Sunday, 29 November 2015

Geronimo's rifle, Marilyn's shampoo.

An incredibly sexy storm has raged around my house for the last few days. Blustery wind whistling through the letterbox, gusts rattling the door knocker, rumbling clouds and rain of biblical proportions. It's really very atmospheric.

This morning, I watched the rain trickle down my window pane as I smoked my pipe. It filled me with a sense of nostalgia, transporting me back to a half remembered time decades ago, the seven year old me taken on an uninspiring journey to an uninspiring place.


The nostalgia inducing raindrops running down the misty window and the cloud of tobacco smoke surrounding me combined to take me back to that year's trip to "see the lights", an annual event that I had to endure for a good portion of my childhood.

My dad knew I hated it and I knew he did, but when I'd begged not to be made to go he'd pointed out that my mother and sister enjoyed it and so it'd be unfair not to. I wasn't convinced. He asked me why I didn't want to go, I said I didn't know. And I really didn't. I just knew I didn't want to go. Apparently, though, "I don't know" isn't a good enough reason. So I had to go.

"Can we have some rock this year?"

"'Course we can, sonshine. Now put some bloody trousers on."

Sat in the back of my fathers Renault 12TL, I spent the next hour and a half feeling nauseated as my parents chain-smoked their way through the traffic jam to then spend a further hour sat in a queue looking at some poxy lights. To my sister and I, seated in the back, the radio was nothing but a tinny hiss of white noise that made conversation impossible. Then, at some point, my mother glanced over her shoulder and caught me yawning.

Just like my father and myself, my mother hated the trip. By the time we reached the golden mile my parents cigarette packets were exhausted, offering my asthmatic lungs brief respite. The sudden nicotine withdrawal meant mum's temper was near it's limits and, having mistaken the tiredness of a small boy's yawn for boredom or disdain (in fact, it was both), she exploded in rage, loudly proclaiming that she didn't know why she'd bothered bringing us (a sentiment shared by a her husband and at least one of her offspring) and demanded my father turn the car around and cut short the evening.

"And don't think we're stopping for any rock, either."

Unfortunately, her rage hadn't broken the surface until we were already stuck in the procession of cars crawling along the windy prom with their passengers oohing and aahing and eating candy floss, and so we had to endure forty minutes or so of silence interspersed with occasional, loud reassertions of her earlier point before we could take a right and head back home. I placed my forehead against the glass, settled into the corner and watched the rain drops trickle as my sister nervously clawed at the flesh on my left forearm, drawing blood and leaving tracks (Tracks that should probably have raised a few spurious suspicions regarding my well-being, but didn't) and steadfastly refused to join in with the game of I-spy that my dad later suggested just when she was dozing off and slackening her grip.

The raindrops were catching the orange light cast by the ordinary, non-garish street lamps that lit our route home and pissed about with it, creating amber lenses through which brief images of a distorted world that had never existed and that would never be seen again in quite the same way as I was able to see it were visible. A twisted reality captured briefly within the walls of a shimmering, transient bubble. The rain was far more entertaining than a few shining clown's faces and a neon representation of a tube of Smarties. Quite possibly this was the beginning of my appreciation of the little things, a way of escaping the world around when the world around was passing through one of those periods when it's just not worth not escaping. Those boring, pointless periods that come between the interesting portions.

You can always find something to stare at and lose yourself in, even if it means giving your eyes a rub so you can watch the sparkles dance.

Many years later and a parent myself, my mother suggested we take my kids to see the lights. I have no idea why on Earth I'd do such a thing, but I agreed. I remembered I didn't like going, but I couldn't remember why, just that it hadn't made me happy.

The lights were a different type of shit to the lights of my youth, but at least equally shit. There were a lot more of them, but basically it was just a series of advertising screens like those you see in the petrol station. The boys politely smiled and nodded whenever their grandmother said "oooh, look at that one" and both toyed longingly with the Nintendos they weren't allowed to turn on.

We stopped and bought some rock, and it was raining.

There were no arguments. The car had speakers in the back so the kids could hear the music too and, of course, there was no cigarette smoke. As we began the journey home, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that my youngest son's forehead was resting against the glass.

Worried about him falling asleep too early and being a right, royal pain in the arse at stupid o'clock the following morning I instigated a game of I-spy. He joined in, begrudgingly. He was four years old at the time and so hampered by a limited vocabulary and ropey spelling skills, but he eventually managed to win.

"Your turn, sonshine."


"Do it properly."

Arms folded, he sat up and, through pursed lips, spat the words.

"I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with A."

His brother, grandmother and I began guessing, but he really had us. Eventually, we requested some clues.

"It begins with A."

"Yes, but is it in the car or outside."


"Is it in the front of the car or the back?"

"The front", He made eye contact with me in the rear view mirror and continued, sternly, "It SHOULD be in the back as well, but it's not."

Try as we might, we couldn't get it. Meanwhile, despite my employing such tactics as winding all the windows down and turning the radio up full blast, both my sons began to nod off.

"Do you give in?" Number two son mumbled from his slumped position as he fought an increasingly hopeless battle with slumber.

"Yes, what was it?" In the mirror, I saw satisfaction spread across his sleepy face as I conceded defeat. Nothing cheers a child up like beating his old man.

I could've kicked myself. Not for not getting the answer, but for not thinking of it myself when I was a little lad. The answer that meant I never again made my kids sit through that bloody rigmarole, the one thing that makes any period worth not escaping. The thing that should have been in the back, but that wasn't...


If something doesn't make anybody 'appy, what's the bloody point?


Monday, 23 November 2015

Eight times eighty-three and a quarter.

The night of my youngest son's birth was a long one.

On the day he was due, the very date the doctor had given for his arrival, I arrived home from a shift working behind my father's bar on a bright, autumnal Friday evening to be greeted by my eldest boy.

"Mum says to tell you it's started. She's in the bath. Are we still having a chippy tea?"

"You can have whatever you like, son", I called over my shoulder as I disappeared up the stairs.

The bag had been ready for a week or two, so once I'd got her 'dressed', but before she'd stopped being angry with me for every bad thing that had ever happened in her whole life (To be fair, I probably was responsible for the majority) we set off.

A storm broke as we left the house, lightning flashing across the sky. I laughed and made a joke about the Anti-Christ and she told me she hated me and that I was never to touch her again. Such a special time, the birth of a child.

Having deposited the existing offspring with his grandfather and agreed that "you can have whatever you like, son" meant he could have a kebab, a shandy and a new game for his Nintendo we drove, through driving rain and howling winds, to the local hospital.

The unusually dark, local hospital.

A lightning strike had caused a power cut, but the emergency generators were in operation and so dim lights lit the interior. We were deposited in a delivery room to get comfortable, the general consensus being that the demon's seed gestating within my wife's gizzard was several hours away from unleashing Armageddon upon the world, and I drew her a bath as the thunder crashed outside the little window.

Whilst she soaked in the warm water and moaned about how shit I was at everything, I wandered off to find a phone. Unable to find a payphone I asked at reception, only to be told that the phones had gone the same way as the electricity. A chill ran down my neck as the storm continued to rage. The nurse I was speaking with made a joke about the Anti-Christ and I giggled nervously, interrupted by a blood curdling scream.

He was coming.

I dashed back into the delivery room as a flash of lightning lit the little window revealing a crow, oily and black with beads of rain on his bill, sheltering from the weather on the window ledge. It cawed. I gulped.

Another scream brought me back from my stupor and things began to get busy. I cracked inappropriate jokes whilst my wife gave birth to the second drain upon our resources in what has to be the easiest, most text book of deliveries. He was even clean, just a tiny spot of blood on his pointy head from the probe that had been attached. And he didn't cry. He was breathing, he was moving, everything was fine, but no screaming.

He was placed on the scales and left there, safe in the stainless steel bowl, whilst those people whose names I wish I'd bothered to ask tended to business.

It was dawn. The storm now over and the sun's early rays beginning to cast long shadows outside, birds were warming up their cheeps and chirrups in preparation for a hard day's chirruping and cheeping. I hadn't noticed it cease, the storm. I've no idea at what point during the labour, but given the night we'd just experienced I assume it was the moment he took his first breath.

There was a clunk and the power came back on, the strip lights flickering into life at about the same time a young chap put his head around the door and told me I could use the phone now. Then we were alone.

I looked at my new son in my arms and smiled down at him. I laughed with my wife about how we should call him Damien and I made some joke about how I'd have to execute him on an altar, a comment which thankfully went unheard by anyone but us.

There was another storm, on his first birthday. As ferocious as the one the previous year, surely this must be proof? That child wasn't mine, he was demonic, he was GINGER for Christ's sake! How could there be any doubt? The spawn of Beelzebub born into the perfect hiding place, the home of a devout Atheist. Someone who didn't believe in all that shit, someone that would let the black soul of the cloven one flourish in his care without ever suspecting...

But I was on to him.

As I sat in my armchair watching the future Lord of Flies mash birthday caked into a paste with his fists and wearing a paper hat at a jaunty angle, his brother singing Happy Birthday to him for the umpteenth time, it all became clear. I knew what I must do. If he was the Devil, if he was the one that would bring Hell to Earth...

...then I was on the Devil's side.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Utterly reject harm and mischief.

The junior doctors are going on strike.

Lazy bastards.

If you ask me, they're just using it to get some time off for Christmas shopping. The Trafford Centre will be rammed with the work shy, loony left leaning, parasitic, junior doctors.

The Government have done everything they can to avert the strike. They've bent over backwards to accommodate the juniors doctors demands, even though the junior doctors kill so many people at the weekend.

If one single word of what preceded this lovely, italicised paragraph rings true with you then please, get a fucking grip.

Generally, the most obvious answer is the correct answer. Yes, occasionally a bizarre and random series of unfortunate events leads to the answer. Maybe the dog really did eat the homework or someone broke into your house to put the cigarette burn in the cushion that appeared while you were on holiday and your son wasn't misbehaving in any way, shape or form during your absence, but it's more often that the homework never got done and your son is a twat.

So, if I pose the question, "Which guys are the good guys in all this?", then what would the most obvious answer be?

The Government will talk, but only if the junior doctors agree to the majority of the new contract in advance. But that's the bit they need to talk about, so that's bullshit then.

The Government did their adding-ups wrong, so they changed everything a bit, did them again and got them wrong again. For a while they said they'd got them right, then mostly right, then we forgot.

The junior doctors left school and took out enormous loans to learn how to make you and your loved ones better, to stop people dying whenever they can and to earn a decent wage. They work hard and their product, the nation's well-being, is more valuable than any Government contract with a foreign power to take wealth from our shores and jobs and prospects from our people.

Even more valuable than a bank.

The Government is filled with career politicians preparing the finest feathers for the nests they'll one day look down on us from. They can't add up. They have told lies. None of them need rely on the NHS for their own health and well being, or for that of their loved ones.

If the Government can't get it's own way, it changes the rules a bit until it can. If the junior doctors can't get their way they protest, debate and challenge, they follow the rules and they get little or no support from most of us until they arrive at the point where they are so exasperated and feel so undervalued that ninety-eight percent vote to go on strike. Ninety-eight percent. Is it possible that ninety-eight percent of junior doctors are lazy, greedy, liars or a combination of the three? Or is it more likely that we, their patients, have taken their service with the gratitude of a pigeon pinching a pie crust and let them be battered and bullied into a corner by a Government that thinks it can behave in whichever way it wants?

If something is valuable to you, you protect it.

If you own a gold bar, you bury it on a deserted beach under a coconut tree, if you've a secret you keep your fat mouth shut and if you've a gorgeous partner you make them grow a tatty beard and wear a hat.

I'm optimistic that most folk will agree with my sentiment. That they, like I, will wish things could be settled differently but that they can see through the lies and half truths of the so-called Conservative Government. Your taxes paid to save the bankers after they'd fucked everything up, shouldn't they also be used to provide the NHS with the resources it needs and the doctors with the respect they deserve?

Non-essential operations are going to have to be cancelled. That's a shame, but at least they weren't essential. Some people will shout loudly about how unfair it is. It is unfair, and unfortunate that those people weren't so vociferous when first the junior doctors asked for support.

We've let the situation develop, so busy in our own little bubbles that we forgot to keep an eye on the world around us. This hasn't been sudden, it has been looming on the horizon for ages.

Time doesn't sneak up on us, it's the most predictable thing known to man. Every year, Dickfingers has a panic as Christmas approaches. There's never enough time and, eventually, she'll utter the words "...but it's Christmas day TOMORROW!" amidst the now traditional, frantic, rabid, yule tide preparations, and I bite my tongue. Yes, it is tomorrow, the tomorrow that has been sitting behind the last doors on all of the many advent calenders she's been working her way through for the last three weeks.

If we leave things until the last minute, we lose the NHS and have sausages instead of turkey.

When it comes to the decision about whether to back the junior doctors or to side with a guy in a suit and a polished face, it all boils down to just two questions:

If Jeremy Hunt gives you a pill, should you swallow it?

If the doctors themselves tell you that you're running a health service wrong, should you listen?

The Government couldn't be more obviously the bad guys if they donned eye-patches and decorated their fucking hats with little, silver skulls.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Exactly what it sounds like.

Mrs Mattapier stirred the porridge in the pot
And glanced at her wrist where her wristwatch tick-tocked
She called up the stairs to her daughter above
"You're going to be late, get a bustle on, love"

Her daughter came dashing her way down the stairs
And sat at the table on one of the chairs
"Careful", said mother as she placed down a bowl
Of sizzling porridge to fill her daughter's cake-hole

splash of cold milk so her mouth she'd not scold
And a dollop of honey the colour of gold
Her rumbly tummy now filled with hot oats
She went and collected her bag and her coat

She pulled on her hat and her scarf and her gloves
Then tickled her dog who replied with a "woof"
She stepped out the door and into the street
The dry, autumn leaves crunching under her feet

"Good morning, Russell", she beamed at her friend
Who'd waited, as ever, down the road on the bend
Unusually, though, he was on hands and knees
Staring at a pile of crisp, golden leaves

"What on earth are you doing?" she asked as she knelt
"And what the heck is that disgusting smell?"
"Shhh", hissed her friend from his spot on the ground
She did as he bid with a bewildered frown

"If you listen hard and tilt your head right
You can hear those two ants, there, having a fight"
She held her breath and listened intently
But all she could hear was the breeze blowing gently

Then, far away, a new noise, a grumble 
Growing until that deep, distant rumble
Grew louder and louder and was joined by a roar
Then a hiss and a clunk and a whole heap of sounds more

clatter and crunch and a grumbly groan
squeak and a squeal, a mechanical moan
hiss and a pish and a blast of cold air
And the bus sailed past, leaving both children there

Down on their knees with their ears to the ground
Watching two ants fighting atop a mound
Of leaves that exploded and fluttered and flew
Revealing a dried up piece of dog poo

The girl and the boy stood and chorused "Oh, great"
Left behind at the stop, now they'd surely be late
"Now we're in trouble", said Russell as they
Rose to their feet and set off on their way

"We're not going to make it now we're on foot"
"Don't worry," said she, "For I know a short cut"
She ducked and disappeared through a gap in a bush
And called back to Russell, "Come on, Russell, rush"

Dashing hand in hand through the fields and trees
Laughing and grinning and buzzing like bees
They leapt 'cross the stream that babbled gently
Downhill to the river then far out to sea

They passed by the ducks that waddled and quacked
And the derelict farm house with windows all cracked
They asked a lone horse if they were going the right way
And laughed at the nag when he answered them, "neigh"

A large, woolly sheep tried to baa the kids path
And a flatulent goat had made the friends laugh
They splashed through the puddles and squelched through the mud
Heading for lessons as fast as they could

They ran by some chickens who "bock, bock, bock bocked"
And climbed an old gate an old farmer had locked
Then laughed as they carried on up the small hill
Watched by a crow with an oily, black bill

The crow caw-caw-cawed out his early warning
Of danger approaching on that autumn morning
A swallow gulped and a robin did, too
Then they took to the air joined by a cuckoo

Swooping through the sky, larking around
Whooshing and swooshing far from the ground
Watching the children who dashed far below
Under the beady, black eye of the crow

They crashed through the trees standing proud on the brow
Then sped through the field, past a miserable cow
Who tutted and mumbled as green grass she chewed
No smile on her face, she was in a bad mooed

Fields and streams crossed and one final fence climbed
They zipped down the street at a minute past nine
Heads down they whizzed in through the school gates
Puffing and panting and red in the face

Late they had been, though late only just
And, surprisingly, they'd beaten the bus
It had broken down a mile from the school
And the unfortunate driver carried no tools

Russell pulled out his best friend's chair
As she pulled a twig from her best friend's hair
They sat side by side, both wearing wide grins
And awaited the rest of their class to get in

Mud on their shoes and leaves in their hoods
Collected on their journey to school through the woods
And fields and fun places between here and there
The smiley kids looked a right scruffy pair

But what a tale young Honor had
To entertain her mum and her dad
When, home once more and safe and sound
Their tea-time chatter came around

The noises they'd heard and the smells they had smelt
The things they had seen and the feelings they'd felt
The squeaks and the squawks, the clucks and the clatters
The end's just the end, it's the journey that matters