Tom Watson’s trousers

Bob Starkey


Bark like a dog.

 

I’m back into golf. Big style. After what’s effectively a seventeen year lay off. The torn muscles down the right-hand side of my abdomen will testify to it. The cramp in my left foot. The grumbling back ache. It’s like Malaria – I’ve never really shaken golf out of my system. One minute I’m happy never to go near a course, no regrets about abandoning my long, high flighted 3 irons, the half-forgotten feel of a Pringle sweater on my bare arms; the next I’m making air practice strokes and getting worked up over the gorgeous vision of a Japanese milled wedge, I’m buying Farah’s hopsacks and spending an obscene amount of money on a new (and very sexy) putter. I’ve even got a Pringle jumper. And a pink Lyle & Scott 70s style shirt. I know: shameful. I’m wearing the same clothes I did in 1987. The last occasion golf gripped me was 2002. But I shook the dose off. I got away with buying some shoes, a couple of rounds at Lupsett near Wakefield. I put it behind me. Boom boom. Before that it was back in 1997 – hitting range balls in the last lingering summer of Britpop to ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’. This time it feels to be biting deep. I am in its thrall.

 

It’s been happening gradually over the past couple of years. And getting worse. And on Monday I went up to Leeds with Bootneck and was measured up for some Ping G10s. This afternoon I picked up my first new set of irons since the summer of 1986.

 

But I have a problem with golf. And I don’t just mean my occasional aggressive fade. I have issue with the etiquette that mothballs the game in an era of petty, middle-class snobbery and incestuous clubmanship. It is a sport where ‘wearing clashing colours’ can incur a two stroke penalty. Local rules apply. No changing of shoes in the car park. Where many golf clubs are still dominated by sniffy old codgers who aren’t really any good at the game, with handicaps so high you’d need oxygen to play off them, and yet who stride the clubhouse like Stalin-era Politburo grandees, obsessed with privileged parking spaces and the manmade fabric mix in your pants. Shirt tucked in, sir, shirt tucked in! Don’t get me wrong, etiquette has its place. In the same way in the broader context of society so does respect. I don’t want to turn up to play, resplendent in my customized Myjoy shoes, Lacoste moleskins, One True Saxon polo shirt, ready for a civilized afternoon of pointless frustration, to see some scuffer, tracky bottoms tucked down his socks, thinning one through the car park as part of a ten ball. But there are limits. Rules should be inclusionary not exclusionary. To encourage not to dismay. An encounter with an ignorant old twat in musty Munsingwear at Woodhouse Golf Club in Leeds back in about 1987 still rankles. Tampax. I should have accused him of touching me up in the locker room, of exposing his wizened mashie niblick to my juvenile eyes. I should have run from the locker room, screaming. In tears. The shame of it, he’d have been ostracized. His handicap cancelled. His members badge ripped from his Slazenger Bobby Locke-endorsed pencil bag. Disgraced, he’d have hung himself in his garage. His suicide note written with a stumpy pencil on the back of a scorecard. Fuck him.

 

I remember when I first started playing golf. It was the era of Seve Ballesteros. The Spanish Houdini of the long rough. Speed-punching the air at St. Andrews and knocking the knickers off some glamorous back-combed, large breasted bird in his Blue Stratos adverts. Hacking away with my solitary 7 iron and the box of ultra-luminescent Pinnacles I’d bought from the Argos in Barnsley and my dream was fuelled. I spent hours out there under the South Yorkshire sky perfecting my swing at the raw seam of golfing ambition. Down on the reclaimed Pummer colliery off Spark Lane at Mapplewell. The Laithes Lane playing fields. Those Pinnacles were so soft I’m surprised that they didn’t stick to the club face. It was like hitting marzipan. But I followed Pete Townsend’s pre-Who dictate – if I practice hard enough, reach for perfection then they will want me. And so I slogged away. I didn’t want to play on the course. Ball striking was everything. I wanted to hit the little bugger right. Play my first 18 to par. Consequently I prepared myself. Hands bleeding on the ever smoother rubber grip. Weight distribution. Inside the line. Club to the horizontal. Follow through. Thinned. Fat. Topped. Shanked. Sliced. Hooked. And sometimes – sometimes – creamed beautifully across the park. And there it was – the Golden Mean held in the trajectory of a golf ball.

 

What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive – Arnold Palmer

 

It is that moment which drives me to golf. That feeling. Not the low scores, not the competition. It’s the primeval sensation of leathering the ball well. It’s that amazing sensation when the club goes through the ball perfectly and you watch it’s beautiful, arcing flight path. It’s like the violence in a Sergio Leone film. Compelling and hugely, enormously satisfying. So when I finally got my hands on a full set of Slazenger Seve Ballesteros signature endorsed clubs in the summer of 1986, bought – like my pink Argyle check Pringle jumper – from Low Laithes Golf Club outside Wakefield; a present from my Grandma and Granddad, I felt that I was ready to take on the golfing world.

 

I never did achieve the perfection I dreamed of. Never made the PGA and the sponsored Datsun Sunny. Never steered Europe to a ass-kicking of the USA in the Ryder Cup. Never saw my name on a 10.5 inch tour bag with some caddy developing sciatica as he heaved my clubs across the windy back nine at Troon on my way to yet another Open triumph. My looper prematurely crippled by the weight of my Taylor Made Burners. Swapping stories with Peter Aliss on A round with Alliss. ‘Well, Peter, in principle I agree with you about Fascism, but…’ Passing on bunker tips to big Sean and Tarby on some sun-drenched course on the Algarve, half cut on ice cold San Miguel, before nipping across the Atlantic on concorde and leathering the balata coating from a Titelist at the Augusta National as I marched on to a third back to back green jacket. There were moments. Holes. The sweet, beautifully drawn drive on the dogleg 13th at Sandhill that on pitching almost took out the buggy 300 yards in front. My near hole in one on the 6th at Staincross in the long hot summer of 1987 – when my day consisted of sunshine, six cans of full fat coke and 36 holes a day. And that’s what makes golf for most of us. To club players all over the world. Moments. Shots. Small runs of perfection. Instances of vicious beauty with a 5 iron in your hands. And then, just when you think you’ve bloody cracked it, you’ve parred the last couple of holes like Faldo on a run, driven like big John Daly with a KFC family bucket inside you, you shank one straight into the club repairer’s hut.

 

But that’s the nature of the beast. Golf inherently lacks consistency. Which is why it’s so addictive. Golf is a tease. Golf inspires lust. Golf is like an 18 year old girl with the big boobs. You know it’s wrong but you can’t keep away from her*. And it’s this mercurial spirit of the game that lends itself to gimmicks. Tee pegs with bristles like a toothbrush, weighted practice clubs, moulded rubber grips that force your hands and fingers into the perfect position like a Chinese footbinder. Different shafts. Stiff, steel, graphite. Devices for lining up your putts. Square heads on drivers. Metal woods replacing persimmon. Belly putters. And that’s just the equipment. Then there’s the physical ticks and quirks guaranteed to send the ball down the fairway like a spanked arse. Turn your back on the target, a flat back swing, an upright back swing, elbow tucked in. Loose grip. Stamp down with your left heel like the plunger for detonating the big bomb. All searching for that moment of beautiful, controlled viciousness. And if I get that feeling just once, where my club face beats through the ball effortlessly, my backswing held with deep satisfaction, in an appalling round where I’ve been trying to find my Titliest Pro-v in the jungles of Burma, or dig a pebbly Topflite XL from the Gobi desert that borders the fifth hole, then I can easily salvage something from four hours of frustration as I sit over my pint of Guinness in the obligatory and stereotypical 19th hole. I love it.

 

This crowd has gone deadly silent, a Cinderella story outta nowhere. Former greenskeeper and now about to become the Masters Champion.


*Val Doonican

And justice for all…

On Wednesday 18th March 2009 Sean Hodgson was released from prison after serving 27 years for the murder of a barmaid, Teresa De Simone, in Southampton. Hodgson’s conviction was ruled to be unsafe based on a new assessment of evidence, using DNA technology not available at the time. The media had a feeding frenzy as a shaky looking Hodgson, now 57, tottered from the Court of Appeal and out into the Strand a free man.

 

But despite the furore, and the hands raised in triumph, the big applause and the basking glow of the flash photography, Sean Hodgson is not Edmond Dantes. He is not Steve McQueen in Papillon. This is not the story of an innocent man finding himself chewed up by the hulking, insensitive machinery of justice. He is not Franz Kafka’s Josef K. Hodgson did not wake one morning to find himself unfairly persecuted by the police. Hodgson was not the victim of a conspiracy. He was not fitted up. There was no Jack Regan or Gene Hunt leant over Hodgson’s broken spirit, kipper ties askew, sleeves rolled up, forcing a shaky signature on a witness statement of confession covered in blood and snot. Sean Hodgson was convicted on the best evidence available at the time. Including his own confession.

 

There is a myth, perpetuated by the media, ravenous for a story to peddle, that anyone released through a miscarriage of justice is automatically innocent. It makes for a better feature. It has elements of tragedy and provides a plot arc with the hero battling through adversity. The spit in the porridge. The beatings in the shower. The makeshift shank in the exercise yard. The snooty refusals by the appeals courts. But the fact is that they’re not. Not everyone who gets released through a miscarriage of justice is innocent. Underline this fact in your mind and paint it in big neon-bright letters. They’re not. Not automatically. Not necessarily. The one (a miscarriage of justice) does not necessarily render the other (innocence) a certainty. This is the misapprehension fostered on the public eye by the hypocritical, short-sighted press. The media creates confusion between those released from prison because they were innocent and those who cannot be proved to have been guilty.

 

Stephen Downing. The Birmingham Six. The Guildford Four. Colin Stagg. Barry George. Stefan Kiszko. All written up the same. Each case unique.

 

Stefan Kiszko was convicted in 1976 for murdering 11 year-old Lesley Moleseed in Rochdale the previous Autumn. Straight up and down – he didn’t do it. He could never have done it. Lesley was stabbed multiple times. A semen sample was swabbed by police from her corpse. The semen was examined and found to contain sperm. Kiszko was infertile. David Peace’s West Yorkshire Police, who investigated Kiszko, apparently knew this at the time. The West Yorkshire police chain smoking a confession out of blubbering, bloodied suspects in dimly lit, windowless interview rooms knew this. You did it, Stefan, didn’t you? You dirty bastard. Wanted to poke that young lass, didn’t you Stefan? But you couldn’t, could you? You couldn’t. Because you’re a nancy boy, aren’t you? A dirty fucking nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. Nancy boy. You’re a nancy boy. Tell us you’re a nancy boy, Stefan. A dirty fucking nancy boy. But you don’t like it, do you? You don’t like being a nancy boy, do you? Bish bash bosh. Fucking have that, you cunt. Bish bash bosh. You did it, didn’t you, Stefan? You did it, didn’t you? You did it, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? Didn’t you? The police knowingly prosecuted an innocent man and let the guilty remain free. Perhaps to kill again. Stefan Kiszko’s case truly was a miscarriage of justice.

 

Kiszko, like Hodgson, confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. But under different circumstances. Kiszko, unlike Hodgson, didn’t confess systematically. There was no structure to his confession.

 

In 1979 the Yorkshire Ripper was the North’s bogeyman. He lurked in the shadows with a ball-pein hammer and a knife. He had already killed nine women. Who, contrary to popular opinion, were not all prostitutes. In 1979 George Oldfield, the leading detective on the case, received two letters and a tape from a man purporting to be ‘Jack’. A third letter was sent to the press. The police were convinced. Dubbed Wearside Jack he diverted the investigation. He drained police resources in a wild goose chase. He delayed the police cottoning on to Sutcliffe. In the meantime another four women were murdered. Their heads beaten open and their bodies eviscerated. All because of Wearside Jack. In 2006 John Samuel Humble was convicted of four counts of perverting the course of justice. Humble was an alcoholic with a history of mental problems. Humble was Wearside Jack. Do you feel sympathetic towards Humble? His alcoholic mind a blizzard of fantasies and mischief. Do you care that he’s in prison? Josephine Whitaker, 4th April 1979. Barbara Leach, 2nd September 1979. Marguerite Walls, 20th August 1980. Jacqueline Hill, 17th November 1980. Humble effectively gave Sutcliffe a hand with those. He laid on an artful shimmy. He created some space for Sutcliffe to run with the ball.

 

Hodgson’s lawyers are looking to put together a claim for compensation. Compensation? For what? For lying? For perverting the course of justice? For allowing a murderer to evade capture for more than a quarter of a century? Based on what the police had to work with at the time, the conviction was sound. And what’s the difference between Hodgson and Wearside Jack? Hodgson confessed. He said he’d done it. Wearside Jack confessed. He said he’d done it. Hodgson came out with a string of details which the police hadn’t released to the press which gave weight to his confession. How could he know? When he made his confessions Hodgson was not coerced. He was not beaten. He simply stood up – several times – and said: I’ve done it. So why should he be compensated? Let me say it again: HE CONFESSED! Should Hodgson be a common or garden, everyday victim – which he is portrayed as my the media and which he isn’t – he would have to fill in a Criminal Injuries Compensation Application in order to receive money. The form would ask whether Hodgson had contributed to what had happened to him. Erm, just a bit. Let’s say it again: he bloody confessed. No, Hodgson doesn’t deserve compensating. If he is innocent of the killing, then he has perverted the course of justice. He has denied the victim justice. He has gifted freedom to the killer. To whoever left the DNA behind at the crime scene.

 

And in all this wringing of hands and shaking the liberal tambourine, the victim is forgotten. Teresa De Simone was 22 years old when she was raped and murdered in 1979. But the victim is expendable. The victim adds colour. In the case of Stephen Downing the press vilified the victim, Wendy Sewell. Sewell was attacked with a pick axe in Bakewell cemetery in 1973, sexually assaulted and left to die. She became the Bakewell Tart. Chortle chortle. It served a purpose. Simple Jack fitted up by the old bill over some slapper. They were probably poking her themselves. Corrupt bastards. Downing wasn’t cautioned before he confessed. Downing wasn’t offered a solicitor. Downing was freed by the Court of Appeal after 27 years. No one else has ever been charged with the murder of Wendy Sewell.

 

DNA has made massive advances in detection. Wearside Jack was pinned down thanks to him using his saliva to gum down the envelope he sent to George Oldfield back in the 70s. His DNA and traces of Ben Shaws Dandelion & Burdock were found on the envelope. This was matched by Police to a sample taken from Humble, AKA Wearside Jack, in 2000 as part of an unrelated incident. In November 2007 Ronald Castree was convicted of the murder of Lesley Moleseed. Castree came to the police attention after a DNA sample was taken from him when he was arrested in 2005. It’s worth noting that Castree was not charged with this matter. Under the recent ruling by European Court of Human Rights, Castree’s 2005 DNA sample would have been destroyed when he was released without charge. It would not have been held on the database and searched against existing crime scenes. He would still be a free man. A free man driving through your neighbourhood. A free man looking at the child walking along the street alone.

 

Did you know…?

The sound of a sneeze is as unique as a fingerprint. Its rhythm and timbre are exclusive to the person generating it. The tonal note it produces cannot be faked or imitated. It is oral DNA. A signature sound.

 

In Palo Alto, California in 2003 a thief was arrested, charged and convicted based on the oral fingerprint of his sneeze recorded by a quick-witted employee during a bungled robbery. Sergio Rodriguez, 23, had been suffering from a head cold when he attempted to hold up a small graphics design and printing shop on Carlos Santana Boulevard. He sneezed repeatedly whilst making demands for cash and valuables to trembling, terrified staff. Skip Ruggwelter of the PAPD said: ‘This guy thought he could hide his face, he thought he could mask his fingerprints, he thought he could conceal his DNA. He forgot our developments in sternutation identification technology. We whipped his ass.’ Rodriguez was arrested after the recording of his sneeze was broadcast on local TV and radio stations.

 

A sneeze is exceptional. A sneeze is exclusive. The sound of a fart is universal.

The Road to Thurnscoe Needle Exchange

Chapter 1: Sue

 

Woolley Colliery. To the West of Barnsley. Out in the countryside. Three simple rows of terraced houses and the colliery. That’s all that stood there for a hundred years. Reached from the bottom, via Darton, the red brick wall as you get passed the train station still bears a faint trace of the graffiti painted during the miner’s strike. An obscene reference to Margaret Thatcher. There was more above the stone bridge on Station Road. I remember the condemnation and censureship of the school teachers.

 

I remember walking down Bloomhouse Lane with my Grandad to pick up his wage. The last summer before I started school. Huge dumper trucks brimmed with coal flying down what today seems like an unfeasibly narrow country lane. Hawthorn hedges on either side. The black single decker buses with the NUM branding in yellow, ferrying men to and from the pit. Day shift, afters, nights. Silver birch trees separating the pavement from the traffic as we turn onto Woolley Colliery Road and make our way to the pit entrance. Huge green fields stretching away to the right and the black expanse of the colliery to the left before us. Slag heaps. The muck stacks. The warning siren. Stepping over the dried black mud, ‘’Ey up, Tommy’ from men covered in black dust, wearing donkey jackets, mucky orange overalls and big steel toe capped boots. Winding gear towering above. The huge metal wheel. The thick, coiled metal rope. Conveyor belts suspended in the air, always moving. We head up the steep concrete steps to the payment block, three windowed booths with cicular Perspex grills set into them, under a short canopy. Brown envelope with a plastic window. Payslip wrapped ‘round the folded notes. A check, a summing up. Then into the canteen. The colliery employed two thousand men back then in 1976. Formerly the pit that Arthur Scargill was NUM representative for. It closed in 1987. The silver birch trees have gone in the last few years. Ripped down unnecessarily as part of the new development. The slag heap that covered most of the valley side is getting flattened out. The new housing development lies at the bottom of the valley, where all the workings used to be. Visible from the M1. The three rows of terraced housing that climb up the other side of the road look on resentfully. Another long access road snakes down the side of the valley. It used to lead to the coal washing plant.

 

At this bottom end of the old colliery a shopping park is promised. No one knows why. The locals already have their shops, the newcomers will cling to their route out of Barnsley and the motorway. To Leeds and Sheffield. The Meadowhall and the White Rose.

 

Striding over large boards bridging the ripped up earth where the services are being put in, I go into the sales office and speak to the representative. She’s called Sue. Dark haired, brown eyed, 40 something. Coloured like plain chocolate and caramel. Tidy and well-groomed. A clingy top advertising a hint of sun bed cleavage. Tight, shiny black business pants. Lots of well-applied make up. Teeth whitened. I get a huge welcoming smile. Best friend’s Mum. Sue treats me like a pal.

 

The sales office is in what will ultimately be sold as a large four bedroomed detached house. A massive double storey window set in the hallway. The walls feel inconsequential and I wouldn’t be surprised for them to wobble. Plaster board covered with designer magnolia. Sudanese Hessian. The ceilings are low. The windows small. The space cramped. Chrome fittings. No 90s brass or 80s gold. Everything clean and simple.

 

Sue has her office set up in the large, rectangular lounge. Beech desk, laptop with Mah-jong and Facebook on the screen fading into a screensaver of an aerial shot of another development, some success story from the south of the county. People like multi-coloured ants waving up to the helicopter as it strafed past. There’s a small printer ready to get down to the serious work of contracts and binding signatures.

 

Across from this another table holds a scale model of the development. Toy town. Someone’s dream to make a few million sketched out in balsa wood and oasis sponge. There’s a dinky version of a Porsche 911 parked in front of one of the houses. The road through the development drawn arbitrarily to give a village feel to the place. Humanize it. And get maximum use from the plot. ‘Well, who wants a garden these days?’ remarks Sue. Quite rightly. Low maintenance.

 

Sue gets me a sweet milky coffee from the machine in the kitchen. Double cream and a party pack Twix if I fancy one. Sits next to me on the stylish and surprisingly comfortable sofa from Habitat.

 

Referring to the model, I ask how sales are going.

 

‘Yeah, great,’ she beams. A flash of French polished nails. A tempting displacement of the boobs. Skin creasing in the valley between them. Perfection in decay. Over-ripe. Preening gestures with the fringe. ‘People still want good housing. And these properties are not only beautiful designer homes they’re an investment.’

 

It was like I’d just pressed the belly of a Furby. A speech learned by heart spieled out.

 

The signs up on Woolley Edge tell a different story.

 

The Credit Crunch. No one wants to say the word ‘recession’. But there’s crisis on the TV every night: Northern Rock came first. Seemingly out of the blue. Then City traders with their heads in their hands as the legs of the market give way again. Another shell shocked worker being interviewed as they leave work for the last time, dazed at the wheel of the car they can’t afford to run anymore, window wound down and a microphone pushed into their face. So what are you going to do now…? I don’t know. The BBC graphic of a jagged graph in blood red plotting a downward fall in share prices and upward rise in the cost of oil, gas, electricity, mortgage rates… I think we’re going to be seeing that particular visual on our over-expensive LCD TVs for some time. An icon for our time. Concern about pensions. Confidence at a low. Worrying about consumer spending. Banks folding, huge public investments evaporating as Iceland’s financial systems fail just at the time when we need that money to be safe – because there’s not going to be anymore coming in. The tax receipts are shrinking. And who is going to be able to afford another rise in council taxes to plug the gap left by lost investments? We’re caught in a vicious spiralling circle. Every job loss has the two fold effect of lowering the tax revenue as contributions dwindle, while adding more weight to the benefits bill as former taxpayers start to sign on. Less tax means a tightening of public spending. And we’re suffering job losses on a scale we haven’t experienced since the early eighties. Boys from the black stuff, Auf Wiedersehen, pet! The government trying to shore the financial system up. The reverse in the housing market means a fall in the collection of stamp duty. There’s panic on the streets of London. Panic on the streets of Birmingham. I wonder to myself could life ever be sane again?

 

Woolley Edge   

We have built an economy that relies on affluence. On our ability to borrow. On the faith in lending. The  Service industries. Credit. Luxury goods. Invisible comestibles. No one actually makes anything anymore. The manufacturing base has gone. A reverse pyramid. Keynes is standing on his head.

 

The development here at Woolley Colliery is the latest in a tradition of aspirational housing that kicked in towards the end of the 60s. It’s apotheosis and blue print laid bare in Abigail’s Party. The brand new Vauxhall Viva gleaming in the car port. The package holiday to Spain. Central heating that didn’t rely on shovelling coal into buckets. Pink and avocado bathroom suites. Perhaps chocolate. Room dividers and microwave ovens.  In Barnsley there is the Italian Estate in Darfield. The Barratt development up off Sackup Lane at Staincross (opened by Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw in the guise of Bodie & Doyle c. 1981. Flown in by helicopter; leather jackets, aviator shades, a fake snub nose revolvers), the Long Causeway at Monk Bretton. Most of Higham. They were estates that were populated by people who holiday’d abroad via the travel agency rather than hitting the B & B in Scarborough or Whitby every summer. They had two cars on the drive, double glazed windows and fully fitted kitchens. Dad went to work and came home without his hands getting dirty, Mum had a part time job. The two kids did their homework on time and were headed to University. The first in the family.

 

A softer, smaller version of The American Dream. We weren’t aspiring to be president or the chief executive officer of a Billion Dollar Business. We just wanted two weeks abroad every year, a detached three bedroom and a credit card.

 

In the last ten years we’ve been seduced by nought percent, live now pay later and easy finance.

 

Up on the top road, the route in from the motorway, deals are on the board for 105% mortgages. Discouts and bonuses. I get a sense of panic by the developers. Wanting to offload their own credit burden.

 

Sue’s talking again. There’s something about sun bed boobs. I think it’s the incipient Melanomas. She passes across some literature. A matt coated A4 brochure with the estate name picked out in high gloss. Mine to keep. Elongated serif font. Air brushed photo of a married couple, perfect skin, beaming kids and a golden retriever. Twelve months down the line Dad’s considering hanging himself in the garage when his pay is frozen, job losses rumbling through his multi-national and the tracker mortgage rate has gone through the roof, Mum’s having it off with the bloke from next door to help her forget about her credit card repayments, the dog’s been abandoned by the side of the dual carriageway and the kids are both heading towards therapy for bed wetting and eating disorders. Plastic max’d to the hilt, the mortgage fattening up like a cuckoo in the nest. The mortgage is in negative equity. Arguments and stress-induced dysfunction.

 

Grabbing hold of a bunch of keys we head to a modest three bedroom town house. Sue’s swaying hips and curvy backside dragging me forwards. We stride up a short drive. Dun block paving. There’s a built in garage with a room above it, a window poking up through the slates. Except it isn’t slate, it’s reconstituted; it looks like the real thing but isn’t. Like the rest of England. It’s made up to look like something from a London Mews or a Hollywood idea of an English country cottage. There’s a bay window.

 

We pause on the threshold. Turn and survey. Sue points out the five different types of house this part of the development offers. The Chesterfield. The Buckingham. The Cotswold. The Marlborough. The Blenheim. Mixed up to create an illusion of individuality but at the same time giving everyone more of the same. Privacy is not an option. This is panopticon suburbia. Watching you, watching us, watching them. The angle and proximity of each property means that your every move is observable. Adam’s mowing the lawn, Diesel shorts, tight Old Glory t-shirt, Rachel’s on her way to work in her new VW Golf GTi… a cat walk.

 

‘That’s what a lot of people want,’ Sue confides. ‘Developments’ – Sue doesn’t like the word ‘estate’, conjuring up, as it does, social housing and Chaville – ‘developments such as this engender a sense of belonging. People move here, they’ve got the BMW on the drive, they holiday abroad a couple of times a year, they have a decent pension plan maturing, they eat out at a good restaurant or gastro pub a couple of times a week and they know they’ve arrived.’

 

A Sex & the City/Desperate housewives/Cold Feet/Friends world of girlfriends, Thomson Gold resorts and half-fat latte sessions in trendy bars discussing the latest collection from Jasper Conran. Coffee table books about shoes and sex toys. It’s an interesting and somehow beguiling proposition. Happiness and satisfaction a commodity. Sold in a big bricks and mortar box, double-glazed and energy efficient Grade 1. Complete with a pocket-sized garden. Another tick in the box on the check list for happiness. University. Check. Relationship. Check. Marriage. Check. Two kids. Check. Pension scheme. Check. Congratulations you have scored 85% on our life satisfaction survey. You are a success. And it’s all achievable through a steady work ethic and a decent credit rating. Repayable in not so easy to swallow bite-sized chunks over the next quarter of a century. I must be a winner: I have the flash German car, the big house, an iPod, the latest mobile ‘phone, the modern furnishings and the well-groomed partner plus, two super, smashing kids…

 

Sue opens the door to one of ‘The Cotswold’ houses and we step inside the cramped entrance hall.

 

What immediately strikes me is the size of the place. It’s on the market for £180,000. Though I’m sure Sue’s willing to negotiate on that these days. Free wall-to-wall carpeting, some gadgets thrown in. A few white goods. A help with the deposit and arranging the mortgage. Sue on a plate for the first couple of weekends.

 

I look around critically. Compared with the 1930s corporation houses on Probert Avenue in Goldthorpe or Windsor Street, Thurnscoe that I’ve visited the property is tiny. The main living room is only slightly bigger than the third bedroom at Paul’s place on South Drive in Bolton-on-Dearne.

 

Even so, it’s obvious at first glance that this is a few leagues up from Brunswick Street and Hope Avenue. A different world. Regardless of being smaller and despite the lack of garden. A different standard of living is being sold here. It’s not just the bricks and mortar. It’s a lifestyle and community that’s for sale. Buy here and you’re assured your neighbours won’t sit at the front of the house in the summer, the settee dragged out from the lounge, two litre bottles of cider and a seasonal joint of skunk to embrace the summer with. There won’t be any feral kids roaming the streets. No litter. Domestic violence on these developments will be more low key. The alcoholism kept indoors. This is the socialism of affluence. This estate is about a communal sense of prosperity.

 

‘This is designer living,’ Sue informs me, almost reading my own thoughts. ‘Upmarket spec for the professional who knows what they want from life and have the means to afford it.’

 

I nod regardless, gazing around. Capitalist Socialism. I can envisage morning tai chi on the open-plan lawn to strains of Dido. Taking turns with the family from next door to drive over to Manchester Airport in the 5 series for the trips to Goa, Cancun, Sharmel Sheikh. Kids in the same succeeding schools.

 

There’s mandatory flat screen TV above the living flame, chrome surround gas fire. ‘L’ shaped red leather sofa with sharp angles. What look like dried out bulrushes in a stretched cream pot down on the floor in a corner. A gold dish with pot pourri. Some hearth rug made from tubes of brown suede material that shrug up like a cuddly sea anemone. Phillipe Starke Perspex Eros chair in orange. A large Roy Lichtenstein print in a brushed aluminium frame on the wall. Oh, Jeff, I love you too but…

 

The lounge leads onto a fitted kitchen. Beech units with long steel handles straight out of a 1960s science lab, black marble work tops. Mosaic tiles and down-lighters. Double American style refrigerator. Breakfast bar cum island unit. Everything snug and soft closing. Slate-effect tiled flooring. Dualit kettle and toaster. Large digital clock on the wall with red display.

 

Working her long, Aloe Vera softened hands as she speaks, Sue goes into her patter, buzz words: Payment vacation. Incentives. Aspirational lifestyle.

 

She encourages me to make myself comfortable. Live the dream. Sprawl out on the red leather and imagine myself watching the Premier League in High Definition. Lacoste pajama shorts, pecs toned and tanned, nibbling on tacos and supping expensive imported lager. Mens’ Health on the coffee table, a few corporate branded golf balls on the berber. Other half with a spray tan, Tiffany ankle bracelet, tottering through on some Jimmy Choos pushing the hostess trolley. Nibbles anyone…?

 

She nods at me, smiling. ‘You’re getting the sense of it, aren’t you?’

 

I return the smile, feeling good about myself inside. My mate John Terry gives me a big thumbs up from the expensive box on the wall. And looking out of the window I can almost see the Audi S-line gleaming from the block paving. Late night champagne from the built in refridgerator and filming some hi-def gonzo in the en suite master bedroom with our lass. Barbecuing Norwegian shrimps for Toby and Jenny from next door in the summer, a chilled Grenache on the go. No more doubts. No more nagging thoughts about where I’m headed and who I am.

 

‘Where do I sign, Sue?’

Did you know…?

Watching DVD films with foreign subtitles playing alongside an English soundtrack is now the most popular way to learn a second language amongst British adults.

Of those questioned recently at Manchester Airport, 55% of English speaking holidaymakers admitted that they had learned the language skills for their sunshine breaks by repeated watchings of Hollywood films, matching what was spoken by the actors on screen with the foreign subtitles displayed below, and then reversing this by playing the films with foreign audio and English subtitles. With movie-moguls aware of this so-called trend in ‘edu-tainment’ – a hybrid of education and entertainment – several multi-million dollar blockbusters have recently been tailored to cater for the lucrative growing market, and ‘language placing’ is set to become a major feature of many films and DVD releases in the future. As well as new movies in production that offer a wide-range of phrases useful for foreign traveling, certain scenes from Lord of the Rings installment, The Return of the King, originally filmed between 1999 and 2001, have been re-shot to include such sentences as, ‘I want a beer’, ‘How much does it cost?’, and ‘I’m itching, do you think I need some cream on it, Master Frodo?’

The most popular choice for film aficionados who wish to become bilingual is the Star Wars franchise. The films are favoured for their usefulness in dealing with foreign cultures, especially in a haggling situation. An entire scene inside the ‘Star Wars Bar’ at the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine have been digitally re-shot to include a an exchange between Obi Wan Kenobi and two Aqualish lap dancers where the old Jedi negotiates a price for a private lesbian show which allows him and Luke Skywalker to finger the multi-orificed aliens as they perform.

 

Did you know…?

70s Glam Rockers Slade, famed for their addictive brand of hard rock, Dave Hill’s wonky fringe and Noddy Holder’s mammoth lamb chop sideboards, had their career kick-started with a grant from George Bernard Shaw’s Trust for phonetic spelling. The Brummy quartet, who had a string of hits in the early seventies, were formed in 1965 in Wolverhampton, and had been struggling to keep on the road until they accepted a deal with the GBS Trust worth £25 per year, with the condition that they promote the late author’s wacky ideas about spelling.

 

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), playwright, novelist and journalist, was a leading socialist and member of the left wing group the Fabian Society. The Dublin born writer had left the money in his will in order to further interest in his own devised system of writing, the Shavian alphabet, which Slade bass player Jim Lea came across whilst browsing in a Birmingham bookshop.

 

Slade’s agreement with the Trust bore first fruit with foot stomping single, ‘Coz I luv you’, released in October 1971, which reached number one a month later. The concept was not, however, without it’s critics, and dyslexic groups voiced their concern that the group was making light of the condition, and labelled the Midlanders’ use of the Shaw alphabet as ‘ridikulus.’

 

The glitter-festooned Black Country rockers used the initial grant money to buy Dave Hill a Star-bodied Fender guitar and gravely voiced lead singer Noddy Holder’s first mirrored topper.

 

The Shavian dictionary is now available as a patch for Microsoft Office 2007.

A bell will ring

Tell us another and I’ll stay awake. Pass us a drink it’s a quarter to eight. What’s on the wall and here comes the sun. And if you really want to talk about it you can take me there ’cause I’m all ears and whiskey tonight.

A couple of months ago I walked into a tiny newsagents on Racecommon Road, just off Town End in Barnsley. The shop is small and inconsequential. Blink and you’d miss it. Thousands must pass by without noticing it everyday on their way in and out of the town centre. The shop has a blind window with a BFC, Hallam FM we’re in the Premier League sticker in the corner. A misshapen door. Inside the tiny shop was packed with ephemeral goodies. The short term tat and gunk that we stuff ourselves with on a daily basis to make existence slightly more bearable and then promptly forget all about. To relieve the boredom, to feed our interests, to distract us from the grind and futility. There were copies of Mojo with free CDs stuck on by chemically generated snot. Tabloid newspapers with bland stories about plastic, disposable celebrities splashed on the front pages. Glossy lads mags on football. On golf. On gadgets. On coarse fishing. Even glossier magazines for the girls. Company, Cosmopolitan, Chat. The latest make-up tips. How to reduce cellulite with a Marmite rub. How a teenage Mum married her Dad by mistake. There were pouches of Drum tobacco. Rows of cellophane wrapped cigarettes with their warnings of an invisible suicide. Bullet shaped tins of cigars. There was Haribo. There were Polos. Tubes of Extra Strong Mints. There were Aniseed Mint Imperials. There were plastic jars containing pear drops, Jelly babies and humbugs. There was Toblerone. And then I saw them. Tucked behind the Flakes and the between the Milky Bars and the Kinder Surprise. Blue, purplish wrapping, lurid red lettering with gold highlights. Wispas. Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones in a head to head on the adverts. Velvety chocolate.

I paused. I stared between the counter and the woman behind it in disbelief. She nodded at me, smiling. Knowing. They’re back. I handed across a couple of pound coins. I bought a few bars. I staggered back outside. I tore open the wrapper. I looked at the shiny chocolate. I ate. I chomped. I sated my tongue. I held the sensation as the cocoa and sugar melted. The tiny bubbles popped. I stood on Racecommon Road with the half-eaten Wispa in my hand. Breathing in the carbon dioxide and conscious of a heroin addict shuffling along behind me. I wondered. I was transfixed. I was thunderstruck. I was transported.

Suddenly it was 1984 all over again. The sky washed out. A grim, hot summer. My BMX. The nylon feel of my Barnsley Football Club match shirt. Swapping Panini Stickers. Tight shiny shorts. Red Pod shoes. In the gleaming chrome of my Ammaco Silver Star I saw my whole lost world reflected. It’s the past resurrected. I hear it in the voice from Speak & Spell. In ‘Liza Radley’ by the Jam. I see it in the Goodyear airship. The smell of a cold winter’s afternoon. The dated font on the sign of the local dry cleaners. A shift in time takes place. This is the power of association. These are folds and wrinkles of the mind. Where memories and sensations lurk. It is the lounge carpet whose pattern is protected underneath the sofa. We forget the vibrancy of the colours. The depth of the pile. Until one day we shift the position of the armchair and see the startling shock of what it once was. Of what we once were.

Coleridge states: ’The general law of association, or, more accurately, the common condition under which all exciting causes act, and in which they may be generalized, according to Aristotle is this. Ideas by having been together acquire a power of recalling each other; or every partial representation awakes the total representation of which it had been a part. In the practical determination of this common principle to particular recollections, he admits five agents or occasioning causes: first, connection in time, whether simultaneous, preceding, or successive; second, vicinity or connection in space; third, interdependence or necessary connection, as cause and effect; fourth, likeness; and fifth, contrast.’

We are recording machines. Throughout our lives, every tremor, every taste, every sound, each and every colour we see, every place we visit, every conversation that we ever have, the shape of a Ford Escort XR3i, the sensation of Space Dust on our tongues, the appalling taste of our first pint, everything is fixed and held inside each and every cell of our being. We hold the ineffable pain of grief and bereavement etched into our atoms. The moments of terror acid bitten into our souls. We store the memory of every moment of our lives. The delirium of happiness. The desolation of heartbreak and the disappointment that can be engendered by another human being. The colour of the sky when we reflected of the certainty of another’s deceit. The angle of the sun on an Autumn’s day when I walked home from school in 1981. The dual carriageway leading into Bolton. The painted lanes for the Isle of Wight ferry in Portsmouth. The cedar tree in the grounds of Reading University. The sound of Holly Johnson’s voice singing ‘The Power of Love’ at the Darton High School Christmas disco in 1984. The bite of the wind on the mock battlements at Raven Hall Hotel on the North Yorkshire coast. The colour of the sky on the cold afternoon of my 21st birthday. Not only our brains but our entire bodies are an archive. Every glimpse is held. Every sensation. No moment is lost. Sometimes the shelves get dusty. We mislay things. The images are obscured. But the past is still alive. The moments are still there. Nothing truly leaves us.

I touch the kind of flammable bri-nylon that Trading Standards made illegal in 1986 and my skin remembers the moment when I stood too near the open fire at my Grandma and Grandad’s. My fingertips recall my first jumper from High School. I hear the start up sound from an Astro Wars and I leap through the time tunnel to Mapplewell Junior & Infant School. I’m punched in the face and my bones re-live my first fight. The time I was involved in a riot in Wakefield nightclub. Adamski’s ‘Killer’ kicking out all around me. A toothache takes me back to being on Hadrian’s Wall. And I taste a Cadbury’s Wispa and I tumble back through my life and land on my feet in a pair of Puma G Vilas.

But first you can stop sticking a stake through your heart. Gets to one then you’ve started your old reason why you’re falling apart. Your time machine needs a new heart.

Marcel Proust most famously of all made this link between evocative memory and the senses: ‘One day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ’petites Madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it?’

The ‘magic’, as Proust called it, which conjures up the sensations is finite. We mustn’t abuse the incantation. The hit diminishes with each application. I chance a second Wispa. The effect is there but lessened. I look at the third I bought and tuck into my pocket. A spell to be indulge in later. To be chanted in a private moment. The truth, lies not in the cup but in myself.

Jorge Luis Borges: ‘There is no whole self. He defines personal identity as the private possession of some depository of memories is mistaken. Whoever affirms such a thing is disabusing the symbol that solidifies memory in the form of an enduring and tangible granary or warehouse, when memory is no more than the noun by which we imply that among the innumerable possible states of consciousness, many occur again in an imprecise way. Moreover, if I root personality in remembrance, what claim of ownership can be made on the elapsed instants that, because they were quotidian or stale, did not stamp us with a lasting mark? Heaped up over the years, they lie buried, inaccessible to our avid longing. And that much-vaunted memory to whose ruling you made appeal, does it ever manifest all its past plentitude? Does it truly live? The sensualists and their ilk, who conceive of your personality as the sum of your successive states of mind are similarly deceiving themselves. On closer scrutiny, their formula is nothing more than an ignominious circumlocution that undermines the very foundation it constructs, an acid that eats away at itself, a prattling fraud and a belaboured contradiction.’

We are Pavlov’s dog, salivating at the sound of our own past. Conditioned by time to mourn our own lives. Crying at the sight of a 1970s Dulux colour chart and the little rectangle of Showaddywaddy Blue that used to be on the bathroom wall at Mum’s house. Being heartbroken as a song plays unexpectedly as we browse the shelves in Tesco, desperately looking for Kellog’s Honey Cornflakes. Laughing hysterically at the sight of Oxford street map. Back on Broad Street, browsing for Penguin green and white detective novels in a secondhand bookshop. Stood in Barnsley in late 2008 smiling over the taste of a Cadbury’s Wispa.

Just let’s go back to the bit where it hurt. I was fetching a drink and I should have been there. And where are we now and what’s it to be? Oh, I’m falling.

Love all your senses back against the fence. Love all your senses before they’re too many. Your eyes breed contentment, arms are closed in. Now it’s my turn to state and you’re back in late ’88.

Red & Black

The majority of Art expresses – in varying degrees – the principles of Socialism. It speaks to the Everyman in us all. It appeals to the fair dealing, principled moralistic individual who contemplates a canvas, reads a book, or listens to a piece of music. It makes an assumption that we have a basic urge of goodness.

 

Amoral works, such as those of Marquis de Sade, are rare aberrations. Exceptions which go to prove the rule. It needs a concerted, conscious effort to produce art that is totally without principle. That turns its back entirely on humanity. And even in its very amorality such Art, by juxtaposition, expresses an alternative morality or prompts our own feelings of outrage and revulsion.

 

Art speaks of community. Art speaks of humanity. Art is Social. But all artists are, without exception, Fascists.