Monday, April 28, 2014

As Unbending As A Reed

Oliver ReedI admit I have bummed out of blogging for the last 12 days. I've had the Easter break off with Karen and the boys and willingly allowed myself to drop some of the balls that I normally juggle in order to throw some others around instead.

I've done some other writing - a secret project that may or may not get published under my name - and I've done some reading. I haven't missed the blogging. That surprises me. I thought I would. At one time it was like heroin. It gave me an initial buzz and then for a long while I had to carry on doing it to feel normal.

It's nice to know that I can feel normal without it. Look, however, is a different matter. So does this mean I'm going to stop blogging? No. And I don't see why that should be a natural conclusion to jump to. It does mean, however, that perhaps I have a more sane approach to the whole blogging platform now. I have lowered my expectations of it enormously and the reward for this is a curious sense of freedom.

But that isn't what I want to write about today; that is just an apology for my recent absence.

*****

One of the books I read over my Easter break was "What Fresh Lunacy Is This?" - the authorized biography of Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers.

I grew up with Oliver Reed's films. It was pretty hard not to as he was a big name in the 60s and 70s. He was undeniably, unmistakably, that rarest of creatures - an actor with true presence; an actor who didn't need to speak to make his presence felt on screen. Whatever John Wayne or Lee Marvin had; Oliver had it too. In spades. Despite his acting world heritage (his grandfather was Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree) Ollie shunned acting school and all attempts to get him to 'tread the boards'.

He disliked other actors. He disliked intellectuals and he disliked toffs - although, by all accounts, he was an exceedingly clever man and rather well brought up.

He liked pubs. He liked the ordinary man on the street. He liked larks and having fun and encouraging spontaneous 'happenings' to occur. His greatest anathema was boredom.

And his own legend.

It's hard to read an account of Ollie Reed's life without feeling your moral faculties forcibly bending towards the view that he wasted himself. That he destroyed his gifts - his looks, his voice, his potential to have become a huge megastar in Hollywood - that he wasted his entire life by giving it so willingly to the demon drink.

And yet that is to miss the point.

Ollie Reed was that rare thing. He was, despite his many inebriated chat show appearances to the contrary, totally in control of himself. He drank when he wanted to. When he was working he largely didn't. He could drop the booze with no ill effects whatsoever and remain dry for months. When he chose not to, he could drink every man under the table during the evening and then be on set the next day at 6am and will himself into complete sobriety. Every single director reports that he was always on time, always knew his and everybody else's lines, hit every mark and always put in a commanding performance.

Oliver Reed did what he wanted, when he wanted and went where he wanted with who he wanted. He couldn't be pushed or bullied. He had his own views and opinions - and although many of those fast became outdated and outmoded - he chose to stick with them. He chose to ignore the censure of the world and the press and carry on living his life exactly how he wanted to live it. Right up the end. One can't help but feel an admiration for that strength of spirit - because a strength is what it is. To have a complete conviction in oneself in the face of every naysayer on the planet and to always retain it unshaken.

And most important of all, he always knew what he was about; he knew what he was doing and what his choices would lead to. He was always open and honest and fully compos mentis about it all and never denied a damned thing. He never lied to himself. How many of us can ever say that?

Ollie didn't waste a single minute of his life; he merely did what he wished to do rather than what others would have wished him to do. The only people who wasted time were those trying to get him to change his ways.

I'm not saying that the boozing, the carousing, the falling over on TV and the abuse he meted out to some chat show hosts and guests isn't cringe worthy, embarrassing and ultimately, depressingly frustrating. It is. There is genuinely a tragedy to it.

And whether it's a conscious choice or not, whether it can be turned on and off at will, alcoholism is still alcoholism. It exhibits itself in behaviour that is always regretted the day after. It expresses itself in ill health. It is dealt with by society and the press via sanctimonious, morally superior ridicule and an incredible lack of understanding.

All to easy to dismiss the drunk. To write off the alcoholic. To forget that, actually, there is still a fully functioning, living, breathing, feeling, thinking, complete person still in there. Someone who is just as valid as a human being as you or I and still deserving of respect. The drink is not 100% of them. Not even close. The booze is, even at it's fullest manifestation, just a surface.

When Oliver Reed died he was in the process of making Gladiator and was putting in a powerhouse performance. He was largely off the booze. He had quietened down. He was on the brink of an almighty come-back. But fate, hubris, intervened. When a shipload of sailors arrived in Malta the old Ollie - the Ollie who, throughout his life, loved the armed services and loved testing his strength and stamina against them - couldn't resist. Despite having confided to close friends that he'd been experiencing chest pains for the past few weeks, he challenged all the sailors to arm wrestling matches and the booze began to flow.

I daresay he won every single match.

But when he collapsed a couple of hours later from an undoubted heart attack, we all lost.

Even now people still make a pilgrimage to his grave in Ireland and buy him a drink - the locals are amazed that the grass manages to grow on his grave. If anyone ever dropped a match I daresay the topsoil would burn for a month.

But it shows the weird dichotomy in which society as a whole holds booze.

If Ollie Reed was a victim of anything, it was that.




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Of The Can’t Drive Club

JalopyAbout 6 years ago I made a concerted effort to learn how to drive. I got to the point where, accompanied by an instructor, I could drive on a motorway. And then my youngest boy appeared and I decided to finally get round to completing my part time University degree… and the money wasn’t there to support £120+ a month for driving lessons. I “temporarily” gave them up.

It was probably a bad decision. Especially as I was so close to qualifying for my test. And let’s face it, I think deep down inside part of me knew that this cessation in acquiring this particular skill was anything but temporarily.

Driving never seemed natural. Not to me. I always felt I was breaking some secret rule, some hidden druidic law concealed at the very heart of my own personal universe. I was never meant to drive.

I never felt the burning desire like most of my peers did in my late teens. Never felt the lure of having my own set of wheels in my twenties. And just wasn’t career minded enough in my thirties to see how being able to transport myself beyond the walkable limits of Leamington Spa might aid me in my desperate search to find a more soul satisfying line of employment.

I gulled myself that I wasn’t the only one. I had numerous male friends who couldn’t drive, hadn’t learnt and exhibited utterly no desire to do so. One of those, Dave, has been my mate since I was 16. I always felt we were destined to walk the earth, to quote Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, “like Cain”. With occasional reference made to a bicycle. I haven’t had regular contact with Dave for a few years now but I knew he and I were upholding the virtues of “Shanks’s Pony”.

I even kidded myself that all this was ecologically responsible. The last thing the world needs is another driver and another car on the road, right?

Not learning how to drive sat comfortably with me. It was me; it was who I was and I was content.

I learnt last week that Dave, sometime over the last few years, has not only learnt to drive but also owns a car. He’s made a couple of references to it on Facebook. I was so ingrained in how I thought of us two that I actually thought he was joking the first time. That it was a wind-up.

But no.

He really does own a people carrier and can drive the ruddy thing. Up and down the country and even across to Europe if he goes via the Eurotunnel.

I am the last member of the Can’t Drive Club. The schism that life has thrown up between Dave and I is worse than I ever imagined. He’s now a motorist and I’m just a pedestrian.

I haven’t felt this bad since all my school mates got picked to be prefects and I didn’t.

The world is leaving me behind.

Quite literally in fact.

With the wind behind me, going downhill on a good day, I might be able to reach 15 miles an hour… but that really is my top limit.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Drugs Do Work

hoodyI've never really done drugs. I've always been too cautious, too constrained by my conscience and my many paranoias. Sure, I've had a puff on a cigarette and a couple of times tried marijuana... The cigarette was revolting; I couldn't see how it would ever be a pleasure and as for the weed, well, the first time had no effect whatsoever and the second just made me intensely incommunicative. Given my problem socially has always been a tendency to fall into the background and not say anything anyway I couldn't see any benefit from "loosening myself up" with a pot hit. Plus I just felt 12 times more paranoid the morning after than I normally would have done. I can remember immediately forcing myself to write a poem just to check that I hadn't lost any brain cells.

Yeah. That's how rock 'n' roll I am.

So drugs ain't for me and though I try not to attach any moral weight to that decision I can't help but fervently wish that my boys will steer well clear of such apothecarial dangers themselves and follow their father's route into abstemiousness and teetotalism.

My dreams always were impossible.

But other people can float their collective and individual boat how the hell they like.

Now, when I'm playing the man about town or just doing my day job I run into all sorts of people doing their thing around Leamington Spa. Most I now recognize on sight. The beardy homeless man. The sweary girl with her hair scraped up into a tortuous ponytail (council estate facelift). The Polish alcoholic ex-sniper guy (his story will have to wait for another time). And the little gnome-like hoody kid.

Last time I saw the hoody kid he was stoned out of his tiny skull, swaying in the wind outside the entrance doors of my workplace, with a blissed out expression on his face. He was so stoned he didn't even recognize that I was stone-cold sober and straight. He'd done enough blow for us both.

Normally he's a lippy, snarly little git but this day he was mellow. He was loved-up. I and everybody else was his mate. He looked at me with eyes hooded for once not with contempt but with languorous good vibes. He nodded and asked me if I'd ever smoked weed. Without waiting for my answer he went on to extol it's many virtues but without backing any of that up with biological fact. I was amused and merely told him to watch himself and suggested he might want to get himself to the privacy of his own home before the local rozzers picked him up.

I guess the weed had made us both kind of mellow and easier going that day.

Earlier this week, however, he was back. Sober. Straight. Back to his cocky, confrontational self. Standing a mere couple of inches from my face, staring silently into my eyes. Daring me to... What? I have no idea. Lamp him? Lay him out? Oh please. Not worth the time in the clink. This type of situation goes with the job and no longer bothers me as much as it used to. My ego is big enough to walk away from such obvious shite-hawking without suffering any loss of size.

But God was I tempted to go out and score him some skunk.

Some people are just far nicer when they disengage from their everyday personalities...


Monday, April 07, 2014

Privet

Kate Bush Fan Club Facebook Fuck UpI’ve had to take the unprecedented step of leaving the Kate Bush Fan Club Facebook page.

Actually, it’s not unprecedented at all. I’ve left loads of pages on Facebook. When it comes to nixing FB related things I’m like Charles Bronson at the start of Once Upon A Time In The West. Sweaty, bristly, breath like Chicken Fajitas but with a lightning fast trigger finger.

And the Kate Bush Fan Club page, well, they brought too many horses (true Western fans will get that reference).

It was the whinging. The whining. The petty schoolyard arguments:

“I haven’t got a ticket to her live show and it’s so unfair ‘cos I’m her number one fan and all the touts who aren’t fans have got the tickets are selling them for the price of a Heston Blumenthal 3 course meal”.

“I have got tickets and I want to witter on and on about what songs she might sing and what songs I want her to sing and what songs do you think she will sing?”

“I haven’t got tickets and I don’t want to hear about what songs you think she might sing ‘cos I want to die for the entire duration of her shows so that I don’t have to live in a world where I don’t have tickets to see her.”

“Hello I’m new to the group and I want to show you a picture of a Kate Bush 7 inch single I bought from a flea market in Birmingham and ask if it is worth anything and does anybody have any spare tickets to sell, I heard she is going to play some live dates in September…?”

On and on and on.

Now I’m a fan. I’m up there with the most devoted and delusional of any of them. I can trace my Kate Bush pedigree back to the early 80’s – none of this “been a fan since Aerial” malarkey. I have all her records. I have tickets not only to her show but also to the hospitality party beforehand. I’m convinced she is going to personally serve me canapés and share her champagne with me in the toilets. And ask me to help compose the lyrics to her next album. It is meant to be.

But I know how galling it is to not have tickets. For 2 days I was in deep dudgeon because despite having early access to the fan only tickets I still missed out and felt that the general release was merely going to give me a cat in hell’s chance. I can remember the excoriating feeling of “I’m going to miss out on a truly rare event”. I know it came good for me in the end but I still retain the muscle memory of that previous failure. Like Frodo forever feeling the burning loss of his ring. Or something like that.

But joking aside it is not the end of the world or even the start of it. If I hadn’t got tickets I would have felt gutted but I would have moved on. I still have Kate’s music to enjoy and stalking is a perfectly acceptable pastime these days.

But the petty nit-picking and childish sourness of the Facebook group was too much. I know people are just people… but really! I expected more from Kate Bush fans. And I know how stupid and vapid that sounds. As if liking Kate Bush immediately bestows wisdom and first class mental health onto the patron. But it was like being back at school. The old “I’m a bigger fan than you are – no you’re not, I am” kind of thing.

I felt besmirched. I felt like I was a kid again and not in a good way.

Do adults really behave like this without being aware of it?

Plainly they do.

So I did the adult thing. I didn’t castigate everyone in the group for being pathetic; I didn’t lob a sarky grenade into the status box and then run for cover. I just revoked my own membership, left forever and instantly felt calm again.

See, I don’t need the others. I don’t need to be part of a big group or a gang. I don’t need to be part of a happening or “a thing”.

Kate and me, we’ve got our own thing going on. A special relationship.

She’s hired a private policeman just for me.

At least that’s what my lawyer has told me.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Supercar

Jimmy and Donny SupercarThings are simpler when you are a kid.

I don’t mean life itself. Life can be pretty complicated for even the most settled and content of children. But most problems can be solved with the merest touch of a child’s imagination. Of course, this solution often has little bearing on scientific reality and is beyond all physical and temporal restraints. I’ve seen this at work in my youngest son who, when watching the water aid adverts on TV, tells me quite earnestly that the lttile boy in the advert being poisoned by bad water can instantly be made better if we send him the £2 the advert is asking for. His solution is correct but also not quite correct and it is difficult to explain the nuances to a 6 year old.

To be honest, the fact he wants to help is maybe the best solution of all.

His solution to other world or home problems usually entail chocolate, hugs, money magically appearing from somewhere and things instantly changing because that would just be the right thing to do. Kids have an in-built magic wand that, were it to be real, would both make the world better and worse at the same time.

But I digress.

What got me thinking along these line was a memory I have of when I was a child. It will be of no surprise to you that I wrote stories as a child. Stories where I was the hero leader of a crime fighting gang of movie stars. My posse consisted of the cast of Star Wars (who all remained in character), Charlie’s Angels (all of them – including the replacements when Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson bailed out), the good guys from the Logan’s Run TV series (which I only ever saw once) and, for some unearthly reason, Abba. You can imagine the tension  that existed within my gang toward the end of Abba’s pop career.

Anyway, one of the main problems I had was: how the hell could we all get ourselves around town en masse to fight crime? Because my gang consisted of a good 25+ members. Catching the bus or hiring a coach was going to seriously cramp our style. And your ordinary four-door family saloon car wasn’t going to be nearly big enough (people carriers hadn’t been invented in the seventies).

My kid brain came up with the perfect solution.

A supercar.

A car that was made up of an ordinary car at the front but towing a long train of caravans. The car would be welded to the caravans – and the caravans to each other – by sheet metal, creating a metallic sausage of a car the length of the Chiltern Turbo. The spaces between the vehicle were completely enclosed and thus could be utilized by gang members to sit and operate (via hi-tech computers) fantastic weaponry – laser turrets and cannons – that were attached to the vehicle’s exterior.

The pièce de résistance was that the outside would be spray painted in garish colours with the word “supercar” emblazoned down the side. Just in case passers-by hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that this was a less than ordinary vehicle.

Perfect. So perfect.

I lived with that idea for many years (until my teens) and was quite determined that, when I was a grown-up, I would build this supercar and drive it around Leamington Spa. How could I not? A spot of welding one afternoon and it would be done. Simple(s).

The fact that I’d never get it to take a corner or the impossibility of an ordinary car pulling that much weight around without stalling (let alone ever reaching crime fighting speeds) never ever occurred to me.

And to this day I still know nothing at all about cars.

But dreams that are never going to work…

Well, I know all about them.