Vincent’s .45 goes BANG!

‘A car dealership in the United States is offering a free handgun with every vehicle sold,’ the BBC reports. ‘Max Motors in Butler, Missouri, says sales have quadrupled since the start of the offer.’ Like McDonald’s, Dallas, serial killers and rampant obesity it’s only a matter of time before this fine notion from the Land of the Free reaches the UK. Darton Honda supplying a 12 bore with every Jazz sold. Slaithwaite Skoda dishing out AK-47s with select models of the taxi-drivers’ favourite motor car – the Octavia. It won’t be long.

And unlike the idea of boycotting BP and ESSO stations, haulage blockades and running the family hatchback on Crisp and Dry this is, perhaps, finally a measured response to the increasing cost of fuel. It is the automotive version of the secret agent’s cyanide pill.

The gun will be kept in a glass compartment, the slogan ‘Break only when you’ve reached the end of your tether’ emblazoned across in 50 point red sans serif. With oil now at $135 a barrel before long we’ll all be taking out the complimentary Nissan Walther PPK. Salesmen watching with resigned horror as the needle falls into the red line on their diesel Mondeos, an appointment at 3PM in Boston that will never be kept. Calmly they pull over onto the hard shoulder of their respective M18, drag off their nylon/silk mix tie, unfasten the top button of the shirt from George at ASDA, a text message home then cradling the courtesy Ford revolver blow their brains out. Bang. Pulp Fiction. Lorry drivers at the Woolley Edge service station examine the profit and loss figures, the margins, the diminishing standard of living. A final Yorkie, then a suicide note to Gordon Brown on lavender paper in red ink before they nuzzle the point of the free Iveco supplied 9mm into their mouths and pull the trigger.

I drove past Tescos yesterday. £1.11 per litre for unleaded. Bugger me. Where did I put that Audi-branded Glock 19?

Tony Yakamoto

Did you know…?

The classic 1965 big screen adaptation of Len Deighton’s cold war spy thriller The Ipcress File contains coded messages throughout. The film, produced by Bond impresario Harry Saltzman, which stars Michael Caine in the role of working class British Agent Harry Palmer and was directed by Sidney J. Furie in stylish 60s chic with pop art camera angles and minimalist music by John Barry, is layered with cryptic statements and hidden ciphers.

Harry Palmer1

Together with surreptitious references to Lee Harvey Oswald and dark broodings on the Royal Family, the most famous series of messages comes in the Hyde Park bandstand scene when Major Dolby, played by Richard Green – who also starred alongside Caine in seminal native-bashing flick Zulu – beats Morse code out of time to the tune of ‘The British Grenadier’. Keen-eyed viewers have deciphered that Green actually spells out all the names of the Grand National winners between 1973 and 1981 (except for 1976 when the Major only managed to forecast the second placed horse).

Gazza

The Marriott Hotel, Gateshead. A four star, eight storey oasis in the middle of an industrial estate whose own presence is like a modern, concrete delta around which dual carriageways and fly-overs snake and wind. A short distance away the Metro Centre. On the hill stands Angel of the North, rusty wings outstretched.

A raised seating area in a corner of the bar on the ground floor. It’s 3AM. Saturday 3rd June 2006.

Another huge glass of warm white wine poured from a bottle that’s greasy with sweat.

A hen party is giggling noisily at the far side of the bar. Dressed in black. Hot pants and tight, low-cut tops. Bunny girls. Ears and fluffy tails in evidence. Bottles of un-chilled, impatient champagne with torn foil at the necks.

‘The ball,’ he mumbles, head leaning over the table. An apathetic scoop of wine. ‘I just want the ball. To play.’

I look with sudden embarrassment at the tears splashing onto the glass surface of the table. The man’s narrow shoulders convulse with dry sobs.

Painfully thin. His skin is red and dry as if it’s been rubbed with sand paper. A yellow Versace shirt open at his loose neck revealing ginger chest hair. Blue jeans. New Balance running shoes without laces and no socks. Chain-smoking. He looks tired.

A long way from Pavarotti and the citrus t-shirts of 1990. Waking up to Liz Kershaw and Bruno Brookes playing Snap and Adamski. Spike Island warming us up for the long summer. Drinking Castaway. New Order sound-tracking the beach parties on Sardinia.

He looks up. Eyes shot. The blue fractured with broken blood vessels.

Saturday 3rd June 2006. Another World Cup, a different decade.

Diary. Thursday 8th May 2008. I’ve been ill for the past few days. Between bouts of Malaria-like symptoms and feeling sorry for myself I lay in the garden and read Paul Gascoigne’s autobiography. Gazza, my story by Gascoigne with Hunter Davis. ISBN 0 7472 7118 6. My boy with me, next to the lounger. Birds chirruping, the sound of a lawn being mown nearby and the mantra buzz of a contented Bumble Bee. I could have been on the terrace of Blandings Castle.

My reading comes coincidentally with Gascoigne’s recurrence in the media. Sectioned twice under the Mental Health Act in the past few months, most recently a few days ago after some trouble in a London hotel. Red hair dye, head shaved, a request for a steak knife and then some abortive suicide attempt in the hotel bath. The tabloid fodder of a life unravelling.

The Prologue is promising and literary, but from there on the book treads out the story with journeyman efficiency. It’s a 90 minute display of Graham Taylor’s long ball. No Brazilian magic of one touch football here. No sexy game. The literary equivalent of a 1-0 win over third division Kettering in the third round of the FA Cup. Sir Alex nods his head, chews some gum. ‘We did the business,’ he says un-memorably. Huddled in the warmth of his sheepskin, Motty nods agreement then shuffles back to the Travelodge for a sausage sandwich, Swedish massage. Job done.

It’s a deficiency of style familiar to many ghost-written autobiographies. What has patently been an hilarious family anecdote falls flat on its backside on the mercenary page. The book recounts in broad brush strokes of beige emulsion the tabloid stories of his mis-adventures generally accompanied by his obliging court jester and life-long stooge Jimmy ‘Five-bellies’ Gardner. These aren’t the structured anecdotes of a raconteur. I can almost feel Gazza’s hyperactive elbow nudging Davis as he crouches over the keyboard. ‘Howay! Put that one in aboot the time I shaved Danny Baker’s back while he was sleeping and got him tattooed with a bloke’s name…’ Davis obligingly types: ‘I once shaved Danny Baker’s back and got him tattooed…’ and then keys onto the next sentence. There is no love in the prose. And the random insertion of colloquial Geordie-isms (‘I div’nae know’) here and there in an attempt to give matters a conversational air struck me as contrived and clumsily.

Obviously some of the anecdotes are bound to be funny. For some reason, I liked this one:

I rang Chris Evans’ radio programme once to say I was worried about [Jimmy] as he had decided to come out of the closet, but the trouble was, he didn’t have any gay friends in Gateshead. He was lonely and needed to meet some gay people. I gave out his mobile number on the radio, appealing for any gay people out there to ring Jimmy. Hundreds of them did. For weeks afterwards, I could hear Jimmy picking up his mobile and shouting: ‘I’M NOT FUCKING GAY!’

Paul Gascoigne, born in Gateshead in 1967 on the day that the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper, signed to Newcastle United in 1984. A steady rise to fame and fortune, picked for England in 1988. Then his career went supersonic in the wake of his Italia 90 performances – on and off the field – culminating in his tearful appearance against the Germans in the semi-finals. The Wogan show beckoned, sponsorships, a single with Lindisfarne. Gazzamania seesawed wildly with its fulcrum being the 1991 FA Cup Final when he kamikaze tackled an opposing player and ripped his cruciate ligament. Like most of Gascoigne’s rash actions, the person he ended up hurting most was himself.

A lucrative move to Italy followed, a return to the UK to play in the Scottish Premier League and his most successful period at Glasgow Rangers. Then triumph in the wake of binge drinking scandal at Euro 96 when he bludgeoned his way through the Scottish defence to score the goal of the competition.

This was followed by St. Hoddle’s media sacrifice of Gascoigne before the 1998 World Cup finals when he was left out of the side at the eleventh hour. Walter Smith’s words echoed in my mind. “Hoddle will want to make a name for himself…” From there a slow decline. A background of erratic behaviour that was slowly becoming less tolerable to the press and public. Middlesbrough, Everton, Burnley were succeeded by an abortive foray into Chinese soccer. Once a great he now appears on the edges of the game, pulling together his huge overheads where he can. A footballing Tony Hancock.

It’s a 1990s success story with a vicious climax.

The parallels with George Best are obvious. The debased, anti-hero chic of a prodigious footballing talent apparently pissed to the wind. A peak of public adoration, alcohol, domestic abuse, wasted opportunities. And the book has the same blandness to it as Best’s celebrated biography Blessed, and a similar underlying strain of self-apology.

This following his girlfriend’s announcement that she was pregnant:

‘We went on holiday as planned, first of all in Italy, then to Las Vegas. I was hardly speaking to her. I was just stuffing my face all the time with ice cream and burgers and rubbish. I even suggested an abortion, but she refused to consider it. I was a total bastard, really.’

That ‘really’ is important. A final refrain of excuse. A desire for absolution.

Often Gascoigne comes across as a bored, occasionally malevolent, child; the kind that pulls the legs off spiders and then cries contritely only when he gets caught. A simple human being with a love of farting in public, drinking with the lads and playing football, gradually finding himself beset by life’s fundamental complexities. Most frequently, like the lost opportunity of Best’s autobiography, the general tone is of a tired man telling a cautionary tale without seeming to have learned his own lessons. It’s biography on the back foot. Like Best, Gascoigne appears as a lonely individual. Isolated. A voice speaking into a Dictaphone in some featureless hotel.

At the height of his abilities Gascoigne held that promise you felt when McEnroe walked onto centre court at Wimbledon or Seve Ballesteros found himself in a tricky lie behind a gorse bush on the windy front nine at St. Andrews. You were on for a pyrotechnic display of everything that made the game wonderful for you in the first place. The nature of football changed after Italia ‘90. It became corporate. Slick and banal. It even started appealing to women. No more heroes anymore. The Premier league’s inception in 1992/93 created a fresh commercial face for what had been the old First Division and marked the sinister, global rise of Manchester United. Alex Ferguson, the Moriarty of football. It has left us with a soulless spectacle in High Definition and a perennially disappointing national team which can only grow weaker with each successive season as the Premier League relies increasingly on foreign talent. But when England hammered Holland in Euro ’96 there was Gascoigne, rising to the occasion at the sound of the football equivalent of Drake’s Drum. ‘Vindaloo’ beat out to the Latino brass of a Mariachi trumpet and Gazza will return, Three Lions on his chest, battle-scarred, to save English football.

And then the decade passed so quickly.

If Gascoigne’s no longer a footballer then what is he? Certainly he takes his place in the England World Cup squad of modern day celebrity eccentrics – Oliver Reed, Keith Moon, Vivian Stanshall. Perhaps he could captain the team. Marshalling Moon’s efforts to jump a motorcycle into Steve McQueen’s swimming pool in full World War 2 regalia, Oliver Reed charging up the right wing to strip off naked in public and sing wildly before having a fight with anyone who’s passing by. Gascoigne would control the game from mid-field, driving an open-top red London bus packet with terrified tourists.

The true, root causes of such erratic behaviour as exemplified by these England capped misfits is masked by a welter of substance abuse and the public’s uncomplicated acceptance of their conduct as entertaining and simply a natural part of their ‘larger than life’ personas. Gascoigne’s alcoholism seems not to be the main cause of what’s going wrong so much as a catalyst. It serves to complicate a mental landscape already confused by personal tragedy and emotional disappointments. Gazza seemingly dismisses the possibilities of any diagnosable mental condition, apart from perhaps Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

But there are problems.

I like practical jokes. At some point in the late 80s Andrex ran a competition to win a Peugeot 106. Five lucky winners would unravel their toilet rolls to find – Willy Wonka style – a winning ticket pasted to the inner cardboard tube. A thought struck me. An idea. I got out my typewriter, rattled off a label and… Painstakingly I re-rolled the tissue paper. A week later I’d forgotten all about it until my mother ran screaming from the bathroom, holding the toilet roll tube aloft…

I have never felt so ashamed in my life.

But this is harmless fun compared to some of Gascoigne’s japes. Any man who puts his own faeces inside a pie, places that pie in a fridge and then later serves up said pie to ‘friends’…

His playing career over, the usual trappings of the Premiership footballer – the Bentley Continental GT, the Mock Tudor mansion in Cheshire, the glossy girlfriend from the pages of Nuts or FHM – have slipped through his fingers. Gascoigne is left not owning a house or car and continues to pursue a relationship that ended in divorce ten years ago. Living in hotels. Even the obligatory rape allegations have petered out. And he’s still held by the Elysian Fields provided by a game of football. The Ambrosia of a few lagers with lads. His inability to sever the emotional ties to his ex-wife. Surely she can’t still need ten grand a month to keep her going after all these years? But where many once famous footballing names are now little more than half-forgotten faces with dodgy haircuts in old Panini albums gathering dust in the loft, Gascoigne’s fame remains. Albeit in a refracted form. For instance, Arsenal double-winning legend Charlie George acts as a tour guide at the Emirates Stadium.

But for Gascoigne this fame is a two-edged sword. His continuing financial viability is only as a result of the press attention which persists after his career is over. The persona of Gazza. Fighting with press photographers, being ejected from hotels, his addictions, his contradictions, the suicide attempts, the sectionings, the sad spectacle of him shambling drunk, surrounded by photographers. But it also tightens the spiral. The world will always be fascinated with characters such as Gazza. Lives like his captivate the bored mind browsing for easy entertainment in the same morbid way as a nasty accident on the motorway. We gasp in disbelief as he tears past at 140mph and then later rubberneck the twisted wreckage of his fortune. His buckled marriage.

That Gascoigne can be likeable and personable is undeniable. Generous with the ‘heart of gold’ which seems to be a press necessity for every working class celebrity from Cilla Black to Jodie Marsh. Equally, he can be obnoxious and egotistical. Gazza, my story is not a bad read, and it passed the time between feverish temperatures and sleeping, propped up in the May sunshine, but it does not bring to life Paul Gascoigne. To do that you’d be best watching some of the footage from Italia 1990; Gazza ripping the mid-field apart or wearing some plastic breasts. That’s where the heart of the story lies. But maybe that’s also part of the problem.
_____________________________________

Amongst all the drunken, scatological debauchery and high jinx, the air pellets in the backsides and the belches… perhaps the highlight of the book was when I misread the sentence relating to Jack Charlton: ‘Big Jack was brilliant to me. He took me fishing with him one day…’ For a moment, in my mind’s eye, I had visions of ex-Dirty Leeds hard man, World Cup medal winner, Republic of Ireland hero, sleeves rolled up, greased to the elbow… ‘Oh!’ I realized with relief, re-scanning the passage, ‘FISHING!’

GB 2

Breasts

Diary. Thursday 24th April 2008

Our Lass has been considering getting some new breasts. Or, to speak the speak, augmenting. It’s been under discussion for a while. Pictures thrust on me – what do you think of those…? I reluctantly force myself to examine a pair of confident 38DDs. Nipples like Tunnock’s chocolate tea cakes sat proudly wobbling on orbs of coffee-flavoured blancmange. Well, they’re all right, I murmur, squinting critically. So an appointment had been made. We drove out to the clinic at Methley this afternoon. Set in the countryside between Leeds and Wakefield, a tree-lined drive way with big German saloon cars parked up. It’s a general purpose clinic where surgeons do outside consultancy work for other companies. In this instance the internet boob firm mybreast. Very plush, stylish and above all – clean. It obvious that the staff are working in the private sector. No wizened old troll pushing a dirty mop over some c.1930 linoleum here. No drunks fighting in A&E. In this clinic it’s clear that they see people who walk through the doors not simply as patients but also customers. They’re polite, they engage with you when you approach them. They’re professionally nice.

After a short wait with complimentary newspapers (today’s!) we’re shown in to the consultant. He has that familiar chiselled, public school look. His pink tie with the broad knot. The big shiny diver’s watch. The Ian Ogilvy haircut. The grey suit with the wide lapels and the pin-stripe. He has the look at all consultants have. Hurried calm, as if he’s just come hot foot from the rugby pitch, hair still wet, the sting of a damp towel lingering on his arse cheeks.

We sit in the leather chairs across from the glass topped desk, the offer of a tea or coffee, as he ticks his way through the sixty minute consultation. Pros and cons. Measurements. Options. I fondled the silicone, kneading the doughy mass sensuously in my hand. It was quite calming. But listening to his professional spiel I wonder if when it comes to boobs he has become like the man who works at the Haribo factory. You know what I mean, day one on the production line and he’s rubbing his hands, gobbling up fizzy Cola Bottles and multi-colour boot laces by the fistful, gorging on them, best job in the world… much, munch, munch… Then by the end of the first month the very sight of some novelty candy teeth turns his stomach. Knocked nauseous by the prospect of a Pontefract cake. To then ultimately reach the stage that at the close of the year he might as well be sifting through nuts and bolts. Sat there, looking at the consultant, listening to the steady voice and the objective patter, I’m thinking that maybe it’s like that for this bloke with tits. That breasts have lost all eroticism as intrinsic objects. That they’ve become dull. Common place. And, in all probability, some other area of the female body now stands substitute for the erotic importance that boobs used to occupy. Oh, love, you’ve got a right pair of elbows on you… Can I suck your knee caps…? Perhaps this man, with his hand-crafted accent and sterling silver cufflinks, trawls the internet searching for high definition images of veruccas. Downloading gonzo films of women washing their hands in dirty pot bowls. Because when it comes to boobs he seemed oblivious. Nipple sensation and cup feel… He could have been flicking through a Haynes manual, describing car parts.

And what’s more, looking at the titty slide show on his Dell Inspiron laptop I was getting slightly worried by the fact that the only pictures he seemed willing to show with me in the room were of fifty-odd year old women. I looked around nervously. Furtively, I glanced sideways at Our Lass. Had I been rumbled? My cover blown? Had he spotted me – a MILF lover? A penchant for the maturer lady. Because there they were. Front view, profile and some cheeky forty-five degree angle shots. Breasts of a nubile teenager, the stomach and arms of Geoff Capes. And the stretch marks! They looked like badly laid tarmac. I stared at him in disbelief. All that wank fodder packed onto his hard drive and he decides to focus on women with stomachs that look like a selection of driveways put down by a gang of gypsies. I felt like shouldering him to one side, getting my hands on the laptop… ‘Come on, let’s have a look at the good stuff…’

And as we looked through the jpegs, the one thing I’d never realized is how many women have seriously odd shaped breasts. He opened the folder with ‘Suzanne’s’ shots. Another one from the Saga set. I could feel my head angle back involuntarily, rocking away in the padded leather chair. A confused look on my face. I double check with the specialist. That can’t be right, can it? I’d got my thumb out, creating a plumb line. The right one hung a good four inches lower than the left. If it was my car I’d be worried about tyre wear. Are the pressures right on that…?

I can understand why a woman would want to have breast augmentation. We’re living in a world that is becoming increasingly obsessed with image. Like it or not. Let’s face it, would Margaret Thatcher have ever become conseravitve leader had it not been for her perky breasts and that cheeky smile bamboozling us all when she privatized British Gas? And breast augmentation’s not something new. Over the years surgeons have used a bewildering array of materials to pack out female briskets. For instance, attempts were made in the naughty eighteen-nineties to inject paraffin directly into the breast. It worked a treat. Which meant that late-Victorian lovelies could not only have their beloved broad backsides but also a pair of breasts you could eat a three course kedgeree smothered breakfast from. Until the flesh started dying and ruptured in appalling cysts. Since then there’s been the use of ivory, glass balls, springs from a Shackleton high seat chair and now the plumped-up wonder of silicone. And as we speak there are laboratory animals in America trialling the use of hair. No sacrifice in vain, I think you’ll agree.

ianogilvy

Email. 01/05/2008

The following was issued by Barnsley Council press office on 21/04/2008:

Barnsley residents invited to experience Cultures of the World

TRADITIONAL Kurdish and Polish dancing, an East African drumming workshop and the San Pedro Salsa Band will be among the attractions at a Cultures of the World event on Saturday, 3 May (12 noon to 5pm) on the Central Area Amphitheatre site in Kendray, Barnsley.

Open to all, the fun-filled occasion has been organised by Kendray Neighbourhood Management, with sponsorship from Haslam Homes, to highlight the many different cultures we live alongside.

There will be Arabic, Caribbean and Japanese-style food, a barbecue, children’s entertainer Barney Baloney, henna painting and hair braiding.

The day will begin with a parade of children from four schools, plus a holiday activity group of children wearing tee-shirts and masks made in workshops during the school holidays.

Sports coaches will run sessions between 11am and 1pm, live performances will take place at the Burngreave information Vehicle. Adding to the diverse entertainment will be a DJ, the Montuno Band and Zakala African Arts.

There will also be an opportunity to meet Safer Neighbourhood Team members and Berneslai Homes Impact Team.

Anyone who would like to take part in the event, or hold an information stand, should contact Tina Smith of Kendray Neighbourhood Management on (01226) 732869, email: tina at Barnsley Council

Subject: Cultures of the World – 03/05/2008
From: guinnessorig
To: tina
Date: Thu, 1 May 2008 15:49

Dear Tina,

It was with absolute delight that I saw your Cultures of the World spectacular announced on the Barnsley Council web site. This is just the type of fun event that our small educational performance art group – ‘By ‘Eck!’ – thrives on. There are six core members of the team and we perform at village fetes, schools, night clubs and car boot sales both here and abroad (Sweden mostly) promoting the cultural richness of the great county of Yorkshire.

‘By ‘Eck!’ was born in the summer of 1999 when champion clog dancer Pete Gilbert and wizard Holmfirth folk fiddler Terry Longbones got together in an impromptu jam at a car boot sale in Normanton after Pete found a pair of old clogs for sale in the back of a Vauxhall Chevette. You can’t begin to imagine the reaction of the bargain rooters in the mixed crowd that gloriously sunny day. They went bloody wild! It was then that we realized that there’s a thirst out there from every day people to preserve, promote and learn more about the cultural heritage of England’s biggest and best
county.

We offer the following performance art extravaganzas:

Yorkshire Black pudding studio. We let people get hands on and elbow deep in offal with some traditional Black pudding making. Imagine the fun and the rich smells as people get the chance to stretch out the pig intestines to prepare the skins before stuffing and tamping down the putrefied pig’s blood and bread crumbs in some traditional and delicious Yorkshire Black Pud. The puds are then griddled on a barbecue and served up to the very people who made them. Believe me, this one’s a big family favourite.

Nipsy workshop. Celebrating and promoting a game sometimes called Nor and Spell – a sport not dissimilar to golf, but without the Pringle jumpers and huge wads of money. Contestants flick a wooden ball in the air and then spank it as hard as possible. Furthest distance whacked is winner. We need to get the kids involved at grass roots level on what is set to be the Premier League football of the 21st Century. Jud Branner – from Goldthorpe – present Yorkshire and Northern Counties Nipsy champion will be on hand to crack a few off for a crowd of gob-smacked onlookers before letting the revellers get their hands on his wood and have a go for themselves.

We finish off the day with some West Yorkshire clog dancing backed by the ‘Batley Fiddlers’ – Yorkshire’s only fiddle orchestra. Imagine the combined northern harmonies of fifteen folk fiddlers scratching their way furiously through ‘Ilkley Moor bah’tat’ and ‘The Richmond Whore’ (augmented with the rich, vernacular voice of Yorkshire folk-singer Ryan Greatorex). This is a proper crowd pleaser.

Could you let us know in advance if you’re wanting the black pudding studio because we’ll need to slaughter one of the pigs a couple of days before for the blood to congeal suitably. We don’t want to let the kids down.

In addition to some open grass for the Nipsy (100 yards should do it), we’d need a performance/display area approximately 20 yards square, with at least half of that flat and level so that we can lay the Yorkshire stones necessary to get the right sound on the clog dancing. Phil will be bringing these in the back of his transit if you can secure us the necessary appropriate space. We had a bad experience on wonky ground at a horse fair in Yeovil and we don’t want to repeat that. Bill’s ankle still needs rubbing down on cold days. But if you can’t provide enough flat ground can you make sure we have some concrete. It’s just not the same on tarmac. No spark, no fireworks. I will never forget the looks of disappointment on the faces of the crowd in Milton Keynes when the muffled sound of our clogs thrumbed out on the spongy surface of a child’s playground. I’ll not put my lads through that again.

We have some disclaimer forms in relation to the Nipsy. These have been a work in progress but now cover broken bones (including skull fractures), smashed windows and damage to motor vehicles. If you give us a rough idea of numbers expected at the event I can set my wife Margaret on with the photocopying in advance.

And, by ‘eck, here’s looking forward to a great day!

Yours,

guinnessorig

PS

Could you tell us what time Barney Baloney is to appear because we’ve had trouble with him before.

NO REPLY RECEIVED

Kes

It’s Spring 2003 and I’m sat in the Cineworld multi-plex cinema in Wakefield waiting for the trailers to finally end and ‘Kes’ to get underway. It’s being shown as part of a long-running classics season the cinema screens on Monday afternoons and in the early evenings along with the likes of ‘Get Carter’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘The Italian Job’ and all that – though I’m not quite sure about ‘Jaws 3D’ myself. The room is quite full, more so than for some of the new release films when I’ve been there. I’ve only ever seen ‘Kes’ on the small screen before, and that was years ago, so I’m not quite sure what to expect.

Kes

Shot with a mostly local cast in Barnsley, South Yorkshire in the summer of 1968 and released the following year, ‘Kes’ was based on local author Barry Hines’ novel ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ and was socialist director Ken Loach’s feature film debut. It tells the story of Billy Casper, an educational under-achiever in the last term of school who lives with his Mam (played by Lynne Perry – later of ‘Coronation Street’ fame until her infamous botox work) and his older brother Jud (excellently portrayed by the hard-as-nails, selfish, don’t fuck with me, Freddie Fletcher) in a council house in Hoyland. Whilst all around him is caught up with its own concerns and preoccupations, Casper steals a Kestrel chick from its mother’s nest, hand rears it and then trains it. The relationship he forms through falconry with the Kestrel ennobles him and reveals a nascent intelligence and to sympathetic teacher – the cord-jacket-wearing Colin Welland as Mr. Farthing – before the real world intrudes and destroys it all.

The picture is Barnsley’s moment of cinematic fame[1] – the 60s boom-time belle époque captured on film before the grimness and pit strikes of the 1970s and what subsequently happened to the area beyond that. It’s the Tarn as a footnote to the Swinging Sixties. A way of life frozen on celluloid and a chance to have those Barnsley accents heard, the pits and their workers glimpsed; bringing a similar kind of rough, anti-glamour chic to South Yorkshire that Michael Caine and ‘Get Carter’ would do to the North East in 1971.

David Bradley, who plays Billy, is amazingly natural in front of the camera. Fair enough, he was a Barnsley lad and a first time actor and essentially playing a facet of himself, but to do so in such a consistent manner is a massive achievement. There is no hint of self-consciousness. The flight scenes filmed against the black slagheaps with John Cameron’s evocative, pastoral music floating over the images are as close to cinematic poetry as anything’s come. Brilliant.

The standout scene of the film is the football match – the humour of which then contrasts with the bullying of the changing rooms – starring Sheffield-born, Barnsley FC supporting (and sometime wrestler, teacher and coal miner) Brian Glover as the sadistic (if not slightly psychotic) Physical Education teacher Mr. Sugden. The model for every Yorkshire P.E. teacher to come. Sugden picks the football sides – with Billy obviously selected last – wearing his Manchester United strip, like an over-grown, excited, but deadly serious boy and then barges around the pitch, elbowing and fouling the kids out of his way, as he advances, goal-hungry up the field, voicing his own ‘Match of the Day’-style commentary:

‘The fair-haired, slightly balding Bobby Charlton,’ Glover says, nudging a gangly 15 year-old to the turf, the ball dancing at is feet, an extravagant shimmy, a pass, a look of dis-belief, ‘what you playin’ at, lad? It was at your feet!’

Brian Glover became a Yorkshire legend in those ten minutes.

The film is undeniably a classic – just ask Jarvis Cocker. All our Northern yesterdays, even if you weren’t even born at the time. But realistic. No green field without its opposing black mountain of black slag; no beautiful flying bird that doesn’t end up dead and chucked in a dustbin.

But that’s Barnsley for you. And there it is.

Or there it was.

Walking out of the pictures, the question I’m asking myself is what do I reckon happened to Casper after the film stopped rolling and he’d buried Kes under that hawthorn hedge? Everybody in Cineworld was laughing when he nicks from the shop as the old feller’s back is turned, then taking the milk off Duggie Brown’s float. A bit of mischief, nowt wrong with that, is there? But I think that right now Casper’s a smacked out alcoholic with psychological problems, living in a bail hostel. Collapsed veins through decades of heroin addiction. Bi-polar. Circuits destroyed.

It all started going wrong as soon as the last flute trilled out on the theme music. Casper had a tough seventies and an even tougher eighties: casual work on building sites, petty thieving (pre-PACE, so he took some hammerings. He spent two days chained to a wall in Wombwell Police Station on a D&D charge, dragged in for some rough questioning during the Ripper investigation as the country celebrated the Silver Jubilee), then he was introduced to heroin in 1992 or ’93. He mixes with the gypsies a bit now, doing bogus caller jobs then squirting the profits into his femoral artery before crashing on a mucky mattress on Blythe Street, Wombwell a quick swig of ‘Frosty Jack’ cider to wet his whistle.

And Jud? ‘Tha’r a bastard thee, ‘r Jud!’ A striker or a scab in ’84/’85 Miners’ Strike? A close call there, I think. A striker for the violence, the conflict – the presence. But he had that streak of selfishness and short-sighted greed that sent a lot of men across the picket lines. But nowadays Jud’ll be doing all right – in his way. Still living up in Hoyland in Barnsley, always in work: redundancy from the pit, now semi-skilled labour on minimum wage somewhere, or working for himself on the side. Lots of violent domestics with their lass, a few fights in the pub; losing more as the years go by. Still shagging around – slappers from beery nights out for the over forties up at the Night Owl.

He doesn’t have anything to do with the four kids he had from various relationships. Dirty, thieving smackheads, they are. Nowt to do with him.

And their Billy’s just a loser.

[1] ‘Brassed Off!’ marked a slight revival of interest in the town when it was filmed in Grimethorpe in 1996.