Sunday, 25 September 2016

Take this kiss upon the brow.

Sometimes I lose track of time. I seem to spend much of my life daydreaming or struggling and, in both these instances, time really does fly by my eyes.

A period of time ago that, to me, feels like an age but is more likely just a couple of years, I wrote a blog piece about a dream I had as a small child. A dream that I truly believe shaped my life and my attitude. The piece was entitled “The girl next door” and is one of those few entries in what has become my journal that I’m actually proud of. I try not to read again these words once published, but I have, in that and a few others, found comfort during some of my darkest hours.

Last night I dreamed a dream just as convincing as my childhood dream about the girl next door and one that left me with a similar, yet very different, set of emotions upon awakening. I dreamt I was editing a video for my "French Letters" series on YouTube, a process that takes place weekly in the same seat at the same table as I smoke the same pipe and sip the same brand of remarkably cheap coffee from the same aging Cath Kidston mug with a chip in the rim and, just as in real life, my dream positioned me just so.

I was dreaming that I was playing the raw footage back and, as I generally do, snipping out the parts that don't show my best side.

You didn't think I was really this pretty, did you?

As many of you know, I live in a loft above a garage. The timbers of the loft are riddled with woodworm, the window is nothing more than a hole in a wall with a screen fastened across it and the roof provides me with a lovely, panoramic view of the stars above as I lie in my cot at nights. I love it.

The loft I viewed upon my dreamed screen was in no way similar to the one in which I'm currently sitting and tapping away at these keys. It was a trendy space with solid timbers, expensive rugs, an actual kitchen and a double bed. It even had a staircase that didn't sway from side to side in the wind, a veritable palace in comparison to the spider and lizard infested paradise I dwell in when my eyes are open. The sleeping me didn't question the differences, he didn't realise I was dreaming or that he was nothing more than a construct of that dream dreamed within another head, he just accepted it and moved on.

The footage on the screen was unusual in that I was naked. I'm not given to recording myself naked these days (not for YouTube, anyway), age and poverty having now decimated what was once a physique to be proud of, but again the slumbering John didn't question these anomalies. His finger hovered above the relevant key on the keyboard, ready to edit out any appearance of the aptly monickered "Little John", but no such appearances were made. The footage I surveyed through the eyes of dream John was absolutely fine and required no editing, so back we sat, puffing on our favourite pipe and relaxing, observing and sipping creamy coffee from the unchipped side of our mug, both of us oblivious to the fact that in the real world that only one of us had or would ever experience the real me was sleeping soundly beneath a rotten joist to which a photograph of people we'd once loved and felt loved by is pinned.

As we puffed and sipped and watched I became aware of further discrepancies, little clues that hinted at my real state. During one section of video I rocked a crib in which slept a dark haired infant, a baby girl, who I knew was not the fruit of my own loins but who I knew I cared deeply for. In another clip I lay in my bed, smiling and whispering to the viewer so as not to wake the dark haired woman that slept beside me, a woman I knew to be the mother of the child I loved but who I knew I cared nothing for.

Then, the proof I needed to jolt my sleeping brain from it's ignorance. A shot of me from a distance, naked as in every other shot, revealed a tattoo that I've never had set amidst the tattoos that cover much of my upper body.

I was suddenly aware that I was asleep, that this was a dream from which I was about to wake, and I panicked.

I panicked because of the child in the crib, the child that still slept soundly and whose face I hadn't seen and whose face, I now realised, I would never see. A child my sleeping brain told me I loved, who would be taken from me should my eyelids flutter open.

And even worse than losing her I further came to realise that, once I'd returned to the land of the living, she'd be left with a woman that I now knew I despised.

So I fought to remain asleep. I dashed around the beautiful apartment my subconscious had constructed for me searching for somewhere to hide from the dawning dawn, but to no avail.

I woke, made myself a coffee and sat down to write this entry. This is one of those rare occasions where, even before having taken my seat at the keyboard, I'd known the ending, known the point I was going to make.

As a child, on the morning after my dream of a life with the girl next door, I'd cried. I'd longed to return to the dream I'd just had, for that adventure to continue and to never end.

As an adult, I fought to keep the adventure alive as long as I was able even though the panic I felt as I searched for a cupboard to hide in spoiled the ending of what, until then, had been a wonderful time. I'd focused on the dream's approaching culmination and I'd mourned its loss before its loss had arrived. Now, as I sip and puff and sit and think, I know that tonight will bring with it another dream, and that that next dream is only possible because the last one ended.

Each adventure we undertake has both a beginning and an end but, to paraphrase the great Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. A new adventure can only begin after an end, so was the end really the end or was it really the beginning?

A child will live the dream right up until morning comes, enjoying every moment of it and only allowing the sadness of loss once that loss it found. An adult will see the loss looming and fight against it, prematurely mourning a passing that may never come to pass and, in doing so, wasting precious time that could have been better spent by stroking the soft, dark hair of the child in the crib as he at last looked upon her face. A child enjoys his dreams, an adult fears the end.

The child in you is the optimism you feel when embarking on your next adventure. He is the one for whom the Cath Kiston cup is half filled, probably with Vimto, and who doesn't give a toss that he might get a cold sore from the chip. The adult, he's the pessimist. He looks forward to the adventure, so eager to taste it that he'll blow on the hot coffee to be able to take his first sip then, once embarked upon, dreads the other end as it approaches. His Cath Kidston cup is aging, half empty and he can only drink from one side for fear of the hypothetical scabby lip that may or may not arise at some point in a future he may or may not have.

If your cup is half empty then it's still half full, enjoy what's left. If it has a chip in it, finish your brew, smash the cup against the wall and go find the next adventure. You never know, you might be just the dream-you dreamt by the real-you and your real chipped cup is still sitting, safe and dirty, by the sink where you left if last night.

Don't dread the morn, live the dream.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Now available on Amazon...

OUT NOW, in paperback and on Kindle, my new short story compilation...

The Short Tall Tales.

A collection of four very different and disturbing stories of twisted realities.

"Where do they all belong?" documents the terror of the tormented
and the torment their torment creates. "Ghost whispering" will
have you scared to check under your bed. "Revenant" brings
us a masterclass in karma and in the folly of wickedness and, finally,
"Passing time" takes a look at the gentler side of those gone ahead.

Four tales of terror and the unknown, of hope and retribution, plucked
from the ether and placed on the page by the author.

Who needs sleep anyway?

Click the following link to purchase the book via my own associate account, which means the pitiful amount I will receive for my share will be slightly less pitiful than if you go elsewhere.

(If you prefer to read your literature on a screen then hold on to that credit card, the eBook version will be with you very soon.)

Thanks to everyone that encouraged and supported me. It has been, and continues to be, greatly appreciated.

Enjoy the little things.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The fairy's reply.

The fairy's reply.
A new short story...

Enjoy the little things.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The devil may care.

He perched upon his great, grand throne
Of finest tooth and whitest bone
A fork of fire by his side
His clothes cut from rich sinners’ hides
And fanned the flames in the fiery pit
That warmed his feet whilst he did sit
And think about that bygone age
When those above still feared his rage

His blood did boil, his rage did swell
As he sat on his throne in his Kingdom of Hell
Like ageing porcelain, weathered and cracked
Veins lined his face with blood that was black
Then, all at once, he shouted a curse
So wicked it made even this damned place worse
He gnashed and thrashed and screamed and did shout
Then grabbed his fork, got up and went out

Time it was to have some fun
To wreak some havoc, rain fire upon
Those weak, soft bags of flesh filled with blood
To bring forth great suffering as only he could
He stamped his cloven feet and did call
For every creature that slithered or crawled
To do his bidding, spread forth his black seed
To undertake the darkest of deeds

He stood atop a lush hill and surveyed
The land he had chosen to bring first to dark days
A land that when last he’d walked on this Earth
Had been filled with happiness, joy and great mirth
He summoned forth legions of beasts from below
And considered how best to open his show
Pestilence, plague, brimstone or famine?
He smiled and set off for a night filled with damning

But wait, what was this? This couldn’t be right
Spread all around him, a pitiful sight
Men who had once stood proud and stood strong
Men who had fought and overcome wrong
Now brought to their knees, beaten and weak
Where once had stood heroes knelt only the meek
He searched high and low throughout that dark night
But hard as he tried found no good souls to blight

Old folk now dying, alone in cold beds
Good folk now used to remaining unfed
Sickness and poverty spread far and wide
Fear and hatred where once had lived pride
Filth in the streets and fear in sad eyes
A race of proud people now beaten by lies
Nick turned to his minions and sighed in despair
“We’re out of our league, lads, let’s go back downstairs”


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Noah's arc.

A number of years ago whilst researching my family tree I discovered that, several centuries ago, one of my ancestors had travelled to the islands of my birth from the Iberian peninsula aboard a ship…

…as part of the Spanish Armada.

He, like many others, had been forced to fight in a war that would in no way benefit him for a king he detested. A number of ships turned left at the Bristol Channel, their mariners intent on jumping ship and fleeing ashore to Wales where they hoped to live their lives as free men.

Back then (as now) the Welsh hated the English as much as the English hated the Spanish, so in a case of “the enemy of my enemy is alright by me, boyo” these oily looking, dark haired individuals were welcomed into the communities, becoming quickly assimilated.

This influx of migrants is, in fact, why the traditional Welsh doll is dark haired rather than being coloured in a more Celtic fashion, the gene pool having been forever altered in a way that would make a Brexiter's blood boil.

I’ve only ever been to the land of my forefathers once (Unless you count Ibiza, though the drug fuelled days of debauchery I experienced there gave me little insight into the place) and I wasn’t a fan. Still a child, I’d ended up at a bullfight and had had to sit, open mouthed and nauseated, as some blokes dressed as Copa Cabana showgirls went all ‘Joe Pesci’ on some cows.

Back home in England I discovered that the father of one of my classmates, a local butcher, was a bull fighter. His name was Frank, which seemed to me an unusual name for a matador, and he was forever on the local news being celebrated as the only Englishman to take part in the barbarism of the Plaza de Toros.

He was celebrated for being a bit of a twat to some cows and I said as much to his son and son’s friends. They didn’t dress as showgirls, nor did they stab me to death, but the severe dead arms I was given on the stairwell between lessons meant I struggled even to lift a pencil for several days afterwards.

Eventually, the sense and sensibilities of my countrymen caught up with my own and, rather than being featured on Granada Reports every summer, his business suffered. I seem to recall some rather ugly graffiti being daubed on his windows occasionally, I think there may also have been an arson attack and, eventually, his fame waned, at least in Britain.

I doubt it did likewise in Spain. I've heard it seldom wanes in Spain.

What is deemed to be socially acceptable now may not be so tomorrow. The world changes, the inhabitants change with it. In my lifetime I have seen drunk-drivers go from being considered as “characters” to become scum, decent people no longer smoke in the presence of children or non-smoking adults, most dog owners carry plastic bags to clean up after their best friends and folk take their own, reusable bags to the supermarket. There is no shame in looking at a situation and thinking “That’s not right” even when most others couldn’t give two shits about the same subject. In such situations you’re generally just at the forefront of the zeitgeist. What you and I may consider insignificant your neighbour may find to be of the utmost importance and vice versa.

Like my distant ancestor, who took the Anglicised name of Noah upon arrival, I have recently left the land of my birth with no intention of returning. 

Once, many moons ago, I couldn’t have imagined ever wanting to leave, but leave I now have. Following a zig-zag course north I eventually ended up being done a kindness that I’m sure I didn’t deserve and given the opportunity to flee the country that had allowed me to rot. The fates have conspired to bring me ever closer to the land of my mutinous ancestor and the closer I get the more I wonder why on Earth he ever left.

Once upon a time there was an England that was merry. Then some bloke with warts decided he wanted those around him to work hard and he told folk some fibs based on an old book. 

Suddenly, instead of dancing, singing, loving and playing whilst occasionally doing enough work to sustain the lives of their countrymen, your average Englishmen began working as hard as they could to ensure that, once dead, they’d not suffer. Suffering for a lifetime to ensure they’d not suffer for an eternity. The fucking idiots.

Working hard, paying taxes, making the warty man wealthy with no benefit to themselves.

I’m genuinely unsure how long I have been out of the country now. I could easily check, but I just can't be arsed. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I live among people who work to live, they don’t live to work. I visit pharmacies and, instead of seeing professional wearing pristine white lab coats and bustling about busily I’m greeted by a chap in jeans and a grateful dead tee-shirt who asks me how I am and smiles a lot. Appointments give one a vague idea of when something may occur. Basically, if your appointment is for 2pm on Tuesday then that simply means don’t make any plans for Tuesday afternoon.

It’s wonderful.

The young and the old smile and greet one and other in the street, food is shared, homes are homes and not investments, jobs are slotted in between lives. The only exception to these “rules” are those other rules put in place by the economic migrants (apparently the French for “economic migrant” is “ex-pat”) who infest the one bar that’s owned by an Englishman in the town square and complain about having had to wait an hour for a bus. An hour during which, had they bothered to learn more of the language, they could have conversed with the locals who were waiting for the same bus and sharing food around.

They’d not want that food though because, apparently, French food is all shit.

I’m looking to head further away from the English channel soon, though if I could I'd remain right here. Like an abandoned galleon that eventually smashes into a beach many miles away I have no hand on the tiller of my life. But then, few of us ever have, we just think we have. I shall probably be in Spain by Christmas, completing the circle set in motion by my forefather and continued by myself. Maybe I'll find a way to stay here and not make it back "home", maybe the journey will remain unfinished, an arc rather than a circle.

It turns out that the warty man had mislead us and that life isn't a chance to earn enough merits for a happy afterlife but is, in fact, for living. Many a friend has told me they wish they could do what I have done and live how I now live. They won’t believe me when I tell them they can. They have jobs to pay for their mortgages, they have mortgages to provide a roof, they toil for much of the week and, one day if they toil hard enough, they’ll die and leave that house to their offspring, providing the government with a huge chunk of revenue and their children with a house to tie them into a similar drudge.

Many reading this will think me an idiot or, at best, a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. Raining punches onto our skinny arms on a dusty school stairwell won't convert us to your way of thinking. Don't be the last to realise what others have already realised. Modern life is as barbarous as any ridiculous, archaic tradition, though now the common man is the cow.

Some have said I'm living the dream, but a dream is a sleeping fallacy, a flight of fancy over which we've no conscious control. A dream cannot be lived. This is no dream, we'll not one day awaken, bleary eyed and refreshed, into a life of leisure where we'll be reunited with our loved ones.

Or, if I'm wrong and we do, it'll not be because we did a load of overtime to pay for bricks and mortar that, in a few hundred years time, won't even exist anymore. 

You don't have to jump ship to live life as a free man. Work less, earn less, owe less, dream less... more, love more.



Sunday, 14 August 2016

Dog days and pavement pizzas.

A few years ago I wrote some children's books, the Kissy Sizzle trilogy.

They're still available on Amazon and remarkably reasonably priced, though the price came down when no one bought them so maybe that's something to think about if you were considering making a purchase.

The books featured a little girl, a little boy, a yellow dog and a big dog, some time travel, some Nazis, several deaths and a legion of gorilla headed robot knights, the latter being my favourite creation. The children set off on a series of magical adventures, accompanied and protected by the dogs, visiting places I had visited and times I wish I'd experienced. I started writing them because I'd recently become a grandfather for the first time and, having no legacy to leave behind once the inevitable occurred, wanted to at least leave something for her to remember me by.

I'm estranged from my family now and, being a bitter old bastard, I truly believe that's the way it will remain. I doubt either of my granddaughters will have read them, nor do I believe they'll ever know anything about me. It's a situation with which I have come to terms. I was quite literally left to rot by those I'd once protected, so balls to 'em all.


Many of the adventures undertaken by the heroes were loosely based on real life (and far less exciting) events I myself had previously experienced. Some are just retellings of imaginary adventures I'd had during my own childhood, the gorilla headed robot knights being one such example.

Art, if that isn't too pretentious a word to use when describing one's own work, imitating life.

One of the characters, an old lady, was based upon a lady that once did me a great kindness several decades ago in a town square in southern France, a place not many miles from where I've once again found myself. This time, though, I find myself in the company of  yellow dog and a big dog.

Life imitating art?

The woman in question looked to be in her late fifties, though her gait was that of someone at least a decade older.

I saw her face only briefly, spoke to her for less than thirty seconds and then promptly forgot all about her for the best part of the decades that have blossomed and withered betwix then and now, until I needed to put a face to the kindly old lady in the tall tale for short folk that I wrote.

Recently, probably as a result of my new location, I keep seeing her face. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes in those moments when I'm enjoying a bowlful of my favourite tobacco and staring at a blue or starry sky and sometimes when I see a person glance back at me.

It was the summer of 1990 and, it turned out, the hottest day of the year. I was lounging on a dusty pavement in a municipal park with my back against my knapsack when we met. Some fellow backpackers and I were whiling away the hours whilst waiting for a ferry to depart, playing cards and enjoying the glorious sunshine.

"Pardon," She said as her shadow fell over us, "Are you Anglais?"

All of us with cards in our hands squinted up at her, though it quickly became apparent it was only me that she was addressing. The sun cast a bright halo around her head, obscuring her face.

"Oui" I replied, almost exhausting my French vocabulary.

"Pour vous..." She said, holding out a pizza box, the smell of the hot cheese and pepperoni emanating from within reminding me that food had been a scarcity for the last few days whilst simultaneously setting my stomach off grumbling.

I was mortified. The lady with the cheesy box clearly thought me to be a vagrant. I declined her kind offer, politely and with a smile.

"S'il vous plait, c'est, erm, it is clean..." She opened the lid to reveal the pizza, moist and deep and missing one piece. " look like my son".

I didn't know how to respond, I simply took the box from her and smiled. The lady turned away as I gazed after her.

Once she'd taken three or four laboured paces she paused and looked back over her shoulder. Now free of the solar-halo I was able to see her face clearly. Short, white hair lay in curls around a plump face that was both tanned and deeply lined from a life lived on the cote d'azur.

"Merci", I called, completing the exhaustion of my lexicon of Le Language.

Her lips were slightly parted and her chin trembled. Her steps seemed to stutter as if she couldn't decide which direction to take while she looked at me for the final time, an expression of sadness sadder than a stranger should ever be allowed to see spreading across her sun-kissed face. She smiled, turned and was no more.

That evening I caught the ferry to St. Tropez where I would, eventually, engage in a little ice-cream selling on the beach and salt-water scrubbing out in the bay. Everything did as every thing does and carried on regardless. I quickly forgot to wonder about my brief encounter with the woman.

The memory is crystal clear. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place during a beautiful period of existence. I can replay the scene in that quality of HD that only memory can create whenever and wherever I want. I can pause, zoom in to count the stray hairs caught on the collar of her coat (a heavy, chequered coat that looked far too substantial for the climate) or examine the card I had been about to play. It was the queen of hearts, I'm not sure if that was ironic.

I've no idea what, for that lady, came next.

For me, it was pizza (the first I'd ever eaten that I hadn't taken out of a freezer) and many games of cards in the sun before catching my ferry. My day was rounded off with a night sleeping on a bench half way up a mountain whilst a pack of dogs tore open my backpack having been attracted to it by the scent of the single slice of pizza wrapped in a Super-Marche bag I'd tucked away in one of the pockets.

I'd awoken when I'd heard the snuffling and gentle growling of the hungry hounds. Peeping out from within my quilted, nylon cocoon I watched as they rifled through my worldly goods, pissing on a select few items. 

Frustratingly, I was aware that the most I could have done to protect my chattels would have been to hop at them and fall over, thereupon providing them with one of the biggest and juiciest chew toys a hound ever had. The sleeping bag would have provided some protection from the jaws of those hungry strays, though not for my succulent face. Also, rabies.

As my father always said, whenever faced with insurmountable odds, "Fuck that for a game of soldiers".

Those mangy, Gallic curs had left me with nothing but the orange shorts in which I'd been sleeping, a piss-soaked back pack, a couple of brightly coloured tee-shirts and a pair of shoes.

I say "pair of shoes" but, unfortunately, one of the pair was a Nike trainer and the other a leather sandal, so maybe to refer to them as a "pair" is somewhat misleading. My mismatched footwear did, however, provide me with a convenient conversation starter whenever I met someone new.

Hopefully, that slice of pizza that those beastly bastards had so coveted gave at least one of them the Brad Pitts.

I can never ask the woman about her son. I wish I had. Maybe her sadness was because she'd lost him to disease. Maybe he was killed on active duty with the military. Maybe he was very much alive but, because of some stupid misunderstanding, had chosen to keep turned the back he'd turned in anger and, if the latter of these suppositions were to be true, maybe the sadness was soon to be gone and she now spends many happy Sunday hours laughing with her grandchildren as my doppelganger and his wife prepare a delicious lunch for them all to share.

I wonder if she ever wondered about me and, if she did, what did she imagine? 

I'd imagine she'd imagine something nice, a better life for me than I've provided for myself. Conceivably, she remains alive today. Whether she is or not is just another one of those questions to which I'll never know the answer. As far as I'm concerned, she continues to live Schrodinger's life.

I hope she lives in a little house amidst the lemon trees and wears a hat in the sun. I hope her calendar is filled with the birthdays' of descendants, that her pension plan has proven sufficient and that she has her son and her grandchildren to provide her with the luxuries that she deserves whilst having already provided her with a plethora of memories, memories of good times and loved ones rather than memories of a foreigner who looked a bit like her son, playing cards in the dust, wearing orange shorts...

...and eating her bloody pizza.

Sometimes, we let our imagination take control of the tiller. Generally, this is a mistake. We think the worst. We assume the worst. With no answers to our questions we continue to question, each question requiring a satisfactory answer. Not the correct answer, just one that is satisfactory. The answer we can imagine in most detail. Satisfactory.

But the satisfactory answer remains bereft of confirmation. No red tick from teacher to indicate we got it right, no smile from a question master on a television quiz show. Nothing.

So we continue to ask in the sure and certain knowledge that we'll receive no confirmation. What seems obvious at first is usually, though not exclusively, the correct answer. The woman with the pizza was most likely in mourning for a dead son. My appearance in her day had probably upset her and had cost her five sixths of her lunch. That is all I knew, know or can ever learn about the woman. On that day, at that time, she was sad and she gave a hungry teenager a pizza.

Maybe, later that evening, the lady that had fed me sat down to watch her favourite quiz show on the television, laughing and claiming to have known the answers to every question just a moment after the contestant had given their own answer to the immaculately coiffured quiz master and maybe, in passing, she'd mentioned our meeting to her husband. I imagine he was trying to read his newspaper while wearing the grumpy expression of a man too vain to wear reading glasses, squinting at the blurry words on the page. Maybe she told someone else about seeing her son's ghost in the park, maybe she kept it to herself.

If I'd taken the time to converse further with the lady then the rest of that day would've panned out differently. I would've found out her story. Maybe I'd have discovered that the son I reminded her of was fit and healthy, very much alive, and that she'd pitied me simply because she thought me too thin. Maybe her son had died in tragic circumstances, taken against the natural order of things earlier than she and leaving behind nothing for her to live for.

Maybe she'd once made a mistake and, as I now have, turned her back on her offspring, leaving him to rot whilst, to her, he continued to exist in some kind of Schrodinger's Offspring fashion, possibly alive and flourishing in another part of the world or posibly dead and decaying in a ditch.

Maybe I'd have become so engrossed in her story that I'd have missed the ferry and, therefore, not lost my pack to a pack.

One day, I came back to Blighty. One day, I settled down, albeit not forever. One day I had a son, then another. And a daughter. One day I got divorced and, on a couple of other days, I had a couple of heart attacks. During those days I continued to forget about the kind lady with the pizza, she being nothing more than the briefest of brief encounters many years prior, the beginning of a story that was never ended...

...until I wrote the ending.

Imagination, my friends, is the ultimate entertainment system.


Sunday, 7 August 2016

The time'll come when everyone will know.

As I mentioned in the post that immediately preceded this oneI've recently managed to escape the Hellish existence I'd been leading in a small northern town on a now irrelevant island floating off the shores of a disinterested continent and, at least for the time being, am living a life of luxurious poverty, lazing on a succession of sunny afternoons. How long this will last I have no idea, but even were it to end tomorrow it would've been well worth my giving everything up for.

Especially since I had nothing to give up.

Each morning, after having taken my hounds for a dip in the nearby river, cycled into the village to get myself some breakfast and having showered beneath a hose pipe with a watering can rose taped to it (my stable loft is equipped with many things, alas mod-cons aren't amongst them) I generally spend an hour or so sitting in the unglazed window and watching the world around me gently come to life, puffing on my pipe and grinning like a Cheshire cat at the locals while demonstrating the full extent of my French with a few hearty "bonjour"s and "ca va bien, merci"s as my neighbours wander beneath my dangling feet.

For the last five days I've watched three builders attempt to fit a door to an ageing cottage. Much to my dismay, the door they are fitting is brand new and constructed from uPVC. In my opinion it's a sin, but it's a family home and I'm sure that, come the approaching winter, the family in residence shall be grateful for the lack of draughty gaps that the previous, ancient, wooden door had. French tradesmen, it appears, don't do urgency.

Why should they? "You get nowt good from rushing" my dad always said. But five bloody days to fit a door?

The craftsmen turn up, they "ooh" and they "ahh" and they plot and they plan, then they go for breakfast. Upon returning they break out the hand chisels and the lump hammers and they chip away at the three foot thick wall around the doorway, puffing on Gauloises and laughing. They work like this until noon, when the sun enters it's hottest phase, then bugger off to do whatever it is that the locals do for the daily two hour period during which the streets are empty, returning later to smoke a few more cigarettes and prop the old door in position, making safe the property until the following day.

As a small boy, I had a big box of Stickle-Bricks. I spent many a Saturday morning with those colourful, plastic brickettes scattered around me, the tip of my tongue protruding from the corner of my little mouth as I struggled to recreate the magnificent models that were printed on the inside of the box lid. Bi-planes, cars, bridges, all manner of convoluted and colourful creations were assembled and disassembled over and over again until, bored by the limitations of the inventor of my favourite toy's own imagination, I began to attempt my own designs.

One fine Saturday morning, as Champion the Wonder Horse flickered his way through another grainy adventure on the crackling, monochrome tube in the corner of our lounge, I began work on my largest project yet, a castle of epic proportions. It included a keep, battlements, turrets and towers with arrow slits to allow my toy cowboys to shoot at the dinosaur riding Apaches that roamed the countryside beyond the safety of the citadel's walls. Walls thick enough to withstand the assault of the swiftest arrow whizzing from a bow or even the mightiest of cannonballs.

Alas, the castle was missing two pieces, the portcullis and the drawbridge. They were to be the final parts of the epic construction, but I'd used the last of the prickly pieces providing the ramparts for the Lone Ranger and his band of merry men to perch upon and take their potshots.

I asked my dad to help me, as all young men do when they realise they've buggered something up, and he gave me his empty Silk Cut packet to use.

I was less than happy with this solution and I told him so.

"Let's go out then, son." He said as he rose from is armchair, an unusual occurrence on one of those rare Saturdays on which he wasn't required to work at the timber yard.

"I've not finished though, dad." I moaned, but he said I could wear my cowboy outfit if I did and so, cap guns blazing, we burst through the front door of our house like Butch and Sundance.

I really hadn't wanted to go, but had I not then I'd not have found myself having a gunfight with another, similarly ridiculously dressed, preschool gunslinger. Nor would I have eaten a bacon sandwich at the cafe up the road or a choc ice in the park. I would likewise have missed out on being hoisted aloft to ride on my father's shoulders and wouldn't have seen the hungry fledglings in a nest that their mother had built atop the bus stop and, most importantly to to the rather mercenary four year old that I was, I'd not have strode back up our garden path two or three hours later clutching a new, slightly smaller and cheaper than the old, box of Stickle Bricks.

At last, the treasure of the cowboys would be safe from the marauding savages that coveted their riches.

I can remember every single moment of that brief trip to the shops in the nineteen seventies, Salfordian sunshine. I can further remember returning home to find my mother had "tidied away" [dismantled, stuffed in the box in a haphazard fashion and dumped on my bedroom floor] my construction and I can remember not caring a jot about the undoing of all my hard work.

The following Saturday, as my father emptied another pack of Silk Cut and read the newspaper, I rebuilt my castle, this time with all necessary security features, on the rug in front of the fire.

Seven days to fit a door?

You get nowt good from rushing, but plenty from taking your time.


Monday, 1 August 2016

Ten feet further away.

Dearest reader,

I have been living this last half a decade or so in an alien land. A land of squalor, hunger, loss, regret and very little else. If you've visited a few of these posts in the past then you will have almost certainly come across at least one of the many tales that document my spiralling plunge from humble beginning to abject poverty.

If you've not, and if you're interested, then "Don't bank on it", "Don't look down" and "High fidelity" are three such posts. 

I fell from grace, landed in the gutter, bounced a bit, was run over by a juggernaut full of bleating sheep being driven at speed toward the abattoir and, finally, came to rest beside a tree, whereupon a series of scabby mongrels pissed on me whenever the fancy took them. My blog, like my pitiful exitence, has been a miserable place at times and it shall, on occasion, probably remain so, though hopefully those tales of struggle will become less frequent and, in future, shall relate to the past rather than the present.

A week or two ago I awoke, coughing and spluttering as my diseased lungs tried to expel the mould spores that had spent the night colonising my blackened bellows, put on a set of clothes that were more holes than fabric and took my dogs for a walk, scanning the pavement for loose change that those wealthier than I had dropped (Always pay special attention at bus stops, people are forever dropping change as they frantically rifle their own pockets in search of their daysavers) in the hope that I'd find enough dough for a loaf of bread.

I didn't. I never do. Times are hard, people will stoop to reclaim any dropped coinage in times such as these.

The dogs and I returned home more quickly than I generally would have liked. It had begun to rain and my sock was soaking up moisture from the pavements via the hole in my right shoe. It was shaping up to be a very bad day indeed.

I'd recently found that what little money I was supposed to be living on had been surreptitiously diverted. I had two sacks of dog food, some bacon, a few pies and enough credit on the gas and electricity prepayment meters to last a fortnight.

Maybe even longer, if I didn't cook the pies.

So I buggered off. Not right then, but roughly a week later, having sold everything I had that I could find a buyer for. I even bagged up any clothes that wouldn't fit in my suitcase and weighed them in at a 'Cash-For-Clothes' shop a couple of miles away. I scraped up every penny I could, closed my bank account, cancelled my phone contract, popped my keys in a padded envelope and the envelope into the post box and only then did I depart.

It was scarier this time than last. The last time I threw everything up in the air and disappeared it was in a converted school mini-bus with enough money to last me six months. This time I had money for a week or two and had to scrounge lifts to get where I was going, but where I was going I eventually got.

I'd headed north, to Scotland, having fallen out of love with England through a combination of the poverty into which I'd been dumped when some bankers had done some bad things, the EU referendum result and the fact that nothing around me made me smile anymore. I felt, and feel, none of the pride I once had in my country and my countrymen. There are tens of millions of lovely people in my home nation, but the scales have tipped recently, meaning that the lovely are no longer the majority.

I first revisited an area of Scotland that I'd fallen in love with many years ago, the spectacular Forest of Argylle. I'd hoped to find work there through an old acquaintance but, upon settling into my first night in a static caravan at the back of an old barn, I realised that I'd been here and done this before. I stayed a short while to clear my lungs of spores, then continued zig-zagging around for a little while.

Then, before very long, serendipity struck.

A friend of mine from another lifetime was relocating to the continent and needed to drive her car there, a mammoth undertaking that she was unwilling to undertake. In return for my doing most of the driving, she paid for fuel, for the crossing and for food along the way, all I had to pay for was rabies shots. But, even better than all this, her new employer has given her a house in which to stay that has a stable around the back, above which is a small loft with no glass in the window, one plug socket, a day bed, a rusting bistro set and a hose pipe. What more could a man ever need?

So here I am, the best part of a thousand miles away and turning a lovely shade of mahogany as I attempt to learn a language that I really should have learnt in school. I've even managed to earn a little more money, walking dogs for those who have grown used to the beauty in which they reside and who can no  longer be bothered. Sometimes, mainly around bus stops, I find enough money to buy a loaf of bread, people here having none of the money worries that those in my last permanent residence had.

It's fucking brilliant.

If I'm honest, I didn't expect to see this day. I could see no future, wanted no future. Had a chance conversation not taken place I'm sure that, by now, my hounds would be under new ownership and I would be missing, never to be found. As it is, I have my two dogs, a tan, food, wine, laughter and I'm missing, never to be found, in an alien land. And I found a pushbike under a pile of sacks in what I laughingly refer to as my loft-apartment. As in England, my roof is full of holes. Unlike England, this results in my getting a suntan in bed rather than a cough.

This journey isn't over and I have no idea where I'm going, but I do know one thing...

...I'm never going back.

Enjoy the little things, folks. It's very important.


Sunday, 3 July 2016

Up all night, flushing a mattress down the toilet.

If, like me, you're of a certain age you might remember a blurry image from those halcyon days of television before the advent of a decent bloody picture, an image of a man dressed in flannel pajama bottoms, tank top and beret leaping from a bed and straight through the floor of a hotel bedroom as his long suffering wife rued the day she'd agreed to a second honeymoon.

I watched that particular episode of Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em with my father. It was the first time I'd seen Mr. Crawford's wonderful portrayal of the hapless hero and, as I sat on the floor beside my dad's armchair in my own flannel pajamas, a little bit of wee came out.

I became a big fan of the show, though it was ruined for me when I went to see it on stage. There was far too much singing and why did they dress Frank in a different hat? That mask was a bit scary, too.

The trials and tribulations that Betty Spencer, the aforementioned wife, endured through the well meaning but ultimately counter productive, even destructive, actions of her perpetually bewildered spouse never failed to amaze and amuse. The simplest of tasks would develop, over the thirty minute period of quality time my father and I wasted in front of the crackling box in the parlour, into catastrophes of devastating proportions. The comedy regularly managed to be nail biting while remaining faithful to the genre, the jeopardy created by Frank's conspicuous innocence, stupidity and steadfast refusal to give up even in the face of insurmountable odds never straying toward the melancholy but remaining focused sharply on the laughs.

As each problem arose and escalated Frank would be forced to adapt his plan, invariably causing more damage and necessitating further half arsed notions be entertained and engaged. His ideas, even to the little lad with the pee-spot in his pajamas, were always obviously flawed and could never work, but the plans he came up with were the best he had to work with and so work with them Frank did. Frank was many things, but a quitter he was not.

Yesterday, I awoke slowly. I reached out for my phone and squinted at the screen to see what time it was then, suddenly aware that an hour ago I'd pressed stop rather than snooze, leapt from my stinking pit and into my trousers.

Generally, I'm an early riser. I seldom have to be, but it occurred to me years ago that time spent sleeping is time wasted, little chunks of life where we may as well be dead spread evenly throughout our existence. I have to sleep, but I make sure I sleep the bare minimum. Yesterday, for the first Saturday in a long time, rising early was a necessity.

Dickfingers was making her final, long journey to the desolate north to collect the remainder of her possessions and I still hadn't finished stitching prawns into her mattress.

First thing to be bargained away in favour of freeing up some of the rapidly dwindling time between the now that was then and the impending arrival was my ablutions, with the exception of my teeth. I engaged in a little multi-tasking and began dashing from room to room collecting bags, cases, wall hangings and boxes whilst scrubbing away with the baking soda toothpaste and looking for my other shoe.

At last, I was caught up. Now time to walk my dogs, I grabbed my coat and headed for the door. Passing my armchair I spotted, still hanging from a nail on the wall, an enormous canvas that belonged to Dickfingers and that I knew she loved. I plucked it from the wall, placed it by the front door and stepped out into the grey morn.

I heard a gentle thud as I locked the door behind me. I clearly remember hearing it but at that time I'd immediately decided it couldn't be anything important and, whatever it was, it'd still be there when I got back. Off I set, gently puffing my pipe as my dogs plodded along beside me, pausing occasionally to check their Pmail. It was a cool morning and the sky above was obscured by the heavy, dark clouds now threatening to spill their contents on the gloomy streets below.

Thirty minutes later, after an uneventful morning wander, I arrived home as the first heavy raindrop struck the sparsely insulated portion of my head. I slid the key into the door and engaged the latch as I stepped forward, smiling at how well the initially disastrous morning was turning out, and smashed my nose into the uPVC that had failed to reveal an entrance after striking an obstruction an inch or two beyond the threshold.

My eyes were screwed shut with the pain, so I didn't see the bright flash and was unaware of the breaking storm until I heard the long, low rumble of the thunder that followed and the sudden deluge of heavy, icy water that immediately began to turn my inappropriately selected jacket from a light tan colour to a deep, Ford Granada brown.

Try as I might, whatever was wedging the door closed wasn't going to budge. The rain poured from  the tip of my nose and rendered me blind by virtue of it's sheer ferocity. I slipped my phone from my pocket and forced my hand through the available gap, taking a photograph of the situation indoors in an effort to come up with a plan.

The image on my phone's screen revealed how the large, well loved canvas I'd placed by the door just half an hour earlier had toppled over as I'd left. In an amazing coincidence, the exact proportions of the canvas were the exact proportions of the space on the floor between party wall, door frame and meter cupboard. The edge that lay furthest from the door was against a large, heavy box that was destined for the same destination. That box, which was heavy but not too heavy to stop my forcing entry, in turn filled the gap between the canvas and the bloody piano.

Aren't pianos heavy?

The surprisingly sturdy frame of the canvas was impossible to break or to move through either the X or the Y axis, it would have to be lifted, however the gap was far too narrow to get my arm through. Unless I removed my coat.

I removed my coat.

Getting colder and more sodden by the second, I slipped my arm through the gap at the top where I could force the door an extra inch or so open and began moving it closer to the ground, employing a sawing action as I pushed the plastic inward with my shoulder until, sat on my arse in the pissing rain, I finally managed to get stuck fast.

I wriggled, pushed and panicked but all to no avail. Further hindered by having two large dogs attached to my right arm by leads (dogs who, given the inclement conditions, were exceptionally eager to get inside) I began searching my mind for a way out of this predicament in which I now found myself. Then, like the seventh cavalry charging into view, help arrived.

A local chap, having seen me sitting on my doorstep in a tee-shirt during a thunderstorm, had become concerned and had come to help me. I was so grateful.

The big dog, however, was not. He can be somewhat protective and had assessed the situation, that being me out of action and on the floor whilst a potential threat approached, and decided to act unilaterally. As the chap approached the gate he called out, having to shout above the wind and storm, and the big dog took this as an indication that the point in which to spring into action had arrived. Baring his teeth and flattening his ears, he sprang.

Fifty kilograms of German canine muscle being launched skywards by four powerful legs, as it turns out, produces the exact amount of energy required to free a man of my proportions from a uPVC door, at the expense of my watch strap, six inches of forearm meat and the iPhone that I'd still been holding. As I wrestled back control of my hounds and watched the cavalry flee back the way he had come I came to believe it all pointless, that this was a conundrum with no answer, a riddle with no solution...

...and that I was fucked.

My time living in this grotty, ramshackle shithole has seen me have to break in, for one reason or another, on several occasions. On each occasion I have, once back inside, taken steps to prevent anyone else using the same method to ever again gain entry to my humble Horwich hovel. Yesterday, I realised what a great job I'd done. The place is a veritable fortress.

Resigned to the fact that there was no other option I elected to break a kitchen window. This meant securing the dogs to a wheelie bin whilst I climbed the back yard wall, unlocking the gate, untying the dogs, standing the wheelie bin back up and refilling it with the shit now strewn all around before, finally, selecting a broken brick from the smorgasbord of detritus that lies half hidden in the weeds flourishing unchallenged beside a long established and inappropriate traffic cone.

I approached the back window, masonry in hand and preparing to deliver a satisfying though fiscally devastating blow, when I heard a click.

Through the window before which I stood I spied the big dog plod into the middle of the kitchen floor (beneath the ceiling maiden that contained the clean bedding I was looking forward to enjoying that night) and begin shaking vigorously, soon to be joined by his substantially smaller, though apparently no less absorbent nor shaky, fellow pack member.

The big dog has long since taught himself to operate levers and latches. I think I've seen him trying to master fire. I fear for the future.

It was this ability that had allowed him to gain entry through the unlocked back door to Fortress Two Hats. I'd not thought to try the handle.

I retrieved my phone from behind the barricaded door and checked the time. Ten minutes before she'd said she'd arrive. Perfect. Dickfingers has never been on time for a single thing in her life, I had time for a shit.

As I relaxed into my movement I phoned her.

"Hiya, how far off are you?" I asked, expecting the answer "Birmingham".

"We're just turning the van around outside." The revelation came at the same moment that my arse exploded, emitting a sound similar to that made by a swarm of bats leaving their cave at dusk. She was not only not late, she was a little bit early. Talk about turning over a new leaf.

A frantic session of lifting and carrying and an awkward goodbye later and the deed was done. It wasn't a task I'd particularly wanted to carry out but one that we were both eager to complete as quickly and as easily as possible. Of course, easy isn't always possible. In those cases, easiest is all that's available. And easiest isn't necessarily easy.

Shit happens, wall hangings topple over, doors get left unlocked and forearm skin grows back, sort of. Oh, and bedroom doors get opened by annoyingly smart and stinkingly wet German Shepherds eager to gain access to the bed that contains the only set of bedding you own that doesn't already smell like wet dog and making it smell like wet dog.

All that could have made the morning any more Spencer-esque would have been for the dog to have done a woopsie while he was on there.

Whatever needs doing needs be done. If it needs be done it'll be done even if a dog has to take control of the situation. Most of us won't ever have to stay up all night to flush a mattress down a hotel toilet, but sometimes we'll all feel like that's exactly what were doing, so desperate to escape the consequences of a situation that we undertake increasingly difficult, damaging and destructive acts until we achieve the outcome we desire or else achieve the knowledge that we failed and can move on.

Either way, given enough time, the tale of your valiant/futile struggle will one day be no more than a funny story to tell your wife on your second honeymoon.

Stick at it.

Be more Frank.


Friday, 1 July 2016

High fidelity.

It's no secret that I have, in these latter stages of my existence, become inextricably entangled in the misery of perpetual poverty. On occasion, when younger and considerably less fiscally challenged, I would find myself a bit short of readies after one of the weekends of debauchery that I regularly enjoyed whilst still among the vibrancy of Manchester (If you're from outside the UK, you may know Manchester as "Shit London") but I'd have a full tummy all week, I'd still smoke and the bills would all still get paid on time. Many a Monday morning I would describe myself as not having a "pot to piss in" while munching on a bacon and sausage sandwich in the crew room at work.

I was very ignorant.

During the lowest point of my plunge into the despair in which I now dwell I'd found myself in a routine where I would eat one evening meal every other day. Eventually, I began to struggle to supply sufficient provisions for even this meager diet and would occasionally go three and sometimes four days without eating.

To be clear, I mean not eating, not one single morsel, not even a cornflake, would pass my lips. I lost weight, muscle, hair and, eventually, all self respect.

I own dogs. I owned dogs when I was well off and I own those same dogs to this day. They, unlike me, have eaten well throughout even the darkest of my days. They were, and remain, my priority, the only things I have that I care for and from the moment I'd rescued the first from the shelter I had made a commitment. A commitment I have found difficult, one that has caused me seemingly endless worry at times, but one that I have taken seriously and have fulfilled.

Some might say "You could've sold those dogs and eaten, they're only dogs" and to those people I say "fuck off". But I digress...

It was a dark and, this being Horwich, stormy night in December. I was walking my commitments before retiring to the relative comfort of my hot water filled duvet and sign off on another day survived. It was pub chucking out time and the local "traditional English" chippy (run by a chap named Stavros and serving such delicacies as the traditional British donner kebab and pizza) was in the midst of it's busy period. I held my breath as I approached, as I did every night at this point on our excursion so as not to smell the food being prepared and enjoyed by those who would have full tummies all week, would probably still smoke and who wouldn't be fearing the bailiffs knock whilst describing themselves as being without a pot should the need to relieve themselves arise.

A chap in a hi-vis jacket and rigger boots exited the chippy as we approached. He'd plainly enjoyed a good few hours of hard drinking and seemed to be suffering from Tourette's syndrome as he bid the chip shop staff farewell before bouncing off a lamppost and weaving his way up the hill in front of me. As he walked he opened the container he carried. The tantalising aroma of kebab meat with extra chili sauce filled the air and, now unable to avoid inhaling those meaty fumes as I walked in his wake, my mouth immediately began to water.

He removed a strip of the greasy meat and held it high above his head, lowering it into his upturned mouth and greedily swallowing it as a fledgling would a fat, juicy worm. His mouth quickly free to receive a second strip, he selected one from the tangled mass within the container and began to raise it aloft. He paused on the pavement, inspected the strip of meat clasped between his fingertips and, having decided that this piece carried too much sauce, proceeded to toss it onto the floor before continuing on his merry-as-a-newt way home. I stopped in my tracks.

It was a sizable piece of meat, lying there on a patch of pavement and kept dry from the sleet that had begun to replace the more usual rain by virtue of it's close proximity to a wall. The red sauce shimmered in the light cast by the nearby streetlamp.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

A woman was following me up the hill. She smiled nervously as our eyes met and she saw me, standing there in the rain when all other's were rushing to get indoors. She crossed the street and I waited for her to pass, already having decided that the need to sate the pain I felt to be greater than the need for any dignity and actually looking forward, excitedly, to eating a piece of discarded fast food from a gutter. Once the lady had passed I turned and stooped to secure my bounty, just in time to see my favourite commitment lick her chili sauce stained dog-lips.

There's gratitude for you.

They say the darkest hour comes before the dawn. The following day we were awarded a food parcel by the Salvation Army. It saved our lives, of that I have no doubt. My thoughts that night had been far darker than even I, with my penchant for all things noir, care to share.

When I was young, at about the same time that I'd discovered dancing and debauchery in the flesh pots of my closest Metropolis, there seemed to be a constant stream of images on the evening news showing children so weak from hunger that they didn't possess the strength to blink away a vomiting fly. They had suffered to a far greater extent than I ever have, I was still able to go without a meal so I could buy a sack of dog food, they'd surely have eaten the dog food. They'd lie motionless, appearing to me to be slipping away slowly and in an almost dignified manner. It never occurred to me that they were in agony but too weak to react to it, locked inside a withering shell as their core writhed in agony and flies lapped at their excretions. An image on a television can't portray the hell being suffered inside a soul. They would have given anything, betrayed every shred of human dignity, for a morsel of meat such as that my dog enjoyed on the pavement up the hill from the kebab shop. I know they would have, because even with my (far less extreme but still bloody painful) limited experience of starvation I, too, would have.

I've been hungry again recently. Not as hungry as back then, but still bloody hungry. It doesn't worry me greatly though, even given that my starting position this time is so far lower than that which I held when I began the initial slippery slide. I'll either fail or prevail, time will tell, and either way it won't matter in this whole, great, grand scheme of shit. Not to me at least, though the dogs might get a little pissed off when they try and boil the kettle to make their tea. Hopefully, they'll get hungry before I start to rot so I can continue to provide from beyond the grave.


After all, I made a commitment and one should never be afraid to fulfill a commitment.

No matter what the situation, there is great dignity in fulfilling a commitment made. It might be hard, it may hurt, it might cost you dear and there's a possibility the ultimate fulfillment comes as the result of your dogs noshing away on your most succulent parts and any of your steaming offal that they manage to expose with their frantic clawing and tearing, but nothing fills a chest with pride like a job of such magnitude being so well done.

Righteous pride in one's actions can be as comforting as the smell of hot rubber coming from beneath a duvet.

There's a chance that those around you won't know or appreciate the effort you've put in but it's important to see something through to the end. Maybe don't feed animals at the expense of yourself, but remember the little commitments you make every day. Those promises and arrangements made, those children that are currently annoying you but that will hopefully one day chip in to help with your trip to Dignitas and those commitments you make to yourself, they're all important. And remember...

...almost every commitment can be fulfilled without the need for a painful death on the floor of a cold home.


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Truth and lies and halftime pies.

Before I begin rambling in my usual fashion about whatever nonsense my head feels the overwhelming urge to spit out, I feel it would be remiss of me not to cover a recent, life altering event. As some of you might know, especially those that follow me on Twitter (@Johnny_Spacey), Dickfingers and I are no more. She moved out, I stayed here.


Dickfingers wasn't the only one to vote with their feet. Unless you've been living under a rock in a hole in a trough in, oh I dunno, let's say Alaska, you will have by now noticed that we, the UK, have voted to leave the European Union.

I say "we", I myself voted to remain a member. I admit I was surprised when I awoke on my settee, having fallen asleep there at some point before the sun had popped his brow above the skyline in a vain attempt to follow the count. I woke to find myself confirmed as a member of a minority.

It's a situation I am well used to.

As a small child my bedroom walls were covered with A4 sized posters torn from football magazines featuring my favourite footballer, a barrel chested vanguard of the squad from those halcyon days of the three day week and rickets. I had never made a conscious decision to support the Blues but, as with every other child in that era, I was indoctrinated into sharing my father's allegiance. These days, since the middle classes discovered that football is "splendid" and decided they wanted to price the proper fan out of his traditional Saturday afternoons of tribalism, delicious pies and alcohol fueled camaraderie, people tend to support whichever club is at the top when they start to pretend to have become interested.

City were good back in those days before Colin Bell gave way to Kathy Lloyd and Linda Lusardi above my headboard. Then they went shit, then a bit good again before becoming absolutely diabolical until they got rich. Never once, even in the third tier of football and losing 2-0 with only moments left on the clock, did I ever waver from my staunch belief that, although shit at football, my allotted team were still the greatest on some surreal level...

...except once.

It was my first year at primary school. I loved that school. It was a new school, built in the minimalist style made popular by the rise of communism in the east. Every door in the school would waft open in defiance of the door closers installed whenever someone opened the ridiculously heavy main entrance door, the gym equipment was impressively dangerous looking and the asbestos particles twinkled like stars in the beams of light that crept through the black out curtains whenever we were watching "educational television" on those mornings Miss Grundy (my first love) sported a pimple on her usually flawless chin and seemed in an unusually agitated state.

My first Wednesday brought with it my first games' lesson. A morning playing football whilst a different teacher, male and clad in a Royal blue track suit, smoked cigarettes and blew a whistle from the sideline. I was very excited. (It's just occurred to me, I have no idea what the girls where doing whilst we played footie. It being the seventies I'd imagine it was something to do with make-up or cooking.)

We got changed in the cloak rooms and I took great pride in lacing up my boots as my father had taught me (why do the laces need wrapping around like that? You'd think by now someone would have begun manufacturing laces to fit them. That's one for Dragon's Den, that is) and smoothing my thigh length, sky blue, football socks up over my skinny calves.

Out onto the field we trotted and I stood in line, proudly puffing out my chest, a chest that bore the badge that I had grown up surrounded by.

I was the only one.

Every other child bar one wore red, the one in neither red nor blue wore the white of Leeds United. No one was surprised when that kid was taken into care, his parents were quite plainly guilty of child abuse. A kid who would later quite literally grow into the name of "Fat Malc" asked why I supported "shitty City". I told him what I'd heard my father tell men when faced with the same situation. I smiled as I emulated a hero that even outshone Colin Bell.

"I wanted to be a red, but I wasn't fucking ugly enough."

Fat Malc was in no way a master of the headbutt, but his failed attempt at assault was enough to push my own indiscretion, the dropping of a fuck bomb, down the pecking order in things my chain smoking games teacher had to be fuming about, though I still received a clip around the ear.

Badgered all day by lads who, apparently, all had fathers much bigger than I, I began to doubt my own beliefs. Here were people telling me that the football team I loved weren't actually the greatest but were shit and always lost. I was confused, but I couldn't imagine so many others were lying to me. I needed to speak to my dad.

It was the days before my father had bought his first pub and he was still employed as a case maker at Parker Rosser's on Trafford Park, beneath the shadow of Old Trafford football ground. After milking the overtime, as was his want, he arrived home just before bedtime, his donkey jacket smelling sweetly of wood shavings and engineering grease, staggering all over and stinking of Polo Mints.

"Hiya dad, can I talk to you?"

"I thought you'd be in bed." He inspected my mother's burnt offerings left for him in the oven

"It's important."

We pulled out chairs and I ate a piece of bread and butter whilst he peeled congealed gravy off his chop and made funny faces.

"Dad, can I support United?"

He literally began to choke, slapping himself on the back and spluttering.

"You fucking what?" He inquired.

"I said, can I support United? Please?"

"I thought you were going to tell me you were a poof," He laughed, "and no you bleedin' can't."

"What does "poof" mean?" I asked, steering the conversation in the way only a small child can, toward embarrassment.

"You know, gay..." He performed the universally recognised, acceptable-in-the-seventies hand signal, "...oooh, look at the muck in 'ere."

"What, like German people?"


"The Germans, the ones granddad dropped his bombs on."


"That's it, Nasties."

"No, not bloody Nazis, Nazi's are like this", he performed a different though similar hand gesture, this time using two fingers from his free hand to represent a silly, little moustache.

There followed a conversation in which the phrases "my dead body", "I don't give a shit what Malc said" and "get your finger from up your nose" were used, then I went to bed.

The following day saw my first visit to the headmaster's office and a thirty minute session of isolation, the result of telling Soon-To-Be-Fat Malc and his red clad comrades that I had been reliably assured that, however big their dads were, mine would "stamp all over their fucking fingers" and informing the whole assembled shower they were, in fact, nothing but "Nastie gay pooftas" whilst goosestepping my way through an impersonation of a dead German Chancellor that Freddie Starr himself would've been proud of.

But I digress...

I'd been convinced my allegiance was to the best team. It wasn't, but it was the team I chose and the team I stood by. My father had told me City were the greatest and United were shit, he'd lied.

Bear in mind, these were the days before City were the greatest and United became shit at football. Turns out, maybe my old man was quite the Nostre Damus. 

It didn't matter that he lied, that he'd over-egged the egg and mayonnaise sandwich. I watched our team rise and fall and rise and I'll probably watch them fall again one day. It's only football. I'm a Blue, that's that and my decision to remain in that minority in no way impacts on others, nor their steadfast refusal to see sense on myself.

Imagine if you had been duped into basing your allegiance to something more important than kicking a ball or which cynically marketed merchandise you sent your son to school in on lies.

To paraphrase the great Mr Shankly, the referendum wasn't a matter of life or death. It was far more important than that.

We shouldn't let the liars forget their lies, nor forget their lies ourselves.

Now, where will we be building this week's hospital?


(Cheers Spence.)

Friday, 17 June 2016

The scabby dog with the weaponised arse.

The fleas leapt and swept and hopped through the air
Diving like monkeys from hair to hair
Laying their eggs on the dog in the chair
And feasting on blood with nary a care

Vigorously did the dog scratch at his chin
Then wander his way through to the kitchen
Where he snuffled and sniffled at the over filled bin
Licking some beans from within an old tin

The house was deserted, the door left ajar
And the gaps in the fence meant that it couldn't bar
The dog from escaping to roam near and far
'Til, just before tea time, being hit by a car

The lady that hit him, her name was Annette
Took the flea bitten mongrel to the town's local vet
Where the back right leg of the poor, forlorn pet
Was placed in a cast, once carefully set

No chip in his neck so his owners weren't found
And the poor scabby dog was sent to the pound
Until that fateful day came around
When a child arrived who'd been promised a hound

Dad tried to convince her this dog wasn't right
The mangy, old thing was a pitiful sight
Patchy fur and a huge overbite
Sitting in a kennel smelling strongly of shite

But certain she was that this sorry mutt
Was the mutt meant for her, so, though he did tut
Dad smiled, took the old dog and gently put
Him on the backseat where he emptied his guts

Mummy wasn't happy, she'd not wanted this
What was he thinking? Dad was taking the piss
But her daughter was happy and planted a kiss
Upon the dog's head as, again, it's arse hissed

"Not in your room" Mummy had said
"You'll have to make do with Big Ted instead
His tummy is bad and he's only just fed
We don't want him pooing all over your bed"

The girl was a good girl, she'd not disobeyed
So she wasn't admonished when her dad found her laid
On the floor by the blanket from which they had made
A bed for the mongrel they'd now named "Kincade"

With an arse that could easily clear a room
Fur just as rough as a street sweeper's broom
And breath smelling like the air from a tomb
He was hard to love, but loved he was soon

Not just by the girl he was always beside
The one in whose room he'd sneakily hide
But by all those around who smiled as they spied
The girl with the grin and the dog by her side

One day, when she's older, the two will part
And that parting will break that young lady's heart
She'll mourn poor Kincade, the dog with the art
Of bringing forth tears with a well timed, ripe fart

Later though, rather than sadness
Or longing to feel his weight on her mattress
The pain of the parting will burn less and less
And memories of him will bring forth happiness

The dog in the chair had had little to love
Dealt a harsh hand by a hand from above
He'd never known life not to be tough
Pardon the pun, but it'd been rather "Ruff"

A second chance had he earned, upon that day
When he'd spotted the gap and he'd run away
His back leg gave him gip, he'd certainly say
But it'd earned him a life less cold and less grey

Should you find that life be hard and living it be harsh
Find a gap in life's fence and then through it pass
Live the rest of your day's both hard and fast
Just like the scabby dog with the weaponised arse

(But do watch the traffic.)


Monday, 13 June 2016


A note lies on a counter, it's laid there for a couple of days
Hasty words of beauty scrawled across it's blue lined page
The edge is tattered, having been torn
From a notebook in which had been scribbled and drawn
'Twas written at speed and torn free in haste
Then into a sugar bowl carefully placed

The leaf's now stained and the ink's now blurred
You'd struggle to distinguish a single word
But he'd not, the one who'd watched those words fade
And now reads instead from the impression they've made
Words never spoken but imparted still
Thirteen of them offering a bittersweet pill

He'd tried hard to cry whenever he'd brewed up
Rereading those words as he'd filled his best cup
Those words, as they'd ebbed and they'd flowed 'cross that page
Those words that once sated his deep, savage rage
Drew him in tight while they pushed all else out
And shone a small light on where once there'd lived doubt

The walls we erect and the fences we build
Are the barriers behind which our futures are killed
Speak and speak and speak some more
Talk, impart, confess, adore
Speak of all things, both the great and the small
Those things that you feel, tell others them all

Open your gob and let the words spill
Don't think, just be honest and keep speaking 'til
The ears of the other, the brother or lover
Or sister or father or offspring or mother
The one to whom all of these words really matter
Hears the truth that dwells deep beneath idle chatter

One day soon he'll tidy up
Maybe even wash his favourite cup
He'll smile one last time as he reads what she wrote
Sigh a deep sigh and crumple the note
That day won't be long, already he's calm
But it can stay there for now, it's doing no harm