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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Fat Lads Are Good Lads

Howdy y'all. Welcome to another edition of 'Paul's defective memory vomits forth some random occurrences from his youth in no particular order.'

This week my memory is jogged by something I wrote last week. After mentioning Buckshot George; the older boy we hung out with/harassed; being somewhat on the larger side, something went ping in my head and I was suddenly awash with thoughts of a lad in my class that I was quite good friends with for a brief period there. His name was Sam (it wasn't), and I'm a little ashamed that I've never thought to mention him on here before, and also that it took thinking about 'fat' kids to make me remember him at all.

Anyway, let me tell you about Sam...

There are two major things that I remember about Sam...well, actually there are three, but we won't go into the feelings I had about his older sister.

The first, is that we had, for a while, an arrangement where every Monday night we'd go to each others house for tea. One week I'd go to his, the next he'd come to mine, etc... I remember that whenever I went to his, there would be a huge meal laid on, and when he came to mine it'd be beans on toast or bangers and mash. At the time I thought that his other was going to special trouble because I was there, and my own mother was letting the side down by not reciprocating; now I realise that that was just how the two families ate.

One weekend, from out of the blue, my mother announced that he wasn't to come up that Monday, or any subsequent Monday for that matter. No explanation was given; he simply wasn't welcome. Now, I was completely at a loss as to why this lad was my friend at all, so I was convinced that my telling him that he wasn't welcome at my house any more would send him scurrying away. Plus, what would I actually say? How do you tell someone your mum doesn't want them in your house?

I went to school that Monday, and I put it off all day but as home time rolled around I knew I had to say something. Little hands sweating rivers I took him to one side, not wanting to be embarrassed in front of anyone else, and told him. He took it well, so well in fact that you might almost think he didn't really care one way or the other, the swine.

Next day though, he had a message for me. If he wasn't allowed at my house, I wasn't allowed at his.  Fair's fair, I suppose, but I did have a little moment of sorrow that I wouldn't see his sister any more.

The second major thing I remember about him was the time we were preparing for Christmas at school, and each class was assigned a certain piece of the decorations to make for the hall. We were instructed to create giant cows, to hang up in the 'maids a'milking' section. Easy enough you might think; especially since we were provided with the huge cardboard cutouts and all we had to do was paint them.

WRONG! Some of the sights we came up with were like something from an Italian horror movie from the 80's. Which, considering this was happening in the 8-0's, is probably appropriate, when you think about it.

Here's the thing though; his table produced a cow that's spots were... well... I basically told them that they had painted a cow with measles. Which was funny. Once. The 2nd time, not so much, the 3rd time not at all, and by the 10th time I'd made the cow with measles joke the frustration was ready to boil out of their nostrils. So of course I kept going.

That breaktime, he threw me up against a wall, backed into me with his not inconsiderable bulk, and started pulling on my arms over his shoulders. Am I describing that right? He was crushing me and stretching me at the same time. God knows what any adults passing the fence must have thought of this scene of torture, with one boy screaming in agony and the other yelling that 'my cow doesn't have fucking measles!'

Still, I'm sure it brightened up their day.

Those are my two most enduring memories of 'Sam'. We stayed friends through all of Primary School, but when it came to Comprehensive School he was one of the 'friends for a while out of habit but just another face in the corridor after a while' group. I'm a little saddened at that, now that I'm thinking of it.

Anyway, no idea what I'll be talking about next week. You'll have to click on to find out. Until then, don't forget to eat plenty of cheese.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Losing Touch, the Comprehensive School Way

Hiya! Still waffling about my school days. Have a read, if you like. I don't really care to be honest; if you're seeing this I've already got the view statistic, so you've exhausted your usefulness to me. Mwahahahahaha.

Ahem...

Last week, I spoke of my induction trip to my future Comprehensive School, from my final year of Primary. I focused on the embarrassment of being locked in a confined space with a bunch of people with only me knowing that I had burglarised said enclosed space a few scant weeks earlier. There was another aspect to that trip though, that I never talked of. The sadness factor.

I started at Chapel Street Primary in the second year of Juniors (Year 4 to you modern types) after my mother left my father and blah blah blah; read about it here if you like; and when I did there was a lad in 4th year (Year 6, and that's the last time I'm doing the conversion for you) who was, to put it bluntly, fat. Does that seem unduly harsh? Well, that's because it is. It's true though, and though it brings me no pleasure to say it, we made much mockery of him.

The mockery was meant, however, in good humour. We liked him; in large part because he was pretty much the only one of the untouchable 4th years who would give us the time of day. Admittedly, the time of day he gave us was usually filled with us attacking him and attempting to wrestle him to the ground. Because he was large. Do you see? Of course you do.

I've often wondered, looking back on this big boned fellow who made such an impact on my life as a youngster but whose name I can no longer recall; let us call him Buckshot George, for 'tis a good name; whether it's more likely that he enjoyed our company, and the constant wrestling matches at every break and lunchtime, or that he just took it because he felt he had no choice and was crying on the inside. Who knows?

Of course it's also possible that he knew we weren't being deliberately malicious, and chose to accept our 'friendly' mockery because the people in his own year were not quite so well meaning in their treatment of him. I certainly think that had he had many friends his own age, he'd probably not have been so willing to spend all his time with us.

Anyway, regardless of whether he genuinely liked us or he hated the very bones of us, the fact was that when we came back for 3rd year and he was gone; whisked off to the dreaded Big School, we were gutted. Now what would we do with our breaktimes? So when the time came for us to go on this trip to aforementioned Big School, I got all excited. I would see Buckshot George. Yippee!

You know where this is going right? We got there, we did our tour, I served my sentence in the interrogation chamber/made some cupcakes in the Home Ec. labs, and when it came time for lunch in the big fancy cafeteria I saw him sitting at one of the tables and made sure to catch his eye as we went past and... he looked at me like I was, well, it wasn't distaste or disdain in his eyes, it was incomprehension and confusion. Basically, he didn't have a fucking clue who I was.

That, my friends, will rip your guts out.

Of course, we all know that that's what happens when you go from Primary to Secondary education. It's the line from Stand By Me, about (and I'm paraphrasing) your best friends become just faces in the halls. Sad but inevitable.

I don't know if you can tell, but I'm quite reluctant to move on to my secondary years on this blog. It's because I genuinely don't want to leave the Appleton Crescent/ Chapel Street Primary/ Brancepeth Boys years behind. They don't sound like much when I describe them on here, but they really were the best years of my life, and remembering them for these posts has brought many a smile to my face.

So in that vein, next week I'll tell you a tale of another friend of mine from Primary. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Guilty Conscience


I don't know how it is in your country; he says, in a blatant attempt to have an excuse to mention his mahoosive* audience in the US, Germany, and the Ukraine; but in the UK, when you near the end of Primary School (age 11), you are taken on what is called an induction visit to the school you will be attending for next, and final, five years of compulsory education.

Or at least, that's what happened when I was a lad. It's probably all changed now, most things have. Anyway, this is the tale of what happened when I went on my induction trip. Enjoy. Or at least do your best to fake a fair approximation of enjoyment. For me, yeah?

It had been decided, via whatever arcane sorcery is used to decide these things, that the school I would attend would be a little place called Parkside Comprehensive School. Now Parkside was a little bit unique (I KNOW THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE DON'T SHOUT AT ME) as Comprehensive schools go, in that it was split over two separate locations; not a few streets away or even on opposite sides of town, but in two separate towns.

The first two years would attend classes in one town and then years 3-5, or 9-11 as we were constantly told we must refer to them; this being just about the time that that whole new numbering system was being implemented; would attend classes in the larger complex in the other town.

Now you would think that since the point of an induction visit is to get you acquainted with the world you're about to enter, we would visit the complex that took first years. However, the teachers were boxing a bit clever, and in what I'm sure was just an attempt to save on bus fuel it was decided that all of the local Primary schools would take their pupils to whichever complex was nearest. Which meant my class would go to the larger complex. Which meant I shat my pants.

Now, the idea of going somewhere I'd never been, to meet people I'd never met, who would essentially be controlling my life for the next 5 years, would have been anxiety inducing enough to have me waking up in the night in a cold sweat for weeks in advance; which meant I really didn't need anything else to worry about on top. I had it though, in the shape of a little thing called 'oh shit, what if I give the game away paranoia.

You see, the school we were about to visit was this school, and the events in question were still very much fresh in my mind. The whole thing was doing my anxiety no good at all.

The big day arrived and we all trooped from one school to the other; single file, teacher at either end of the train, hold hands to cross the road, stop sniggering back there boy; and when we arrived we were met by one of the most intimidating figures I've ever known. He was the Head, whom I shall call Mr J, and I can't tell you why we all felt such instant fear when we met him. He was tall, dressed really smartly, had a head of silver hair, and was incredibly well spoken, so perhaps we thought he was a Bond villain, but I don't recall him doing anything particularly nasty or strict. In fact, I don't recall much of anything about him, because he was always a big fan of delegation, leaving his Department heads and heads of year to do all that awful 'dealing with kids' malarkey.

We were split up into groups and told that each group would only be touring a fraction of the school. This boosted my spirits somewhat; what were the chances that I would be in the group that...oh, home economics you say? And that's...cooking, right. So the kitchens then? Brilliant.
They've knocked down and rebuilt huge swathes! Didn't recognise the place. That's the spot though.
My arse has never been clenched so tight in all my days. We went through the doors and my eyes went straight to the spot where we'd taken the microwave (it had been replaced) before swiveling to the window we'd come in through (it had been repaired) and then, in a fit of panic, to the teacher doing the tour to make sure he wasn't looking at me (he wasn't).

You see, in my head, this was all too much of a coincidence. The fact that we had come to this school rather than the one we'd actually be attending, the fact that I just happened to be on the group that came to this particular section of the school; I was convinced it was some weird, elaborate sting operation to out me as the great microwave thief of Olde Willington Towne. Nonsense, obviously, but the mind will play tricks.

We spent half a day in those bloody kitchens, baking cupcakes. Now I liked cupcakes as much as the next pre-pubescent boy but I couldn't quite get into the spirit of the exercise. Can't think why.

And that's the tale of what happened to me when I went on an induction visit to a school I wasn't even due to start at for another two years. I hope it wasn't too boring. And if it was, keep it to yourself, yeah? There's no need to hurt anyone's feelings. Tata for now.

*Given that non-English speaking readers are probably relying on google translate or similar, I should probably tone down the made up words, eh? Although when you think about it, aren't all words 'made up'? If they weren't, we'd all be pointing at trees and saying Ug, am I right?

The Beginning of the End


As much as I enjoyed the bulk of our time in the worlds friendliest street there were, of course, occasional bad times, due perhaps to the rest of the world being jealous of our idyllic lives and conspiring to ruin our fun, out of pure spiteful malice.

One such occasion was when the wasteland which acted as our playground, and which we so cherished, was cruelly ripped from us by the Dread Lords of property Development Hell. Yes, it was sold. To be built on!

Outraged, we were. Outraged, and vocal about said outrage. Also, 10. Apparently the desire of a bunch of delinquent youths to play on some condemned waste ground did not trump a development deal worth hundreds of thousands. I know, I was shocked too. Still, whining made us feel better.


May possibly have had a more worthwhile cause than us. Slightly.
Of course, as anyone who was ever a mischievous imp (badly behaved little shit) will tell you, there are other ways than verbal to register disgust. Like, and I'm just brainstorming here, wholesale vandalism. As the nights drew in we would sneak from our homes (say we were going out), approach the building site with all due stealth (run across the road) and bring down the mighty wrath of the righteous (tear open a few bags of cement before getting bored and playing Somme in the foundation trenches). Oh, as covert resistance went, the Maquis had nothing on us. Of course we didn't couch it in those terms, being uneducated louts.

Besides, The Next Generation hadn't even started on BBC2 yet.*

After a while a night security guard was assigned to the site. I'd like to tell you that it was because of us, but since we did about as much damage as a gnat trying to bring down Chessington World of Adventure, it seems far more likely to have been something to do with the older kids getting drunk and trying to hot-wire a jcb.

 

Our resistance movement had failed; the building work continued apace and soon enough, the wasteground was gone.

It may seem a small thing, but looking back at that time now, it's obvious to me that that construction project was the beginning of the end for that sense of community we all loved so much; the friendliest street in the world was doomed.

*Eh? Eh? Because Maquis. Oh, suit yourself.




Sunday, 11 November 2012

Please make it go away

I'm not sure when it happened, but there came a time in my life when I found that I could go days, weeks, even months, without any kind of major emotional meltdown or panic attack. I wasn't cured of my various neuroses and hang-ups; I doubt I ever will be, in truth; but I had, at least, managed to settle into a routine that meant I could avoid all those things that were wont to trigger them.

Unfortunately, no good thing lasts forever and last week I was brought crashing down to Earth when my cosy little bubble of trigger avoidance and a well honed fake personality was popped by unavoidable work related issues.

Exactly one week ago today I was scheduled on what's known as a 'refresher' course; something which you are required to undertake every 3 years or so, if you wish your license to operate a forklift truck (FLT) to remain valid. Since my employment pretty much hinges on my being able to drive a FLT, there was no way out of this.

Now, as anyone who regularly operates these miraculous machines will tell you, there is nothing simpler. Let's face it, a one man vehicle whose gears are no more complicated than Forward/Neutral/Reverse, has a top speed of about 15 miles an hour and is primarily (always, in my case) driven on private land with a minimum of traffic to worry about, is never going to require NASA levels of expertise to drive. So the problem wasn't so much proving that I was capable in order to get my renewal rubber stamped; it was the accompanying drama that was messing with my head. Allow me to take you through the many ways I hated last Monday.

Short Notice

The course was on Monday; I was informed about it on the previous Friday. Since I wasn't working on the intervening Saturday, that meant I had zero days to piss about on the trucks practicing all those little things that you do to pass the test, then never do again until you have another test. Don't be shaking your heads; I don't drive, but I bet there are plenty of examples of that kind of thing with you car lot.

As I say, the test isn't all that hard regardless, but someone with my anxiety levels need  all the help I can get to be prepared, and this wasn't. Help, that is.

Location

As in, anywhere I haven't been before. Every previous time that I've done this, it's been at my home branch, with people I knew. What this means is that they're people I'm relatively comfortable faking a certain level of friendship with, or at the very least a kind of low level 'jokey' enmity.

This time though, thanks to branch closures, openings, redundancies and re-hirings and high staff turnovers, the staff at our branch no longer have synchronised licenses, and no-one else was due. So off I was shipped to another branch, to interact with strangers for a day. Helpful.

Everything about the day itself

On arriving at work I was immediately bundled into the managers car and whisked off on my way. Now, being stuck in a car with anyone gets me jittery after too long; I only have a limited supply of 'small talk' in me. And of course, this being early morning, and the branch we were headed to being in the middle of a busy retail area, the traffic was horrendous; you'd think people had jobs to get to or something; so that added a good while to the journey.

As people go, my current manager is less problematic to speak to than some, on account of how he started shortly after me when we were both essentially kids and I've known him all the way through his climb up the ranks, so he's kind of 'one of the lads'. If this had been any other manager I've ever worked for I'd have been clawing at the door to get out.

Even so, the bulk of our conversations; just like the bulk of my conversations with everyone; are very 'hit and run'; I like the freedom to leave a room when I'm out of material. And yes, I do practice off the cuff remarks ahead of time, and keep a store of them for future use. Being spontaneously witty doesn't just happen you know.

He steered the conversation to music, television, politics, sport... some of those things I know a little about, others I know nothing about, but none of them are things I'm willing to express an opinion on to someone without first knowing their opinion, so I can gauge what I think the level of... look, I can't explain this, but suffice to say I overthink everything and I wouldn't make a very good dinner party guest. Eventually I got the talk back onto work, which is pretty much the only thing I feel truly comfortable talking about, and since he; for reasons unknown, but it may be down to heavy drug use in his formative years; seems to actually respect my opinions and agree with my ideas when it comes to how to run a branch, I was on steady ground.

Until we arrived at the branch...

First impressions I had were that the staff were all numpties and the place was a shithole. Of course, even I am not so oblivious to social niceties as to think that those would be acceptable conversation starters, so I was knackered.

We (myself and the two people also doing the course) were locked in an office with the instructor, but not before he had found time to announce that this would be an all day thing, rather than half a day, which was what we had been told. What this meant was that my managers business in the area would be concluded and he would be leaving earlier than me. He said that he would come back for me at the end of the day, but then the instructor said that he lived...somewhere...I don't know, places I don't live in are all the same to me... but the gist was, he would bring me half way so my manager wouldn't have to brave the tea time rush hour.

Unbelievable. So I now had that to look forward to.

The session began and I thought I would be safe for a while; these things usually consist of a bit of a lecture and some safety videos made in 1972 in which a bunch of stuntmen die horribly. No call for small talk there. Unfortunately, our instructor had other ideas; we were going to listen to his stories about meeting famous footballers (number I'd heard of: 0), look at pictures of his grandson (how many times can you say 'yeah, cute' and seem genuine?), hear stories about all the many businesses he'd owned/co-owned/founded as a favour to a friend (quantity of bullshit detected in said stories: a hell of a fucking lot), and so on and so forth. The others, both fully rounded individuals capable of holding down a conversation without gagging on their words, were fine. Myself, not so much.

At one point, and I can't believe I did it, I joined in the conversation. It had turned toward fireworks, and they were all agreeing with each other about how much they hated them and I thought, hang on, I have something I could say here that is actually relevant! So I told the tale of someone I know having been scared by a dud firework hitting her window. On topic, and vaguely interesting, I thought.

Maybe it was just my paranoia; it was almost certainly my paranoia; but they seemed to listen politely enough then get back to their own chatter as soon as politeness allowed. I spent the next hour sitting there, stewing over my words and trying to figure out what I'd said wrong, counting how many different ways I'd embarrassed myself, and working out how much longer this hell could go on for. They, for their part, went back to talking about football.

Lunchtime arrived and after I inquired as to the nearest shop that I could get some food from, since I hadn't brought any, since we had been told this would be OVER BY FUCKING LUNCHTIME, I set off. Only to be stopped by instructor man, who offered me as lift. LEAVE ME ALONE!! I wanted to scream at him, but of course I didn't. I'm too afraid of confrontation for that. So my blessed relief; my little bit of alone time that was going to be my walk out to the shop; was taken from me.

What is the 'done thing' when someone you don't know gives you a lift to the shop and then needs to use the cashpoint? Do you stand and wait with him? Or do you head in ahead of him? If you stand and wait, are you being too clingy? Are you saying that you can't go to the shop by yourself? If you do stand and wait, you have to then walk round the shop with them, making smalltalk, feeling self conscious if it takes you longer to find something than them. But if you go in alone, are you being rude? Are you saying you don't want to be seen with them?

Welcome to my head. In the end, not knowing which was the 'correct' response, I went with the one that required me to speak the least, and headed straight in alone.

After lunch was a load more waffle about getting shirts signed by football players etc... before we finally, well after 2pm, went out to the trucks. Then we spent another hour standing in the cold while he made various phone calls.

Someone: It's a bit chilly eh?
Me: Just a bit, aye.
(Repeat) (Repeat Again) (And Again) (And Again...)

That was the conversation for the afternoon. Riveting stuff.

When we finally rated his attention again, he told us a tale about a man 'in his fucking 30's, a fucking grown man' who upon making the same simple mistake several times, was chastised by the instructor. 'In the end I grabbed his fucking leg and dragged it off the pedal. Then he burst into tears, I couldn't believe it!!!'

Here's the thing, if you'd pulled me up for making the same mistake over and over again, and then grabbed my leg, I wouldn't have started crying; I'd have told you to fuck off; but only because I'm a better actor than that other guy. You can bet the house I'd have been close to tears.

The practical tests themselves were over in about 5 minutes once they actually started. Then it was back indoors for a written test based on information we should have covered on the morning but didn't because he was too busy name dropping and then home. With him. In his car. I was genuinely terrified. I have this knee twitching thing that happens when I'm uncomfortable and it was going a mile a fucking minute the whole way home. He kept talking about stuff, and I kept ignoring him; literally, I was beyond the point of caring what he thought anymore. I practically jumped out of his car when he got me where we were going.

And do you know what? When I got in my manager's car for the second leg of the journey, my mood being immediately apparent to him, he asked how the day had gone and I told him. He found my torture, and it was torture for me, every second of it, funny. Not because he's an unpleasant person; he isn't. But because we come from a background, and work in an industry, that simply doesn't take that kind of thing seriously.

Which is why, after a few minutes, I switched on fake me and laughed along. I should have known better than to do anything else.

It's been a long one this week, even by my standards; I apologise. I'm not sure I've fully gotten across how upsetting the day was, either; I read it back and everything seems so petty. Either way, I've gotten it off my chest and I can go back into my bubble, until the next time.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Things wot I do

I post internet twaddle 5 days a week. I mean, I post to twitter pretty much every hour of every day, ever, but I post actual, worked at, pre-planned, 'content' to the internet 5 days a week. I know!

I've become pretty adept at sticking to a regular schedule; I know I missed one last week but it was the first time in ages and I only missed it because I have a li... hahah joke, I only missed because while I had written something it just seemed rubbish to me, no matter how many times I rewrote it, so I gave up. It'll be up this week, for definite. Probably still rubbish, but you know...

Anyway, the current schedule is as follows:

Monday

This blog. This one here. Musings of a Nobody. MoaN. Interesting fact (not really), but I didn't make the connection between the initials of the blog title, and the act of complaining, until long after I chose said title; wasn't planned at all. I'm pretty sure it was some kind of lesser deity; most likely the God of Meaningless Coincidences, I should think; playing silly beggars with my head. Yeah, that's definitely what happened.

The main focus of MoaN is, ostensibly, my life. More specifically, the story of my life, from my very earliest memories, to the present day, in roughly chronological order. It's proven cathartic, but also really really difficult, on account of how my memory is really really shit. I persevere though.

Of course it's not just about my past. This is where I come when I feel compelled to post a knee jerk, irrational rant about something I'm completely unqualified to have an opinion on; it's where I come on the rare occasions I want to join in a short lived internet meme; and now, it's where I come when I want to make people, who may read one or two things of mine, aware of exactly what I do and when. Because I'm a view-whore.

Tuesday

Tuesday is my day for making not very funny jokes about soap operas on an episode by episode basis. I say soap operas, it's just the one; Dark Shadows is it's name, and it's actually pretty good (but don't tell anyone I said that).

The plan was to do two soaps, and alternate between them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is still the plan, but it won't happen until the new year, and it won't be originally announced Prisoner: Cell Block H. It seems that there are considerably more fantasy/sci-fi tinged soap operas than I had first thought, so in sticking with them I'll be adding either Strange Paradise or Passions to the blog on Thursdays. I haven't decided which yet; if you have a preference feel free to let me know.

For now though, it's just Dark Shadows, and it's just Tuesday.

Wednesday

Wednesday is the day I talk about sci-fi and fantasy television mostly, and occasionally about my relationship with it.

Full of spoilers, doesn't know whether it wants to be serious or piss-takey and can't decide between being a discussion of the behind the scenes aspects, straight reviews, or just waffle. Some would call it wildly inconsistent, I call it providing something for everyone. And if nothing else, there's usually a picture of a hot actor or actress.

Friday

I write about stories I've read on my untitled blog about stories I've read.

Here I attempt to analyse books and comics in my own instantly recognisable style, which blends a desire to seem intelligent and an air of pretension with a limited vocabulary and insights gleaned from one chapter of a 'how to write' book that I vaguely remember skimming in 1987.

And that just leaves Saturday

On Saturday I post grainy videos made on an incredibly cheap camera to youtube. Often they are my thoughts on having watched a shit show for month, other times they are of me reading Mr Men books, and still other times they are of me just waffling rubbish. I call those last, my all conquering assault on the interwebs. Because I'm deluded.

So there you have it. My internet schedule. I'd say I hope you check out all the stuff I mentioned, but I'm not a totally deluded fool and I know you have lives to lead, so I'll just say I'd love it if you could give one new thing a try. These things take a lot of time, and while I mostly do it for the love of it I'm not gonna lie to you,  a few more readers/viewers would be nice too. (I'm well aware there's much better stuff out there than mine, so I'm not holding out much hope, but allow me the fantasy that this might work, ok? Cheers)

Next week on here it'll be back to me talking about my real life. And when that happens, you'll be wishing I was still waffling about the internet.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Blaming the black kid.

Last week I introduced my 'Paki' friends, and talked about how I was raised in an environment where such words were... not condoned, so much as not questioned at all. I had my reasons for bringing up the McA's that went beyond a surface glance at the issue of racism in '80so Britain, or rather, my reason; the eldest of them was to be my patsy in a very near miss with the law.

This is that story. (I tried to pull some stills of the area from google street view to illustrate this post, but the surrounding area has been flattened and re-built and the Speccie itself extensively remodelled and it made me cry because my childhood is gone so you'll have to do without)

I can't remember whether I've talked on here before about the level of 'mischief' we used to get up to at The Spectrum Leisure Complex (or Speccie). I know I've alluded to it, but genuinely can't recall whether I've done a post that delves into the specifics. What's more, I can't be bothered to check, either.

Suffice it to say, our activities; knocking on office windows, running through the ski lodge screaming at the top of our lungs, changing the scores on those little flipboard things during vital bowls games, and pressing the emergency stop button on the rope that pulled ski-ers back up to the top of the slope; did little to endear us to the staff there. We thought we'd keep getting away with it forever. We were wrong.

Twas a day like an other, that it all kicked off. And by a day like any other I mean we were torturing the poor bastards. It was fairly obvious, in hindsight, that we were pushing our luck; they were watching us much more closely than normal, and had chased us more than once; but rather than take that as a sign that we should cool it for the day, we were energised by it. The bigger a reaction you give misbehaving kids, the more they like it and play up to it; that's just science.

But then they got clever.

You see, whenever they chased us, we'd scatter and bolt for home. Then we'd wait five minutes and head back. So, we're strutting through the gates for the tenth time that day, all laughing and full of our own daring, when suddenly, we're surrounded! They're coming out of the buildings, from behind trees, from the side of the gates behind us to block exit... we were fucked. So the panicky, but still fun, scattering began. Twas pandemonium. Glorious pandemonium.

Of course they were never going to catch us all, even as mob handed as they were. The area was too large, the kids too nimble and the exits too numerous. They were pissing in the wind.  Except... well, except for the fact that I was finding the sight of all these slightly out of shape (ironic, given what they did for a living) adults having rings run round them so much that I wasn't actually running myself. I was just standing and laughing. At first it didn't matter, because no-one tried to grab me; the instinct being to go after the ones who were running; but eventually a couple of them did come for me and, although I did make a last minute bolt for it I'd left it too late and got nabbed. Silly me!

Of course these days it would have never happened. In today's age of kid gloves and fear of recriminations the idea of grabbing and detaining a bunch of kids would never be countenanced but we were living in different times (The 1980's! I'm well ancient!) and I'm surprised they stopped short of cuffing me around the head. That was understood though; you misbehaved, sure, but you knew you'd be for it if you were caught; it was all part of the game. In this case though, once my collar was well and truly felt, I was just marched to the office of the manager; a fairly gruff fellow with whom I had so far managed to avoid any dealings with. Gruff as he was though, I wasn't intimidated; I was 10, I had no fear.

He told me that my parents would be informed and that I would 'get a hiding' from them, which if nothing else marked him out as a good judge of character; he told me my school would be informed and I would be ridiculed in assembly, as if being told off in assembly would do anything other than boost my reputation; and he told me that he was going to call the police.

That one gave me pause. You see, we weren't all that far removed from this incident, and I was still very much entrenched in my 'all cops are dickheads' phase. I was also, don't laugh, convinced that they would be out to get me after the way I had humiliated them in our previous encounter. Fucking Al Capone over here. If Al Capone was 10, and innocent. Sort of.

Talk of police involvement prompted my next brilliant move. Yes, I lied about my identity. Foolproof! Of course, I hadn't seen The Usual Suspects at this point, so i didn't claim to be called Slazenger Reebok, but I came up with something almost as good; I gave the name of the eldest lad in our old friends, the 'Paki' family. Well, obviously.

Why did I choose him? I could have chosen Ian, my cousin; I could have chosen Wayne, my best friend. Both of them had actually been among the gang of us causing mischief. Or I could have chosen any one of the 20 lads in my class at school. I could even, were I feeling particularly not stupid, invented a name. Instead, I chose him. I'm not saying I did it because I knew my Mother wouldn't mind me getting him into trouble, or because I thought that him doing something wrong would be more believable, given his background; I'm not saying those things, because I genuinely don't think that was my reasoning, at the time. I'm willing to bet it was a factor, sub-consciously, though. I had been, at least partially, indoctrinated into the racist ways of my community.

"Right, stay here and don't move. I'll be back in a minute" he tells me, and wanders off, locking the door behind him. Locking the door behind him! He kidnapped me! What a prick, eh? Anyway, once he was gone there was no way I was sticking around; I filled my pockets with pens, a ruler, and several million paperclips, and was away out the window. Oh yes, you aint holding me for long!

I have no idea whether he ever phoned the police, or indeed whether he ever had any intentions of doing so, but to the best of my knowledge the McA's never received a visit from the boys in blue since the lad in question knew what I'd done, because I told him, and he found the whole thing hilarious; I'm sure he'd have thought differently if he'd had to deal with his parents after a visit from the police.

My whole 'daring escape' thing, thankfully, was considered 'cool' enough by my friends to negate any lingering naffness caused by being the only one daft enough to get caught in the first place, which was nice.

And that's my trip down memory lane for this week. Not one of my finer moments, but not my worst either. There would be another case of me trying to talk my way out of trouble; also including stolen pens, as it goes; about a year later, and in that case I would do something that would have lasting repercussions for my whole family; not to mention it makes me sound like a callous dick.

So look forward to that one.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Some of my best friends are...

I've been re-reading a lot of posts on here over the last few days; and when I say a lot, I mean all of them; and I've reached the unavoidable conclusion that I have completely skipped mentioning a family that lived near us for the entire time we lived in Appleton 'worlds friendliest street' Crescent. I speak, of the McAloons (or MacAloons, I don't really know).

The McA's were, as you probably wouldn't expect, a family of...well...I don't really know what descent. I was going to say Pakistani there, but I realised I don't know that for sure. At the risk of sounding incredibly ignorant and possibly racist, I now realise that I had them down as pakistani in my head because we always referred to them as Pakis. I know, I know, just shoot me now.

It was never intended as a derogatory thing, at least when I said it. I honestly thought that it was just a racial descriptor; although I didn't use words like racial descriptor; because that was what my mother always called them. This was also in the days when you would be sent to the 'Paki shop' for a pint of milk, so it was a very commonly used phrase, and as a child, who heard it all the time, it never occurred to me that it was insulting or offensive. How times change, eh?

Whether the Macs were of Pakistani descent, or some other race of darker skinned individuals, doesn't really matter. I just thought I'd point out their non-whiteness in order to a) point out what always seemed to me the incongruous name; again, I didn't think in terms like incongruous, I just thought it was funny; and b) to highlight the casual racism that was so ingrained into society at that time, at least where I lived.

You see, my mother would often, in her darker moods, forbid us to hang out with them. She rarely had a reason, but the word 'dirty' would often be uttered. I was too dense; or if I'm being kind to myself, too innocent; because I never quite got that. I know...

Anyway, the Macs were our mates. Which makes the tale I'm going to tell next week one in which I act like a bit of a tit. They didn't mind though; they thought it was a good laugh.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Near Death Experience (but not for me)

Last week I reintroduced Chris to this here narrative of my life with the intention of telling you a story about him this week. It wasn't until after I'd posted that, that I realised the story in question was another jump ahead in my timeline. My memory is a fucking jigsaw, with half the pieces missing and the rest chewed up by a particularly salivarous puppy dog. (Is salivarous a word? No. Should it be? I'll leave that to you to decide. But the answer is yes.)

In the end though, I decided to go ahead with the story. Partly because I'd said I was going to, and I'm a man of my word goddammit, but mainly because I resigned myself to the conclusion that the 'staying to a logical, chronological order on this blog' ship had sailed a long time ago. So here we go.

Chris lived 5 or 10 minutes walk from my house*, but his visits; and mine to his home; were infrequent at best. I guess our solid bond at school fell foul of the 'out of sight, out of mind' rule. Probably not all that strong a friendship then, at it's heart.

Commodore 64. Legend.

When he did visit, it was usually to use our computer. You see, his house was very much a console house, bedecked with all the latest Sega Master System equipment, whereas we had a... Commodore 64! Oh yeah, suck it, bitches! He was fascinated by the novelty of it having a keyboard. I, on the other hand, would have preferred not to have a 45 hour loading time to play a game, so I know which I'd have chosen.

Master System
Anyway, that's not important; what's important is that on one of his visits, he almost died.

Now I don't know; because I can't remember, not because it was some great mystery; how the situation kicked off, but to put it as bluntly as I can... my brother went apeshit. Absolutely batshit crazy. With knives.

He didn't use knives at first. Chris and I were stood outside my house, because he was getting ready to head home, when my brother came barreling out and started hitting Chris. Now, we did what any normal person would do when a 5 year old attacked them. We laughed.

Then he went away and came back with a handful of knives. And we did the sensible thing. We laughed some more. I mean come on, who would take that seriously? Which is not to say that I don't recognise that my first instinct should have been to take the knives from him for his own safety; and I did try; but we were certainly never scared for ourselves. He was little more than a toddler!

Even when he started throwing knives, we were still laughing. Chris at least had the sense, as the seeming target of the bulk of the anger, to hide behind one of the 2 trees that stood beside my house (and were perfectly spaced for use as goal posts, just as an aside) but he was chuckling merrily while he did it. What can I say? We were young(idiots).

Le bruv took to throwing knives at the tree, but he soon got bored and went back inside. We checked out the tree after he'd gone and there were some pretty nasty gouges. My bro had a throwing arm as a nipper! Chris went on his way unscathed, but from those gouges it would have been a very different story if just one of those knives had connected. I'm not saying he'd be dead, necessarily, but I guarantee he'd have a pretty bloody nasty scar.

You're probably wondering where my Mam was during this. Your guess is as good as mine. She had any number of people to whom she would 'pop over for 5 minutes to say hello' and we'd not see her for the day. Saved on teabags.

And that's the story of how my mate Chris almost died. Hope you had fun. Join me next time when I recount the time I met the BFG, but didn't go with him, on account of my big ear phobia.

*Long after I met Chris, I visited his house for the first time and was taken aback to learn that he lived 10 seconds away from where I lived when I first met him, when I first joined his Primary School. We would both head off home in opposite directions, so I assumed he lived miles away, but our two routes looped around and met at the far end. Extraordinary. How did we never bump into each other?



I think his Gran lived somewhere on that red line. Either that or he was going a hell of a long way round to avoid walking home with me. The shit.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The thing is...

Jimmy Saville eh? Who'da thunk it? Well, apart from Mitchell & Webb (just past the minute mark). And pretty much everyone else, when you stop to think about just how little convincing people took of his guilt.

I mean, I know that a lot of stuff has come out at this stage, but even when the whole thing was just starting to kick off, people seemed to just accept it. Was that a collective 'yeah, thought so' about Saville, though? Or just an indication of how jaded we as a society have become when it comes to this stuff?

Murdered kid? Parents.

Jovial entertainer with family man image? Wife beating sex pest.

Famous and eccentric? Paedophile.

It's just how we see the world now, isn't it? Or is that just me?

Not that this post is intended as an indictment of that attitude, or for that matter a defence of Saville. No, what this is, is a rant about certain opportunistic publications. To be exact, The Sun. We all know about The Sun. No-one needs me to tell them about it's excesses and slightly off politics. I mean, it's no Daily Mail, but only because it doesn't trust it's readers to have the intelligence to understand a Mail article. And how damning is that?

The Sun is running a campaign. A campaign to strip Paedo Saville, which is apparently Jimmy Savilles name now, of his knighthood. Why? I know why, but first I want to express my thoughts about the notion of stripping Saville, posthumously I might add; posthumously in this case meaning the same thing as redundantly; of the gong.

First of all, I know pretty much everyone has decided that he did what he's said to have done. But on paper at least, and in the eyes of the law, he was never convicted of the crime. Nor, I should think, will he ever be. I have no idea of the legalities of trying someone posthumously but even assuming it can be done, what would be the point? It's never going to happen, is it? And if it did, you can bet that The Sun would cry foul about the waste of CPS resources.

But if he's never technically been found guilty of the crime, then how do you justify stripping the knighthood? No doubt some will say that this is a 'special case', but the law doesn't allow for special cases, and nor should it. If Saville can be stripped of the gong because we think he committed crimes, then so can others. It's a slippery slope.

I have a colleague who delights in posing me what if? scenarios to test my opposition to the death penalty. What if loads of people saw them do it? What if it's on cctv? What if they confess? If there's no doubt at all...  What he doesn't get is that if we execute someone for murder based on cast iron cctv footage, or multiple eye witness accounts, or even a confession, we execute them for murder. That is the operative phrase. Execution is an accepted punishment for murder, and that is what the law books will say. It will not make any of the other distinctions he so gleefully recounts.

(Of course his argument presupposes that certainty of guilt is the only factor in my objection, which completely ignores the fact that I just think killing people is wrong.)

Sorry, went on a bit of a tangent there. My point is that the law isn't known for it's subtleties; it's one way or the other. So unless we want people to be punished because lots of people think they did something, leave Savilles knighthood alone.

The Sun doesn't really care two figs about taking away Savilles knighthood though, do they? Of course they don't. They know that saying paedo on the front page will sell papers; they know that railing against 'paedos' will win them points with their readership; and they hope that by pandering to the masses in this ridiculous manner they can claw back some small degree of public sympathy after a couple of years of really bad press.

That's what this is. People don't like them. Some people have not much cared for them for a while but these days it's not just Scousers with a (perfectly understandable) grudge; a massive swathe of the population is turning on them. And this is their way of trying to counter that.

'Look everybody, we aren't the bad guys! Look at us, standing up for justice! We're leading the charge in your names, to strip a man who doesn't care anymore of a bauble that meant next to nothing in the first place! Aren't we just the heroes of the people?

No. You're not. You're rabble rousing, glory seeking, opportunistic scumbags. And I say this not out of any great hatred, as some seem to have, of the tabloid press as a whole, which serve a purpose every bit as important as the broadsheets. I say this as someone who is sickened by this one particular act of trying to score points off the suffering of countless children across who knows how many years, all while claiming to be the good guys. Shame on you, Sun.


Saturday, 6 October 2012

Swimming Lessons

Patterns are weird, right? And by that I mean the patterns we invent in our heads, not real patterns, which are down to maths or physics or astrology or something.

As adults the things we convince ourselves of tend to be at least partially believable and based on solid, if incomplete evidence. Any British person who watches more than, say, 4 American TV dramas, and has taste, will probably come to the conclusion that US drama is all awesome and great and 100x times better than it's UK equivalent. Of course, this is only because they produce so damn much of it, and only the cream of the crop gets imported over her. Well, unless you count The Closer.

As children though, the connections we make can be less defensible. And less sane. Take my theory about people called Chris all having immense swimming talent.

Our primary school had a set up whereby once a week they'd bundle us onto a bus and take us to the local Comprehensive School, in the next village, which had the luxury of a swimming pool. There we'd take swimming lessons and earn, I don't know, badges? Belts? Certificates? I can't remember, don't worry about it, it's not important.

During these lessons I soon realised that the two best swimmers in our class were both called Chris. Chris A; who was a bit arrogant and full of himself, and known as 'the black kid' because it was the 80's and that's what black kids were called back then; was incredibly fast, but tired easily and was only any good over short distances. Chris K: Brancepeth Boy and possibly my best friend in the world; couldn't pick up a head of steam if Jaws herself were bearing down on him, but he could go on forever. Seriously, that lad never got tired.

Here's the thing though. I was convinced, on the evidence I'd accumulated through a few hours of watching 2 guys who happened to have the same name, that ALL people called Chris must be good swimmers. Obviously. I wasn't 5 or 6 here people, I was closing in on double figures. I was also, in certain respects, incredibly dense. What can I say?

There's no real point to this story; no great revelation that will lead you to an epiphany which will, in turn, change your life for the duration of your days and lead you to better the world for all humanity. It was just a way to gently reintroduce Chris K to this blog, because it's been a while since last I mentioned him and in next weeks post he's going to have a near death experience.

Oh, and it allowed me to have a dig at The Closer. Always fun.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Kids are people too.

Kids eh? What a bloody drag they are. Always wanting to talk to you, and expecting you to listen; always doing things wrong and expecting you to show them the right way; always killing neighbourhood cats and hiding them under their bed.

Bloody nightmare, is what they are.

When I was a wee nipper, my mam had a few select phrases that she drew on whenever dealing with children. Any children. Didn't matter if they were her kids or her friends kids or random kids she saw in the street. Said phrases were...

WHAT?!

Pack it in!

I'm telling ALL of you!

WHAT!?

For fucks sake!

and of course...

WHAT, MAN? Jesus!

I'm not saying she struggled to relate to children. I've no way of knowing because I never saw her try.

WHAT?

WHAT? was the one that got me the most. The vehemence that she could snarl it was shocking to behold. It would come, usually after you'd made about 20 attempts to get her attention. I think the tone was meant to indicate displeasure at the fact that you hadn't taken her ignoring you as a hint, and buggered off. The thing is though, once you'd gotten the 'WHAT?!' response, she would immediately go back to what she had been doing, and show no interest in what you wanted to say. So you'd try to get her attention again, and it would take ages again, and then you'd get the 'WHAT, MAN!? Jesus!'

Here's the thing though; you never stopped trying to get her attention. Because you don't, do you? As a kid, you rely on adults for so much, so the option wasn't really there to just walk away and leave her to whatever 9hour gossip session or marathon soap opera omnibus was so important. Had she simply acknowledged our presence, and answered whatever our query was to begin with, she'd have had her peace a lot sooner.

Pack it in!

Parents tell you off when you do something wrong. Am I right? Well, no, as it happens. In my experience, and I concede that not all families are the same, parents tell you off when they notice you doing something other than sitting cross legged on the floor with your eyes on the ground.

As related above, it was very difficult to get my mother to focus her attention on you. But if her focus happened to land on you by chance; perhaps as she passed you in the hallway, or when she, God forbid, had to go out in public with you; she was a nightmare. If you were running about, or talking loudly, or kicking a ball, or...

Now, I know what you're thinking; the above could all be signs of misbehaviour and I'm probably exaggerating out of spite but I can assure you that that is not the case. If you moved an inch, or made a sound when she was in the wrong mood, the cry would go up for you to 'Pack it in!' and once that happened if you weren't essentially a statue then you were for it.

I'm telling all of you!

I'm not going to lie to you, dear readers. 'I'm telling all of you' caused more beatings and groundings than any other factor in my childhood. Try as I might, I just couldn't not argue back when that one came into effect.

Regular readers of this blog will know that arrogance and an expectation of obedience when you haven't earned it is a bug bear of mine. In my adult life I've had more than my fair share of run-ins with various superiors at work over things they've said and done which I've considered stupid, or just wrong; as a child it was teachers and my mother. Nothing epitomised that whole thing more than when one child did something wrong and everyone was reprimanded because she was too fucking lazy and disinterested to spend a minute to find out what had actually happened.

Anyhoo.

You're probably wondering what my point is here, right? Well, I'll tell you. It's about respect. It's about my attitude toward children. And it's about societal assumptions. Allow me to explain.

Children are not, so far as I have been able to ascertain, idiots. Or at least, no greater proportion of children are idiots than adults. It always astounds me that so many people seem to go through life assuming that children are somehow beneath them when they themselves were children once; do they not remember what it was like, what they themselves were capable of? Or is it that they do, and are simply treating children the way they do because that's how they were treated so that's the way it is. Paying the misery forward, so to speak.

If a child speaks to me, I listen. I listen, I consider what they've said, and I respond. I respond in exactly the same way I would respond if I were talking to an adult. It has never, in all my years of doing it, backfired on me. And why would it? What do we think will happen if we treat someone with a modicum or respect and human decency before they've been alive a certain number of years; a number which people can't agree on from one country to the next?

As a result of this, children tend to like me. Whoda thunk it?

But now, I've found myself being told that this is a BAD THING. That by treating children the way I do, and therefore having them think kindly of me, I'm opening myself up to allegations of, well, you know. This had; perhaps naively; never occurred to me before it was pointed out by a colleague of mine.

I had been talking about taking my goblin nephew to an after school sport thing at a local park, run by the local Sure Start group. It was a very informal thing, with the volunteers essentially dumping a shedload of kit on the ground and letting any kids that showed up run wild with it for a couple of hours. I was pretty much the only adult there, with every other parent seemingly perfectly happy to let their kids, some as young as 3, head there alone.

It was at one such session that I first encountered two girls. I won't name names, but one was in the Goblin's class at school, which would make her about 6 or 7 at the time. The other was apparently in nursery school. They were regularly sent to the park unaccompanied, on sport nights and also when no adult supervision, however nominal, was provided. The 6 year old was in charge of the 3(4?) year old. And doing about as good a job as you might expect.

It was when I witnessed the older girl getting incredibly frustrated with the younger and start to hit her, repeatedly, that I stepped in. Over time, pushing the young girl on the swings, playing bat and ball, or just letting her lead me around by a skipping rope, became a regular thing. The older girl was able to go and play without the responsibility she so clearly shouldn't have had, and the younger was perfectly happy too. . By all accounts, or at least if the Sure Start workers were to be believed, the little one was much calmer and better behaved when I was around, and much more responsive to me than she'd ever been to them. I thought I had done some good. In fact, I still believe I did.

This was not how my colleague saw it. In his eyes, I was opening myself up to all sorts of allegations and should stop having anything to do with these children straight away. He told of how when he worked in his front garden there was a young lad who would regularly come over and try to strike up a conversation, and he would refuse to engage and tell the kid to go away, because he didn't want a 'name'.

Was he right? Because all I could think of when he told me that was, how shit must that kid have felt? He tried to make conversation with a neighbour, had done nothing wrong, and yet was essentially told to bugger off. And we wonder why kids act out?

I thought about what he'd said a lot. I'm incredibly self conscious at the best of times so the idea that people might think that  of me filed me with dread. But you know what? The very next time I went to that park I pushed that girl on the swings. Because how could I not? How would she have felt if I didn't; if I suddenly, after weeks of being her friend, and talking to her, and counting to ten and chasing a ball, started to blank her?

So I said fuck it, and carried on the same as before. I refused to let fear of what 'society', in it's tabloid press fueled hysteria, might think of me, change the way I treat the young people I encounter.

Am I wrong?



Monday, 17 September 2012

A Grand Day Out

A little over a week ago, I went to see Dredd. But we'll get to that. First let me tell you about the day I had in the run up to watching the film.

Because I am me, and therefore pathologically incapable of planning ahead or having any kind of workable time management skills, I just left the house when my bits of housework were done and headed off to Darlington on the basis that there was bound to be a screening at some point round about the time I got there. Surely.

3 and a half hours I had to kill. 3 and a half hours! In Darlington, of all places.

Of course, with loads of time to kill there's only one logical thing to do; so I bought some pringles from the pound shop and sat on a public bench to tweet about how I had loads of time to kill. Which was when it happened. Attack of the Spider!

Have you ever sat and watched a spider run up and down your arm for ages? It goes up. It goes down. It goes up. It goes down. It goes up... I can thoroughly recommend the experience for it's therapeutic properties. There's more to life than spider athletics though, or pringles for that matter, so I roused myself and headed into the town centre.

 As I passed through one of those little tunnels under the road that I can't remember the name of but come in very handy when buskers don't want to get wet in rain showers, I heard a woman bemoaning, in very strident terms, that something 'was not her bloody fault!' I say bemoaning in strident terms. What I mean is yelling at the top of her lungs. As I drew closer to the as yet unseen woman it became apparent that whatever it was she had done wrong, it had involved her being put under pressure to make a decision, in a split second. She's not good under pressure, and the other (unheard, and at this point, as far as I knew, possibly imaginary) person should know this and stop haranguing her (she actually said haranguing, I was gobsmacked) about this stuff.

Turns out the person getting shouted at was a child, of about 8. Who, seemingly oblivious to her distress (or possibly just not knowing what haranguing is), continued to calmly explain that he didn't like that kind of ice cream and wouldn't be eating it, thank you very much. I moved on.

In the market place there was a man. He was hanging off a lamp post and reading scripture, very loudly. Apparently, and I wasn't aware of this so he's taught me something at least, we are all dust in the eyes of God. He went on to explain that it is a sin of presumption to think yourself anything more than said dust. Now, I'm not a particularly religious chap, but I find it hard to fault the logic there. Moving on.

Cafe! Sat in the really cramped cafe with ultra uncomfortable seats and read a bit of my book (A Serpent Uncoiled, by Simon Spurrier, if you must know, and it's effing marvelous) whilst eating chips, beans, and FISH FINGERS! I hadn't had fish fingers in years! Why don't I eat fish fingers anymore? I love fish fingers! Cafe got extra busy so I left as soon as I'd finished eating, rather than carry out my plan of staying and reading for ages while nursing my coffee and looking sullenly at the staff as they made passive aggressive attempts to move me along by wiping around my cup and 'accidentally' bumping my seat.

At this point I was running out of ideas to kill time and still had 2 hours to go. Things were looking desperate. I'm not saying that Darlington has nothing going for it; there are two licensed sex shops with a wide variety of dvd's to suit all tastes, after all. Sadly, and you'll know this if you've ever been in a high street sex shop, they are massively expensive, so not really an option; it's weird, but I have no embarrassment about going in to those places and buying stuff, but if I go in, wander around and then leave empty handed I feel like a dirty old man and get all self conscious. Explain that, Frasier!

Anyway, I decided to go on a mission. Many moons ago when A Dance With Dragons came out I didn't buy it because there was no rush, on account of how I wanted to re-read all the previous books in the Song of Ice and Fire series first. When I finally did get around to buying it, it had gone from the shops. Obviously. I have all the others in hardback; no way was I buying this one in paperback. So with this time to spare I went on a search of all the charity shops and second hand book shops I could find.

I didn't find the book second hand, although I eventually did pick up a copy in a publishers clearance shop, but what I did find was a shop purporting to be given books away! I went inside, it wasn't a scam! Apparently all the books had been rescued from landfill and they just wanted them to go to a good home. You could help yourself! Is this a thing? I approve!

Anyway, I spent a good while after that sitting on a park bench watching a bunch of squirrels prancing around without a care in the world, and a bunch of drunk men be very threatening to various passers by who wouldn't give them a cigarette. Then off to see Dredd I didst gambol. After a quick stop at the poundshop for some more pringles and the old 3 cans of pop for a pound deal. Because have you seen how much that shit costs in the cinema? I'd like to!

Dredd was, as I had hoped; but wasn't, if I'm being honest, wholly expecting given what had happened last time someone made a movie of this character; a bloody brilliant film, full of lashings of hardcore violence, blood splatter, one liners and things blowing up. Just what the Doctor ordered. Although I was a little distracted by the fact that a member of staff sat near me for over half the film. Was he watching me eat my pringles? What are the rules about bringing your own food to the cinema? WHY IS HE LOOKING AT M...Oh, it's fine, he's gone.

After the movie I went to the bakers, got a pasty, a chocolate eclair and a bottle of water and then headed for the bus home. On the way passing a very creepy human statue performer who, I'm not afraid to admit, well put the shits up me. A performer I might add who was in Newcastle two days ago when I was there. I saw her from a distance and after thinking it was a strange coincidence, then discounting that on the basis that coincidences don't exist and coming to the conclusion that she must therefore be stalking me, I steeled myself to pass her. And I still crapped myself when she waved as I went past. Anyway, back to a week ago...

Hard as it is to believe, all that waffle above was meant to be funny. I know, I know. But I'd like to end on a serious note. If you'll indulge me?

Whilst sitting on the bus awaiting departure I heard a shout, from the pavement outside. A mans voice, slurred, shouting about how "that's a nice bag love, how much was that, darling?" I looked up, already having become engrossed in my book again, and say two men bearing down on an attractive young woman, leering like nutcases and obviously drunk. The woman put her head down and carried on walking.

They followed. I watched, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and a nagging voice in the back of my head saying " do something." I didn't. They followed her along the street, asking about her clothes, her bag, how she was doing; all at high volume and all while leaning in extremely closely. She looked terrified, and increased her pace. I still did nothing.

When she neared the corner, she actually started to run, and disappeared from sight. The drunk men stood and laughed for a couple of seconds... then one nudged the other and they started to run after her. I watched the other people on the street; surely one of them would say something? But no. I told myself that I should get off the bus and follow; try to intervene... but I didn't, and the bus started to move, and I told myself I couldn't help now anyway and besides, she'd be all right. She would just go into a shop until they got bored, or she would flag down a security guard in the precinct or...

Even if the woman was in no physical danger, and I'm in no way certain that she wasn't, she was definitely distressed. And I did nothing; not because I didn't think those men were in the wrong, but because I was scared. I wanted to intervene, but I wanted to not get punched more.

I'm ashamed of my behaviour, but I'm not going to lie to you, I think I'd probably react in exactly the same way again if the situation arose. I guess that's just the kind of man I am. A coward. A coward, and a shit.




Sunday, 2 September 2012

Dumped

It may have felt like it at the time but Maurice was not a permanent fixture in our house. He came, he went, and occasionally he would stay the night during his 'went' periods because that's the kind of soft touch my Mother was when it came to him, but there were extended periods when he wasn't around. During these times my Mother would even pay lip service to the notion that she and he were done by getting together with other men.

One such 'filler' relationship actually managed to progress to the point of us almost moving in to the guy's house. It was never made official, and we never gave up our own house, but at one point we spent a good few weeks staying with him without setting foot in our own home.

Now, on the one hand, this could be seen as a bad thing, because moving in with him would have meant leaving behind our house on The World's Friendliest Street; a place that I was genuinely happy. None of the shit from my life prior to moving there had gone away, my Mother had not suddenly morphed into Ma Walton and Maurice was probably an even worse Father figure than my own waste of space Dad, but none of that seemed to matter all that much, because I loved living in that place. How would I cope with leaving that behind?

But on the other hand, moving in with him would have meant that we could almost, almost, convince ourselves that Maurice was finally no longer a factor in our lives.

In the end I made my decision on how I felt about the whole thing on the fact that he lived further away from our school. Which meant getting up earlier and walking further. Uphill! The indignity!

Of course, all the worrying and soul searching would eventually come to naught, because in a scenario all too common, we came back from school one day to be told that we were going home. The relationship, which had seemed perfectly fine that morning, was over. Oh, and Maurice was there to help us move our stuff. Now there's a surprise.

I felt sorry for the guy, to be honest with you, as we all trooped out of his house and he said his forlorn goodbyes to each of us individually. I mean aside from the, admittedly pretty major, character flaw of actually seeming to think something of my Mother, he had seemed like a fairly decent chap. Certainly in the weeks we spent in his house he had managed to restrain himself from any fits of ultra violence, so he had that going for him. He knew the situation with my Mother and Maurice going in though, so I suppose you could say he brought it on himself.

So anyway; we trooped off up the horrible big bank that took us home and upon arrival we quickly settled into our old routines. Maurice's 'helping with the bags' shockingly turned into him staying the night, which in a mindblowing twist that I certainly never saw coming, turned into him living with us. Fair play to him though, he made an effort. It must have been, oh, at least a week before his fists started flying.

In truth, I was fairly content with the way things turned out. I was back in the house I loved, surrounded by the neighbours I adored. None of the rest of it seemed to matter all that much; my hatred of Maurice settled back into a sort of background hum of seething resentment, I tuned out the bulk of my Mother's psychological torture and even my sympathy for the dumped boyfriend faded pretty quickly. I don't think I thought of him at all after maybe a couple of days.

Cest la vie.

You may have noticed that throughout this post I've never mentioned the boyfriend's name. I'd like to tell you that it was an effort to protect his anonymity (although I mentioned Maurice's name a lot; but then he is a dick so maybe I just don't care about protecting him?) but in truth it's because I don't remember his name.

That's right. This poor bloke, who's life, and heart, was chewed up and spat out by my oh so lovely family, doesn't even merit my remembering his name. That's just shit.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Twins of... Uncomfortableness



This week, a couple of guys I think I mentioned very fleetingly a fair few posts ago, but never really went into detail on.

Outside of our core group of friends; me and my siblings, Wayne and Lisa, and my cousin Ian when school was off; their were a number of people who kind of came and went from our circle over the few years that we lived in Appleton Crescent. Two of the shorter lived additions to our posse were a pair of twins called M and R.

The twins moved in to a street near to us, which in itself made them kind of outsiders but we tolerated their presence, because that was the kind of tolerant people we were; sort of like a prototype for the Benetton campaign, or the multicultural society in microcosm. Anyway, they were a bit of a novelty, because they were being raised by a single parent; not in itself odd, round my way; but it was their DAD. Much consternation was to be found in our little mindheadscapethings as to how that had come to pass. Parents lived together for a while; maybe married, maybe not; one or the other would cheat and then the Dad would disappear from the kids lives altogether. That was the natural order, this whole set-up smacked of wrongness.

M&R's Dad did his best to fit in with the other single parents on the estate, soon settling into their patterns and routines and he quickly had staples like 'spending all the family allowance on booze and fags' and 'random bouts of frenzied violence' down to an art form. So I suppose you have to give him props for that, eh?

Joking aside, I'm sure the guy had his reasons for being how he was. Certainly, if you spent any amount of time with his kids you would get the definite feeling that some bad shit had happened in their family. I never got to the bottom of whether their mother had left them, or died, or was in prison, or what; I don't think it was a big secret, I just never bothered to ask; but things were obviously not right in their house. Trust me, I know a bit about things not being right in the home.

R was the main reason for this nagging feeling. M, for the most part, was a fairly happy-go-lucky chap, always ready with a quip and a smile, but R... R was a psycho.

Now, I know, I know, it's not generally a good idea to throw around terms likes psycho, or nutter, without knowing the background to the person's behaviour. But I'm not attempting to make a psychiatric diagnosis here; I'm using the term in it's commonly accepted form. i.e. The guy was unpredictable, violent, and scary as hell when he turned.

Also, limber. I remember one occasion when we were all hanging out on the waste ground 'playing football' (dossing around while a ball lay nearby, pointedly ignored like so much sick in the gutter, until a parent passed by and one of us made a desultory stab at maybe coming within a foot of it with a kick; WE ARE GETTING EXERCISE, SHEESH) when from out of nowhere we heard a scream. And it just kept going and going and going. It was R, and I shit you not he screamed, non-stop, as he ran all the way down the street, crossed the road, hurdled the barrier onto the wasteground, crested two mounds of rubble, ran a bit further and then leaped into the air and kicked his brother in the head. It would have been amazing, if it wasn't terrifying. I mean, I'd have been fucking knackered half way down the street.

Here's the thing though; after the kick had been delivered, he just... deflated. The screaming stopped and he just sort of sagged. Then he called M a dickhead and walked off, hands in pockets, looking about as dejected as I've ever seen a human being. The whole situation made me feel very uncomfortable, I'm not going to lie.

I have no great insight to end on here; M&R didn't live in our area very long, and when they left we never heard from them again, so I've no idea how their lives ended up. But they've stuck in my head, that incident (and one other) in particular, for 2 decades, and I often wonder how they got on. Sad fact is, I'd bet money on the police being involved.

That's it for this week. I'd say I hope you enjoyed it, but we all know that's a vain hope. I'm hoping to be back next week, but we'll see. Ta Ra for the noo then.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Happy Birthday To Me

At some point in the near future; and no, I'm not telling you when; I shall have a birthday. A fact which, when realised; I don't celebrate or even acknowledge my birthday, and haven't for a long while; prompted me to have a wander down memory lane and share with you all some memorable birthday moments from my childhood.

Except there doesn't seem to have been any.

I've wracked my brain, I really have, but with the exception of this story , I've got nothing. It seems my ambivalence toward birthdays was present and correct even from a very early age.

A fact which surprised me, if I'm being honest. While I haven't exactly given the subject a lot of thought in recent years, I certainly never had any kind of feeling of having missed out on this stuff as a child; in the long, long, looooong list of festering resentments that I harbour, this one doesn't feature.

The fact remains though, that for whatever reason, I have no memories of childhood birthdays other than the story linked above and a vague idea that the bike used so creatively by my mother in this post   was a birthday gift at some point, I genuinely can't dredge up any birthday memories at all.

It's possible that the events in question were so traumatic that I blacked them out. If that were the case it could even account for my current lack of any kind of excitement about the prospect of my 'big day'. On the other hand, and I'll concede that this may be the more likely scenario, it could just be that I'm getting old and my memory is shit.

Whichever is the case, it seems that all the good intentions I had when I sat down at the keyboard to type this post, of telling a heartwarming tale of familial affection and mercenary gift grabbing, have gone out the window. I have failed you, dear reader; you came here to be entertained and I give you nothing. Nothing! I can only throw myself at your mercy, and hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive a wretch like me.

Sayonara, and keep being awesome.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

How Many Times?

How many times?

How many times, when you were a child, did you get chased from a field by an angry farmer in a pick up truck, brandishing a stick and calling you a 'fucking little bastard?'

How many times when you were a child did you make a rape joke about your neighbours daughter and get beaten bloody for it?*

How many times when you were a child did you get caught stealing a roll of heavy duty visqueen from a building site, backyard camp waterproofing for the use of, and get away with it by... swearing at the man and running away?

How many times when you were a child did you get your friend in trouble by loaning him your copy of the Predator novelisation?

How many times when you were a child did you hit a cricket ball, panic that it was heading toward a bathroom window on your neighbours house, gasp in disbelieving relief when it actually went through the *open* 'tiny little window thing above the main window' (technical term) and then burst out laughing when the neighbour came barrelling out angrily screaming about the mirror you just broke?

How many times when you were a child did you sit on another boys chest for longer than could ever be not awkward because you were in a fight and had overpowered him, were too scared to punch him, but too scared to let him up because you knew he would punch you?

How many times have you clicked on a blog link and realised that the person writing had nothing to say so just cobbled together a random selection of rubbish that were'nt good enough for posts of their own?

*The fact that I did not understand why I was being punished for that says a little something about the environment I was raised in. I'm convinced to this day that the severity of the punishment was down to my Mother overcompensating fro the fact that she didn't react when I made the joke, but rather had to be shamed into it by said neighbour.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Mob Justice



There isn't, when you get right down to it, a lot of humour in a discussion of child molestation and/or statutory rape. (Is statutory rape the name for it in the UK? Or do I watch too many American cop shows? You know what I mean, anyway.) With that in mind, this post will not, in all likelihood, be one of the wittier ones I've ever posted; if I can be said to have ever posted anything witty.

(I usually use real names on here, on the basis that *I* come off worse than anyone, so other people can't really complain. Not so here, for reasons which I should think would be obvious, so meet Ricardo.)


When I was a wee nipper my Mother was friendly (not like that, heads out of the gutter!) with a bloke called Ricardo. He wasn't a resident of the worlds friendliest street, like us, but he lived not far away and would often be at our house. The reason being that he was somewhat ostracised by the rest of the estate and we were the only people who didn't treat him like scum.

Personally I think that in his situation; not that I would ever be in his situation, I hasten to add; I would most likely have moved away and made a fresh start. For whatever reason; be it financial constraints, or the fact that he was born and raised in that area and didn't want to be chased off; he refused to leave.

So what was his situation? What was the reason for his being something of an outcast? Well, a few years earlier he had been convicted and sent to prison, albeit for a short sentence, for having sex with an under age girl. Boooo! Pervert! Paedo! Etc.

Here's the aspect of what he did; and bear with me here; that means I've always felt sorry for him. He was in his late teens, and the girl in question was 15. The relationship was a long one, to the extent that she was basically living in his house toward the end. Her parents were aware of, and approved of, the relationship. He was a regular drinking buddy of her father and brothers. Yes, he was breaking the law, and I'm not saying I approve of what was going on, but it was accepted by all involved.

Then they broke up. You can see where this is going, right?

Suddenly she and her parents were crying all sorts of foul, he was under investigation by the police, and his friends and neighbours; who had known him for years and were fully aware of the relationship in question; were disowning him.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, this is all his version of events, right? And of course he's going to skew things in his favour. Well, yes, he was the one who told me the story. But all the neighbours who remembered the situation confirmed it. No-one denied that what he was saying was true, no-one denied that they had been perfectly fine with it when it was happening, but still they all refused to have anything to do with him. Because he was a paedo and a perv.

How many of the people on that estate were throwing abuse at him because they genuinely believed he had done something wrong? And how many were doing it because of a knee jerk 'he shagged a kid!!!' response to an emotive legal term? Worse yet, how  many were using the fact that others were doing that as an excuse to do the same; we can treat this guy like shit, so we will treat him like shit?

Here's the thing; I absolutely don't think he was entirely without blame. If nothing else, he was stupid. But anyone who thinks that teenagers on either side of the age of consent don't have sexual relationships has got their head buried in the sand. And anyone who thinks that such relationships should lead to prison sentences and a lifetime of abuse, is no friend of mine.

Had I been a few years older I would perhaps (definitely would) have pointed out that this made them, not to put too fine a point on it, a pack of hypocrites. I didn't though, because I was young, scared of most of these people, and didn't know what hypocrite meant.

 Of course, I wasn't a few years older. I was a little kid, and I was slightly bemused by the whole affair. In fact, I should think that it's only because of what happened a few years later that the incident has stuck in my memory at all.

But that's a story for another day.

Yes, I bet you thought I had a point to make or that the story was building to some kind of redemptive crescendo, with him being accepted back into society. Fools! Considering the kind of estate we were living on you're lucky I'm not telling you about him being beaten into a coma and his house burned down. No, I just wanted to bring Ricardo up whilst I was writing about this particular time in my life, so he didn't come out of nowhere when his true place in my tale is revealed. It's no happier for him than this part was.

Stay tuned folks.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Hairy man child

A discussion of nicknames. Knicknames? No, definitely nicknames. I think.

The first nickname I ever had was the traditional in my family 'tut', given to the oldest son of the oldest son etc. I was Tut, my Dad was Tut, Grandad Bully was Tut... I don't know how the name got started and no-one in my family could tell me either, but one thing I do know is that I never really took to it. In fact, to be honest, whenever anyone referred to me by that name it always felt; and I'm aware that this is yet another symptom of my burgeoning paranoia; like they were doing so in a condescending fashion, sniggering at me.

 I don't know why I felt that way about the name, but I did. Maybe I felt I wasn't worthy of it, or on the other hand, maybe I felt that I didn't want to be associated with that lineage. The 2nd is more likely.

So the first nickname I had that I actually felt that I could embrace, and didn't feel like a closet insult, was the one I got when I was about 10. It reflected an aspect of my personality rather than a quirk of my birth and it was given to me by someone I liked and looked up to. I felt like I'd arrived.

The name in question was Professor. It started out as Mad Professor but was cut back to just Professor after a while, presumably for fear of being deemed offensive to those suffering mental health problems. I'm just guessing there, I never asked the question.

Anyway, the name was given to me by a lad called Lee, the older brother of a girl called Aisha (spelling questionable), whose name I was never sure how to pronounce and it would wind her up something rotten; she insisted it was like Asia but with a 'sh' sound instead of 's', so Ashia. Which looks all wrong written down and doesn't really trip off the tongue when you speak it either. But that's by the by.

My mother became friends with Lee's mother when she moved into our street. For some reason that I never quite got to the bottom of, and wasn't really any of my business anyway, Lee and sis didn't live with their mother, or their father for that matter, but rather with their grandparents, and would only visit some weekends and school holidays, so it was a while before we met them and when we did, it was mostly Aisha?? that we had dealings with because Lee was a few years older than us, and therefore outside our circle.

Except when he was in the house when we were hanging out there, which was often because they had a NES, and were therefore cool as fuck.

Just Look At It. Pure Nostalgia


 If it was sunny, it was Wayne and Lisa's tents, if it was a rainy day it was Aisha's NES. That was the status quo for a long time.

I looked up to Lee in the same way the rest of them looked up to me; the poor, blind, ignorant fools; which is to say that because he was older he was automatically cooler. Except he reallywas, because while I had little choice in the matter; often being under strict instructions to 'look after' the younger ones; he could have ignored us totally if he'd wanted. Instead, he... tolerated us, I guess.

So why did Lee christen me Mad Professor? Well, it was a combination of 2 things; firstly, I wore glasses, and secondly, I insisted on reading the instruction booklet of a game, cover to cover, before I ever picked up a controller. A speccy who reads? What else was I going to be called?


The name never really caught on, to be honest, but it served the very useful purpose of supplanting Tut for long enough for people to get out of the habit of using it. Since then? I haven't ever really had a nickname. Oh, there has been the traditional 'stick a y on the end of his surname' but in my eyes, calling me Finchy isn't so much giving me a nickname as it is acknowledging that you can't be bothered to come up with one.




In recent years, a customer at my place of work has come up with the somewhat unique, Ewok. Because of my habit of going 6 months or more without a haircut, and therefore, on occasion being slightly hirsute, he thought it would be funny. and to be fair to him, it is. But where the true genius lies is in the fact that once again, just like with the Professor tag, it's actually a contraction of a longer name, which was; wait for it, you'll like this; Ewok, son of Bungle. Son of Bungle! How good is that? So obvious in hindsight, but who makes that connection? An Ewok. And Bungle. Genius.


That name hasn't really caught on either, and it's only that one guy who uses it. But still, what a fucking cool name. Ewok, Son of Bungle. You've gotta give the guy credit for that.