Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Rats, traps and two smoking barrels.

I dream a lot. I love dreams. Especially nightmares. A free and exclusive, personalised horror film, what's not to like?

Last night wasn't a nightmare night. Last night I dreamt I was young again. I visited places from my formative years in a weird, psychedelic way, flying on the back of a giant, pink moth. It was a good dream and a small section of it reminded me of a man I've not seen in well over a decade, a job I loved and a Tuesday morning in the pub.

I've changed the name of the man to protect the innocent. Or to prevent him from being charged. You'll see.

One of the many jobs that I have had throughout my pointless, meandering journey from cradle to grave was as a postman. When I look back on it, it was the perfect job for me. Early starts, early finishes, a good deal of eye-hand coordination when sorting, a friendly environment, a little bit of heavy lifting, chatting to people on my round and riding a push bike. I loved it. The only thing that prevents it being the "good" job that it always was is the management that came along after part-privatisation. No longer run by postmen that have worked their way up but now almost exclusively people that have been to university to learn how to juggle figures, blue sky think and wear cheap shoes. (A postman never wears cheap shoes, check it out.) These are the people that decided to rebrand the Royal Mail as "Consignia". I bet most of you didn't know that. It was Consignia for a good while, then they changed their minds and spent double the initial outlay changing it all back again. The Royal Mail made obscene amounts of money for the Crown. Then the Government took over (part privatisation, they were the only shareholder), put a load of post-graduates in management positions and wondered why overnight it began making ridiculously huge losses. It's not rocket-science.

But back to the story. Hopefully that mini-rant will be my only digression.

One particular morning I had to deliver to a back street pub on the border of Salford and Manchester. The area between our two great cities is akin to a no-man's land, a mile or so wide strip of derelict mills, unused car parks, a canal and some prostitutes. The pub in question belonged to Manny, a chap I'd known well since childhood, and I left his post until last so I could enjoy the pint he always offered me.

It was about nine a.m. when I arrived so officially the pub was still "closed", but business being so scarce in those days of pre-regeneration Manny ran a twenty four-seven operation. Thick, heavy black-out curtains covered the windows and were actually stapled shut so that no one could accidentally allow a chink of light to spill on to the street at three a.m. as there weren't even any street lights in the area back then, so the local constabulary (at least the ones that weren't in the pub getting pissed for free) would be able to spot it a mile off. Everyone knew to go around the back of the pub and come in through the kitchen, so in I went.

The pub was gloomy, dust motes dancing in the light from the open kitchen door, musty scented and deathly quite. Unusually, Manny wasn't behind the bar as he usually was, still in his slippers, cigarette in hand, perched on a wobbly bar stool and coughing into the sports section of the Daily Mirror while studying the form of the nags running that day. Slightly unnerved at this, I don't like change, I put my bag on the floor and crept through, up to the counter.

There, squatting on the floor and aiming a shotgun (unnecessarily since it had had the barrel sawed off) at a box of crisps on the bottom shelf was Manny, wearing one slipper, a bandage on the other foot and with trademark cigarette tucked behind his ear.


I shhhhhed.

"I've got a rat somewhere in the pub, and he's been nicking the crisps." Manny was lying in wait to ambush the rodent.

Manny's pub had always had rats. They would stream across the car park whenever the dray wagon arrived with his casks and kegs, and he didn't mind that. But now they were stealing from him. Manny didn't like that at all.

"Where'd you get THAT?" I whispered.

"Get what?" Manny remained staring at the crisp box.

"The fucking shotgun." Stupidly, I'd thought he'd know to what I was referring.

"Oh, some lads left it in the pool room." Manny was so "matter of fact" about it that I let it drop.

"Serve yourself, mate, if I move I just m..." There was a rustle from the box.


The shotgun went off and Manny leapt to his feet. I shat myself.

"YESSS! Dirty little bastards." He walked toward the bar, completely unconcerned that his specially adapted firearm had just destroyed the crisps, a good eighty percent of the glasses on the shelves, the shelves themselves and his glass washer.

I shook my head and began to fill my glass.

"Awww fuck." Manny exclaimed eloquently.

Blood, fur, teeth and skull fragments, together with perforated crisp packets, cardboard and what looked like a little, blue collar, created a macabre Murial on the back of the bar. (That's right, "Murial", not "mural". There was an eye in the middle.)

Now as it transpired, Manny had been hunting this rat for a week or two. First he tried baited poison traps. The poison had been eaten but no dead rats had been found. Then he tried vicious rat traps, of the over-sized mouse trap variety, but had elected to remove these after treading on one while wearing his slippers.

Next, before resorting to heavy artillery, he had borrowed a Jack Russell Terrier from a customer which he had allowed free run of the pub for a few days. Still no dead rat, the crisps were now disappearing at an alarming rate.

It turned out that the very misleadingly named Jack Russell, "Lucky", like the prey on which he failed to prey, had a liking for crisps. He'd spent his nights eating Manny's stock and then sleeping with a full tummy behind the boxes of crisps on the bottom shelf

I wanted to recount this tale for no particular reason, and thought I might be able to tie it in with some deep, meaningful ending. Something clever, you know. A moral. I'm struggling, but I've tried my best. If you take one piece of advice from this entry, let it be this;

Never lend Manny your dog.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

We're all doomed.

I saw another of those tweets that annoy me today. Not because of it's content so much, but because of it's presentation. It was a picture of Karl Marx alongside a list of reasons he was "wrong". Politics aside, there was one statement in the list that claimed he'd never had a job. This was factually incorrect, one-hundred per-cent untrue, and was the only "fact" in the list, all the other points being opinions on the man's character and his beliefs.

At this point I'd just like to say that I am not a Marxist. I don't class myself as anything in a political sense and, through the medium of Twitter, I've been described as both a Communist AND a Fascist. Hows that for a wide spread? I see some good in the left and some good in the right but the pigheadedness of both camps, their stubbornness and inability to ever allow themselves to see that an idea from the "opposing team", no matter how clever or righteous, has any validity, reminds me of the schoolyard and I have no intention in getting embroiled in a row which will only result in me getting my dad, who is considerably bigger than their dads, to beat them all up.

The thing I dislike about Tweets such as the one I began this post by mentioning is that they portray an air of validity due to the clever use of photo-shop (other photo editing software packages are available) and, when viewed by weaker minded individuals, are taken as fact. Verbatim. Twitter says so, so so it is. Twitter also says God exists and that he doesn't and that Manchester City are the greatest team in the world but Manchester United are too. When we see a badly speld (sic) argument espousing the rights of the left, the wrongs of the right or the innocence of the guilty we disregard it. He can't spell, he's thick, ignore it. But slap a pretty picture on it and use a spell checker then even the pimpliest, socially inept and awkward fourteen year old can make a spurious statement sound like it was spilled from the lips of JFK, Churchill or Stephen Fry. But it's still bollocks.

After pointing out the factual error in what was otherwise, I'm sure, a very pertinent and even sided argument I was taken to task by someone that saw what they believed to be my defence of, in their opinion, a dangerous and subversive ideology. I'd made no statement for or against Marxism, nor put forward an opinion on the other, more subjective, points made. Just that Mr Marx had, at times in his life, worked. After being told I was wrong I had to wait a short while until the chap returned from a Google search to admit that okay, I was right, but Marx was lazy and had had to rely on the cash of others to survive when he had very little himself so his notions were invalid. Invalid they may be, I offer no argument either way, but this chap, who was perfectly eloquent throughout the conversation and quite plainly educated to a decent standard, had taken that "fact" that had been slipped into a list of opinions, opinions that he already clearly believed in, as being evidence. It took a moment or two for him to find out it wasn't the complete truth, but had someone not attempted to point out the error/misinformation he wouldn't have checked and would have believed it.

All this got me thinking, what if we really SHOULD be taking more notice of made up words set to pretty pictures. What if the answers are all around us? I'm not talking about Tweets, that would be silly. Enough monkeys banging away at enough typewriters would give us the complete works of William Shakespeare, along with a ridiculous amount of gibberish. It's the same problem with Twitter. Some really great, life affirming, advice or insightful political thinking will be in there, but they remain hidden from view under a huge pile of banana skins and monkey shit.

No, Twitter is useless. What we need is a more concise collection of pictures with made up words added. A more organised library of lazy literature. What we need is...


(Or Pinewood, or Bollywood, or any of those other, wonderful, dream factories.)

Think about it, everything that could possibly go wrong has already been tackled, and overcome, on the big screen.

Russia bullying the world? British? Send for Bond, James Bond. If they invade the USA call for the Wolverines. (The '80s Wolverines, not the weak, flabby, 2012 team.) Dead but don't yet know it? Find a troubled pre-teen and damage him psychologically for life. The Nazis are attempting to steal your Arc of the Covenant? Call Indy.

Actually, no, don't call Indy. Indy does nothing.

In fact, why wait for disaster or war before we ask the Producers for an appropriately heroic and successful ending? Why not just take it on ourselves to live our lives like movies? Just imagine...

The good guy always winning (yes, yes, I know, but Hannibal Lecter is pretty cool).

After losing him/her briefly to a despicable cad, crying in the rain and spoiling the puppy you bought together and who now you secretly despise, you will end up living happily ever after with the man/woman (Oooh, you realise you just said "man stroke woman" in your head? That's rude.) of your dreams.

The local naughty boys home would be transformed from a grey, dark, lonely place of desperation to a technicolour sing-a-long with impromptu dancing and jolly old food fights.

If you're being chased by a murderous psycopath and you're a female, with hymen intact, you'll know you're going to be okay. Your boyfriend will save you in the end, after being thought dead and forgotten about for a good half hour.

Evil genius has captured you? It's ok, he's bound to leave you in a room with a single, incompetent, armed guard while he goes to prepares his killer-piranha-fish-death-ray-o-matic-tron for use. But not until after he's told you about his plans and revealed the one weak spot in his metallic, island fortress.

We know it all. What is, was and what will always be. We know God is a kindly chap with a sense of humour and who looks very much like Morgan Freeman. We know if we want to be a champion free-runner all we need to do is locate a radioactive spider and let it bite us. No means of escape from a perilous situation in an office block? Jump out of the window screaming, there'll be a massive pile of boxes in a skip to break our fall.

By the way, America, don't you watch your own movies. Armageddon? Deep Impact? If Hollywood's taught us anything it's that as soon as you elect a president that looks anything like Morgan Freeman then we're all doomed!

As ever, I'm both rambling and digressing wildly. Flailing my literary arms frantically attempting to get my point across while sinking below the foamy waves of coherence. I apologise. Hopefully you already do your research and refuse to believe something just because it was attached to a picture of a dead dolphin or a despotic leader. If you don't, hopefully you now will. If you won't, then let me show you a little picture I've been working on.

Thank you all ever so much for taking the time to read my mental meanderings. And don't worry, folks, life isn't like the movies.

It's better than that.