Friday, February 12, 2016

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It's been a crap few weeks with a few moments to give me hope.

I occasionally wibble on about how getting a cold is considerably more dodgy for me than most people and as I enter my third week of the virus/after-effects/sinusitis/virus/repeat cycle it's beginning to really hack me off, big time and has, at times, felt a little like my job search - drudgery intermingled with a ray of hope or two that the nightmare will end.

Yes, I'm well aware that I'm laying it on thick, but I'm getting to the stage where, despite being nearly 54, I'm having to explain (for my benefit more than anything, probably) to visitors why there are so many crumpled tissues in my office bin full of a cold, viscous and potentially unpleasant, substance that sticks to blankets (and tissues), so they don't think I've rediscovered continuous wanking in my 50s or it's just a five year accumulation of jizzum...

I've had some interviews - three to be precise - and I'm no more confident now than I was before them. I should be pulling out of daylight deprivation induced depression by now, but the winter has been so mild and almost spring-like at times that I've never really plumbed the depths I sometimes do (like last year, for instance). One of the jobs might still be up in the air - I didn't get the one I went for but there might be another position (I've heard this before so many times now that I'm thinking it's just the bosses way of making the loser feel a bit better, so I expect I won't hear another word from them). The second of the jobs I had one of the worst interviews I've ever had and despite asking for feedback when I left, I haven't heard anything a week later and I suspect that I screwed up with that one.

The third and final one so far was yesterday and at least I wasn't walking around full of cold - I was half full of cold. It's the position I least wanted, so things might take a turn for the better, because beggars can't be choosers.

These interviews were the highlights, not much else is worth crowing about. My one source of income got taken away from me. The little dog walking job I had stopped acrimoniously and has led to me not speaking to the young neighbours we had gotten on so well with. I thought they were aware of my situation to be sympathetic about it, but they wanted to ensure they didn't let a complete stranger down even if it meant fucking up my life just a bit more. I wasn't happy about it and discovered there is a huge difference between communicating with the young in a stressful situation than there is with people of your own age. My histrionic rhetoric, designed to induce guilt and thought, was taken remarkably literally resulting in me being accused of 'only thinking of myself' and being accused of being 'aggressive and insulting' when the most blatant aggression and insults were coming from my neighbour. Now, I'm not having a good time and I might have overreacted, but it appears that it was nowhere near as bad as their overreaction.

We no longer talk to them so expect a new addition to the local nickname roster. It's a shame and knowing what an air-headed, paranoid twit the blond bimbo is I expect their house will be up for sale by March.

Subsequently, I now have no money, a fat overdraft and no income - all really positive for someone as flaky as I am at the moment. So, I have a few Borderline Press books and a few other collectable bits and bobs - such as the original Alans Moore & Davis Captain Britains; signed limited edition books and I'd even offer to sire children for you, but I fire blanks. If anyone fancies buying something, drop me a line, please...

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Futility and Pointlessness

Ironically, one of those Facebook memories popped up on my page the other day and because it reminded me of something I didn't want to be reminded of I got rid of it and was told that Facebook was sorry and they would try not to post memories like this again. The following day a similar post appeared and it was a mixture of annoying and upsetting. I wanted to complain and then realised that an individual can complain until he's blue in the face and not a single human being at Facebook central will see it or give a shit.

This reminded me of the changes Facebook made probably getting on for 8 years ago now, when they introduced Timeline and as many as two million users 'rebelled' against it. Except Facebook claims to have over 2 billion users, so 2 million of them equate to essentially a 'lunatic minority' and frankly had 1.9billion people complained Facebook would have taken as much notice of them as an elephant takes notice of a flea. There is no 'democracy' on the commercialised internet.

In recent years Google has been changing everything; getting rid of old things, replacing them with substandard alternatives all geared for the mobile market. They changed the essential Google Maps from an easy user-friendly application to something that really only works for kids on smart phones and there were so few people complaining you only knew about the complaints if you were one of those complaining. They added 'extras' to Chrome, which had a couple of thousand outspoken 'lunatics' bemoaning it for as long as Google allowed the thread on their notice board - three days of quiet and they shut the discussion down - because they knew it was unlikely that even the most devout nutter would start it again elsewhere.

There is a message being disseminated across the corporate internet - it's a subtle one but it's there for all to see. 'We don't give a fuck about you and less about what you think!'

The reason for this isn't as malevolent as you're probably expecting. Companies such as Google probably do take into account feedback, they just choose to ignore it. They are also acutely aware that the vast majority of pissers and moaners tend to be people over a certain age demographic. It is pretty much a given that someone under 30 will accept changes to services without a single qualm, while people over 40 (like me) who have wistful memories of Windows 3.1 and dial-up internet connections, are averse to change and can't accept it. Some don't understand the need for fixing things that aren't broken and others find it too difficult to follow and the reason they are ignored and abused is because they will be dead long before the people who couldn't care less - probably from apoplectic heart attacks caused by anger and bile-spitting.

The internet is a business now; it's not been this FREE anarchic haven of the fair-minded and the idiotic for over a decade and it will never be that again. It is now just a mode of entertainment and information delivery that has changed the way we think about certain things irrevocably.

Don't get me wrong; it isn't just a fascist dictatorship; sometimes changes are so inept or stupid that things are changed back: take Yahoo's redesign; who in their right mind would put the main parts of an email program in the bottom left of a page, a fraction of an inch above the PC's big start button? However, equally an important icon used by Chrome for user-switching and changing the set-up is put right next to the minimise button and despite untold amounts of logical reasons why it was not a good redesign, was steadfastly ignored and when developers prevented users from switching back to older versions of Chrome it felt like they were just taking the piss and doing it in such a way to make sure everyone knew they were in charge and no upstart user was ever going to change it. Where else (apart from a Tory government) would you keep a bad idea just to piss people off.

Does anyone remember Gamehouse Scrabble on Facebook? It was allegedly an unauthorised version that looked suspiciously like the version most people played when they were growing up and many still play today. It was taken away and a replacement that looked like a garish Game Boy version replaced it with added features that now cost you money. There were stories in National newspapers; over 5 million people on line complaining about it and all Mattel and the new on-line developers did was ignore everything until everything went away. That's what happened and today there are a handful of people steadfastly refusing to use the new version and they are seen by others as obviously cutting off their own noses to spite their own faces. The message being sent out is 'Live with it because you can moan until you die and we're going to take zero notice of you'. And remember all of this stuff is free so you haven't even got an economic leg to stand on.

Margaret Thatcher destroyed the British manufacturing tradition and turned us into a service industry-led country - a place where 60% of the country's GDP came from service-led models - but I get the impression she might be turning in her grave (and not on a rotisserie) at how the Service Industry has become the No-Service Industry and a place where the customer is not only no longer always right, but can go fuck himself while he's at it.

The Little Britain 'Computer says No' sketches are actually quite prophetic in their deadpan approach to being told to fuck off, because even if we have a logical and legitimate reason for contacting the infamous 'customer service' desks, we end up walking away feeling as though there wasn't even a hollow victory to be gained. "I'm sorry that isn't possible", "I'm sorry that can't be done", "That isn't company policy", "We can't do that", "It isn't company policy to comment", or, in many ways worse, "We will look into this." Because you know that it's just another way of saying 'Fuck You' but with a time delay to lessen the impact.

If you need to make a complaint about something, or even contact someone for a legitimate reason, finding the route to contact the right person is a minefield in itself. Companies don't want people contacting them; people are nuisances and really if it wasn't for their money...

I wanted to send a letter of complaint (I'm in my 50s we do that kind of thing) to the CEO of a company that I believe not only fucked me over, but did so in a cold heartless way. I found out the name of the CEO, but could I find an email address or even a postal address for him. I approached the company via Twitter and was told to direct any correspondence to their customer advisor desk. I tried the same approach via Facebook and received the same response. I asked the people at the other ends of these pointless accounts if they seriously wanted me to ask the same question, a third time, to an email address, when all I wanted was confirmation of a mailing address. That was exactly what they wanted.

So, despite wanting to kill something by now, I contacted the suggested customer advisor desk and asked them if they could confirm the address I had as an address I could contact their CEO from. They replied by asking me to share my complaint with them. I said it was far too important and personal to share with them and I wanted to contact the CEO as he was the person best placed to deal with my problem. They just repeated themselves and I repeated myself, with some more colourful metaphors thrown in and they just repeated themselves - literally. I was not going to get past their first line of defence under any circumstances. I told them I would send the correspondence to their registered address and if that didn't work I'd resort to smearing their company all over social media until it trended or they talked to me. I get the impression from their lack of response they couldn't give a shit what I do.

Now I actually felt that the complaint I was making was valid. I know anyone can say that, but I'm a reasonable person and this wasn't about something trivial that I was going to piss and moan about for 24 hours and then move onto the next trending moan, this was something I regarded as a direct transgression towards me and my life and I felt the CEO needed to know that some of his employees were running roughshod over people...

Then it dawned on me. He wouldn't give a fuck. No one does, so why should I expect some rich and warmly-wrapped CEO to even acknowledge my letter let alone look into it?

We now live in a world where complaints are just passed off as the ramblings of the latest internet nutter or troll; because it's really easy to be disgruntled at someone because the internet allows it to be very easy; rarely is anything dealt with unless it means money being lost. Complain to Virgin Media about something and you'll be put on hold or shoved from one useless tech support person to the next; threaten to cancel your direct debit and suddenly they have members of staff falling just short of offering you some kind of hand relief and ratcheting up discounts just to ensure they continue to get your money.

It's that facile and hideously transparent.

What is worse is places where this should never apply is now their mantra. The BBC lets you complain and then essentially tells you to fuck off once they've deemed your complaint to be that of a loony - which, according to some things I've read, is always. And there's this new wrinkle, which is if you complain about something publicly you're branded 'left wing' ... Seriously, I have seen repeatedly that people who complain are left wingers, or Corbynistas or communists and what's worse is people are believing it, the same way they believe Jeremy Hunt's lies over the words of 53,000 junior doctors who you all might depend on some day. I mean, who would you believe? People who save lives or a person who has made it quite clear is only interested in the deconstruction of an institute to replace it with a paid for service that only the rich can afford. Well, if the BBC carries on doing Hunt's job for him then I know who most people will believe.

Let's finally put a little perspective on this. People reading this will counter with arguments about how they've never felt that complaining falls on deaf ears or will argue that they've been suitably dealt with by the lower echelons of management quite adequately and in reality if most people have a genuine complaint and go through the long-winded channels to solve it, they probably will... but they have to negotiate that minefield first and minefields are places to deter people from crossing.

What you'll also get is a lot of 'sorry' despite its impact having been lessened by years of politicians using the word like kids eat bogeys. It's like an apology is absolutely fine and dandy and makes everything good and everyone happy.

Plus everything seems so corrupt now; it's almost like its being done out in the open because the only people who will complain about it is The Daily Mirror and a few Corbynistas and, frankly, who gives a shit about them? George Osborne's younger brother has pretty much been outed as a devious sexual predator who is also a practising psychiatrist; who fancies a £5 bet that he'll walk away from his latest scandal completely scott free?

At some point the ordinary person will say enough is enough, but unfortunately for everyone else, no one will take any notice and the ordinary person will just be called a left wing loon and if you ignore him for long enough he'll go away, or die...

This is our world.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Snapshot

In 2010... well, actually January 2011, I read a report that said of the 52 back page headlines on the Mail on Sunday, 51 of them were completely made up and just the one 'exclusive' was stolen from the Sunday Express from the previous week. The reaction from people was essentially 'who believes newspapers anyway?'

In December 2015, I almost had a row with two of my favourite people in the world because they didn't believe me when I told them the world in 2015 is a safer place than 1985 with less famine and more stability.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like one of the more stupid allegations I've made. How can the world possibly be safer and less hungry than 1985? I dunno how - I can have a guess - but I do know that the UN along with lots of its little umbrella UNs like WHO and UNICEF have actual evidence that supports that outrageous statement.

As much as it might anger people, there is considerably less famine in the world now than there has been since records began and in terms of safety, despite ISIS, the Taliban, Donald Trump et al, you have less chance of being killed by conflict, insurgency or terrorism in the world in 2015 than at any other point during the last 130 years. A easy point of reference for Brits who really don't believe this is to ask them how often the IRA has bombed mainland Britain in the last 15 years.

The irony is the world is a safer place now than it has been for a long time and yet if you were a visitor from another planet or even another time you would think the world is going to hell in a customised hand basket.

I was sitting drinking my first cup of coffee of the day, watching the news and the overriding impression I got was the world hurtling towards war, death and destruction and I realised at that moment that the media runs the world for the corporations and governments are gradually going to become unimportant because they won't be seen as doing anything, they'll just be seen as furthering the interests of the real rulers of the world and the media mouthpiece assigned with telling us how bad it is.

I can't quite work out why. You know, usually you can work out the long game, or the big picture; a government does this so that ultimately that will happen; except nowadays its more about what a government doesn't do so that ultimately something else will happen that will end up costing it more than originally believed. When you examine some of the cuts made in recent years and the simple fact that the private sector hasn't stepped in to fill the vacuum, you can see that either these cuts were made with a long term vision or they were just cruel and heartless and aimed at people who wouldn't vote for the current incumbents.

There seems to be a growing belief that 'man will out' - he will survive because that is what man does best; so you can take everything away from him and he'll find some way to continue. Margaret Thatcher had a lot of respect for the so-called 'black economy' because she saw it as a stepping stone for people to get onto the real economy. Our 'black economy' now appears to be trying to come up with fair ways of redistributing waste food - 2 million people have used a food bank since 2011, but if you read the media or listened to some politicians you'd think of these 2 million people, 1.99 million of them are chancers, scoundrels and probably Muslims. The media is subliminally turning you against people less well off than you; because these people are not strivers, they're obviously just trying to screw the system. The reason many feel this way is because it's what they'd do if they were faced with the same problems.

So, this morning, this week, this year so far has been full of debt, war, immigrants, anti-Muslim rhetoric, threat after threat, cut after cut, doom and gloom and very little optimism, yet the papers are more concerned with anything Jeremy Corbyn related as long as its negative. The media would rather spend all of its energy on besmirching Corbyn than simply analysing the mess the country is in. It would rather focus on Corbyn's 50% women shadow cabinet as pandering and "jobs for the girls to appear 'right on'" while congratulating Cameron for having a cabinet that is only a third women and the reason they do this is because Mr Twat in Seven Oaks will completely believe anything anti-Corbyn - whether it is true or not - but will steadfastly ignore anything about the government, unless it serves him.

Selective belief is not new, but once upon a time you had some balance; nowadays the press will spend 99% of its time on how unelectable Labour are - so as to compound the message even more - yet ignore the plight of the people systematically targeted by Tories, even if it is totally unjust and unfair. The media and their owners want us to abandon our caring nature and start treating the disabled and disenfranchised like it's their fault.

During the election campaign, Cameron said during a QT that if people had to die to sort the system out then so be it and barely anyone even mentioned it. You can find the clip in various places, Dave just sincerely tells the audience that hard choices sometimes have to be made. Or, in other words, some people are worth more than others; we now measure human worth by how much contribution a person makes and if they can't make any then they can die and no one important will care. If Jeremy Corbyn was to suggest something similar...

Turn on the TV today and you get floods, Trump, Muslims, ISIS, Immigration, Corbyn, tensions throughout Europe, the Chinese economy, children dying, calls for police to be armed with tazers and people suggesting that our streets are becoming lawless and yet there are cuts to the police so severe we have G4S running law and order in parts of the country (that alone should make even the most Conservative of voter worry a lot) and we also had a (Muslim) kid targeted by police for having a speech/spelling impediment... Oh and painting asylum seekers' doors an odd shade of red so bigots know where they live.

Martyn Lewis, former newsreader, was pilloried once for suggesting there should be more good news and that was way back in the 1990s. The TV, radio and papers are full of sensationalism, none more so than a harmless yet inflammatory repetition last night on Radio 5Live. It was FA Cup 3rd round replay night and West Brom were playing Bristol City and the Baggies' volatile and controversial striker Saido Berahino had been 'sensationally left out of the West Brom side', thus fuelling rumours he was to be transferred, probably to Spurs. It was hyperbole from the moment Berahino was left out of the side.

Then, John Hartson, a pundit and obviously not in the thralls of the BBC, made a very pertinent comment. "I don't know why there's all this speculation about Berahino, he's cup-tied. The manager said he was unwell, I think we need to accept this as the reason he's not playing." Two minutes later, despite being the man who spoke with Hartson, presenter Mark Pougatch repeated the sensational Berahino 'news' several times throughout the evening, neglecting to mention that by being cup-tied it meant that he couldn't play for anyone else in said cup and in reality there wasn't even a 'news' story there. It was a non-story turned into the most sensational news of the night because it suited the 'impartial' BBC to run the story that way.

It's the same as spending 100 hours picking Corbyn's reshuffle to bits, while lining up people to resign on air and then spending less than 10 seconds on issues that actually, you know, affect us. The press and the media is run by the people who really run the world and it isn't in their interests for us - the people - to have a fair, unbiased and just look at the world. The truth is obviously far harder to swallow than the bullshit.

Let's briefly touch on global warming - whether you believe in it or not, it is clear that most of the 'civilised' countries couldn't give a fig about it. Take our own government, MPs with vested interests in fossil fuels and fracking, who have cut subsidies on renewable energy to put more money into the extraction of carbon-based fuels that could have serious consequences years down the road. Why worry about the future when there's money to be made NOW? But, we don't get the media - or even satire - showing us the errors of repeated governments ways, because it isn't in 'their' interests. People who want renewable energy are somehow painted as eccentrics and buffoons in the press - why is that? It's as stupid as Americans thinking free health care will guarantee they go to hell.

We repeatedly get accusations that the BBC is left wing. I see it on a daily basis and wonder if its because I have a brain that allows me to realise when I'm being hoodwinked and then wonder how supposedly intelligent people can go onto supposedly intelligent newspaper comments sections and help perpetuate the myth. The reality is the BBC is so scared for its survival it won't be seen doing anything the Tories can possibly abolish or frown on - hence why the news department is made up of former young Conservative members and right wing sympathisers. Point this out and invariably the debate switches from the BBC to how left wing you are.

Suggest to people about reading other, less biased, news sources and you finally discover the greater problem - when people believe something specific they don't want that cosy belief system destroyed or mucked about with. People will not read, or if they do won't accept, a belief that doesn't suit them. It's about culture as well; we cannot accept others cultures, so they must be wrong; but are they wrong because of the colour of the skin or the region the skin comes from? Seriously dangerous Christian fundamentalists are pretty much overlooked or labelled differently by the media, but if someone is remotely foreign and does something wrong then if they have been born within 20,000 miles of a Muslim country then it's obviously Jihad driven.

How many people reading this are aware that Israel has been tattooing numbers onto Palestinian prisoners' arms - for ease of identification? The reason you weren't aware was because the news story never made it to the British or US media, or rather it made it they just chose to ignore it. So other sources released the details and there was a mini barrage of subliminal 'can you trust a news source that isn't known' messages sent out to suggest only reputable news sources should be trusted. Check the story on various hoax/fake/bullshit detector websites and you find that not only is it true, but there is a distinct suggestion that the story is being purposefully repressed...

When Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the USA there was outrage, but there wasn't as much as you would have maybe hoped for. Because the sad thing is I think there are more and more middle class people becoming more and more detached from reality by their viewing and reading habits alone, who probably agree with Trump. The neo-Liberal agenda is principally to make the average person so frightened of the world they become insular and look after their own first - that is a Tory ethos Thatcher was able to exploit and the current government is attempting to ratchet up even further while promoting whatever version of The Big Society is floating around.

When people were asked to comment about the 52 back cover exclusives from the Mail on Sunday the majority of people suggested the stories were in a newspaper and its been a long time since newspapers carried the weight they once did. This has been a recurring theme throughout my life - can you believe it if the newspaper said it? I'm not imagining it; people have always taken sensationalist newspaper stories with a pinch of salt and that was pretty much down to the now defunct News of the World; people haven't changed their opinions of the media. Daily newspapers sell to about 6 million people - as compared to a 70million population - the BBC or ITV news is seen by less than 3million people daily, but all the people who read the papers and watch the TV news will formulate their own opinions and then bang on about it as work the next day. How do you think Farage became so popular? It wasn't based on his politics, it was based on his beliefs being echoed by Fred on the shop floor reluctantly (at first) agreeing that his life has not improved and how its much easier to blame those bloody foreigners than it is anyone else.

That's how the people in charge do it. They worked out long ago the most common of denominators - the base things that rile humans so much - and use these as 21st century propaganda. You write your own headlines; you wear your own prejudices for all too see and the more of you who do it the less like National Socialism it looks. I'd guess there are probably more racists in the UK at the moment than at any point since the 1940s; tolerance towards others is at an all time low and you get the impression that common sense is struggling against a growing tidal wave of media-led ignorance and stupidity.

The world is a safer place now than 1985. We had at least three things that were far worse then than now - Africa's famine is now in isolated pockets not widespread. The capitalism of China and the end of the Soviet Union, therefore the Cold War, therefore the fear of imminent threat of mutually assured self destruction has gone. Yes, Russia is now a threat again, or is it? Really? Can you believe the press when it tells you Russia is the enemy? I only ask because last year a Finnish national newspaper asked why the Western Press was blaming Russia for the mistakes the Euro alliance is making in bombing raids on Syria. This wasn't reported over here because, well, it doesn't suit the agenda. The reason I believe it is because the Finns have zero love for the Russians, but have a reputation for being extremely good at impartial news reporting. Why should they, of all people, be seen questioning the West's reporting? Because it's wrong and potentially far more serious than rich idiots seem to suspect? Plus - look at it this way; in 1985 we were scared of the USSR and China; in 2015 we're frightened by a group of terrorists who control about as much land/territory as the size of Scotland, and North Korea. Do I need to explain this to you? No, didn't think so.

The UK and the US have been responsible for so much mess across the globe for the last 100 years and the majority of the mess has been made by their desire to either westernise, modernise or bring democracy and not once did the people responsible for this consider the cultures of other people; the beliefs of others, even the feelings. The West struggle to understand fundamentalist Islam because Christians have always had a snobbish tendency to sneer at other religions, rather than accept the cultural differences, they're always for changing people and even when they don't want to change them, they want to segregate or marginalise them to ensure we know they're different. The irony is Christian Fundamentalists, often as barking mad, are brushed aside, swept under the rug and all mention of religion is expunged by the right wing media. Isn't it obvious that only a Christian God is worthy of any respect now? Look how civilised Christians are compared to those fanatical Muslims! You can also find out how many terrorist attacks were carried out on a yearly basis on a variety of websites; pretty much all of them agree that less than 5% of all terrorist deaths in 2014 were carried out by Muslim fundamentalists. That's less than 5 people per 100 killed by a nutty Muslim. Would you care to guess how many 'terrorist deaths' were committed by Christians - people who believe in a jolly white haired man in robes sitting on a throne like a weird combination of Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln? If this were a Fox Sports channel, the Muslims are simply out of 'our' league.

Is it any wonder why we're in a situation now where we don't trust anyone any more; we've sat and watched it all publicly erode away and now believe any old shite we're fed. We believe the media because the media has learned to press the right buttons; it's not about lying or obfuscating, it's about positioning. We live in a subtle world of denial and manipulation; the media controls us incredibly well; we're not even aware of it half the time. We find ourselves raging against something because the press has put it to us in a way to ensure maximum outrage, while carefully neglecting to tell you other things that actually warrant your time and effort raging against.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself this: there was almost twice as many people prepared to sign a petition to have Jeremy Clarkson reinstated to his position as there were people opposed to the Draconian cutting of tax credits. This was despite the simple fact that had Clarkson punched a colleague in the face anywhere else he wouldn't have had the luxury of having a trial by TV, he would have been sacked and no one would have given a hoot, because that's what should happen to people who punch work colleagues. Can you see how screwed up that is? Or how selfish it is? There were no newspaper articles about the obvious inherent selfishness of the people wanting their Top Gear to stay the same. If you needed an example of the 'I'm all right Jack' mentality that the Tories propagate, it's right there: more people concerned about an hour long programme that runs for six weeks a year than kids starving.

That's us, that is. That's a snap shot of the UK and the world today. Happy?

Thursday, January 07, 2016

After the Celebration

The bright part of my 2015 was only ever referred to in passing. A mention on Facebook a couple of times and a few of my mates were treated to updates, whether they wanted it or not. No less so than Tony, my one friend with no real interest in reading my latest novel, but the man charged with having to listen to me SPOIL it for him completely, should he change his mind and decide to read it.

When I first decided that I wanted to write, I used to put lots of effort and energy into things and I got to this point where I knew if I talked about my latest project, it would very quickly become an unfinished idea. I have loads of them. I can offer you at least 50 unwritten/finished novels, arguably more.

I talked earlier in the year about this not wanting to tell people what the idea is about; I also talked about reaching the tipping point - that position where I actually know I'm going to finish a project and the mental thing I have that almost without fail kills a project off - if I discuss it with anyone.

My mate Tony knew I was writing this story; I talked at him all the time about it when we get together (it must be great fun for the old boy), but I'd made sure I'd got past the point of no return first. And I didn't actually mention anything to anyone else until the magic 20,000 words was a distant memory  (20k appears to be my specific point of no return - only once have I gone further than 20k words and not finished something) and even then, considering it's me, I was very conservative, nay vague, about any mention of it.

I really like the idea so I didn't want to put the mockers on it.

I finished the first draft; almost immediately went through it and did what I would class as a kind of 2nd draft (all the bits I remembered I'd missed or needed elaborating on), then I left it alone for a few months. The idea however never left me, I just felt burned out, yet equally elated.

When, in September, I decided it was time to try and turn it into something other people could read, I never realised just how difficult that was going to be; you see, all through my time working on magazines I had a good editor, who took the energy, enthusiasm and raw ability I had and polished it up; it wasn't until I lost that safety net that I started to actually really concentrate on things I wrote and even then, without an editor, you could easily critique it (and in some cases attempt to humiliate me). I'm not saying that I never self-edited, I do and have, it's just I've never really had the time to approach it in the correct manner.

The editing of this 'novel' has been a laborious job, not least because I've been extremely serious about it and have not just hacked my way through allowing cliché and stereotype to dictate the pace and the narrative. I attempted to do something that is both a mystery and unsettling and like I said, I had a framework for the plot. When I started to fill in the gaps, I realised that my subconscious appeared to be in control - I presumably had everything already up there in my noggin, it was just a matter of coercing it out - this is when you think a story is writing itself; which of course it isn't, you've just got it sorted in your head already, unless you write endless waffle.

Two years ago, I started writing something called The Dry Rot. It was something that I struggled to get out of the plotting stage. I knew what I wanted and I had a narrative in my head, but it kind of dwindled away and after a few thousand words, I shelved it. During the writing of The Imagination Station I realised that The Dry Rot was the third part of the trilogy I wasn't aware of but was currently writing the first part of.

Shortly after this I started to discuss the idea with Tony. I didn't need a sounding board, I just needed a real person to talk at; he didn't need to offer anything because I believed it was all up there, it just needed to be wheedled out.

For instance. I turned up at Tony's one Friday evening to drink his Corona and shoot the breeze and proceeded to talk about Jimmy Walker... "I did something today in that book I'm writing. I introduced this character called Jimmy Walker; I don't know why, he just seemed to spring out of my fingers for 10 pages until I killed him off. I don't know why I even introduced him."

A few weeks later, during our next social evening, he asked me if I'd worked out why I'd introduced a character just to kill him off and I spent the next half an hour gushing about how brilliant I was in creating a character that the entire story pivots on, without realising it was even needed. Except I probably knew full well that this character was going to enter the scene at some point.

As you can see, I'm being very specific to not give anything away that could spoil it for whoever may want to read it. The thing is this preamble just leads to the fact that it's as finished as it can be at the moment and it seemed the timing couldn't be better, what with me soon to start an agency job.

I walked around for most of this week like a porn star with his most impressive erection ever; I really felt like 2016 had started positively, despite my growing dislike of The Guardian and general right-leaning media outlets, allowing me to continue ranting and therefore restoring balance in the world. We took a depleted team to the pub quiz and won for the 7th (a record) consecutive quiz (and getting on for £350 in free beer, meals and safeguarding our dwindling finances for a wee bit longer).

You can't avoid the unexpected, but when you've had far too many unexpected things happen recently, you just kind of hope you can get into a nice rut for a while. This morning - Thursday - tore the fairness rule book up, chucked all the paper at me, then pissed up my leg...

I have had relatives and friends moan at me because I've suggested under the Tories the NHS will get to a stage where it kills people. I was accused of scaremongering (hah!) and reminded that my brother, my cousins' stepfather, my best mate's missus and various others have all had cancer in the last few years and done bloody well out of the old NHS. Excellent news all round and I'm bloody glad for them. I just hope I don't get it, because it would appear that I've used up my allowance of medication...

I turned up at the chemist this morning to collect my pre-paid repeat prescriptions and found the wrong thing and a note from my GP that said, "Ventolin allocation exceeded, can begin prescription again March 4" - What The Absolute FUCK???

This was actually just the tip of an iceberg. Not only was I being told I couldn't have one of the key things to allow me to breath normally, I also didn't have the other things prescribed because - this was later changed and I was told I misunderstood (Hah!) - According to their computer system, I'd exceeded my individual patient prescription allowance. This caused me to lose my temper and accuse the doctor's surgery staff of playing Russian Roulette with chronic illness sufferers' lives; to which I was told it wasn't anything of the sort and could be easily sorted out by booking an appointment and having my repeat prescriptions reassessed, to see if there was anything I could still get, but in the meantime I'd be given a prescription for Ventolin.

The chemist looked at me like I was talking Albanian when I told him and he recommended I go back next door (fortunately the two are connected) and get it sorted. This is what I did and eventually, 50 minutes later than my usual less than 5 minute trip to the chemist, I was given everything I requested (except nothing had been signed by a doctor and it was going to be retroactively signed) and told that there would be no limit to whatever medication I required to keep my chronic illness under control. What do you think would have happened had I not queried this?

Then I had to go to Sainsbury's, in a bad mood, with a headache and face the walking dead on a limited budget... It wasn't easy.

Doug the dog is in everyone's massive bad books at the moment - after two free weeks of destruction free living, he's been chomping his way through the house since Monday, culminating in finding the wife's bag and destroying EVERYTHING in it - cards, glasses, important papers, whatever women keep in their bags - fortunately only the money was unharmed. So today he wasn't expected to rip the zip from a cushion and then steal a fresh loaf of bread and then eat it all. After he did this I felt the day couldn't get any worse, but waited patiently for it anyway.

I didn't wait long. The agency that offered me work on December 19th phoned to tell me the job no longer appeared to exist, so I wouldn't be starting it and they were terribly sorry, even if they told me I would be starting on either the 4th or the 11th. To say I was a mixture of angry, upset and utterly stunned would be understating it; but I managed to hide the anger - just.

Taking the dogs out for air and the need to just get out and forget about everything seemed to be the best solution and we'd got 80% of our way round our excellent walk when this huge lumbering oaf of a Scandinavian man starts shouting for help because Doug was 'growling' at him. I explained that it might seem like growling but he was wiggling about at the same time and he's just pleased to see people. I was really pleasant about it, but this utter wanker (twice the size of me) would not let it lie, saying he'd had dogs all his life and the dog was threatening him. Then it turned out he wasn't talking about Doug, but Max the neighbours' GSD/Rotty cross; it was at this point I realised I'd met the Bradlaugh Fields version of the loony on the bus.

I was dismissive and disdainful towards the man. I didn't raise my voice or swear. He did. I just explained to him that the dog he claimed growled at him a) had no balls, something he should grow if he's scared of a dog that looks and acts like Scooby-Doo, b) had never growled at any human before and was playing with Doug at the time so could he have been confused - 'he' being any of them.

I think you can guess the response I got. But, I was good, I just turned around, called the dogs, who all trotted next to me like good animals do, and ignored twat man and his shouting and swearing at me. The funny thing was once many years ago when I'd had a bad day, I got called out by someone who wasn't going to be the brunt of my bad day and told to stop being a twat. I got the distinct impression that man-mountain Norseman had had a bad day and had just chosen the wrong person to have a bad day at. I wouldn't have minded had I not seen everything.

So, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start the new year's blogs off with a rant bordering on a self-entitlement sermon, because I reckon if I'm being punished for some past indiscretion or mistake, I think I've paid for it now; so can I please have a break?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Year Reviewed

Never ever think the year you just had was the worst it has ever been or that next year will be better. The reason is quite simple, if there is a god and god listens to you god'll ensure that you come to realise whatever you think is rock bottom is a poor imitation. You thought 2014 was shit? Here have 2015. Now, do you fancy making any more forecasts?

DBS and references pending I should start 2016 off with a job. It could be for a day, a week or a year; it's with an agency; but it is to be considered - tentatively - as a positive end/start to the year and all things considered I'd usually suggest this was only fair; except, you know, I feel as though I haven't just tempted fate in the past, I've provocatively waggled my arse at it while suggesting it was a useless wanker.

I've seen various friends' end-of-year blogs and have, to be honest, avoided them like the plague and for two reasons - I don't want to hear how crap it's been for them, as well, and I definitely don't want to hear about how good it has been for them (although uber-positive blogs nowadays tend to be written by the intellectually ignorant, blind or retarded). My ambivalence towards everything has plumbed new depths in recent months, but it gets hidden well by my slightly ADHD nature.

I was considering just repeating my blog from this time last year, but I refer the readers to the above statement. I did consider doing nothing at all, just letting it slip by and hope no one noticed - like a queef on a first shag. And then I thought, in my current I-can't-be-arsedness I'll do a positive things from 2015 blog; that way as it is now currently 13:41, I should finish this by 13:45 and have enough time to get the bus home, buy a bag of chips and climb a few trees...

Positives are few and far between and I've already mentioned arguably the best one. Other positives included seeing North Atlantic Oscillation and er... Doug is fantastic, but he would have been costing someone else the earth had it not been for our biggest tragedy of 2015 (and one that I suspect will stick with us for a lot longer than other tragedies) and I can see the silver lining, I just wish the black clouds had fucked off long before they got to me.

Without putting too fine a point on it - TV was pretty much better than film this year and while 2015 hasn't been bad, it also hasn't been as prolific as previous years for brilliant TV. Films have been utterly underwhelming to the point where I simply couldn't tell you what I thought was the best film of 2015.

Music. This year I discovered: Cheatahs; Daughter; Nordic Giants; Plank; Stellardrone; Telescopes, The Holydrug Couple and Tripswitch. I enjoyed new albums from Lights & Motion; Of Monsters & Men; Florence; JMJ and Steven Wilson's album might just be the best one of the year. There might be more, but they couldn't have been all that if I can't remember them.

I resigned from Borderline Press and will extricate myself from comics once and for all during 2016.

I wrote another book. Then I wrote it again and now I'm in the process of rewriting it a third time. I am so immersed in it that with just 10 more pages to edit I'm losing the will to live and need to get it finished and read by someone else or I may just give it up.

Let me tell you a story about 1978. I watched a short documentary on Genesis's Knebworth concert the other day because my brother and I appear fleetingly in it a couple of times and there's nothing quite like seeing your younger self on film. What I don't think about is the fact that we actually met Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins - they came down to the half a dozen of us who watched the sound check and the filming of Many, Too Many and had a chat with us.

I remember asking them if they were going to play some obscure B side that I liked and I was rather put out by Collins' dismissal of the song as having not been played since the studio. It took me a long time to realise what and why... I really like my book, but I'm fed up to the back teeth with it; I've read it, re-read it, edited it and re-edited it and it's not finished and I'm going to have to go back into it again and do more of the same. If it's ever good enough to be published then I can guarantee I won't be reading it for a while.

But it should be (again) finished by Friday and it will be a real achievement considering what a year it has been.

Other things that I consider worth a mention include my return trip to Shenley, albeit for a funeral of a man who I hadn't seen for over 30 years. It was a strange and interesting day and I reconnected with some people I probably should never have disconnected with.

I rediscovered my journalistic instincts and made the destruction of Bradlaugh Fields a priority for me and I hope to be able to be a contributing factor in the fight to have it restored to its ancient glory.

I'm still married.

And alive.

The quiz team is pretty supreme - albeit thanks largely to Brainiac (aka the wife) - and it has allowed me to experience restaurant food at times this year when personal finances wouldn't stretch that far.

I discovered some people on social media - most notably that thing 'created' by Zuckerberg - would rather remain friends with dummy accounts than with real people. And since the election, the propensity for vocal nasty right wing supporting wankers has increased enormously. Despite the constant attacks on the disenfranchised, it would appear that some people will always be all right, Jack.

Good point to remember when you support the slow death of the poor and disabled is that every penny of their benefits goes back into the economy. They are not hoarding their money or funnelling it overseas to avoid paying tax - all the bottom 50% of earners in this country spend almost every penny they get - taking it away from them doesn't exactly make them spend more does it?

But everyone should carry on not giving a shit until something happens to them. That will be the day when at least one person isn't I'm all right Jack any more.

It was a good year for the fungus. And the roses.

2016 will see death, life, laughter and tears - I hope you get a fair and acceptable balance.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Field of Droughts

There was a bit of subtle irony at work this autumn. I discovered the existence of a number of well-established apple trees dotted around the hallowed fields of Bradlaugh Fields. Some fellow dog walkers had known about their existence for years, but, "'Ent never sin apples as big before," and that's probably why I spotted them, that and the fact that the mild autumn stretched right into (and now) beyond November, so there was still plenty of totally usable fruit, on the trees, well into October, when a lot of leaves had departed for worm food. Not really what you'd expect considering all the doom and gloom that has been hanging over Northampton's premier urban parkland.

What I found ironic is this is the first full year that Bradlaugh Fields has been denied the brooks which have run through it for centuries and the first full year when the four ponds have been all but dry. You see, last spring there was a breach and the walls of an old water main burst flooding some high points of the area and subsequently totally saturating all the ground below it. February 2014 was filthy; so filthy that people created new paths throughout the park's differing landscapes, because the old ones were now dangerous or impassable.

It was at this point that Anglia Water Authority stepped in and an entire ecological history was destroyed; the habitat and subsequent wildlife that lived and thrived there was about to be systematically wiped out.

The dramatic effect on the marshlands and waterways all across the hundreds of acres of Bradlaugh Fields was so fast, so devastating that it mobilised all kinds of people, including local Tory MP Michael Ellis, who, initially, worked very hard and set people with the task of discovering the causes and how to fix it. However, like so many others, he seems to have forgotten about this oasis of calm in a busy town - some things have happened, but nothing like what was promised and the catalogue of mistakes by AWA is quite dramatic and arguably makes them more than culpable.

Much of what I learned over the past few months, as the ponds levels dropped and then dwindled and then dried up altogether, is anecdotal, or at least I thought it was. People telling me there had been streams running through this land long before there was a golf course, which had eventually been donated to Northampton town as a nature reserve and parkland, could have been classed as having no basis in truth, because there's no one left alive who was around before this was even a golf course - except there are records.

For people familiar with Northampton, Bradlaugh Fields is the great swathe of land that separates the east side of town from Kingsthorpe and stretches all the way to Moulton Park. It is the reason why there is no cross town road between Kingsthorpe and the eastern side of town. At its narrowest it is less than 300 metres from the end of Spinney Hill Road on Parklands and Birkdale Close on Links View, but if you want to get from one of those roads to the other by car it would be a minimum of three miles drive. It is a strangely isolated place, stuck in the middle of everything.

When the ponds began drying up it was right at the start of the amphibian breeding seasons and the press's attention was drawn to it because of the impending deaths of thousands of frogs and toads. However, things were to get a little more strange before they tried to improve. At the back end of 2013, just before the leak that changed the geography of the place was discovered, I found yet another part of Bradlaugh Fields I had been largely unaware of; a path called, by the Bective locals, 'The Luvvy' because it was the place that young couples went to smooch during the first half of the 20th century.

Back in the day it was a proper pathway between Bective (the part of Kingsthorpe around Eastern Avenue) and Moulton village; long before the school, the University of Northampton (and park campus) or the industrial estate existed. It even has an NBC signpost decaying along it and there was once a style halfway up it - you can tell as the foundations are still in place. At the bottom of this old path is the Caddy Pond, so called because it was at the furthest reach of the then golf course, presumably a place frequented by caddies. This is important because this pond, which no longer exists might hold the key to what went wrong or maybe who is to blame.

When this first happened and the AWA 'fixed' the problem, there was a youngish woman who took it upon herself to replenish the Caddy pond by using channelled rainwater from The Luvvy. The Caddy pond had been serviced by one of three brooks running from Moulton via historical drainage patterns and the aquifer (geological land situated beyond the area that holds a large amount of sitting water) - the type of ground towards Moulton is different from that in this region of Northampton and the Moulton aquifer is responsible for the springs which created the three brooks which had run through the land since at least the 17th century.

Now, the first of these brooks - the Parklands Branch - was diverted back in the 1950s because it went directly through the middle of the ground that eventually was owned by Northampton School for Girls. This diversion might be a key point in the presumption that the brooks were mainly bolstered by tap water leaking from the mains because old people remember drainage work being done up there and sewers were laid prior to completion of Moulton Park and the surrounding housing estates. Anecdotal evidence suggests this area was plentiful in spring water.

The AWA did suggest originally that the water main might have been damaged at this point, meaning that for over 50 years they were replenishing the streams and ponds throughout Bradlaugh Fields, but geological and historical evidence suggests this might not be a believable excuse because admission of malpractice could cost them a lot of money. In fact, the Anglia Water Authority have been particularly shady at times regarding this. The woman who took it on herself to save the Caddy Pond was warned off by two AWA workers and told that what she was doing was against the law - that she wasn't allowed to dig a channel to allow rainwater to help keep the pond level up! Plus, in reports the AWA suggests the 'leak' might have happened 30 years ago, which is a contradiction to their original assumption.

It was the imminent death of frogs and toads that brought the entire mess to the wider public attention. The local paper - The Chronicle & Echo - covered the story; the local MP got involved and the AWA admitted some culpability and agreed to try and salvage a bad situation, but everything they did proved either to be inadequate or a waste of money. There was also a strong suggestion they were attempting to take the credit for the water ways throughout the park...

You have to look back a lot further than 1895 when Bradlaugh Fields was simply farm land, owned by the man who lived in the solitary old house on the relatively new Links View estate. When it was sold to build the golf course it was done so because areas were marshy, other areas were used to quarry for limestone, sandstone and even coal, which proved to be a fruitless search and large areas had brooks and ponds dotted throughout meaning it was only usable for grazing. The golf course was built using the lands natural contours and utilising the water features 60 years before the sewers were laid for Moulton Park Industrial and the Parklands housing estate. Photographic evidence of the old golf course shows a number of water features and some people I have spoken to who have lived around the area, said before 1987 when the lands were mooted as housing developments, there were as many as 8 - EIGHT - ponds covering all of Bradlaugh Fields (see below).
The yellow line shows the boundary area of Bradlaugh Fields.
The red circles signify where there were ponds in 1987 when Bradlaugh Fields was designated a park. The red circles with blue centres were existent ponds in January 2014. The red circles with green centres are all ponds that were redirected or removed because of flooding risks to the houses that backed onto them.
The green areas at the top of the map - in the Scrub Field - were marshlands, with bull rushes and reeds.
The blue dot towards the bottom right is a new 'mini-pond' that has appeared in the last 12 months.
There are blue and brown lines - these signify drainage channels, brooks or streams until January 2014. The magenta line at the right of the picture is roughly the original route of Parklands brook which was diverted when NSG was acquired.
The magenta line on the far left is no longer visible since Caddy Pond dried up - this was Kingsthorpe brook and flowed into the Walbeck brook which is a feeder to the Nene. This still exists but now re-emerges from underground in Kingsthorpe Golf Course. The brown 'horizontal' line is referred to also as the East-West Ditch and was put in when the original Parklands Branch was redirected to allow for overflow.
As of December 2015 no ponds exist in Bradlaugh Fields that existed 100 years ago.
The report by a retired lecturer from the University (linked below) shows quite clearly that streams and ponds existed on maps dating back to 1845 and 1852. There is well-documented evidence about the redirection of the Parklands branch from land acquired by Northampton School for Girls and the creation of an East to West ditch which allowed overflow water to be channelled not only into the Caddy Pond, but also to help replenish the existing ponds, serviced by the Kingsthorpe Branch, which eventually fed down to the Walbeck Brook (which then fed into the Nene at Kingsthorpe Hollow). All of the branch brooks were eventually redirected underground when the residential developments increased (but it is possible by overlaying maps from different eras to see the original flow and direction of all of the Walbeck Brook tributaries.

The historical relevance of these branch streams that eventually feed into the more substantial Walbeck Brook is that they prove that the area was one of natural springs and of historical drainage patterns; the college report does not appear to directly accuse Anglia Water of lying and allows an entire appendix (4) to be given over to the 'unusual nature' and plans to rectify the - understated - damage to the local ecology. It also makes a point of highlighting the water authority's insistence that the ponds throughout Bradlaugh Fields had been topped up by a slow leak - the same leak that was fixed in the late winter of 2014. Anglia Water is accepting responsibility that a leak of their own possible creation was the reason for the creation of an entire unique habitat and they claim this has been the case for just 30 years.

There's no historical evidence to suggest any work was carried out in Bradlaugh Fields at any point during the 1980s; the last recorded work done there was when the infrastructure for Moulton Park Industrial Estate was laid and the houses that make up the Aintree Road part of Parklands were built. The suggestion that the leak happened in the region of 30 years ago seems to be based on a comment made by AWA and nothing else and as stated there is very historical evidence to suggest up to eight ponds in 1987.

Unfortunately, there is also no actual physical evidence to back up the anecdotal evidence of the draining of three ponds on the Fulford Drive edge of the park. However in 2010, Northants Nature Trust and the NBC were involved in some extensive flood defence work on the ponds around the community barn area during a facelift. Dams, block paved sluice ways and an extensive building project to allow the main Fulford Drive pond to overflow into the main drain network. This work, which cost over £50,000 at the time, also required the removal of the pond on the other side of the path from Fulford - a pond often used by kids during the summer because it was shallow, but also had a wooden pier built at the edge - however it was removed to prevent houses and gardens from flooding. The other building work in 2010 involved the re-digging (or dredging) of the connecting channel between the two ponds by the barn and the Fulford pond.

The work that was carried out had been approved and authorised and would have been done with the Anglia Water Authority's co-operation, possibly even their help.

The point here is if the Bradlaugh Fields ponds had been supplemented by tap water for between 30 and 60 years, we're talking literally millions and millions of gallons of water - enough water to constantly replenish, at the very least, five ponds for 30 years and as many as eight ponds for 60. I'm thinking this kind of wastage would have registered somewhere? Michael Ellis MP felt the same way and made it clear to AWA that he didn't believe them and asked them to look into it further - http://www.michaelellis.co.uk/news/bradlaugh-fields-update - but this was May of 2014 and we're heading into 2016 and there has been very little done since.

In the autumn of 2014 into last winter, workmen began converting the pond which was situated directly opposite the barn into a kind of dew pond overflow mash-up. Using rainwater collected from the barn roof and kind of banking on the historical drainage information (which they've ignored unless it suits them), despite ignoring its dates in relation to the ponds and their depths, it was hoped that with a special liner and a clay base they could salvage ONE of the ponds. They did, after a fashion, although it is now an almost heavily fortified 'pond', dogs are not allowed in it and the quality of the water is no better than a puddle that has sat stagnating for six months. The pond that once fed this one was to have been transformed into a 'wet meadow' and the other pond - the one that had had £50k of work done to it five years earlier, was to be transformed into some kind of water garden utilising its supposed (former) propensity for flooding. The truth is only one of the four remaining ponds have had any water since the spring of 2014 - the Caddy Pond - and that was through the same process as the pond by the barn but without AWA's authorisation. In fact, Anglia Water has done very little and it appears to have become a case of out of sight out of mind. They weren't even aware when the disaster was first brought to their attention that the Caddy pond even existed.

Then in the research for this article I discovered that in 2012, NBC put a concrete dam in place along the East-West Ditch to slow down the increasing flow of water that was causing flooding issues on the leading edge of the Eastern Avenue and by the allotments (situated adjacent to Kingsthorpe Community College - formerly Kingsthorpe Upper School). Up to this point, the overflow from the Caddy Pond would run down the dividing line of shrubs between Bective and the park before going underground and re-emerging halfway down Kingsthorpe Golf Course and eventually joining the Walbeck Brook. The path of these branches are visible even now on Google Maps, by tracing the old course of these branch streams over the new map. It is also possible that at some point in the months that led up to the need for the dam to be put in, the water mains at the top of Aintree Road might have broken, adding to the water table.

However, one drawback to that theory is the amount of rain we had in 2012 - the wettest on record. It is quite possible that simply the amount of water that fell from the sky could have caused the problems. This theory is corroborated by the fact that in 2013, after work by the Friends of Bradlaugh Fields to rejuvenate the Caddy Pond it dried up temporarily for the first time in living memory - it was no longer being topped up by the East-West Ditch.

There is also another key point about the Caddy Pond and the Luvvy. The latter has two drain covers along its route, yet they are nowhere near any buildings or settlements and we're talking industrial drains not your bog standard ones in the street and they've been there for a while, yet it has only been in the last few years that the bottom of the Luvvy had began to flood after any heavy rain. Before this any excess water ended up in the pond, but now it wasn't draining away at all or there wasn't anything to drain away...

As stated earlier, when AWA agreed to try and solve the problem they were not aware of the existence of the Caddy Pond or the marsh area that had been created in 2012 to alleviate drainage and prevent some homes from the potential of being flooded out; or so they appear because there was no mention of the pond at any point during consultation, yet they must have been consulted about the dam or been aware of the flooding issues in the spring and early summer of 2012.

Another pertinent anecdotal offering was from an employee of Northants Nature Trust who had told me back in the spring of last year that there were stories going back two hundred years regarding the marsh areas in the Scrub Field and more importantly, back in the 18th century when someone thought there was coal seams under that area of Bradlaugh Fields, shafts were sunk, but they filled up with water; and where Moulton was built on sandstone, this part of the town was built on less solid foundations. Also, no coal was found. The point is in the 1780s this was a boggy marsh, but at the end of 2015 it is pretty much arable land.

One of the key areas of the Scrub Field (known by many locals as 'The Rabbit Field') is the path that runs down from Holton's Lane (which runs from Aintree Road to Boughton Green Road between Kingsthorpe Community College and the University of Northampton) between the American Football Field and the main scrub field; about halfway down there used to be a hidden marsh pond, surrounded by willow, reeds and well-established water plants. I have walked this particular path for 15 years and until last year it had only been dryish once - 2011 - and usually, even at the height of summer it was only passable with Wellingtons. The marsh pond was the product of an area, considerably further away from the burst water main than other parts of the park. Further away still, on the other side of the fence, was a very old, almost impenetrable area that divided the American football field from the Scrub field; so effective was the barrier it is the only part of the area not to have a safety fence around it.

Within 6 months of the drain's repair this area of the Scrub field was as dry as a bone; the multitude of frogs, toads and newts - not known by most people and ignored by the paper because people were unaware - that died was horrendous and there's still evidence of the amphibious carnage 18 months later and rare and important species were suddenly under threat. On part of the scrub fields there grows a very rare orchid, it actually flowered there for the first time in nearly a decade in 2013 - the conditions must have been right - and attracted enthusiasts, horticulturists and photographers from far afield and now instead of a loamy soil that it thrived on, the ground is so dry you'd imagine Mediterranean plants to flourish now.

There is also - and this is based on my own anecdotal observations rather than anything scientific - evidence to me that other areas - related to Bradlaugh Fields - might now be getting more water than previously. No more so than a small 'pond' that has formed at the lowest point of the hills and dales area, about 100 feet from the Bankside entrance - it has dried up a couple of times, but two years ago it wasn't even there.

I have also discovered today there was a 'Ninth' pond; if you look at the picture, at the bottom left, where it goes to a point. Directly below the second 'o' in 'Food' is another small pond, no more than about 20 feet across at its widest; this was there for about 20 years until it dried up in 2013. Back in 1986, the ex-pond - marked as the furthest left on the picture - might have been three inter-connected ponds prior to the building of the bungalow that is situated at the end of that part of Fulford Drive.

The existence of all this factual and anecdotal evidence suggests that the area has been serviced with a plentiful supply of water, mainly from the historical drainage patterns, for over 200 years. Old maps and aerial photographs show evidence of ponds and streams long before AWA's claims and it appears at some point in 2012, perhaps as a direct result of the large amount of rain we had, that a fault in the water main situated at the top of Aintree Road appeared adding to the water table to saturation point.

However, while Anglia Water ascertain that they feel the water main has been 'topping up' the streams and ponds for the last 30 years, the above paragraph states there is evidence to suggest this is total fabrication, especially as AWA gives no time frame or timetable for their '30 years' reason. What is more likely is that on fixing the damaged water main the course of the Parklands Branch was diverted, possibly downwards. But this area of the park campus and Moulton Park is responsible for the source of all three Walbeck branch streams - Parklands, Kingsthorpe and Eastfield and there is a suggestion that the amount of water that flows into Eastfield Park has dropped by almost a third over the last two years and the Kingsthorpe Branch - which all evidence suggests was the original feeder stream for the Caddy Pond - which is the last of the branch streams to join the Walbeck hasn't dropped - this means whatever work AWA did it diverted the water away from Bradlaugh Fields, probably deep under Northampton.

More anecdotal evidence of malpractice or at least obfuscation surfaced over the weekend. A man who I've known for a few years, as a fellow dog walker, a guy called John, was one of the groundskeepers on the old golf course and he claims that during the 45 years he's been coming to Bradlaugh Fields either as a worker or using the park for recreation, the streams and ponds had never changed - some years they were high, some years they were low - which fits in with the historical drainage patterns perfectly - and when he started work at the golf course in 1970, all of the water features, meadows and general topography of the area were the same as it was in 2013, but with less trees and more golf features.

A good friend of mine who grew up on Bective clearly remembers the Caddy Pond as being a place to go searching for frogs and toads when he was a small boy; he also remembers using the Luvvy on a daily basis - before there was an American football field next to it - and this was 50 years ago. He remembers that the golf course had numerous water features.

In conclusion; whatever the Anglia Water Authority did in 2014 it has irrevocably changed the geography and habitat of Bradlaugh Fields. They claim the waterways throughout the park were probably as a result of their own negligence, but this is clearly wrong - and on so many levels. What is also clear from public correspondence is that AWA failed to treat this protected land with the respect it deserved and caused an alarming amount of damage that needed to be repaired by third parties. It is perfectly understandable why AWA believe they were responsible for the park's water features, yet considering the evidence it makes little or no sense, unless the objective was - they knew it was going to cost them, so they opted for the cheapest outcome; an admission and a promise to make things as good as possible. This has not materialised either.

The change in everything about Bradlaugh Fields is remarkable; it no longer sustains water birds, amphibians and the local wildlife has been decimated because of the change in habitat - many of the insects and small mammals and fish that were food are no longer there, forcing native species to die off or move to try and find more suitable landscape. Streams and brooks which had been there for centuries are just like abandoned trenches now and the former ponds have become places to collect unwanted detritus, rubbish and litter.

The main problem now appears to be AWA's refusal to return to the scene of their crime. Emails sent to them have not been answered (why should they, I'm not a journalist any longer?) and it is no longer in the thoughts of the local MP or even the Friends of Bradlaugh Fields, who, it seems, have rolled over and acquiesced and have accepted the findings without much of a fight.

There is an independent report that was conducted by Dr Vic Smith, a former lecturer at the University of Northampton, his conclusions are here: - http://www.bradlaughfieldsandbarn.co.uk/uploads/3/6/3/0/3630943/bradlaugh_fields_-_university_study_report.pdf and this corroborates a lot of my theories, especially about historical drainage patterns.

On the surface it appears that there has been little damage done; but walk around the park and you will see evidence of neglect, of ignorance and of a major supplier having reneged on its duty of care and allowed for a fabulously diverse area of land to be changed forever for the worst.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

George Michael's Tiny Arms

* Dr Who - people can witter all they want about how Capaldi deserves a BAFTA for his one-man show, the latest episode descended into Groundhog Day repetition without the humour or the menace the first 25 minutes had, and, really, does anyone other than middle aged Who fans give a shit about any of this?

* I did a comic mart, in Northampton, and smiled a lot and took some money on a miserable Sunday. It was fun.

* New addition to the street coming soon.

*I've been working quietly in the background trying to turn the story wot I wrote into a story that can be read by others. it is hard work. When you write a story, you write it for yourself, then you write it for others. The first/second draft was 54,800 ish words; it crept over 55,000 when I added a couple of bits I remembered I wanted to and then I left it alone for months. Now, I've spent best part of the last six weeks dipping in and out of it; sometimes for days, other times for hours. It is now close to 61,000 and I expect a few more words to be added.

What is hard work is turning ideas and parts I did nothing but sow seeds for before moving on; I realise that now I'm writing and rewriting passages and most of those tend to be the easier parts; it's when I stumble over swathes of words that seem to have been written while drunk that confuse me - what was I trying to say? - is a common thought and at times I wonder if I've said too much in a reassessed attempt at amping up the intrigue and suspense; to make it more unputdownable.

Equally though some cyphers have become more rounded and by rounding out characters I've been able to weave some doubt about the actual narrative into the narrative, which is what is needed, IMHO, to make it go from a thing to a story. If that is confusing it's because I am loathe to give anything away - at all - because it opens cans of worms that far reach the obvious ones and veer into confusion without revealing something else and before you know it - dominoes. My stories, however simple, are always layered - probably with too much at times - because life isn't metaphysically linear and sometimes everything is to do with everything.

I have disclosed that the story is about a lot of missing children and that's pretty much as far as I'm willing to go, except to say that while the missing children are central to the story, they're not.

I have also recruited a possible helper. One of the main characters is a 15 year old girl and at the moment I think she sounds like a 53 year old man trying to sound like a 15 year old girl. The other main dialogue character has a distinct voice and sound despite his age, but as I discovered today, while chatting to different 13 to 16 year old girl comic and zombie fans, put a teenager in front of an unknown adult and every bit of teenage patwa disappears and is replaced by normal sounding, intelligent young women - so in some ways - because of the nature of an element of the story, as long as she is different from her counterpart, she could technically sound like anyone.

Can you tell I'm rambling? That's because I have an itch that can't be scratched at the moment and I'm in the mood for dancing...

Today hasn't been a bad day and tonight I was ready to tackle the story, but then I remembered I'd reached something of a problem. I have a chapter - the longest in the story - which doesn't fit; it can and will do but the solution is still just embryonic and I didn't want to attempt it tonight, get totally bogged down and find it's 2.30am and I'm wired and unable to get to sleep. But, I sometimes just need to write, like how sometimes I'll have a spliff if offered - it's like just for a second the rational says 'fuck it'. I thought about ranting about Dr Who, but, you know, I really don't actually care for it enough to waste everyone's time wibbling about it's faults.

Then I looked at my blog notes and saw that it hadn't been updated since August and I've talked about everything in the text file anyhow. Then I just thought I'd write and see where it took me.

* While indulging in our weekly 'think up the most surreal pub quiz name we can' competition, both Roger and I typed almost the exact thing at the same time and as he typed Great minds think alike, I typed GMTA - the/my/an acronym for the same. His reply which I took for a quiz team suggestion was 'George Michael's Tiny Arms?' Completely misinterpreting why he'd put that I laughed so much that was the name of the winning quiz team last week. To be fair, nothing has floored Andy the quizmaster quite like 'African Queef', but we try.

Says something when a prog-rock loving accountant can out weird a completely insane man in the surreal stakes. I'm either losing my touch or Roger is on some wicked drugs and he's not sharing.

* I have a strawberry about 7 days from ripening in the garden, less than 20 feet from where I had raspberries on January 1st, 2012. That's how fucked up our weather has been.

* Seen a lot more shit films than good ones in recent months - even so-called blockbusters. I think I'm just getting too old for this shit.

* Jessica Jones has been grubby and fun to watch, probably because it all came after my time in comics. Can't stop thinking of Michael Jackson when she walks, or stands around for a few minutes.

* I had a Tupperware beaker. It was 51 years old and one of the few things I had that stretched back to Canada that was usable and nostalgic. Doug the dog destroyed it - comprehensively. What can you do? He chewed up one of the wife's oldest photos of herself recently. Memories squirting out of his arse 6 hours later.