Friday, 31 October 2014

Mahatma Gandhi, the heavyweight champion of the world, Wagon Wheels and me.

Once upon a time, a mighty long time ago, Ocada didn't do home deliveries and Amazon was a river. If we wanted to eat anything more substantial than a handful of nuts and berries we had to spend a day or three following a poorly looking mammoth or a sabre toothed tiger with a limp, accompanied by half a dozen or so of our closest friends all armed with pointed sticks, and we waited for our chance to pounce, en masse, on our prey, kicking it to death.

Then came the hard part.

Without a squeaky trolley to transport our game to our motor vehicle, and without a motor vehicle, we had to carry our shopping home. Having followed the poor creature for several days we generally had quite a slog ahead of us before we arrived home, exhausted, to be greeted by our womenfolk who had spent the time while we were away cleaning, chastising our children and spending our coloured pebbles on shite to make the cave look pretty.

Eventually, once there was no more room in our increasingly cluttered caves for scented candles, picture frames in the shape of love-hearts and little glass bowls that serve no function other than to piss me right off, we were forced to up sticks and find more suitable accommodation. We piled up stones and fallen branches, we used animal skins and mosses to make the interiors of our new, bespoke caves more comfortable and we were happy. For a while. Then our neighbours built extensions, so we had to, too. We needed increasingly large boulders and branches and we struggled to drag these from the caves and forests where they were handily placed out onto the plains where we had to build our homes because "ooh the views are so lovely, and it's really close to that good school".

The necessity to improve our homes in this way brought forth the necessity for invention. Clearing paths to make the dragging of the stone easier gave us tracks and pathways. We lay logs on these roads to drag the stones over, meaning we could drag even larger boulders back to our increasingly sprawling villages. Someone, somewhere, invented the wheel. The wheel, contrary to popular opinion, was a pointless invention.

It leant against the inventors garden wall, unused and forgotten, until some bright spark invented an axle, et voila, the wagon came into existence.

Now we could move more, and move more more easily, we began to pretty the place up a bit. A monolith here, a statue there, headstones to mark our final resting places and some of those enormous, stone dominoes balanced in a circle for no other reason that to confuse the archaeologists of the future. The wagon wheel brought the axle, the axle brought the wagon, the wagon brought the materials and the materials brought manufacturing. Manufacturing completed the circle many centuries later when Burton's biscuits brought forth the Wagon Wheel, a delicious, chocolate coated, mallow and jam topped biscuit that could be stripped apart and eaten in ingenious ways.

Personally, I break off and eat the biscuit base first, then strip the chocolate from the jam tinged mallow which I save until last. Nom nom.

As a child, I remember buying a Wagon Wheel every morning from the tuck shop at my school. My eating technique developed over the years. Initially I would hold the confectionery in two hands and eat it in the "normal", boring way. As I grew, the Wagon Wheel shrank. Now, rather than needing two, the biscuit fits comfortably in the palm of one of my hands. This happened so slowly that I didn't notice.

As an even smaller child, with a yet smaller child for a sibling, I can remember dragging a kitchen chair over to the larder and climbing upon it to steal the Farley's rusks that my sister loved and that I wasn't allowed to eat from the top shelf. Just like the Wagon Wheels that came later, I would hold the rusk in both hands and sit munching away, giggling at my guile and cunning as I feasted on forbidden fruit, occasionally suffering an almighty bollocking from my mother if she got off the phone in the hallway long enough to come and check what I was up to.

Eventually, my sister was too old for these most delicious of delicious treats and so my parents ceased purchasing them. In time, I forgot all about them until, years later, my then-wife brought home a box of them for our infant son. I spotted the box, up high in the larder, and frantically tore it open, eager to experience that delicious deliciousness again. I was so disappointed.

The rusk was every bit as tasty as I remembered but now, a couple of decades later, they'd shrunk significantly. A tiny, light, crumbly, dry treat, no more than two mouthfuls rather than the two handfuls I remembered. I had to eat the contents of the entire box to even begin to feel satisfied.

The bollocking I received from my wife was even more ferocious than those I'd received from my mother, although she drew the line at tanning my arse with a hairbrush.

The rusks seemed smaller because I'd grown. The disappointment at their tiny size was accentuated by the fact that it seemed to happen all of a sudden, rather than the glacial transition of the Wagon Wheel.

At some point between Farley's rusks and Wagon Wheels I lost a grandparent. My father's father died when I was two years old. Initially, every Sunday my father would take me to his grave to clean it up and to chat to him. I thought my grandfather must have been a very important man to have such a huge headstone, towering above me with an engraving of a cross and a stained glass window and the words that my grandmother had chosen carved into it's brilliant, white stone. Over the years our visits to the cemetery in which he rested became less and less frequent until they ceased altogether.

Once my father had joined his father and shuffled off this mortal coil we had to decide what to do with his ashes. It wasn't a difficult decision. We arranged to have his remains buried in the same plot, his name added beneath that of his father. On the day of this second funeral I arrived at the cemetery, early and alone, and began to weave my way along the little paths that criss-crossed between the immaculately manicured plots. I remembered the way from my visits there as a small child and I spotted the silver birch tree that grew next to the grave and under which I would sit whilst my father chatted to his father about Manchester City, the bloody kids and how much he missed him.

As I approached I began to feel a knot in my stomach. It was gone. The huge, grand, polished stone that I had helped clean with water from a nearby tap was missing. I began to jog, then to run, toward the tree, knowing my mother would be arriving soon and panicking.

In the place where once this grand monument to a great man had stood now stood a tiny, cheap looking, dirty headstone. I looked around frantically, hoping I was just mis-remembering the precise location, but no, it was gone.

Except it wasn't. The tatty, old stone that stood waist high before me was my grandfather's. Like the Wagon Wheel and the rusk before it, it had shrunk. The day was already an emotional one and this disappointment was the catalyst that sent forth a flood of tears. Tears that dried before my mother arrived with the little, wooden casket but that left me with eyes too red to hide my sadness.

Everything changes. Some things, like the rusk or the headstone, become less important in our absence. Others, like the Wagon Wheel, become less significant before our very eyes. But in all three examples the changes aren't caused by that which has changed, but by us. The world doesn't change, never has and never will. It's just our perspective.

Bad experiences become less harrowing with distance. They say "time is a great healer", and they're right. Sort of. Unfortunately, good experiences become less pleasing in the same way. The rusks that filled our tummies whilst we were sitting strapped into out high chairs becomes nothing more than a mouthful. The Wagon Wheel that once lasted right through play time would take no time to eat now were it not for the fact that we piss about peeling mallow from jammy biscuit and the headstone that was once so imposing and impressive becomes nothing more than a marker for a long forgotten ancestor.

The further we move from the things we love the smaller the things we love appear, and it's the same with the things we hate. We all change constantly, both physically and emotionally. A great man once said...

"The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years." 

We don't try to eat the tiny mallow filled disc with two hands, nibbling away at the edge so that it lasts longer, we peel and piss about. We don't eat a rusk and feel unsatisfied, we eat a whole box.

I once asked a chap I worked with, having found out he was pushing forty even though he looked and acted twenty-five, what his secret was. He explained that we don't start to age until we stop changing. You'll all know someone who, even though it went out of fashion many years ago, still wears the uniform of his golden years. The aging Mod in the Fred Perry tee-shirt and the Sta Prest trousers that listens to nothing but Paul Weller or the octogenarian Teddy boy with the slicked back hair who carries a comb. Their outmoded fashion and steadfast refusal to accept the validity of any new music marks them in time, thus emphasising their advancing years.

Some go the other way in a desperate attempt to cling on to their youth and try to keep up with the fashions of the day while the fashions of the day mock them. The middle aged man wearing shiny, black shoes and cheap, shapeless Jeans or the woman in the pub that gets a tiny tattoo on the tit that gravity is trying to claim, both steadfastly clinging on to what once was while what is yet to be beckons. They fear aging, they fear change and they try to fight it.

They never venture forth from the cave of youth into the hut of modernity. 

The world around their cave remains the same in every way but size. They watch as the log-lined tracks carry the future toward, and straight past, them. Eventually, tracks become rutted by the passage of the wagons and they complain that it's all so unnecessary and why didn't we just stick with the logs that they had previously disliked.

It's important that we never forget the past, whether it was good or bad. The bad stuff will get smaller as we view it from further away. The good stuff will do likewise, but we can do the good stuff again if we like.

We adapt, we change and we grow. As we grow, our perspective changes. The bad things, like the death of a loved one and the stone that reminds us they lived, become smaller. Some good things, like Wagon Wheels, we never leave behind and some, like Farley's rusks, we eventually revisit.

It's okay to change your opinion. It's okay to learn. Like the useless, wooden wheel that became a delicious, biscuit based snack it's okay to totally reinvent yourself.

When I was a child, in the 70s, it was okay to call our corner shop the "Paki shop", it's a phrase I used without once thinking about it. Later, once I'd thought about it. I stopped referring to it in such a way. This took a conscious effort, having been uttered so naturally for so long, and I slipped up now and again, but I think I've got the casual racism under control now.

In a similar way, I no longer call my mates "poofs" if they act anything less than macho or if they cry, but I have done, and worse. I have never been either homophobic or racist, but I behaved in the way that those around me, the older ones sat peering from the mouths of their caves, behaved. Eventually I climbed a hill and looked back at those caves, saw it was wrong and altered my behaviour. I changed, the world didn't.

An even greater man once said...

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." 

All very glib, I know, but you can't argue with the logic. It's the epitome of democracy. If enough people agree with you then it becomes the norm. If fewer people agree with you, maybe you're wrong.

Or maybe you're just one of the first to be right.

Don't fear change. Be suspicious, suspicion is good, but not fear. You don't have to BE something simply because you've BEEN something, nor do you need to do something just because you did it. Did you do it because you were it or because others did it? There's no shame in having been wrong, only in not realising you were.

As I mentioned, I left behind socially "acceptable" (to most, and at that time) racism and homophobia. To be fair, I didn't really know what either were at that age. Unfortunately, as some of you may have guessed from the opening few paragraphs, I still struggle with sexism. I'm trying to be a feminist though...

...You've got to if you want to get a shag these days.


Monday, 27 October 2014

A shaggy dog story.

If you look hard enough, wherever you may find yourself, you'll find great beauty. Even a derelict mill, like the ones that surrounded my home for several years in the late 70's and early 80's, will contain an oasis of beauty somewhere. Moss growing on brickwork, weeds and wildflowers poking through broken concrete floors, beams of sunlight cutting through the gloom, all little things and all, if you take the time to take a good look, beautiful.

When I was very young I'd found myself, in the summer holidays, without my best friends. One was on a foreign holiday, one was away at his grandparent's house and one was grounded.

It didn't matter a jot.

Our family had a dog, a big, shaggy mongrel by the name of Toby. The neighbours were terrified of Toby, he was a fierce looking beast, but underneath the jet black fur and behind the wicked looking teeth lay one of the friendliest and most loyal dogs you could ever imagine.

Finding myself friendless for a day or two I decided that I was going to go for a little adventure. Just Toby, a satchel full of jam-butties and myself. We set off early to explore the expansive area of waste ground that lay behind my father's first pub in Rochdale. A seven year old boy and an overly protective canine companion on a whirlwind adventure is, in itself, a beautiful thing to behold.

Toby and I spent a little time on the run from the police. Then we had a gunfight with some red Indians, followed by a a flight in a spaceship that looked suspiciously like a burnt out Ford Cortina and finally an epic battle with gang of bigger boys that had thrown a brick at me before feeling the wrath of Toby. One of the bigger boys ended up cornered by my snarling best friend and didn't dare fight back as the sobbing, snotty, seven year old me punched and kicked and bit the bastard, and all before ten a.m.

There was a little stream that ran through the waste ground. A pipe jutted from the bank, allowing the bath water and waste from the kitchen sinks of the local residents to join this lazy trickle and be carried away toward the river Roch. In those days before automatic washing powder this meant that the air around the pipe was filled with greasy bubbles, a thousand globular, shimmering rainbows that drifted gently away on the breeze. I sat on this pipe to eat a butty, tearing off those evil crusts and sharing them with Toby, and I planned our next adventure as I enjoyed the little light show that the pollution had produced.

As I sat eating my pudding (that being the scab that I'd peeled from my knee) a creature approached. An alien creature, I was sure. Bigger than my hand, two pairs of wings, bulging eyes and six legs, it settled on the pipe between my knees and fixed me with an icy stare that chilled me to the bone.

I sat, transfixed, for a moment or two, part terrified and part mesmerised. The creatures body, bobbing gently on it's six, spindly legs, was long and shimmered like the bubbles that filled the air around me. Blues and greens that seemed to shine with a light of their own. Beautiful but scary all at the same time.

Toby didn't see it as beautiful, Toby saw it as prey. He launched himself at the creature, sending me slipping sideways from the concrete pipe and down the bank into the soapy water that flowed a few feet below. The creature took off, flying upwards like a helicopter and bobbing in the air a yard or so above the jaws of the beast before banking in the air and zooming away with Toby in hot pursuit.

I splashed along the stream behind Toby, soggy jam butty in hand, watching as the creature seemed to tease the dog, zooming and swooping, stopping dead in the air, darting left and right and occasionally skimming the water. Toby never stood a chance and, after a minute or two, lost interest. I didn't though.

As my dog sat in the shallow stream scratching his ear and licking his own testicles (the bloody show off) I slowly approached the creature, which had now settled on a stone. I knelt beside it and tried to take in as much detail as I could so I could describe it to my Grandfather later. He'd know what it was.

As I watched, and without warning, a bird swooped down. The creature had been faster than a dog but wasn't fast enough to escape this aerial assault. A flurry of feathers and it was over, the bird returning to the tree from which it had launched it's attack where it ate it's wriggly lunch.

On the stone on which the creature had taken it's last ever break, all that remained was a wing. Transparent and with a network of veins that looked a little like a spiders web, I picked it up and examined it closely, peering through it like a magnifying glass. I slipped it into my satchel and set off in search of a lion to hunt or villain to vanquish.

By the time I got home, exhausted and grubby, I'd forgotten all about the creature that had mesmerised me. When my Grandparents visited the following weekend I forgot to show it to my granddad. I remembered once he'd left. It didn't matter, I could ask him next weekend.

I never saw my Granddad again, he was by now dying of lung cancer and my parents had decided that my sister and I were too young to be involved. We weren't even allowed to go to the funeral. That was a mistake on the part of my parents but nothing more, just a mistake. I wish they'd let me say goodbye, but I can't blame them for making a poor decision during such a time.

I found the wing many months later. Still intact, it had lay in the little, leather pocket that I used to store my crayons and emergency fifty pence piece, forgotten and rotting. It crumbled in my fingers and blew away as I rushed home with it excitedly to ask my dad, who with the loss of his father-in-law had become my go-to guy, what it was. My father was big, strong, had street smarts and a wit as quick as the comedians we watched on the telly, but he was as thick as pig shit. I showed him the dust, attempting to rearrange it into the shape I remembered, and described the creature. By now, in my little head, it had been as big as a cat and had fangs that gnashed and eyes that swiveled on stalks.

"No idea, son. Why don't you ask your Gra...." He began. "Erm, I dunno, son. Sorry."

Next, I asked my teacher, Mr Winterbottom. 

Chilly-arse, as he was known, knew what it was from my description and showed me a picture in a big, colourful book on nature in the British Isles. It was a dragonfly. He was called away as he showed me the photographs, leaving me to read the book. There were a lot of big words that I had heard but never understood in the chapter, but I read it all anyway. I learned that a dragonfly has a very short life, sometimes measured in weeks and never lasting longer than six months. I wondered what was the point of a creature so magnificent being placed on this Earth to live such a short span. I wondered if the insect knew it was to die before ever seeing Christmas and I wondered if that made the creature sad.

As I grew older I saw dragonflies more and more often. They lost their mystery and wonder over the years and became, to me, something that could sting me and hurt me and was to be avoided. Then I took up fishing.

By now my mum and dad had been able to buy a much larger and more profitable pub in Weaste, Salford. There were no rivers or streams to fish in. The Manchester ship canal was, by then, a greasy, grey, poisonous stretch of unused infrastructure and so fishermen would use the well stocked ponds that were connected to some of the factories that still existed back then. There was one such pond that my friend Ralph used a lot and one day I went with him.

As I watched my float plop satisfyingly into the still water of the pond and I settled back into my deckchair a dragonfly appeared from the bushes to my right. Bright blue and green, just like the one Toby had chased through the suds and bubbles of that Rochdalian stream, I smiled and watched, transfixed, as it zipped and span, dived and twirled and skimmed the water around my line. I saw it climb high then whoosh back Earthward and feast upon the midges that swarmed around the reeds and bushes having a fine old time until, finally, it settled briefly on a sign that protruded from the water. The sign that bore the name of the business that inhabited the factory to which the pond belonged.


I immediately recalled the book Chilly-arse had shown me as a child. This coincidence brought with it a broader smile to my already happy face.

As I watched the creature moving with incredible speed and agility through the trees, reeds and bushes, feasting on the fauna, I imagined being able to fly in such a way, to perform those acrobatic aerial stunts and experience the world of the dragonfly from his perspective. I was disappointed that I'd never be able to do that. What fun they could have in the short window of existence they were blessed with. So much fun, constant fun, to enjoy before the day that, exhausted from teasing a savage dog, they settled on a stone and were swallowed by a swallow. A life spent rushing around eating, fornicating and flying. A few weeks, or maybe a few months, of fun. The dragonfly doesn't procrastinate. The dragonfly doesn't leave anything until tomorrow. It does as it wishes as soon as it wishes. A tiny lifespan into which it has to pack a lifetime's worth of enjoyment.

As epiphanies go, it was a belter. For the rest of that summer I lived my life like a dragonfly. I rose as early as I could and got myself out of my bedroom. If none of my friends were out and about it didn't matter. I'd jump on a bus and visit the city centre, walking back and smiling, stopping here and there to look at something interesting. I visited museums and art galleries, though I never told my friends for fear of being branded a "poof", and I learnt more in those few short weeks than I had throughout the whole of the previous school term.

My dragonfly attitude didn't last much beyond the start of my penultimate year of schooling. I soon found myself locked once again in my bedroom for hours on end chatting on my C.B. radio and banging away at the little, rubber keys on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It wouldn't matter though. In my teenage mind I had at least thirty years before I would be too old to have fun.

It's now thirty one years later. I've had fun, a lot of fun, but not the constant, frantic, real-life, living fun of the dragonfly. I really should've listened to myself. The only things I regret now are the things I never did.

I'd forgotten all about the epiphany that accompanied the fishing incident by the time I was in my late 20's. I'd slowed down and found myself recently divorced and working as a transport manager for a building firm in South Manchester. My routine consisted of working Monday to Saturday, picking up my sons for their overnight visit to my little house every other Saturday afternoon and getting pissed on the other weekends.

I drank a lot, but only to numb the pain of my worthless existence. 

Occasionally I would take my sons to visit their grandparents. They still ran pubs, though by now much nicer pubs than the backstreet locals I'd grown up in, and the boys loved it. My dad would spend most of the time we were there with the kids, taking them out and spoiling them rotten. He was a good man, as good at being a grandfather as he was at being a father, very good indeed. Finally, having worked every hour god sent to save enough money to buy a tatty, little boozer, then a tatty, big boozer which in turn was followed by a series of increasingly idyllic hostelries, he was offered what he described as his "dream". A lovely pub with low ceilings, a bowling green and beautiful surroundings.

He telephoned me the week before he was due to move in and, having not been able to get hold of me since getting his news, it was the first I'd heard. It was a lovely phone call and I was as happy for him as he was for himself. At last, still only fifty four years of age, he'd achieved everything he wanted and far more than he'd expected when he was my age. I had an overcoming urge to tell him how proud I was and how I loved him, that he was a bloody hero and a fantastic grandfather and his Ready Brek was always better than my mum's on those rare occasions as a child that he'd had to get my sister and I ready for school. (He always left little, dry, powdery lumps of oats in it because he couldn't be arsed stirring and he added so much sugar it was fucking crunchy. I still love it like that.)

But I couldn't get a word in.

I told him I'd be visiting him the weekend after he moved in, that I would bring the boys and that I was looking forward to it, then hung up. I hadn't said what I'd wanted to say, and now I realised that it was because I wanted to say it to his face. I thought I'd put my arm around his shoulder, because I never did that, tell him everything I wanted to tell him, kiss his bald head and then get pissed for free in his pub whilst my gran Kath, who was by now living with my parents, looked after my children upstairs. I rehearsed it in my head, smiling every time I did. I couldn't wait to see him.

He moved into his dream pub on the Friday and died on the Saturday.

I wish I'd been a dragonfly.

Whatever that thing is you just thought, do it and do it soon.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Why did the chicken cross the road?

 A man should know his weaknesses.

Some of us have weaknesses that are hard to find. Fortunately for me, mine stick out like sore thumbs. In fact, I have Raynaud's disease which affects my fingers and toes, so for much of the year one of my weaknesses is, literally, sore thumbs. A particularly cruel weakness that brought a premature end to my dreams of being a homicidal hitchhiker.

There is a road running right through the town I live in. It's a busy road and ours is a small town. Someone decided it would be a great idea to build an enormous retail park that could only be accessed from one direction right next to a football stadium, train station and motorway slip road at the end of this road, a road that was already the main route into Bolton. This very morning, on my dog walk, I managed to get from the far end of town, walking along the aforementioned road, faster than the cars, vans and trucks containing red faced, panicky commuters that crawled and stalled along beside me.

Nothing calls for a smug strut quite like overtaking a frustrated ponce in a Mercedes, even if you did have to pause to pick up some dog-shit.

For those, like myself, that frequently have to cross this road, rush hour provides us with the carriageway equivalent of a ford, crawling traffic that we can pick out way through while struggling up hill with arms full of groceries. If events dictate that we miss one of these windows of opportunity then, rather than paddling through a relatively safe, tarmac ford we need to engage in a game of Frogger, our fear of being struck enabling us to unconsciously solve a number of ridiculously complex, mathematical equations in order to time our first step and angle our direction of travel in such a way that, if we rush, we might make it to the far side. I've yet to be knocked down, but I get to have some great arguments with drivers who choose to pull away from the kerb into the same narrow gap between vehicles that I've just stepped into.

This road wasn't designed for the amount of traffic, a lot of it very heavy, that it now has to contend with. As a result, the surface crumbles with unnerving regularity. Almost as soon as one section is fixed another needs work. The drivers hate the roadworks, having never entertained the concept of setting off a bit earlier, but, for the same reason we love rush hour, we wayfarers selfishly love the gridlock the cones bring with them.

In the eyes of some, our roads are there for the cars. Pedestrians can wait, "they pay no road tax" comes the cacophony of cries. True, but then neither do the motorists. They pay Vehicle Excise Duty, the proceeds of which go directly into the general Treasury fund and has done since the 1930's when road tax was abolished. That's how out of date that nugget of nonsense it. If the charge was for the upkeep of the roads that the car damages then ecologically friendlier cars couldn't be exempt.

We all pay for the roads.

Some drivers have argued that roads "...are built for cars". Really? How many Roman roads are there and how many Centurions drove cars? The car came along, closely followed by the tarmacking, much later than the roads.

There was a time, when cars were rarer, that horses, carriages, hand carts, children, shoppers and motor vehicles swarmed along the same stretches of cobbled streets. The car had to weave and honk and squeak and rattle along until free of the areas that we all live in, whereupon the driver could open up that throttle and career at breakneck speeds along the lanes until reaching the next populated area. In many places on the continent this is still the case, at least in heavily populated residential districts and shopping areas. I read, a few years ago, about a traffic calming plan that planted trees and positioned benches in the carriageway, replaced the surface with block paviers, did away with pavements and road markings and left the residents to reclaim control of road safety. There would have been some really quite horrific collisions if the cars had continued to race along the streets at thirty miles an hour, but they couldn't. And the fact that they were surrounded by people on foot that they couldn't stick two fingers up to as they cowardly sped away after nearly killing them brought with it a much more reasonable and courteous breed of driver. It cost a few bob though, perhaps all that was needed was some roadworks?

It sounds more dangerous, fleshy people and metally cars in such close proximity, the borders and safety barriers removed. But, as we've ascertained, the drivers aren't paying for the roads so why should they have been allowed to hijack them in such a way. To get places quicker? Remember I mentioned the concept of setting off a little bit earlier? Sorted.

So, could danger be the key to safety?

How much safer would it be if, rather than an enormous, cloud like pillow of airbag erupting from the centre of the steering wheel after a driver had gone up the arse of the car in front, a spike, coil of razor wire or pointed stick appeared? There'd certainly be a lot more careful drivers and everyone would wear a seat belt.

Every summer we hear of children who, whilst enjoying the lovely weather, drown in reservoirs when the icy waters bring on the cramps that they'd heard might happen but that they have no idea can be so paralysing. They sink to the bottom thinking "so that's what a cramp is, I had absolutely no idea it would be so debilitating". They've heard the warnings but, living in the relative safety of this modern age, they don't understand the danger. They can't imagine a cramp would cause them to become so helpless and so they drown. They've seen Jaws though. Pop a couple of great whites into every reservoir and pond in Britain. Sorted.

Smaller ponds could use piranha fish.

People get lost on the moors. People that have spent their lives in the city where there's always a doorway to shelter in or a cafe if they get hungry. They've heard the moors are desolate and bleak, but they got stuck for three hours in Stockport once, how much more desolate and bleak could it be? So they wander off the beaten track with their shiny, waxy waterproofs and stout walking boots on and experience the power of nature for the first time. The rain and the wind aren't covered by bylaws, they fear no health and safety executive and they care not a jot for us. The council hasn't ensured it won't get dark before the novice, and not so novice, hikers find their way back to the road that they left an hour ago and in the opposite direction to the one in which they are walking. Solution : Wolves. And bears. People don't always know how spiteful nature can be, but they know a pack of wolves could tear them apart. The reintroduction of these two once-native breeds would not only ensure people stick to the path (and beware the moon) but could also police the forests in which bad men bury bodies. Win win.

At Manchester City's magnificent Etihad Statium there are blue squares painted on the floor at every emergency exit. If you stand in one of these areas you will be asked to move along because you're "blocking the fire exit". Now, I don't know about you, but if a fire erupts and I'm stood by a fire exit I won't be blocking it for long, I'll be the first through. So, rather than barring people from standing there, encourage them. Just in case.

Knowing some of our weaknesses can be easy enough. We can't out-swim a shark, a bear will generally win in a fight with a man, fire burns and if we knock over a child while driving through a shared-street we'll be pulled from our carriages and kicked half to death.

Danger doesn't only make us safer either. It can be a lot of fun. Put a sprinkling of peril into your everyday life and you'll have a ball.

Fear can, in fact, prove rather productive. Need to get somewhere quickly on foot? Seek out that bloke that lives in that flat, you know the one, him with the facial tattoo and the Staffy. Now, make eye contact, lower your voice and ask him "What the fuck are you looking at?" before getting on your toes. Don't look back, that's when he'll catch you, just keep your head down and go for it. You'll be there before you know it.

(On a connected note, do you ever wonder if the people you meet from day to day think you're a twat? Get yourself a facial tattoo and you'll never need wonder again. You're welcome.)

Our nation has a record of waging illegal war, of going into a foreign land, all guns blazing, and securing vast wealth for those that are already vastly wealthy. If you want peace, find a way to reintroduce dinosaurs to the Earth. We'll be too busy shitting ourselves and battling those bitey bastards to bomb brown people in the pursuit of oil.

Oil, of course, was once a dinosaur itself, so the reintroduction of the long dead lizards would replenish the stock for whichever race evolves once we've finished killing each other.

If a dolphin gets injured he tells no one. He adapts his behaviour in such a way as to disguise his disability so that a passing shark won't cotton on and have him for dinner. In a similar fashion we too hide our weaknesses. We pretend we're not hurt when we are, that we don't care when we do or that it doesn't matter when it plainly does. We don't need worry about a shark since they're banned from the ponds and reservoirs in which we swim, we hide our weaknesses from those around us instead. Self preservation, tucking our metaphorical wound under our metaphorical flipper and whistling nonchalantly as we smile at the metaphorical shark passing by. But, like the dolphin knows that he picked up a nasty wound when he swam a bit too fast past a crowd of queuing cod and caught his cock on a coral reef, we know our own shortcomings are tucked away inside. 

Don't ignore them, embrace them, turn those negatives into positives.

We're scared of people knowing the real "we". We hate, we hold grudges, we bite our lips when we should be speaking and we back down when we should be more forthright. But think about it, yin needs yang, Tom needs Jerry and bravery needs fear. Without the other side of the coin we'd have no coin.

No potential for hatred leaves no potential for love. Being able to forgive is reliant on us having the need to do so. Biting your lip is sexy and backing down doesn't mean turning around, running away and losing out. A boxer backs off, sometimes because he's losing but more often to give him room to swing a haymaker. Tom would be fat if all he had to do was sleep and yin would be a quotation mark without yang. 

Fear is a strength in itself. We all need fear to keep us safe. Fear isn't a problem, it's cowardice that's a problem. As often as it reveals cowardice, fear reveals bravery.

There is a line that I used in one of the books in the Kissy Sizzle trilogy that I plagerised from my father. I had impressed my drama teacher with my performances in front of my friends and classmates in her lessons and had been chosen to play the lead in a short production she'd written. It was to be performed on the last day of term and in front of the whole school, the staff and a selection of elderly, local residents. At that stage in my life I still gave a shit what people thought of me and this led to an awkward shyness when the potential to make a bit of a fool of myself reared it's head. Shyness and that business we call show make an for an uneasy partnership and so, on the morning of the performance, I was terrified, so scared of what I was about to do that I was being sick. I didn't want to go to school and I told my dad why. I told him about my shaky hands, the panic inside and the churning in my stomach.

"Butterflies, son, just butterflies. They're there for a reason." he explained. "They're getting you ready. It's not fear, son, or you'd be shitting yourself instead of puking." He was never an overly eloquent man, unless it mattered. 

But when it mattered my father always had the right words.

"How do I get rid of them, dad?" 

"You don't, You can't. Just let the butterflies flutter by." He smiled. "Now brush your fucking teeth."

Incidentally, ignoring the praise of my drama teacher, who I was sure must be lying to save my feelings, and even though I absolutely loved it once I stepped into the spotlight, I never acted again. Recently a classmate got in touch via Facebook and one of the first things he mentioned as we reminisced was "That play you were in, you were brilliant". I reckon, if I'd had the confidence I have nowadays back when I was a spotty kid, I could've been the new James Bond. Especially with my dashing good looks.

We're not brave if there's nothing to fear and if there's no danger then we're not safe from anything. Being scared of the wolf not only keeps us from being torn apart amid a frenzy of tooth and claw, but also prevents us from dying of exposure on the side of a mountain as we frantically rub two sticks together because we saw it on a Bear Gryll's documentary once. Fearing the shark prevents losing a leg while also ensuring that we don't drown just because we ate a bag of chips on our way to the reservoir. 

And finally, to answer the question I posed in the title of this shambolic ramble;

I wasn't a chicken, I was just scared of being run over. And I needed to go to Asda.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

That's me in the corner.

I've never been a superstitious man. Not in the least little bit, and, touch wood, it's never done me any harm.

I can remember a time I believed in God, and I can remember the time I began to doubt. I was about seven years old and my routine, after school, was to play out, eat, play out some more and then come in when the streetlamps came on. If I'd been good I was allowed out until they were fully on, if I'd transgressed I'd only be allowed to continue playing "kerby" until they changed from red to orange and if I'd been a "little bastard" (My mother had the loveliest pet names for me) then as soon as they began to turn red I had to be in. It was the perfect system, in those days the only Apple or Blackberry we seven year old street urchins had were pulled off the trees or bushes meaning, once outside, we were off the grid and uncontactable. I can recall charging headlong through the streets as the glow of the lamps cycled through like a countdown, crashing through our back door in the nick of time.

The streetlamps had a sensor on them telling them when darkness was approaching, which meant that curfew time varied greatly throughout the year. For one period of my eighth year on this planet this meant I would be in just before the evening news came on the television. I'd sit on the floor using my Action Men to act out some heroic battle, thwarting the Nazi onslaught or slaying a giant (from their perspective) clockwork robot as I made "pew-pew" noses.

One evening a story caught my eye as my Action Man lay dying on the battlefield.

The photograph on the screen showed a smiling, cheeky, seven year old boy with dark, wavy hair and wearing a tee-shirt just like the one my mother had bought me the week before. Action Man's injuries forgotten (He later died but was restored, miraculously, to life by a magical orb that looked suspiciously like a marble,) I watched the proper news for the first time. Grown-up news rather than the very excellent "John Craven's Newsround".

The little boy's name escapes me now, but he was missing. There was a massive search taking place in the area he was last seen, a wooded area with streams and ponds and bushes to build dens in. A similar place to the woods in which I spent a lot of that year, splashing in the streams and swimming in the ponds and building dens in the bushes. I loved it there.

To my childish mind the little boy was outwitting those that were looking for him, hiding in increasingly ingenious places and stifling his giggles as the boots of the searchers fell inches from his cheeky, dirty face.

And it was going dark, how much more exciting would the woods be at nighttime? He was a lucky boy.

I followed the story, every night, for almost a fortnight. I was becoming more and more impressed with his achievement, outsmarting dozens of police men and many more volunteers.

Then a man was arrested. Had he been helping the boy? Was he a kindly grown-up that had been taking him food to assist in his adventure? The police had him now though, would this lead to the boy slipping up and being captured, driven home by the Rozzers to the arm's of his ecstatic parents who I'd seen on the television begging him to come home and telling him he wasn't in any trouble?

"Ha", I'd thought, "he won't see that, you can't watch telly in a treehouse."

The night after the arrest the adventure was over, the little boy had been found. Dead.

Not the kind of dead that could be cured by a marble-like orb either, but actual, proper dead. Dead and buried in a shallow grave on waste ground. He'd been dead since before I'd first seen his photograph. The man that had been, in my childish imagination, providing him with packets of Wagon Wheels and bottles of pop was charged with killing him. I continued following the story, even coming home whilst the streetlamps were still red as the winter nights drew in.

Eventually, the whole truth was out. I struggled to make sense of it all. A grown up had killed a little boy, but why? Didn't that man know about God? Even if he'd gotten away with it, God would know, and you don't fuck about with a Deity.

This man knew he would go to Hell. He was a grown up, he must have known, and Hell was awful. Terrifying. Why would someone kill someone in the sure and certain knowledge that this would bring eternal damnation? Tortured, for ever and ever. Why would he do that? Did he know something I didn't know? Was there a technicality that enabled murderers to avoid eternal damnation in fiery pits? I needed the sage like wisdom of my father.

"Because it's all bollocks, son."

"FRANK." Shouted my mum, for that was his name. "It is not all bollocks."

I asked why, if it was all bollocks, we'd had to go to church last week. After a bollocking for my use of the word "bollocks" my father went on to explain...

"Because your sister wants to go to Brownies." I don't know if it's the same nowadays, but back then church attendance was a requirement of membership.

My Granddad's response was slightly more ambiguous. "I hope not son," He'd said from within his cloud of Condor, "or I'm in deep shit." He smiled.

"JACK." Shouted Gran Kath, for that was his name. "Stop bleeding swearing."

Having had worse than useless advice from both the major role models in my life, and with Google several decades away, I had no choice but to think for myself. 

The literature available in the school library was a little one-sided, Richard Dawkins was yet to be published, so I joined the local library, the most grown up thing I'd done up until that point. I now had a proper, official looking card to go in the plastic wallet I'd got from the cover of a comic, alongside my Dennis The Menace Fan Club membership card.

The space race was still very recent history, the Americans having landed on the moon the year I was born and the world already having tired of this miracle, and in it's wake it had left a large section of the library's floor space dedicated to the subject. I quickly forgot about my research into God and began reading about Gagarin, Shepherd and Armstrong instead. About rockets and satellites and other planets. About beautiful stars and complex galaxies that twinkled and of the mysterious, velvety darkness that stretched on into infinity in the skies. I saw colour photographs of the Earth taken from the Heavens above.

Once I'd had my fill of the heavens I turned my attention to monsters. Dinosaurs. I looked at colourful pictures of long dead creatures, creatures that no man had ever seen. I wondered how the artist knew the great lizards were green or brown if no one had ever seen them and discovered artistic license.

The bones of the beasts had been found beneath ground trapped in rocks. I read about rocks, about volcanoes and molten cores filling the space below our feet, grinding and drifting and bubbling and boiling away. Hell below us.

Over the years, as I learnt more, I became less and less confident in an afterlife until I reached a point where I was able to make up my own mind. I decided I was an Atheist. I'm not here to preach to anyone about my beliefs, if whatever you believe makes your journey more pleasant for you then I'm very happy you have it, enjoy it. For what it's worth, I think it'd be nice if you were right, but I also think my way's nice. Oblivion, blessed oblivion. The sleep that even my big dog's wet nose couldn't disturb.

The little boy's murder had started me on a path of questioning everything. Why? What if? Where does that go? What does that do? I was hungry for knowledge. Not on any one subject, on every subject. I'd take apart toys and electrical devices just to see how they worked, I watched television shows intended for those far beyond my years. I read books and newspapers and, once my parents had moved us from my childhood home and into a pub, I got the chance to meet people that I'd never normally have met and learn first hand from those that knew. I sit here with a head filled with some of the most useless information you can possible imagine, though occasionally even the most trivial snippet can come in handy.

I never deny my faith in the impending oblivion, but I tend to keep my mouth shut unless asked. I may "tut" when DickFingers greets a magpie with a salute, sometimes I'll do things that I know people regard as unlucky to prove a, very satisfying, point to myself. Those that believe are just like me, they believe in something. It may not be the same something that I believe in, but it makes absolutely no difference.

A good friend of mine was a believer in just about everything. From copper bracelets for rheumatism to fairies, she was as nutty as a fruitcake and absolutely lovely.

She had managed to befriend a local celebrity in the form of a professional psychic medium. He would go from pub to pub charging people fifteen pounds each to sit in a room with him while he channeled the spirits of the dead to answer the questions of the living.

I don't know if I could be described as a sceptic, since I have no reservations, I was sure he wasn't really talking to the dead. I've been a big fan of Derren Brown for quite some time. Mr Brown, who is at pains to point out he is not psychic, is far better at pretending to be psychic than this particular, "bona fide" psychic,

I've no intention of naming this particular chap. In these litigious days I'd be a fool to, although I own one pair of shoes with no bloody sole in the right one so the chances of him getting a penny from me would be slim. Still, I need these shoes, so I'll keep my mouth shut, just in case.

My friend became something of a groupie, as indeed did several of the other regular visitors to his show. Some of them, my friend included, would put his posters in their windows, sell tickets in the pub and get there early to help him set up. My friend was disabled and, on the evening of one of these shows, needed someone to push her to the venue as her boyfriend was working overtime. I pushed her, the smoke from the cigarettes she chain-smoked trailing behind us like a steam train, through the ginnels and back entries of Salford.

She was busily texting as we rolled along. Texting her friends, the ones that would be going to the show. If I have one vice, it's nosiness. I just couldn't help myself, I read them all.

"RU comng to [psychic's name] shw 2nite? xxx" was sent to a number of names in her contact list. The responses came thick and fast.

Many responded, some didn't. Those that did reply said a number of things. The exact words escape me, but each answer was along the lines of;

"Ye luv, me n sis hoping [insert relation here] comes thru again xx"

"CU there chick, been dreaming about [dead husband/child/grandfather's name] all week x

"Might be l8, [living husband's name] cant drive me, his foots bad agen, get me a g&t in xxx"

And after each message had been read, it was forwarded. Guess who to?

I didn't tell her what I'd seen. I didn't really care, It was none of my business. Those in the audience must be aware it's a trick, I thought. No one really believes in this stuff. Harmless fun.

Except it wasn't. These people were almost evangelical about it. There were a couple of non-believers in the audience, more vocal than I, but these were shushed and tutted at by the faithful, their pointing out of the errors in his performance falling on deaf ears. There's none so deaf as those that won't listen.

I watched the crowd from my seat in the corner. Some laughed, some cried, some promised to go to the doctors or to find that policy they'd lost. And some of the words he spoke to them I recognised from the texts my friend had received.

Until this point I'd sort of imagined that he must be a really skilled psychologist using his skills to manipulate the audience and appear to be channeling the dead. I thought there might even be a chance he was doing this unconsciously and actually believed he was "magic". Now it was obvious that he was just cheating. He wasn't magic and knew it, he wasn't even any good at pretending to be magic. He just suffered from the same vice as I, nosiness, but he'd made a rather lucrative career from it.

Still, the old and the bereaved had enjoyed themselves and at the end of the evening, many of them having nursed one drink all night since the fifteen quid entrance fee had cleaned out the last of their pensions or bingo winnings, they shook his hand and kissed his cheek then filed out into the cold night air. My friend had sat by the door collecting the money and handing out little prayer cards to be filled in and put in the box used during the floorshow. Just under fifty people had paid to come in. There were a few more there that, like my friend, hadn't paid and had greeted the star of the show with a kiss. They tended not to have any messages intended for them come through, but they oohed and ahhed when others received messages from their own loved ones. They were the last to leave, having had a drink with their idol after the hoi polloi had departed, and giggled like school girls as they massaged his ego. It was like a scene from Peter Kay's "Phoenix Nights".

Of course, my own sure and certain knowledge that this particular medium is a shyster in no way proves any of the others are. I believe they're all shysters, to a man/woman, but I can't prove it and why should I have to? My disbelief in other's beliefs doesn't spoil their enjoyment, nor does their disbelief in my disbelief cause me any distress. If anything, I find the "trolling" I'm subjected to from the fans of such shysters amusing, especially the death threats.

A death threat from someone that believes in an afterlife, like the threat of a damn good thrashing from a masochist, seems ironic.

These death threats appear to me as little boxes of text that I can, and generally do, choose to ignore, to giggle at or show DickFingers before clicking the little "x" and forgetting all about it. I've no doubt that some of those people who feel so passionately about their belief in a movement that sprang from a practical joke that got out of hand would indeed, if they could get their hands on me, slap me, punch me, rape my grandmother (That particular threat came from the host of a little watched television show, a professional ghost-hunter) or pull my pigtails, but they can't, and their impotence gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

The husband of a television medium was recently caught on camera abusing a chap in the street. A chap that was handing out leaflets to people visiting his wife's show. The leaflets urged people to think about what they would be experiencing, to question if the lady on the stage was actually speaking with the spirits of lost loved ones and providing a valuable service, or if they were witnessing a slick stage show designed to entertain. The husband threatened physical violence, called the man a "poof", inquired as to whether or not his pallid complexion was as a result of one of his boyfriends penetrating his anus recently, then informed the chap that they knew "all about" his life and had done a full check on his background.

Something I'm sure he's never done to any of the people that have bought tickets to his wife's shows, having provided him with their own names, email addresses (and therefore Facebook profiles) and billing addresses during the booking process. That would be cheating. 

This oaf really did believe that using the man's sexuality as an insult would upset him. He also seemed convinced he was some sort of gangster, at one point threatening the leaflet distributor would be "lifted" and disappear. I've met gangsters. I've never heard a gangster threaten anyone. Those that talk instead of fighting, my father always said, were "shitbags, son". His advice, which came from a simpler age, was that if someone was telling you what they were going to do to you then, at some point before they finished giving you a run down of their intentions, you should "slap them in the fucking throat, son. Bullies always talk when they could be fighting."

The husband's defence of his wife's art was self preservation. His wife's social media presence was, until recently, huge. Photographs of her family, her pets, her home and her lifestyle gave her fans an insight into her happy and successful life. A life paid for by her fans and a life she and her husband enjoy greatly. A life he is determined to protect. A serious deficit in the social-skills and anger-management departments, his approach has proven to be potentially career-destroying and almost universally unacceptable.

But only almost.

The video is there for the world to see, the abuse and the threats are undeniable and haven't been denied. There was a pathetic attempt to sully the reputation of the man with the leaflets and a list of extenuating, and spurious, circumstances that led to an otherwise pleasant, level headed chap turning into a cross between Bernard Manning and Joe Pesci, but the lack of any apology just leapt from the page. And still people defend him.

It's a form of Stockholm Syndrome. The fans of the wife have invested money and time in her, have been fooled by her and, deep down, know it, but no one wants to look a fool. Do you remember when your friend told you there was no Father Christmas? Did you swear blind they were wrong? Or that they were lying? Did you tell them that you knew for certain there was a Father Christmas and you'd seen his footprints? And not only his footprints but you'd seen him really, really, standing there and he smiled at you and anyway your granddad has met him when he was in the war and who else would've eaten that carrot if not a reindeer?

Yes, okay, your friends controversial theory seemed plausible. Your mum and dad really might have been hiding your Action Man or Big Trak in the wardrobe for weeks before putting them out on Christmas Eve, but which is more likely? That people you admire are lying to you, or that an immortal, fat man keeps mythical creatures as slaves and forces them to build toys, unnecessarily since the shops sell those self same toys, then once a year performs a miracle, bending the laws of space and time and delivering a gift to any child that has managed to go a whole year without being a little bastard.

Actually, now I come to think of it, I reckon he could manage that last feat. There can't be a single kid on Earth that doesn't engage in a smidgen of little-bastardness from time to time.

We all exaggerate, every one of us. When describing a card trick that has amazed us we want our peers to be equally amazed, so we'll swear blind we never took our eyes of the card, and that he never moved his hands, even though we did, and so did he. We know we've been tricked but we've enjoyed being tricked and we want to share it. It's harmless enough.

When someone says "oh, yes, I've seen that. He palms a card/forces a card/has a trick deck" we say no, they're wrong, it's cleverer than that, but it's not. It's just a trick. And we enjoy it even though the delightful Ms Debbie McGee hasn't put a horses head in our beds.

Ms McGee isn't given to idle threats anyway, she goes from naught to psycho "just like that".

All the man with the leaflets wants is for people to think. People enjoying an entertaining sideshow is fine. A perfectly ordinary woman pretending to speak with your dead loved ones is a little bit creepy but, with the suspension of disbelief, as harmless as a scary movie.

Most of the fans they've already accrued would've probably paid little or no attention to the leaflets, but even if they had all the man being shouted at outside the venue was asking was that they should just think, then decide. They might even remain convinced, or choose to continue enjoying the show...

...and all without him having to murder a schoolboy.


Click image to view video.

Monday, 13 October 2014

My Granddad, the mass murderer.

This house was cold this morning.

Today, as ever, I was awoken by the big dog sniffing my face and wagging his tail. Every morning it's the same. The big dog has his own armchair by the front door and underneath the window where he gets to lie and gaze outside, watching and waiting until he sees something worthy of a good, old, warning bark or two. He stands guard, ever vigilant against the cat that lives at the last house, the postman or the little girl from the first house that giggles, blows bubbles and decorates the paving stones with chalk. Once darkness falls we close the curtains and he re-positions himself under our feet, huffs, farts and falls asleep. Fierce when he has to be, but only when he has to be. Just like a big dog should be. But only when he has to be.

Each morning the birds that live in the bush outside our front door start their chattering and chirruping, signalling the approach of the morning sun and prompting the big dog to come and wake me so I can stumble, bleary eyed, downstairs. I open the curtains for him and he begins another session of guard duty. It's a pleasant way to be woken and I generally get to see the sun rise whilst I'm waiting for the chips and processors in the television and digi-box to go through their own waking up process and eventually, after what seems like an age, presenting me with the BBC news.

The house I live in is very similar to the house my Grandfather lived in with my Grandmother until his death in '78. A two up, two down with outside toilet, ridiculously steep staircase, a scullery and a small back yard. My Granddad smoked a pipe, a habit which I now share and, some nights, when I'm sat in a pungent cloud of Condor original I close my eyes and remember him. I was nine years old when he died, too young to have enough nice memories, but then however long he'd lived, for his Grandson, it wouldn't have been long enough.

Every Friday night my parents would take me and my little sister to Gran and Granddad's house, not a million miles from where I now find myself in a place called Radcliffe, and leave us there for a visit. I loved it.

Granddad had piloted bombers in World War II which meant he had boxes of photographs and a head full of stories to entertain me with. At tea time he and I would go to the fish and chip shop where I would get a meat pie and chips and a big bottle of "Strike Cola". We'd return home via the off licence, the "Bottle and Basket", where we would stock up on sweets (Spangles, Toffos and rainbow sherbert), pipe tobacco and a tall bottle or two of Guinness. The four of us would eat off the plates my Gran had warmed in the electric oven seated around the drop-leaf dining table in the scullery. Once fed, we'd retire to the living room to watch television. The picture on the big, old box would grow, slowly, from a small, white dot in the centre of the screen as the television warmed up. In those olden days you had to wait an age before being able to see the news, isn't modern technology brilliant?

I can remember much of my time with him in great detail. On Saturdays we would go out for a walk. On these walks he educated me on important things. The physics behind a parachute, how aircraft stay in the sky, what a keystone is and how to build a dam. One weekend he taught me to ride a bike without stabilisers in the time honoured way. "Don't worry, I'm holding the seat, off you go...." he said, before not holding the seat and lighting his pipe as I fell off at the end of the street.

On another memorable weekend we were in his loft, having a clear out. I was six and it was very exciting, balanced on the rafters holding a torch while cobwebs tickled my neck and Granddad rummaged around, passing box after box back through the little hatch to my Grandmother below.

The dusty boxes lay scattered around the bedroom floor. Granddad was tasked with going through every one of these boxes and throw away the tat while Gran Kath returned to the scullery and busied herself with whatever it is that Grandmothers do in the kitchen, wiping her hands on her pinny and waving a wooden spoon.

The sorting didn't go well. I opened the first box, it smelt old and interesting, kind of spicy, and from on top of other assorted memorabilia the faces of a group of uniformed men, stood in front of a WWII bomber, beamed smiles up at me. One of the group was much taller than the others, my Granddad, looking much younger but with the same slicked-back hairstyle and half-bent pipe in his hand.

"I haven't seen that for donkey's years." He said, as he picked the photograph up gently and smiled back at himself. Cue the best afternoon with him I think I ever had.

Having just re-read what I've thus far written I can see that it's starting to look a little self indulgent. Don't fret, I'm not going to go all "Hobson's Choice" or "Love on the Dole" on you.

A day or two ago I posted a picture of a letter that was published in, I think, the Northern Echo and referring to our problems over seas with Isis, IS, Isil or whichever moniker we're supposed to be using at the moment. It put me in mind of the Kenny Everett character, an American general with a chest full of medals and the catchphrase "Round 'em up, put 'em in a field and bomb the bastards!"

Under the heading, which should have carried a spoiler alert, of "Blanket bomb IS", the following opinion was printed.

"The only way to stop Islamic State (IS) is to strike back - hard. With each mission flown by the RAF costing thousands of pounds there is no alternative but to do as we did in the Second World War - pick out an area and blanket bomb it.  This type of operation was done in in (sic) 1944 WITHOUT ANY REGRETS.  Today there is far too much coverage of conflict on television. The members of IS are barbaric. They deserve no mercy."

This was what had started me thinking about that afternoon with Granddad, looking at old photographs of aircraft and dapper young men, photos of the view from the windows of cockpits of foreign lands and ships at sea. Then a picture of a scorched Earth. The remains of one of the most beautiful cities that Europe had ever seen, the Gothic masterpiece that was once Dresden, reduced to blackened rubble, twisted steel and ash.

My Granddad was tall, handsome and proud. Too proud to have cried the tear that fell past my ear and onto the glossy print that sat on my knee as I sat on his, so I wiped it away, ignored it and didn't look round at his face until I felt his breathing return to normal, rather than the short, sharp sobs he struggled to stifle.

I didn't want to upset Granddad by prying, but I was six years old and a six year old is an inquisitive creature. I didn't understand most of what he was telling me, I focused on the bangs and the exciting, zoomy bits. He mentioned a lot of people died and the six year old me chirruped up with "yeah, but they were the baddies, Granddad." The box got put away then, so I played with the Chinese Dragons made from straw that he kept in his display cabinet, nicking a little, red, plastic cocktail stick in the shape of a sword from the cup behind the mythical beasts and slaying them over and again, my heroics accompanied by a lot of "oosh, ha, urgh" noises for dramatic effect.

It was many years after his death that I read about Dresden, about the blanket bombing and the fireball created over those magnificent buildings that sucked the air and the people in the streets below up and into it's fiery tempest. It was a while longer before I connected these people with the "baddies" I'd imagined as a child. I remembered seeing the tear that Granddad surely hadn't shed and his face wearing an expression that wasn't his usual broad smile. A man of few expressions, smiling broadly was his favourite, and mine. I saw him angry once, he'd jumped out of his car to remonstrate with an acquaintance near the crossing on Long Causeway. I watched through the window, the words a little muffled by glass but clear enough. Impressive and scary at the same time, just like your Granddad should be, when he has to be. But only when he has to be.

There's a saying, "Lest we forget", that crops up on memorial days. We rightly remember our fallen heroes, the men that died so that we  may live...

...but there's more to remember than that.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

It's not just for drawing circles, you know?

I don't recall ever being bullied in school. I remember being stabbed with pairs of compasses, referred to as "big nose" and having the change knocked from my hands by a roaring buffoon in the dinner queue, but I also remember stabbing my mates with pairs of compasses, defining my peers by whatever made them different and acting like a buffoon in the dinner queue. So, was it that I was bullied or that I was a bully? I don't recall if I stabbed someone with a pair of compasses before having been stabbed with a pair myself, but I'm sure I was, so maybe I was an aspiring bully. I've no idea. I hope I never made anyone feel like they were being bullied,

On a connected note, if you're ever struggling with the plural of compass, type carefully into your google box. "Cumpie" gives some surprisingly unappetising results.

But back to my school days. As I remember it, I had a number of Nemesis' who "bullied" me and suffered "bullying" at my hands. I was, genetically, lucky I suppose. I was generally far taller than my peers and kids are cowards, the littler ones suffer a far worse time. As a result, they tend to be the toughest by the time they leave school. When it comes to using your fists, practice makes perfect. The "hardest" man I know has a cleft lip and palate. His appearence and speech made him the target of merciless name calling and dead legs from day one. His early school years would have been Hellish, I'm sure, but by the end of his education he emerged as a popular young man that no one dared mess with.

Others don't cope. A girl at my high school had what was described as a nervous breakdown just before our final exams. She'd been bullied for years because she was clever. She was a friend of mine and I'm ashamed to say I hadn't noticed. She always seemed happy in the company of her friends, but I suppose brief spells of normality when usually in Hell would probably put a wide smile on anyone's face. Kids are horrid. As an author of several children's books I should probably keep that opinion quiet, but I'm speaking from the point of view of an ex-child myself. My kids I love, but I doubt I'd have loved the child that was me or any of my horrible, snotty, wee-up-a-tree mates.

Like so many things, it's all a matter of personal perspective. For me, being stabbed in the arse hurt, made me momentarily angry and then became funny. Funnier still whenever I had an opportunity to wreak revenge. I pride myself of the advancement of classroom based tomfoolery with the introduction to my circle of the little, black, clicky bit and button from a disposable lighter. I used it to deliver several electric shocks to one of my best friends before he caught me. He was impressed, and he held me down to administer several filling-popping shocks to my cheeks when my uncontrollable laughter rendered me helpless.

DickFingers is very much like me. Many's the time I've receive a well aimed and light hearted punch to the kidney as I'm doing the washing up and I've lost count of the number of times I've wedgied her whilst she's been showing me her new underwear.

I've come across many definitions of "bullying". The oldest I've come across is "to use ones greater strength to intimidate". Later "or influence" was added alongside "ones greater strength". Both definitions are perfectly clear on the meaning and, to my relief, none of the definitions I've seen mention stabbing people in the arse with pairs of compasses.

Some definitions go into far more detail. I once had a conversation regarding what was construed as bullying with my high school teacher sister. I was surprised at some of the issues that could, and do, call for official complaints which, ultimately, can lead to the destruction of someones career. I'm paraphrasing slightly, but "talking behind someones back" seemed to me not only to be unworthy of punishment by financial ruin and loss of reputation but also to be a little, well, pathetic. Surely such a transgression would better be described as gossiping? We're all guilty of that. (Except for "you know who".)

Many, possibly all, of us have the capacity within to bully someone, but most of us don't. We have empathy, we know the rules, we know what's acceptable. Kidney punch while washing up? Fine. Leaving the tea bag on the side when the bin is there, right there, right fucking next to you? You're a bastard. (Yes, I mean you, DickFingers.)

Now I'm older and my days of being stabbed in the arse are, pardon the pun, all behind me. It's been a good thirty years since I acted up in a queue waiting for our dinner lady, Typhoid Trina, to stop coughing long enough to slop mashed potatoes onto my plate and I grew into my nose. A bit. In no section of my life do I ever feel I'm being bullied.

A lot of people disagree with me on a lot of subjects, I'm grateful for that. What boredom awaits us in a world where all agree? Fortunately, we'll never know.

I Tweet a lot. I Tweet random snippets formed by what are obviously misfiring synapses masquerading as "thoughts", sometimes silly pictures and often cheap attempts to manipulate followers into parting with their hard earned cash to buy a book or three. I try not to get too embroiled in the more controversial and polarising topics doing the rounds, unless someone asks my opinion. Even then, more often than not, I'll politely decline their invitation to debate further and wander off to trawl Twitter for cute kittens and tits instead.

Not so very long ago someone Tweeted me out of the blue and pointed out that I have "lots" of followers that "openly" believe Maddy Mcaan was murdered by her father. It was news to me, though statistically, with thirty thousand plus followers, it was probably a knocking bet I would have and that I would have other individuals, like the lady that contacted me, who believed the opposite. A good deal more probably don't give two shits. I, as you, fall into one of these three categories, I wasn't prepared to discuss my opinion on this very emotive topic with an anonymous box of text that had appeared on my screen demanding attention and so politely declined her invitation. This led to her assumption, whether right or wrong, that I was scared of arguing against her standpoint when, for all she knew, I may have been a kindred spirit. I was "threatened" with being reported as a troll (?) and, horror of horrors, being blocked. Regarding this situation, I don't mind admitting I fell into the "two shits" category and went searching for more kittens, some more tits and a picture of Wayne Rooney being compared to a Little Britain character.

So, kids, pop quiz. Your starter for ten....

Which particular news story has led to tonight's tirade?

Well done, that's ten points on the board. It's the whole Martin Brunt/Brenda Leyland debacle.

Just in case you've missed it (To be fair, it's been given really rather meager coverage by some news agencies for whatever reason.) Brenda Leyland was, until recently, a sixty three year old lady with a Twitter account and an opinion on the whereabouts/fate of Maddy McCann. The debate on what happened to Maddy has never been satisfied. Someone knows what happened, some people think they know what happened and most of those people are wrong. But someone knows and they're keeping it to themselves.

Mrs Leyland wasn't one of those that knew, but she believed she knew and she speculated on this via some very blunt statements on Twitter under the handle "@SweepyFace". Her opinion, to which she was entitled. was that the parents of the missing child were the people that actually know and that they were vile individuals. She used language that was at best passionate and at worst offensive. The Tweets weren't sent to either Gerry or Kate McCann, they wisely steer clear of Twitter and neither have accounts. The Tweets did, however, contain the hashtag "McCann", a trend avidly followed by those on either side of the debate. Of course, someone could have told the McCanns about the Tweets Mrs Leyland posted, but from what I see on a daily basis there are far worse things, death threats etc., actually aimed at the couple and, I should imagine, it would be these that any friends or acquaintances would take the time to point out. This wasn't the case though, we have it from the horse's mouth. Gerry McCann has since said, on camera, that neither he nor his wife had been aware of the Tweets.

He had the opportunity to say this on camera because of Mrs Leyland's sudden death. As yet there is no official cause of death, and the police say there are no suspicious circumstances. She was found dead in a cheap hotel room soon after being metaphorically stabbed in the arse while dicking about in the dinner queue, the victim of a real bully.

Brandishing a dossier and with film crew in tow, a "Sky News' Crime Corespondent" by the name of Mr Martin Brunt doorstepped Mrs Leyland as she was leaving her house. She wouldn't talk to him at that point, she was going our with her friend, but on her return she invited him into her home and spoke, off camera, to him. The earlier exchange, very much on camera, showed Mr Brunt claiming that the police were investigating her over her Tweets and that she could be in serious trouble. This was not true. Although the Tweets had been reported to the police and examined, they have since said Mrs Leyland wasn't being investigated. Now, you should never, it's said, let the truth get in the way of a good story, but that assumes you know the truth and choose to ignore it. Mr Brunt didn't know the truth and took it on himself to decide what the opinion of the CPS would be. Maybe he thought, after his filler-piece to be slotted in between stories on how we're all going to die of Ebola and how we're all going to die of terrorism was aired, that the police would have no option but to investigate further but, to be clear, at this point there was no story. The man was attempting to create news where no news existed.

In a statement, albeit a brief one, Sky News said: "We were saddened to hear of the death of Brenda Leyland. It would be inappropriate to speculate or comment further at this time."

To sum up so far;

  • Mrs Leyland didn't know. Mrs Leyland decided she did know. Mrs Leyland told a load of Twitter users, the one hundred and eighty two that followed her and any others interested in the McCann hashtag, what she thought she knew.
  • Mr Brunt didn't know. Mr Brunt decided he did know. Mr Brunt produced a piece of television to be shown to millions of people, the vast majority of who fell into the two-shits category.

Mr Brunt showed the lady's house on camera, lied about the situation, misrepresented himself and brought news of the content of Mrs Leyland's messages, content they would never have been exposed to if not for him, to the missing child's parents. Mrs Leyland, on camera, came across as pleasant, middle class, polite and level headed. She seemed to have no problem with the police looking into the case, although they weren't, and responded with "That's fine" when Mr Blunt told his fib. Mrs Leyland was found dead in hotel room soon after.

Whether or not her death is related to the treatment she suffered at the hands of a vigilante with a press pass is, at this point, unknown. In this case, unlike that of Madeleine McCann, there is the possibility that no one knows, that Mrs Leyland was the only one who did know and that, now she's gone, no one will ever know. We may never know what Maddy's fate was, but there is, without a doubt, at least one person on the face of this Earth that knows exactly what happened.

If it's eventually found that Mrs Leyland was driven to take her own life we still won't know if this was as a result of Martin Brunt's lazy, self serving "journalism". No one will. Some will think yes, some will think no and, unfortunately, most won't give two shits. What I do know, and knew before this tragic series of events, is that we have a police force and judicial system dedicated to, and pretty damn good at, sorting stuff like this out, we're all entitled to our opinion no matter how offensive someone else may find it and news should be news, not speculation. We have ITV's "Loose Women" for speculation.

Finally, I feel it would be rather cowardly of me to write this piece without throwing my hat into the ring on the topics covered and so, at the risk of some merciless trolling, here it is...

  • Someone knows, but I'm not that someone so my opinion is invalid.
  • I think some of the photofits of the suspect bear a striking resemblance to Gerry McCann. 
  • I think leaving your young children in a villa while you bugger off out to eat, even if you do nip back occasionally to check on them, is, at best, a really stupid and irresponsible thing to do. Checking on them is great, except that if your child has been abducted then "checking on them" becomes "discovering their empty bed".
  • I think, however vile and obnoxious the comments made by Mrs Leyland may have been, they are just that. Comments. In the words of my Sainted Grandmother when she found me staring at my massive conk in the mirror and crying, "Fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all, except one, and fuck that bastard on Monday."
  • Being stabbed in the arse really smarts.
  • They're my opinions, I'm entitled to them. If you share them, fine. If you don't, fine. Either way, I'm still a nice bloke and you're probably pretty cool too.

Please remember, offence can only be taken, not given. If you choose to take it, maybe you need to make better choices. If you find a lot of people are taking offence at your utterances, maybe you should use the compass more for moral guidance and less for stabbing people in the arse. 


Friday, 3 October 2014

The fairness paradox.

One upon a time, a bloody long time ago in fact, men wore tights.

Some still do. I have, when working on building sites in the winter. Come the summer months I would swap my choice of undergarment for the far lighter, cooler and more hygienic stockings and suspenders. But I digress.

These tighted men of whom I write would wander into the forest, because we had proper forests we could wander into back then, and fire an arrow through the shoulder of a wild boar, because we had wild boars and you were allowed to shoot them with bows and arrows back then, before clubbing said posh-pig to death and carrying it home to the village. A posh-pig is far too much for one man alone to eat and there was a distinct lack of refrigerators in the villages of the time so, rather than let three quarters of a pig go to waste, the man with the arrows would share it. In return he'd get a share of the nuts another man, probably a man with one arm who couldn't fire an arrow at an animal, had collected. Some vegetables that another villager had planted, tended and harvested, maybe a slice of bread provided by the woman from the end shack that could bake and, if he snagged them, he got the ladders in his tights repaired by the woman with the bent back who was too old to do anything else.

The posh-pig would be roasted, I imagine by someone that had no nuts, carrots or darning needles to offer, and the village would eat. A sociable bunch, the diners would remain together throughout the meal, eat together, then someone would get out the lute and someone else would sing a ditty or a ballad while those that could dance threw some shapes. Much merriment was had by all in merry olde England.

Occasionally the King's men would turn up to collect the taxes of his subjects to pay for a war or a castle or a really nice feather. If you couldn't pay they'd cut an arm off instead, thus condemning you to a life of nut foraging and rendering those lute lessons you'd been taking pointless.

Eventually some people, quite rightly, got a bit pissed off with continually losing their arms and, long story short, we had a civil war. In a nutshell, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, lots of people died, lots more didn't and a King got killed.

It was the time of the puritan. Among many other things, puritans were exceptionally miserable bastards.

"Stop pissing about," One of Oliver's army would shout, "you're dancing when you could be making money."

"Fuck off, we don't need money." Came the retort.

"Well, no, ok, but we do. Wars don't pay for themselves, you know. We need taxes and all we've got in the treasury is a big pile of rotting arms. You can't kill a Frenchman with a rotting arm."

"No Frenchman ever hurt me," the villagers responded, "I'm not working harder so you can hurt them."

"Yes, well, fair enough, but there's this really lovely feather on yeBay that the king-who's-not-really-a-king-we-promise want's to bid on. There's only three days left and it's not reached it's reserve yet."

"Fuck you and fuck your feather." They were an eloquent bunch back then.

The miserable ones were unhappy. This, paradoxically, made them feel better. "Ah-ha!" thought one, "that gives me an idea. Scribe, take down a proclamation."

And so it was that the news spread from village to village. They were doing it all wrong. Yes, they were having a nice time, living and laughing and losing limbs, but forsooth, they were in for a shock.

Someone noticed, in a big old book that most couldn't read, a passage or two that, once lifted from the surrounding text and removed completely from context, basically said "Work hard and go to Heaven or do just enough and burn in a fire pit. FOREVER!"

"Shit," said the subjects with no King, "what a bunch of idiots we've been. Quick, pass me that last piece of pig, I'll take it with me for lunch. I've a field to plough."

So the people worked, and worked bloody hard. Then, after a bit, they got a proper King back. He'd been keeping his head down in France for a while, but he had returned. And there was peace throughout the land. Everything had gone back to how it was before, except it was no longer merry olde England because they all had far too much work to do. It was a new England. Similar to the old one but without all the "E"'s and the fun. A new, old England.

After a while, as a result of the free education paid for by their own taxes, one or two or the hard working members of the hard working families learnt to read. "Hang about," they said, "this book doesn't say anything of the bloody kind. I'm going to smoke a pipe and finish this ploughing tomorrow."

"No," the King's advisors screamed, "no, honestly, you need to work hard."

"Balls to that," education hadn't improved their eloquence, "Do you have a light?"

"Shit." Thought those that had always known the truth about the book and who worked in palaces, "If they don't keep making us rich we'll not be as rich. I mean, we'll still be rich, we're set for life really, but who doesn't want to be richer? AH HAH!" Another bright idea.

"Now listen, chaps, how about this. Work hard for us and we'll build a house for you to buy off us."

"You must think we were born yesterday, chum. We'll build our own houses."

"But don't you want a bigger house, a house so big and so lovely that you could never dream of being able to save enough to afford to buy?"

"Well, yes, I suppose, but I can't afford it."

"Then let us help you out. Have you ever heard of a mortgage?" The King and his men were fond of the odd Frenchism when not busy killing the French.

So the parties stopped again. Occasionally, someone would wonder why they were bothering building a big house that they couldn't afford and staying in on a Friday night just so they could survive until they died. These people became known as the "lazy". Later they would become hippies, then new age travelers and, finally, I.T. consultants.

Those villagers that worked even harder were given the opportunity to borrow even more money in order to buy an even bigger and even less affordable house and therefore prevent them from being able to save enough filthy cash to escape the village and sully the gene pool of those more worthy. These fastidious and hard working individuals had nicer houses with prettier stuff inside to stay in in on a Friday night.

Of course, people aren't stupid. They know that they're condemning themselves to a life of toil, taxes and tyranny, so they need to be encouraged. The coin only has it's power to bind you whilst it's a necessary evil, if you were to squirrel enough of it away you're free. This must  be prevented, there's no point in them being rich if the rest of us are too. You must consume, you must spend, the wealth must trickle skyward.

Finished your grocery shopping? Managed to buy only what is on your carefully prepared, money saving list? Feeling happy with yourself? Good, while you're waiting to pay, and wait you must since only one of the forty-seven check-outs are open, why not treat yourself to a piece of lovely confectionery? Don't worry, you won't lose your place in the queue, they've put loads of the stuff right there where you can't miss it. You walked past the aisle that contains those self same snacks earlier and you weren't even tempted but now you can treat yourself to one. Just one piece of chocolate, four times the price it would've been if you'd bought it in a multi-pack from that aisle you ignored,

Look at that television of yours. It's shit. It really is. It was a good one, when it was new. You were the envy of your friends but then, one by one, they too replaced their aging sets until they all had better tellies than you. They laugh at you. You never catch them laughing at you, with your grainy, crackly, hi-def LCD piece of shit telly, but laugh at you they do. You must replace your telly. You must. You simply must.

You could save up for it, but by then you'd be the laughing stock of the village. No, you need to make this purchase and make it NOW.

Maybe your bank manager will lend you a few bob but then, shit, you had that Velux window fitted in the loft three years ago and you've not finished paying for that yet. If only there was some way of getting an unsecured loan of some kind, preferably without having to prove you can repay it because, let's face it, you can't really. But who to choose? What kind of company is so trustworthy that you can rely on it to play fair and so trusting that it would lend money to someone without the means to repay it? It's okay, the TV will tell you. The shitty, crackly, archaic box of lights and magic that is so in need of replacing. You can rely on the telly.

No time for research or to read the Ts&Cs, the match is on tonight. (It's not on the channel you have a licence for, nor on one of those other ones that fund themselves with advertising, it's on that channel that only costs you fifty quid a month and that the children never watch.) No, you need it now. Right now. If only there were some way you could get the funds released to your bank account within the next two hours.

So you plump for the one with the slickest or cutest advert. That one with the old biddies, if you can't trust old biddies who can you trust?

Don't people read Grimm anymore? The old biddy is always the baddy. There was an old biddy by the name of "Naggy" Harris when I was a cheeky little street urchin. She chased us with sticks for playing football and (unconnected) the council found a pile of dead cats in her bin cupboard. But generally, old biddies are nice.

Not these ones though. These ones are sinister, twisted, evil old ladies. They're friendly at first, and it's all so easy, so informal. The Ts&Cs? Well, they're perfectly in order, you're  ninety-nine percent sure of that. You could be a hundred percent sure and read the ninety pages of legalese they've provided, but the match is looming and that shop that let's you have a telly on the never-never without any credit checks closes at five. If you get the telly from them you can get something else with the money the old biddies are lending you. A sofa maybe, or a dishwasher. The world's your lobster. You'll decide when you get there, the salesman will be able to tell you what you should buy. He wears a tie and a name badge. His name is Frank, with a name like that how could he possible be anything less than trustworthy?

Every which way we turn we're tempted, told what to want and offered the means to get it. And why shouldn't we? The King's men have big tellies. Alright, they didn't have to borrow money to buy theirs, but it's probably a human right, or something, that you have nice things. Why shouldn't you? The biddies said it was fine.

But now you're in debt and you don't know how you're going to pay it off. Maybe you could get a second job? Maybe you could win the lottery? Yes, that's it, the lottery, that's your way out. Two quid for a ticket? That's nothing, you can borrow it out of the money you put aside to pay for the new telly,  then if you win you'll be able to put it back and, anyway, it's only two quid.

By now any one reading this will surely know that I'm leading up to a comment on the news that Wonga, a non-traditional source of finance, has dropped a huge bollock. They let people borrow money knowing that many of those people were in no position to pay the money back in time to prevent the crippling interest multiplying the amount owed to increasingly "optimistic" [extortionate] sums. The people weren't ever going to get out of the debt they cleverly manipulated their customers into, a steady trickle of income for every more. There would, of course, be legal costs involved in chasing the money and these would eat into their profits. Or would they?

The answer is, as we now all know, no. Why bother selling the debt on to a company for them to send out threatening, but legal, letters. Just mock up a letterhead on Word and write bogus versions, use big words and red ink until, at the bottom, offering them a way out. All they have to do is... stop paying their council tax and pay the biddies instead. Worry about the council tax later, just pay this one off. You must, the outstanding amount is written in RED. It's probably ink made from the blood of babies sacrificed on an altar somewhere, No one ignores red writing, they'll pay. Mwahahahaaa.

Then a man killed himself. And another. A couple of others died of natural causes in homes as cold as the moor because the red writing had demanded the gas money. People suffered and other people noticed.

Most had no sympathy. "They should have read the Ts&Cs" they said, having never in their own life read the Ts&Cs on anything they'd signed. "They owe the money, they should pay it back". Fair enough. Except, actually, no. Now I come to think about it it's not fair, not at all. The people borrowed money for things the corporate world, our new rulers, told them they needed. They were allowed to borrow money they couldn't afford to repay. The biddies weren't SURE they couldn't pay back, but they didn't care.

Actually, they could afford to repay both the sum borrowed and probably a reasonable amount in interest, but there was nothing reasonable about the deal. So they failed to make their greedy, parasitic saviours as rich as they would have liked to be. They couldn't, that's what it boils down to. Right or wrong, they couldn't afford it, the money just doesn't exist and Wonga knew this before lending them the money. It was their game plan all along, a brilliant plan of Machiavellian concept. Clever bastards. Cleverer than the hoi polloi.

But you can't get blood from a stone and so, ultimately, the plotters plan flunked. People were angry, enough people to make them impossible to ignore. The biddies were the baddies, not those scruffy oiks with their benefits and part time jobs, their council houses and food parcels. The scruffy oiks were victims.

Today many of those victims woke up to the news that Wonga have written off their debts. Three hundred and thirty three thousand people woke up and received a piece of news that has had them smiling all day. Tonight they'll get a good nights sleep, maybe for the first time in months because, whatever you think of them, they've been worried about it. They've sat on their couches, couches only a few months old, approximately one-eighth paid and already going threadbare on the arms, watching one of the free channels on their flat screen televisions because Sky have cut them off and all the while wishing they'd never clapped eyes on those wicked grandmothers. The bitches.

They've made a mistake, struggled, suffered and now had a bit of good luck. It's not far off Christmas either, and they'd been worried they'd not be able to afford their traditional family sized tin of Cadbury's Roses that are on offer near the tills in Tesco.

Most of us haven't taken out loans with Wonga. I certainly haven't, with my credit rating even the biddies would laugh at my application. Others among us may have used a similar company with a less cuddly advert but with the same [lack of] principles. Many of us will say "Wait, what? That's not fair. You're teaching them the wrong lesson. You're letting them get away with it." But what is it they're getting away with?

Poverty. That's what. They're getting away with being poor, of having less than fuck all and dreaming of more. Not much more, not a mansion or a Jag, not a swimming pool or gold bath taps, just a better telly than their mate has got. They've had a bit of good luck. Maybe they've learnt their lesson, maybe not. Maybe they'll do it all over again with the next shyster company that rears it's ugly head and end up in a similar amount of debt and a similar situation. In that case we can all shake our heads at them and point out that they are, without a doubt, fucking idiots.

But for now, why not give them the benefit of the doubt? The only reason we have to complain is that it's unfair, that we haven't had a share in the windfall. And we're right, it is indeed very unfair. But, in my opinion, the more unfair life is the better. One day maybe it'll be unfair for all of us, whether villager or King's man. Then, at that moment and in the most beautifully paradoxical fashion, everything will be fair.