Friday, 23 September 2016

Autumn ramble…

So here comes another autumn. You have to love it don’t you? The crisp leaves underfoot and the bonfires, the chill in the air and the fogs, that long slow roll into winter, and of course another Christmas to get all excited about and then almost immediately forget.

It was the equinox yesterday and with it the start of astronomical autumn. Not real autumn of course, but I’ve been feeling that wonderful chill in the early morning air for a few days now and as you can see the leaves in my yard are turning, so let’s agree that it’s here.

As Justin Hayward once sang ‘I really love this time of year’, even though the chances of anything coming from Mars are down from a million to one to a bookie’s odds of around 20/1. Of course I don’t think it’ll be Tripods, but they’ll be something, a bacteria or two or maybe a mould or a lichen, and who’s to say that they will be no less deadly than Tripods armed with deadly death rays? Science daily reveals so much to us and shatters our dreams and cosy suppositions along the way. Good thing or bad thing? Who knows?

But it’s autumn, so let’s leave alien invasion alone and think about mellow fruitfulness. For me one of the best things about this time of year is that it becomes ‘legal’ once more to eat all the good stuff. By this I mean soups, casseroles, stews, dumplings, roast dinners with gravy, and those wonderful hot sticky puddings. All the things that the summer denies me as it’s not allowed to eat stewed root vegetables in the sunshine apparently.

Pumpkins and scarecrows, Harvest Festival songs, burning wicker men, beer and more beer, brightly crackling open fires, and of course bonfire night. Remember, remember the fifth of November and this year I am going to let off those fireworks I’ve been holding in the cupboard for two years waiting for a dry night and a little enthusiasm. It’s a ritual I need to perform, so let's conjure up all those other autumns. The long walks to school with the mist at my feet, the geese honking high overhead, the dew on the cobwebs of hedgerow spiders, the red sunsets over the church with the bells ringing out for Wednesday practice, and the deeply darkening nights, shorter and shorter until daylight seems to be rationed like licorice flavoured sweets in a jar.

Every day above ground is a good day, even the dark ones. I’ll remember that as I fall easily into autumn then on into the winter gathering conkers and nuts as I go, trying to not be tricked by the trick or treaters and gathering my memories to keep me warm until the spring. Autumn is the end of something with the promise of a new beginning once the trials and tribulations of the winter months have passed.

Autumn – it’s a good and easy thing. Enjoy.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

New evidence…

I don’t know what you think, after all sometimes I don’t even know what I think. That’s the thing isn’t it? Presented with all the evidence it should be easy to make your mind up, but what if new evidence presents itself which makes you reconsider? New evidence can be so disruptive. Sometimes I’m so sure of where I stand only to find myself knocked to the floor when new evidence walks into the room. Thank god I’m not in prison for a murder that I didn’t commit. Years of proclaiming innocence with nobody believing me until new evidence presents itself. Think of all those wasted years.

Of course most of us aren’t in prison but we often go along proclaiming that we are perfectly content and then, quite suddenly sometimes, new evidence presents itself and that bubble is suddenly popped. Often it’s a relationship thing (I’ve had that one more than once), or it could be a job that we thought we enjoyed that crumbles to dust under ‘new management’. Maybe it’s a hero that turns out to be not so heroic after all (can you tell what it is yet?) or just a belief that is proven to be false - and all of a sudden the world is round and not flat or vice versa.

It’s all about evidence, the clearing of that smoke that has got in your eyes, the hushed up conspiracy that is suddenly whistle blown, the certainty that is not only made uncertain but turns out to be a lie and becomes dust. Nothing is for certain – well maybe death and taxes, certainly taxes.

I thought I wanted to live in a certain world where I knew what to expect next. A nice ordered place that I could control and make ‘in my own image’ or at least modify it so that I could find it vaguely tolerable. As I get older I realise that is not the way things work. I am going to be presented with new evidence all of the time and that evidence is going to change what I think and do and believe. I’m not living in a certain world, it is showing me new aspects of itself all the time and rather than me trying to bend the world to suit what I want I’m going to have to go with it, because that is the new reality.

A new reality every day. Lift that curtain and see the new view.

Friday, 9 September 2016

I must go down to the sea again...

There seems to have been a lot of people lost to the sea from the beach this summer. The sea can  be fun and it can be hateful and dangerous. I have waded between the rocks in this water catching shrimps in my net and feeling the warm water moving on my legs with hardly a wave in sight.

The sea is so clear and blue on a sunny day, inviting, a watery playground to enjoy. But just look at it on this wild August afternoon. To go into those waves with the rocks beneath would not lead to shrimps for tea, but more likely a meeting with Davy Jones and his proverbial locker.

It doesn’t come across in the picture but those breakers are seven feet high, and when they hit the cliffs in the distance the spray shoots thirty feet into the air. Across on the other side - under the castle - the stone jetty disappears in a froth of white spume with each wave. Three teenagers run halfway along the stone flagged outcrop and then stop, daunted by the force of the wind and spray. Another ten feet and it's almost a certainty that the sea will pull them in, claiming their foolish lives for King Neptune or Poseidon or whoever it is that rules the vast underwater kingdom beneath the waves.

Ironically, across the road, just tens of yards from the pier, the lifeboat station is open waiting for a call-out, probably caused by some fool who doesn’t respect the power of the churning waters and pushes his luck too far. Of course the sea is no respecter of luck, it cocks its green wet nose at even the most experienced seaman sometimes; so how these ‘down for the week’ holidaymakers expect to gamble and win is stunning in its stupidity. ‘Place your bets, place your bets’, I don’t think you stand much chance of beating the odds.

The wind gusts, the waves rush over the promenade breakwater and the cars - probably parked by the inner wall before the waves came so high - are scratched and pitted by the round pebbles that the water brings with it. A crack goes up and a windscreen breaks as water pours over the dashboard of some unsuspecting tourist who’s probably having a cup of tea in one of the caf├ęs across the way. The waves continue not quite satisfied yet, and more water pours into the car. If I knew for sure where the owner was I might try to find him, but of course it’s too late. He’ll be driving home in the wet later.

And there we have it; a summer’s day at the seaside. What fun.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Courage and fear...

Bad news, another old friend gone, a school chum buddy who I got drunk with in Switzerland and pulled back through the window when one night we drank too many lagers on a school painting trip. I don’t know why Pete was on that trip, he couldn’t paint to save his life, but there we both were sharing a room in a traditional Swiss hotel somewhere outside of Lucerne.

We were only 13 or so, but Pete was one of those boy-men even at that age that you wouldn’t want to get the wrong side of. That's him sixth from the left, whilst I am third from the right. There we are chalk and cheese, he all macho smoulder and me with my stupid frizzed hair. If he’d fallen from the ledge he was standing on that night he was looking at certain death. It was a long drop to the rocks below, I pulled him back in and sat on him till he calmed down whilst he poured beer all over the beds. ironic that it was another drop that got him in the end.

It seemed to me at the time that Pete wasn’t scared of anything. He was on all the sports teams and always held his corner without a flinch. To be honest I was as much scared of him as I admired his bravery, even if his bravery was often driven by a need for danger and to be top dog. He was all courage and I was all fear. So sad that this magnificent, muscle bound, ball of testosterone should fall down the stairs and just never wake up again. He wasn’t even sixty.

Which brings it around to me to me as always.

So here I go, out on that last chapter of my life; the one where all the work, pain and disappointment comes to fruition and I get what I have always deserved and wanted. Most of the things are in place to make it happen, all I need to do now is to be brave and not embarrassed. All I need is the will and some of that courage that Pete seemed to have in abundance.

The courage to make that next leap is a thing that throughout my life has been a commodity I have needed to muster. I am not naturally brave, I’m naturally a coward quite content to live inside a comfort zone, but at the same time hating every bland and single moment of it. I loved playing rugby, but was always so scared of dropping the ball that I stopped. Idiot me, I was actually pretty good, but I chose blandness instead. Now, my main need is that I don’t want to be bland in my future – and I feel I am bland to the point of white and hazy nothingness sometimes.

Of course I’m not going to nest with the wolves, or climb mountains, live in the woods in a shack made from tin cans and rope, or stand drunk on a ledge at a Swiss hotel seventy feet from the ground. I’m not going to hit the headlines for my sport or art or inventiveness; but I don’t want to go without someone chancing across me in the future and saying: ‘Interesting. Weird but interesting’.

So here is my big plan (ha, ha). I just want a nice house close to the sea with a garden and somewhere I can do all that painting I’ve said that I will do but really haven’t got around to making happen. I’m not a bad painter as painters go, certainly better than Pete was, and I’m not a bad gardener. I want to leave behind everything I have made happen to date and start again and if I’m really lucky I’ll have twenty years to achieve something like fulfillment and then it’s death of course, the ultimate adventure.

I wonder what I will be like at eighty? I wonder if I'll even get to eighty? I doubt it, but strangely I'm not scared about that.

It’s time to move on, get out all those preliminary sketches and ideas, splash some paint about and drink loads of wine and whisky and soda. Time to move on, become cultured, self-interested and wear hats. Time to surprise with acts of kindness and acts of vitriol when required, time to begin the slow coast to whatever remains. All I need is some courage.

Chuck us that ball Pete.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

School uniform...

Ah, don’t they look smart as the go off to school in their new school uniforms so proud to be part of the group. The pictures on Facebook say it all; how nice that our children, so used to T-shirts, baggy shorts and day-glow pumps have suddenly been made into little models of conformity. All lined up like ducks with the only way to distinguish them being their size, the colours of their eyes or hair or skin.

Uniforms are such a great leveler and isn’t it great that we don’t need to know the children’s names to know which tribe they’ve been signed up to?

Sorry, doting mums I might as well tell you I really don’t like uniforms for children. It so often leads to uniforms for adults in later life. I don’t care if it is school, Scouts, Guides, the Army Cadets or the Hitler Youth, none of the arguments for uniforms really stands up. Not even the bullshit ‘leveler’ one.

Kids all over the country have been sent home this week for not following the school rules on uniform. In Reading a girl was sent home for having the wrong collar on her white blouse and the wrong shade of dark blue trousers. At Hartsdown Academy fifty pupils were refused entry for offences including wearing black shoes made from suede and the wrong colour laces. All over the country this ridiculous power play is repeated as idiot headmasters demand that children conform, sometimes breaking their wills and destroying their confidence in the process.

I have previous on this. Back in the seventies I pushed the boundaries of school uniform to the acceptable limit. I wore the tie, I had a black blazer, my trousers were grey and my shoes were black. But that was where my conformity ended. My blazer was sailcloth with contrasting stitch, my trousers mid grey and flared, my white shirts had ‘penny’ collars and my shoes were platformed. It met the criteria as outlined in the school rule book which, believe this as it is true, we had to carry in our pockets at all times, but my what a terrible outrage it caused.

After threats of suspension, numerous ‘chats’ from senior boys who were apparently ‘disgusted’ that I should let the school down in this way, and a couple of beatings in the changing rooms, it all seemed to go away as stretching the boundaries of school dress became the norm with many other pupils in the school. I guess I was just trying to be an individual, which backfired as the way I dressed became the norm, but in retrospect it was more than that – far more.

Being made to tow the line and become a clone simply isn’t right. Everyone has the right to express themselves in the way they act, think and, yes, even dress within certain boundaries. Uniforms were originally about the tribe you belonged to, about going into battle as a thing not a person. In war the uniform meant you didn’t know who it was that just got blown up. In prisons and concentration camps they are used to remove your identity and dehumanise. In the forces to underline your status and rank, rather than your personality, abilities, or identity.

On the plus side – if this is a plus side – it allows you to hide. In extreme cases it can allow you to distance yourself from your actions so that what you do isn’t really you at all - it is the uniform and all it stands for. There are other times where uniforms are good, allowing you to easily see the emergency services when you need to, or watch the play on a football field. But even these uses have a negative side with crowd and group think being so much more accessible to people who all dress the same.

Yes, uniforms usually come complete with a code of behaviour. They can make you in to someone else.

I really can’t understand why we need uniforms in schools at all. Standards yes, but identical and inflexible dress codes particularly when the schools claim they want to grow unique individuals? Are the educational and political overlords trying to build a society where we fit in because of what we wear, a uniformity that is easy to control with no room for difference - the very thing they applaud and claim they want? And while we are about it, how dare Jeremy Corbyn not wear a dark suit and a tie?

There is something very wrong with a school where the material your black footwear is made from is such an issue. What a rubbish school that fails to nurture difference and is able to build acceptable and agreeable guidelines for everybody to work within. Personally I would kick the headmaster of Hartsdown Academy out of Education forever as he isn’t the type of educator I would want my children to have to endure.

On that point I once had to attend a disciplinary meeting at my daughter Holly’s snotty Grammar School where she was made to feel like a criminal because her check blouse wasn’t the acceptable check and her boots had laces.  She broke down in the meeting and I told the shit head of sixth form to stuff her stupid school up her stupid fat arse. Holly went on to a local college with no dress code and got three A’s and I got told off by my wife for being so rude to a teacher.

Maybe, instead of cooing over how smart our kids look as they go off to school dressed in the same clothes as their classmates we should think about how we allow then to become individuals and not just clones to serve an educational system that wants to manage them through tests, the colour and style of their shoes, and bullying megalomaniac teachers.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Colder cold feet...

I watched the first episode of the new Cold Feet last night. Somehow I managed to avoid the first series almost entirely, despite having some of it filmed in my road plus a whole two seconds when one of the male stars – I forget which one – stopped outside my house and my front door appeared on TV.

Of course this was in the nineties and maybe this tale of everyday, upwardly mobile, middle class folk rang a little too true with my own aspirations at that time, or maybe I was just being me.

Back then if everyone was loving and talking about something I would hate and deride it simply because I could. Oh, I so loved being differently the same and of course I was a tiny bit older than the stars of the show and already jaded knowing how their hopes would all shatter and turn to dust in their not too distant fictitious futures.

Only Robert Bathurst was born in the same year as I and those short ten years or so can make such a difference to the world you inhabit. Yes, I lived through the Kennedy assassinations, the Cuban missile crisis, and rickets.

Of course by the time the nineties rolled around I had failed relationships, my optimistic youth had de-optimised itself, I had a divorce behind me, new relationships to deal with and no doubt living in Manchester in a middle management, middle class, position where image was everything (what car do you drive?) made Cold Feet far too close to home. Right outside it to be exact. I guess you might call it highly uncomfortable watching for me back then.

So why, almost twenty years on, am I watching the new Cold Feet?

It’s a question I struggle to answer. But I guess one answer is for the uncomfortable comfort it gives me really. I knew back then that these wunderkind were all heading for a fall despite their aspirations drawing them to a perfect life. We are all going to fall in one way or another at some point. It’s never perfect for long and I guess that’s one of life’s big lessons; it doesn’t stand still. You can plan it, you can even begin to make it happen, but real life has this way of shitting on your head whilst you are trying to live your dreams and that tends to fuck things up completely. Ultimately a fall is coming and there’s no avoiding it.


Sometimes I think about running away and starting over. It wouldn’t take much to make me happier and, as long as I stayed away from the fairer sex, I could live a happy, peaceful and hopefully short and much fulfilled life. My chasing days are over, and if there’s anything left to chase then I’m buggered if I know what it is. What car do I drive? Who gives a flying fuck?

I watched the new Cold Feet and enjoyed watching that group of friends who have lived through the waves and storms, but don’t seem to realise that the hurricane is probably yet to come. Some of their careers have gone, some relationships have soured or become becalmed or emptied, and each character has transformed into an individual living in a world of his or her own making. It seems to me that they seem to be trying to maintain a semblance of belonging, but really they are each lonely and worried about where they are, who they are, and what is coming next.

Perhaps I was better off not watching the first time around and I suppose I really should stop watching this new series now before it poses too many questions. Even after all this time it remains uncomfortable watching and the lives of those characters echo too strongly in my own mind. Of course, I wish them all happy endings, but I can’t see it and I miss not having my future in front of me too.

I can see the fear in their eyes, the boredom, the desperation, the realisation that not very much of before really mattered and even less will matter in the future. I can feel the habit that’s become a responsibility to bother with the needs and opinions of others when really there are needs and opinions of their own to address.

Or is that just me?

What great acting it is though. By the way that’s my daughter in the picture with the stars of the show. She did work experience on the original series set; God knows how, but perhaps that is what made her such a middle class, gin-slinging, upwardly mobile, career person. She really could be a character in Cold Feet ;-)