Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The little dog that was scared of the wind.

She’d lay on the rug by the crackling fire
Once that evening’s good walk had caused her to tire
She fell asleep listening to the creak of the trees
As the boughs and the branches did bend in the breeze

But as she lay snoozing and snoring her snores
The wind began blowing much harder outdoors
It’s gentle caress of the leaves on the lawn
Came rougher and tougher, “A storm!” it did warn

She lay and she dreamt of a day in the sun
Chasing some rabbits and having some fun
She leapt and she gambolled and sniffled and snuffled
Through hedges and rivers and long grass that rustled

But back in our world where the cold wind was growing
From gentle to harsher then further to blowing
The panes in the windows and knockers on doors
She awoke with a start and leapt to all fours

Light it had been when she’d closed tired eyes
And settled down for her nap, with trumps and with sighs
But away in her dream world she’d no way of knowing
Of the light slowly dying and darkness now growing

A dog doesn’t know when it’s dreaming, you see?
It isn’t as wise as you or as me
So this world full of thunder, of wind and of rain
To which she returned from her dream seemed insane

She growled and she trembled, then barked in the night
Heckles high with teeth bared and ready to fight
To see off the beast that roared at her door
So she could sleep and dream once more

But the beast didn’t flee, he continued to scream
To bang and to rattle and disturb her dream
No respite he took from his horrid assault
He pushed at the door, secured by a bolt

He breathed through the keyhole, his breath cold as ice
And peed on the window, that wasn’t nice
And when he realised his way in was barred
He kicked over the dustbin that sat in the yard

She rushed to the door to check it was safe
But the beast found a way in through the fireplace
Whistling and screeching and wailing a wail
It whipped up a shower of sparks with its tail

A log that had smouldered and crackled and popped
Leapt from the fire and rolled to a stop
Beneath the big chair that sat by the door
It smouldered and fizzled and set fire to the floor

The man of the house muttered “Blummin’ mutt”
As he slipped his right slipper onto the wrong foot
Then struck a long match and carefully lit
The lamp by the bed upon which he did sit

He mumbled and grumbled and, bleary eyed,
He came down the stairs intending to chide
His furry best friend who had disturbed his nod
“What the hell is your problem, you daft, noisy dog?”

Tail wagging she met him, he tickled her head
“Shush now, you daft dog, there’s neighbours in bed.”
Then, glancing around, he noticed the flicker
And smelt burning carpet and his heart did beat quicker

He snatched up a bucket and dashed to the tap
And filled it with water then went running back
The way he had come and through to the room
Where the flames from the chair were lighting the gloom

He threw at it the water, the bucket and all
It covered the flames and a good chunk of wall
The fire extinguished, though smoke filled the room
That daft blummin’ dog had saved him from doom

No more does he leave the fire alight
When the time comes for him to retire for the night
The room does go cold, it has to be said
But his dog now curls up on the foot of his bed

All cosy and warm, she lies there and dreams
Of chasing those rabbits through forests and streams
And when the wind blows, as it frequently will
She wakes and she listens and lies very still

She sniffs at the air, just to be sure
That a log isn’t burning on the parlour floor
Then, once that she’s certain that all’s safe and sound
She goes back to sleep, his loyal, faithful hound


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Goodbye, Mr Chips.

I love doing the ironing.

I reckon my enjoyment of a task that is almost universally moaned about stems from my youth. There was a time, in the late 1980s, that each and every Saturday evening followed a similar routine. Television on, parents, sister and both Grandmothers would congregate in our enormous lounge smoking Silk Cut, eating hand raised pies from the little bakery across the road and watching whatever vacuous crap the program planners at ITV had decided we needed to watch. Sometimes it was Surprise Surprise with our Cilla, sometimes Ted Rogers and his five fingered shenanigans and sometimes, my favourite times, the inimitable Roy Walker's Catchphrase. Week after week, being urged to "say what you see", we'd play along.

Whilst the show was on I would, having taken my extra long Saturday night shower and stinking of Insignia antiperspirant and Jazz eau de toilette, stand behind the settee and iron my outfit for that night. You may struggle to believe it if you've ever been witness to the disheveled appearance I now sport, but back then I cut quite the dashing figure. Always a suit, never a tie, silk shirts and matching underpants, the shiniest of shiny shoes and as much gold jewelry as an Inca high priestess, I would wander the streets of Manchester from swish venue to swish venue before, the next morning, performing the "walk of shame" through Salford and generally calling in at a cafe or a friends house to boast about the glamour model I'd spent the night with. I'd arrive home, grinning, and would invariable be greeted by my father who would ask me who on Earth "that dog" whose house I'd been spotted sheepishly leaving was. I have never, in my life, slept with a "dog".

I've woken up with fucking loads though. Isn't beer brilliant?

My dad's long dead. I miss his mocking. He had a knack that I like to think I share, the ability to be offensive without causing offense. He would wander around his pub at chucking out time shouting;

"Pacey, pacey. Andale! Andale! I've had your money, now FUCK OFF!"

Like Mr Walker's "Say what you see", this was my father's catchphrase and, although quite plainly highly offensive, not one person ever took offense.

He was full of little phrases he'd use over and over again. When I was little, probably too little for safety's sake, he taught me to use a hammer and saw. "Don't cut the wood, son, let the saw cut it" and "Don't throttle the hammer" when teaching me how to use the tools meant that, by age eight, I was spending many a Saturday afternoon banging away in his shed producing go-carts or toy castles for my Action Men. Little tips, repeated often, that stuck in my tiny mind and have stayed with me ever since.

One afternoon, when I was a father myself, I came across my mother hanging pictures on the stairs. She was making a right pig's ear of it and so I took the hammer from her and said "Here, mam, don't throttle the hammer". I glanced down the stairs and saw my father was passing, looking up at me and smiling. I knew why he was smiling but, and I've no idea why, I smiled back and said "What are you laughing at?" He shook his head and walked on.

Once dead, he had to be cremated. I say "had to be", there were other options, but the taxidermist was mortified by my inquiry, as were the lads at the tip, and burial is fucking expensive so cremation it was. One of the customers from his "Pacey, pacey" years offered to speak at the service. I really wanted to, but back then I was terribly shy and I thought, with all the emotion that day would bring with it, I'd make a mess of it. So I sat quietly as this man, a man that had known my father for decades, gave the worst eulogy ever. Bar none. He mumbled his way through it, saying so little. No funny anecdotes, no entertaining insights, nothing. It turned out afterwards that he'd had a speech prepared, one that told of my father's exploits, his naughtiness and unprofessionalism, all the things that made him a great pub landlord but, upon seeing the faces of some of the brewery bigwigs in the crowd and realising my mother still had one of their pubs, he'd bottled it. His tales of events after hours and of fights and threats and Del boy like double dealings remained unimparted.

He'd plainly never watched Catchphrase.

I wish I'd had the courage to speak, but I didn't. I wish I'd stood up there and told the people, gathered there from all over the country, what a rum-fucker he was and that I loved him. I don't think I ever told him I loved him. Not since I was a small child anyway, and back then it would have been an automatic response to his telling me that he loved me. But, as unspoken as those three little words may have been, I genuinely, unconditionally, loved that man.

The thing is, he knew that anyway, so I've no regrets in not telling him. There is one thing I wish I'd said though. If I could have the chance to give him one more message it wouldn't be "I love you, dad", it would be more personal than that. I would correct a massive mistake I once made, let him know something that I hope he knew but that, because of one little, inexplicable oversight, a silly choice, I'm not sure he did. A few short words that might have confirmed to him that without him, without his words and his love and his caring, I'd be nothing. Everything I am, everything I believe, he taught me, or at least taught me how to use the necessary tools to learn for myself. I'd stand before him, smile, and simply say...

"I knew what you were laughing at."

Say what you see, folks. It's very important.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

The word is not enough.

Had things gone to plan, my life would be very different now.

I’d not be living in a squalid, two-up two-down terraced house on the outskirts of a failed industrial town in the north of England. I would, right at this moment, be dressed in a tuxedo, pistol tucked away in my shoulder holster and snogging the face off a raven haired beauty queen as I piloted an elegant speed boat away from a scene of devastation with a micro SD card containing the plans to a foreign power’s new nuclear facility in my possession. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.

It turns out that I’m too tall to be a successful secret agent, I stand out like a sore thumb. I’m also far too pretty, I would draw too much attention oozing, as I do, raw sexuality and animal magnetism. It’s hard to fight off the baddies with one hand as your fighting off the ladies with a shitty stick in the other. Also, I’ve got Asthma, a gammy knee and a dicky heart.

And so I sit here, the most successful spy the world has never known, banging away at the keys on a laptop so old and in such disrepair that, just like my heart, it threatens to give up at any moment. C’est la vie.

My failed career in spying started early. 

Either by coincidence or because my father was forever coming home with things that had survived, intact, a fall from the back of a lorry and selling them to our neighbours, one Christmas I received a gift that my friend from across the street also received. A spy kit.

I’d torn the wrapping off eagerly to get at it, already having a good idea what it was having seen half a dozen of them in the garage under a tarpaulin alongside some orange Decca turntables and a case of whiskey. My mother admonished me for being so eager and told me I should read the label to see who it was off. I knew who it was off, but I did as bid.

“Lot’s of love, Mum & Dad. X”. My mother had a vague understanding of apostrophe usage.

The spy kit contained many things that would be of use in a daring mission. There was a briefcase that fired little plastic bullets and contained a false bottom. Beneath the false bottom, upon which was printed an incredibly unconvincing picture of some neatly packed clothes, was a treasure trove of espionage equipment. A knife, the blade of which disappeared into its own hilt so you could, pretty convincingly as it turned out, pretend to stab your sister to death, a gun with a silencer to muffle the faint click it made when you pulled the plastic trigger, a pair of binoculars that made things appear ever so slightly closer and a little bit blurry, a camera that squirted water and an I.D. card to prove you were working for MI6 and make any prosecution if captured behind enemy lines a cake walk for the foreign powers. Even to my young eyes, I could see this was a particularly shit present.

There was, however, one other item that proved invaluable. A little, black, plastic box with a slide switch on the side and four slim mirrors on the front that, when the slide switch was slid, tilted, rather like a Louvre blind. By directing this at a source of light it could be used to signal and communicate using Morse code. There was even a handy, little card that had the key to the code printed on it. Had I been the only one to possess such a remarkable device this, too, would have been particularly shit. But no, my mate Paul had one, and Paul’s bedroom faced mine. Handily, between our two bedrooms there was a street lamp providing the light source required for covert conversations.

It being winter, as is generally the case around Christmas time, it was dark more than it was light and Paul and myself would spend many any hour sending messages back and forth. It would take an age to have a conversation, we both knew it would be far easier to open our windows and shout, but our way was far more fun.

Many years later, after watching Smokey and the Bandit, I discovered the delights of Citizen’s Band radio. Having talked my parents into buying me one for Christmas, wrapped in gaudy paper and with the obligatory “Lot’s of love, Mum and Dad. X” label, I would spend hours chatting to people for miles around. Invariably, I knew the people I was chatting to and had their phone numbers, but our way was much more fun.

Then came the internet, mobile phone and social networking. Now, finally, I can chat to people from all over the world, share thoughts and ideas, pictures and videos, without ever having to clap eyes on a single one of them. A wonderfully wide and eclectic selection of people are at my fingertips, I can share my ideas and listen to theirs, I can have long held beliefs challenged and changed by the words of people that I would never normally encounter and I can challenge and change theirs. Or just find myself blocked and called some nasty names. I could, of course, do exactly the same thing in person by getting out more, meeting and engaging with the wonderfully wide and eclectic selection of people that live lives like mine all around me, but I don’t. Although that way would be much more fun.

As is so often the case when I sit here puffing on my pipe and trying to get a vague point across using pretty words, I’ve digressed.

Apparently, rather than a secret agent, I’m a writer. I would never describe myself as such. I regularly get introduced to people as an author. I stare at my feet, embarrassed, thinking “no I’m not, I’m just…” but then I struggle to think what other word would describe what I do and can’t think of one. So, how can I be a writer if I can’t think of the right words to explain to people that I‘m not a writer? It’s quite a paradox.

I didn’t ever intend to be a writer. I certainly never believed I would be asked to sign a book I had written by a complete stranger, a person that knew me without me knowing them, but it happens now and is happening more and more frequently. People say they like my books and that embarrasses me. I keep thinking that, at some point, I’ll be found out, that someone will say “hang on, he’s not an author, he’s that lad from Salford, the one that never settled down and was never any good at anything”. I see a new review has been left for one of my books and my dicky heart skips a beat. I take hours to summon up the courage to take a look, convinced that the poor fool who parted with hard earned brass on one of my books will have said something along the lines of “this wasn’t written by an author, he’s taking the piss”, but, at least so far, that’s not happened. Yet.

Rather than being an author, I think I’m just a bloke that enjoys telling stories but that lacks the confidence to talk, so I write them down instead. I can’t help myself. Since my day’s of street-lamp powered Morse code I’ve had an almost constant urge to tell people things, to offer opinions, to share my thoughts. When I write them down, people can choose to not read them. If I’m boring someone, or if I offend them, they can choose to close the book, but I’ve already said it all. My words may remain unread, but never unshared. And that’s the important part.

What is the point of a thought or idea if it remains unspoken? Is it ever right to keep perfectly good words locked away inside out heads to wither and die? Shouldn’t all thoughts be shared?

There has been an awful lot of talk in the media lately about freedom of speech. It’s an important concept, one of the foundations of western democracy and can provide the catalyst for change. I fear change, but I have to admit change is good.

(Usually. Don’t get me started on energy saving light bulbs.)

A thought spoken, however vile it may sound to someone, didn’t exist any less and was no less vile before it was uttered. It was still there. Words float away on the ether once the mouth that spoke closes. We can’t help being offended, and by God it’s our right to be offended. In my case, it’s a very enjoyable right. I love to be offended, to have something to disagree with and to be given a chance to speak words of my own.

It’s very hard to be offensive. Impossible, really. No one, other than a professional comedian playing a part, is offensive because he or she wants to be offensive. To them, their opinions are perfectly reasonable and should be shared. And they’re right.

Be offended, by all means. Tell the offender why they’ve offended you. Offer your own opinion but then, once offered, bear in mind that you might have just offended them. You might see your words as perfectly reasonable, they may well be, but always remember that the offender felt exactly the same way about his words.

No matter how offensive words are, accept them, consider them, reason them out and respond to them. Words, even the shortest of words, are to be cherished.

My dad died many years ago, just before Christmas. I had children by that point, so we still celebrated it, gathered around the tree at my mum’s place. I was last to open my gift, I don’t remember what it was, but as ever I read the label before tearing at the paper.

“Lot’s of love, Mum. X”

Sometimes, it’s the lack of a word that can hurt the most.


Friday, 9 January 2015

Don't look down.

Scared of heights?

It's perfectly natural. It can never be described as a phobia, falling a long way is bloody dangerous. You don't even have to be above sea level to feel the fear. If you're stood looking down a deep enough hole you get the same anus-puckering sensation, but you're stood on the floor.

Many times in my life I've had to work at height. I'm not scared of heights, but I am aware of the intrinsic danger involved in being up there. When I've not had to expose myself to the dangers of being high above the stony ground below for a while, I lose a little confidence and it takes me a while to get back into it, sometimes hours. But, eventually, I'll be scampering up the outside of the scaffolding like a gibbon with a death wish again, or "hopping" the ladder I'm stood on left and right rather than keep climbing, safely, back down and moving them, safely, along. That said, if I see someone else taking the same ridiculous chances with their own safety, my heart is in my mouth.

As a child, I had a friend. Gary Young was his name, and he was the first person I knew that lived in a tower block. He lived there with his mother and younger brother. One of his and his brothers favourite things was to lean out of the bedroom window, twelve floors above the street below, and try to spit on visitors to the block. The first time I visited I myself had a go. Putting my head through that window and feeling the wind suddenly fill my ears, seeing the world below from a distance I'd never before experienced, the eight year old me very nearly soiled himself. I threw myself backwards into the room and fell to the floor shaking, but eventually I managed to stand and, on still shaky legs and with my friends five year old brother laughing at me for being a "poof", I approached the window for a second time. On this occasion I knew what to expect and found it a little easier. I hocked up a "greeny" and joined in.

The little balls of kiddy-spit rarely found their intended target, blown by the wind that whistled by and buffeted the block, but very occasionally one would. The unfortunate recipient would feel it strike their shoulder or head and would immediately look all around them, eventually looking up but not before we'd had time to close the window and crouch, giggling like the schoolkids we were, beneath the window sill.

Gary and his brother were the only children that lived in the block. His mother was single and, I think, fleeing domestic abuse. We spent a lot of time wandering around Rochdale town centre on a Saturday, visiting the cafe for toasted teacakes and a can of coke then taking in the Saturday morning matinee at the local fleapit, after which we'd hang around the shops just wasting time.

On a Sunday, however, there was next to nothing to do. Shops, cinemas and cafes were invariably closed in those days when Sunday was still special. On Sundays we'd generally go further afield, but occasionally, Gary being a sickly child, we'd have to stay close to his home in case he had an "attack". On these Sundays we'd play in the disused garages and little clumps of bushes that surrounded the flats and, occasionally, in the flats themselves.

Playing in the flats wasn't allowed. There was a caretaker, a big, scary chap with a tool belt who never smiled, and he would chase us off or, if we were unlucky enough to get caught, clip our ears.

One way we would entertain ourselves was to play "knock-a-door run". I'm sure you're familiar with the game, bang on a door and leg it. Simple pleasures in those Halcyon days of our youth. One afternoon, as we knocked on a door, the door from the stairwell at the other end of the corridor opened and the caretaker walked into view. He saw us and, in the time honoured tradition, gave chase. We burst through the stairwell door on our side of the block and I immediately went to run down the stairs. Gary, being more used to life in a tower block than I, grabbed my shoulder and dragged me with him upstairs instead.

"What the," I thought, "We can run downwards faster, and there's nowhere to escape to up there."

We climbed two flights of stairs before Gary stopped, put a finger to his smiling lips and gestured to look over the banister.

There, two flights below, was the back of the caretakers head, looking over the banister as we were and trying to spot us below him. He didn't think to look up.

We waited until he'd given up and made our escape. Brilliant.

A few years ago I was working on a building site in Partington. I was nothing more than a lowly labourer, one of two, building a small block of flats. The other labourer and I were pretty damn good at our jobs and had the site running really very smoothly. As a result, we had a lot of opportunity to piss about, playing cards, nipping to the pub or just hanging out of the windows and watching the world go by. As time progressed, we began to engage in silly, little games, constantly trying to get one over on each other.

One of these silly games would be to steal and hide the other's tools. Increasingly ingenious techniques were employed in an effort to flummox and perplex one and other.

The most used tools in a site labourers arsenal are his brush and his shovel. If you've nothing to do, rather than face being laid off, you push a brush around, floors on building sites are always dirty.

My colleague was like a bloody ninja. He had an unnerving ability to enter a room I was working in, snatch my shovel, hide it and be gone without my knowing. Almost every time, he would hide my shovel in the same place.

Being a block of flats, the floors, and therefore ceilings, were of the concrete block and beam variety. A few inches below the concrete ceiling, skinny joists were fitted for cables and pipes to run above and plasterboards to be fastened below. These plasterboards were always the last things to be installed, and he would take my trusty "banjo" and slip the shovel end between joist and concrete, suspending it there almost magically. I would turn to pick it up, find it gone and, every single bloody time, I would spend minutes searching the room without once thinking to look up.

Every, bloody, time.

I would, invariably at some point, see his giggling face watching me through a window or door, pointing and demonstrating to whatever brickie he was chatting to what a pillock I was, and only at that point would I think to look up.

That's the, very convoluted, point I wanted to make with this post. We never, ever look up.

When searching for an answer to a problem, we look all around us, but always at eye level or below. If we have a problem, we search for it down there. Never up above.

Are you struggling? Do you think you're paying too much tax? Are you sick of the feckless underclass holding you back?

Look up.

It's those bastards up there, those that are creating and manipulating the feckless underclass, that are your problem.

The benefit scroungers exist, we've seen them. But, do you know what? If you wan't to make the world a better place, help them. Raise them up to your level. Give them benefits, give them homes, give them free health care and an education and let them be happy.

We can't improve our nation by chasing them, they have nothing. They own nothing. They have zero assets. Whatever we do to them won't improve a single, solitary thing. And if we let them starve or freeze to death on the streets then people like you, possibly your children, will eventually have to take their place.

The wealth of the few means nothing without the poverty of the many.

It's those bastards up there, the ones giggling as they spit on you, the ones that are ferreting away a nation's wealth and jamming it above the rafters, it's those bastards that are the cause of all your problems and woes.

Don't look down.