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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.