Thursday 28 March 2013

Sleep Scroungers

I thought I’d escaped the bedroom tax what with not being in receipt of any housing benefit but it appears not – since I discovered today that the tax is to be applied to bedrooms, full stop.
            I rang and discovered through a young chap, clearly much harried, that sleep has been pinned down as being one of the singularly largest drains on the country, being unproductive and indeed the preserve of people simply lying around. Already plans are being made to demonise sleepers who could be out there working. This all seems a little unfair, at least to me personally, as I would happily not sleep at all if I could seeing as how there is just so much stuff to do. I will get a decent sort of rebate on the tax since one third of the bedrooms in my house are actually being used for work, but that all rebounds as one of the remainder is occupied by my daughter. Children are likewise seen as a drain on the country’s resources and are (I was quietly told) to be phased out entirely over the next ten years.
            It’s not like this week hasn’t been the busiest since... ever. What with the end of term today needing three days of cake making and decorating (fortunately the sprout won first prize), her birthday, her party to organise, the upcoming Brownie camp, Easter – oh, and work, with today yet more forms arriving needing to be urgently filled in. But whilst I explained all this it was pointed out that if I hadn’t insisted on spending five or six hours just lying around of a night then the whole thing could have been made to go away.
            I had to concede the point.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Bus Wankers!

So it transpires I’m a poof. It seems an odd way to come out of the closet I admit. It surprised me too let me tell you as I’d never before thought that such involved me reading on a bus. But there it is. Despite two children and the majority of my life quietly dedicated to going to bed with women the fact that I read a book on the bus means that I’m gay. I was told so. So it must be true.
            It’s been said across the net that homophobia is the fear by certain people that gay men will treat them exactly the same way as they treat women. Equally I’d add that like a lot of middle age men (who typically glance at the odd book or two as well) that I’m homophile. Or to be more exact, are of the sure and certain belief that being straight and with kids every gay man I know, have met, or will ever meet is having a much, much better time of it than I am. All that fun just out there, and not for us. Yes, it’s jealousy. And jealousy isn’t nice. But then middle age men aren’t always very nice especially when it’s just a veneer learned through self examination. Which mine is, oh yes.
            I swore to myself I would not moan on this blog, nor express hate of anything from the way weetabix dries in the bowl to meercats. I’ve done that. I used to have a web column back in the last century and it was called Hate! I stopped that but the internet has picked up that baton and run with it to the extent that bile drips from my very monitor in some places. Not I, the web is too important for that, but elsewhere. I mean to say, I don’t much care for My Little Pony so I won’t often be found on a fansite dedicated to them. And if I were I would not then find time so heavy on my hands that I would then attack those on that self same site for whom Rainbow Blossom  is a subject of considerably, even abiding interest. Likewise whenever faced with a customer down the years that cared to slate me I can smile back, or when reading nonsense likewise chuckle and live content in the happy realisation that life is too short to listen to idiots. Though if you said it, I know you said it, and I’ll remember.
            So on this bus I’m reading. A book, not a newspaper. And two fat men of about my age stare at me. And one says to the other, ‘What’s he doing?’ To which his witty friend replied, ‘Reading, what a poof.’
            Now naturally what should happen is that I would ignore them, seethe a little, and then come up with some witty rejoinder later. That I should like the bullied 1st year know my place. Sadly, that is not I. People forget that under this charming and jolly nice exterior I am still Alan. Alan who indeed won the cun t-of-the-year competition in the 80s against some very stiff competition. Indeed, Alan that knew the sort of people amongst whom we would actually go through and judge such an award. So for all those of you who would turn the other fearful cheek, I was there for you. 
            Although to be fair all I came up with on the spur was, ‘If you’re looking for a three-way I don’t fuck fat twats’.
            I should add here that their weight was not an issue. Cope knows I was there myself for quite some time. But such were the weapons offered.
            ‘You what?’
            ‘You fucking heard.’
            ‘Fuck off.’
            ‘Off the bus? Or just generally fuck off?’
            To which I was told to watch it. To which I laughed. Then they got off the bus and when in motion again made motions with their fists.
            All of which made me feel jolly young again.
It was just like the 80s.
Presumably I’d better look out at closing time in case they and their half dozen mates fancy teaching me a good lesson when they decide on a little idle gay-bashing. Which would be terribly unfair as I’d get the hiding without all the benefits. You know, all that fun I’m absolutely certain 100% I’m completely missing out on.

Sunday 24 March 2013

We Miss You James Herbert

Just the other day I saw James Herbert’s new novel in the supermarket at a cut down, end of aisle price. So I walked round the corner to the proper bookshop and bought it there. For the sake of a couple of quid I’d rather have the bookshop. Quite aside from anything else they host the book group I try and get to, and they have nice cake. Not that I can eat cake but I appreciate the gesture. I could eat cake, but having hit eleven stone now cake and I are undergoing a trial separation.
            So I read it and like nearly everything Herbert it was very readable. And then just hours later I find out James Herbert had died. And I felt sad, and I still do.
            I’ve muttered before about how I dislike the terms young-adult and teen-fiction. Teenagers that genuinely do read, read books. I did. And when I was a middling teen I read James Herbert. I also read Zelazny, Moorcock, Dick and any number of others but as a teenager I definitely read Herbert – and so too did many of us. His heroes were pretty much alike and the attractive foil for the hero likewise so that the inevitable sex scenes were identical between them. Ever thrown into sharp relief from the purity of the identical perfect first-fuck by the host of grubby perverts also in the book that would get eaten, or beaten, or just always killed. We know this because Herbert always showed, rarely told. He had the knack for spending a chapter going through the topsy-turvy, usually perverse, lives of someone only for them to get eaten by rats, ghosts, or killed by someone that has three chapters of their lives before suffering the same. He showed us what was so terrible by showing what happened. No nameless body on a beach with a bit of exposition to paint the eyes and mouth on a cardboard face here. And he was brilliant at it. I’ve read some snidey stuff about Herbert’s work recently. This is exactly what you’d expect since he sold millions. \But the thing is, absolutely everyone that met him describes what a great bloke he was. So I say good for him - and thanks for all the scary nights.
            He was in many ways the English Stephen King, by time and success. But I don’t know what Maine looks like and Herbert had less characters that were writers. But I do or afterwards did know what Aldgate was like (Rats), what Wiltshire, Bournemouth and the Elephant were (Fog) – and so on . Domain got me fascinated with London under London and my Granda Bill then told me more. The last struck a chord too since nuclear war was not for we teens of the 80s unlikely, it was almost inevitable. It was.
            And as I say James Herbert was readable. He told his tales with a fast pace, with chapters that made you read the next. With wonderful and realised passing supporting characters (that as I’ve said would then die). He was a British horror writer and he wrote for us. We read them when we were teenagers. And when we were teenagers the darkness never sparkled.
            RIP James Herbert. You were great. Your work was important. We’ll miss you.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

By Air to Shangri-La

It may well be a place now of giant shops selling giant amounts of things (though not necessarily for giant people) but Purley Way in Croydon once ran alongside the world’s first international airport. You can still see the entrance there, or used to at least – it’s been a while since I lived out that way – a nifty piece of art-deco architecture from when there was a romance to air travel.  Rather than flying in 747s or Air Busses airplanes had proper names like the De Havilliand Dragon (followed closely by the Dragon Rapide, now more commonly found in the French editions of the Monster Manual) and the Armstrong-Whitworth Atlanta. Planes with proper, gutsy names.  Names you could hang a hat off.
            Before the likes of Blackbush and Northolt decided they could more than accommodate international travel in the 50s then in the decades before it was Croydon or Croy-nothing. The aerodrome became an airport in the 20s, an airport by the way the way being an airfield where one is required to go through customs.
            Now obviously the likes of you wouldn’t have had the distinction of being anywhere near flights to Templehof or Rotterdam, enjoying the vagaries of luxurious travel in cramped armchairs and a fair chance of crashing in the Himalayas and discovering Shangri-La. Back then of course planes were regularly equipped with yeti-guns, and pith helmets were required just for a trip to the loo – of which there was probably none.  Air piracy was not only common but expected as independent zeppelins cruised the skies and science was only allowed in the hands of responsible chaps with pipes, in sheds (or mad scientists, but they weren’t allowed on Imperial Airways).
            Personally I avoid such places. I’m of an age to settle down and enjoy life a bit. Air travel for me inevitably leads to dinosaurs and cave people placated only by stout bars of chocolate. And since I’m on a diet I just don’t have the chocolate to deal with ‘em.
            I’ve got a pith helmet of course.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Hangovers, Museums, and Clive Mantle

Tolly Maw has a museum I discovered yesterday.
            Deserving of a hangover I had not been given I had the day mostly to myself.  When you’ve had kids all the time, forever, it’s difficult to know what to do when for the day you do not. Similarly having for the first time in a long time been able to go out the night before I opened one eye very carefully on the morning so as to sneakily look around in case there was horror and headache awaiting me. I’d only been asleep for four hours, but the first recce showed nothing resembling a quiet, middle-aged course of hiding under the pillow and soft weeping at the loss of my youthful ability to regenerate from the excesses of the night before. I crept to the bathroom for a wee like a burglar. It took a careful appraisement of body, self and soul before I could accept that yes, I’d gotten away with it. So able to go for a walk I did (albeit after a lot of tea and ever ready for the hangover to ambush me). If I left the house after all the horror might not know where I was having expected me to rise later. I left it a note.
            The trouble with museums is that if you’ve ever lived in a city then museums elsewhere are always going to be a bit crap. When you take even the obvious big boys, the Natural History, and the Science Museum you can become exhibit blind. Of course there are bloody great dinosaurs and moon landers; that’s what museums have.  The only exception to the urban versus rural in museums is Bovington. So many tanks. So, so many. When you’re used to this sort of thing then coming to the likes of Cumbria was a bit of a shock. There then there are but a handful. In Maryport the Roman museum is the oldest collection in Britain, it being a small room with some carved stone and old coins. Or in Keswick there are two. The first has some stuffed animals and a mummified cat. The second is entirely to do with pencils. No joke, a pencil museum. If anything it rather over eggs the amount that can be said about pencils; which is not a great deal. But Tolly Maw is to Cumbria what Cumbria is to London. Because the Tolly Maw museum is kept in a box.
            No scale models here. And what is a museum without scale models, even tatty ones? Indeed, especially tatty ones. I said this and the curator plucked from the box a number of Action Man sten gun magazines. They were indeed scaled down, and also rare – and I was happy at least to find out where all the Action Man sten gun magazines went since they never seemed to linger around their sten guns when I was a boy. Poor Action Man, ever ill-equipped with unloaded sten guns and an SLR without a barrel. I didn’t like to pass judgement on the sorry collection contained in the Tolly Maw museum since the curator is Clive Mantle and Clive Mantle whilst big, and friendly, is also a giant.
            “You’re Little John,” I said to him whilst he loaded his blowing-trumpet loaded with dreams.
            He wasn’t. He was much more famous for Casualty and Holby City. Neither of which I’d seen. RADA trained, more recently something in Games of Thrones. Which I’ve also never seen. People are often surprised how little fantasy tele and films I watch. They shouldn’t be. He was in Alien 3 too, which meant he was a proper British actor since Alien 3 is the film about where all the villains from every other American film are sent to as punishment for defying people who, despite the title, don’t actually die (hard or otherwise). I like Alien 3 better than the rest of the series. I am alone in this. But still I didn’t remember him in it. It’s been a while. I rarely own films I like since I like the delight of finding out when one of them is on tele. Went The Day Well and Ice Cold In Alex were both on the other day, one after the other. That was a good day. So I said, “So you’re Little John then?”
            He sighed and admitted that he was, just without the beard.
            In case the sheriff should come by. He was in disguise. Or at least so I had to suppose. I asked if I could dig through the museum but upset Clive Mantle took back the box and returned it to its shelf. It was a very high shelf, which is why Clive Mantle has to be the curator.
            When I got home there was a note from my hangover. It pointed out that according to its records I was owed money due to miss-sold PPI. I wondered what it had gone into since I had long since ignored its services.
Now it just plain pisses off everyone.    

Friday 15 March 2013

Pencil - Aunt Minerva

Asa Ewerlof, Henry Lord Rockingham, Mme Roux, Charlie Bittersweet, Alf Bittersweet

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Cowell To Decide Pope

The Catholic Church has revealed today that in order to clean up their image (after recent events have spoiled an otherwise spotless history) that Simon Cowell is to be in charge of finding the next Pope.
            Current surveys suggest that since 1536 (nearly twenty to four in the afternoon)  the church has undergone something of a lapse in popularity in Britain, and Cowell is said to be delighted to be working in this with an organisation actually richer than his own. Already across the country applications are being taken by anybody that feels they have what it takes to rise to the double-cape, a process whose heats and finals will be shown on ITV as the PontifeX Factor.
            Religious knowledge is not necessarily seen as important, so much as character, charisma, and really, really wanting it.
            The winner is guaranteed a one-book deal, the world’s number one bestseller - although suggestions are already doing the rounds that the ‘Bible’ has long been ghost-written. Or holy ghost written (sorry...)
            When asked about the strong possibility of young, pretty, emotionally unbalanced people lining up to do anything it takes to succeed one Cardinal is said to have set his hands on fire with all the eager rubbing.
            The PonitfeX Factor is due to be shown this autumn in a ratings battle with rival Pope Idol.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Mad March

“Where the fuck have you been?” Alf wants to know. He doesn’t say it harshly, but dropping the ‘darling’ he adds to anyone from teaboy to toast rack I have to adopt my most winning smile.
            There’s snow about the shelter of the hedge yet it’s bright enough to wear sunglasses. Mine are round, because nothing else suits me. I say, “Here Alf, mostly.”
            He tells me they’ve been out looking. No word for days and they feared the worse. Even Mme Roux is worried it seems (and she knows for a fact that nothing bad has happened to me since she knows the times we have yet to meet). I say I find that last hard to believe, “We’re very different,” I point out.
            “Politics and biscuits aren’t as important as you two make out,” says Alf. He sits beside me. There’s a great view today. A little cold the air is blue and clear. The clouds are high where here they’re often neighbours. The mountains are beautiful. I am in a fine sort of mood and have been for days. “She don’t know as much as she makes out,” he says regarding Mme Roux. “she don’t know what happens between those scratches where you overlap. There are times indeed when you make her nervous.”
            “You can be right inscrutable, darling.” Alf in his 60s camp clobber is a nasty bastard when he doesn’t care to try to be otherwise, so I’m glad he’s being friendly again.
            “I’m not,” I say, “I’m very open, me.”
             “Honest and honourable? She ain’t, so don’t believe no one else is neither,” his accent grows as he relaxes to the day. It is a very fine day after all, and his voice all thick-friendly Lambeth. He’s smarter than I am, is Alf; he takes great pains to not appear so. “Anyway, where’ve you been?”
            “Here. It snowed most pleasantly and in between the sun was brilliant. It’s March, Alf.”
            And so it is, and so he nods. Just as shit always happens in December right before Christmas so too do good things happen in March. And it’s Rex Manning day on Friday, and the postie brought me the newly updated extra-scenes-version of Empire Records this morning. I can only think of one proper relationship that didn’t start in March, and instead that year I changed my life when I ended up in the Elephant and Castle. My eldest daughter was born in March. I’ve ever had good news in March. March as mad as the proverbial hare. I love March. Spring with a winter woolie and summer hat. It’s a cold beer, new bread, a good book unread. March and my life is always right. And my life right now is very right. Apart from not seeing enough of my youngest, which is the long shadow to such a fine sun. I had a pinch to navigate and I came back for that – and I made, I think, the right decisions. The day seems to prove it, the week indeed. And I’ve got these fantastic sunglasses. Round, the only ones that suit me. I say, “Where did you look?”
            “Usual. Salisbury and the Ukraine in the 30s. London and Berlin crossing the 90s. That train you like. Bournemouth, not that I understand that one.”
            “Never anything bad in Bournemouth,” I explain. It’s my place of no-shit and total relaxation. It’s a shame it isn’t that for one of my dearest friends right now, because the reason it is such a special place for me is entirely because of him. “But I was here all along. Just working, as ever.”
            “Balls,” Alf doesn’t like Tolly Maw. He knows it’s not as other places. He knows why that is too, and because of whom. He won’t tell me though I suspect, and if he’s right then again as much in his wish not to discuss it. There’s only one line you do not cross with me, and it’s her 9th birthday in a little over a week.  “There’s something you’re not telling me, darling,” he says.
            “There’s something I’m not telling anyone,  Alf.”
            “So tell me something else...”
            So I do. I tell him about Mary Anning, died of breast cancer in 1847. Not born well, never very flush, she discovered a great many fossils in Lyme Regis of startling importance. She changed, was a pioneer indeed of palaeontology. Due to her gender and certain religious difficulties she never entirely realised the recognition her worth deserved.  In 2010 the Royal Society named her as one of the ten British women to have most influenced science. Dickens wrote of her in 1865.
            “Never heard of her,” says Alf.
            “There you are then, now go and do something about that. Or how about Nelson? Atop his column in Trafalgar Square he faces the mall through Admiralty Arch – and the streetlamps of the Mall all have a ship atop them representing one of the ships from the fleet of that battle for which the square is named.”
            “You all right?” he says. He gives me the funny look.
            “It’s mad March, Alf. Everything’s all right,” so I stand and stretch my arms right out just as Julian Cope would want me to. Because it’s March, and on Friday it’s Rex Manning day.       

Sunday 3 March 2013

Hurray for Bond!

Commander Bond (Daniel Craig)

My dad and I had two things in common, two things we both liked. He wasn’t much of a reader (unless it was Douglas Reeman) and my own forays into volunteer work pale to his. Indeed, my dad lived for volunteer work which he would enter, take over, organise and have marching about in stark efficiency within a year of his interest. It started with the local garden club, then the RNLI, and then life saving at swimming pools. He would raise huge sums or train endless new volunteers, he would commit his whole life to such endeavours and jolly good for him. He liked committees. The progress was inevitable in whichever next caught his fancy. He would attend, he would be treasurer, he would be chairman, he would install a monorail and make sure that every door would swish smoothly open and that people would be well supplied by guards in shiny helmets and orange jumpsuits. Probably because one of the two things we had in common was James Bond. The other was aircraft. Helicopters mostly, and he did a lot of work with helicopters. But for today, Bond.
            This is because I managed to watch Skyfall yesterday, and jolly good fun it was too. I’m not going to point out that that wasn’t the right sort of tube train for Temple, in a film where the immensely complicated series of coincidence and plot is solely so the villain can kill M the shape of an underground train is easily overlooked. I grew up finally being allowed to stay up to watch Goldfinger, seeing Timothy Dalton not long after leaving the parental abode, at first enjoying and then hanging on loyally as Brosnan ventured into invisible cars, but missing entirely the latest reboot when first it came out. Indeed, I saw Quantum before Casino – and the first on the way to my dad’s funeral as I had a four hour wait for a coach. It didn’t make much sense until I managed to catch up with Casino.
            I read the Bond books as a teenager, and even the oddities and strange opinions are a vital part of them. I read the John Gardner versions as they came out (a strange choice my friends and I thought, as Gardner’s Boysie Oakes books took the piss out of the genre – fine though they undoubtedly were). I played the rpg – albeit at the time all our agents were scruffy louts somewhere between Robert Plant and Bodie. Bond even produced one of the finest console games ever in Goldeneye. The current reboot was needed, and has been done well, and if you didn’t like Skyfall you probably don’t like Bond movies. This is perfectly acceptable. Your opinion is valid; just that in this case you are wrong.
              Not that Bond is the most successful of the 00 Branch.
            001 and 005 are never mentioned. They probably have very dull stories. The 00 branch being assassins (not spies) they doubtless get a briefing, shoot someone, and then go home to the family in Esther, Surrey. Or more likely push the odd person under a tube, probably at Temple station.
Even if the tube train itself is entirely of the wrong sort.

Friday 1 March 2013

A Memorable Day

I’ve been asked again when it was I first met Mme Roux?
`           I was thinking about this only the other day. I was thinking about it because twice over that day I saw Angel. Not an angel, but a girl I used to know. Her name might well have actually been that, or been something entirely different – there’s no reason to suppose it derived or was shortened from anything. This was somewhere circa 1990. I was living on the Elephant back then, Castle that is. On the Rockingham, one of those estates from the 50s where the urban slums and bomb sites were bulldozed and remade into entirely new slums. In the right light they look somewhat Art Deco, but that has to be a very strong light - and the only time bright lights ever shone in such estates is when someone from The Bill would be filmed arresting a blister-mouthed single-mum prostitute-illiterate cliché. Her name then was Angel, and that was nothing odd as you have to understand that later that summer I had a good mate called Helle and my girlfriend as-then-unmet was called Grit (and both of those were their real names). I knew a couple more called Tizer and Xerox (and those were not). I met Angel on the tube coming back from a cave where I’d worked, and we got talking because back then if you had the leather jacket, and the para boots, and the squat-sink washed clothes you knew each other, even if you had only just met. I knew Angel for eight days, we were friends pretty quickly, and then she was gone. No one knew her, no one remembered her, no one had ever heard of her (and in that scene someone always knew someone, who knew someone).
            I saw Angel twice the other day, once on a forum on line, once in the local high street as I crossed the road. Not Angel as was then, but both times someone that looked so like Angel as she would have been had she hit middle age too. The same long face, the same mass of tangled, curly hair, tall, rangy. It wasn’t her in the first, and in the second the woman was jogging and, well, you don’t call out to strangers after dark do you? That would be creepy. So it wasn’t Angel, but I hadn’t thought on her for twenty odd years. And that’s why I thought too on Mme Roux. Not stealing my biscuits as now but when I first met her. Or the second time; I don’t remember the first (though she assures me it is true).
            It was a memorable day.
            I remember it because as a young man and pretty I woke up in one bed, went asleep in another and  made close acquaintance with a third girl on the train (the one before the tube where I met Angel). I want to be clear here that this was unusual. I am by nature a serial monogamist. My life, but for that one summer, has been one of long relationships, years each. I am not and have never been a player. I didn’t cut marks in my bedpost then, I certainly don’t now. I can’t abide leches. Just so we’re clear on that. It was nonetheless a memorable day; you’ll give me that one.
            And on that day I first met Mme Roux. I was late and hurrying for the train, to get to a cave. I’m never late and in truth I wasn’t then either, but I wasn’t early which for me is much the same. It was a warm morning. London no longer sees the pea-soupers but it can possess a fug, a half seen fog of heat and exhaust fumes, the ghosts of Friday night and most importantly a thick presence made by the brief absence of almost anyone. That slither of a moment between the return of some and the rise of others. It’s a weekend thing. Warm, and I was hurrying and Mme Roux fell in step with me and chatted away as if we were old friends, which might have been true, or she thought I was someone else – or it was that London thing of the time in the culture that was counter where everyone just assumed you were a friend of a friend anyway. Only Mme Roux did not fit this mould. Her leather was cracked and brown. She wore neither ratty jumper nor punky t-shirt. Her skirts were long, not short, and they did not cover hoop tights even if she did wear practical boots. In her case though they were practical for walking (not practical for jumping out of Dutch airplanes). Her hair was short, plain, and she wasn’t wearing make-up. She was, I remember thinking, therefore a Christian out to save a few souls. They tried that at the time, they might do still.
            She walked with me, in step, and quickly then. She gave me a cup of tea. It was in a mug, I recall that because it was a mug and a mug is something from the home although it was big, chipped, off white and ceramic. The tea was luke-warm, wet and sweet. Not like Mme Roux at all. We walked and she chatted about people I did not know, though she disagreed with me on that. I remember thinking how old she was, well into her thirties – I was just into my twenties at the time. I was walking quickly I say again and when we came close to Guy’s Hospital just before the station she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me back from the road. At that moment a motorbike took the corner too quick, barely righted itself and roared away. Right where I would have been. She gives me a cigarette and a twenty pound note. She patted me on the cheek and left me stood there confused and aghast. And that was the first time I remember meeting Mme Roux. I had serious thoughts about that on the train; it was all very guardian angel. But Mme Roux was and is no angel. Though on the same day I met a girl called Angel.
            You remember days like that.