Monday, May 31, 2010

It's An OCD World

I can't remember the name of the product or the brand - and to be honest I wouldn't want to give it free advertizing space here anyway (they can pay for it like everybody else). It's a liquid soap dispenser. It dispenses soap to get your hands hygienically, biologically clean. It's no doubt the same stuff they use in chemical weapons laboratories. But this product is different.

You don't have to touch it, see. It senses the proximity of your hands and spits out a little bit of soap for your imminent ablutions. Because, as the advert helpfully points out, soap dispensers are incredibly filthy 'cos they're covered in all the crap and the germs from the last person who used them. So, hey, we've invented a product that never has to be touched by filthy human hands again - once you've installed it into your home, that is.

Yes. Home. Not a weapons lab. Not an abattoir. Not a pig farm (apologies to those of you who live on a pig farm).

Is it me or is this cleanliness thing getting out of hand (unlike the soap)?

In my early twenties - and this is a revelation that few of you will know about me (including my family) as the nature of this beast is secrecy - I suffered for about a year with OCD. I had an overwhelming, ridiculous, damaging need to wash my hands. I washed them so often and so hard that one day, whilst squeezing out the flannel, the soft tissue at the base of my thumb completely ripped through. I had washed out all the oils and goodness from my skin. It was at that point that I began to stop. It was one hell of a wake-up call.

It was tough. I did it without help. I changed job (which helped immensely - it eliminated most of my stress) and I just went cold turkey. Lived with being "dirty". It was horrible. The thing about OCD is, it makes you feel guilty if you don't wash. You could be spreading contamination, see.

To that end, at the height of my OCD, I used to wash the taps before and after I used them. It took ages. Because then I'd have to wash my hands again. And then the taps again. It seems comical now but was soul destroying at the time.

Now I daresay such a revolutionary product as a soap dispenser that you don't have to touch would have been great for me at the time. It would have saved me both time and effort in my futile attempts to render myself and my environment perfectly clean.

But looking at it now I am horrified. Because it is this type of product that fuels OCD mania in the first place. It validates all that an OCD sufferer fears: that the world is dirty; that they are dirty and they are spreading that dirt everywhere via all that they touch; it's their responsibility to keep it all clean.

A bit of dirt is fine. A bit of dirt is healthy. A bit of dirt is inevitable. Our bodies are biologically primed to deal with dirt and to use it to improve our immune systems. Living in a biologically clean bubble will weaken us and make us, ironically, more susceptible to infection from germs and bacteria.

There is no justification for this product outside of a hospital.

And it's a good job I have come full circle and feel that way with 2 wild boys running about the place. Their hands are dirty within seconds of being cleaned. They drop food on the floor, pick it up and eat it without a second thought. And I'm heartily glad for it.

It's healthy. It's sane.

A self dispensing soap pump is one gadget I will never ever have in my house - such things just make me feel dirty. And, insultingly, I suspect that is by design.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hello? Is That The Marines?

So. My new mobile phone. The shiny new Nokia 5230. It has GPS. It comes fitted as standard. It wasn’t a selling point (or rather a buying point) for me but I feel kind of chuffed to have it.

Even though I can’t ever see me seriously having to use it.

I mean, in over 40 years of existence on this earth I have never ever got myself so lost that I needed a satellite to give me some idea of where I was. I don’t as a rule allow myself to be parachuted into the heart of the Hindu Kush for example. Or take rogue camel rides into the Kalahari.

I might occasionally take a wrong turning on a B road but that’s about it.

But the GPS is kind of nice to have. It’s kind of cool. It’s a new toy with which I can play. And I have played with it. I launched it the other night and waited. Waited for the US satellite several miles up above me to triangulate my position (on the sofa, in my living room, watching The One Show) and report back via a little red dot on a map where the hell it thought I was

It got pretty close. My town, My street. But not my house number. No. It placed me in next door’s living room on their beer can strewn couch (they’re students). Or possibly in the upstairs bathroom. I’m sure all this was news to my wife but possibly explains why I was so incommunicative.

And it got me thinking. See, if I was ever taken hostage in my own house by terrorists (look, it could happen, OK?), held at gun / knife point and my house booby trapped, the phone lines cut, internet access blocked and my ability to hail my next-door neighbour over the garden fence neutralized... my only chance of raising the alarm might be my mobile phone. Quite how I’d operate the touch screen with any degree of accuracy with my hands handcuffed behind my back (steady, ladies) is something I haven’t yet worked out... but there I’d be, smugly silent while the US satellite above me slowly sought me out. Beep-beep. Locked on target. On a military computer monitor in the back of an armoured truck at the top of the street thermal imaging suddenly colourizes my home’s illegal occupants an angry red.

“There’s three, blue leader – one in the upstairs john, two downstairs with the hostage...”

“Copy. Tell the men we go in hard. Shoot to kill. Save the hostage (save the world)...”

A couple of hand signals like they do in modern war films and with a crack of boot leather on asphalt in would charge the marines (yes, yes, I know it would be the local constabulary or, if I was lucky, Warwick District’s armed response team – if they have one - don’t spoil it for me).

Crash! The front door caves in under a strike from a battering ram. The stair rods ping away as steel toe-capped commando boots hurl themselves up the stairs. Red laser gun sights strafe the downstairs living room, cutting through the haze of nicotine and cheap cannabis...

No, wait... cheap cannabis? Nicotine? Oh shit, they’ve got the...

Blam! Blam! Blam!

A couple of desultory cans of Special Brew ricochet off the walls as three dead students (looking much as they did in life) slump to the floor dribbling profusely.

Meanwhile, next door, a swarthy looking man lowers his Afghan scarf from his face to whisper intimately into my ear... “So... you think to get rescued, huh? You think to use your infidel Western technology against us? Tch. Very bad idea, my friend. Very bad. Maybe your smart-phone is not so smart, huh? Just like you...”

Click. Click.


Bloody GPS, US satellites, Nokia smart-phones, etc.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Leamington Is Full Of The Strangest People, No. 1: Bob The Shopkeeper

It’s taken a while for this guy to impinge on my consciousness but now that he’s arrived I find it very hard to miss him.

He works at a corner shop just down the road from me. It is diametrically opposed (both physically and commercially) to another corner shop on the other side of the road. Normally I favour the other one – the fruit and veg is always of excellent quality and all the goods are well within their sell by date. As a regular purchaser of comestibles these are the qualities that are of the most importance to me.

But occasionally I’ll nip into the “not so good” shop. For a packet of crisps. Or a Yorkie. I just happen to be on that side of the road and can’t be bothered to cross over, etc.

He – “Bob” – is normally always standing outside the shop. Naturally I at first assumed he was doing some sort of building work inside although there was never actually any evidence of this. Aside from the shiny white construction safety hat that is constantly perched upon his head, that is. Occasionally he’ll have what I assume is a walkie-talkie in his hand but I suspect it is nothing more than a child’s toy, a chunky mobile phone or even an empty box though he’ll occasionally raise it to his lips at a jaunty 45 degree angle as if talking to someone (I can only assume it’s Lofty).

Lately though he’s taken to carrying a new looking black briefcase around with him. The way he swings it about would suggest it’s empty but it’s quite possible it contains his packed lunch.

Whenever I see him he is either pacing around outside the shop or walking back to it as if he’s just come from the shop on the opposite side of the road. Possibly he’s been checking out the competition or just plain scaring them with his intense building site demeanour and the packet of prawn cocktail crisps he keeps stashed in his case.

When I went into the shop the other day he followed me in.

I mean literally followed me in – like we were doing a parachute jump together and he was the instructor guy attached to my back. Thankfully he detached himself once we were inside and swept his hand grandly across the serving counter just in case I’d failed to observe it. He then gave the Asian girl behind the counter a quick nod as if giving her permission to serve me. She seemed totally OK with this and it was at this point I surmised that possibly this guy owns the shop and is the girl’s boss and/or father.

I got on with selecting a Yorkie bar – one that hadn’t been snapped in half – and removing the small change from my wallet.

“I’ve had a very good day today...” issued from behind me in a tone so gravelly and with such a heavy Anglo-Indian accent it took me several attempts to decipher what it was he was saying. Luckily he did actually repeat himself several times in order for me to do this.

Now I didn’t ignore him deliberately. I genuinely thought he was talking to the girl behind the counter so I didn’t answer. I merely handed my Yorkie over and let the girl ring the price up on the till.

“Do you want a bag?” came from behind me.

Suddenly I twigged that he was definitely talking to me and that possibly all his past proclamations had also been meant for my ears. Shoot. I turned round and, staring into the strangely feral gleam of his builder’s hard hat, told him as jocularly as I could that no, I didn’t need a bag as I doubted the chocolate would last that long once I’d got it outside.

He nodded officiously and clapped his briefcase smartly to the side of his leg. Kind of like Bob The Builder doing a Hitler salute. It was an incongruous combination to say the least.

The girl then handed me my change. Very deliberately counting it out in my hand and giving me way too much. I’d virtually got the Yorkie for free. I opened my mouth to protest but she held up her hand and said, “No, it’s alright”.

I think I managed a nonplussed nod of acknowledgement and then walked out into the relatively sanity of the afternoon sunshine.

Although nothing actually happened I nevertheless found the whole incident incredibly bizarre. I feel like I completely missed something; something that would make his behaviour and the deliberate mistake with the change both connected and logical. I came out of the shop wandering if Bob had somehow slipped me some Rohipnol and erased a couple of hours of my life but no... time seemed to have elapsed normally. I’d plainly just entered The Twilight Zone.

I’ll be watching Bob carefully from now on. He’s either snapped mentally like Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down and will be arriving armed and intense at a fast food joint near you very soon or he’s working his way through a fixation with the Village People and next week will be performing a rain dance outside the shop resplendent in fake Native American headdress picked up dirt cheap on eBay.

Either way I think I’ll be acquiring my Yorkies elsewhere from now on – despite the generous compensation offered by the girl behind the counter.

Leamington, eh? It’s full of the strangest people.

(This is possibly the first in an absurdly long running series but don’t hold your breath.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The ex had given good service and I did feel slightly guilty about dumping her but it was time to move on. In her glory days there had been something ineffably satisfying about her touch. Her smoothness. The way she’d nuzzle against my ear and purr gently. I knew instinctively how to press her buttons.

But she’d lost her shine quickly. Begun to look dated, dull and slow. Times had changed. I had changed. But she just couldn’t keep up. We spoke about a facelift – we shouldn’t have; it only got her hopes up. The truth was, down at the fundamental level, she could no longer give me what I needed. It wasn’t her; it was me. I had moved on. My aspirations had changed. I wanted more than she could give.

Initially work sorted me out with a little something on the side. A model that they’d pay for. One of the perks of the job. She wouldn’t ever really be mine but I could use her during work hours. For “work” business. And I have. I’ve used her good and proper. I have availed myself of every one of her amazing services. She’s sleek and fast. And she’s slim – God; she’s so slim – and she warms herself so lightly in my hand when I hold her.

But this new mistress only highlighted even more how much my old girl wasn’t up to it. How far she’d fallen from the top of her game. But I kept hold of her. For old time’s sake. For home stuff; for personal stuff. We were still officially “an item”.

But it couldn’t last. We couldn’t go on. It got to the point where a parting of the ways was inevitable. The new model was shaming her into dysfunctionality. She’d breakdown on me when I needed her the most. Throw moodies. Dirty protests. Her little face that used to light up at my merest touch now refused to acknowledge me altogether.

With my new mistress practically living in my pocket I just couldn’t justify going all out for a top of the range full-on replacement. I’m not made of money and two high maintenance babes would be beyond my meagre means.

So I went for the cheap option. A Nokia 2330. Only £30. Calls and text. Internet as well but the display is £30’s worth of cheap and nasty. The phone’s clunky. I took the memory, the SIM card, the very soul of my old lady and stuck her into the body of this new one. It felt like bad voodoo. She awoke to find herself in a body that was new but somehow not as good as the original one she’d had in her prime.

It was the ultimate betrayal.

My new mistress laughed cruelly into the vastness of her onboard MP3 memory and I knew – felt for the first time – that I’d truly done my old girl wrong.

How could I have been so callous? So uncaring? Didn’t over 100 numbers stored on her old battered SIM card speak of a relationship that was worth saving?

So I’m looking at the £30 body. The bland shell that houses the life of my beloved. And I’m thinking if I can transplant her soul once I can do it again. Make a deal with the devil or with God or whoever and transplant her into a body that will allow her to run, to skip and to pole-dance for me once again. Just like the good old days. In short, why not flog the “old” new body on eBay and then supplement this remuneration with a little more dosh and insert my sweetheart into the mobile phone equivalent of a Bugatti? The new Nokia 5230 for instance? I mean just look at the body on it...

My fingers are tingling just at the thought of those keys... that smooth purple back. The option to slip an SD card in and out of her whenever I feel like it. And best of all a touch screen that I can caress and manipulate! That I can finger gently. This could be a new honeymoon period for us both. A reaffirmation of our vows. My girl will be young and firm again. Eager and responsive to my touch...

And as for my mistress... well... She fits snugly into my back pocket. There’s no need for her to see anything. No need for her to know.

I won’t tell her if you don’t.

Although... thinking about it... maybe they’d be up for a little call sharing? Conference calls...? A little blu-tooth connectivity?


Excuse me, folks, I have to go. My mobile phones are ringing.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Between Heaven & Hell

I nearly didn't write about this.

(1) because it's a "minority interest" post - many of my international readers won't have watched Ashes To Ashes (or it's forerunner Life On Mars) and (2) those of you that have will be behind the UK in its scheduling of this show and I really don't want to ruin the ending of the entire series and franchise by peppering this post with spoilers.

Which is going to be damned difficult to do. But I am going to do my best.

To say this has been (for me) the best TV drama on UK television for a long time is an understatement. It has everything: humour black and rich, action, eye candy, ethics, politics and, best of all, a spiritual element that manages to be profound without being crassly in your face or in favour of any one single religion.

My biggest fear about last night's final episode was that the writers might mess it up. They might deliver an ending so horribly contrived and squeezed into as many tick boxes as possible that it would ruin all that had gone before it much in the same way that The Matrix sequels contributed nothing more to the original idea except to leave a pointlessly sour taste in the mouth. I'd heard stories of how the American version of this show had folded after one series and they had tied all the loose ends together under a premise so preposterous it could have been lifted straight out of a Red Dwarf plotline. In fact it probably was - everybody wakes up on a spaceship to find they've been living in some kind of computer generated virtual reality world. How horribly flat and devoid of any kind of spirituality.

The whole point of Life On Mars / Ashes To Ashes, aside from questioning our political and ethical views of what is acceptable, has been to make us question the nature of life, existence and, yes I am going to say it, the human soul.

I wanted an ending that honoured that very fundamental premise. I didn't want a gimmicky "you've all been dreaming and have woken up in the shower" type conclusion. I wanted the answers - Who is Gene Hunt? Who is Jim Keats? What is this world they are in? Why has Alex stopped receiving communications from the "real" world? And what happened to Sam Tyler - did Gene Hunt really kill him? But I didn't want the answers to disappoint. I didn't want them to cheat me of all this show has meant to me or all that it has promised me to be.

A tall order then for the show's writers.

For me personally, they exceeded my expectations. They gave me the answers and the answers were right. They looked right. They felt right. They were right. They worked. Suddenly it all made sense and seemed so obvious. All of it, from Gene Hunt's cowboy posturing to Jim Keats' infernal machinations. And the final denouement? As obvious and inevitable as a copper going down to the pub after a difficult case has finally been laid to rest. Should have seen it coming, mon brave.

So without giving it all away for those of you yet to watch the final episode: have no fears. The ending is everything you could want it to be. The revelations about Gene Hunt's true identity are both tragic, poignant and ultimately triumphant. Evil is defeated. And the good guys - all of them - get to go home.

It is an episode - indeed an entire series - that resonates with a sense of the eternal.

I wish it could have lasted forever.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Krays, George Davis, Harry Starks & Me

So I’m goin’ abaht me business, right? Nuffink too moody, just a bit of wheeling ‘n’ dealin’, nuffink to put the wind up the rozzers, like, but this geezer suddenly appears aht of the blue and ‘as a right go at me. Starts mouthin’ off abaht disrespect and how I’m gonna get me ‘ead blown off if I’m not careful, French kissin’ a sawn-off if you get my meanin’ and I’m like, simmer dahn wide boy, I ain’t done nuffink...

Or at least I don’t think I have.

It all began back in January. It was one of those weeks when I was scratching around for something to write about and, one morning on my way to work, my eyes happened to alight on a piece of graffito that adorned the walls of a boarded-up pub. “George Davis Is Innocent”.

Who the hell is George Davis, I thought? I’d never heard of him. Was he a local lad fallen foul of the law? I confess I Googled him and thus discovered that he was an East End dude who was banged up for an armed robbery which he did not commit. A big campaign ensued to get him released with the likes of Roger Daltry getting on board sporting a “George Davis Is Innocent” T-shirt.

Now whether it was a fit-up or not is not for me to discern. All I do know is the accepted facts of the matter are that he was later proven guilty of another armed robbery and got banged up a second time. You can read my original post here: George Davis Is Innocent.

Now my main impetus for writing the post was just a curious why did some 2010 graffiti artist drag this piece of retro graffiti out of the annals of 60’s gangland lore and splash it over a derelict pub in Leamington Spa? I thought no more of it than that. It seemed quite a safe topic to pursue. 40 odd years old. Ancient history. Pastimes’ graffiti.

Not so. Earlier this week I received quite a nasty comment in response to this post (only 5 month’s late but there we are) basically accusing me of not knowing what I was writing about and disparaging the fact I’d had to get my information from Wikipedia. It seems not being born in 1960’s gangland London and getting my information first-hand is something of an academic crime to the mysterious commenter (naturally he chose to remain anonymous). You can read his comments and my response at the bottom of the post.

Now I must admit here that, rather foolishly – and I do this every time – I stupidly had a go back. It’s so silly. And I slap my own wrist afterwards: don’t rise to the bait, Stephen, let it go! But no. It’s my blog and nobody is having a go at me on my own blog so I hit back with a crudely acidic comment. I was quite rude actually and used a word I don’t very often use. Now that I’ve calmed down I’ve thought better of it and deleted it.

Of course this was a red rag to a bull and Mr A. Nonymous came back. He accused me of all kinds of things. Of being a “green horne”. Of still wearing nappies – or rather napkins. Of being a paedo. And basically suggesting that if I’d’ve been around at the time of George Davis I’d’ve got my head blown off.


I naturally refuted those claims. I’ve been out of nappies for 41 years. I’ve paid for my own education and been around a bit (enough to know how to spell greenhorn correctly). I also doubted I would have got my head blown off. I think – and I stand by this – I’d’ve merely got a slap for being a bit gobby and then Ron and Reggie would have got on with the real business of turning Jack The Hat into a net curtain. I’d’ve been small fry.

Which all leads me to believe that Mr Anon E Mouse is either a small time face from 1960’s gangland London wistfully keeping his memories of the good old days alive or is, as I really suspect, some modern day barrow-boy sucking up the stories of his elders from pub talk and true crime books and has idealized the g[l]ory days of the East End into some kind of “ow’s yer father” make-believe heaven. The paedo jibe gives it away, I think. That’s very much a modern immature person’s insult. Though, of course, I could be wrong.

And that’s the worrying thing. Maybe this person really is a mobster? Maybe Harry Starks has stepped right out of one of Jake Arnott’s fine novels and into reality and is even now preparing a hot poker ready for our “little chat”?

I hope not. I find it bizarre that someone could have been so incensed by that one particular post as to have wasted time and energy insulting me and threatening me over it. What a strange world we live in. I do after all have a disclaimer at the bottom of my blog (if anyone ever bothers to read that far down) stating that the views here are purely mine and are not meant to be authoritative.

It makes you realize that Blogging – for all it is largely fun, light-hearted, personal, cathartic, etc – also has a much darker side. The bits of ourselves that we publish online are accessible to everyone. By the mentally imbalanced as well as the sane and well-adjusted. We are wide open to praise, criticism and threats. All because of what we write.

Does this mean I am going to be more careful in future? Avoid potentially dangerous subjects? Be more circumspect in my views?

What? Are you ‘avin’ a larf? Don’t get tasty wiv me, old son, this is my manna, right? My manna! Now sling yer ‘ook!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Compare & Contrast

Addendum: I've since had it confirmed by my mother that the (older) gentleman in the picture below is my maternal great-grandfather not paternal and has therefore been identified as Henry Hyde and not, as previously stated, Arthur Benjamin Olorenshaw.

I rarely publish photographs of myself on this blog. Not because I think I’m particularly un-photogenic (although I do) but simply because (and I realise this is a paradox) I like to retain an element of privacy even as I lay my soul bare with a series of sumptuously written exposés detailing my sexual and criminal exploits as an MI5 operative in Siberia (including my life and times as a circus based gigolo). Apologies if you have missed those posts but you really should have been paying better attention.

However, the call went out for a photograph of me – donning a flat cap – with which you could all compare and contrast the one of my great-granddad that featured in my previous post. I was simply overwhelmed and inundated with two of you demanding I supply such a unique photograph.

And thus, even though I have a hundred and one other things to write about – including my blog being stalked by someone who fancies themselves as an old school East End villain (I kid you not – just wait for Thursday’s post) – I have decided to acquiesce to this request.

So here for your delectation is once again my great-granddad, Henry Hyde, and for the first time ever, yours truly, full faced, cloth capped and making lurve to the camera:

I leave it up to you to figure out which one is which.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Family Moustache

Addendum: I've since had it confirmed by my mother that the gentleman in the picture below is my maternal great-grandfather not paternal and has therefore been identified as Henry Hyde and not, as previously stated, Arthur Benjamin Olorenshaw.

There are some synchronicities that stretch down through the ages. Eye shape, cheek bones, crooked toes. Physical and biological DNA fingerprints that are passed on at the cellular level. Familial biometrics. A lottery that we have no choice about but find ourselves born with. Ooh you have your mother’s eyes, etc.

But then there are others. The physical, the biological traits that we do choose.

Confused? Think of the moustache.

Yes. Think of it. Stroke it. Caress it in your mind.

It grows quite naturally but with the technology of the modern world keeping it is a personal choice. To beard or not to beard. Hirsute you, sir.

I first allowed my face to be graced with facial hair in my early twenties. I sported a full on beard and tache. Not quite the Brian Blessed aurora bristlyaris but coupled with my waist length hair it gave me a full on Bejasus look that the locals kids would daily feel compelled to comment upon. Little tykes. Ah bless.

And then, sometimes in my thirties, my marvellous continent of beard began to be invaded with white hairs. Lots of them. I’ve never been one for the badger look (“as rough as a badger’s arse” is my favourite expression – wouldn’t be good to have a facsimile of one on my face) so I elected with the help of my good lady girlfriend (now my good lady wife) to trim the beard into something a little more sporty. To drop the people carrier in favour of an MG.

The result was an entirely separate moustache and goatee (although I can grow them “joined up” I choose not to). I’ve had it for years now and it feels very much “me”.

So it was rather comforting whilst digitally scanning some of my grandparent’s old photographs into the computer to come across this picture of my great-granddad, Henry Hyde:

Check the tache. That’s mine, that is. To a T. I know other people had moustaches in those days but not everyone did. Old Henry H made an aesthetic choice regarding his whiskers that I have matched over a hundred years later. It’s a tenuous link I know but it is beefed up by the fact that the structure of his face quite closely mirrors my own. Both Karen and I can see a likeness to me within the sepia definitions of a face that I never ever saw firsthand.

I feel a sense of connection. A bond. A correlation in what constitutes good face furniture. Separated by a hundred years of family and global history our moustaches bristle proudly from the same town in the same country... in the same shape.

The family moustache is alive and well.

Rest assured, when the time comes I shall ensure that it is passed onto my sons and carried forward, cleaned and possibly waxed, into all perpetuity.

Make the most of those naked top lips, boys, ‘cos they won’t be that way forever.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I fear that unless I summon up and exert all of my will power I am in danger of becoming a stalker.

Not for me the telescope through my neighbour’s curtains to catch a glimpse of her camisoles (why go to that expense when I can see her knickers on the washing line every day? Note to self: probably better to edit that line out later). Not for me the surreptitious car chases or, coat collar up, following someone to and from their place of work on foot, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shady décolletage.

No. I’m stalking a house. A red cube of bricks and mortar.

I couldn’t resist walking by my grandparent’s house yesterday lunchtime. Although, of course, it is not really their house any longer. A new car had parked itself on the drive. Dark green. Unkempt looking. With horribly filthy hubcaps. My grandfather would never have allowed that.

It hurt. This I freely admit. It hurt seeing signs of other lives going about their business inside those walls. It hurt realizing that I can no longer go inside a house where I was, without fail, always, always welcome. I found myself craning my neck to see through the net curtains (still my Nan’s), noting that no furniture had yet been moved inside, that the bird muck on the patio windows was still there and visible via the light bleeding through from the back garden.

I did two walk-bys feeling furtive and fugitive. I caught a glimpse of the back garden fence – the boundary that, when blowing bubbles as kids, my sisters and I would delight in sending our little soapy missives over. Amongst the hundreds of photos rescued from my Nan’s possessions is one of me in a yellow romper suit, barely 12 months old, being held by my Nan on the back lawn.

I have stood on that very spot a few times in the lead up to the sale of the house marvelling sadly at how fast, how coldly time seems to fly by.

I’m steeling myself to stay away for a while. To try and come to terms with it all emotionally – and I am sorry to be going on about it yet again here (how boring for you all) but I am shocked at how difficult I am finding this new reality.

It feels wrong. For as long as I have been alive that house has been my Nan’s. I’m pretty sure they were the first people to move into it and in my mind it is forever associated with her and my granddad. It feels like a huge chunk has been bitten out of the world. Or I suppose a better analogy is that of an amputated limb. I know it’s not there anymore but I can still feel it.

In a bizarre kind of way I feel suddenly shut out of my childhood.

The one positive from all this emotional upheaval is the sheer number of memories that have come flooding back to me. Helped along by the mass scanning project I have now begun to back-up all my Nan’s old photographs, I have remembered things I had completely forgotten I remembered (if you see what I mean). I will no doubt record some of them here over the coming months to save them from falling into the abyss of my mind once more.

In the meantime, please bear with me people. I’m going to put my binoculars away. I’m going to shred my little notepad of comings and goings. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wayne’s World

I had to make an emergency dash to my grandfather’s house on Monday to rescue the old hunting horn that hung over the stairs from the hands of the house clearance people – not that my grandfather ever hunted or particularly blew the horn except on Christmas morning to annoy my Nan (which is another story for another time). The horn always reminds me of my granddad and always makes me smile. There was no way it was going to be consigned to the black hole of the auctioneer’s warehouse.

The house clearance people had been primed of my imminent arrival and had set the horn aside for me. I imagined that going into the partly eviscerated house would be painful and shocking. And in a way it was. The banging about upstairs by strangers. The boxes being carted outside to the van. The furniture moved and strewn around the sitting room ready for removal. But they had put my granddad’s old radio on and the noise – any noise at all in fact in a house that has been horribly quiet for 6 months – was comforting. And somehow right. It made me feel better about someone new moving in.

But this isn’t why I am writing. The visit was still emotional. Still upsetting. Another acknowledgment in a whole line of unwanted acknowledgements that the time is nearing (is already here in fact at the time of writing) when I will no longer have access to this much loved house. So I was rather mournful as I meandered home again. But having time to myself was what I needed. A bit of head space. A bit of heart space.

As I neared home all I wanted to do was get inside, shut the door and have a quiet moment or two.

However, when I reached the house my way was barred. Wayne, our friendly neighbourhood window cleaner had his ladder propped up over the front door and was cleaning the window above. I briefly thought about walking around the block until he was done – I really didn’t want to talk to anyone – but in the end I decided that I was just being silly. A quick nod and a hello and I’d be in. I could even pay him on the spot and save him having to call round and disturb my evening meal later. So I approached the house.

As I did so Wayne spotted the horn and, quite naturally I guess, asked if I did much hunting. I explained the situation and by way of explaining revealed that my grandfather had died 6 months ago – the last of my grandparents.

Did I believe in God, Wayne asked.

Hmm. I should have picked up on the warning signs here but instead answered truthfully – I was no longer sure.

Over the next 20 minutes, ignoring my obvious distress and desire to get away (how loudly do I have to jangle my front door keys for God’s sake?) Wayne, our window cleaner, did his best to proselytize me into his own personal religio-political worldview.

Did I know that the laws of the West are based on Canonical Law? The Ten Commandments? Did I know that the West was falling? Falling not to Islamic Fundamentalism but to... (and here’s one from the back of the closet) communism? It has been creeping in for decades. The powers that be know about it but are lying to us about it. Because they are not really in control. The true leaders are hidden and secret.

Alarm bells were really ringing now but I could not escape. Even though mentally I was swearing at this man to shut the eff up and go away all I could manage were monosyllabic replies and grunts, still in emotional shock I suppose, desperately trying to inch my way to the front door that was held prisoner beneath his ladder.

And then came the biggy. The national deficit. The global financial collapse. He explained that all this had come about because originally the idea of loaning money at a set and reasonable rate of interest had been laid down in the Old Testament – but all this was now being ignored. The interest rates were now designed to take more and more money from people, designed so that nobody would ever be able to pay it all back again. It was designed to keep us all servile and malleable. And the bankers... the bankers... they were all... Satanists. He looked me in the eye as he said this and nodded sagely. Yep, he said. Satanists. He genuinely believed that.

Great, I thought. A religious nut is coming to my house every month to clean my freaking windows. And he had seemed such a nice guy before all of this.

In the end I made some jokey closing comment that grated upon my own tongue and lunged for the front door. I got the key into the lock and turned it. Phew! I had made it. Wayne, however, was unrepentant (well, he has no need to be I guess) and was still going on and on... I’d be OK, he said. I’d be fine because I was on the right path. The path my grandparents had laid down for me... Blah blah blah.

I shut the door and fumed.

How dare he? He doesn’t know anything about me and certainly knows nothing at all about my grandparents. Both were Christian but neither forced any kind of religion down my or my sisters' throats. Their religion was a very personal thing – as indeed all religion should be.

The whole encounter left a bad taste in my mouth and I am still angry about it. Outraged in fact. Did Wayne really think he was spreading “the good word”, “the good news”? What an awful ragbag of pub lounge paranoia and twisted up personal bigotries. I’d arrived home feeling vulnerable and had been trampled on by someone who’s only interest was to try and recruit me into an ugly, ignorant doctrine of their own making and score some kind of self esteem point.

Far from helping me find my religion again it made me want to turn my back on all of them and keep walking.

What a git.

If eyes are the windows to the soul, I want Wayne nowhere near mine.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Last To Go

I’m possibly being overly sentiment (and sentimentality is never a good thing) but today is the day my grandparent’s house is laid to rest (killed is too strong a word).

The house clearance people – a local firm of auctioneers – are already at work, possibly even finished by the time you read this, clearing out the furniture, the cupboard junk, the knick-knacks, the physical manifestations of over 60 years and at least 4 generations of family life.

All of it – the dishes we used at Christmas, the old ice cream tubs full of pencils and their smell of graphite, the suitcases of old knitting magazines that my Nan used to collect – will be loaded up into a van and transported off to some side street depot where the wheat will be sorted from the chaff. The good stuff will be put up for auction, the non-saleable stuff... well, God knows. Do they bin it? Recycle it? EBay it? I’d hate to think of my Nan’s old pots and pans taking up space in some landfill somewhere – her Wednesday beef stews were amazing. Those pots and pans should be on a pedestal somewhere. Alas, I have neither the room for them nor the pedestal.

So it’s time to let them go. Let it all go. I have said my goodbyes. I have saved what I can. But the bulk of it – the collected sum of all that makes up my Nan’s home – cannot be kept.

I think what I shall miss most is the smell of the house. The smell of each room. My Nan was a great one for putting a bar of Palmolive soap in every drawer so that all her clothes would smell nice. Those bars were still in the drawers last time I looked. And when I stood over them, closed my eyes and inhaled, it was as if I could almost smell the lives of the people that once lived there – my own life intricately and intimately bound up with them.

The house is like a member of the family to me. It has a personality and a place in my memory as beloved and special as those that are inhabited by my Nan, my granddad (or Bampap as we called him) and my Auntie Linda (not that we’d ever dare call her “auntie”) who all lived within its walls. All are dead now. All are gone. The last 5 years took all three of them. Only the house remains. A sad old friend. Its memory failing, its ear straining desperately for the key in the lock that will announce that its former owner’s are returning but finding always only silence.

The front door will never be opened by anyone from my family now. My family's 60 year and my 40 year association with the house is over.

The last few times I have been there have been bittersweet. The comfort of the familiar undercut by the sharp sorrow of the small but quiet emptiness that has settled over the entire house. I have felt like a ghost, felt like I have been haunting the house because my grandparents are not. A troubled ghost walking old rooms and staring fondly at old aspects hoping that they will never change.

Those hopes were always going to be futile. Change has come. On Wednesday the contract with the new owners will undergo “completion”. My Nan’s house with its horde of treasures that so fascinated me as a child will be dead forever. The last of them to go.

But unlike them it will undergo some sort of instant reincarnation. A new family will move in. Will put down new carpets. Put up new curtains and wallpaper. Will bring their own sounds and smells of life.

My ghost will haunt there no longer.

It will return to life. A new day. A new tomorrow, holding much loved yesterdays to its heart.

Is sentimentality such a bad thing? I hope not.

Goodbye old friend.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mad Max Beyond Blunderdome

Monday night I think it was, the 9.0 watershed had arrived and with it a complete dirth of anything worthy to watch on TV... so I did the only thing a sane man can do in such a situation. I spurned all thought of improving myself with a good book and channel hopped my way out of boredom.

This may say something about the state of my mind at the time but I settled for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome showing on one of ITV's alternative cable channels. Admittedly I only watched about an hour of it before sleep overcame me but I have say, hand on heart, despite the awfully dated eighties soundtrack and production values I quite enjoyed what I saw. I'm sure most of my enjoyment came from a sense of nostalgia - I remember going to see this film at the cinema with my mate Tris sometime after we left Art College.

Looking back on it now I'm astonished at how camp the film is, how subliminally homo-erotic. Men everywhere oiled up and dressed in bizarre cut-away leather costumes that would have been far too provocative for Priscilla Queen Of The Desert. Dirt, grime and sweat beading every curved and rounded bicep. And through it all Mel Gibson staring out at the camera with that knowing look that says my eyes are bluer than anybody elses and that's why the ladies love me.

It's strange to reappraise Tina Turner's performance too now that the obstacle of her music career is all but removed. She's not bad. Not bad at all. She has real presence and charisma. I remember not really liking her in the film at the time. I think everytime she duck waddled on the screen I kept having flashbacks to Nutbush City Limits... and let's be honest, when a woman old enough to be your granny is on a huge screen before you wearing a skirt shorter than the BNP's MP list the last thing you want to be thinking about is Nutbush.

Anyway, the film seemed rather apt for these modern politically grey times. All is in disarray. Nobody knows what they want or how to get it. They just know what they don't want. They don't want another hero. They just want life beyond Thunderdome.

As I type I am having visions of Nick Clegg sitting astride David Cameron's shoulders in some bizarre homage to Master-Blaster. But does that make Gordon Brown Mad Max? And who the hell is going to be our Auntie? Is our little Barter Town going to be run forever on pig shit?

I don't know. All I know is today I am breaking out the leathers and walking around talking with an Australian accent. There's got to be a better world out there beyond the desert. There's just got to be.

Care to help me find it?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Power To The People

Like most towns and cities the world over Leamington Spa has its fair share of graffiti. 90% of it is Shaz proclaiming her undying love for Baz Daz Gaz or some New Yoik wannabe gang member deciding to spray his half-witted little tag on the backdoor of a pub or a park bench and inevitably stuffing it up so that it looks like someone has vomited up the innards of a black felt tip pen.

But a glorious 10% of Leamo’s graffiti is political and witty and sometimes even just downright entertaining (I’ve written about three past instances of Leamington graffiti here, here and here).

With the election coming up and the Tory’s poster campaign reaching overdrive (we seem to get a new range of posters here every few days – as quick as us locals can deface them in fact) there has been plenty of fodder for the graffiti artists to make hay with. All I can say is the local arts and crafts shop must have made an absolute killing on aerosols and thick black highlighter pens over the last fortnight or so.

Anyway, although it was not my intention to get all party political and partisan but to stay unbiased and righteously impartial it does seem that the posters of one party in particular have come in for the majority of the Banksy-esque drubbing:

Heaven forbid that this should influence you in any way in your deliberations at the polling stations tomorrow... but it is comforting to know that satire and derision are alive and well in this little backwater of Warwickshire.

*Sigh* It almost takes me back to the bad old days of Maggie Thatcher. Ahem. Ahem. ;-)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Behold The Great God, Bladder!

I’ve heard it told that the older you get the more you are at the mercy of your bladder. Your waterworks – either the need to pee or a distinct lack of pee action – start to rule your day, your thoughts and your, er, movements.

Now I am not at that stage yet myself. I’m all tickety-boo in the genitourinary stakes. I can withhold or blast forth ‘pon a whim and hit a gnat (should I be venting outside) at 50 paces. Unlike Severn Trent I am not plagued by burst water mains or seasons of drought that result in a full hosepipe ban.

But I am aware that for others, my seniors, taking a pee-pee is sometimes of a pressing nature.

Now this being said I still have a duty to lock up the toilets in the building where I work at 5pm. Even if the Library are open until 8. The reasons for this are twofold. 1) Once the café is shut (at 5pm) we no longer have a legal requirement to keep the toilets open to the public. We used to but 2) when the toilets were previously left open on our late night openings there were invariably trashed, smashed, vandalized, violated by horse-sized poos, spattered with blood / broken glass / toilet paper, used by druggies to smoke, shoot, imbibe, photosynthesize, osmose and partake of rum chemical cocktails or used by amorous couples with no sense of romance whatsoever to grind, spoon, get jiggy, have-it-off, bonk, shag, have-a-quickie, and otherwise fill their boots with each other’s wanton flesh in the ammonia stained cubicles that have made our building famous.

Our poor loos were, in short, being used in a manner that they were never intended to be used for. So we started closing them at 5pm. We’ve been doing this now for nearly 4 years. And there are signs everywhere informing people of the impending 5pm loo embargo. It’s not like we’re shutting the door on someone’s colostomy bag without prior warning.

So it was with distinct displeasure that while I was performing my duties last week I got a verbal mauling from some old geezer wanting to “point Percy at porcelain”. “I’m sorry,” I told him, keys jangling earnestly in my hand, “but the toilets are closed at 5.” I even pointed at the sign on the wall to prove that I was not making it up and nor was it anything personal.

The man growled at me. Growled. Well, I’m assuming it was a growl and not the sound of his bladder bursting. “God,” he said. “I wish I had a job where I could close up at 5.” And with that he stormed off before I could even attempt to apologize for his lack of convenience or point him in the direction of some other facilities not 2 minutes walk away.

I must admit my first thought was: you old cantankerous git. Finish at 5? Finish at 5? I finish at 5.15, ahem. But that’s not the point. I am on the emergency call-out list and frequently get called back to the building to deal with alarm problems in the evening, late at night and the small wee (ha!) hours of the morning. So in a sense I never finish at 5 because I’m never bloody well off duty. Hence I like to make my escape as quick as I can at close of business each day and get home to see my wife and kids while I can and not be hovering around the toilets until 5.30pm or later extending the toilet service to bladder stragglers.

Now on occasion when someone is nice to me or is pregnant or is under the age of 5 and with a desperate parent in tow I will sometimes allow post-5pm peeing. But courtesy and politeness are an essential ingredient to this transaction. Rudeness gets you nowt. No please, no pees.

So take a lesson from this folks; should you ever come to Leamington Spa and visit the building wherein I work, the only p you’ll ever be required to part with when you want to spend a penny is a please. I don’t care how angry or swollen your bladder is. I don’t care what plagues it threatens to send forth from your nether regions – locusts, frogs or fiery ammonia – your bladder is not my god and I shall never ever worship it.

Just to make it even more clear: remember, I’m the one holding the keys to the toilets.

Hail to the King, baby.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Meme, Myself And I

A couple of memes to get May moving... one gifted and one stolen.

The first one I nicked from Being Me who also borrowed it from someone else, so do feel free to be light-fingered and make like a tea-leaf yourself if you like it:

Me In 3’s

Three names I go by:
Steve (for my friends)
Stephen Blake (for my bank manager)
Stephen Herrick-Blake (married name – to confuse officialdom everywhere)

Three jobs I've had:
British Telecom operator
Cleaner in a nursing home
Art gallery assistant

Three places I've lived:
Leamington Spa
Alsager (for about 10 days when I made an abortive start on a University degree in my early 20’s)

Three favourite drinks:
Water (filtered or spring, always still never carbonated)
Tea (Earl Grey, strong, milk, two sugars please)
Hot chocolate (cream, marshmallows, chocolate flake, chocolate sprinkles, the works)

Three TV-shows I (WISHED I HAD TIME TO) watch:
Boston Legal
Battlestar Galactica

Three places I've been:
Egypt – Nile Cruise (would love to back)
Montreal, Canada (would love to go back)
Florence, Italy (would love to go back)
The Maldives (I know that’s 4, I’m showing off)

Three places I would like to visit:
New Zealand

Three favourite dishes:
Chile con carne
Spaghetti Bolognese
Cottage Pie

Three things I'm looking forward to:
One day getting out of debt (once Tom is at school)
My next Lego set
Winning the lottery and never having to work again

The second meme came attached to a Kreativ Blogger award which was kindly passed onto me by Gappy at Single Parenthood. I have to list 7 things about myself that I have never before divulged on my blog. That is going to be difficult as (1) after nearly 600 posts very few subjects have been considered taboo in my insane quest to find something to write about each week and (2) I think I’ve already done a meme like this a couple of years ago. However, I’m never one to turn down a blogging challenge so here goes:

1) I have bunions. On both feet. My new doctor was shocked when he first saw them and asked “you do know you’re feet are not normal, don’t you?” However as they are not painful and do not impinge on my daily life nobody is in a rush to operate. And I’m not in a rush to be operated on. I’ve heard that foot operations are notoriously painful.

2) I've been a late starter in most things. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 23 and now aged 40 I still haven't learnt to drive though did take some lessons in my thirties (had to drop them due to poor finances). I can, however, ride a horse. Or at least stay on one without falling off. I may possibly join an Amish community and have done with newfangled technology altogether.

3) I have no known allergies but do have a phobia of moths. And butterflies. I can’t bear to have them near me. Or even in the same room. If one appears one of us has to leave. Usually the moth. My phobia extends to not being able to swat / kill them either. I did that once as a small boy and the moth literally exploded sending wispy bits of moth shrapnel everywhere. Urgh. Much better to trap them in a cup with a bit of card slid under it and turf them back outside. Makes me feel less guilty too.

4) I didn’t get my first girlfriend until I was 30. No excuses for this. Just lack of confidence and excess of earnestness. Not a great combination. Oh and I had hair down to my waist and a full beard. This hirsuteness may also have contributed to my lack of lady conquests... though I’m sure it’s never stopped Lemmy.

5) A mild case of measles as a baby meant I was never immunized against the disease and used to have the same nightmare twice a year until I was 7 and had full blown measles. At this point I had the nightmare 4 nights in a row, was delirious, sleepwalked and on the final night of my fever awoke to find myself talking to the mirror in my bedroom in a voice that was not my own and a language that I suspect was not of this earth. I kid you not. Over the years I’ve theorised about demonic possession, past life regression, etc, but I now believe (as the Arabs do) that some diseases have spirits or personalities and what happened that night was the measles virus literally coming out of me. Feel free to offer another explanation if you wish.

6) I get vertigo in deep water. I’m fine up ladders, flying or working at height but a session of snorkelling in The Maldives had me swimming over the edge of a reef and looking down into the blackest abyss I have ever seen. I freaked out and headed back to shore. I have now reconciled myself with the fact that I will never be a deep sea diver or work in a submarine. I can live with it. Honestly.

7) I used to believe quite strongly in God and Heaven but now, sadly, I’m really, really not sure anymore. I don’t want to not believe – I just don’t know what I believe. I have, to quote REM, lost my religion.

I’m not going to nominate others to carry on these memes but needless to say, if you’re ever stuck for something to write about feel free to give them a go... they’re oddly enjoyable!