Friday, 29 May 2009

Tagged - responses

You know that feeling you get when you know you've forgotten something, but can't remember what?

Well I had the vague feeling that i'd been tagged recently - and i looked back and sure enough The Watercats had tagged me with the below questions.

I'm supposed to pass it on to endless other people, but the only person i can think of right now is Delusions Of Adequacy - so Tag: you're it!

1: Where did you get that head?
I inherited it. It was actually grafted from a plasticine mould of my mum and my Granddad (her father) and is the Generic Family Head. After my death it will be sold on e-bay. On a more philosophical level I got it from everything I ever saw, read or did - or more correctly: had done unto me

2: Which item of clothing do you wear most?
Socks and underpants are an obvious answer. I have a Dangermouse T-Shirt that parodies The Usual Suspects and a BBC Special Effects T-shirt that I save for special occasions.

3: What's for dinner?
My speciality with cooking is Steamed Stuff Surprise. Recipie: go to the fridge, find the first three or four things that aren’t a) cat food or b) poisonous and shove them in a steamer until soft. Variations on this are Roast Stuff Surprise and Curried Stuff Surprise. I also cook a mean Lentil Moussaka (I apologise for the spelling, but the best Word could offer was MouseKey), curried pancake and the occasional quiche

4: Last thing you bought?
The new Morrissey album (which I really should have waited until it was a fiver) and the latest Springsteen (ditto).

5: What are you listening to?
The sound of my own inane thoughts, combined with the ever-constant whirr of the air-conditioning. The track currently on my stereo is “Dogs Of War" by Pink Floyd – but it's on random play, so who knows what's coming next. Today my inane thoughts are asking me “If Whitney Houston decided long ago/never to walk in anyone’s shadow – how the hell does she get to the shops and back?”

6: If you were a God or Goddess, who would you be?
I would be the god of lost things – the one that we all pray for when we yell aloud for that set of keys first thing in the morning. He has a lot more followers than most.

7: Favourite holiday spots?
My favourite place in the whole wide world is the country park where we used to go as kids – I still go there now. I love the Lake District and had a wicked time when I went to China some years ago.

8: Reading right now?
A book on Chinese mythology that is a little hard going, an Inspector Rebus novel that I pick up from time to time and a book of quotations. I’m never happy unless reading three things at once.

9: Who or what makes you laugh until you're weak?
The times I laugh the hardest is when my partner gets the giggles. It’s so infectious. Comedians wise – Paul Merton, Billy Connolly. Usually it’s just odd things that you can’t explain why they were funny afterwards.

10: Who's your hero/heroine?
I don’t think there’s one specific person. There’s lots of people I admire for going out and achieving something – usually against the odds. I love the works of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett – but not to hero worship levels.

11: First spring thing?
It’s not summer until you’ve seen someone on local telly canoeing down a flooded street – it’s not spring until the neighbours have had their first Burning Of The Evidence of the year.

12: Funniest thing you saw in your life?
I don’t think I can realistically name one – but I will say a comedian who did an impersonation of a piece of bacon frying: just because it was so bloody ridiculous!

13: Favourite film?
Brazil – Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece. I know I keep going on about it, but there you go. Best film I’ve seen in ages was Clint Eastwood’s latest “Gran Tourino” which was a very intelligent piece of film making. Depends on my mood though, coz I’m equally happy watching a piece of fluff.

14: Share some wisdom?
Never Rub Another Man’s Rhubarb. A small pie is soon eaten.

15: If you were a tree, what tree would you be and why?
I’d be that one from Lord Of The Rings that speaks and walks about. It'd go about putting the wind up squirrels

16: Fictitious characters who made a lasting impression on you?
Tom Baker. I know, I know – he’s an actor who merely played a fictional character: but Our Lord Tom Almighty is just to weird to be real! Seriously: Tom’s portrayal of Doctor Who – always prepared to believe the best of people, daring, courageous, intelligent but basically peaceful.

17: 4 words to describe you?
That bloke over there.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

If The Kids Are United

Children: love them or hate them, but you can’t eat them.

I don’t have any myself. Partially on the grounds that I wasn’t that keen on them when I was one, partially because right now I really don’t have the means to support one or raise one and partially because I’m a selfish bastard.

I find other people quite hard to cope with in general: I’m not always entirely sure what they are there for and mini people who shout all the time are particularly hard to cope with. In general I much prefer a good book to a conversation.

Sometimes, when I stop and listen to kids talking today, I’m surprised by how much their language has changed. Don’t get me wrong: we were no angels when I was a kid, but they seem so much more knowing and less bound by the rules of society. It’s not that they don’t know the difference between right or wrong: they just don’t care.

We live in a society where it often feels like slacking off is often better rewarded than working hard, where ignorance has somehow become something to achieve and where it is no longer important why you are famous, just so long as you are (hence we have singers like Amy Winehouse who are now better known for their boozing than their singing)

But even if I were to have kids and be the best parent in the world I would still have to compete with all the rubbish parents out there not teaching their kids right for wrong, I would have to cope with rampant consumerism: where TV Soap operas and PS3 games hold a bigger sway on kids attention than any parent’s idea of right or wrong.

And yet, as a country, we are breeding like rabbits. England has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe and I have begun to worry about what they’re putting into the water here at work: as a larger than usual amount of women are going off on maternity leave as we reach the end of the contract.

It’s a well known fact that having a kid is a quick way to ensure a council house and also increases any household allowance – meaning that as a person who has chosen not to have kids I am effectively paying for educations for a bunch of strangers through my taxes.

Meanwhile fertility treatment requests are at an all time high. What always interests me about these cases is that the women involved always talk about their right to get pregnant, their right to have fertility treatment.

This is going to sound harsh: but fertility treatment is not a right. Having a fair trial is a right; freedom of speech is a right: fertility treatment is a privilege of living in a developed society that recognises rights.

The desire for kids can actually be a big strain on a relationship: I’ve known several couples that have practically put together a flow chart to show the optimum time to have sex to ensure pregnancy, whilst others try any number of alternate therapies to ensure a child.

For those for whom no amount of IVF, strict timing of ovulations, turkey basters or rubbing of potato peel on the forehead at midnight during a full moon will help there is always adoption: and not the rather disturbing kind of celebrity adoption that has famous stars jumping the queues and running to third world countries to “rescue” a trophy child because the parents are so desperate to survive that they are willing to sell their own children – the kind that everyday people spend years going through a variety of governmental hoops to achieve.

A couple of years ago I was watching Question Time (a weekly debate programme where questions are put to a panel of experts in a variety of subjects) and the question of homosexual couples being allowed to adopt came up.

To be honest I had, until this point, assumed that gay couples could already adopt under the law – apparently I was wrong.

The argument being put forward by those against them being allowed to adopt seemed to be two-fold: firstly that there was a chance that the child/children would be influenced by their parents to become gay when otherwise they would not have been, and secondly because statistically gay partnerships are more likely to end than heterosexual ones.

When I heard these two arguments I had to restrain myself from yelling “utter bollocks” at the TV.

Firstly: no one really knows what degree of homosexuality is due to nature or nurture, but the question I would ask is “Why the hell does it matter?” As long as the child is brought up in a happy, loving environment and reasonably well adjusted (as well as a human can be) then does it matter whether they are gay or straight?

Secondly: if a couple are serious enough to spend two years jumping through hoops proving that they are willing and capable to adopt a child then they must be fairly committed to one another – so it is wrong to apply statistics, especially when 69.5% of statistics are made up on the spot (think about it)

I live on a street where a lot of the mothers have two or three different kids, each one from different fathers. Some may have little or no relationship with their father.

And I find it interesting that people wishing to adopt have to go to such lengths to prove that they’re suitable parents. As a heterosexual male I could go out for an evening, get very drunk and get the first woman I meet pregnant (assuming that a: I wasn’t currently in a relationship and b: she was equally drunk). After that there isn’t any law that can force me to have any kind of involvement with that child’s life (other than financial). I can chose to raise it any way I want, in accordance with any beliefs that I want: and no one, at any point, no one will ever ask me how secure my relationship is with the mother and no one will ever stop to ask me if I am suitable to be a parent.

And yet those people who have actually thought about the decision have to wait. I guess the reason is that a child coming up for adoption is going to require different emotional support to one coming through birth to a family – but is there an argument to say that all parents should have lessons to ensure they know how to teach their kids right from wrong?

Watch any programme about problem children and ask yourself who the expert is actually focussing on? On every edition of Super Nanny that I have watched it is always the behaviour of the parents that has to be adjusted in order to correct that of the child. We give our kids no sense of right or wrong and then complain because they’re out of control – blaming it on popular music, TV, e-numbers or anything so long as we don’t point the finger of blame at ourselves.

But even so I still believe that there are decent parents out there doing their best to raise their kids in an increasingly hard world. Most probably they are battling for every penny and fighting against the tide of parents who don’t care as long as the child is out of sight or mind. Perhaps living in a rundown area where kids are constantly given mixed messages has jaded my view of the world: if so I hope not irrevocably.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Win Yourself A Cheap Tray

(NB: for associated photos of my time see the related blog “The Seaside Town That They Forgot To Close Down” on my Houses In Motion site)

It’s morning and I’m up unnecessarily early. It’s a thing I do – if I know I have to go somewhere for a specific time then I just can’t settle and prefer to just go and be there early. Surprised that my partner hasn’t murdered me with an axe by now, come to think of it…

The bus stop is crowded with students and local women with prams. They all alight onto the various local services: everyone except those of us with big travel bags that is. I prefer to travel light where possible: cramming everything I need into a single backpack and a carrier bag so that I can keep it with me on the bus.

I booked the seat over a month ago now – the further in advance the cheaper. This journey is costing me £1 for 100 miles. That’s a penny a mile: bloody highway robbery!

I get on the bus and realise that my bag is to big to go in the overhead compartment, so I place it on the floor between my feet: praying that the Law Of Single Men Travelling will protect me.

The law goes like this: No single man travelling will chose to sit next to someone else unless there is no other option. A single woman will always sit next to another woman unless there is no other option, or unless the male is particularly good looking. A couple will always attempt to sit next to one another.

The Walking Sofa doesn’t seem to be aware of the law and is hovering over my seat with all the ominous foreboding of a mushroom cloud. There are sweat stains on the armpits of his tracksuit (worn for comfort because it was the only thing aside from a tent that would fit, rather than any inclination to exercise). I decide that if I am ever to discover that I have the ability to perform Jedi mind tricks then now would be an opportune moment and wave my hand vaguely in his direction, muttering “You don’t want to sit here: try somewhere else” under my breath.

But the Walking Sofa must have Hutt relations, as my Jedi powers bounce off his thick layers of blubber and he sits down beside me, taking up a third of my seat as well as his own before his head lolls backwards on the seat and he is lost to sleep. For the next two hours I realise this is what it must be like to have to breathe through a straw.

When I finally get to the train station things get better – although there seems to be a good measure of confusion as to where it is going. About half-way along the journey the train will divide in two: only part of it heading my way. However the staff and the boards on the platform tell me the front half; whereas the staff on the train tell me it is the back half that I need. I decide (correctly as it turns out) that the staff on the train probably have a better idea where they are going and take a seat: glad that I finally have sufficient arm move to read my book without decapitating myself or anyone nearby via an unavoidable accident with a nasty paper cut.

At the destination the man from the Bed & Breakfast (B&B) is standing waiting for me and he takes me to my destination, where I unpack my spare underpants, socks, toothbrushes and razor. The razor clogs within one shave and remains virtually useless for the remainder of my stay.

I take a walk down to the sea front. This is the first time I have seen the sea in six years. Storm clouds block out the sun and the wind blows the waves furiously under the pier. There are few tourists and almost everything seems closed or run down. Here and there you can see the echoes of the Edwardians and the Victorians in the broken cornices and frontages. I find a restaurant and head for an early night in my room


The first day of the course and I take a stroll along the front with my pen and paper. Over the course of the next few days, and despite the panorama in front of me, the best drawing I will do will be of a teddy bear in my hotel room.

We trudge upstairs to the series of rooms above the Funeral Directors – our spaces are already laid out: green folders for boys, pink for girls. Someone has clearly sussed out that I am an inveterate gazer-out-of-windows and placed me with my back to all of them, which is probably for the best.

Every one is invited to introduce themselves, to give a background of why they are here and to place a candle in the holder on the wall to represent the light we bring with us…only due to Health And Safety regulations we can’t actually light them.

Within a few words one of the class is getting on my nerves: she’s the type who has to tell you on every possible occasion how they spoke for England in the last Olympics, how they’ve done absolutely everything ever and how wonderful everyone around them thinks they are, about how this, that and the other and to keep their sentences running on long after they have ceased to be interesting. Everyone else seems to be ok though – but they are all far more prepared for the initial speech we are supposed to give: as it is without notes I have decided not to prepare too much, because my memory may be many things – but it is not reliable: not even slightly.

True enough I open my mouth and everything I’ve thought of to say goes straight out the window as I burble on in the hope that I will eventually regain some semblance of a point.

The day slopes along nicely, being a general introduction day. We talk about the way funerals are structured and what the role of the celebrant is within it, about visiting the family and putting together a picture of the person’s life. There’s nothing tangible at the end that you can put your finger on and say “I learned this”, but it is still interesting.

By the end of the day I’m dog tired: I never sleep well on strange pillows – one is never enough, two are always too much – and my brain feels like it is dissolving in my ears by 5pm.

The clouds are still thick overhead and promising rain, but the wind has deceased and the waters are calm. I walk along the pier and listen to the sounds coming from the arcade: thinking about how strange life is.


Day two of the course is still a little unstructured, but we seem to be heading somewhere now: as we divide into groups and hold conversations for the Eulogy we have to deliver tomorrow. I talk about Rick, a chap I used to work with in my last job. He killed himself shortly after I left (no connection), but the sad thing was that the company we worked for didn’t tell myself or my friend still working there about the funeral until it was over and done with. The woman I’m working with talks about her first husband who died some years previously, so I’m very aware that I have to get this right.

Nonetheless we are finished long before the other groups and find ourselves fretting over whether we have done enough, said enough.

The two tutors take it in turn to talk about their experiences and how they go about putting a service together. It’s the first time they have trained together, so it doesn’t always gel well and the student with some hearing loss struggles to follow the internet clips on the laptop. I wish that he knew sign language so I could have a go at interpreting (did I mention I know British Sign Language?), but am equally glad he doesn’t in case I get something important wrong.

For the last part of the class I write a short eulogy for myself as I’m keen to have a back up speech in case the woman I’ve been working with changes her mind. I get some food and head back to the B&B, where I sit and hand-write my speech (having not brought a laptop with me). My hand is tired by the end and I will keep going back to what I have written between now and class the next morning: trying to change and improve.


I’m feeling a little bloated today. Normally the most I have for breakfast is a bowl of cereal – but when breakfast comes as part of your bill there’s always that tendency to eat and eat to make sure you get your money’s worth. I decide to walk it off by going to the pier again. For the first time since I arrived there’s a bit of sun on the water, peaking through the layers of cloud.

First thing in the morning it’s the Eulogies. I elect to go first to stop myself from tampering any further. I’m already aware that I’ve created a scrawl that will be hard to read and find myself spending far too much time staring at the piece of paper instead of the group.

I’m not the greatest speaker, though I can do ok: but I tend to mumble and swallow words and this is my feedback afterwards – so I am forced to agree. At the end of it the woman is in tears, but thanks me for doing it. I glance at her feedback notes and feel guilty that she has written “Better than the original”

In the afternoon we take the trip to the Funeral Director. She’s bright, funny and mad about cats. She tells us that, in no uncertain terms, whatever the bereaved wants is what the bereaved should get. She tells us that she wont budge on price unless she knows and trusts someone, but by now we should all know that money is not the reason to be doing this.

When the day ends we say our goodbyes. Some of us are staying on for the conference, but I simply cannot afford another night’s hotel bills and have to dash to the train station. I reflect along my journey that death is like leaving a room: we no longer see or feel the people in the room, we can have no perception that they exist as anything other than toys to take out of a box when next we meet – and yet our time with other people shapes us in ways that we may never fully contemplate.

Back in London a two-hour wait lies in front of me before my bus and I sit and read my detective book. Tiredness leaves me confused as to the full plot revelations, so I’m glad when the bus finally arrives.

Once onboard I place my bags on the seat next to me and feign sleep: knowing that most Britons would rather set fire to themselves than approach a dozing stranger. My strategy works this time and I stretch out into the chair.

There is still so much to process, so many thoughts in my head. The course was interesting, but what have I actually gained? On Monday I will return to work: sixty five emails will be waiting for me. Not one of them will change anything. Not one of them will improve the world, change the way someone lives their lives, help someone in their time of need.

It’s not enough

It’s never enough.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

I Am The Resurrection

I wonder how many people out there in the blogsphere, or even in the world, celebrated their 18th birthday by lugging heavy bits of scenery out of a van.

Probably not that many of them had joined a Youth Training scheme hoping to study photography, only to be given a place at a local Theatre on the grounds that “there’s lighting in theatre, and there’s lighting in photography” (I’m not making this up: that’s actually what my placement supervisor told me)

The scenery, mostly massive pipes and lighting rigs, was bloody heavy and came in large chunks ready to be bolted together. It was one of those affairs where everything arrived at 2pm and had to be set up for the first show at 7pm – so we were all busy: climbing through the rafters, defying Health and Safety regulations by standing on the edge of the 2nd floor boxes and leaning out to adjust lights (probably where my fear of heights originates) and generally making sure that we didn’t stand still for too long in case the carpenters painted over us (a common problem: if we left anything on the stage they would not move it, but just keep designing over and around it as required)

The play was a touring production of Godspell: featuring former 70’s rocker and Born-Again-Christian Albert Starbright as Jesus (the name has been mildly changed in a clever ruse to avoid being sued – no doubt Argent and The Watercats will see through my cunning plan…). All I can say about his Born-Again status is that it must have been painful for his mum, cos he was a big bugger!

It was just the latest in a series of touring plays and productions which had included the abysmal The Asylum (most exciting moment: part two where I got to wake up the audience towards the end with a loud sound effect – in fact we were asked to turn it down after a few performances) which starred a former movie star who used to drink her own urine, a production of the Elephant Man which, in a classic case of bad set design, had most of the important action (IE the nudity) happening where no member of the audience could possibly see it no matter how they craned their necks and a version of Wuthering Heights which appeared to star one of the Monty Python Gumby Men as Heathcliffe.

Once the show was set up I was assigned the all-important role of Follow-spot operator: the purpose of which is to stand next to a boiling hot light on a rotating stand and turn and focus it on whatever one is directed to point it at. This was great fun, aside from the fact that I didn’t own any black trousers at the time (you had to wear black from head to toe to cut down on visibility) and had to borrow some from the props department – meaning that I got lots of comments from the audience about my wearing my pyjamas.

Backstage Albert was a right royal pain in the arse, as one might expect from a Born Again Fading Rock Star. It turned out that he and the man playing Judas, rather ironically, had a long-standing feud about Judas’s sexuality (IE: he was gay)

One day I was sitting quietly in the Green Room (what they call the refreshments room for the actors and staff regardless of its actual colour) when Albert burst in, shouting abuse at Judas, calling him dirty, evil and against God (this may partially explain my feelings about religion), leaving the poor actor in tears.

For me the highlight of the show was the final few moments: with Jesus, or Albert, on the cross (OK his few hits were pretty bad, but not actually bad enough to justify crucifixion – although it’s a close call). My role was to hold an extremely narrow spotlight on his face whilst all around descended into darkness and he delivered his dying eulogy.

At the time I had yet to pass my driving test and did not possess a car. I say this because the play always ended with just a few seconds for me to dash around the corner and catch the last bus of the day…except that the death scene kept getting longer every night.

‘Oh…………..God…..’ Albert would warble.

The follow spot would begin to wobble by now, heavy as it was. The only focussing mechanism was a piece of cable by the side that one had to adjust between shows and ensure was still pointing you in the direction. You couldn’t afford to lock off the stand in case of unexpected movement and a small spot was very difficult to hold still… ‘I’m dy-i-ing’

There would be a dramatic pause. Everything was silence apart from the occasional grinding of my teeth as I willed him to get on with it



Long pause during which several new planets were discovered,







By now the tremours in the hand holding the follow spot would be getting more obvious and I would be forced to put the whole of my strength into holding the damn thing still



Come on, come on you bastard and die!

‘I’m de-ad’

Cue followspot cue 49 – slam off to black and quickly shove the aperture back up to full for the final bows.

Cue actors leaving the stage

Cue one bloody annoyed follow-spot operator legging it to the bus stop

The End