland is the new face of The Brennan JB7, the "revolutionary CD player with a hard disk that stores up to 5,000 CDs" or "computer" as the technology-minded amongst us might say.

The advert in today's Guardian is as much a promotion for the talents of Mr Holland as it is for this revolutionary piece of kit.

"Jools Holland is a pianist, bandleader, composer, singer, television host, founder of Squeeze and the multi-million selling Rhythm and Blues Orchestra," we are informed.

As the advert is aimed at old people like me who don't understand that you can load your CDs onto your PC or Mac, I am grateful to now be aware of Mr Holland's talents so that I can now go out and buy all the CDs he has played on, sung on and composed for, load them onto my new Brennan JB7 and then throw them away.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Take All That (2)

SHARON: I don’t know what this world’s coming to. That furniture shop in Croydon. Those poor people. How are they going to rebuild their lives? That’s their livelihood gone up in flames. And the flames! The firemen didn’t have a chance of putting it out. Carly’s man’s a fireman. Gorgeous brown eyes. Lucky he don’t work in Croydon. Wouldn’t have wanted to be Carly watching that on telly, worried about her man.

DANNY: What Crouchy did was amazing. That’s how to act when you’re a star. I couldn’t believe it when he went for that haircut. Only a small shop ‘n’ all. Bet he had to crouch down to get in it, heh, heh. Then I bet the barber had to lower the chair, Crouchy being so tall. That’s what’s called giving something back to the community. I don’t know where he’s from, Crouchy, but he’s earned himself a place in the heart of every decent person in this country by his magnificent gesture. Imagine someone that big in the world going into a riot area and saying ‘I am one of you’! I’d like to think I’d do the same if ever I was to reach that height of fame. Give something back to the community. Say ‘I am still part of you, I will always be that little boy that grew up in a working class area amongst people that are the salt of the earth.’ They still are, most of ‘em. It’s only a minority who cause trouble. It’s the gangs ‘n’ that, gang culture. These young’uns aren’t like the gangs we used to have, your Krays and your Richardsons. Now they were real community-minded people, looked after their own, loved their mums. How can you love your mum if you go stealing from your own manor? Some of the mums were shopping their own kids, knowing they’d got to learn what’s right from what’s wrong. And then there’s that poor mum who’s getting kicked out of her home because of the actions of her stupid son. Where is the thought there? What was that idiot thinking? Didn’t he realise what he could be jeopardising? Bloody madness. It’s the lack of a father figure, that’s what it is. You ask any single mother what they really need and it’s a strong man in their life. Someone the boy knows to look up to. If I was a dad I’d be there for my family. Ok, I may actually be a dad, probable since I’ve knocked off more birds than Russell Brand. But if I decided to have kids, that’d be it for me. That would be a binding contract for life between me, the kids and the kids’ mother. I’m sorry but that’s the way I see it, black and white.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dave's Wake-Up Call

Cameron this morning:-

"Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse(1) that has taken place in parts of our country(2) these past few generations(3)?

Irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if your choices have no consequences, children without fathers, schools without discipline, reward without effort, crime without punishment, rights without responsibilities, communities without control.(4)"

1. Sorry, Dave. Can't visualise a moral collapse. Unless it's like this.

2. Oh, the poorer areas. I see.

3. The Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron years?

4. These are just in "parts of our country"? Or everywhere? Are you saying we get away with too much? We have money and things we don't deserve? We couldn't give a shit about anybody else? We're looking after number one? We dismiss the idea of society? How on earth could this have happened, Dave? Please, can you explain how?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Take All That (1)

DANNY: I’m Robbie Williams. I’m not really Robbie Williams. I just sound like him. I know I don’t sound like him when I talk but when I sing you can’t tell the difference. I’m in a Take That tribute band. We’re called Take All That. Brian, he’s Gary Barlow. Darren, he’s Orange. Lee, he’s Little Mark. And Ian, he’s the other one. I’ve been a big Robbie Williams man on the circuit for a few years now. I’ve done loads of work in the area being Robbie Williams. I was very popular at karaokes. They came to see me, the four lads, one night down at the King’s Head. I was really getting into being Robbie, and it was Brian, come up to me, and said ‘Here, we’ve got a Take That tribute act, and now Robbie Williams has rejoined Take That, we think you’ll be ideal fronting us with all your songs.’ I was a bit suspicious at first. But the lads invited me along to a rehearsal a couple of days later at the local church hall. I must say I was very impressed by the set-up. They were very professional. Being no spring chickens themselves they weren’t throwing themselves around onstage like the early Take That but were more sophisticated and mature and I knew straight away I was going to fit in with them. It didn’t harm things that we’re all good-looking chaps, if I say so myself.

SHARON: I love Take That. I didn’t get to see them at Wembley but seeing Take All That was the next best thing. Lee is beautiful, same shape as Little Mark, but with lovely twinkling blue eyes. I wouldn’t say ‘no’ though I usually go for taller men. I haven’t had a boyfriend under 6 foot except when I was 15 and going out with Gary the footballer who had a trial for Charlton. But Lee, I’d make an exception for Lee. He looks at you as if you’re the only woman in the room, his eyes burn right through you. Look, he signed this picture of his eyes. Aren’t they gorgeous?

DEAN: I saw Take All That in some cunting corporate do organised by the pricks at work. It was horrendous. I mean, you couldn’t pay me to even go and see the original Take That as they are shit, obviously. Hormonal women’s music. But this, this was an abomination. A total and utter z-list load of bollocks. I spent the whole night at the bar, drink after drink, drowning my sorrows, watching all those women waving their fucking arms, singing along with those talentless bellends.

DANNY: We got on like a house on fire and I was soon gigging with them, driving the women wild. I tell you what, being on board with these lads has certainly perked up the old pecker. I used to get lucky about once a month as solo Robbie but it’s every night with these boys. It’s funny how Brian gets the best-looking birds as Gary’s the least sexually attractive member of Take That. But Brian’s got a lovely voice and he’s not as boss-eyed as Gary. But he can do the eyes if requested. It’s a gift he’s got.

SHARON: I had my feet done today at the precinct. We’ve thought about it for some time, Carly and me. We’d just had a coffee at Starbuck’s and thought sod it, why not? You only live once. So we got up there on those seats and plonked our feet into the tanks. God, those little fish were onto us quicker than you can say Jack Robinson. It’s, I dunno, it’s not ticklish like you’d think it would be. They don’t make you laugh. But it is pleasant being nibbled. One of the little buggers was going at it hammer and tongs as though he hadn’t eaten in a week. That was a bit disturbing as I’m sure I saw a glint in his eye. I could imagine him turning into a piranha and actually start eating the flesh. I must admit I did start to panic for a while but Carly saw the change in me and held my hand and calmed me down. Carly knows how to calm me down when I’m having one of my turns.

DEAN: Those little shits should be strung up. And their parents, some of those kids were almost children. It’s the something for nothing generation. Think they can have everything given to them on a plate. When we were young we made do. My parents and grandparents were poor but you never saw them rioting. If my dad, when he was young, had done anything against the law, my grandad would have come down on him like a ton of bricks. You just didn’t. You don’t piss on your own doorstep. You don’t piss on anybody’s doorstep but if you have to piss on a doorstep you don’t piss on your own doorstep. They’re different nowadays. Living on hand-outs, hard-working people paying so they can laze around all day then have the effrontery to nick tellies and trainers us hard-working people work bloody hard to buy. If you want nice things you should earn the money to pay for them and you can only earn the money to pay for them by getting a job. Why don’t they get off their lazy backsides and get a job? It makes me sick that our brave boys are out there in Afghanistan getting blown up while these scumbags take our taxes and slouch around all day then play the big hard man by burning down a pub or a furniture shop. If you think you’re so hard, why don’t you take your hard attitude to Afghanistan and fight the Taliban like real men do. That’s a real man. They should have set the water cannons on them. Set the water cannons on them then thrown the book at them then locked them up and thrown away the key.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Aimless (3)

We found our dream house. A three bedroom semi. Large garden for me to run around in. 1966, a year of affordable housing for an ordinary single-income working family.

I started school again. Even though it was a small school I was uncomfortable being with all those children. But the teachers were nice.

The alphabet was drilled into us. The times table was, too. We started to read about those lovely children, Peter and Jane. Peter and Jane loved each other like only brothers and sisters can. I wonder where they are now? Do they still keep in touch?

The Peter and Jane books were published by Ladybird. A different Ladybird made children's clothes. That really fucked my mind, man.

I was co-erced into playing with the girl next door as my mum and hers watched on.

Eventually I made some real friends. Or, rather, they made friends with me. The twins were nine months younger than me and in the class below. They were cousins of my second cousins so I guess that's how we ended up together. I was a spoilt only-child and had modern toys which they liked to play with, boisterously.

I was already a West Ham fan as West Ham had won the World Cup for England. Bobby Moore was my favourite player as he was blond, handsome and he was the world's best player. My choice of football team wasn't based on geography or tradition. My dad had been a Charlton supporter, the nearest club to Bexley. I was a glory hunter, just like those Surrey Reds. All I could see in front of my eyes was a future of trophies and winning heroes, crying with joy. A lifetime of success.

In my second year of school, my mum fell pregnant. School had already obliterated our previous suffocatingly comfortable relationship and here was someone else to make us that little bit more independent of each other. My sister arrived in November 1968 and from reports of the time you'd think I was absolutely besotted with the girl. Of course I loved her straight away but I didn't have then nor have I since had a paternal bone in my body. She was my sister, not my daughter, right? It didn't mean I would love other babies or ache for Tiny Tears dolls to bounce on my knee. It just wasn't in me. Yes, I might have looked like a natural father at six years old but that was just me being a natural older brother.

Though I had the twins outside of school, breaking my toys, in school I made friends one at a time, just as my dad had. There was a boy with the surname King. My dad said I should never trust anyone with the surname King. Were these my dad's republican tendencies coming to the fore? He was right, though, the King boy was not to be trusted. But not because he was called King, Dad.

Thankfully I was never bullied by any of the boys. No, not me. I was bullied by one of the girls! She gave me a Chinese burn! I told my mum, showed her my wrist and one afternoon by the school gates my mum got hold of her and shook the living daylights out of her. She wouldn't touch me again.

Apart from that incident I didn't have any dealings with the girls. I didn't play kiss chase like some of those young studs.

In the year of the clackers we crowded into the shelter out of the rain at playtime and made a cacophonous noise. Knuckles were hurt and eyes were dislodged. I was very nervous of clackers as anybody in their right mind would be. But I didn't want to show it. I closed my eyes and clacked for England. Then England banned clackers and parents and kids like me breathed a sigh of relief.

More hand pain came with the conker season. Clackers were out but conkers remained as part of the playtime curriculum. I went to the park with the twins and we'd throw branches up at the massive horse chestnut trees, bringing down conkers in their thousands. Conkers were either put in the freezer section of the fridge along with the ice pops or pickled in large jars alongside the onions. You had to prepare your conker for battle or you'd be at a disadvantage.

My literary life was gathering pace, too. I soon grew out of Peter and Jane and moved onto comics. None of those namby pamby children's books for me. I read Whizzer & Chips from cover to cover but never considered myself a Whizz-kid or a Chip-ite. I was my own man.

I read other comics, too. But never the super-hero type or that prat Roy of the Rovers. Mine were more down-to-earth, prototype Viz comics. My favourite character was a boy who played football in his unwashed bare feet. You'd see the skinny white urchin in the bath, his feet on the rim, nice and dirty.

We listened to Peter and the Wolf at school which was meant to scare us and Sparky's Magic Piano which actually did. We went on visits to the Commonwealth Institute to see how the rest of our monarch's people lived and we went to the swimming baths once a week. I was scared of the water but luckily I had verrucas which kept me out of it. I watched from the gallery. On every coach trip we took I seem to remember eating my mum's cheese and piccalilli sandwiches. The sickliness of coach travel and piccalilli complemented each other perfectly.

We rehearsed for the school concert. The word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was painted onto sheets of paper and hung up round the school hall. I didn't want to play the recorder. I fancied the Indian bells which I was given to tinkle every now and then. Why on earth would I not want to play the recorder? The recorder kick-started many a musical career. Satchmo himself started with this fine instrument before moving onto the trumpet.

In my last year of primary school I was given the responsibility of captaining the school football team, presumably to make me a bit more assertive, a leader of men. I never really enjoyed playing in organised matches the way I did in kickabouts. Kickabouts were more random, you got more involved, exciting things happened like running girls being felled by wayward shots. Silly girls shouldn't have been running, should have kept to their skipping.

In one match the cleverest boy in the school ran after a ball and ran straight into the air-raid shelter's iron bar. God knows why the air-raid shelter was still there, somthing to do with the cold war, maybe. So the boy's head was split open and there was blood everywhere. It didn't seem to do him any harm though, quite the opposite as he seemed to become super-intelligent after this incident.

I had no interest in playing games other than football. What's The Time, Mr Wolf? was fucking stupid. Kiss Chase was for the girls.

I remember just one fight from my primary school. And the fight was over music. Kid A thought Gary Glitter was the greatest artist who ever existed. Kid B thought that that accolade went to Marc Bolan. I was not fussed at the time and I'm not fussed now. There's room for all tastes in music listeners' worlds.

The build-up was more exciting than the fight itself. The argument and the anticipation had been ongoing for some time, at least a week, and a time and a place were agreed. The time: dinner time. The place: the playground. Children crowded around the two protagonists and a high-pitched chant chilled the air.

"Bundle! Bundle!"

The fighters went for each other.

Of course it was over in seconds as a playground attendant or "dinner lady" as we used to call any woman other than the teachers broke it up with little fuss. There was no blood, no black eyes. It was not conclusive who was the greater artist. Bolan went to his grave not knowing.

Friday, August 05, 2011

15 Movie Questions

Taking the baton from Tim, Annie and Rol, here are my choices. Feel free to do your own!

1. Movie you love with a passion.

Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train.


2. Movie you vow to never watch.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or any of that new American indie bollocks.


3. Movie that literally left you speechless.

The Vanishing (1988). Speechless and breathless.


4. Movie you always recommend.

Atlantic City.


5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie.

Bette Davis.


6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for.

Audrey Hepburn.


7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet.

Groucho Marx, though I'd be shit scared.


8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)


Irene Jacob.



9. Dream cast.

The Once Upon a Time in America cast.


10. Favorite actor pairing.

Was going to say Michael Redgrave and dummy in Dead of Night but one of them isn't made of flesh and blood. So, Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City.


11. Favorite movie setting.




12. Favorite decade for movies.

1940s.


13. Chick flick or action movie?

A specific action movie: Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.


14. Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Anti-hero.


15. Black and white or color?

Colour. Especially the brilliant colours of the Powell/Pressburger films in the 40s.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Non-Stop Noel

Non-Stop Noel (mp3)

"What's this shit?" said Maud to Kate,
"Deal or No Deal. See that state?"
"Fucking hell, how old is she?"
"Younger than both you and me."
"Greed for money puts on years."
"Look at those two sad old dears."
"Can't they put on BBC?"
"They'd have to pay the license fee."
"So all we get is non-stop Noel?"
"It's not like being on the dole,
They can watch all kinds of shite,
They've all got fucking satellites."
"You're telling me that this is it,
Noel Edmonds, Smarmy Git?"
"He may look like a fucking gnome,
But he owns this fucking shitting home."