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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.