I've just cried. Proper tears.
Alone. All on my own, unless you count the dogs who, of course, cleaned my tears straight from my cheeks. They just like the salt, I know this, but for now I'm happy to be under the delusion that they love me and wanted to help.
I cried with frustration. A sudden, overwhelming surge of rage and of disgust crashed over me and, I, fear, has dragged me under.
I came home, gamboling up the little walk I live on with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I don't have a great deal to smile about these days, but there's always someone worse off and, even when at my lowest point, I pride myself on being able to focus on that. Others survive, I should too, so I just get on with it as best I can.
My neighbour was stood in his front garden. He was staring at his flowers and looking quite disheveled. I noticed him and said hello but I was carrying a sack of dog food on my shoulder and didn't stop.
My neighbour is by no means a friend of mine, I don't dislike him but I don't really know him. Last year, though, I helped him pick up some furniture and deliver it to a lady he knew who had lost her home and was starting afresh with nothing. He paid for the furniture and he paid for the fuel to move it. He enlisted my help and, without her having to do a thing, he ensured that she had chairs to sit on, a bed to lie on, a cooker to cook with, curtains at the window, a fridge and a freezer and even a television. All second hand, even the mattress, but she was so grateful.
When we'd finished he kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye. She didn't see us out, she was having to use her oxygen at that point and the pipe wasn't long enough to reach the door. On the way home he told me a bit of back story.
Thirty years ago he had left the army. As many ex-servicemen will testify this can be a difficult transition for some. My neighbour had found himself drinking too much, had become violent, had destroyed his marriage and had ended up homeless. Not "But I have a right to a council house and I won't leave the office until you get me one" homeless but living in the street and eating from bins homeless.
The lady that we'd just left had known him before he joined the forces and they bumped into each other, quite by chance, in the street one afternoon. By now she had a good job working for the council, a nice little house and a car. Between her husband and herself they had a nice little life. The odd night out, foreign holidays and enough expendable income to be able to smoke sixty cigarettes a day each. Oh, and Sky television.
Her husband knew my neighbour as well. In fact they had been at the same school, never friends but never enemies, and so when she returned home that night and told him, with tears in her eyes, how low he had sunk he went out alone to find him.
They put him up, only for a week or two, just while they helped him claim some benefits and find a bedsit that the council would pay for. By the time he moved out of their little home he had been elevated through the social classes from "beggar" to "dosser". From pond life to drift wood. From filthy scum to scrounging scum. Things were good.
And things got better, at least for my neighbour. He found work, relatively well paid it was too, and he bought a house. His ex-wife forgave him a while before she died. They became closer, and when she eventually passed away after a period of illness his daughter came to live with him. From the very lowest point in his life he had risen to the heady heights of home-ownership, a respectable father to a polite daughter but who sometimes got a little too pissed on Friday night. Things went from "good" to "bloody good".
Recently, though, I get the impression things haven't been quite so good, again. I know he's now unemployed and that he knocked on my door recently to ask if we had a spare TV as his was broken.
Once in my own kitchen I dumped the sack on my counter and gave the giddy dogs a tickle, as is obligatory so far as they're concerned. Then I popped the kettle on and put some toast under the grill. My plans for this afternoon were to sit down to re-write a chapter of my next book with which I have decided I'm unhappy.
Tea and toast in hand I slumped on the settee and switched on the laptop, glancing out the window as I did. There, at the bottom of the pane and, fortunately, on the outside, was an arse. A derriere, bottom, pair of buttocks, just staring at me. Toast still dangling from my mouth I stood back up to investigate.
Outside, doubled over, was my neighbour. In one hand he had a plastic carrier bag and he was using his other hand to rummage through the plants (Ok, weeds) in my front garden. I watched for a moment, not quite sure what to do, then went outside expecting to have to remonstrate with him.
He was collecting cigarette butts. Our little walk is like a wind tunnel and a good chunk of the litter and general detritus from the dirty streets of Horwich blows along it, becoming caught in the bushes to the right or the gardens to the left. His bag was almost half full with stinking, discarded cigarettes.
I asked if he was ok. He asked if I had any Rizla. I did, so I gave them him. I also had two cigarettes, my last two cigarettes. I offered him one, but he declined and looked ready to cry. He was desperate enough to crawl along dirty streets, in full view of his neighbours, picking up dimps, but he didn't want charity.
He was wearing a tee-shirt and I saw, on the crook of his left elbow, a dressing. It was hanging off and I could see the puncture marks beneath. On his wrist was a hospital wristband with his details on. I asked if he was okay, if he needed a doctor, if he wanted a hand with anything? He shook his head. Then he cried.
My neighbour is a big man. Ex-squaddy, ex-footballer, heavily tattooed and more than capable of looking after himself. But here he was, crying. Blubbering like a schoolgirl, right there in the street.
I didn't understand much of what else he said. He mentioned his mother, I think, and I'm sure a lot of it was reassurances, swearing he was alright and that he was sorry. He turned and went back home.
I don't like to interfere in anyone else's life, but I felt I had to tell someone. I didn't feel qualified to help myself and so I looked up the appropriate telephone number and made a call. I hope he's okay.
My tears were brief. They weren't for my neighbour, for his predicament, for his suffering. They weren't for mine either. Poverty has bitten hard in my household, but we're surviving much better than some, as my neighbour today proved.
My tears were anger, frustration and hatred of me and of us. All of us. We, the English, are pathetic. Weak. A waste of the Earth's natural resources. A wealthy country, with people starving. Not "oooh I am hungry" starving, not even having to make do with beans on toast AGAIN starving, properly starving. Their bodies panicking and attempting to digest their own internal organs starving. Here, in Britain. For that I'm ashamed.
It's not just dossers and layabouts either. I'm sure my neighbour has been no angel, but neither have I and neither have you (Unless you ARE an angel, in which case let me know so I can renounce my Atheistic beliefs.) but he worked, paid taxes and was comfortable. He did a fine job of raising a daughter, too. Then a bit of a hiccup, not his fault this time, just a downturn in the economy. Oh, and changes to benefits. Rising prices. That kind of thing. The things that we allow, all of us. Selfishly thinking balls to them, we're okay. Siding with the top, hating the bottom. Blaming those below for our little problems. We don't think it'll ever happen to us. If we're struggling we believe it'll be temporary, that at some point the rot will stop, reverse and then our futures will be brighter. Don't bet on it. Statistically you're probably going to be one of the many that die without leaving a lasting legacy. Maybe a few grand in a policy, a couple of ISAs, oh and any remaining debt against your name. But other than that you and I will almost certainly amount to nothing. We'll pay some taxes, die and leave behind a new generation to pay their taxes and die.
We can't afford the full Sky HD package, so that's the fault of the immigrants because without them we'd all be better paid.
If we can't afford to go to Florida and have to settle for Disneyland Paris it's probably because of those millions of workshy bastards claiming benefits paid for with our taxes. And they're all on the fiddle, you know?
We're apathetic with a capital "A", and even without the "a" it's still a fitting description. You and I (I'm now assuming my readers to be English) are all, to a man, responsible for what we have allowed to happen. It's not the fault of the bankers, it's ours. We let them off.
Cue the bleeding hearts... "No, the government let them off, the Tory bastards, it's their fault". Fair point, I suppose, except they're OUR government. Ours. We, the fucking morons we are, put them there. And anyway, the other lot had a big hand to play in all this shit we've stepped in.
All the while we let them. We even pay them. We're the customer and, just like all big corporations, they shit all over the us. All of us. For the wealth of the privileged to have any tangible value they need a huge, stinking pile of poor people below them. People to clean up their shit, to make their consumables and to teach their children. They daren't allow us to become more than we are, what if we become more than they are? Then who'll clean up their shit, spit in their steak tartare and despise their vile children.
But the cleaner uppers must then have people to hate, to blame for their temporary positions among the ranks of the perfectly ordinary and to ensure they don't pay too much attention to the lives of the powerful. They might stop cleaning up their shit. So, lets make sure there are even poorer people for the poor to Lord over.
It's okay though, because as we all know the wealth will trickle down. Rejoice, people, and give them bigger portions so that there might be more scraps for us. That will work. As long as they aren't greedy people, that they don't stuff their faces and makes pigs of themselves. Or put the leftovers in the fridge. Or bank.
They have a monopoly on power and we've given it to them. Our Grandparents would be disgusted with us. I'm proud to say that I am thoroughly ashamed of myself. I'm ashamed of all of us.
And now, just like you, I'm going to go away, check my Twitter or my Facebook account and put the telly on. Tonight I'll probably, at least for a while, forget all about my neighbour and his hellish existence. Even if I think about him I'll do nothing to help. I may offer him a cigarette whenever I see him, I may make more of an effort to stop and speak to him, but that's it. Nothing more. I'm in no position to help anyone. I'll not fight for him, I'll not fight for myself or for my children. I'll just bend over and take it.
Just like you.
This post was written while the sorrow I felt for my neighbour was fresh in my mind. As I type, our encounter was three hours ago. I feel I may have wasted your time, caused you to read all this in the hope there would be some deep and insightful comment, or maybe a rallying call for all to rise up and overthrow the establishment. It's neither. It's a demonstration of my own shortcomings and a description of the shortcomings I see in my fellow man. The same shortcomings in either case. I'm going to take some time to think about my life and the lives of those around me. Hopefully, I'll have an epiphany, jump from my lethargy and share the answer with you all. But would you listen? And anyway, we all already know the answers. We just can't be arsed asking the questions.
Saturday, 3 May 2014
Cheerful, cheery, merry, jolly, light-hearted, mirthful, jovial, glad,happy, bright, in good spirits, in high spirits, joyful, elated,exuberant, animated, lively, sprightly, vivacious, buoyant, bouncy,bubbly, perky, effervescent, playful and frolicsome.
Light hearted and care free, how lovely. If only there was a shorter word for it so I didn't have to keep typing "light hearted and care free".
But hang on, there is. It's good to be light hearted and care free. It's good to be gay. I'm gay, as gay as a gay thing and then some. I'm not always gay, sometimes I'm a right miserable bastard, but today, sun in the sky and snoozy dogs at my feet, I'm maxing out the gaydar.
As mature as most of my peers are, I am very aware that if I walked into the pub declaring "I'm feeling really rather gay today" at least one person would mime lifting a purse to their chest and make a "woooooooo" sound. And I'd probably laugh. I like a good pun. I'd probably blow them a kiss and, at that point, as liberal and inoffensive as I generally am in real life, I would be transformed, in the eye's of some, from gay to homophobe in the blink of one of those aforementioned eyes.
Gay doesn't generally mean light hearted or care free anymore. As with many other words in the English language it has evolved. At some point in the mid twentieth century "gay" became an insult, a derogatory term for a homosexual. Then it evolved further. The homosexuals "reclaimed" it. I'm not sure "reclaimed" fits, since it didn't describe homosexuality in the first place, but that's the standard word used to describe the phenomenon and so that's the one I'll stick with.
So gay lost it's potency. Suddenly (over a period of many years) the statement "you're gay" came to be met with "yes, I am", so some other perfectly innocent words, which I'll not list, were hijacked by the small minded and hurled with venom instead. Languages, along with attitudes, are evolving in a similar way all the time. Now, if you're homosexual, you don't need describe yourself as such. Homosexual is a very clinical phrase, cumbersome on the tongue. Gay is so much nicer.
Nope, this isn't a rant about gay rights.
This is appreciation for the skillful and highly successful way in which the homosexual community won a, admittedly small, battle. Maybe not even a battle, just a skirmish. But it was won, and with panache. At the risk of pandering to stereotypes, panache, flair and probably a good deal of jazz hands to finish.
A successful campaign, and one that is being mirrored with other stolen words used by those that hate. However, I would argue, not with anything like the same level of success.
Footage was acquired by the Daily Mirror newspaper of a piece to camera JC did two years ago in which he recited a nursery rhyme, "Eenie Meenie Minie Mo" (If I've spelled that wrong, please forgive me, I've never written it down before) when having to decide which was the better of two cars featured on his show. If you're my age, or even a little younger, you will be aware that in the 1970's playground's of Britain children would use this rhyme to decide on teams for lunchtime football, which sweet they were going to eat next or whether they were playing soldiers or cowboys and Indians. You will be further aware that, at that time, a particularly offensive word to describe a black person was included. The infamous "N" word.
The "dropped bollock" and the apology.
I've actually struggled to decide whether it would be acceptable for me to include the word itself or refer to it as the "N" word. I'm blogging about a real life situation to which this word is central, so it should be okay, but I'm also a bit of a shitbag. "N" word it is then.
The footage was then edited, ultimately pointlessly since it was never aired anyway, to say "teacher" instead. This word chosen rather than the word "tinker", a word which itself is racist, (Goodness we were awful children) and which replaced the "N" word in some schoolyard versions.
I'm now wishing I'd been braver and used the actual word instead of the shitbag version for which I opted, using the shift key for the capital "N" and the speech marks is spoiling my typing rhythm. Goodness me, one day I'll get through one of these entries without digressing. Anyway...
Debate, or what passes for debate in this age of social media, on these shenanigans is rife. Everyone has an opinion. The problem with opinions, like farts and children, is that everyone loves their own and hates everyone else's.
One debate that I've seen a lot of, but that I haven't become embroiled in, is that of whether or not the "N" word is ever acceptable, whoever says it. This is why I mention the transformation of "gay" from common usage to homophobic slur and then to perfectly acceptable descriptive term.
With the gay example, everyone can use it to describe a homosexual. Gay, straight or with a little bit of curvature it doesn't matter. Gay means gay and nothing more. Brilliant.
Now, the "N" word. Some folk lean toward the word being totally unacceptable, whatever the circumstances and whatever the colour of the speaker, whereas (from my limited experience) a good majority of folk think it's ok, so long as the speaker is black. A few think it's ok whoever says it.
For the record, I think it's totally unacceptable, in any situation and by anyone, with the possible exception of drama and comedy. Proper comedy though, not Jim Davidson.
You see, this battle/skirmish began in similar fashion to that of the "G" word, but the tactics changed at some point, meaning the battle rages on. The "N" word was reclaimed (again, the word reclaimed doesn't fit, but it's the word we all use) but was then locked away and not everyone is allowed the key to the cabinet in which it's stored.
But if it's to lose it's potency everyone should be. We should either all be able to use it, or none should be able. Rap music and culture is littered with the word, but it hasn't become a description in the way gay did. It's sound and the formation of the lips around it lend themselves to anger and abuse. It's hard to say "gay" and sound aggressive, but the "N" word can be spat out of a face contorted with anger all too easily.
Maybe reclaiming that word was a poor idea, but reclaimed it was. In my social circles I never hear the word and I don't use it, but I hear it constantly on the television and radio. Whilst this is still the case the word will never die. Children, along with you and I, are hearing the "N" word constantly and by the time they're old enough to realise they're only hearing it from black mouths it's too late, they know what it means but they don't know the history of it, the offense it causes or that, if they're white, they must never use it. To a child, wouldn't that seem unfair? Like they were being discriminated against? A word only their black friends can use? Surely that's racist.
The word needs forgetting. The occasional slip by an aging buffoon, born and raised in a more racist period of our racist country's racist history, should raise an eyebrow, maybe summon a tut and a shake of the head, but surely nothing more than that. After all, they'll all be dead one day so we'll be free of the word forever. Thrusting the debate into the media, especially in the age of Twitter and Facebook, only leads to animosity and gives the true racists their moment in the sun. A word can't fade from use if we're constantly bombarded with it.
And to think, all this palaver could've been averted if he'd just tossed a coin. Strange behaviour indeed, but then...
...there's nowt so queer as folk.
Thursday, 1 May 2014
I have been inspired by a thread on the web. One which has given hope to many, and given meaning to one. I don't want to mention the thread in question. Indeed, it isn't even just a thread, that's just a clever ruse on my part to throw you off the scent. The story to which I refer is a a touching and inspirational story which belongs to a very special young man and to go into too much detail would feel like I was piggy-backing his incredible story to promote my own puerile rambling here. Some of you know the story, some of you don't and some of you will think you know but you won't.
What good is a good life without a good death? None of us have the experience of our own death from our own perspective. Most of us think we know what awaits us, but none of us actually know. We believe. All of us. For the most part that's enough.
Now read on, and don't worry, it get's less dark from here on in...
We had a choice of two parks in the area that I grew up in. One was a big and picturesque expanse of greenery with a petting zoo, a pitch-and-putt golf course, a museum and a boating lake which was, by this time, just a very muddy hole in the ground. The other, the one my mates and I would frequent, was a little less grand. It had climbing frames, twisted and snapped from years of neglect and wanton vandalism, a derelict park keeper's cottage, boarded up and spooky, and an over-grown football pitch dotted with dandelions, daisies and dog shit. It also had a clear view of both gates wherever you were stood, which meant we could get on our toes whenever the local council parks and gardens warden came puttering through on his pedal-and-pop motorcycle to admonish us for whatever misdemeanor we were currently committing.
This particular morning I, along with two of my friends, had wandered up to our favourite park with a football. It was already a hot day even before nine a.m. and our arms and necks were burnt, red and freckly, from the previous day's shenanigans, pissing about in the big, water filled hole in the ground on what is now the Manchester bound carriageway of the M602 but was, at that time, nothing more than a trench dug alongside the railway.
Once in the confines of the park, and having met up with two of our other friends that had arrived even earlier, four of us began kicking the ball about whilst the fifth went looking for an adult prepared to give him a light for one of the eight cigarettes he had stolen from his mother on his way out of the door. As was the norm, this being the only half-decent pitch not festooned with used rubber Johnnies, discarded "glue bags", hypodermic needles and sex criminals in a very populous area, other kids came along with other balls and other sun-burnt arms and we got a chance for a proper kick around with lads we'd never met.
I can play football. But I'm shit at it.
As shit at the beautiful game as I was, I was also a good deal bigger than my peers and, playing in defence, had mastered my own, relatively successful, unique technique. It comprised of dropping my shoulder, screwing my eyes shut and angling myself with my hip toward the oncoming striker, foot slightly off the ground and body braced for impact.
On this particularly sunny morning my tried and tested tactic was proving ineffectual against a tank of a boy. Easily as tall as me but with the body density of a chimpanzee he scored three times in as many minutes, putting me on my arse each time. Encumbered as I was by a distinct lack of any discernible talent and without an ounce of skill there was only one thing for it. Straight from the restart the ball was sent wide to the tank who began his thunderous advance down the left wing. This time I ran to meet him with a hurriedly adapted new move clear in my head. I screwed my eyes shut and launched myself into a career halting, two-footed, tackle. I opened my eyes to see the tank somersault over me and land, hard, on the ground. He wasn't happy, but halfheartedly accepted my apology and off we went again.
Two more ridiculously dangerous tackles later and he was no longer prepared to accept my increasingly incredible apologies, and I could tell by the snarl and the look in his eyes that he was harbouring a number of petty minded notions of retribution. The game was on.
Shins, elbows and knees became bruised and battered as the first half wore on and both of us had both our own and each others nose-blood spattered on our shirts as a result of one particularly spectacular aerial challenge. Both of us had our eyes screwed shut that time and my nose and teeth had collided with his corresponding facial features bringing my participation in the match to a temporary halt while I smoked a cigarette and had a glug of Olde English. Like a pro.
I came back on just as the first half was about to end. We had a girl with us, "Spunky Fingers" Simone, and she was what passed for a referee. Sat on her coat on the touchline with someone else's Casio digital watch, cupping her hand over it to occasionally check the sunlight-unfriendly red LED display. She didn't possess a whistle, so half time was signalled by her shouting "Eee-yarr".
I began to gently jog over to the kid with the cigarettes and alcohol who couldn't play because he had Asthma and had forgotten his inhaler. He kept himself busy by chain smoking the cigarettes, lighting each new cigarette with the dying embers of the last since we didn't have any matches.
Suddenly, from behind, struck the tank. He clipped my heel as I walked, causing me to stumble forward, and to aid me on my way Earthward he pushed me hard in my back. I landed chest first on the ball I'd been lazily dribbling before me and every last puff of wind was knocked from my chest.
The tank sat on me and wrapped his fat fingers around my throat from behind, squeezing and pulling backwards. I found myself lay on my own hands, no air in my lungs and no prospect of getting any whilst tank was holding my airways shut. I panicked, unable to make a sound, take a breath or move an inch my brain began to become starved of oxygen.
I couldn't even move my head, and my eyes bulged. From where I lay I could see the metal railing around the park, the gently wafting branches of a big, old, sycamore tree, the roof and apex of a house and a single cloud in a bright blue sky. Silently screaming inside my own head, I realised I was about to die and there wasn't a single thing I could do about it.
Just that, a pop, and everything changed.
I didn't need to breath, it didn't hurt anymore. I was so excited. I couldn't wait to tell everyone they were wasting their time. That it was some kind of conspiracy, the powers that be were tricking us into thinking we needed to breath. But we didn't. I was elated.
And the sky, so blue. A blue so bright and deep, a blue I'd never seen before or since, but that I can still picture. A new blue, I'd discovered a new COLOUR. People were going to be so excited when I showed it them.
I could see the leaves on the sycamore tree, a good fifty metres away, in exquisite detail. Each leaf it's own particular shade of green, the veins along their backs in fine, high-definition detail. A ladybird on one.
The dorma-window on the roof I could see had a spider's web in the corner. A woman stood in the room, only her head and shoulders, in profile, were visible from that angle. She was smiling, and very beautiful. I decided I'd tell her about the new blue first.
Then the grey speckles, moving in from the periphery of my vision, fizzling and crackling and causing the image before me to fade. Except for the blue. The blue remained. And now came the memory.
A nothing memory. Two years old, sat on the back of the horse that was my baby walker in the middle of the living room in the house my sister was born in. I was looking out of the big, bay window as a bus, in the old Mancunian orange livery, coughed and spluttered by. I was waiting for my dad, due home from another hard day at Parker Rosser's timber yard, duffle bag on shoulder and smelling of sawdust. We had no carpet down, so the hard, plastic wheels on my horse made a harsh noise against the uneven floorboards. The black and white television was in the corner, turned off, and in it's dark tube I could see the reflection of myself and, behind me, my mother, stood framed in the doorway to the kitchen and drying a bowl with a checkered towel.
I was happy. Happier than I'd ever been before. The world was awesome, really awesome. If I'd died at that moment I would have died happy. But it wasn't time. A sudden explosion of noise from all around, children playing, birds singing, air brakes on buses "pississsing" in the distance. Until then I'd not realised how silent the world had become, but now the noise came back. Tank had let go, and my face fell against the cool grass below. Along with the noise came the fire.
My chest filled with air. Hot, thick, air, burning my throat and chest as it reinflated my lungs. I coughed and coughed, small chunks of what looked like croutons spraying from my throat and onto the football pitch. I looked up.
No more new blue. The sky was still crystal clear and beautiful, but it was back to being the old blue. It had been, and remained, a glorious summer's day, but in comparison to the world I'd just seen fizzle out of existence this was just another, ordinary day. Also, every inch of me hurt.
I'm an Atheist, not in the least spiritual and suffer from no superstition. I believe my brain was starved of oxygen and was playing tricks on me. Nothing more. A more pious individual may have believed it was a little glimpse of Heaven. Maybe a spiritualist would see it as proof of life after death.
For me, it was my ebbing consciousness giving me a reward for having put me through the pain of existing in the first place. A life of struggle, fear, loss, love and hope, and of spells of happiness found in the face of it all, complete, now a brief moment of sheer bliss. But that moment would have been my last, and so for me would have stretched off into eternity. A violent and painful demise, but a pleasant and everlasting death.
So who cares who's right and who's wrong? This is one instance in which there can be no argument, no debate, it just doesn't matter. Whatever will be, will be. Whether it's pleasant because your God made it so or pleasant because our brain just works that way, it's still pleasant. A rose, by any other name.
No one need fear death, no matter how it rears it's hooded head.
Remember, when the inevitable happens and it's time to say goodbye to a loved one, they've already lived an eternity of happiness while you've been stood sniffling at the grave side. At the point we change states we won't have a care in the world, no matter what we leave behind us. Everything will be beautiful, you can check out that new blue I told you about, and like I said...
...you don't need to breathe.