Saturday, 27 December 2014

Shittin' by the docks and in pain.

Do you remember your best ever day?

Of course you do. It was, after all, your best ever day. Who'd forget a day like that?

Memory's a wonderful thing, as are the memories themselves. Some are sad, some are happy and some are useful. Remembering when your first pet died is sad. Remembering the bits that came before tend to be happy. Remembering to feed your pet is useful, especially if you want to put off obtaining the dead-pet memory for as long as possible.

We're nothing without our memories. As far as we're concerned we don't even exist until we have them. When we were newborn and swaddled, lay in our pram behind the television with the sound turned up to drown out our caterwauling, we were nothing more than a cute, gurgling drain upon the resources and good humour of our poor parents.

If you're as lucky as I am, then the memory of the first four or five years of your life will be chock-a-block with good memories. Little, distant glimpses of cowboy outfits, football in the back garden and black and white television shows watched with your father on a Saturday morning. Even the stuff that seemed bad at the time will probably, with the years, have had the pain dulled by distance and become nothing more than a funny anecdote to entertain your friends with. The bollockings for breaking windows, the smacked legs for cheeking the neighbours and the being sent to beds without tea for nicking your sister's jam butty and swearing blind it was the dog that ate it whilst being unaware of the sticky, red evidence surrounding your cheeky little chops, all were majorly upsetting at the time but now, who cares?

What's your favourite song?

I have many, depending on my mood. But one song comes to mind whenever I'm asked that, frankly puerile, question. It's not a song from my youth, it's a song from before my youth. A song that has been playing in the background during the most memorable events in my life since age eighteen. It's become a stalwart of my memory.

I'm sure it wasn't playing on the radio in the ambulance that took me to hospital after the unfortunate trampolining incident of '75, but when I think of that adventure there it is, playing in the background and soothing my tears.

The first time I'm aware of hearing it was in 1987 when a group of my friends and I found ourselves at the Willow's variety club in Salford. All now of age and keen to make use of our age confirming driving licences we decided to pay a visit to this most illustrious of venues, with it's cheap entrance fee, sticky carpets and multitude of middle aged divorcees all hungry for the flesh of the young.

We arrived, suitably suited and beautifully booted, with packets of cigarettes and wallets with condoms tucked behind the five pound notes (Only fivers, that way the wallets looked fatter). The wallets contained little, plastic windows to flash our I.D.s at the uninterested bouncers as we swept through the big, double doors in the mistaken belief we looked like something from a movie, rather than the truer picture. That being the Bash Street Kids from the Beano going to youth court.

Having been brought up in a pub, I had more experience of how to behave when in licenced establishments than my peers. We'd all experienced alcohol before, copious amounts of cheap cider swigged from two litre plastic bottles while attempting to breakdance on the pavement outside the Thresher off licence on a piece of vinyl one of the less intelligent members of our "crew" had provided.

The dimwit in question had taken a Stanley knife and had cut the large square of vinyl from the middle of the kitchen floor at his mother's house. His mother had hunted us down, which wasn't difficult. The crackle of the static from our track suits, the sound of UTFO and Roxanne booming from the ghetto blaster I had received for my fifteenth birthday and the fact that we rarely wandered far from the only off licence in Salford that would serve us alcohol made us sitting ducks. She made us return the piece, only to dump it on the wasteground that had once been a row of terraced houses between her house and the old Salford docks, allowing us to reclaim it the very next day.

That night, though, we had a wide variety of beers, wines and spirits at our disposal. Bitter, lager, whisky, brandy, even creme de menthe which, when dumped into a pint of Stella Artois, made a council house cocktail we named "dirty beer". All were imbibed, mixing in our bellies and creating a cocktail that should never have been.

One by one our party diminished. Brave companions falling by the wayside. Some vomiting, some picking fights they could never win and all cast out into the cold, dark air by the disinterested doorstaff that had probably known this was coming when allowing us to part with our entrance fee earlier.

The stage show was set to begin at nine p.m. and, by curtain up, our party had shrunk to just four.

We'd managed to get ourselves a table to the left, and with a good view, of the stage. We had, up until this point, been unaware that their would be a live band on. Our "playlists", had such things existed in the 1980's, was restricted to American hip hop music. And the Bangles, but that was mainly because Susanna Hoffs was the bathroom-buddy of choice to my generation. We were most disappointed to hear the band announced as :

"The one, the only, superstars of soul.... Mr Jimmy James and the Vagabonds".

The crowd, with the exception of our now sparsely populated table, went wild. Whooping, cheering, screaming and applauding. We headed for the bar as the group made their entrance. Then,


What followed was an epiphany. A revelation. A stage show like I had never before, and have never since, seen. There, in the middle of Salford in a nightclub with sticky carpets and twice-weekly bingo, real, bonafide, soul sensations. A non stop performance of songs that we'd all heard before but that we'd never taken the time to enjoy. A fat, black, epitome of the genre, dabbing away at this sweaty brow with a white handkerchief, dancing like a man half his age and a quarter of his size, backed by singers in velvet suits with dance moves like we'd never seen and belting out some of what have since become my favourite tunes.

We drank no more that evening. We danced. We cheered, we smiled, we laughed. We had the best night out I can ever remember having.

The end of the night came and the music slowed down. A melodic intro kicked in, the stage lights went out and a spotlight came on, illuminating only Jimmy as he sat on a tall stool near the front of the stage and finished his amazing show off with what has since become my favourite song. We began to file away from the dance floor, smiling and exhausted, but were ambushed by a table of middle aged women and dragged back toward the stage to round the night off with what we later learnt was the period colloquially known as the "grab-a-granny erection section".

At that age my self control wasn't great. The sensation of this well-upholstered, fifty-something's ample bosom against my tummy and her gnarled hands clawing at my arse was more that I could stand. I tried to control myself with a self-taught trick. I closed my eyes and imagined watching Man City play, but then David White scored and it all began to go wrong. So I concentrated on the lyrics and tried to wriggle sideways in her grasp.

"...watching the tide, roll away..."

Lovely words, a tune that matched, soulful crooning, it was, to my mind, the perfect song. "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay", originally by, I later discovered on my visit to the Vinyl Exchange in Manchester city centre, Otis Redding.

Once free of the grip of my cougar with a cough we departed the venue and four friends went four separate ways.

The mixture of minty liqueur and Belgian beer, with their different specific gravities, in my tummy, combined with the fresh air and the tray of chips and gravy I purchased en route home, began to have an unfortunate effect on me as I took a shortcut across the wasteground behind the house with the vinyl-less kitchen floor. I realised, for the first time since queuing to see Santa in Debenhams, aged four, I wasn't going to make it to the toilet and that, this time, it was going to be far worse. My stomach cramped and gurgled as I frantically tugged at my belt, dropping my trousers to reveal my novelty Donald Duck boxer shorts and looking around to see if I was in danger of being seen. It was pitch black, no streetlamps illuminating me and a good distance from the nearest house, so I squatted.

First came a hot explosion of brown water, then the warm ooze of something that felt, but didn't smell, like thick custard. It smelt like someone had taken a shit in a big bowl of polo mints.

The shame I felt was only diminished by the sweet relief at my solitude and the soothing sensation of my rapidly evacuating bowels.

Finally finished, I realised I had neglected to bring any toilet roll out with me that evening. I wished I was as cool and forward thinking as the soul sensation that I had just witnessed. If only I had a clean, white handkerchief.

In the gloom, just to my right, I spied a leaf. A large, wide and soft looking leaf. A dock leaf. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, farted one more time, snatched the leaf from it's stem and gave my burnt backside a vigorous and frantic wiping.

As I cleaned my undercarriage I remembered the first time I had learnt of the therapeutic properties of the dock leaf. My granddad had used one to wipe away the pain and discomfort caused by the rapidly spreading rash I had on my arm after falling off my bike into stinging nettles.

"Wherever there are nettles, son, you'll always find these."

The other side of this particular nugget of handy information is that wherever you find dock leaves, you also find stinging nettles.

In my haste to clean myself up I had inadvertently grabbed not only a lovely, soothing dock leaf but also a fistful of nettles. And wiped my fucking arse with them.

I sobbed like a baby and winced with every step of the remainder of my journey home, vowing never to tell a soul what had happened.

Many year later, while backpacking around France, I found myself sitting on the dock of the bay for real. I had nothing to do but watch the tide roll away and waste time. A perfect moment. I had with me a small, transistor radio and, quite coincidentally, Mr Redding's dulcet tones began emanating from it's little, crackly speaker. I was immediately transported from my place, basking in the sun on the old wall around the bay at St. Tropez, and back to that cold, dark night in Salford. A night of incredible highs and devastating, embarrassing lows. I laughed out loud and recounted the story, in all it's gory detail, to the young lady with whom I was travelling. It was the first time I had ever told anyone, and we laughed like loons.

You see, that's the thing with bad times. The moment they're finished they become memories. No matter how low you feel, at some point in the future, maybe a long way away, all that will remain of your misery and discomfort  is a funny, little story you can recount while waiting for the ferry to St. Raphael.

And an aversion to creme de menthe.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Vive la difference.

I take after my father in so many ways, some good, some bad. My height and my jet black, lustrous locks come in on the good side, my big nose and miserable demeanor on the bad.

One way in which I differ from my father is my parenting abilities. He wasn't perfect, but was pretty close. I, on the other hand, am absolutely shit at it. I tried, I wanted to be good at it, but when push came to shove I was shit. My son's are both happy and healthy, but despite my input rather than because of it.

When they were young I spent a lot of time in the car with them. My ex-wife had moved over to the other side of the mountains a couple of years after our divorce and, when it was my turn to have the boys for the weekend, I would drive over and pick them up. Generally, it being a fortnight since the last time I'd had them, there was plenty of catching up to do. The journey back to Salford would fly by as I was regaled with tales of playground skirmishes, football matches and minor misdemeanors. My youngest lad would bring his favourite CD with him to play in the car. For a good chunk of this period it would be the same album every week, "The Eminem Show", but the more child-friendly version with all the swearing bleeped out that his mother had insisted I buy for him. Unfortunately, my ex-wife's attempt to censor the lyrics was rendered redundant since the highlight of our journey was my shouting out "...fuck you, Debbie..." when the edit kicked in on that particular part of Mr. Mathers' poetry. 

Shit dad.

During one of our journeys my youngest son was giving me directions from his place riding shotgun by my side. I noticed he kept holding his hands up just before telling me to turn left or right and, when he saw my quizzical look, he explained that his teacher had taught him how to tell left from right, a basic life skill that had never occurred to me to teach him.

Shit dad.

"If you look at the backs of your hands with your thumbs out, dad, one looks like a "L" so that's left. The other doesn't, so that's not left."

An ingenious, yet beautifully simple, technique, and one that no one had ever shown me. I'd been taught a far more convoluted method, aged six, by non other than 70s heartthrob Mr. Lee Majors.

Lee had been star of one of my most favourite television shows as a child. He was Steve Austin, AKA the Six Million Dollar Man. (This was back in the days when six million dollars was still considered a lot of money.) 

Steve was an astronaut who'd received devastating injuries crashing a test plane. A man barely alive. A secret government agency had the technology, and the capability, to rebuild him, to make the world's first bionic man. Better... stronger... faster and, most pertinently to this tale, with a new, man made left eye.

I wanted to be Steve Austin. 

My mother bought me the tee-shirt from a stall on Swinton market, my granddad bought me the annuals and then, on September the tenth, 1976, I got the holy grail of birthday gifts. The Steve Austin action figure from my parents, along with a Six Million Dollar man space rocket that doubled as an operating table and a Steve Austin action figure sized space suit.

The action figure had a button on his back to operate his bionic arm, capable of lifting the engine block that was included, and a rubber, foreskin like sheath on the right arm that could be rolled back to reveal the circuitry hidden beneath. The face of the doll was uncannily like that of Mr. Majors, except for the left eye, which was a lens. There was a hole in the back of Steve's head through which to look and the lens made everything look really far away. 

This was the only disappointment. What the fuck? That's not how it was supposed to work. 

Still, I was the first in my school to own such a toy and I was as happy as a proverbial pig in a pile of proverbial shit.

To look through the bionic eye, it being on the left hand side of his head, meant using my own right eye, et voila. From then on, whenever I needed to know which side was right I simply had to imagine holding my favourite toy. I knew right from left. No more making a twat of myself limping to school with the shoes on the wrong feet, no more going to the wrong drawer when my teacher sent me to get paper or pencils and now I knew what my dad meant when he said I was "cack handed".

Thank you, Mr. Majors.

I still rely on this method occasionally. As I've aged I've started to get confused far easier than I did when all I had to worry about was getting home in time for "Battle of the Planets" or finding enough broken pallets to build my next den. I struggle to remember words that I've used a million times before. Occasionally I refer to my children by the wrong name or, as is becoming more common, by the name of one of my dogs, but Mr. Majors' method of remembering left from right keeps me from getting lost or run over when crossing the road. Without Mr. Majors method I'd have been flattened by a speeding motorist years ago. The Tufty technique of looking right, then left then right again is less than useless without it.

At about the same time that I was learning left from right, a grocer's daughter from Grantham was making history. The country was "on it's arse" as my father so eloquently put it. The grocer's daughter had become leader of one of the two main political parties and some people were very excited about it. The other party, the party in charge, were in power and some people weren't happy. There were strikes, protests, riots and power cuts. I was too young to give a shit about most of the upset, but I did enjoy the power cuts. My dad bought a little, black and white, portable television and a spare car battery which he left, on a piece of newspaper to protect the carpet, in the front room and connected to a trickle charger. Whenever the power went off, the candles would come out and my father would wire the portable telly up to the fully charged battery, et voila. We were the most popular house on the street, our living room filled with neighbours all laughing and watching with us.

Eventually, it was time for a general election. The grocer's daughter won, becoming our first and, to date, only female Prime Minister. She wore a blue frock and spoke dead posh, like my Auntie Sheila who I imagined was a member of the aristocracy and not really the sister of my sweary, pub landlady grandmother. To my young mind, that was the difference between the two parties. The grocer's daughter's party wore blue and were posh, the power cut party wore red ties and were as common as dog shit. The two sides were poles apart, blue grocer's daughter on the right and red, pipe smoker lot on the left. Piece of piss. I didn't need any ingenious toy-based system to know who was who.

As I got older I became more sophisticated. I read newspapers, watched the news and listened to my schoolteachers. The red pipe smokers liked the working man, the blue grocer's daughter's chums liked the bosses of the workers. Their opinions and views were poles apart and, depending on the viewpoint of the voter, one lot was good and the other lot bad. For those that weren't sure which side they were on, there was another lot, a sort of orangey hue, slap-bang in the middle. It was all so easy. Chalk, cheese and a little bit of chalky-cheese (Let's call those chaps "cheek", or "chase", whichever you prefer.) in the middle.

Chalk, cheese and a cheeky chase, easy peasy.

Whichever you chose, you hated the others. If the others had a good idea, you hated that. You invested so much time and energy into backing your own side that you found you had to oppose every idea that came from Left field or Right out of the blue. Even when your own side were failing to perform you steadfastly stood strong and, like a sufferer of Stockholm syndrome, stayed loyal. You knew where you stood, and you stood behind what you knew. Men all over the country drank in Conservative clubs or Labour clubs, their allegiance sometimes for noble reasons and sometimes because they were ha'penny a pint cheaper. Whichever side you were on was good.

In recent years it's become harder to know which club to join. The cheeky chasers put on a bit of weight and the Left and Right rolled inwards toward them. Eventually they began to melt, slowly at first, into each other until now, as a result of this and of my rapidly rotting grey matter, I struggle to tell one from the other. They don't even try to be different anymore. Now, the other side's idea is no longer a bad idea, they dare not say that. Instead, the other side's good idea is so good that they take it and say it was theirs all along. 

Nowadays, should an individual be naive enough to say what he or she thinks, rather than be derided in a smoky bar in between hands of crib or frames of snooker by the other side, they are castigated, pilloried in public, spoken about globally in conversations that all can see, All, including themselves. They allow themselves to be bullied into submission until, now, none dare say what they actually believe. They say what they think will cause them the least upset. They chicken out, scared of the opinions of those that will hate their ideas however inspired and well-meaning they may be, the opinions that people already held, have always held and will always hold. Now, we have no real choice other than to choose the least bad. There is no Left or Right and no right or wrong. Just one, huge, amorphic blob of platitudes, excuses, name calling and derision.

I used to vote, my choice based on which side I believed would be better for the country I love. I would still vote, if there was something worth voting for. Or if they add another box at the bottom of the ballot paper. A box that indicated;


Where's Steve Austin when you need him?


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Don't bank on it.

Are you happy?

I sincerely hope you are. I like to imagine, whilst I sit here tapping away at these keys and occasionally blowing the fag ash out of the gaps in between them, that those of you bored enough to read my inane ramblings are seated upon a leather couch, iPad in hand, sipping a glass of white Zinfandel and occasionally popping a malteaser in your gob as your children lie on a rug playing with their favourite toys and half-watching the adventures of an anthropomorphised sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.

I'm happy.

It's a curious paradox, my happiness. Anyone that could see the damp riddled, rat infested house with the black mold decor in the bathroom and bedroom in which I am currently forced to dwell would struggle to understand how I could be anything other than miserable. Were they to see my bank balance, they would be further confused, and if they were to see me, on the coldest of nights, lay crying with the pain that, no matter what I do, won't subside enough to give me even the briefest respite until the painkillers kick in and send me loopy, they'd call me a filthy liar.

But I really am very happy indeed.

I'm not stupid. I can see that, from outside, my existence is generally a pitiful one. It hasn't always been the case. Once, I was successful. I had a family that loved me and that I adored. I still adore them, but I don't have them any longer. If I focus on that simple fact for long enough I get sad and so I never focus on that simple fact for very long.

Once, I had a social life that was the envy of most. I was popular and confident, I ate in fine restaurants, visited foreign lands, drove lovely cars and rode lovely motorcycles. But I was never truly happy until things went wrong.

I was made redundant from a job that paid a decent age and that I was good at, but it didn't matter. I'd never struggled to get a job and so I didn't worry. I was unemployed briefly and, during this period, I had an epiphany. I had never done a job that I wanted to do, only a succession of jobs that I was good at and that would pay me enough money to enjoy myself once my working day was over. "Why," I thought, "don't I try getting a job that I enjoy?" After all, as my father once said, if you enjoy what you do for a living you'll never work a day in your life.

As a teenager I had a friend named Mary. Mary lived with her mother in a damp riddled, rat infested house with black mold in the bathroom. Her father had left shortly after Mary's birth. Her mother was considerably older than my parents, well into her sixties when Mary and I were thirteen. Mary loved me and I loved Mary. Mary would hold me tightly whenever she saw me, kissing my cheek and giggling. I would wriggle free, embarrassed, as soon as I could, and then she would come to the park with me where we would meet our friends. Occasionally, en route to the park, someone would shout a nasty name at Mary and Mary would cry. I would take her hand and we'd continue on as bigger kids who should know better would shout the vilest things at us. Then, once in the park and among others that had known Mary all their lives, Mary would sit minding our coats whilst we played football.

Mary had Down's syndrome.

I lost touch with Mary once I'd left school. I have no idea what became of her. I do hope she's happy.

But back to my tale. I decided, after much deliberation, that I wanted to work with people suffering with learning disabilities. I applied for a job as a support worker, a very easy job to get since the pay is obscenely low and very few people want to do it, and I began working with autistic adults, supporting them to live in the community in their own homes.

For the first time in my life I was as happy whilst working as I was whilst not. I seldom stopped smiling and every day I would catch myself, whilst out walking my dog, muttering the words "I fucking love my life" and smiling like a lunatic. I was assaulted by my clients, I had poo thrown at me regularly, I dealt with things that would turn your stomach and I absolutely, wholeheartedly, loved it.

Nowadays, that work has dried up. Some people that work in banks did some bad things and we decided that those who needed help most should shoulder the blame, rather than the bankers, and do without. They can't complain, so fuck them. We dare not risk upsetting the bankers.

I mourn the loss of my career, but I remain grateful to those individuals that I supported for making me realise something that we all should realise. I'm a really nice bloke. Not everyone agrees with me, I'm sure many people think I'm a prick and, to be fair, I do have prickish tendencies. Just like you, him next door and the local vicar.

Life for the last three years has seen a steady decline in my standard of living but I never feared the future. I knew, just like in the past, everything would be okay. Yes, I was going through a bad patch, but it wouldn't last. Later this belief changed to "yes, okay, the bad patch got worse, but it'll be okay."

I made cut backs, refusing to claim benefits. After all, I thought, I'll be okay sooner or later.

Except now I was in my forties and I was competing for work with many younger than I and in the same position.

Eventually, I gave in and went cap in hand to the state. I filled in forms, attended meetings and was awarded JSA, but still I struggled. So I sold my possessions. My motorcycle, my cameras, my phone, my jewellery. I couldn't understand why I was still struggling so much. Others were in my position but weren't walking the streets in shoes with minimal sole coverage, they weren't eating beans on toast for every meal, skipping breakfast and freezing cold in a damp house. It must be my fault, I thought, and tightened my belt further.

I'd had several credit cards when times were good. I hated using them. Every month I would pay them off, in full, never having to pay a penny in interest. Once I wasn't working I'd stopped using them but now I was desperate. Just a tenner, that wouldn't hurt, would it? And anyway, I'd be able to pay it off soon.

But I couldn't. A tenner became two tenners, then three. Eventually I couldn't afford to pay anything off the balance and so I stopped opening the letters they sent.

Then, after walking the nine miles to the job centre to sign on one week in late October I was told that I could have no more. My contributions were depleted. But there was good news! They had made a mistake on my initial claim and I had only been receiving half the amount I should've been, the reason I'd been going hungry. They apologised and told me that the balance would be paid into my bank account.

"When?" I asked.

"Yesterday." They said.

I was saved. I dashed to the bank to draw out what I could. Except one of my credit cards was with my bank, so they'd taken it. It had appeared in my account and was immediately taken toward the debt I owed. Fair enough, I thought. I did owe it, after all.

I trudged home, thinking about the beans on toast I would be having for my tea. Everything was going to be alright, something would save me, I was sure.

DickFingers had been ill for quite a while and unable to work. She'd been attacked doing the same job as I had loved and, as a result, will never be able to work in that industry again. She wasn't eligible for benefits herself but had been receiving a small, monthly, statutory payment from her employer. She could've prosecuted her attacker and sued him, but she couldn't bring herself to do that. A letter had arrived whilst I'd been out. It informed her that this was to be the week her employer's obligation ceased. We now, literally, had zero income.

At this stage I began to worry a little, but I needn't have. DickFingers is considerably younger than I and she found a job. Not a great job, but a proper, full time job. It was minimum wage but, by that point in our lives, it was equivalent to winning the Lotto. We rejoiced. We were going to be alright. Well, next month we would, as her start date was mid November, but we'd make it. We had beans and bread, what more did we need?

(Butter would've been nice, but we're not greedy.)

She started work and we looked forward to payday, the last day of the month. It was going to be close, but we'd made it this far, all we had to do was hold on a little longer.

Payday approached and she came home one night in tears. There had been a problem processing her forms and she'd not be getting paid until the following month. As with so many things in this computer-age, there was nothing anyone could do to help her.

We were, I had to now admit, fucked. We would die of starvation in a cold house. There was nothing anyone could do to help.

We ate every other day for a week. The following week she ate every other day while I pretended I'd eaten whilst she was at work and I went two days between meals. I'd gone from fourteen stone to less than ten as we'd slipped into poverty and I was beginning to ache all over constantly. But I had a plan.

DickFingers has a family that love her but that knew nothing of our predicament. If, I explained, she went down south to stay with them for a while then I was sure I could sort things out up here and, as soon as there was food in the cupboards and I'd cleared the debts, she could come back. I smiled as I told her my plan, I acted as if it was ingenious, infallible, that I couldn't and wouldn't fail and that it would take a month, maybe two. Then she could come back and we'd live happily ever after.


I didn't tell her the whole plan though. I missed out the part where I would steal a bottle of whiskey, get pissed, walk up Winter Hill, throw my coat away and drink until I fell asleep in the snow never to wake up. I've never told her that part. The first time she learns of it will be if she bothers to read this blog.

She considered it. She didn't want to, but maybe it'd work. But first, she said, why didn't we try and find out if we could get some food from one of those foodbanks that she'd heard about?

So that's what we did. I walked nine miles to the nearest C.A.B. where a very nice doctor who was volunteering that day agreed we deserved a little help and gave me a voucher. He raged about how he hated our country, a rich nation, where he was spending his days dealing with people like me. "If I'd wanted to deal with starvation and poverty", he said, "I could've stayed in India."

We had to survive one more weekend before we could collect our parcel. Just one more. Then on Monday, having not eaten for four days, we walked a thirteen mile round trip to collect our food. I cried when I saw the vegetables. I actually cried, all because we had a fucking cauliflower to cook.

We carried the food home through the rain in several sports bags slung around us. At one point I honestly believed I wouldn't make it, so DickFingers took one of my bags and my hand and told me it was going to be okay.

We didn't eat much that night, we didn't know when we'd get any more.

The following Monday, still just half way through the parcel that was only supposed to last us a week, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to be greeted by an elderly couple, smiling and wearing Santa hats and Salvation Army uniforms. They had unexpectedly brought us another parcel because it was Christmas, and this one had a chicken in it. And fruit. And biscuits. I have never in my life been so grateful for a packet of bourbons and a tub of brandy sauce.

We survived through to Christmas and beyond. DickFingers got paid. I wrote some books. Between us, we now keep our heads above water. Paying off the consumer debt and the penalty charges that these unpaid debts have now accrued is still but a pipedream. We'll pay them eventually, if we don't die first. Either way, it's something we've long since ceased to allow to cause us sleepless nights. Some may say we should be ashamed of our poverty. In truth, we are, but one day we'll be dead. Why allow the time between this day and that to be filled with misery?

A bank caused our slide, another bank saved our lives. Not all bankers are bad.

Last month, for the first time in over a year, we treated ourselves to a chippy tea. TWICE.

This week we managed to put the heating on when we were cold.

I found thirty pence on the floor earlier.

And that, dear friend, is why I'm so fucking happy.

Enjoy the little things, folks. S'very important.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A kind of magic.

Sometimes, I think I might as well be talking to myself, and a lot of the time I actually am.

Maybe I suffer with a form of Tourette's syndrome, I'm certainly prone to the occasional, neigh frequent, sweary outburst. Many an evening, while my train of thought meanders violently along it's zig-zagging track through my imagination I will blurt out a sentence of such randomness that the fragrant Ms. DickFingers, sitting beside me and picking at her toenails, shakes her head and momentarily graces me with an incredulous look.

Nowadays, thanks to the advent of the iPhone and it's symbiotic relationship with Twitter, these occasional outbursts of randomness find themselves sent into the ether and spread throughout the interweb like a dose of syphilis through a Frenchman. Generally, though, they go unnoticed, as they deserve to, but just occasionally they receive some attention in the form of retweets, favourites and replies.

This very afternoon I found myself thinking about one of my favourite tattoos. I have many, on my back, my chest, my arms and my legs. A snake, a dragon, a Geisha, tribal tattoos, Oriental scripts, phrases, flowers, birds, and a Koi among others. Some very ornate, some very striking, some very large and all, with the exception of my favourite, very easy to conceal should a situation (Job interview, court appearance, funeral, Bar Mitzvah, etc.) call for an air of respectability.

My favourite can only be concealed by wearing a polo neck, well starched shirt and tie or neck brace, it being situated on the right hand side of my throat. It's black, quite large and one of the more simple designs. Just two words, six letters, a short phrase. A reminder, whenever I look in the mirror or see a photograph of myself, never to forget one simple secret. The key to my almost infallibly happy existence.

"Be Kind".

Just two words, but words I found to be so important that I decided to have them carved into my throat. It's a secret I discovered many years ago. The secret to my happy, little life and outlook, to success in the one area of anyone's life where success really matters. Money wont make you miserable, nor will the love of money, but it can't make you happy. An impressive job title will only impress those that covet your job. A flash car may be nice to drive and look pretty on the driveway of the house your bank manager owns and allows you to live in, for the time being, but will age far quicker than you and one day, rusting and in the hands of a spotty teen, be long forgotten by all. Even you.

But kindness, that shit lives forever. 

A kind act can be over in an instant but the person to whom it is presented will carry it with them inside, though maybe too deep inside to be remembered, until the day they shuffle off this mortal coil and begin to moulder in a grave. But, while your car rusts and your home is converted into student flats once the area starts to deteriorate, it remains as shiny and undented as the day it was performed.

Glibness aside, once you realise how good it feels to perform an act of kindness, being kind becomes selfish. A good selfish, but selfish nonetheless. The spring in your step, the tune you whistle as you smile coming home, the smug self satisfaction, they're yours and yours alone to enjoy.

And it feels so good.

So I Tweeted this...

A throwaway comment that would once have been muttered and lost before my Twitter addiction took it's hold on me, but now noticed by a few people, favourited, retweeted and commented upon, resulting in a smugness equal to that which I feel when I help an old lady carry a bag, compliment a stranger or hand over a sausage roll and a meat and potato pie to the homeless lad and his dog I regularly pass in Bolton town centre.

The first time I performed the latter of these examples I'd just spent my last pound in the Pound Bakery, hadn't eaten all day and was faced with a not inconsiderable walk back to my home in Horwich. Moments after I'd handed over the goods I regretted it, my stomach admonishing me angrily, but once home and with a piece of toast in me I reaped the rewards. Maybe it was smug self-satisfaction, maybe it was happiness, either way it felt so good.

The greatest satisfaction comes when I do a random act of kindness that no one ever finds out about. Something that I know will make the recipient smile, scratch his or her head and wonder at their little bit of good fortune. Nothing creepy, I don't break into people's houses and do the washing up or arrange their knicker drawer in order of colour while they sleep, and to give you a particular example would undo the magic, but it's possible. Rare, but possible.

I am aware that very few people saw the original tweet, buried as it was in the middle of the day, and that most of those that saw it probably forgot all about it very soon afterwards, but maybe just one person tried it out. If they did, I am certain they'll have repeated the experiment again today and hopefully will continue to be kind. There will be days when kindness is unwarranted or impossible, I have many such days myself, but the day after sees me return to my glib ways. Like a dieter who sneaks a mars bar when no one's looking only to carry on munching salad instead of chips at meal times, to fail one day isn't to fail. 

We only fail when we cease to try.

So, in an effort to encourage people to try out my recipe for success I've designed a game for you all to play along.

  • Receive one point for every random act of kindness.
  • One additional point if the act of kindness benefited a stranger.
  • Two additional points if no one knows it was you that performed the act.
  • Lose three points if no one would've know but you told someone and screwed that up.
  • Tot those numbers up, multiply the total by ten, convert those points into pennies, put those pennies in a jar and wait until it's full.
  • Give the jar away.

And the winner is...

...all of us.