Saturday, 22 March 2014

Yes, I'm aware there's a spelling mistake, it's called "irony".

Toward the end of last year I wrote a book, The Ballad of Kissy Sizzle, and made it available as an eBook on Amazon. Earlier this week it came out in paperback and has had some very flattering sales figures already, along with some lovely reviews and comments. I also heard from a lot of people that they, too, have written books but that they haven't attempted to have them published. In my opinion, in this modern age, there's no reason why these folk shouldn't have a go. Publishing on Amazon is easy enough and won't cost you a penny even if you never sell a copy. If you don't fancy that then try where you can upload your work and have it published as a free eBook. There's no excuse, and what's the worst that could happen.

And so to the main part of today's blog, another bloody poem. Sorry.

Four decades ago or maybe more,
Whilst sat with my dad on our parlour floor
I began to learn the art of the pen
To get me set for that day when
I'd have to sit in a room full of peers
And spend the following twelve or so years
Filling my head with the knowledge of things
That'd help me to cope with the trials life brings
To spell, to read, to add up, to learn
The tools I'd need to be able to earn
A wage to keep a roof overhead
And make sure my loved ones were never unfed
To keep the clothes upon their backs
To be a consumer and pay all my tax

So there we sat, cross legged on the floor
I was aged three, or maybe four
My father wrote out the whole alphabet
Then slid me the page while he went to get
The bacon and eggs and hot cup of tea
My mother had waiting in the scullery
He sat at the table and watched my face
As I stuck out my tongue and started to trace
Those squiggles and scribbles that made no sense
But that if I copied out right would earn me ten pence
To spend as I wished in Mr Harris' sweet shop
On fizz bombs or bubbly or a bottle of pop
To take to my granddads where I was to stay
As I did every week so my parents could play

But back to the story I wanted to tell
Of Saturday mornings learning to spell
An hour or less of my fathers free time
That enabled me later to write down this rhyme
He planted the seeds for my teachers to feed
I was able to write before I could read
Now some might say that's arse over tit
Like learning to walk before you can sit
But at three years of age what would you rather,
Sit colouring in or learn from your father?
That man so big and smart and strong
Who, in your eyes, can do no wrong
Passing down to you his knowledge and skills
So that one day you can also pay bills

So I learnt the art of using a pen
Of writing my name and counting to ten
Then I fumbled and floundered through my education
And took my place in the land of taxation
Alongside my father and neighbours and friends
Scratching a living till the day it all ends
But along the way, a trillion thoughts thought
And scenery seen and small battles fought
Moments that pass in the blink of an eye
And fade in our memory as time passes by
But to lose such events to the annals of time
Would have to be a pointless crime
When armed with nothing but a pen
We can write them down to visit again

And better than that we can share those pages
Letting our story live throughout the ages
In diaries and journals or sprayed on a wall
Our scribblings and musings might outlive us all
Just write it down somehow my friend
And pass it on before you end
Every day's unique, no two ever the same
And only you see your own little frame
Of the beautiful picture that's played out before us
So share it with all in a wondrous chorus
Of words and of thoughts and of tales of lives spent
Scrabbling around and trying to pay rent
And making our way from cradle to crypt
Trying our best to stick to the script

So sit down and write your own version of what
You see and you do and you are and you're not
No matter what medium you write down the caper
Whether Twitter or Facebook or Blogspot or paper
So long as you share it your song will be sung
Long after your own last round bell has been rung
Don't worry about the grammer and spelling
The important parts all lie in the telling
We all have a tale of gladness and strife
Battles won and some lost in this war we call "life"
You may think that you're dull and that no one will care
What you thought or you did, but they will, so please share
Your dreams and your passions and all that you knew
Your take on this life, your own personal view


Friday, 14 March 2014

Derek's bench.

Once we're gone, dead, deceased, shuffled off this mortal coil, pushing up daisies and expired, for how long will we be remembered? Unless you have invented/will invent a cure for cancer or risen to power during our nation's darkest hour then it won't be for very long. Your kids, if you're unfortunate enough to have them, love you and I'm sure they'll remember you. If you survive long enough then your grandchildren will have time to get to know you and you'll be remembered a little longer.

An increasing number of us will get to meet our great-grandchildren. I remember one of my great-grandmothers, Nellie Hall. A lovely lady and the very epitome of a Salfordian pub landlady. Imagine Annie Walker of Coronation Street fame and you'll not be far off the mark. Of course, by the time I knew her she'd "retired" to Morecambe where she lived out her days in the big, old, pub that her daughter Dianne and Dianne's husband ran. I remember the pub fondly from my childhood, it always struck me as being a very grand place. I thought about Googling it whilst writing this, it was/is called the Queen's and it was/is on the coast road overlooking the beach, but I decided against it. Pubs aren't what they were and I like the image I carry in my head so, all things considered, I'd rather it remain unspoiled.

But, as ever, I digress.

Towards the end of her life great grannie Nellie became increasingly confused. Occasionally my father would get a phone call in the middle of the night from the police station on Salford Crescent. Nellie would be there having been picked up wandering the streets in her slippers. She never had any money with her and none of us ever found out how she managed to get herself from Morecambe all the way back to Salford at that time of night, but she did. The police knew her and knew my dad. He would bring her home, never once complaining and all the time being addressed by his deceased father-in-laws name, to the pub we lived in. She would have a little drink and sit happily, for an hour or two, chatting as if she were back in her hay day whilst my father yawned, smiled and longed for his bed. Then she'd retire to the spare room before being returned, safely, the following morning. The Queen of Sheba. Shamefully, sometimes she hadn't even been missed.

Nellie is long dead. My own mother is now the great grandmother of the family and is in fine fettle, well on target to see her granddaughter grow up. She'll be loved and remembered for a good while yet.

But once we're gone time ceases to matter. We were unborn for an eternity and will remain dead for another. We may live to be a hundred years old, maybe meeting our great, great, grandchildren. We may remain in living memory for a couple of hundred years, but as a percentage of eternity those two centuries can reasonably be described as "fuck all" time. Not even the blink of an eye. Once dead the eons will slip by as rapidly as the beat of a blue tit's heart, unnoticed.

These days we have social networking, a digital stamp that remains after death giving people the ability to remember you and to remind others that you lived and were loved. A good friend of mine died, a number of years back, from brain cancer. I still get the odd update from his mother or missus, a little note in the form of a message for him posted to Facebook. The messages aren't intended for his dead eyes. They're there to show the rest of us that he's not been forgotten yet and to remind us he was loved.

Memorial pages such as his may remain online for ever more. In the main they'll eventually become unread, possibly stumbled across occasionally by a school boy doing a history project or a descendant having a go at tracing the family tree and, at some point, they'll be totally forgotten about. Who knows, maybe that won't be for a thousand years but still, as a percentage of eternity, "fuck all" time.

A couple of days ago Patty and myself hopped in the van with our dogs and took a drive up to a place called Rivington Barn. A glorious day, sunny and warm, we set off up the path behind the barn and on to the mountain. It's a beautiful part of the world, full of history and quirks. A man made, Japanese style, lake is situated just below the folly. Caves, ducks, Oriental trees and shrubs and plenty of swimming for two hot, panty, pups after a long walk, we stopped there and let the dogs off their leads so they could be proper dogs for a little while.

There's a bench beneath a tree and facing the pretty lake. From the bench you get a lovely vista. The lake itself, along with it's little, rocky islands and caves on the opposite side, gallivanting dogs and panicking waterfowl dashing hither and thither, we stopped, sat and chatted, just enjoying the unseasonably good weather. We didn't even think to wonder why there was a park bench half way up a mountain, so ideally situated, for us to rest our backsides on.

Eventually I stood up to throw a stick or two for the hounds, whereupon I noticed the little, metal, plate screwed to the back of the bench that I'd been leaning against. "In loving memory of Derek James Jepson, 1949-2006". A simple, concise, elegant inscription dreamt up and paid for by a relative, possibly his newly widowed wife, before being thoughtfully placed in a beautiful setting. Functional, unobtrusive, silent and tasteful. Without the bench we'd have carried on walking, admiring the lake as we passed. We would have found somewhere else to sit and to enjoy wasting a bit of time and neither DickFingers nor myself would have ever have heard of Mr. Derek Jepson. But heard of him we now have, as have you. Some of you may live for another ninety years or more, carrying on the memory of a man you never met (or at least his name, date of birth and date of death) for a little while longer. You may never think of Derek again, but he's in there now. All because another man you've never known sat on a bench once.

I know next to nothing about Derek. I don't know if he was nice or nasty, generous or selfish, kind or spiteful, though if he was anything like the rest of us he'll be a good mix of all six. I built up a picture of him though, sat there while Patty tried in vain to wrestle our German Shepherd off an Irish Wolfhound (which took AGES). In my mind, Derek was :

Not particularly tall, he wore glasses for reading and should have worn them at all times but didn't. His hair was almost completely grey and his balding pate was usually hidden beneath a flat cap in the summer and a woolly hat by the end of October. He had a son and two daughters, each of whom now have children of their own. His eldest daughter's marriage broke down when her son was one year old and Derek became the main male role model in the little boy's life, taking him to watch Bolton Wanderers play occasionally in his last couple of years. His widow is a redhead who laughs like a loon when she's had a little too much to drink. He was a Christian and truly believed he was going to Heaven. After leaving school, aged fifteen, he got a job in a mill. The mill closed in the 70s, after which he joined the police force. He retired just a few years before his death, giving him just enough time to take his wife on a cruise and to buy a little, static, caravan in Rhyl where they spent most weekends. He drove a red Mondeo and his favourite meal was the roast dinner his wife made whenever the kids where visiting. (Except for the mash, she always made it too sloppy, but he never told her.) Derek had a dog, a Shi'tzu, called Bonnie. He pretended it was a gift for his wife and would "complain" that he had been lumbered with walking the "bloody thing", but in actual fact he loved Bonnie and would call her "Bonnie-boo-boo" while making kissy noises whenever they were alone. He was, to most that knew him, a good, honest, hard working man. To some he was a bit of a moaner and to a few he was a right pain in the arse, just like all the rest of us. He was very proud of the fact his son looks like him and he was grateful his daughters took after his wife. Bonnie misses him, she still thinks one day he'll come back.

If any of the previous paragraph is true I'd be very surprised, but I'll never know one way or the other so it doesn't matter. I spent the few minutes before I bothered to go and help DickFingers regain some semblance of control over the giddy dogs just thinking about Derek James Jepson. A bloke long dead before I knew him and now resting in peace, but who had touched someone so much in his allotted years that she/he had taken the time to remember him in such a way. A way that, years later, gave DickFingers and I a place to rest. In peace.

Thank you Derek.



While sat on Derek's bench I was filming the dogs, frolicking and fucking about, in the lake. I thought it'd be nice to share it with you all and so I've edited it together and dedicated it to your friend and mine, the late Mr. Derek James Jepson. We never knew him, but we know he was loved.

Derek James Jepson

Enjoy the little things, folks.
S'very important.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Blue skies thinking.

Everyone loves a bit of intrigue. A little bit of excitement to brighten our trudge from cradle to grave. We crave adventure, to be able to rise, victorious, from a particularly hazardous escapade and dine on the tales of our heroics from now until we shuffle off this mortal coil, our demise hopefully occurring during a valiant and successful attempt to save the life of a small child and followed, preferably, by some deep and meaningful last words.

Most of us in this homogenised, overly hygienic, grey country of ours will have limited experience of true adventure or peril. Our homes are shiny clean, our children spotless and lacking any discernible immune system. The media and our food's own packaging tell us why we shouldn't be consuming the majority of the provisions in our larders. A date stamp pointlessly tells us when to throw away our milk. (If there's one thing in my fridge that is capable of telling me itself when it's beyond it's best it's the milk.)

We're told it's not safe to go out after dark and that our parks are where the drug dealers, prostitutes, rapists and muggers assemble to summon unto them their legions of chav henchmen. We're urged to be suspicious of strangers. Especially if they're foreign looking. Our day to day existence is filled with manufactured and spurious evils. Every new morning brings with it fresh trials and tribulations but each night, as the sun sets and we return home victorious, we can pat ourselves on our backs and congratulate ourselves for surviving to fight another day. We're heroes.

We no longer have to evade the man eating, sabre-toothed, big cats that compete with us for food. No more do we have to keep our eyes on the seas, ever vigilant for the sails of the ships of the Viking hoards or invading Normans on the horizon. We don't risk death collecting berries and fruits from cliff edges and rarely do we have to cradle our children as they wither and die from measles or tetanus.

In the "first world" other, less tangible, threats have rushed to fill the gap left by the extinction of the sabre-toothed tiger, the putting up of signs to tell us to "keep away from the edge" and vaccinations. Now we have more germs on the chopping board in our kitchen than on the seat in our lavatory, bags of peanuts "may contain nuts" and anyone with a beard and a back-pack is a terrorist. A word on the last point, many of you will say you don't compartmentalise people in such a disgraceful manner, but you'll be lying. It may not prey on your mind, but it will certainly cross it if you're standing, crammed, in a hot train carriage when you see a young Asian man, on his way to work and wearing a napsack, squeeze in through the door. Thanks to the media we're now programmed that way. Many years ago, while I was working behind a bar in a hotel in the 1990s, a stranger, an Irishman,  ordered a pint, put his briefcase on the counter against a pillar and walked out. This was around the time of the IRA bombing in Manchester. The chap was gone for three or four minutes at most, but during that time I went from thinking "Don't be silly" to hiding in the cellar pretending I was changing a barrel.

All the while the innocent briefcase remained on the bar. Schrodingers briefcase, it either contained a bomb or it didn't contain a bomb. Like we can all be pretty sure that the cat in Schrodinger's box is not only very pissed off but, eventually, dead, I was also pretty sure that this case contained the Irishman's sandwiches, a couple of files and maybe some spare underpants. (At one point someone knocked the case with their elbow and I very nearly needed a spare pair myself.) But still, in my head, I could see the news footage of the inferno that was about to engulf the hotel and see my mothers face on Granada Reports saying "I knew he was a bad 'un but I didn't think he'd sink this low".

For some people the jeopardy inherent in modern day Britain just isn't enough to keep the old pump pumping. They've scrubbed their chopping boards (or begun chopping their veg on the toilet), they've inoculated their offspring and they don't use public transport. They've covered all the bases and so now can turn their attention to other forms of adventure and exhilaration. For some this manifests itself as skydiving, bungee jumping, lion taming or popping your head through the doors of the local Mecca bingo hall and shouting "HOUSE". Others join the armed forces or the Red Cross.

But for most, we turn to television. We spend our nights involved in car chases, inter-stella battles, serial murders and swordfights. We stare, mesmerised, at the glow from the box in the corner or panel on the wall as our need for excitement is pandered to and sated. We hold our breath as the hero on the screen totters over a precipice or narrows his eyes to take the shot that will save his President/Chief Inspector/love interest and we hold in our hand our own weapons, our remote controls. If the dangers on the telly threaten to seep into our rooms we have the nuclear deterrent. Aim, click, safe.

I spend, as many of you are aware, an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. Most often I'm tweeting some random rant or tedious tirade. More often than that, though, I'm reading. Reading the wonderful, imaginative and wistful twittering of the 27k+ that I follow. Following so many users gives me a massively varied library to peruse during those quiet times between jobs, waiting for the kettle to click or shitting. I see snippets from all sorts of people. Sexists, feminists, conservatives, socialist, racists, communists, Mods, rockers, punks, Buddhists, police officers, criminals and cat lovers. A tapestry of triviality trotted out across my iPhone's screen at the click of a virtual button. (I miss the click of buttons. The iPhone is wonderful, but I loved my Blackberry.)

Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I tut, sometimes I see a red mist and wonder at the mentality of my fellow man and occasionally I'll pull a funny face and lose my appetite. I get to experience the viewpoint of people with whom I'd never interact in real life, to see things from a different perspective and to learn.

Then, at other times, I read pages and pages of tweets that leave me shaking my head, not sure whether I should laugh or not. Conspiracy theories, crazy plots dreamt up by damaged individuals and taken up by others with too much time on their hands.

The big talking point at the moment seems to be chemtrails. I'm sure most of you are aware of chemtrails, but for those of you that aren't I'll explain. The Government(s) load specially converted jet aircraft with chemicals, fly over the population and release the stuff. A bit like crop spraying. Opinion seems divided on what effect the chemicals are supposed to be having on us, but the majority of conspiracy theorists appear to favour the theory that the chemicals make us lethargic and apathetic and thus keep us quiet. The country's shit but we can't be arsed to do anything about it. Watch TV, consume and die.

So now even our laziness and selfishness can be blamed on the Government.

Since it's such an indiscriminate form of delivery the ruling powers, I assume, wear respirators or have an antidote or are space aliens or something.

It's true that, for the most part, we Brits are lethargic and apathetic. The price of fuel sky rockets, we tut and we moan and we tell the poor cow working the filling station till for minimum wage that she's a profiteering bastard and then, eventually, we get used to it. We still don't like it, we know we're in the right to be upset, but we move on. We just can't be arsed. It must be chemicals, mustn't it?

The evidence provided by the theorists consists, in the main, of photographs showing the laying of the chemtrails in the skies above our heads. Sinister, white, plumes trailing from aircraft and spreading, slowly and gracefully, as they fall toward Earth. The trails themselves are hard to spot in the pictures, being as they are always obscured by the vapour trails left by the jet engines squirting super-heated air out of their backsides in the form of white plumes trailing from the aircraft and spreading, slowly and gracefully, as they, too, fall toward the Earth. Sometimes, in heavily populated areas, photos show the skies are criss-crossed with dozens of such trails every day. Areas such as London, Manchester and Leeds, among others. Fortunately for the Governments coffers these heavily populated areas are all served by major airports. It must save them a fortune in fuel and they can pass the aircraft off as passenger planes.

As you can hopefully tell, I'm not convinced. It would seem a bit of a slap-dash method of delivery, pissing gallons of mind-bending pharmaceuticals out of the back of a plane from thirty-thousand feet and hoping the wind doesn't change direction. We have a perfectly adequate water supply in this country. As a fan of Occam's razor I have to say that, were I one day lucky enough to be a dictatorial despot, I'd just pour it in there and start drinking Evian.

But maybe, just maybe, that's what they want us to think. Maybe they are dumping liquid E on us from a great height, daily, just to keep us happy and paying our taxes.

Maybe they were the ones that started the theory. That way they control at what point their wickedness is discovered and they won't have some Maverick spotting their dastardly actions and snooping without their knowledge. Put the rumour out and watch for those that believe it. Hiding in plain sight, the cunning bastards!

There are always a dozen conspiracy theories doing the rounds. Some of them may be true. Unfortunately, those that alert us to such diabolical plots also tend to believe in every other conspiracy theory, from dastardly plots to kill a Princess to AIDS being a weapon to combat vampires. This makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Of course conspiracies exist. I doubt anyone would argue with that. We're constantly being manipulated by the media, the advertising agencies, even the Government are at it. We know it's happening and we know we can do nothing about it, we just cross our fingers and hope that those conspiring are conspiring against others and not against ourselves and, in the main, we're right. We're small fry. Cannon fodder. Bottom of the food chain. We can afford to ignore it and, anyway, we're never going to know about it, so why worry?

The way the Government controls us is far less fascinating than the conspiracies. Some clever bastard at the top realised that we are stupid and lazy. We work hard, don't get me wrong, and many of us have hobbies that keep us on our toes, but when it comes to anything important we, with few exceptions, just couldn't care less. They don't need to waste money on happy pills and aviation fuel, just ride the storm of complaints when the gas bills go up or the bins stop being emptied. There'll soon be another series of the X-Factor, Celebrity Big Brother or the Apprentice to snatch our attention away from the faltering NHS, biblical floods and rise of poverty, refocusing it on the important things like whether him with the nice tattoos/her with the big tits gets through to next weeks episode or not.

Once upon a time we were allowed to call the conspiracy theorists "paranoid delusionals", but that's probably not PC these days.

Its a bloody conspiracy.