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Saturday, 23 April 2011

Happiness, thy name is Appleton

And so we reach that point in my childhood where the memories become much more vivid, and indeed more numerous. Also, in what I'm sure will come as a surprise to anyone who's read more than a couple of my entries on here, much happier.

That's not to say that the misery is over, of course. My Mother was still on the slippery slope to alcoholism, my Father was still conspicuous by his absence, Maurice and his punch happy ways was a regular presence, money was extremely tight (although never so tight as to preclude the purchasing of copious amounts of alcohol and cigarettes) and one of the darker moments in my Sisters life wasn't far away. (I may or may not discuss that one at a later date. No problem airing my own stuff but that one, for all that it affected us all, was mainly her problem to deal with.)

For all of that though, the next few years were going to be the happiest of my young life. You see, for all the bad shit that was going on, it was balanced by the good. And a lot of that good was entirely down to moving into that new house.

It was a council house like any other. It was small and not particularly grand and it was slap in the middle of a grotty estate filled with yobs and druggies. It was also in one of the friendliest streets I've ever lived on.

The street in question was called Appleton Crescent. I'll never forget it. It was a dead end, which meant that if you didn't live in it, you had no reason to enter it. This, coupled with the fact that some divine intervention meant that this street, and this street alone, wasn't used as a dumping ground for the worst of the worst by the Council(my family, arguably, being the exception), meant that it became it's own little world, cut off from the rest of the Estate. Friendly people, who all got along, not troubled by anything beyond their own little bubble. You remember the old titles on Neighbours, where all of the residents descended on the street and had a massive game of cricket? That was us. A truer sense of community I've never known.

I made proper hardcore friends, had an awesome leisure centre on the doorstep (we could never afford to actually go in but it had a play area and was set into a wood, which provided hours of - quite dangerous - fun) and best of all, there was the wasteground. A massive great chunk of land that had once housed ,well, houses. A little terrace of three still stood, slap in the middle of it, we could never figure out why they were allowed to stand when all around them had been pulled down, but other than those a huge swathe had been cut by the Council, seemingly to no end because we were told it had stood empty for years and it would stand empty for several more before anything was done (and didn't it break our hearts when that day came, though we made them work for it).

So, if anyone is still reading this blog, you can rest assured that it won't all be unremitting misery any longer. I have happy stories too. Although come to think of it, a lot of my happy memories also contain random acts of violence and copious amounts of petty crime, so don't be expecting Little House On The Prairie.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A new start with shaky foundations

So where was I before I got sidetracked by the BNP wannabes? Ah yes, my Mam the homewrecker.

Now, I was quite naive back then in a lot of ways. Certainly I wasn't seeing the full picture as regards Mickey and Maurices relationship. I was soon to learn that Maurice, far from the kindly Uncle I'd had him pegged as was, and as far as I know still is, a nasty piece of work - a violent bully who loved to lord it over women and children. In the grand scheme of things Mickey was probably better off without him. Not that that justifies my Mother stealing him away from her own sister mind you. And I'm still not sure what it says about her intelligence that she would want to, given what she knew about him (his treatment of Mickey, which they'd managed up to then to keep secret from us kids, apparently being common knowledge in the family). Still, love conquers all eh?

We stayed at their house for a relatively short time. The overcrowding our presence caused meant we were pretty quickly given a place of our own by the council. Nevertheless, there was still a very uncomfortable period between the declaration of 'love' and us actually leaving, when we all had to live together under the same roof, desperately trying to pretend that there was nothing wrong and everyone was happy. What kind of hell must that have been for Mickey?

Anyway, eventually the time came for us to move out. Which, is the point that things became really uncomfortable. Maurice was coming with us, that much was set, but it became increasingly clear that Mickey was still hoping he'd change his mind and stay with her. God knows why she would want him to, but whatever.

The new house being only about 10 minutes walk away (itself not an ideal situation), we would transfer our stuff in a number of journeys on foot, rather than springing for the cost of transport. It was on the last such trip that I would personally witness, for the first but by no means last time, Maurices temper.

We had left the house with the last of our belongings and were making our way across the grass in front of the house. Mickey came out about a minute after us and started shouting at Maurice. At first she was begging him not to go, then she started hurling abuse at him, slagging off both him and my mother. I was a little embarrassed but kept on walking,and made sure my sister did the same. Not Maurice though. He turned round, sprinted across to her, punched her in the face and then crouched over her on the ground, screaming into her face as he held her down by the throat. He threatened, top of his lungs, that he would kill her if she didn't go back inside. Then he just got up and walked back to us, leaving her lying on the grass sobbing.

All told, not one of the most pleasant things I'd ever witnessed.

Maurice moved in with us in our new house and would be a pivotal figure in my childhood for the next few years. Not always a live-in figure, mind you, that was very off and on, but never far away. Some of those times were actually fun. Some though, not so much.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Casual Racism

No memory lane again this week because I'm having a bit of a rant.

So I'm walking down the street and I'm accosted by someone on the sell. It's some kind of joke book (actually more of a pamphlet) and he's wanting £3 for it.

I have some experience of being homeless and have a degree of sympathy for those who find themselves in that situation so I figured I'd do my bit. The thing is, though, that £3 is quite a hefty sum. Last I bought the Big Issue it was £1, I don't know if it still is, and that is a proper magazine with a decent page count and some halfway interesting features. This joke thing was about 10 pages if that. Nevertheless, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out a handful of change. There wasn't £3 there. The man in question simply grabbed it (literally - it was quite disconcerting) and said "Give me that, we'll call it quits". If it had been my bus fare home I'd have been stuffed.

Then he said something else. Something which, had I not been so flustered by his forwardness, would have prompted me to take my money back, if not actually complain to whatever organisation/charity he was operating for. He said "cheers mate, you're a good 'un. And at least I'm English eh?"

Is our society so institutionally racist that people collecting for charity now see it as a selling point that they aren't of foreign descent? Actually, as I'm writing this, it occurs to me that the woman I occasionally buy the Big Issue from, who hangs around outside my local WH Smiths, is of some kind of Eastern descent. I must be a bad Englishman, mustn't I? Buying from a filthy foreigner. Shocking.

Let me tell you a joke. You will likely have heard it, or one very like it. They seem to be all the rage lately.

A man walks into the Job Centre. He approaches the woman and tells her that he would like to make a claim on behalf of his dog. When the woman explains that dogs are not allowed to claim benefits the man is indignant.

"What do you mean he can't claim? He's black, he stinks and he's never worked a day in his life."

"Why didn't you say so", says the woman, "the money'll be with you by Monday."

Have you heard it before? If so, did you laugh? And was the laughter embarrassed, polite laughter or was it genuinely amused laughter. If it was the latter, I don't think we are going to be friends.

I heard that joke during one of my interminable IAP sessions. It was told by someone who, up until that moment, had seemed like a perfectly reasonable chap, to a bunch of people whom I had been conversing quite happily with, and they all laughed. Every single one of them. Not little chuckles, or wry half smiles. They bellowed. And I'm sat there thinking, does this mean I'm the abnormal one? Is it wrong of me to not find that funny? The thing that really wound me up was that one of the staff at the centre, one of the people running this Government mandated session, was laughing along with everyone else. What chance do we have?

I'm starting to notice it more and more now. Someone who I worked with for many years, before I lost my job, and whom I am now back working with on my 'work experience' days, has some very, shall we say robust, views on certain things which I had never noticed first time around but which are really stickin out like a sore thumb this time. Immigrants eh?

I seem to be surrounded by a kind of low level background bigotry. This is not the country I thought I lived in. It's certainly not the country I want to live in.