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Monday, 19 December 2011

Absent Fathers

A happy one, after a fashion. Just for a change.

I've spoken before about how, following the split between my parents, my Father was somewhat conspicuous by his absence and that was true, up to a point. I did however go to stay with him on all of two occasions, and this is the first of them.

I was once told that the following day I was off to stay with my Dad for a week. The. Following. Day.. So, you know, lots of planning had gone into that. If I'm honest, I was a bit put out by the whole affair, seeing as how I had no great desire to see my Dad let alone spend a whole week with the bloke; not to mention that this was slap in the middle of the six weeks holidays, which was prime Spectrum staff harassment time for me and my mates; so I was probably being a bit surly and uncooperative. Nonetheless, on the bus I got and as I was tramping my way up the aisle to nab the still vacant back seat (loads of other seats were taken; did these people not see the spaces at the back? The poor blind fools!), I heard my mam ask for 'a half to Durham please.' A half? What the deuce?

"Get off at the bus station!" she yells up the aisle after me. "Just sit down when you get there, you're Dad'll find you." For Gods sake woman, I'm 9! I mean, far be it from me to question the parenting skills of someone that thinks the correct response to any disobedience is a shoe to the head from ten paces, but would it not be wise to accompany me on this journey? Or at the very least co-ordinate it so I'd be met at the other end, rather than having to sit and wait to be found? Of course, I only thought this; I didn't actually say it. Partly because a shoe to the head in public could be embarrassing, but mainly because she was gone from the bus before I got the chance. Didn't wave either; she was across the road and halfway home before the bus pulled away. The Waltons, we weren't.

Anyway, I arrived at Durham, bustling metropolis that it is (at least to the eyes of a small boy who's there on his own for the first time), and there's no sign of Daddy Dearest. So, I nip into the newsagents, buy myself a bag of crisps and can of pop (thus exhausting the spending money I had been given for the week) and sat down to wait. For over an hour. Then I hear a voice, calling me. I look up and down the station but there's no sign, until eventually I see him; my Dad, standing in the doorway of a bus, yelling at me to hurry up and get on. (It was the bus that he'd arrived on and which would now go back the way it came, so why get off?; no wasted effort, my Dad.) Our week together had begun.

Inauspicious beginnings aside, it wasn't a terrible time, once I got over my sulk at actually being there in the first place. He was living in a one room bedsit in a house with a communal bathroom and kitchen, so the whole thing was a little bit like a return to my much loved (but seriously deprived in hindsight) time in the flat, before the split. Some of his housemates were friendlier than others of course*, but I was still young enough and cutesy enough that I was a bit of a novelty and kind of taken under everyone's wings. The best part of the whole thing, though, was my Dads girlfriend.

Yes, my Dad, by some herculean feat of hypnotic suggestion, had managed to convince another woman that he was something other than a dead loss. I'd assumed with my mother that it had been a combination of her youth, naivete and low intelligence that had allowed him to cast his spell but since this new woman had none of that going on, I'm forced to accept that he must have had something going for him. Shows what I know.

Anyway, she was great. I can't remember her name, but I can remember really liking her. I mean, really liking her. You know how puppies can 'imprint' on the first thing to offer affection? That was our relationship; I knew her 2 days and I loved her to bits; by the end of the week I knew I never wanted to leave. Not only that, but she had a daughter, whose name I can remember; Alexandria, or Alex for short; and she was the cutest little thing you've ever seen in your life. I genuinely wanted them to be my Mam/Sister.

Then there was her house. She had a huge house, and a correspondingly huge garden; lots of time was spent there, working in that garden. And I mean working; she grew stuff and worked hard at it, it wasn't a lawn and a couple of borders job. We would all have to pitch in, and I loved it; didn't begrudge a second of it; although I did manage to break the watch that I had just received for my birthday (which fell while I was there; making my Mams attitude at the start of this little tale even colder, now I think of it). All told, I think that the time I spent at that house, with that family, was some of the happiest memories I have that involve my Dad. Shame it didn't last between them, really.

Another aspect of the trip to my Dad which brings a smile to my face, is Skippy. I met Skippy on the second day, and we were soon firm friends, in that way that kids have of instantly connecting with each other when they're too young to have learned yet that most people are knobheads. Skippy had earned his name by, and you'll never guess, skipping a lot; he couldn't walk for more than 20 seconds without involuntarily breaking into a weird skipping gait. This had, because kids are cruel, been the focus of much bullying and scorn, from the local kids. To his credit though, he actually embraced the name, and it's how he introduced himself to me when we first met. He still hated the taunting though; he wasn't that cool with it.

When I stayed with my Dad for the second (and last) time a couple of years later, I was really looking forward to re-connecting with Skippy (although I'm sure he hadn't given me a second thought in the intervening time) but it was not to be. I saw him only once, and he had... grown up, is the only way I can think of to describe it. We were the same age as each other and yet he seemed somehow older; there was a hardness to him that I felt unable to break through. In truth, he intimidated me. I heard from my Dad that there was talk of drink, of drugs, and of violence. Whatever the truth of that; how much of it was fact and how much the sadly all too common disdain that adults show for less privileged children; chavs, pikeys, delinquents; I'll never know but I knew that he had grown beyond my reach and age aside we had nothing in common any more. That fact still saddens me to this day, but in the selfish way that we all (or most of us) seem to have, I choose mostly to remember the good times, on that first trip, and smile.

*One particular member of the household, whose name is lost to the mists of time, was particularly nice to me. Had I been female, he might have been even nicer, but that is a story for another time (or perhaps not, given that it's more my sisters cross to bear than mine).

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Long Walk

You aren't getting a proper post today, because, well, look, I've got my reasons OK? However, as a special little treat, and because I felt inspired to actually figure out how to put videos on here, you are going to be, er, subjected is probably the right word, to my walk home from school with the Goblin. Er, nephew. Yeah.

If you make it through both videos, you win.

The First 5 Minutes

Still here? Right then...

The Next 5 Minutes

There you are then, the walk home from school with the Goblin. Or as I like to call it, my punishment for whatever crimes I committed in the last life.

See you next week, when I'll have an actual post, with actual content, about my actual Dad.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Back on the dole again

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Paul Whinges About His Life. No walk down memory lane this week, as I thought I'd waffle some nonsense about the latest big development in my current, what I laughably call 'adult' life.

Last week I became unemployed. It wasn't a bolt from the blue, like the 1st time it happened; I was on a temporary contract and was well aware that it was not going to be extended any further (having been extended once already) so I was able to prepare myself. It wasn't even a particularly worrying development; while of course far from ideal, I am assured that once the dead period is over (around March or April), my position should become available again if I'm still out of work; and the pay structure being a month in arrears means I'll be due a full paypacket just before Christmas. What this means is that I can, (cue dole-scum layabout comments), treat it in many ways like an extended holiday; a break from the liberty taking superiors and the unpleasant politics and deeply offensive sense of humour of my colleagues. Or can I?

You see, as much as I hate the attitudes of my colleagues and the atmosphere that can develop due to my inability to bite my tongue whenever they say something I disagree with (oh, the arguments we had about the death penalty, and don't get me started about the London Riots); despite all of that, and despite my moaning about the long hours, insufficient breaks and poor pay; I loved that job.

It's the only job I've ever done and it's the only job I know how to do. Luckily then, I'm pretty bloody good at it. I say this not to brag, or to seem big headed, but simply to state a fact. I spent years getting as good as I could possibly be; I took pride in the fact that I was good at what I did. It's not a particularly glamorous job, nor a particularly intellectually demanding one, so I'm perhaps damning myself with faint praise here, but fuck it, I'm proud of my work.

So yes, I'll miss the work itself, if not the majority of the people I had to tolerate to do it. Sad? Maybe, but it's the truth. There is, however, another factor that makes the losing of my job, even if temporarily, a blow to me. That is, motivation. In that, I don't have any. If I don't have a job to go to, I do nothing else. I sleep really anti-social hours, I rarely leave the house and I can go days without speaking to another human being. As I type this, it's 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and the last person I spoke to was my nephew, when I dropped him at school on Friday morning. For adult conversation I have to go back to Thursday night. Yes, I only left my job on Wednesday and it's that bad already.

At least this time around I have my beloved twitter to keep me company, so even if I'm not actually 'speaking' to anyone, I'm not completely cut off. The first time I lost my job I didn't even have that and I would routinely lose track of what day of the week it was. Dark days my friends, dark days. I started my twitter account about a year into that period of unemployment and it was a Godsend. Fuck the Government, or the tabloids, or anyone else who says that unemployed people 'twittering' is a sign of laziness; no mate, it's a sign of trying to stay sane.

Anyway, my old mate Genghis would have us believe that "Pessimism is Realism, Optimism is Insanity." I choose not to subscribe to this theory, even if do incur his wrath for daring to disagree, so I'm going to try to come up with some good points about my current situation. Just give me a moment...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Little Big Man

Having spent the last two entries on here whining about my inadequacies as a person, I thought it wise to perhaps lighten the mood somewhat with this one. So on went the old thinking cap ( it was a tight fit; I'd not worn it for a while and it's shocking how big your head can get when you don't stop to think*) and I came up with a story that, while it does contain me being daft, does so in a somewhat humorous manner. It's a funny story, anyway; I'm not saying it'll be funny once I've drained it of all life with my deathly prose.

The story is one that took place, in the timeline of my life, a couple of years before the point the blog is currently at. To be honest, I forgot about it; something that will probably happen quite a bit, but what the Hell. So, if you'd like to reacquaint yourself with what my life was like at the time this story takes place, or if you're new to the blog and haven't read the archives (and if not, why not? Get on it!), then it's roughly contemporaneous with this post.

Back? Right, then we'll begin.

My Grandmother, saintly paragon of virtue that she is, does have one vice; namely, she loves a bit of bingo. (I know, Granny playing bingo, what a cliche, but cliches become cliches for a reason, brother!) Eyes down, dibby dabby marker pen thing furiously stabbing at her eight different cards all strewn out before her in her lucky pattern, she was like a woman possessed when she got going. Which was every Tuesday and Thursday in the old Junior School assembly hall.

At this time it was considered perfectly OK to take kids along to these nights, sit them down with a glass of pop and a card, and let them join in the 'fun'. (I'm assuming it's a bit more strict these days; most things are, but I've not been to a bingo game in years so I don't know). Anyway, many was the evening I'd spend down there during the period I was staying with her and my Granda. I guess it was cheaper than a babysitter. (My Granda himself would have been at some pub or other, 'cos whether it be darts, snooker, dominoes, pool or, I don't know, tiddly-winks, he was on a team/team running committee. Dude never slept.)

There were times though; I guess when she just needed a night to herself; when my Grandmother would take a huge leap of faith and leave me at home with my Uncle Darren. The fool! It was on one such night that our story takes place. (I know right? Finally!) I should say at this point that these nights were probably far more fun for me than they were for Darren. He was, after all, a teenage boy, and I doubt that being left alone with a daft little pipsqueak who followed him around like a wee puppy dog was how he liked to spend his evenings. I loved it though; I idolised the guy, and I used to look forward to these nights like no other.

One one such occasion, we had been on our own for maybe an hour, watching TV with me pretending to like the stuff he was watching but not really understanding it, when a knock at the door broke his torture. It was a mate of his, asking could he do him a favour? He had just nicked a load of drink from his neighbours garage and could he stash it here for a bit? (Note to new readers, many of my family were minor villains, or friends with minor villains. They've 'mostly' reformed now). Anyway, the booze; six carrier bags full; was duly carted into the living room, the shady friend disappeared into the night and the TV was returned to.

Can you see where this is going?

Darren announced, after a little while, that he was going in the bath. I was to sit and watch TV until he got out, at which point it would be time for me to go to bed. I was gutted, and decided that I was going to prove to him that I was grown up enough to stay up with him. How on Earth was I to do this though? If only there were some 'grown up' activity that I could indulge in, to show him what I was capable of. Wait, what's that you say, voices in my head? Bags of alcohol? Ahhh.

Have you ever seen a 6 year old after a can? How about after 3 cans? Trust me, a 6 year old after 5 cans and 2 bottles is something even William Friedkin would think twice about putting on screen. I will say, in my defence, that I managed to stand up, the first few times I fell over, and even after I stayed down I never cried. I didn't quite have the energy to remove myself from the rapidly expanding pools of sick I was rolling in, but I had enough self awareness to know that crying wouldn't be cool. As it turns out though, I needn't have worried; it seems that I was fated not to impress Darren at all that night.

He returned from the bathroom and went, to be blunt, absolutely mental. The first time, and the only time that I can recall, that he would ever truly lose his temper with me. Even when I almost killed him he never got properly mad but this... I felt like shit. And not just for the obvious reason.

After he'd finished ranting at me he got me changed, stuck me over the toilet, and set about trying to clean the place up before his Mother got home. I can't imagine he had much luck. I say I can't imagine because I don't know for certain. The last thing I remember of that night is of depositing a bowlful into the toilet. I was told later that he'd found me asleep over the bowl and carried me to bed.


*eh? eh? Bit of clever clever commentary for you there. Someone give me a Phd.

Monday, 14 November 2011

My Brief Career As A Bully

Normally, I don't pay much attention to those accepted theories that attempt to explain the behaviour patterns in people. I always feel that, however much credence popular opinion gives them, they are always far too keen to generalise; to put people into groups. Not to mention, their tendency to overthink things. I mean, sometimes people do bad things because they're unpleasant people who like doing bad things; there's no deeper explanation than that.

I will concede, however, that in some cases, the theories can be correct. Take 'bullying is a cycle', for instance. Whilst I am convinced that many people terrorise those weaker than themselves purely because they can, there are instances of it happening as a means of 'paying on' the pain and suffering; like my brief and somewhat anti-climactic career as a bully.

As a child I was beaten often by my parents and by other children. I could live with it, for the most part, and indeed the occurrences would be forgotten almost as soon as they were over. They were just one of those things; a part of life. On one occasion though, and I don't know why it happened, I decided that I was going to beat up someone else. It wasn't an emotional response; I wasn't overly upset or not thinking straight. I simply decided, on a whim, that I was going to find someone I was confident I could take, and I was going to beat them up.

Of course, being me, I enlisted help. My cousin was to be my wingman, as it were, and we would beat up our unfortunate victim together. This served 2 purposes; the first was that it meant I was less exposed should my victim fight back, and secondly I was convinced that this would make me seem cooler than I really was in the eyes of my cousin. The sad part was, I was right; he got very excited at the prospect.

We chose our victim and set about luring him to a place where we could beat him up in private. It was all very businesslike on our part; not in any way a damaged person lashing out in a rage, but rather a totally cold, pre-meditated assault. Quite scary to look back at, to be honest. Anyway, we chose a young lad who was maybe a year younger than us, who had been an occasional hanger on to our little group but not by any stretch one of our 'friends'. He was quite a shy lad, very nervous, (a lot like myself, had I been honest, though I was better at hiding it than he was, at least back then) and we knew he would probably go along with whatever we said. And we were right.

Here's the thing though. We forgot. We forgot why we lured him to the secluded spot in the woods. We forgot why we had brought only him and none of the rest of the group. We forgot, because we had fun. We messed around, we played games, we had a laugh; what started as us luring him into a sense of security turned into us all having a bloody good afternoon. Then, when it started getting dark, we headed home.

It was when we left the woods and got back out onto the streets that the thought popped into my head... "If you don't kick his head in now, you've missed your chance". Just like that, and despite the pleasantness of the afternoon up until that point, a switch went in my head; I nudged my cousin and pointed at the kid. He nodded and, completely without hesitation, smacked him in the face, then I ran at him and kicked him in the back. We both laughed and the kid started crying. Then he said...

"Why are you doing this? I thought we you were my friends."

Totally guileless, totally without any attempt to look cool or save face; he just looked at us like a kicked puppy, heart on his sleeve. Something inside me shriveled up right in that moment. I'd like to say we stopped at that point. I'd like to say we realised we were in the wrong, apologised and backed off. I can't though, because we didn't. My cousin went back in for another go and, while I didn't lay any more blows I kept hurling abuse, telling him how much we hated him and we had never been his friends; all the while hating myself, but not being able to stop for fear of losing face in front of my cousin.

When he got tired of hitting the kid, we watched him run off up the street, sobbing, and I could have cried myself; until my cousin started on about how cool that had been and I felt a swelling of pride. Yes, all it took was a brief moment of someone saying I was cool and my conscience retreated back into it's shell. I didn't spare that poor kid another thought for the rest of the day. That night was another matter entirely though. The tossing, the turning, the inability to sleep for hours and then the nightmares when I did; it was clear that as cold and uncaring as I was capable of being in the moment, my conscience was never going to let me get away with that kind of behaviour. Some part of me knew how wrong my actions had been, and was damn sure going to drive the point home.

I never did apologise to that kid. Not because I didn't want to, but because he would never come near me again. He'd cross the road to avoid me, and I'd see that look of fear in his eyes that I'm sure was in mine whenever I saw one of my tormentors coming. Truth be told, I didn't deserve anything else.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


A while ago, the BBC broadcast a documentary made by Sir Terry Pratchett, about euthanasia. I intended to watch but, having forgotten it was on, managed to see only the last 20 minutes or so. Even this much proved too much for me to handle (as I should probably have predicted it would, given my much documented 'problems' dealing with mortality) and I sank into something of a depression. One symptom of this mood was a rather long and rambling stream of tweets on twitter, in which I spoke of a cousin who had lost his life to cancer many years ago. One follower opined that while what I was saying was interesting, it was hard to keep up on twitter and I should maybe write a blog about it.

My desire to keep these reminiscences in roughly chronological order (although that hasn't worked out exactly), coupled with the fact that once my mood lightened I didn't really want to throw myself back into the Dark Place straight away, has meant a bit of a wait, but now, here we are. Or at least, here we are at the beginning of the tale. There will be more.

Mathew was my cousin/uncle. He was born to my Uncle Eric and his first wife, but when that marriage fell apart and his mother (I can't remember her name, but then I think I only ever met her once) disappeared from the scene and wanted nothing to do with him, Eric decided that he couldn't handle raising a child alone and Mathew found himself being raised by my Grandparents. Hence his insistence on us calling him Uncle, which was nothing if not really fucking annoying.

And there's the rub. Mathew, or the memory of Mathew, is something of a sacred cow in my family. He died young, and not in a very pleasant manner, so of course he must always be spoken of kindly. So I don't speak of him. You see, I only knew him as a child, have only my childs-eye opinion of him to go on, and consequently have very little in the way of nice things to say about him.

The first time he came to stay with us, it was in the very early stages of his illness. We all knew he had been poorly, but we didn't know with what, or how serious it was. He himself gave no indication that he was anything less than 100%. We were told though, that we had to be nice to him, that we had to include him in our activities, and that we had to 'take care of him'. This last directed at me of course, as the oldest. It was easier said than done.

Everyone hated him. Seriously, everyone. He stayed with us for a week and day by day our group got smaller and smaller as one person or another decided they didn't want anything to do with him. He was arrogant, he expected everyone to do whatever he wanted to do at all times, and he spoke to people like they were shit on his shoe; I wanted to punch him on may occasions and am genuinely surprised that certain of my friends didn't do just that; thy weren't a bunch that were shy with their fists.

Now, I know what you're thinking; he was ill and we should have cut him some slack. Well, as I say, we didn't know he was ill. We knew he had been ill, but we had no reason to think he still was. Even he himself didn't know. He was, so far as we could tell, just a spoiled brat. Maybe he was spoiled because the adults knew the extent of what lay in store for him, I don't know, but that didn't change how the situation appeared to us. All we knew was that this kid was behaving in ways that would have seen us get the hiding of a lifetime, and getting away with it, while at the same time doing nothing at all to endear himself to us. We couldn't wait for him to leave.

Do I regret, now, that we didn't treat him with more kindness? Do I wish we had known what was down the road for him, so we could have made more effort to enjoy the time we had. I'd like to say yes, but if I'm honest, I don't think it would have changed anything. Regardless of what we knew or didn't know; regardless of how long or how short his remaining life would be; the truth remains the same. He wasn't a very nice person. At the most, we might have made more of an effort to pretend to like him, because that's what you do, right? Our true feelings would have remained the same though.

I often think back to those days and wonder what it says about me. Am I a bad person because I didn't like him? I don't think so; he gave ample reason. A better question perhaps, is am I a bad person for not feeling worse about it now?

Maybe the answer to that one is yes, I don't know. Maybe by writing this post, and putting these thoughts out there for the world to see, I am exacerbating my guilt; they say, after all, that you should never speak ill of the dead. No story of my life would be complete without him, however, so I must write about him, and I'm afraid to do so in any other manner would be to be a hypocrite.

So there you are. I am a heartless bastard. Who knew? Oh, yeah, everyone who reads this blog knew, that's right. I'll leave it there and I'll be back next week with another memory of my terrible youth. I'm a twat in that one too.

Monday, 10 October 2011


So, today you were going to get the mirth filled tale of how my psycho neighbour killed my pet rabbit (and not in a good way, I didn't even get any freaky sex out of the deal) and the separate, but related, incident in which said psycho neighbour egged her children on to physically attack me. However, and that's a very big however, I couldn't manage to fit the tales into a respectable wordcount nor, and this is the big problem, make them readable at *any* length.

So I quit. I'll no doubt come back to those tales at some point, either together or, more likely, stretched out to fill two posts instead of one, like the relevant bits of a weekends X-Factor. In truth, I realised as I writing it that I'd actually jumped ahead a bit in the old life story anyway, so I can justify postponing them as a narrative preserving act, rather than the 'I'm too lazy to do another re-write' act that it so obviously is. Win!

What's that I don't hear you cry? What will he replace it with at such short notice? Well I'll tell you. Childline.

A grand idea in principal, Childline was the freephone number for children to get advice about their problems. (They're still around, but online now.) But to me, Childline was first port of call for your more imaginative prank caller.

Yes, I did indeed use Childline as a source of great amusement. You see, as I've noted before, I didn't, for the most part, consider myself to be all that badly done by. Certainly I knew that I was somewhat neglected by my Mother and her waster boyfriend; certainly I knew that technically speaking the beatings I regularly received from them were not strictly legal; and certainly I knew that some would consider the daily torment, both mental and physical that I endured at the hands of schoolyard bullies was less than ideal. Just as certainly though, I knew that I had good mates, that I was a bright student and that I had everything I needed to have a grand old time. Life was pretty good.

So it never occurred to me to actually use Childline for it's intended purpose; that being, to talk to someone about my problems. Instead I used it to talk about fake problems, to invent stories of such deprivations and indignities as would make Dickens himself think "nah, mebbe not, bit far-fetched there Charlie lad".Did I feel bad, as they poured sympathy and concern down the phone? Nope, twas hilarious.

At one point, I made mention of the fact that I had been on the phone to Childline, while in the same room as my mother and Maurice the dickhead pseudo step-dad. I genuinely hadn't thought it through, as to how they might react, having only mentioned it because I thought my tale of woe that I'd spun the volunteer might make them laugh. The looks of panic on their faces were priceless. So good in fact that I didn't finish my story and just let them sweat.

Looking back, with the growed up eyes of a jaded mandult, I see how reprehensible my behaviour was. Childline was a charity, running on fumes and staffed by volunteers who gave up their time because they genuinely cared and probably felt like shit after listening to the horrible stuff that *genuinely* traumatised kids must have been telling them. I wasted their time and probably caused them more distress.I was, in short, a little shit.

So there you have it. A post in which I was to be portrayed as a victim has been replaced by a post in which I am the villain. We were overdue for one of those anyway.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

You Can't Put That Many In, The Suspension Won't Take It.

Last week MoaN once again did what it seems to do a lot lately and failed to update. Why did it fail to update? Well, because I hadn't actually gotten around to writing anything, that's why. Still, the legion of loyal readers who just can't get enough of my childhood trauma can at least console themselves that MoaN manages to update a hell of a lot more regularly than my TV blog or my book blog have managed recently.

The reasons for my not writing as much as I did haven't really changed since the last time I posted one of these 'I haven't posted much recently' messages. Or rather, the surface causes may have changed, but the root issue remains the same; namely my utter dissatisfaction with my life as it is right now. Where previously this had led me to not blog because I either couldn't be bothered or my mood was already so low that I didn't want to dredge up yet more misery from my past. Now however, it has led to new blog-blocking issues.

Yes, the self improvement drive that I recently announced I was about to embark on is in full flow. Very much early days still, of course, but with my history of procrastination and, let's face it, just plain not doing what I say I will, I choose to feel proud of myself that I actually made an appointment and signed an enrollment document. Of course, now that I have I have no choice but to see it through, given that the 'free' course is only free if you complete it; walk away mid-way through and they hit you with the bill, which would be disastrous, since my long term employment is still up in the air and I'm trying to save up for a trip to Scotland next year.

So, with my free time now taken up with listening to women with bizarrely good enunciation explain simple mathematical theories in as confusing a manner as possible and massively over excited men yell "Well Done! You Got Them All Right" whenever I answer a bunch of questions my 6 yr old nephew wouldn't struggle with, the time available to post up on here is limited.It's not all bad though. I can amuse myself by mocking the ridiculous 'problems' I find myself faced with in this bizarro world they seem to think we live in.

Take grout for instance. If I was ever going to buy grout (unlikely in the extremis) I would probably just read the label on the tub to know how much was in it. Not an option, apparently; you have to work out the volume of the tub using a mathematical formula. Now, I work in a builders merchants and we sell grout. I have never, in all my years there, ever seen one of our customers working out the volume of a tub of anything. In fact the only time pi crosses their minds is when we have a promotional breakfast morning on.

Or there's the time I had to work out how many paving stones would fit in the back of a van. Apparently you do this by working out the volume of the van. Well, here's a little tip for you, from me; if you work out the volume of your van, and then purchase enough paving stones to fill it to capacity, Congratulations, you've just killed your van. Little bit of wisdom there, that I've picked up over the years.

Anyway, the maths is over soon, and then it's on to the English course. I'm hoping for less blatant nonsense there. Although, given my complete and utter inability to remember the definitions of 'noun', 'verb', 'adverb' etc., I possibly shouldn't look forward to that one too much either.

That's enough pointless waffling I think. I will endeavour, next week, to do another trip down memory lane; I know you are all missing your vicarious wallowing.

Monday, 19 September 2011


For any of you who may be wondering, I am over my little funk of last post. I'm pretty convinced that my worries weren't paranoia and the problem really did exist but I'm equally certain that a)it's all blown over and b) I'm not going to dwell on it regardless.

So this week I drag the blog back on track and head once more down memory lane; to a boy named Scruff and one of my most terrifying experiences.

I spent a goodly portion of my childhood living in constant fear of Scruff, who lived just a couple of streets from me and was, during our time at Primary School, in my class. Luckily, come Comprehensive his, shall we say lack of academic aptitude, meant that we saw little overlap in our classes so I only had to worry about him after hours. At the time of this weeks tale however, we were still entrenched in the Primary years, so his presence was constant.

Now, before we go any further I should like to point out that I was not the one to coin the name 'Scruff' for him. Far from the most well dressed person in my social circle I was all to aware of the negative affect being mocked for your appearance can have on a person. He seemed perfectly happy with the name though, to the extent that I genuinely can't remember what his actual name was. I'm sure he had one; God, how awful would it be to have been christened Scruff? You'd have no chance, would you?; but to this day he is indelibly etched into my memory as simply Scruff.

Scruff and I didn't get off on the wrong foot. Quite the opposite in fact. One of my first memories of him is from, oh, it must have been a week or so after I started at that school. We were selected by random drawing to stay in at playtime and clear up the art supplies and he was pretty upset about it. Personally I wasn't that fussed, everyone got picked eventually, it was just our time, (although I was pretty unlucky to have been picked so soon) but he was really stropping. I ended up telling him to just sit down and I'd do it myself. That was it, friend for life. Or friend for a month or so anyway. Pretty much everyone tried to warn me, after that first playtime bonding session, that I should stay well clear but I liked the lad, he was a good laugh, and I didn't listen.

Until he headbutted me for tackling him in PE.

You see, Scruff was a psycho, or at least that was our expert opinion when we were kids. Truth is, looking back, he was obviously deeply troubled and his home life, from what I saw of it was about as far from perfect as you could get. And I say this a someone whose own childhood, as you'll know if you read this blog regularly, was far from rosy. These days he'd get counseling, maybe moved to a separate school where children with his issues were better catered for. Not back then though; to the teachers he was a troublemaker and to us kids he was a psycho. A psycho with a temper.

I very quickly, being the terrible physical coward that I am, began to live in fear of Scruffs mood swings, which ironically enough meant that I actually ended up spending a lot more time with him than most. You see, while others were happy to ignore him or, the brave ones, tell him to f*ck off, I was always trying to appease him. I figured if he thought of me as a proper friend (and one who posed no threat) I'd be less likely to feel his wrath. Shoddy thinking, I now know.

Anyway, I had two major run ins with Scruff that stay with me to this day. The first was one of the proudest moments of my life. The second was the moment that I realised the first had been a massive mistake.They say, don't they, that you should stand up to bullies and they'll back down. Sound advice, if you're living in Ramsay Street or going to school at Waterloo Road but here in the real world it doesn't always work that way. Or rather, in my experience, it never works that way.

It was a pretty normal day like any other and we were all quite happily sitting in class doing whatever it was we were doing. The sun was shining through the windows, people were laughing, it was pretty idyllic. Then my mate Chris and I went to get something from the side cupboard. Scruff arrived right behind us, he wanted what we had, we offered half, he wanted it all, we said no, he said he would kick our heads in. So far, still normal, if not quite so idyllic.

Then I screamed "Fuck Off" and punched him. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking but he was snarling threats at us and I was terrified so I lashed out and punched him in the stomach. Shocked myself to be honest. He doubled over and stayed doubled over, my hand still in his stomach because I was in to much shock to pull away. Everyone who saw it started laughing and cheering, Chris tried to drag me away, Scruff was puffing and wheezing, everything was in slow motion.

So teacher arrives on scene, we're both sent on our merry way to the Headmasters office, get a bit of a bollocking, apologise, are sent straight back to class. The whole way there, and the whole way back, Scruff doesn't say a word to me, just shuffling along with his hands in his pockets and staring at the floor. For my part, I was terrified; I was convinced he was going to turn and beat the crap out of me, right there in the corridor.

He did no such thing, and he did nothing at break or Lunch either. Hometime came and he went straight home, no sign of hanging around to 'get' me. It seemed that I had gotten away with it. I became something of a minor celebrity in class for all of about 3 days, and then it all blew over.

Until a few weeks later. I'm in a shop, Scruff walks in with a couple of mates, heads straight over to me and starts yelling in my face. The shopowner kicks us all out; I guess the terror in my eyes wasn't good enough for him, he just lumped us all in together as noisy kids and out we went. We were outside scant seconds when the first punch connected to the side of my head. I staggered, a couple more blows were struck and then interference from a passer-by was enough of a diversion for me to do one.

Now, I'm no athlete, but when I think there's a chance of a kicking I'm like a whippet, so it wasn't long before I was at the end of the street and round the corner. Had I kept on I would have most likely gotten home before Scruff and co could have caught me but instead, in another case of me trying to be too clever for my own good, I nipped up the back of the main street, intending to hide in one of the yards. This I do, and am soon happily ensconced in a nice little alcove, out of sight and sitting pretty.

Except, I'd failed to take into account that while Scruff had many flaws, being an idiot wasn't one of them. He must have realised that I hadn't had time to get out of sight on the main road, and that having come up the back street I wouldn't have had time to reach the end; hence, I was hiding up the back street somewhere. I was cornered within moments and bracing myself for the kicking I was sure was coming.

He pulled a knife.

I can honestly say, hand on heart and without fear of contradiction, that I was legitimately more scared in that moment than I had ever been before and I'd be hard pushed to think of many times since that matched it. I can clearly remember thinking that Scruffs friends looked nearly as terrified as I did; I don't think they were expecting that! And do you know what I did? What my big, brave, plan of action was? I cried. I cried, and I begged for him not to hurt me and then I launched into a wild attack that I'm sure had little effect other than to shock him (still crying all the time) and then I ran like fuck and didn't stop until I got home; where I cried some more, got wrong because I wouldn't say why I was crying and then went to bed and had nightmares. So, you know, a great plan all round. And Scruff...

Scruff showed up at school next day like nothing had happened and was laughing and joking with me in the playground. Best friends...until the next time.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Twitter People, And An Apology

So, this is not the post I set out to write this week. I had planned an account of my torment at the hands of a schoolyard bully and how the old adage, 'stand up to a bully and he'll run away', isn't always the best advice, but that will have to wait for something has come up which I need to address. Something which has been playing on my mind for a couple of days.

Now it's entirely possible that there isn't a problem and I'm just being paranoid. This has certainly been known to happen in my long and torturous history of 'trying to interact with other people like a normal human' but if it is all in my head, then all that's going to happen is I'm making a fool of myself, which is kind of what this blog is all about. If I'm not paranoid though, and there really is a problem, then I hope that this post will go some way to putting it right.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter; a time sucking indulgence which has become akin to an addiction for me, and I don't use the word lightly. You see I joined twitter, as I do so many internet do-hickeys, with the intention of extracting the michael out of all the saddos but unlike the various forums I've joined and never posted on, or the MySpace and later, facebook pages I set up, I have stuck with Twitter and now wouldn't be without it. Why? The people.

In a course of events that I didn't foresee and would never have thought possible, I began to engage. It took me a while but I began to consider these 'tweeters', these people I've never actually met and possibly (probably) never will, as friends. Is that 'sad'? Is that 'abnormal'? If it is, I don't care.

My whole life I've struggled with the social niceties, with the societal pressure to 'do this', 'think this', 'feel this'. I've had few friends, I've become estranged from the bulk of my family, I consider those I work for and with as nothing more than interchangeable/replaceable colleagues. When people are particularly happy or miserable; when babies are born or engagements announced; when people are ill or die, I feel nothing. I put on a show of camaraderie in the good times and feign empathy in the bad but it's seldom genuine and if it is, it's fleeting. I had begun to think myself broken. Until Twitter. I don't know how they did it but they brought me out of my shell, they made me laugh genuine laughter, engage in genuine banter that I wasn't forcing to fit in, care about what they were doing in their lives and want to share what I was doing in mine. So yes, I think of them as friends.

And, as I'm told is common in real life, by the tellybods and the bookwriter people, some are better friends than others; some are more important to me than others.(You can see their names over to the right there). I care, not just about their opinion of me, but about them in general. How they feel, whether they're happy. So when I think that I could have done something, however unintentional, to make one of these people unhappy, it pains me. It pains me a great deal and I want to put it right.

ON SATURDAY I posted a comment on twitter about Person A. It was a joke; a comment posted in response to something Person A had posted earlier that day, which had in turn been posted in response to something I had said the previous night. You know, like a conversation, but with reaallly long timedelay. Shortly after I posted this comment, someone we shall call Person B seemed to get very upset. They posted some things that, while not addressed to me personally, could have been written in direct response to my post. The timing and their content certainly indicated that they were. I pretended not to notice. I hoped very strongly that what I thought had happened, had not happened. I'm now convinced that it had.

You see, taken in context, I like to think that my comment was mildly amusing. Taken out of context (and let's face it, what's the likelihood that anyone would have just happened to see the previous 2 messages in the sea of thousands over the 24 hour+ hours that the conversation took?), the comment took on a whole other meaning. And it was a meaning that Person B would have had every right to get upset about.

I hold my hands up here. It was a stupid thing to do, especially since I knew that Person B was online at the time. I just didn't think; I had an idea for a funny thing to do and I did it, without a thought for how Person B would take it. I apologise; all I can do is apologise, but I want that person to understand something.

It was never my intention to hurt your feelings or upset you. I was an idiot and I've felt like shit about it since it happened. I hope you understand that you are genuinely one of my favourite people to talk to online and a big part of what makes Twitter so positive an influence in my life. The thought that I played any part in making you unhappy kills me. I hope you understand, it was a joke.

As I say, it's possible that I'm overreacting; that the whole thing was in my head, I'm the only one worrying and the above post is just a big load of 'Paul Being An Idiot'. If that's the case, nothing would make me happier and you should all feel free to mock me mercilessly. But if not, then I hope that Person B understands how sorry I am.

And also, I suppose, that all of Twitter doesn't now disown me for being the freakazoid needy loser that I have just ousted myself as. Slipped up there.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Touch My Tiddler, I Dare You.

Hello there and welcome to another edition of Musings of a Nobody, the blog in which a nobody, that's me, muses on things; things that have happened to me in my life, for the most part.

It's been a little while since this blog updated actually and that's entirely down to me and my horrible mood swings that really aren't conducive to writing calmly about unpleasant memories. Hint: I tend to throw things. I'm hoping (and I'm aware that I've said this before without following through) that this will be the first of many and I can get back to a semi-regular schedule on here.

So, you remember Wayne and Lisa right? Sure you do, Wayne and Lisa. Yeah, them. Well, they had tents. Nothing unusual in that you might think. Lots of kids have tents. Some might say that sleeping outside sans parents for the very first time is something of a rite of passage. Not me, obviously, I likes me the creature comforts, but some might. Anyway, Wayne and Lisa had tents and come the summer months these tents would be erected in their back garden, where they would become the focal point of all the activity of the local kids. Boys in Wayne's tent, girls in Lisa's. (They were massive tents by the way, in case you were wondering. No uncomfortable squeezing necessary thank you very much. Never confused.)

Now, one fine summer morn we boys were sat in Wayne's tent, playing snap with a pack of those cards all our Dads/Dickhead Pseudo Stepdads seemed to acquire from nowhere (you know the ones, you know you do) and planning how we were going to invade the Girls Tent and mess up whatever they were doing. It was a favourite pastime of ours to plan these little assaults, although we rarely if ever went through with them; I don't think people do, really, outside of 1980's screwball coming-of-age comedies.

This time was no exception, and after about an hour we drifted over to see what they were up to and ended up joining in a game of Snakes & Ladders. Oh, the hedonism! Wayne went in and asked his Mam if we could all have some pop, which she supplied, and we settled in for the day, it being very hot out and the tent being nice shade. A connect four set was produced and later a cluedo board and we all had, as the yank youth might put it, hella fun. Until the fun ended.

Yes, it was all looking a bit charming and Enid Blytony there wasn't it? Can't have that on this here fountain of misery. No Sirree!

After a few hours, the tent was ripped open and Wayne and Lisa's Mam was standing there. I can't speak for anyone else in the tent at the time but my first thought, in the few scant moments before shit met fan, were that she had come to ask if we wanted more pop. Or possibly biscuits. Biscuits would be nice, I was thinking.

I didn't get any biscuits.

"Get out, now!" came the shrill scream. "All of you, get out of there."

This was interesting, I thought. Well used to my own mothers hysterical mood swings and violent temper I had not, up to this point, experienced it with this particular family. Now that the ice was broken, so to speak, I would witness many more such outbursts, but at this point, new experience.

"Get out and get in the house. You lot go home, your Mams waiting for you. Go on, move it." This last to me and mine, of course, and we wandered, blinking, into the blazing sun, confusion etched into our cute little puppy-fat-chubby faces. Ever the voice of reason, or 'cocky little bastard' as I've also heard it referred to, I tried to calm her down and get to the bottom of her hysterics. This did not go down well. Much swearing ensued, of so vile a nature I'll not repeat it on here because frankly I can't be bothered with the hassle of having one of those 'adult content' blocks on this thing; I get few enough views as it is.

Wayne and Lisa trudged into the house, looking bemused right up to the moment they got the smack from their Dad at the door; then they just looked in pain. For our part, myself and my sis and bro headed off up the street to ours, completely in the dark about what exactly we were supposed to have done wrong but wary, after what we'd seen happen to the others, about what kind of reception awaited us at home. We didn't hurry. Sure enough, as promised, our loving Mam was waiting at the door to greet us.

My brother walked in first. *Smack* across the back of the head. "Get upstairs, right now!"

Then my sister. *Smack* "Get upstairs..."

Then it was my turn. *Smack* across the back of the head and then "Get in the f*ck*ng living room, right now!". Not upstairs with the others then? This boded in the realms of the not well. Very much so in fact. In I trudged.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're playing at?" came the question. Followed by an open palmed slap to the face that, I'm not ashamed to say, hurt like pissing buggery. Now, I wasn't standing for that! I was used to being smacked around but at least I usually knew why it was happening, even if the reasons were often a little, shall we say, arbitrary; this seemed to be coming from out of nowhere. Unless some new law I wasn't aware of had come into effect banning board games, I was stumped.

"You're only kids. You never do that kind of thing. Never."

I was still none the wiser. I won't give you the whole conversation, or an accurate count of how many blows were struck, because the former would bore you and the latter might shock you, but suffice to say it went on for a very long time and it hurt. A lot. In the end though, I got to the bottom of what we had 'done wrong'.

It seems that we had been showing each other our privates and daring each other to touch them. This came as news to me, but apparently Wayne's mother had come out to offer us some pop and biscuits - so close - and had heard us doing it. At which point she had rushed in and stopped it. Except no, she'd come up to my house, told my Mam and then gone back to her own house and stopped it. Rather undermines the level of righteous outrage she was affecting right? I didn't think of that at the time though, which was probably just as well because I really didn't need another smack in the teeth. I denied everything, because it was a crock of bullshit, but the old 'why would she make something like that up?' was my Mums answer. Bloody good question, if you ask me.

I was grounded for a week (no big deal, I read a bunch of books, it flew by) and banned from hanging around with Wayne and Lisa when I was let back out. As if that was going to stick. It all blew over in a couple of weeks and by the last fortnight of the summer hols we were back to business as usual. Except the tents never went back up.

So, why did they make that up? I assumed at the time that they must have gotten the wrong end of the stick with something they'd heard but really, what kind of boardgame chatter can even roughly equate to "touch my tiddler, I dare you"? That and the fact that, as I say, she wandered up to warn my Mother before she confronted us, which I doubt she'd have done were she properly upset, makes me think on looking back at it, that she absolutely must have made it up.

Was she as doolally-tap as my Mam was? Or did she just want an excuse to stop all the local kids from hanging around in her garden? Although to fair, if that's your aim and the first thing you come up with is accusing them of sexual shenanigans, then that doesn't really rule out the mad as a box of.. argument either. I guess I'll never know the truth and it's just one more childhood experience I'll have to file away in the old 'parents are nutjobs'drawer.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


What's the worst thing you've ever eaten? I'm talking about something that made you absolutely retch your insides up, something so vile that it changed your diet forever.

For me, it was a cup-a-soup. Or rather, it wasn't.

Cup-a-soups were a staple of my diet when I was a child. Whenever my Mam was too 'busy' to cook for us, she would demand that we make ourselves a cup-a-soup and have some bread to dip in it. There were more than a few times that I went a week or more with bread as the only solid food I ate at home. Thank God for free school meals that's all I can say.

Anyway, there was a plastic tub in the cupboard in the kitchen - I think it had started out as an ice cream tub - that was always well stocked with sachets of soup. So one Saturday night, I come home from a long hard day of interfering with bowls scoreboards and pressing emergency stop buttons on ski slope rope pulleys, to find that I have to make my own meal. To the tub, grab the first packet to hand and we're away.

So I pour the contents into my mug. Then I boil the kettle. Then I pour the water into the cup. (And that's how you make cup-a-soups. It's like one level of difficulty up from Pot Noodles in that you have to transfer the contents from one container to another before pouring water on them. The hardship!)

The powder won't dissolve. The lumps aren't going away. There are floaters galore on the surface, and I can feel a claggy lump in the bottom of the cup with my spoon. Also, the stench is awful. What could have gone wrong? Well, I hadn't made a cup-a-soup for one.

It seems that the ice cream tub was now also home to some sachets of casserole mix stuff. In grabbing the first packet I came across I'd grabbed the wrong stuff and now I was trying to make, in a cup, something that was designed to form the basis of a casserole for a whole family. Wasn't going to happen.

Now, under normal circumstances, you'd tip it out and start again, wouldn't you? Except that would mean having used two things and money didn't bloody well grow on trees; or that was my Mams view of the matter. I knew better than to argue because when she was screaming directly into my face it was usually a pretty good sign that her mind was made up. Nor was it acceptable to throw it out, not make a replacement and just do without. Apparently that would be a waste, and we couldn't have that; I was to eat it, simple as that.

I tried, but... I mean, every time I raised it to my lips the stench itself was enough to trigger my gag reflex. Anyway, long story short (I know, I know) I drank a little bit, under the threat of a beating, then ran to the loo under the stairs and threw up. Then I went back to find she was still standing there, waiting to watch me drink the rest. 4 times I vomited, and 4 times she berated me, 'It's your own fucking fault, you should watch what you're fucking doing'.

I never did finish the whole thing, if only because she got bored. By this point my trips to the toilet were dry heave only and my tears were probably losing their novelty value so she wandered off and I threw the rest of the stuff away. And went to bed hungry.

Here's the thing though; for many years, I was never able to eat anything with a heavy meat smell, (I'm a vegetarian, and although this incident didn't prompt the switch, it certainly made it easier to stick to), or eat anything that I'd seen (or knew was) prepared from powder mixes; the thought would come rushing back of those claggy lumps and the gagging would start up straight away. I'm pretty much over it now, but...

So there you are, another pleasant stroll down memory lane. It's been a while I realise, but I'm trying to get the blog schedule back on track and hope to be here next week, though I make no promises. Until whenever, then...

Monday, 1 August 2011

Dangerous Games

One of the bigger problems you can have, as the oldest of a gang of kids, and therefore their de facto leader, is the pressure on you to always be the best at stuff. How embarrassing would it be, for example, to announce that you were all going to have a game of something, and then get your arse handed to you by a five year old? Exactly.

I had a massive problem then, in that when it came to sports of any shape, size or description, I was essentially, and I use the technical term here (I looked it up), absolutely f'ing useless. Ever the resourceful chap though, I soon came up with ways that I could capitalise on my inherent strengths and hide my weaknesses. Namely, by inventing games so that I could tailor the rules to suit myself.

I have a very high pain threshold. I say this not to brag, or to out myself as a masochist, but merely to state a fact. (I could get into why I had an abnormally high pain threshold for a little child but if you've read this blog before, or intend to again, it'll be pretty self-explanatory.)

This high pain threshold meant that if I invented games that gave the advantage to people who didn't fear pain, or could persevere through pain, I would be able to kick some toddler butt, no problem. So that's exactly what I did. It would come back to bite me.

Now, when I say that I invented these games, what I actually mean is that of course I didn't invent these games. At the time though, in the arrogance of youth, I thought I did. In truth, they were pretty basic variations of old staples.


Like the one where you had to race to the bottom of a bank and then back to the top. Except in our version we found the steepest slopes we could (some were practically vertical) so getting down was a virtual freefall and getting back up was like climbing Everest. Add in the fact that interfering with other participants was positively encouraged, in as violent a way as you liked, and it's a miracle no-one died.


Or the one were you split into two teams and one team had a codeword, with each member being responsible for one letter. The other team had to capture you to get your letter. We'd done this at school, in PE, but there it was a basic 'tag and you're out' deal. In our version they had to physically restrain you and you could refuse to talk, which meant they had to torture your letter out of you. I actually nearly died once, playing this game late at night, on unfamiliar terrain. I was staying at my cousin Ian's house for a couple of nights and we introduced his friends to this game. I was being pursued down a back alley in the pitch black, completely unaware that it was used by residents to hang clotheslines. One was hanging low, I ran into it at neck height and...well, you can guess. Good times.


Ah, the Daddy. In which we would all congregate in the big clearing at the centre of the woods and split into two teams, with one team having a headstart to scatter into the woods and the other team hunting them down to either capture or 'kill' them. What made this game such great fun was that we played it with guns. Actual guns, that actually shot you, with actual bullets.

Well, I say guns... What we used were air rifles and pistols that fired little lead pellets. They rarely broke the skin (only once on me, and that wasn't even while playing Hunters; it was a doped up neighbour firing blind across the back gardens) but they stung like mad if they caught you just right. Until you got used to them of course; once you'd been shot a few times you stopped feeling it so much and could often mask you're reaction and claim not to have been shot. Cheating, yes, but victory was everything, don'tcha know.

Most people wanted to be Hunters, because having the guns made them feel cool but I wanted to win and knew my strengths, so Hunted it was. I threw myself out of trees, down banks, over fences and through hedges...I came over all Rambo, with not a thought for how my body was going to recover. It's partly because of this that I'm so decrepit before my time now. Never mind though, I had a meaningless victory to last for an hour, that was the important thing.

My Mother knew about this game, as did most of our parents, and none of them tried to stop us for the longest time. Which, to put it mildly, was f*cking madness, now that I think back. Not the maddest thing about the whole affair though; no, that would be the fact that Maurice, responsible adult and de-facto Step Father, actually joined in! He regularly came down into the woods and took great pleasure (far more than the rest of us) in getting a hit on one of the kids. He even once tied me to a tree and fired over my head into the trunk; I'll freely admit, my bravado slipped that day.

We were finally forced to stop playing Hunters as a result of something Maurice did, actually. You see, as crazy as we were, in hindsight, to be doing what we were doing, we were actually careful. We shot at arms and legs (fleshy bits) and always aimed carefully. We were daft kids, but we were friends, and there was no way we were gonna risk hurting each other seriously. Maurice, it seems, had no such compunctions. During one particular game, I was being chased by him and after fording the stream and scrabbling up the far bank I hid behind a large bush. He knew I was there, but couldn't see me. Do you know what he did?

He fired blind, into the bush. Hitting me in the right temple. I'm not sure, but it's entirely possible that Maurice was an idiot.

I don't mind telling you, I screamed. I screamed louder than I'd ever screamed before or ever have again. Not even a drunken beating from my Mother at her most frenzied ever felt that bad. My vision was swimming, bolts of lightning were shooting through my head and I genuinely thought I was going to die.

We were never allowed to play Hunters again.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Life Changing Decision. So Long As I Don't Wimp Out.

I've not posted on here for a couple of weeks, and it's been even longer on my TV and book blogs. I wish I could say that some big, exciting development in my life has seen me unable to devote the time but in truth the reason behind my absence has been almost the exact opposite.

On Monday the 25th August 2011, I shall have a birthday. It shall be my 32nd. Now, 32 isn't 16, 18, 21 or even 30; it's not a milestone on anyones calender really. Yet for some reason, as the day approaches, I find myself getting restless; taking stock of my life and not liking what I'm seeing.

In 1985, when I was 6 years old, I announced that I was going to be a teacher. Unlike a lot of people, I never grew out of that first statement. My entire childhood was spent in the sure and certain belief that I would, one day, be a teacher. I am not a teacher.

Starting when I was 15 I began to get seriously disillusioned with school. I hadn't become disillusioned with wanting to be a teacher, nor with learning, but rather with the culture of state education, the attitudes of several teachers and the unnecessariness of so much of what we were being told to do. (The fact that we were always told, never asked, was one of the things I was getting increasingly annoyed about.) I persevered though and I got through my GCSE's with half way decent results, although nowhere near what my teachers had predicted. So off to A-Levels we go.

I lasted a year. I had hoped that this would be the point where all my frustrations would disapear; where the education system would start to treat those it was supposed to be educating with a bit of respect and not like second class citizens; where some kind of acknowledgment, slender though it might be, would be forthcoming of the fact that we were there to learn, of our own free will. Not so. By the end of the first 6 months I was tearing my hair out and getting properly stressed. It wasn't the subject matter, which I enjoyed and was eager to learn about, but rather the people (a holdover from the Brancepeth Boys problem) and the methods of teaching. On top of that I was getting zero support from my family, who saw education as a waste of time and couldn't understand why I hadn't walked away at 16.

So I did walk away. At the end of year 12 I left, never to look back. It was a stupid decision, and one I regret, but it wasn't a knee-jerk one. I had tried, really I had, but just the thought of another year of that, with a bunch of stressful exams at the end of it, was enough to have me suicidal (maybe an exaggeration but only a slight one; I once punched a brick wall outside the school out of sheer frustration, that's how bad I was).

So, my long held ambition was scrapped. What to do? Well, I descended into a depressed funk. I'd sit up all night watching rubbish telly and then sleep all day. I could go weeks without seeing daylight. This couldn't go on of course, and in a rare moment of maternal concern (either that or she realised that she wasn't going to be able to claim benefits for me once the new school year started and I wasn't enrolled ) my mother forced me out of my insular pit and into the workplace. Off I toddled to what was then the junior version of the careers service (not sure about now), Connections. Although, and this may be my mind playing tricks on me, I'm pretty sure it was called (shudder) Connexions.

Credit where it's due, they were pretty good with me. Took them a couple of months but they got me an interview at a local builders merchants for an admin apprenticeship. Or at least, they thought they did; when I arrived for the interview it turns out that the admin apprenticeship had been filled a couple of months previously and the position I was up for was a 'warehousing&distribution' apprenticeship. Whatever; I was just saying yes to whatever anyone said to me at that point, since I was fairly well convinced that my life was over.

I got the position, despite my lack of enthusiasm, and started the following week. At the interview they gave me a brief test to ascertain my basic maths and English skills. They told me later that I got the best scores they'd ever had. No wonder I got the job in that case, I despair what other numpty's had been applying; the tests were nothing you'd expect to see any higher than Junior school.

Anyway, I loved the job. It took me a while, but I started to realise that once I got over the thing of assuming I'd be shit at it, I was actually good at it; really good. That's not me bragging, God forbid (general rule : if I'm being self aggrandising I'm joking, self deprecating I'm telling the truth), but I actually seemed to have found something where I didn't have to feel like shit every morning. Another plus point was that the people I worked with had a very rough and ready approach to everything and I pretty much was forced to come out of my shyness shell, by the pure power of their personalities.

The 3rd plus point of course was that the admin trainee, who had got the job I'd thought I was going for, was absolutely the most beautiful creature I'd ever laid eyes on in my life. Lust at first, as time went on I fell massively in love with her; sadly it was completely unrequited and though we remained friends for years (and didn't that eat at my guts) nothing else ever happened between us.

After 12 years, 5 managers and a complete change in ownership, the branch was closed down. Within a week I was back to sleeping all day and watching telly all night. For about a year and a half that was my life until the branch re-opened, back under the original ownership and I managed, through something called an IAP, to get my foot back in the door. 3 Months of working there for nothing (you get your benefits and traveling expenses from the government but the employer doesn't have to pay you anything) allowed me to show that I would make a good fit and when the IAP was up they invited me back full time. I jumped at the chance.

Except, it's not the job it was. Don't get me wrong; it's a job and I'm grateful to have it but I don't have that feeling each day of being raring to go. I get there and my first thought is 'show me the coffee' not 'what's the first job on the agenda'. It's run differently than before, with several departments that were separate originally now being run as one so I'm having to start from scratch learning all the stuff that other departments would have handled before and the office/sales team have managed to shock me by being even more superior with even less cause, than their predecessors. Whereas before, my job was my life, now my job is just my job. I don't like it.

So I've been looking at my life. Last time I was starting out at this place it would last 12 years and when it was over I had zero transferable skills. The thought of being in the same position 12 years from now, rather than filling me with pride as it would have done before (at being good enough to be kept around) just makes me depressed. I wanted so much more out of my life.I have long had the problem of 'if you aren't enjoying something, you shouldn't be doing it'. Dropping out of 6th form was the first but not the only example (I was moved out of warehousing and into sales at one point in my last stint at the branch. It lasted a year, I was reaching the 'punching the walls and crying myself to sleep' stage and threatened to put my notice in if I wasn't put back where I belonged.) and I'm scared that if I allow this attitude to take root I'll end up screwing the pooch, as it were, with this job.

That worry and depression at work has seeped into my life outside work as well. I come home, sit down and all I can think of doing is sleeping. Except I can't sleep, because my subconscious has decided that now is the perfect time to hit me with a bout of crippling insomnia. So I've been surviving on an average of 3hrs a night, with the occasional 24hr crash.

So why haven't I been blogging? With all that extra time on my hands, what's stopping me? Motivation; I haven't got any. I blog about books, but without the inclination to read any... I blog abut TV, but without the inclination to watch... And I blog about my life, which, as anyone who actually reads this thing on a regular basis will know, is hardly conducive to cheering myself up. So I just sit and stare at the laptop.

I've stopped visiting the 2000AD forum for the most part and although I've maintained my presence on twitter my heart isn't really in that as much as it used to be.

I've made a decision though, and it's one I think will help me a great deal, emotionally. I'm going to start looking into night or correspondence classes to, at the very least, get those A levels I walked out on. Maybe I'll go further than that, who knows? I'm not saying I'm going to be teaching your kids anytime soon, but hopefully I'll not be doing what I'm doing now forever and feeling like I wasted
my life.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hardened Criminal

So I've put it off long enough. The time has come for me to tell the tale of my first ever run-in with the local constabulary. Truth be told, it's the only run-in I've ever had with them that involved me on the side of the accused and I was actually innocent of any (well, almost any, and certainly innocent of what the police accused me of) wrongdoing. Which is not to say that there weren't other occasions when I was not quite so innocent that they just never cottoned on to; but what are you going to do when you come from a family of rogues? Anyway, it started with a visit to the home of Philip...

It's a peculiarity of the psychology of children I think, that no matter what the evidence presented to them in their own homes and families they always assume that other adults are all somehow intelligent, respectable, trust-worthy and above all honest.; be they teachers, shop keepers, random neighbours, or our friends parents. Those last perhaps most of all; you just never think that they could ever be like your own parents, or even worse...

I knew Philip primarily as one of the Brancepeth Boysbut he was also an occasional member of our merry little troupe at weekends. On this particular day he invited me and my brother back to his house to play on his computer. We had, in our house, a Commodore 64 and as with everything in life the grass always seemed greener on the other side so his ZX Spectrum was the highest of novelties to us* and off we trot. It was to prove a mistake.

Long story short, because I never do that on here and I fancy a change, is that while we were there Philip asked if he could keep hold of something of mine and I agreed. Then I saw something of his that I thought I'd quite like to borrow in exchange but after a long drawn out conversation with the paranoid voices in my head, wherein they convinced me that he didn't like me enough to lend me anything, I decided just to pocket it. As you do.

The next day, I showed what I had taken to Wayne, (I wasn't yet the fully fledged evil genius/criminal mastermind that I would become) and he, having promptly recognised it from his visit to Philips house and being far more honest than I, told Philip when next he saw him. Deep shit, was I in.The police were called in by Philips parents. Little bit of overkill, possibly, given that what I had taken was worth about 50p but fair play to them, they were playing the long game.

The police took me to the police station, did the whole 'scare the little bleeder' thing with the cells and stuff and then took me into an interview room with the whole tape recorder thing going on. Intimidation, thy name is local bobby. Now, I'd seen The Bill, I knew the score, and I felt confident that I could bluff my way through this. You see, I'd formulated a plan that would 'get me off' (and yes, I was thinking in those terms; to me this was Great Train Robber stuff) and what's more, would make me seem like somewhat of a victim in the whole affair. I was going to blame Philip. Genius.

The idea was that I would tell a sob story about how Philip had invited us up to his room and then once we were there he had demanded that I hand over my stuff (the stuff he had politely asked to borrow) and had threatened to hit me if I hadn't. I figured if they checked up, they'd find my stuff in his room and hey presto, they'd believe me. (See, I was at least on my way to criminal genius.) Then, I'd say, I decided to take the stuff of his to get back at him. I'd say sorry, that I knew it was wrong, and maybe throw in a few tears. No way could I be in trouble after that.


The police didn't care about the toy. That's not what they were interested in at all. They were interested in the money that had gone missing from the living room of Philips house. Say Whaaat? Oh yes, it seems that while I was there stealing toys from Philips bedroom a bunch of notes had disappeared from the jar in their living room. It couldn't be a coincidence could it? It had to have been me. Well, it wasn't me, and I'd be damned if I was going to sit there and let them say it was.

My indignation kicked in. The same hatred of undeserved authority being bandied about that had seen me locking my Dad in an outside toilet for several hours and would later see me get on the wrong side of many a teacher, and then bosses, led me to get very serious and determined in the face of this false accusation; I was having none of it.

The guy doing the questioning obviously figured he had me bang to rights. I'd admitted stealing one thing, so I must have stolen the other. Sherlock Holmes he wasn't. I explained to him that I had never actually been in the living room while I was at the house; that in fact I had never gotten farther than the kitchen on the ground floor. (The back door opened onto the stairs and you turned right into the kitchen. You had to pass through the kitchen to get into the living room if you entered through the rear) I said that I had gone straight upstairs upon arrival and that when we were leaving Philip had gone into the living room for something but the rest of us hadn't.

At this point he tried to trip me up. "Did Philip take any money while he was in the living room?" says the copper. "Not that I saw, no." replies myself. "Aha!", cries the copper, "I have cunningly led you into my trap. How could you know what he did if you weren't in the living room?"

Whoops, had I slipped up? Had I revealed a flaw in my intricate web of lies? Was I dealing with a Sherlockian mastermind? No. "I know because I was watching him from the doorway" I answered. This threw him for a moment but he soon rallied.
"Which doorway?"
"The doorway to the living room"
"But you said you didn't get further than the kitchen"
"I didn't"
"So how could you be in the doorway to the living room if you didn't get further than the kitchen?"
"Have you been in their house?"

The doorway to the living room was in the kitchen. The rooms were directly linked. Had he been in the house he'd have known that. So either he did know and had just assumed he could make me flustered (because I was just a daft kid after all) or he didn't, in which case why was he the one doing the interview? Anyway, I refused to back down and at one point told him that he should go and look at the house before he called me a liar, which made my mother shout at me for being cheeky, which made the copper tell her off for shouting at me. It was all very tense.In the end the police took my fingerprints and sent me on my way. Nothing ever came of it after that, presumably because they didn't find my fingerprints anywhere in their living room and so knew I was telling the truth.

I've often wondered who did take the money, or even whether any money was ever really taken at all. I thought at the time that it must have been Philip, using my real actions as a cover but I reckon now that that was just my blindness to the faults of adults coming in to play. I'll be honest, I don't think Philip was bright enough to think of something like that, but maybe his parents were; maybe one or the other of them took the money and blamed me to the other one, or maybe there never was any money and they were just trying to get my mother to cough something up to keep me out of trouble. Who knows, really, and at the end of the day it doesn't really matter; all was well that ended well, as they say.

The one lasting impact that incident had on me; the one way in which it changed the direction of my life completely, was that it badly eroded my respect for the police. In their dealings with me they were one of two things; either they were incompetent, or they were bullies and neither one of those things inspired me with confidence. It would be a long time before my disdain for them subsided.

*Younger readers may be confused by the terms Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. This is because you are all spoiled rotten by the wondrous technology of today. They were the absolute cream of the crop of home computers back in my day and would take anywhere up to half an hour to load a game. Good times.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Shit Be About To Get Real, Yo!

Well, I promised you that with the arrival of my cousin Ian, 'shit be about to get real'. If we leave aside the fact that the phrase 'shit be about to get real' is not something I can get away with saying, ever, I was telling you the Gods honest. A lot of people came and went from our little group but none made quite the impact that Ian did.

Ians Mam was Sharon, another of my Mams many siblings. Together with her husband John she had three children; Ian, Neil and Wayne. Only Ian would really have that much of an effect on us because we rarely saw the others. You see, a few years before we moved to the village of Willington, Sharon and her family had lived there. They had moved out of the village a while previously but at weekends and on school holidays Ian, their eldest, would be brought down to stay at the home of their old neighbour, just a few streets away from us - literally a couple of minutes on foot or 30 seconds on your bike.

Bob was an elderly bloke that had formed a bit of an attachment to the family, having no close relatives of his own, and had been a regular babysitter for Ian and his brothers. After they moved away they kept bringing Ian back to stay with Bob so he wouldn't be too lonely. Looking back with todays more cynical eyes, some might think the situation a trifle dodgy looking. An old bloke, lives alone, has a young boy that's not related to him over to stay in his one bedroom home; oo-er Missus and all that. But phooey to the lot of you.

So anyway, Ian would stay at Bobs whenever we weren't at school and so was perfectly placed to join our little gang. I often wonder what he used to do with his time at Bobs before we moved in; certainly he gave no indication that he already knew any of our group and he didn't bring any other friends with him; close as they may have been I don't think it could have been much fun if it was just the two of them. Oh well.

Ian was almost the same age as me; I think there was about 5 or 6 months in it; and so we took on a kind of joint leadership role. I'll admit, he was much cooler than I was so we got a lot more active after he showed up than when I was calling the shots alone. What can I say; I'm a born loner, I wasn't cut out to be a leader. The others were tactful enough not to say anything - either that or they hadn't noticed anything and it was my paranoia convincing me that they liked him more - but I was always a little bit conscious at the start of every day of this lingering sense of being a hanger on to his gang. The feeling would fade of course, as each day wore on, but it always took me a little while in the mornings to properly loosen up and stop trying so hard. However, cousins or no, same age or no, I don't think I'd have been the one who, if asked, Ian would have described as his best friend in the group. That honour went to Wayne. The two of them became pretty much inseparable after a while. Of course, it didn't happen overnight. No, they had to scare the crap out of us all first.

I'm not the most empathetic person in the world (I remember the first time I heard a description of sociopathy and thought 'hmmm, that sounds familiar'; scary thought) so it took me a while to cotton on but there was apparently a lot of tension between Ian and Wayne from day one. Of course, it pretty soon escalated to the point where I couldn't possibly miss it; those two seemed to loathe each other with an absolute passion. I never learned the root of their antipathy but I was certainly present the day they got it out of their systems; the stains never did come out of my underkeks.

One Saturday morning we were all hanging around at the Speccy.

Spectrum Leisure Complex 'The Speccy'We were around the back of the main building, at the top of the huge grass slope that dropped down to the bottom of the ski slope.There was much laughing and joking and threatening to push the littler ones down the bank, when suddenly, from out of nowhere, BANG, Wayne had punched Ian in the face. Ian swiftly retaliated, a good hard kick to the back of Waynes leg to bring him down and then a punch to the side of the head. This wasn't wrestling around, this wasn't play-fighting; this was a proper full on fight. I was terrified; I'd never seen a proper fight before and these two looked like they were going to kill each other; at one point Wayne was smashing Ians head into the side of the building, lips were bleeding, clothes were torn; it was like something out of a Philoe Bedoe movie. Then it got really serious.

From out of nowhere, Ian pulled a pair of scissors. I genuinely thought he was going to kill Wayne. Luckily, the life or death-ness of the scene didn't last long. They wrestled for a bit, Ian dropped the scissors and they fell down the slope, punching and clawing at each other the whole way down. Then they stopped. Just like that, it was over. They both trudged back up the slope, Wayne left one way and Ian left the other and the rest of us were stood looking dumbfounded, before, as kids do, we got distracted by something else (there was a bowling match happening on the green and we ended up watching that).

We forgot about it fairly quickly, I have to say, but the that's what kids do isn't it? Looking back though, how close did I come to seeing one of my friends die? If Wayne hadn't wrestled the scissors away, would Ian have used them, and why the Hell was he carrying scissors around with him in the first place? Seems obvious that he came out spoiling for a fight, doesn't it? It's scary to think about.

As I say though, Ian and Wayne seemed to have gotten it out of their systems a bit with that fight. We were all one big group together but those two seemed to have a bond that none of the rest of us could quite get in on. I haven't seen either of them for years but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they were still best mates today. So, you know, all's well that...

Next : My first ever run in with the police. I was innocent. Well, kind of.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Dreams of death

I talked here about the weird nightmares I had as a very young child. I don't think there was anything particularly special about about a young boy dreaming of being scared of snakes, although I flatter myself that the 'Big Woman' stuff was all me. After those instances faded it would be a while before I was troubled by bad dreams again, but when they came, they were doozies.

They weren't really nightmares. I think that's the strange thing that makes me remember them so vividly after all these years. I mean, snakes coming out of walls and evil women wanting to grab you off the street, those are nightmares, but this new batch were just, well, exciting dreams. Dreams about things that would have absolutely terrified me in real life, but which I wasn't scared about in the dreams. Except that when I woke up, the bed would be drenched in sweat and I'd be shaking like a leaf. So was I scared or not? My body was scared but my mind wasn't? Does that happen?

The dreams would start with me walking around the little village I lived in. Then a bunch of people would appear with knives and guns. I would run and they would chase me. It was as simple as that really, except I knew with absolute crystal clarity that these people would kill me if they caught me. I would run for miles, up and down back alleys and side streets, through the woods, along the streams, even into shops and through to escape through the back door.(Shops I'd never been through the back of in my life so I was inventing all those back rooms in my head). I would never get tired even though I would keep going for what seemed in the dreams to be hours and even days. The dreams were never the same twice, in that I would run a different route and bump into different people each time but they always ended the same.

I would reach my house. For some reason I would decide that if I crouched down behind the little wall down the side of my house I'd be safe. Then a shadow would loom over me, I'd look up and there would be one of my tormentors, pointing a massive gun at me. I would smile, look down at the floor and say "Go on then".

And he would shoot me. At which point I would, presumably, die in the dream but it was of course at that moment that I would wake up. Now here is the thing. I have a crippling fear of death; that world changing fear that eats your insides when, as a child, you first discover your mortality has never left me. It's why I try to avoid thinking about it, and is probably one of the causes of my borderline sociopathic inability to grieve when others die, in as much that allowing myself to think about their deaths can only remind me of the inevitability of my own.

Yet, in this dream, I was never, at any point, afraid. I knew they were going to kill me but it didn't bother me. Even right at the end, when the moment came, I was all stoic and accepting of my fate. Now, you're probably thinking it was a dream, it doesn't have to make sense; or it was a dream, you were making yourself braver than you really are. If those theories are true though, and maybe it really is as simple as that, then it doesn't explain every other nightmare I've ever had. Because in those, I've been absolutely bloody terrified.

So there you have it. A child dreaming about being murdered by strangers every night for weeks. Pleasant reading, I'm sure you'll agree. Next : You've met my bro and sis, you've met Wayne and Lisa, now it's time to bring in the big guns. My cousin, Ian. Shit be about to get real, yo. (I'm so very sorry)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Animal Cruelty

Right, a short one this week, because frankly the subject matter makes me sick when I think of it. No, no, come back, it's nothing like that.

Depending on who you are, and what kind of person you are, the story I'm about to tell might possibly not seem all that bad but to me, it's a moment in my life that I feel utter shame for. I can't remember ever feeling worse than in the moments right afterward and even now, literally decades later, I sometimes dream about it and wake up feeling like, well, like shit.

It was shortly after we'd moved into the new house. We had pretty quickly gotten to know all the neighbours, because this was, after all, the worlds friendliest street, and the man up from us (technically the first house in the next street but he was an honorary member) had the cutest little puppy you've ever seen in your life. I don't remember the breed - I'm hopeless with this stuff, if it's a dog it's a dog, I can never remember the different types - but it was quite small and very excitable. All of us kids loved that dog with a passion, mainly because none of us were allowed one and it was the only one in the street.

So, the geography; we were the last house at the top of our street. His was the first house in the street that went up at a right angle from ours. On the corner where the two met was a quite large - to a childs eye - patch of grass. This grass had a couple of trees at one end that were perfectly spaced for goalposts and would one day save my best friends life, but that's another story.

We would play on this grass often, and if the weather was nice my Mam would bring out a chair and sit at the front door watching us. Our neighbour would also often sit outside his door, and allow his puppy to run around with us. (Not to mention crap all over the place. I can't remember if their were laws about dog waste back then but if there were they weren't as stringently enforced.) On this one particular day, a crowd of us were kicking a ball around on the grass, with this little dog running between our feet and chasing the ball. All good fun. At one point, because it really was a warm day and I didn't handle heat any better then than I do now - slightest hike above sub-arctic temps and I'm sweating like a missionary in a crock pot - I headed inside for a drink. AND INTO HELL!

Sidenote - We had a Pop-Man. Did anyone else have one of those? Do they still exist today? He came around once a week on a milk float type thing filled with crateloads of cheap pop. Big chunky glass bottles they were, and you got a discount if you returned the bottles. (I know shops gave pennies for empties but this man came to your door) We'd never had a pop-man at our previous homes, and never had another one after we moved. I miss having a pop-man.

Ahem, well. So I was on my way back out with my glass of generic cheapy lemonade when I heard my Mam moaning from her little stool at the front door. As was her wont - she was always a miserable cow, even before she hit the deepest depths of her drinking - she was moaning about something; but what? Yes, it was the dog. She was getting all worked up - under her breath, never one for confrontation when sober - about how the dog wouldn't leave us alone and 'the little bastard better not fucking bite any of them' and, well, you get the idea. The fact that the dog was having the time of it's life, so were us kids, and the thing had never shown the slightest inclination towards violence never entered into the equation; she wasn't happy.

Shall I tell you what I did? I put down my glass, pushed past my Mam, ran onto the grass and... kicked the dog as hard as I could in the belly while screaming at it to "get back you little bastard." The squeal it made broke my heart, I swear to God. It's owner went ballistic - and can you blame him? -, my Mam went apeshit, screaming at me to get inside and all my friends were just shouting at me, "what'd you do that for?", "pack it in dickhead" and "behave, you fucking nutter".

I just looked at the dog, curled up at his owners feet, giving out little yelps. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I felt, in all honesty, like scum. Because let's face it, that's exactly what I was.

That's the end of the story. I could make a bunch of excuses about how I was young and impressionable and was just following my Mams lead but, well, that's no excuse is it? I've done a lot of pretty reprehensible things in my life, but none, when I look back, make me feel as bad as this one does. The dog was soon frolicking at my feet again having, as dogs do, forgiven me. I'm not sure the owner ever did.