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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...


Pack it in!

I'm telling ALL of you!


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? 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.


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


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.