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 - - 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: - 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.

Monday, November 30, 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.

Friday, November 13, 2015

If I Told You I'd Have to Kill You

I heard through the grapevine that Tesco over the other side of town had a supply of one of my favourite cooking products - Mayan Gold potatoes. Enamoured by this window of opportunity to purchase potatoes that enrich and enhance meals rather than burden it with blandness as the current anodyne state of potatoes do.

So, I did something slightly sad. I phoned the shop and asked them if they did indeed have them in stock. I was asked by the lady who answered the phone if I could direct my enquiry through the Tesco Help Line or the website because she had no way of finding this information out for me... Now, this could be for a number of reasons, the most likely being there isn't someone at this specific store answering the phone and dealing with enquiries; this is some faceless, nameless autocrat answering the call in Cheshunt or Telford or Skelmersdale (going by the lady's accent).

So I went through the required rigamorale and sent the website a query. 24 hours later I was told that a) yes they were in stock and they were located in aisle 3 of the fruit and veg section and b) no they could not tell me if they were currently in store. I replied to this answer and asked them if they could possibly reserve me five bags - as they offer this service - and confirm in an email so that my trip to the store is not wasted. They could not do that with grocery products and they have no way of knowing if an item is in store/stock unless it is reordered or closed down. So my only option is to drive the five miles and hope they have what I want because in this fantastic age of modernity we can't employ people to tell us what is in stock, we employ general algorithms...

Now, the reason I mention this is because when this happened I was minded to recall two events involving supermarkets, which you have to say should make you realise that sometimes the humans in a store are actually human beings.

The first time was in 1985 and with about three weeks to go until Christmas the news was talking about a potential turkey shortage (ironically because of the number of poultry farmers who suffered from Thatcher's leaving them out of a EU subsidies request for agriculture) and even in those days a turkey dinner was still regarded as one of the best roast dinners of the year and the subsequent soups, sandwiches and cold cuts left usually kept us going for a few more days.

Faced with the threat of no turkey, I descended on Tesco (up at Weston Favell) and found the freezers bare - no turkeys, not even a selection of big chickens. The balding man in glasses attempting to calm the fears of the people around him was reiterating the point that they get deliveries every day and if people left their names he would ensure that every one of them had a turkey for Christmas. Having heard enough and not wishing to queue behind dozens of ageing domestic goddesses, I went home slightly annoyed at the idea of having to trudge there every bleedin' day until I snared a decent bird - fnarrr fnarrr.

On the walk home, I remembered something I'd read a few years earlier and wondered if it would work this time around. When I got home, I rang Tesco at Weston Favell and spoke to the receptionist - the one you used to see when you walked in there, answering the phone! Hello, I said, my name is #### #### and I work for the Blackthorn OAP's Club (there weren't drop-ins or projects or whatever they're called now) and we were hoping to be able to reserve a turkey to pick up later in the week, because we heard about the shortage and we didn't want the old folk to go without when we do them their Christmas dinner. Now there wasn't and there never has been a Blackthorn OAP's Club and what I did was a wee bit sneaky and naughty, but it wasn't at all until I arrived to collect the turkey...

I turned up as instructed to pick up a 15lb turkey. I had the money - it was about £7 (I bet it's about that a pound now!) and I walked up to the customer service counter, told them I'd come to get the turkey and I stood around, with my mate Colin, waiting for whatever we were waiting for. Suddenly a man who presumably was the manager or someone high up appeared with another member of staff carrying a box. Are you Mr ####, he asked and suddenly I got a little paranoid. Ye-e-es, I replied wondering if I could be done for fraud. Tesco's would like you to have this 20lb turkey, this extra large Christmas pudding and these mince pies for the OAP club. Panic crossed my eyes... I've only got ten pounds on me, I said. Oh no, this is compliments of Tesco Stores Mr ####, we hope the old folk have a great Christmas.

Realising what was happening and this being 1985, I thanked them and beat a hasty retreat. The only real downside was no one really likes Christmas pudding.

I've told this story before, but it is always worth telling again. My dear old, long-lost, pal Paul Smith was a seriously devoted born again Christian, except, you know, he wasn't really, his wife was and is and he was part of a local cult organisation - quite a high part of it despite being a real person and not an evangelist.

In 2004, he went to Morrisons in town and got their family Christmas shopping; his wife, a woman like my own mother, who liked to check receipts to ensure she hadn't been overcharged saw that there was only one of the two bottles of sherry she'd listed that had been paid for. She told Paul that after work the next day he had to go to Morrisons (just a three minute walk) and settle the bill or return the un-paid-for bottle, whatever was easiest. Doing as instructed, he walked up to the counter, explained to the slightly bemused woman what he was there for and she took the sherry off of him, asked him to wait and disappeared. Ten minutes later, the manager walked up to Paul and asked him if he was really just there to pay for a bottle of sherry that had slipped through the checkout? Paul confirmed this and was given a giant hamper of Christmas goodies by the store as a thank you for being such a good and honest customer. Paul was worldly enough to see the weirdness, good nature and slight irony in all of it, but he never used it as an example of God moves in mysterious ways, just as an example of how honesty often is the best policy.

The point is, whether it was me conning Tesco out of Christmas, inadvertently or Paul Smith just being a ridiculously honest Christian, the stores went out of their way to do something for a customer, a community and for the sake of Christmas. Now, in a world that has seemingly forgotten how to smile and be helpful, it is going to cost me more than just a wee bit of time to find out if something I want is in stock because there's no one available at that store to answer my question.

How is that progress?

Friday, November 06, 2015

Floor Sweepings

Time Travel Exists!

Something happened in 2013 that no longer exists... No, that's not right. Something that happened in 2013 no longer exists... Nope, that's the same sentence. There is nothing mysterious about saying that something that was no longer is - farts are a perfect example of this - but the point I'm trying to make simply isn't that simple. In the 21st century it's difficult to lose things. If something existed there would be, somewhere, evidence that it existed and the same applies to information, knowledge, language and, naturally, history. We live in a world where something is logging everything everywhere, whether in a Big Brother way or because of webcams, anally-retentive web sites or simply through a medium such as this - a blog. You want to know something, you can pretty much find it on the Internet now and considering 20 years ago you'd still think of a library as your first port of call for information and that was limited to the amount of reference book the library had and whether it was easy to access, you realise how far we've come in a small space of time.

Two years ago, the wife had this great idea. Grow beetroot in the borders, between flowers, bushes and perennials. That is what we did and we grew so many we gave some away. Six weeks or so after planting them I noticed the leaves on some of them were all green and not flushed with red and it soon became clear these plants were not your normal beetroot. Come the first harvest and two of them were completely white. We treated them exactly the same, figuring as they'd grown with the usual Boltardy variety, they must be another, albino, variety.

They were quite awful, but they were definitely beetroot, not some rogue turnip or sugar beet, because they looked just like their red counterpart in every way apart from colour. But they had an earthy yet oddly bland flavour. It suddenly dawned on me to look on the Internet and see what it had to say for mutant white beetroot.

Now, I imagine some of you are thinking - WTF has this beetroot story got to do with the first paragraph and if you are I can understand. The thing is what I'm about to tell you even sounds stupid just thinking about it, if it wasn't for the fact that I obviously reported everything back to the wife, who clearly remembered standing in the office while I explained about white beetroot.

It also wasn't like some isolated website that might have been erased in the last two years - I found several references to what I'm about to tell you, so it wasn't like I'd gone to the first website I found and believed everything it said, not that I'd imagine educational and information web pages would specifically create something just to remove it and fuck with my head.

I typed "white beetroot" into the Google search engine and saw several references to "chobli", which on further investigation weren't mutant white beetroot but an entire species of white beetroot. I kind of even have a vague memory of finding something on Wikipedia. From that point on if, for whatever reason, the subject of white beetroot cropped up, I'd tell people about chobli.

Then back in August, I was sorting through some papers that had accumulated on top of the microwave and among them was a note pad and at the bottom of one of the pages was the word CHOBLI and I'd underlined it. I remembered writing this because it was such a weird word and I got this idea in my head it was African of origin and chobli was grown in South Africa and this was bugging me all day, so I finally went up to the office, opened Bing (I boycotted Google ages ago) and just typed in chobli and ... you know how rare it is when you rarely get any results on a search? You know, when you type something like 'Wanglespank' or 'Flangedangler' into Google and there were no matching results; well chobli got results, but only one that matched the word 100% and that belongs to a chap on LinkedIn; everything else is either CHOBI or CHOLI. I scratched my head, asked the wife what chobli was and she looked at me slightly bemused, but I rolled my hands at her, as if it was important for her to go through this little charade for me and she said, "white beetroot, why?"
"Did you see the website I got the information from?"
"I was in the room when you were telling me what it was. Why?"
"It doesn't exist any more."
"If I type chobli into Bing or google it doesn't exist. If I type white beetroot into a search engine it gives me lots of white beetroot varieties and doesn't, once, ever, mention the name chobli. A white beetroot isn't called chobli, a white beetroot is called a white beetroot." I was getting quite irate.

Later that evening she said she'd done a search on the laptop for all kinds of different spellings and had found nothing at all. Thinking I'd gone mad - which, in all fairness I probably have, but this was something that happened 2 years ago when I wasn't - I scoured beetroot websites (I know it sounds funny, it is funny) for the pictures and words I could remember reading and I found nothing at all; not even remotely familiar. In the end I concluded that someone had gone back in time and accidentally done something that wiped the chobli from the existence of man, but for some reason they'd overlooked me and the wife...


The Cold Call

Why is it that whenever the Tories get into power the amount of cold calls increases exponentially (as does the number of loans companies offering great 5000% APR deals)? Why is it that only when the Tories are in we ever hear about people wanting to regulate things that have suddenly exploded into becoming a nuisance?

If it isn't PPI calls, it's the accident their records suggest you might have had, or the delayed flight you had, or the mobile phone contract that is now in the public domain rather than being with a provider... Yesterday, I had six calls inside three hours and four of them were those fucking awful recorded message calls - these cunts can't even phone you themselves, they have to employ a machine!

I've always been of the inclination that I buy things when I need them or I see a better deal. Or I claim for something when it goes wrong; or I NEVER sign for Payment Protection Insurance or anything else. I also don't have a valid passport and haven't had for nearly 10 years. I haven't had a - non-fatal - accident in the last 20 odd years, but I'm presuming the call is to plant a seed in your mind so that when you eventually worry too much about the accident you probably didn't have but might have but forgot you end up having an accident and have this company now in your phone's memory...

The thing that really pisses me off is the fact these thunderous wankspanners have my number and my name, but don't know that if ANYONE calls me and asks for Phillip - I know you're either trying to sell me something or you're my mother and my mother is dead so you can just FUCK OFF!


I wrote about 500 words about Street View, read it back, wondered why the hell I'd written it and replaced it with this.


I had this piece of paper that I was jotting down ideas on so I wouldn't forget them, but my handwriting is so bad the last thing on the list was unintelligible. "Velghisoply" it appeared to say. I looked at it from various angles; with glasses, without; in direct sunlight and by lamp. I couldn't work out what I'd written and I'm betting if I typed 'Velghisoply' into Bing or Google it would be as common as Chobli, but I decided not to.

After several attempts at deciphering it, I was sitting here, at my desk, when I remembered what I'd written. Now all I have to do is remember why I scribbled the word 'Neighbourhood' down so badly in the first place...

Actually, if I was so inclined, I could probably write a book about sitting here watching my bit of the world go by. I have been privy to snatches of bizarre conversations, felt like a voyeur at times and have seen everything from the nefarious to the downright weird and fucked up. The weird thing is since Fishwife has gone I've kind of lost touch with what is going on in the street. I didn't know that just down the street, too far away for nicknames, there's a boundary fence argument going on that makes you wonder why some people just insist on being complete and utter arseholes.

I'd stick my neck out and say that one of my neighbours opposite could be a) on the verge of a break up b) suffering from financial problems or c) both - but it might just be my over-active imagination. Two of our neighbours have their houses up for sale but neither have signs outside. Another neighbour has been ill for a while and her neighbour has lost so much weight in the last few months you can't help but wonder the worst. Fuckwit's mother died recently and that alone is a scary idea because I reckon he's well into his 60s which means he could be knocking around for longer than me.

I see a lot of neighbourly behaviour through my window, a surprising amount of unintentional nudity (male as well as female) and less happiness. People are smiling less; I'm seeing cold callers despatched with short shrift. No one seems reluctant to complain any more - now let me quantify that; everyone moans and around here when you chat with the neighbours there are some who will use that conversation to air all their grievances about the street - from the amount of immigrants to the state of the paths; others are less inclined and just want to know how you are and what's been happening. Some people never seem bothered by anything, but now... now they will share their unhappiness with you and it's like 'if everything is getting better why do I feel so bloody unhappy?'

Just recently I've seen this guy who looks like a younger but well worn cross between Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman walking down to the shops. He doesn't look cool though and almost always looks as miserable as fuck; like his family were wiped out in a tragedy and someone rings him up every day to remind him. He just walked past the house with a massive spliff on the go and I wouldn't have ever thought he was that kind of bloke.

That said, one of my neighbour's - someone I've made a fair bit of reference to in the past - is doing something I think looks as dodgy as Del Boy. At least six times a day, a car will pull up outside the house, usually a man or two men will go to the front door - which now has a CCTV camera trained on the front door - the men will disappear inside the house and re-emerge a few minutes later, sometimes with a carrier bag, other times with nothing visible. I have seen people walking to the front door counting tenners; I have seen the owner of the house berating someone for trying to pay him money in the open, which as someone who has given people tenners in the street before is only dodgy looking if you think it looks dodgy. Most people aren't even taking any notice of you and they only will if you act out of the ordinary - handing money over in the street in 95% of cases isn't nefarious. The irony is the owner is in a profession where people hand him cash, in the open, all the time.

Young Sam (Fishwife's replacement) reckons he's selling meat; I toyed with the idea he is selling drugs but that tends to be my sole experience of anything nefarious so it's my only point of reference, but if he's selling meat, he's not selling it in any quantity. I mentioned this to someone I know a few weeks ago and they asked me why I hadn't called the police and told them about my suspicions and I realised what we'd become as a country and it slightly sickened me...


It's well into November and like 1997 I'm still walking around without having to wear a coat. The reason I remember '97 so well is that it was possibly the last year I can remember when very little went wrong - when everything was on the up.

I remember playing football (I was only 35) over near Wilbye Grange in Wellingborough in November, in T-shirts and shorts and being ever so slightly freaked out by it. The winter of 97/98 was one of the mildest of all time with less frost and snow than previously recorded. There were eight days in November that exceeded 17 degrees and despite a chilly December, January arrived so mild my dad decided to fix the fence in the back garden of the house and had the heart attack that would eventually kill my mother.

When my mum was in hospital the weather was cold and sunny, when she died it stayed sunny but the area of high pressure that was sitting over the country moved towards Scandinavia and the Azores high build in from the west. For at least half of the February that followed her dying the UK was just fed a southerly air stream from the Sahara. I remember walking through Irchester Country Park with my dad and both of us being ever-so freaked out by the fact it was mid-February and neither had jackets on.

You'd be surprised at the number of people who have forgotten that October 31st 2014 was 24.4 degrees and broke the previous record for that day by nearly 5 degrees. You'd be less surprised at the people who don't give a shit.


As we hurtle towards that time of year again, my life is full of job applications (I passed 200 applications since September 2014 a couple of weeks ago - and 7 interviews), Doug-sitting, because he is a vandal and stupid. Attempting to prevent myself from procrastinating, especially when it comes to editing my book. And then there's having my constant battle with our old friend depression. The future is utterly terrifying.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Doctor Who and the Dropped Bollock

Date line: April 2023: London
In October, Doctor Who will be celebrating its 60th anniversary and Fox, which owns the franchise, has hinted at some of the things lined up to commemorate this momentous occasion.
Current showrunner, Andi Peters - former CBBC presenter, who replaced Neil Gaiman when the BBC sold the rights when viewing figures dropped below 2 million, has announced Fern Cotton as the 15th Doctor with Tiny Tempah as her sidekick.

Okay... This is as likely as Jeremy Clarkson voting Labour and Britain winning Eurovision, again. But...

Doctor Who is struggling. Five years ago the franchise rivalled Clarkson’s Top Gear in terms of lucrative saleability and while it still does, in its country of origin it is facing an uncertain future.

The current season is pulling in about 4.5million viewers, compared with 11 million at its peak and an average of 7.5 in recent years. Critics try to be magnanimous while simultaneously ripping thin stories and anally-retentive nods to die-hard fans, much of which goes over the heads of average viewers, but not enough – causing confusion, bemusement and bewilderment in equal measure; if the viewer is actually paying that much attention to it.

There is an argument that has simmered for decades in the USA about the real reason networks and cable stations preferred dramas to be no less than 5 and no more than 7 seasons to make money through syndication. The actual reason seems disappointingly banal and almost unrealistic in 2015 – it was easier to sell as a finite package with a specific number of episodes, allowing cable and syndicate channels to easily schedule re-runs within a 12 month window. In 1989, when I read this ‘reason’ the world was much different than it is now and the model, at the time, was Star Trek: The Next Generation, which the last time I bothered to look was the most successful syndicated television series of all time and for a while in the 2000s was playing somewhere in the world every second of the day.

Over the years people have argued that quality usually dipped after 7 seasons; the ‘soap opera’ factor kicked in and it stopped being a finite-ongoing story, but many series were in their death throes by the time season 7 came along. 

There is also the belief that very few TV series sustain an audience for more than 7 series and only extraordinarily well-patronised series can keep their audiences – Supernatural, now in its 11th season and apparently still going strong, is a good example. Most great TV is extremely finite, knowing that brilliant drama is like a firework. Therefore it never outstays its welcome.

Doctor Who is one of those weird exceptions to just about every rule in syndication and TV’s rulebook, because it has this unique ability to reinvent itself as the same TV series every time we get a new doctor. It is genius; a completely brilliant TV concept that by its very nature is unique because nothing can copy the concept without being accused of copying the TV show. There might have been 13 different versions of the Doctor since 1963, but he’s been the same character for all 52 years, he just wore a different face and everyone was open and almost blasé about it. We call it regeneration.

When Christopher Ecclestone became the Doctor there was something so visceral about it, so different, post-modern, almost deconstructualist about his portrayal, you excused some pretty poor production because of the standard of the acting, the lack of wobbly sets and its very ‘urban’ feel. It had winner written all over it.

Russell T Davies was a Doctor Who fan and therefore, in many ways, it – the show - just picked up where it left off and the first and probably most major ball was dropped. If you’re reinventing something for a new audience, you should only keep all the nods to the past as plot devices for future stories. The Doctor has met the Autons before – but instead of taking it for granted that 75% of your audience hasn’t ever seen DW before so hasn’t a clue about them or their origins and, more importantly how the Doctor knows them, they presumed that DW legend was simply passed down in the DNA and 9 year olds wouldn’t be just a little bit puzzled, even if they are aware that this was a TV series when their dad was the same age – they could have told a story in flashback, later in the run, with maybe another actor playing a different version of the Doctor – familiar enough to the die-hard fans, but new to those who don’t want to sit through years of drek just to know what a Sontaran is. You establish he was someone else as well.

Yes. What I’m suggesting is they should have started like it was the beginning and treated the majority of the audience age group the show was aimed at like it was a new show and not an updated version. Where else in the world would you expect an entirely new audience to come into a show 40 years after it started and know the history or even understand references to it?

The 40th Anniversary bollocks – not the three Doctors special, but the lead up to the regeneration. Dropped ball #2. Here was a chance to start all over again, win a new audience and keep the older new audience happy, and maybe caring about the Whovians. Whatever Jenna Coleman’s Clara is, there was a moment in the series, during the last days of Matt Smith’s reign, where she became one with the Doctor’s time-line and was responsible for him taking the specific Tardis he took back when the Doctor was William Hartnell. All of this was necessary to prevent Richard E Grant from erasing the Doctor from history or something like that, but... they could have had a younger version of William Hartnell – a Peter Capaldi – and Clara takes him from Galifrey and becomes, for the benefit of continuity, his daughter, or granddaughter. They start again in an old yard in the early 1960s when a suitor of Clara’s follows her home from school – where she teaches rather than is a pupil – and Doctor Who begins again. They could even have used the old episodes as templates while updating and using their newer 21st century creations. Introduce the villains to a new audience; be retro or completely redesign – the slate should have been cleaned.

It’s a time travel show, what would be more perfect than creating a situation where you got to relive your life over again without knowing you’d done it, but having a companion who knows everything?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Zombies (and why we're scared of them)

Grief is one of those words that has been re-appropriated in modern times; the cutting, pernicious and spiteful edge that real grief delivers has been replaced by trivialising the word to the point where 'having some grief' is almost an invitation to witness a farcical and comedic series of mishaps or bad luck. The young have made the word 'grief' as anodyne as possible, not unlike the way Charles Schultz turned 'Good Grief' into an exclamation of exasperation.

Grief really shouldn't be trivialised and this is not just an old curmudgeon giving you all some ... grief. We sometimes forget how personal and debilitating grief actually is. We can sympathise and empathise with someone else's grief, but like the perception of time, colour, smell and touch, grief is specifically manufactured for the individual and we all deal with it in different, unique, ways.

I deal with human grief considerably better than animal grief. On discovery my brother had cancer and could die, I became the same stoic, rock of the family I became when both our parents died and he and my other brother fell apart. Every single time I've lost or have discovered I was going to lose one of my beloved pets, I have been inconsolable with emotions that seemingly have their roots with the kind of crying you associate with a baby - that hopeless, is-there-nothing-I-can-do-to-stop-this incandescent bundle. Grief returns us to a time when we were most vulnerable and in need of protection the most and it also simultaneously presents us with a situation that, however much has been considered, in the cold light of reality, is still emotionally too large for the brain to deal with in a rational manner. This isn't text book psychology, this is how I perceive grief and how I see it in others.

And this is why the concept of 'the walking dead' bothers so many of us and why zombies have replaced vampires as this decade's de rigueur monster. What on earth could possibly be worse than meeting your dead mother, father, brother, sister, bff or neighbour and all they want to do is eat you? How about if they're decomposing at the same time*.

* A brief aside - The Walking Dead, all the George Romero films, in fact any zombie related thing have never, except peripherally in one isolated case, dealt with one thing that is as clear as the, ahem, nose on your face and that is the smell. Surely the smell would be everywhere and yet no one ever says, 'bloody hell, it's the middle of a deep south summer, all those zombies are rotting like billy-o and it smells like my dog swallowed an abattoir which has given him wind'...

The idea of zombies or the walking dead resonates with us because unlike vampires, werewolves, monsters and demons, we all have a point of reference with a human because we are one. Even if you believe in the existence of ghosts, demons or even Godzilla-like creatures, you've never actually seen undisputed proof of their existence (and if you reckon you have then you are insane so this doesn't really apply to you), but you see proof of people every moment you can see another one or a mirror and we all know that everyone will die, one day, so a zombie really isn't such a stretch to the imagination - I mean Christians have been touting Jesus as uber-zombie for 2000 years and we accept that without a hint of irony or a smirk.

The thing is... what if? What if you really did meet someone or something that you knew, without a shadow of doubt, was dead and had been dead for a while? Hollywood deals with these 'come-backs' in fantasy films not just in zombified ways; you have ghosts, resurrections, reincarnations, reanimations and insanity bringing the dead back and I'd stick my neck out and bet my life on the presumption that every single wishful thinking, my dead boy/dad/mum/girl/bf/entire community/blah-blah-blah story ever filmed, or written, was done so purely from the imagination of the writer(s) with no point of actual reference. The reason I'm so confident about it is because I should think very few people in the history of the planet has actually been in a situation where they think they're seeing a 'dead' entity in front of them.

I'm sure there have been cases where someone has been declared dead and haven't been; and I'm sure that every so often someone who didn't know that someone they knew had a twin might have that existential nightmare; but I also don't think it happens a lot or if it does it's been romanticised because the reality is just too harsh... The chances of it happening must be ludicrous.

I read a fantastic explanation of grief via a Tweet or Facebook. It explained grief like the tides and waves and how the first few days of grief are like a tsunami, but after time, the grief will just eventually lap at your feet; you'll see it, recognise it, remember it, feel it, but you will be able to work through it. it won't knock you off your feet; it won't change the way you feel whenever it hits you; it will get easier to deal with but impossible to ignore. And then, every so often, the tsunami will hit you again, but you've braced yourself and the aftershock is less intense or maybe even non-existent.

And it is important to remember or understand that grief is a pain; a pain of consciousness inflicted the same way as you'd bruise a muscle or bang an elbow and like a physical injury it takes time to heal. We can all remember what a broken bone, a cut hand, tonsils removed, etc felt like - but maybe never as intensely as living it again.

When Murray died in the summer, it knocked both me and the wife for six. Beloved pets die, but for us most of them have had good innings. To lose the most sweetest of good natured boys to cancer at just 8 was, considering the year we'd had already, just an unbelievably cruel and bitter blow. I once would have said 'it can't get much worse' but experience has told me it often does - all that happens is your experience of the new low becomes the norm and therefore you are always able to sink lower.

The summer and so far this autumn have felt largely wasted and one failed job application after another has eventually turned me into some kind of zombie. My experience of outside life was taking dogs for a walk and going shopping on a Thursday. On a Wednesday evening I'd go out, pub quizzing, and putting on the brave face and return to my existence of walking and feeling dead inside (Oh and only being able to afford to go pub quizzing by virtue of all the money we've won as premier pub quiz team).

I stopped talking about how I felt to everyone, because I'd had my moment of weakness and now it was better to return to the shadows and bide my time until something changed. Doug the Destroyer has helped - despite vowing never to get a puppy again, he has been a revelation for the house and not just by cheering me and the wife up, but by reinvigorating the girls and helping them forget and move on - he has brought so much with him and to us that some of me started to hate myself even more because, irrationally, Murray had to die for Doug to have become part of our family.

The year is hurtling towards its conclusion; despite appearances my anxieties and fears have returned in a big way and I think, sometimes, us hopelessly depressed romantics, we hope to see a sign, especially if we don't see a definite change, because a sign is as good as a change, it is the motivator we sometimes need. Except for walking my four dogs and Max, the neighbour's dog and sitting staring at the computer there have been no highlights in my days since August; in fact I've been so inactive, I hadn't looked at the story I wrote back in the spring since August 2nd and then I couldn't reconcile something so stormed away from it in a huff. If procrastination is the thief of time, it is my own personal zombie because it saps my everything, not just my time.

Then something unique happened and the circumstances by which it happened were also too good to be ignored. I was sitting here procrastinating some more when I decided I'd take the five dogs to a place I hadn't been to since before Murray's passing. Hunsbury Country Park is big enough to accommodate a lurcher puppy and now I felt I had adequate control over Doug, I packed my four and Max into the dog-mobile and we went for an adventure.

For fifteen minutes we just walked through the trees. I had an eye open for any mushrooms and the last vestiges of the warm Indian summer were clinging on. Doug then spotted some people up ahead and as he is still in the 'go-up-to-everyone-and-say-hello' stage he did just that. I always have mixed feelings about meeting people - dog walkers - when I'm out, because I know I talk a lot, and especially when I haven't had any other human company apart from the wife and Talk Sport for a few days. I spotted the people up front had two dogs, by this time all of mine had gone to investigate.

What followed still feels slightly surreal and like it didn't play out in real time, more like it was edited by Norman Collier (and if you don't get that reference search You Tube for him and you'll understand). I think I said hello to the two women and apologised for Doug's manners - but I seem to think they were utterly smitten by him, as most people are and then I assured them that the other, noisy, dogs were just that - noisy and that's when everything went a bit weird. Actually, who am I kidding; a bit weird? No, what followed was Weird City; Weirdarama; Welcome to Wishful Thinking Heaven; Whoop Whoop Whoop, Nurse fetch me a fucking straight jacket and make it snappy Mrs Crocodile.

I noticed they had a collie x, I commented that I had just lost a dog not too dissimilar to their one and I think they thought for a second that I was inquiring as to whether their dog could possibly have been the dog I lost. Then he looked at me and I felt my heart leap into my throat and a billion stars exploded behind my eyes; fighting back the tears was probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. looking at me, in the eyes, for a brief moment was my boy Murray, who had died in my arms back in May. I think I uttered the words, "Jesus they could be twins" and grabbed my phone/camera, asking, but really telling, them that I was going to take a photo or two of their dog to show my wife.

I think the older of the two women was getting slightly concerned and then the dog crossed my path again, and looked at me again and ... it's like part of you... wilts. You would think that even though you know without a doubt and in your heart of hearts that things do not come back from the dead that seeing something that could confuse and confound you so much would have an uplifting effect, but it really felt slightly like parts of me just ... sagged. Then, because you've grown more solid and your feet are well anchored, you see the grief tsunami again and fucking hell it's as big as the day he died, but you know that you are not going to let it affect you, not in front of strangers.

I said something again about needing photos to show my wife and something about him dying in May because the people I was talking to both relaxed and became sympathetic. The similarity was so uncanny I needed to ask them where they got him and then the surreality of the moment began to make sense. The dog in front of me was Oscar and the reason he looked so much like my Murray was because they were brothers. it took us less than two minutes to establish we'd both got our dogs from Lisa on Kingsway in Wellingborough and by some fluke I had managed to meet him miles from where either of us usually go for a walk. I would have thought we'd have bumped into them at least once while we still had our boy. That would have made things a little easier, but fate doesn't do things in any sensible way.

He was fantastic. He was Murray to a tee and I suppose Murray was Oscar - but with their own familial characteristics. But I had seen enough, if I saw any more I would have struggled to keep it together and while I have now become friends with Oscar's mum, Julia, I didn't want her to see me blubbing like a baby and if I didn't get away from them that would be have been the next thing to happen.

The following six hours or so were pretty horrendous. The new tsunami ripped through my foundations and battered me around like a piñata and for both the wife and I, for a little while, we had been returned to the nightmare of grieving.

Yet... Julia sent me a message and said she really was sad to hear that we'd been upset meeting Oscar and she'd understand it if we didn't want to see him again and this reminded me of something that happened a few years ago when I first stopped smoking. I used to have the most vivid dreams and in many respects it was the dreams that fuelled the no-smoking attempt because years of smoking fags and pot meant my dreams had pretty much still happened but I was never really conscious of them.

I had several dreams where my folks were in them. "Doesn't that upset you?" Asked a colleague at the time. "Hell, no. They're dead, I'm never going to see them again, so dreaming about them is as good as it gets." I also felt that the days that followed 'seeing' them were always the best. It put a spring in my step; it brought some confidence back to me. Hell, I'd sat in my (old) living room with them both and two of my beloved lost pets and we had a cup of tea and a good old conversation. How could anything possibly top that?

I don't know if the wife could meet Oscar. She needed to know because I needed her when she got home to help steady my supports against the still on-rushing waves, but I also know that I deal with death so much better than she does and I have been intrigued by how different my reaction and emotions were to how writers or Hollywood would like us to think how we'd react. The thing is if you asked 100 people how they think they'd react if someone they loved and lost walked back into their lives, despite you knowing they were dead and everyone would want to have that Hollywood factor, but really, the reality is considerably different. 

I think I could meet him again. I think meeting Oscar helped me get over that final grieving hurdle and it was a message from somewhere - maybe the universe - to tell me that everything will be fine. The day after the chance meeting I woke up feeling good - better than I had for a while. The days that followed yielded a new interview opportunity and even if I don't get the job, I felt completely reinvigorated again after it. I've started editing The Imagination Station again; the wife seems happier despite the future still looking bleaker than a wart hog's rectum and I think that's because I've been happier and spending time talking about positive or funny things rather than obsessing over politics or how fucking unlucky I feel. I've even started whistling when I'm cooking again and I appear to have had four good nights sleep in the last week, which is four more than I've had since May.

And here's the thing. You don't look at an aunt or an uncle if one of your parents are dead and grieve every time for your missing mother or father (and if that hasn't happened yet, trust me, you won't). My aunt/godmother is the spitting image of my mum and I love looking at her face, so there shouldn't be any problem with Oscar. If a mutual friend of Julia and mine (and we have a few) had seen the similarity and arranged for us to meet before Murray had died, we would still have been freaked out by the similarities, but it would probably have made us want to let the two of them get to know each other again. In fact, once you set aside the emotional side of this, there is nothing unusual or even remarkable, just coincidental.

I know, from experience, I'm never going to stop missing or loving all my long-lost loved ones. I also know that Oscar isn't Murray; except he is as close as physically possible and that is bloody weird and not a little unsettling; but I'd like my dogs to become friends with him. I want to become friends with him. I want to see if dogs really are that clever and empathic. I want to have Oscar in our lives, even if it is just in fleeting glimpses, because in him my boy is still going strong and will do for a few more years yet. Besides, you'd not stop seeing aunts, uncles, cousins or siblings - would you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


The closest thing to love is hate, apparently. I think this was one of those spurious generalisations made by some pinko-Liberal. Had the saying not existed before the Internet I'd have guessed it was the work of those secret meme minions who pump out everything from cute kittens to rallying war cries to social injustice campaigns (which some people think are really the work of Tory spin doctors to try and discredit the discreditors - how's that for an eat-itself-conspiracy-theory?).

During the General Election, I fell out with two important people in my life. The first was my brother, who got fed up with me accusing him and his (probably not) well meaning friends of being Nazis and him doing what I accuse most people of doing which is believing the press. The problem is, for me, that I don't see a caring, benevolent Tory party, I see people in brown shirts, crushing the oppressed under their jackboot heels and nothing they have done since the election has changed my mind - they have a war on poverty; they want to eradicate it and the best way to do that is get rid of the majority of people caught in poverty by unnatural wastage. Tories preach to us how much they care and people buy it even if there is bugger all evidence to back it up. The tax credit bill certainly looks like Dave and co helping the poorest in society, donchathink?

But I'm old and wise enough to realise that people don't want actual facts, they just want what seems or feels right to them and their little England idyll. We became insular after (and because of) Thatcher and as long as we are all right, then...

The second friend I fell out with was considerably less expected. A good friend and fellow left winger and I fell out over language used towards his god-daughter, who had earlier on Facebook picked on Ed Miliband while simultaneously bigging up Nigel Farage. She came in for some stick, not least by me. Then it turned out she was a silly 16-year-old who couldn't vote and was just 'getting involved' in the debate. I was then ordered to apologise to her (after receiving a really uncalled for level of abuse from said child's family and friends) and I refused - end of friendship and to be honest with you if a near 20 year relationship can be blown to smithereens that quickly then there probably wasn't a solid foundation in the first place. The thing was, looking back on it, I just called her 'silly' and yet over the last few weeks I've seen abuse of a kind I've struggled to believe could come from the brain of a human being.

If it isn't the most callous and uncaring comments by 'Brits' (and I use that term loosely) about the refugee crisis, it has been the widespread animosity generated by Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader - culminating yesterday in his decision not to sing the National Anthem. Forget the social media sites that are fit to burst with vile commentary by fascists with nothing better to do; the press had a field day. It is far more important that our right wing controlled media tell you about the fact Jeremy didn't sing than bother to spend any time on the number of people who have died as a result of benefits 'sanctions' or the fact the Tories are abolishing tax credits and for the poorest people the shortfall will take up to 2 years to sort.

No, starving Brits is not important when we can berate a 66-year-old man for looking dishevelled or not singing to the establishment's tune or not appointing any women to the top 3 jobs in his shadow cabinet, or blah blah blah blah blah - which, of course, makes him evil. The right wing press never bothered to tell you that Corbyn tends to be nice and respectful to most everyone (apart from pernicious right wing pit bulls such as Laura Kuensberg), especially when he's trying to sort some shit some other politician has created. No, the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by Cameron and co isn't even worth talking about, so therefore it doesn't exist and anyone complaining about it is either a leftie or deserves to be in the mess they're in. That's how fair our society is because of our press.

Corbyn will crucified by the media because of his refusal to play their games. It is one of those areas where his inexperience and simmering petulance towards 'the establishment' has to be addressed. He cannot rely on face-to-face meetings and social media (which is a microcosm of belief anyhow), yet he knows that even a moderate paper like The Guardian is going to be critical of every thing he does. In many ways it's a totally thankless position he's been put in - and all for sticking to his principles.

But, you know, I kind of think he should be congratulated for the stance he's taking and for rising above all the abuse directed at him. The problem is - this is England 2015, not 1985 - all forms of media is essential, even the old fashioned (right wing controlled) kind.

Corbyn would be well-advised to offer Owen Jones a job within his communications team. Jones is the left-wing young columnist and writer who has helped galvanise interest in politics amongst the young and disenfranchised again and he was the real inspiration for this blog...

Jeremy Corbyn doesn't believe in confrontational politics and was seen berating his own supporters for their overzealous campaigning at times (this, of course, was barely mentioned when stories of Corbyn's internet-pit-bulls were reaching the Sun) and I can understand why. If you look at comments sections of papers, blogs, articles, websites or just the social media, you will see the world in miniature - the left, the right, the middle and the crazy (and I'm not talking UKIP here). The crazy tend to be from any political party, although the more extreme the views tends to be from the most extreme people and the internet attracts crazies like flies to shit.

Owen Jones - left wing, gay and outspoken - comes in for his fair share of abuse and as he said today that you used to be able to go months or even years without being abused by a complete stranger and now it's almost an hourly event, especially if you sit on either side of the political fence. Jones rises above it because oddly enough that's the best policy. If, like me, you decide to engage the loonies you discover that many of them are considerably more fucked up than you could imagine. The internet of 2015 means that even if you are proved wrong/right that isn't the end of it. people either choose not to accept the proof in front of them and continue with their abuse, or they just carry on with their abuse, because they lost and we don't have good losers any longer (do we, Labour?).

I witnessed a Facebook 'conversation' between my friend Jeff Chahal (the owner of a local business and a believer in a fairer society for all) and the friend of one of his friends whose understanding of the 'migrant' crisis and the diversity in the world was sorely missing. Jeff remained remarkably calm in the face of what started out as just general ignorance and lack of knowledge, but soon turned to some of the basest and unpleasant insults about Jeff's heritage, personal beliefs and vile presumptions I've ever seen and all because Jeff stayed calm and presented facts rather than invective. By the end of the 'conversation' anyone witnessing it would have been justifiably angry - there were even calls for Jeff to report the guy to the Hate Crimes unit, but he's a fair man and he believed that would just cause more trouble. Personally, the idiot he engaged with will never see the error of his ways so you punish him continuously until he at least shuts the fuck up.

I have mellowed in recent months. I once created an alter-ego for The Guardian website, but tend to use my own name and profile now because, as I've always said, if you want to insult or argue with someone on the net at least have the conviction of being a real person when you do it (I have never used Bill Wall for anything other than liking things I don't want in my own personal Facebook news feed). My wife has said since the late 1990s that the internet in any way other than for information and facts is not for her. She has no interest in social media; she does not want to read the (largely wrong or ignorant) rantings of complete strangers (like me) or even personal friends. The internet should be a non-confrontational tool of knowledge and just writing or thinking that makes me the most naive person who ever breathed. Human nature is confrontational - we think having wars is the way to solve most things. We tend to forget that, at this moment in time, however technological we have become, we're still essentially animals and a pretty aggressive species at that.

Earlier in the year I wrote a piece about musician Steven Wilson, which covered similar ground to this and was about emotional responses and personal 'ownership' where actually none exists. Some of us have become so insular we're no longer really aware that there's an entire world out there with 7billion+ of souls. The reason is as stupid as, "I bought his records, I helped him become a millionaire, he owes it to ME!" and that is essentially the same attitude with different words expressed by the users and abusers on social media. It's my belief, how dare you not agree with it!

And I'm as guilty as everyone else and will be again in the future because it doesn't matter how clever you think you are - you're an animal.

Friday, August 14, 2015


The story so far…

July 1st 2014: lifting Marley onto a vet’s table there was a pop in my shoulder – a very painful pop.

October 2nd 2014: the doctor tells me I’ve probably ruptured a tendon and refers me to a specialist.

August 1st 2015: Mr Divyang Shukla re-enters my shoulder via a keyhole for the second time in exactly 5 years.

It wasn’t as bad as he thought it might be, but my bicep needed a lot of work and the rehabilitation is going to take a long time because my muscle isn’t there anymore; it's just a flabby bit of fat and flesh.

Typing has been tough in the last week; typing one-handed is a bind when you’re used to typing almost properly, so I limited myself to the occasional Facebook post. I’ve also been going through a period of reflection when I haven’t been rushed off my feet by the new puppy, and the wife took last week off to essentially help me but also discovered her inner-Percy-Thrower and transformed the garden from a rather rustic looking place to something I said my dad would be proud of and anyone who knew my dad knew he loved his gardens.

I’ve been in a sling for most of the week because gravity sucks, but I drove a couple of miles yesterday and have declared myself able to cope because frankly I don’t do enough with my left arm when I drive apart from change the gears and that isn’t a problem – even reverse. The major problem appears to be my biceps – now that I’m using them again my arm doesn’t just complain, it sends a 50,000 word letter of complaint dipped in salt.

The reflection was due to my inability to do anything proper and because in the coming weeks there will, hopefully, be nothing to stop me from actually getting a job. My shoulder has been a bit like an invisible elephant in the room at the few job interviews I’ve had and has been an underlying reason for my horrid year of depression and the reason was because it was the thing that reminded me that functioning physically well wasn’t going to happen until it was fixed, so it dampened down any optimism because it was there like a devil, reminding me - except it wasn't allowed to sit on my left shoulder.

Doug the dog has been an exhausting revelation. The girls have accepted him and when that happened completely the entire house lost the melancholia surrounding it since Murray. Last week, despite the fact my incapacity made me edgy, was the best week of 2015 by a country mile. The stress headache that had been plaguing me for the two weeks up to the operation was gone and the new boy just took up time in the best possible way. Sleep would have been nice, but he’s a baby and he needed us to be aware to help him in his training. He’s 70% house trained, we just need to keep him focused against slip ups – wees only – and teach him that the dog flap isn’t something to be frightened of.

That said, we had one of those ‘events’ at 1.20am this morning… Imagine The Hangover and sit back and enjoy…

6:00am – the alarm goes off and the wife gets up, does her daily morning stuff and returns to the bedroom to retrieve the puppy for his morning ablutions and his first meal of the day. I only have her word for what followed but my mind keeps thinking of Cell Block H and not the kitsch Aussie soap. She was greeted with shit – runny stinky shit – all over the kitchen floor, in the conservatory and some had made it into the living room onto the carpet. The wee was just like club cards – something extra. I was oblivious of this and it wasn’t until about 7:10 that I had any idea what had happened.

The wife threw back the bottom of the quilt and looked at my feet, then threw it back over me. I had the puppy curled up next to me fast asleep, “I don’t know how you didn’t walk through all that shit,” and disappeared off to work.

“Huh?” I was puzzled; there hadn’t been any shit. We’d had one of those ‘rush jobs’ at 1:20; Doug had been fast asleep next to me on the bed when he got up and jumped off and onto his own bed. The wife woke up almost instantly, but I reassured her; but less than a minute Doug was standing at the top of the stairs whining; as I jumped out of bed (as fast as one can with one arm), Doug started down the stairs. Instead of doing what I should have done, especially given that the dog is now two weeks plus older than he was when we got him, was grab my dressing gown, but mild pooh panic had hit me so I just ‘ran’ after Doug, stark naked in the middle of a night that soon became obvious wasn’t as warm as some August nights.

I was delighted with the boy; he was sitting waiting for me by the door, I opened it and he went straight out and I started to shiver. I thought I heard a very farty pooh taking place, but my teeth started to chatter and because of my COPD, plunging me into a cold environment has the effect of shocking my system into forgetting to breathe – yes, I know it sounds odd but it’s probably the worst symptom of this disease and the one that is the most difficult to bring under control, because even when you warm back up your breathing hasn’t caught up with the rest of you. I was starting to panic – not the aforementioned pooh-panic, but a new scary I-Can’t-Breathe panic. Doug was now just sniffing around the picnic table, so I called him in, shut the door and shot up the stairs and into bed as quick as I could. Doug was obviously behind me…

No, while I was trying to regulate my hyperventilating and explain to the wife how he’d just had a shit and I couldn’t bet my life on him having had a pee. He came back up, curled up on his own bed and went to sleep. The wife mumbled something about having to stop him eating windfall apples and then the alarm went off – it was 6:00am.

Obviously what had happened was in the three minutes or so it took me to explain what had happened, Doug decided that not only did he now need a wee, but that rather farty pooh I’d heard was just the start of it. Suffice it to say for a little, wiry dog he could shit for England. I can only blame myself.

I’ll tell you what else is covered in shit, the Labour leadership race and the way the Triptych of Twats just seem so anodyne and divisive, especially in the way they have no real policies, sound like right wing Liberals and just appear to constantly attacking the only candidate that appears to be treating this as a serious discussion about where the party needs to go. I have reservations about Jeremy Corbyn, but he’s done a Nicola Sturgeon and got people talking about politics and ideology again and where the party has gone wrong; oh and he’s anti-austerity therefore doesn’t represent the establishment. God, no wonder everyone sounds scared of a 66-year-old moderately left-wing man.

If Labour eats itself in a frenzy if and when Corbyn is crowned leader then it won’t just lose the next election, they’ll probably just self-destruct, lose all credibility and I’m moving to Scotland so I’d probably just shrug and think that people probably got what they deserve.

I'm growing a coquina squash and it's working.

Just recently I mentioned Shenley Hospital and next Wednesday I intend to return to my home of three years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sadly it is to attend a funeral, of someone I haven't seen for 33 years (and obviously I won't see again), a chap called Pete Skelley - he worked for my dad behind the bar at the social club and him and Wendy, his wife, were great friends outside of work with my folks. I also worked with Pete behind the bar - a genuinely affable and lovely guy...

There will be a number of people from my long-ago-past there next week; it will be ... unusual.