Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ashes

It’s been a very stressful couple of days. My mum’s sister – my aunt – died suddenly of septic shock / kidney failure late on Saturday night.

Although she was in hospital for another illness it wasn’t life threatening and this sudden development has taken us all by surprise. She was only 54.

Unfortunately the situation is made worse by her estrangement from much of the rest of the family, bad feeling between her and my mum and her and my granddad (her father). It’s made much worse by the fact that she was – and I hate using this term about her – an alcoholic and, like all alcoholics, abused those she thought had wronged her to her pub mates and all who would listen... the result being that we, the family, feel unpleasantly under scrutiny and a little besieged by “well meaning busy bodies” who are all intent on “having their say” or making their wishes known. It’s all been polite so far but I’m already feeling like I’m having to pour oil onto troubled waters just to maintain the fragile status quo. It almost feels like we, the family, aren’t supposed to have any rights.

To complicate things my aunt left no will – despite the urgings of many of her friends to do so – and no indication of what she wanted with regards the details of her own funeral. She seems to have accounts and investments scattered all over the place and mountains of un-filed paperwork. Sorting it all out is going to be a nightmare – the all pervading sense of estrangement makes only makes the job more difficult.

The icing on the cake – and maybe this is selfishness on my part – is that the funeral is going to be next Thursday: Tom’s first birthday, and my first reaction was a sense of disappointment that we aren’t going to be able to celebrate his first birthday in the manner that we’d originally planned. But maybe it’s fitting in a way – as we mark a death so we celebrate a life?

As for my aunt. I feel a deal of ambivalence towards her but mostly sadness. I personally got on with her ok though I was, of course, always aware of the “family war”. But that all seems so empty now. What good has it done anybody? It’s just left a load of business that can never be finished. The saddest part of all this is that my aunt chose her friends from her local pub to be her first point of contact when she was in hospital rather than a member of her own family. Therefore they were with her when she died and knew about her death many hours before we did. And we only knew about it because my mum’s cousin is a nurse at the hospital. The family, I know, feel quite offended by this snub but for my part I just think it’s deeply sad for my aunt. What a miserable state to be in. In her defence though, I doubt that my aunt had any idea that she was going to end up on her deathbed when she was first taken into hospital...

Having to visit my granddad on Sunday morning and inform him of his daughter’s death wasn’t a nice job but with my parents in Sheffield it fell to me to deliver the news. It’s not something that can be done over the phone. The grief took him hard. I was glad that I was there. What must it feel like to be burying your own child? As a parent myself I can’t even go there in my imagination...

So, folks, that’s been the last two days. Apologies for the fragmented nature of this post. My thoughts are everywhere and nowhere at the moment. The shock of the news and the shock of the practicalities are weighing me down. I don’t feel myself at all. And the road ahead feels dark.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Anger Management

Griff Rhys Jones

Anger is a funny thing. Or at least Griff Rhys Jones had always assumed it was until he discovered differently during “Losing It” last night, a BBC documentary and personal exploration into his own and the world’s anger.

Jones has always struck me as “a decent bloke to work with”. I don’t know why I formed that opinion because I’ve never ever met the man, I guess, like everybody else you get pulled in and gulled by the TV persona. Now, after watching this astonishingly honest programme I’d have to say that, while I still think he’s an eminently decent bloke, he’d be absolute hell to work with. And worse to live with.

By his own admission he is a grumpy old git. And at first he staunchly defended his right to be so. Everybody gets angry, he said. Everybody feels anger. Even a psychologist friend confirmed that if he ever met someone who was calm and serene all the time he would be deeply suspicious of them. It is not natural to not get angry. Anger is a natural response to stress and let’s face it the modern world goes out of its way to create stress for all of us.

But as Jones interviewed friends, family and work associates a picture soon formed that he was something beyond the modest proportions of just “a grumpy old git”.

One of his agents recalled the first time she met Griff. He’d burst into the office in a foul mood about something and promptly kicked a hole in the office door in his rage.

“I did what?” Griff’s iron-heavy jaw dropped. “I don’t remember doing that!”

This became a pattern. People recalling some of Griff’s more flamboyant expressions of anger and Griff having no recollection of them whatsoever. For Griff, you see, once the anger was out it was dealt with and forgotten about. For Griff, looking back, circumstances weren’t as bad as maybe his anger portrayed it. For Griff there was even a chance to giggle at his mad antics whilst mad once he was calm again.

Unfortunately nobody else had this luxury. As his agent pointed out, having to constantly mop up these spillages of anger was a “heavy burden for anyone”.

Griff looked pole-axed. For the first time taking on board that maybe his tantrums weren’t as lightweight and inconsequential and natural as he’d at first thought. They affected people. They hurt people. They were not nice to deal with. As he said of his agent: “I kept waiting for her to add that ‘despite all this we had a great laugh and a good time’ but... she never said it. Not even when I fished for it.”

Sober barely covered it.

Next week Griff will be looking at various ways in which he can deal with and manage his anger and I shall certainly be tuning in because – admission time, folks – I have noticed that over the past couple of years I too have been experiencing anger. More than is usual for me.

During my teens I just didn’t have the confidence to be angry. I was small, weedy, under developed, shy and awkward socially. Expressing anger – no matter how justified – was just not permissible for me. I wanted people to like me. I was desperate for it. So I suppressed my anger. I was too small and weak to be angry. Showing anger when you’re a teen – and perhaps also when you’re an adult – seems to be tied into physical strength. You need to be able to back up and defend your anger. I mean what would I have done if someone had got angry back? Run away very quickly I suspect and then apologise profusely.

In time I forgot how to be angry.

But weirdly, with a 7 year old in the house who is showing classic signs of having an angry personality rather like Griff (i.e. gets furious whenever things happen that are outside of his control) I am finding that I am rediscovering my own anger. For the first time since I myself was a child I shout. I bang about. I swear under my breath. I walk around with my teeth clenched (ah – Dr Hassan, I think I’ve discovered the cause of my worn down teeth). I seethe below the surface.

Is this good? Is this bad? Do I have a right to express this anger? I guess it all depends on how I go about it. Certainly I have a right to own it. Certainly it proves to be useful occasionally when it stops me being pushed around at work or in the street. But do I want to be angry with my family? Is that right? Griff’s (I’m not going to say long suffering because I don’t think she is) wife admitted that when Griff is “off on one” she tends to walk away and let him get it out of his system. Do I really want Karen to react like that with me? Not, I hasten to add, that I’m in anywhere near Griff’s league... but the worrying this is, Griff didn’t think he was in that league either until he scratched below the surface...

Now that I’m holding my hands up and owning my anger... is it time for me to start managing it?

Monday, September 22, 2008

What’s The Scores, George Dawes?

Whilst on the subject of tax (as I was in my previous post... kind of) have you ever wondered where all your hard earned tax money goes...?

Ahem.

We had new doors fitted to the Gallery a couple of weeks ago. Not cheap MFI reconstituted pine doors. No. Fancy, remote-sensory, duel pump powered, automatic, DDA approved doors. In other words, doors with attitude and ruddy great knobs on (literally).

They cost someone a lot of money. My employers. The local authority (though not alas on doors).

Two weeks later there are still a number of problems with the doors.

Unconnected, exposed wiring is still hanging down either side of them. I’m trusting to luck that none of it is live or essential to the building services.

The door sensors are a bit “over zealous”. They open at the approach of visitors – fine. But when they come to close again one doors senses the other and opens again. And again. And again. In short we have flapping doors. Coming into the Art Gallery is akin to storming into the saloon bar at Tombstone, Arizona. The doors flap dramatically behind you as your order your firewater at the bar.

And lastly (though rather importantly for a security conscious art gallery), the key is impossible to turn in the lock. Honestly you need to have the strength of Geoff Capes (remember him?) to get in or out of the building. My key is now so twisted it looks like a Möbius strip.

The door men are having to come back again to put all of this right. This will be their third visit in three weeks.

Ker-ching. Thank you for your donation.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Saved By The Taxman

I must admit I’ve been feeling rather bleak of late. All down to interminable financial strain... not enough money to cover all our necessary outgoings and my attempts to alleviate this situation by acquiring a second job have all failed miserably.

But yesterday help came through the post from a very unexpected quarter.

It seems the tax office have calculated our child care benefit at a very reasonable £100 a week. This effectively covers the shortfall that we were experiencing due to Tom’s nursery fees.

Cue mega sighs of relief. We’re saved! At least for this year... Of course Karen and I can hardly believe our luck and are sure that the tax office must have miscalculated somehow... that they’re going to demand it all back at some unspecified and inconvenient point in the future.

But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to bite their hands off accepting the money now. I can assure you it’s certainly much needed.

Mr Taxman, sir, you're a gent – I salute you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dave Prowse Isn’t Dead

C3POOver the weekend, after plotting various bank heists and the ultimate downfall of the Government, Karen and I decided to relax by watching “Bring Back...” hosted by fat, friendly, fun Bristolian Justin Lee Collins.

The premise of the show is simple. Mr Lee Collins picks a programme or film from yesteryear and attempts to get the original cast members back together for a brief televised reunion. It’s sort of like Friends Reunited for rich has-been celebs who all hate each other... Not particularly edifying I must admit but Justin’s targets this time were the original cast of Star Wars and naturally, being a fully paid up member of the Star Wars generation (original motion picture trilogy) it was an absolute must-see.

Now the show only works because Justin is so charming. Which is quite inexplicable given that he looks like an overweight foreign exchange student from Sweden. Too much hair. Too much beard. Too much gut. And yet Justin has undoubtedly got “it” – whatever “it” is. You can’t help but like the guy.

So. Justin draws up his hit list – Princess Leia, Luke, Han, Chewie, Darth Vadar, the droids – even Boba Fett. The air is momentarily heavy with anticipation... if he could actually do this it would be truly amazing. But despite Justin’s initial success charming his way into not only Carrie’s Fisher’s house but also her bathroom, reality, out of the blue, suddenly bites.

And it bites hard and on the arse.

Mark Hamill refuses to do it. Or rather his agent refuses on his behalf to do it unless Justin can come up with $50,000. Hmm. Methinks Luke to the dark side has turned... so Skywalker bites the dust. Harrison Ford you just know from the outset is unattainable. There’s no point even trying and Justin knows it. Han gets scrapped. Justin manages to collar Leia, Lando and Chewie – they all agree to interviews but not to the reunion. Close but no cigar. It’s all looking a bit ropey.

Typically – in the end – it’s only the Brits who are up for it.

Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Kenny Baker (R2D2) and most amazing of all, Dave Prowse (Darth Vadar) all appear for the considerably downsized reunion.

Now I must confess when Justin first drew up his hit list my first comment to Karen was “well snugglebun, he can forget Dave Prowse – he’s dead.”

And I genuinely thought he was.

I’m sure I remember reading a news report about Dave Prowse popping his enormous clogs years and years ago. Did I dream it? Did I just imagine it? I must have ‘cos there he was larger than life on the small screen. Or rather smaller than life. Poor bloke. The years have not been kind... but at least he bothered to turn up (unlike the big walking carpet and Leia in her metal bikini). Other than that though it was a case of Star Wars without the actual stars... Oh well, nice try Justin.

The only other highlight of the show for me was witnessing what a complete and utter arsehole Anthony Daniels (C3PO) is. Pretentious. Arrogant. Haughty. And, aside from his “golden rod” role, a complete failure as an actor. The man was totally irredeemable. Civil but politely sneery and awfully condescending. I didn’t like him at all. And to make matters worse he was, by all accounts, really nasty to Kenny Baker throughout the filming of all three films, refusing to talk to him most of the time and obviously seeing dear old Ken as being well beneath him.

No dwarf jokes please. You just don’t do that to Artoo.

Funniest moment of all was Justin showing old Tone a very rare Top Trumps card featuring an enhanced image of Threepee-o. It seems that a malicious graphic artist had endowed the golden one with an appendage of humungous eye-watering length. Any normal person would have laughed nay chortled at such ribald naughtiness. But not our Tony. He articulated at length how unfunny he found it as he considered C3PO to be a very dear friend to whom he felt a good deal of unswerving loyalty towards. Tosser. He finished by pointing out (in case we hadn’t yet sussed it) that “Of course, I don’t have a wonderful sense of humour...” Really? You don’t say.

What could Justin do but wave the offending card beneath Tony’s nose one more time and make the inevitable comment “Anthony, I’ve looked at this long and hard...”

Needless to say Anthony Daniels chose not to attend the reunion. Who needs a protocol droid that doesn’t understand common courtesy anyway?

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Daily Grind

It’s all money money money at the moment.

Or rather I’ve got no money money money.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the friendly neighbourhood dentist – the gloriously toothy Dr Hassan – who has given my molars and canines the once over with her hooked implements of stainless steel. The diagnosis is not good. They’re clean – yes – but I’m apparently grinding my teeth while I sleep with the result that they’re beginning to resemble Neolithic grindstones.

The solution is a night guard. It’s like a gum shield but far more expensive.

So what is causing me to grind my teeth, Dr Hassan asks me pleasantly.

Oh the usual I reply: money worries – mortgage, fuel prices, child care costs – all money that I haven’t got.

I know the feeling, she replies with a fragrant sigh, but the night guard should prevent your teeth from wearing away to nothing. In the meantime you must do what you can to cut down on the amount of stress that you are under (I nod obediently). By the way the night guard will probably cost about £200...

Grind grind gnash gnash... cue the sound of enamel splintering in my mouth.

Ooh, don’t worry I can fix that says Dr Hassan... but it’ll cost you...

*Sigh*

And as for all my efforts to alleviate my money worries by getting an additional job... out of all the vacancies I’ve applied for only one has actually bothered to ring me back and dangle the promise of an imminent interview before me...

But that was over a week ago and I’ve heard absolutely nothing since; the mooted day for the possible interview has now long since lapsed and I’ve basically given up ever hearing from them again.

I can’t believe how hard it’s proving to pick up a simple part-time job. We’re talking menial labour here for God’s sake. It shouldn’t be this difficult! Should it?

I’ve come the conclusion that I am just eminently unemployable. Which is worrying. I’m “unemployable” but am employed full time by the local council.

Hmm.

I’m trying not to read too much into that...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Meaning Of Matter

Large Hadron ColliderIn honour of the experiments due to take place tomorrow at the CERN laboratories in Switzerland where two beams of subatomic hadrons will be blasted into each other at speeds approaching the speed of light in order to determine the true nature of matter, the universe and God Himself I too have decided to conduct my own particle acceleration experiment from my modest laboratory here in Leamington Spa.

In order to rip apart the very building blocks of existence and unravel the secrets of life at the subatomic level I shall at some point tomorrow, armed with my own homemade Large Hadron Collider (a pea shooter) be firing matter at speeds a little under the speed of light at the back of my boss’s head when he isn’t looking.

I confess that I do not know what will happen when the pea matter collides with the skull matter. I’m hoping that new particles will be created and / or liberated which will give me clues as to how the universe itself began. It is true also that a black hole may open up in the skull matter and small amounts of blood may be seen emerging from the aperture. What this will mean for the future of my own personal existence I do not know though I am certain I can guarantee the continued safety of the rest of you. Do not be afraid.

My friends, we stand upon the brink of a new dawn. A new Aeon is about to begin for all of us.

Fellow citizens of earth I salute you. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Big Brother Aside

Rachel RiceI can't say that Big Brother has at all gripped me this year but with Karen wanting to watch the occasional episode it's been near impossible not to get a little bit sucked in...

This season had been remarkably unnoteworthy apart from the following:

The Good Points:

1) Rachel Rice is the winner. I'm genuinely pleased that for once an ordinary, decent, pleasant, nice, unaffected kid without any bizarre idiosyncrasies has won the show. Let's hear it for normalcy!

The Bad Points:

1) Rex: the man is a nasty, bullying, smug, control freak. When he came out he looked like Bryan Adams dressed as Freddie Mercury. The only good line he ever came out with was "I'd swap you for Scrabble." However as it was directed at the lovely Rachel he loses any kudos points that he might have accrued.

2) Mikey's voice: he sounded like an dying elephant trying to fart a speculum sideways out of its prolapsed anus. Sorry for the grossness but I just couldnae tek nae more!

3) Mo: just what was the point of Mo? Anyone?

The Worst Point Of All:

1) Mario's tea-based sexual innuendo directed toward his partner, Lisa. "I'm just dipping this custard cream into this cup of hot... juicy tea..." Oh please! Somebody should have pointed out to him that his custard cream didn't even touch the sides...

Sigh. I'm going back to bed.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Bedtime Hour

The wonderfully stunning Keeley HawesCBeebies has suddenly established a toe-hold in our house.

Tom – just a month a way from his first birthday – has developed an attention span which now makes it worthwhile to allow him a little bit of kid’s telly each day. Hence 6pm to 7pm is now officially The Bedtime Hour.

At this time we all gather round the telly and whilst simultaneously feeding Tom his tea we watch Chris Jarvis and Pui Fan Lee talk joyously about big pink milkshakes, throbbing moon rockets and furry teddy bears without a single trace of irony or even the smallest of smirks. Kid’s telly is a very serious business indeed.

Of course it is a well known fact that grown-ups have children solely to be able to watch kid’s telly without feeling embarrassed about it. Kid’s telly is feel-good safe telly and it puts everyone in a good mood regardless of their age. If I was being charitable I’d say that this effect was achieved simply by the fact that the stories and jolly cartoons carry us back to an age of unsullied innocence where worries about rising mortgages, soaring food prices and the police finding that body under the patio were things totally inconceivable to our young unformed minds... but the reality is that we enjoy watching kid’s telly just so we can take the P out of the hapless presenters as they caper about pretending to ride invisible mopeds or have fairy cake tea parties with an assortment of plastic charity shop toys. Oh how their mates must rip the hell out of them in the pub later...

Of course the fact these people are on about 35K a year means that they have the last laugh but as they are endlessly chuckling and laughing anyway who’s ever going to tell the difference?

One of the best things about kid’s telly though is the occasional celeb they draft in to read the stories or narrate the animations. I’m currently marvelling at the theatrical gravitas that Derek Jacobi manages to bring to his voice-over work on In The Night Garden... phrases like “Here comes the nankynonk” and “Oh no, Iggle-piggle has spilt his nonky-juice” (I kid you not) are delivered with such earnest aplomb they could have been written by Shakespeare. Or “Shacker-nacker” as he would undoubtedly be called in the show.

Best of all though is that this week Keeley Hawes is reading the bedtime story.

Ah. Keeley. Keeley. Keeley.

I feel a shiver of excitement run up my... er... back every time she turns her liquid eyes to the camera and croons “And now it’s time to go to bed...”

My jim-jams positively jump with delight.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Coolest

After the misery of the previous post (so sorry folks) it’s time for something a bit more lightweight and frivolous to restore the balance.

Some of you may know of my fascination obsession with Lego. Some of you no doubt may think it deeply sad and unfathomable.

But.

Isn’t this just the coolest model ever?

Lego Death Star 10188

Details here: Lego Death Star.

Admit it, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan this is super cool. If you’re a kid (or as they are sometimes called, a grown man) this has to be the ultimate super must-have.

It’s got everything: the garbage compactor scene, Luke’s showdown with the emperor, Obi Wan turning off the power generators... and more.

Plastic doesn’t come anymore beautiful than this.

I’m composing a letter this very afternoon.

Dear Santa...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Unforgivably Foul

I have been, it has to be said, unforgivably foul of late.

Bad tempered. Grumpy. Short fused. Liable to erupt into immense fireworks at the drop of a hat. I believe I’ve been attributed the nickname “Bird’s Nest” as a direct result of this.

Undoubtedly it’s all down to stress. Overworked. Underpaid. Pressure left right and centre. There’s nothing going on but the mortgage, food bills, energy bills, credit card bills, utility bills, child care bills... and Christmas is coming.

With typical good timing my web design business seems to be slacking of too. Work is drying up. Belts are being tightened everywhere I guess. And my efforts to find an extra part time job to beef up our income to a level somewhere above the bread-line have so far fallen on barren ground. See, things are so bad I’m even mixing my metaphors.

And should I even succeed in acquiring an extra job where on earth am I going to find the energy to actually do it? Gaah!

I’ve responded to this maelstrom of financial down-turns in a typical man-like way. Recalcitrant. Taciturn. Head down. Transferring my frustrations onto other less deserving targets – Karen, the kids, faulty household appliances, cold callers and anyone else who steps into my sights. With the exception of cold callers nobody has really deserved the amount of spleen I’ve been venting.

And I do dearly apologise.

Things have just got a bit much and the hill ahead seems somehow steeper than it used to be. I can feel my hair turning white and my mouth turning to ash...

It’s not a good look.

But anyway, the conclusion to this morning’s confessional is this: I’ve realized / remembered that the trick to surviving bad times is to focus on and preserve the good. Because the good remains and is always there. You’ve just got to keep seeing it. Karen, the kids, our home, our friends, etc...

But not the cold callers.

Never the cold callers.