Ethel Jolie

You have a famous Hollywood actor. Their bloated lips are too big. Their goggle eyes set too wide apart. Their whopping hooter of a nose has a strange shape to it. Their jaw is like a lantern. But somehow it works. The camera loves them and they are a star. World famous and drooled over by millions. Then they have a sibling that has the same family traits. The same lips, the same eyes, the same nose, the same jaw. And they don’t look right. They never climb out of B movies. They make pilots that never progress to the network screen. They look somehow odd. Not quite fitting. And so we have the BMW Series 1 and the Hyundai I30. I was sat behind an I30 in traffic on Rotherham Road yesterday. For some reason I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that I was looking at Megan Fox’s cousin’s arse.

Angelina and Frangelina Jolie

 

Tomorrow never knows

I don’t understand reality. It seems so fractured to me. And overwhelmingly subjective. My own thoughts and impressions undergo so much constant change and review that little, if anything, seems certain. Feelings, which form the basis of thought and opinion, are fleeting and operate under huge pressures forcing them to evolve and alter. They are subjected to a multitude of stresses that cause them to harden or be crushed. They warm and they cool. They pander to self-interest in all it’s many shifting guises. Feelings which are dependant on the chemical balances and shivering imbalances of my body. Dependant on the reactions and interactions with other people. People with their own individual takes on reality that they bring with them. We all experience reality in different ways. With different interpretations. Some have their impressions altered further. Alcoholics who have poisoned their brains, people re-wired by drugs, people with a billion different types of emotional trauma and awareness, people whose thoughts are a raging mental blizzard. Schizophrenia, bi-polar, depression. Minute shifts and changes in the body’s metabolism and our experiences can alter the world around us unbelievably. There are times when I experience a sort of emotional intoxication. I find myself floating without control on a river of my own sensations. High or low. I come to and find it impossible to be sure of anything. Suddenly marooned. Did yesterday really happen? Did I really say that? Why did I say that? How could I say that? The echo of my own thought returns to me with an unfamiliar voice. Time itself is like a series of falling dominoes; each one knocking down the next. Spent. Gone. Apparently. Reality, and by extension sanity, seems little more than an agreement conform and an ability to control ourselves. A consensus. And reality only exists through the power to remember what we did five minutes ago.

 

And then there’s dementia. Where we walk off the map altogether and stumble into an endless, broad white space. There are more than a hundred diagnosable types of brain disorder that result in a loss of mental function. Each is usually progressive and eventually leads to severe, debilitating symptoms. Gradually worsening memory loss, uncharacteristic mood swings, the reduced ability to communicate. A truly alternative reality lurks within us all. Nearly half a million people in the UK are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. A further quarter of a million with other degenerative brain disorders. Dementia sees reality reduced to a broken lens. Where you find yourself looking at the world through a prism. Dementia means the individual loses that consensus of reality with the rest of the world. Instead reality becomes wholly personal and totally subjective. Locked inside a dark labyrinth, your own confusing ideas and obsessive thoughts become the only basis for reality. Mental myopia. The field of vision shrinking and becoming increasingly opaque. Alzheimer’s is a broken time machine: where you find yourself locked inside 1984; certain – with a hardcore, unshakeable belief that will terrify all those around you – that you’ve got a can of Quatro in your school bag and that you’ve got to finish off your History homework or else you’ll be in big trouble. Alzheimer’s is a liar that whispers in your ear and tells you that the people you’ve loved all your life are strangers to you.

 

In the next fifteen years it is anticipated that the combined figure of people suffering with different types of dementia will top a million. A million people trapped inside a nightmare. By the middle of the century it’s predicted that number may double again. Dementia blights lives and destroys families. We find ourselves bereaved of those who are still alive. We become prisoners in our own minds. Yet dementia is almost seen as a natural progression. You get old, you become forgetful. You get old, your mind gives way. You get old, you retreat into the shell of your own body. Dementia isn’t generally afforded the same understanding and sympathy as cancer and other more overtly life-threatening illnesses. Instead dementia is quietly accepted as part of the aging process along with arthritis, an addiction to Werther’s Originals and bad eyesight. People aren’t seen to die because they’re forgetful or because they don’t recognize their own family any more. So what’s the problem? Those suffering from dementia are mothballed with prescription drugs and soup. They are already lost to us, the individual we knew has gone and is replaced by a stranger, we can do nothing to save them. Have some Amitriptyline and a bowl of Cockerleekie. Now wander off back to 1976 when everyone you loved was still alive.  Is that right? Are we seeing things clearly? Are we doing enough?

 

Reality is subjective. Just like pain. We all see through a glass darkly. We look at each other across an ocean.

 

Adapted from Notebook, Edinburgh/Dundee Friday 17th July 2009

Handicapped

I went to the Woodlands driving range at Staincross on Sunday. It’s not that often I get up there; I generally go to the Sandhill range as it’s only a short drive (boom boom) from my house. But, with the foresight and catering to my own self-interests that I’m famed for, I thought I’d head over the other side of town and skank a Sunday dinner at my Mum’s at the same time as drilling a few balls.

 

I quite like the Woodlands, primarily because the view’s not bad, falling away as it does towards the flatlands that spread out to the power stations of West Yorkshire. Miles of countryside and then Ferrybridge and Drax rising out of the landscape like relics to the lost industrial 20th Century. That said, I always think that the bays are laid a bit wobbly and seem to slope away from you. But that’s the beauty of my game. My shank can adapt itself to accommodate any situation.

 

As I struggled through the door out to the range itself with my big basket of balls and my clubs, a father and son occupied a pair of neighbouring bays by the entrance. Nice, I thought. There’s Dad showing his offspring the ropes. Passing on to the next generation the intricacies of lining up and choosing a Vardon grip over an inter-locking. The arcane knowledge of weight transference and the need to be aware of the striking area of the club face. This would be a lesson that would bind them together for life and set the youngster firmly on the road to chronic sciatica and a general depression about a persistent fade that cropped up when it was least wanted. This is what it’s all about, I thought, smiling. Nice picture.

 

I stepped down the back of the bays and the first words I heard the woolly-haired, rather hirsute, Dad utter were: ‘Do you know, if I was at school with you I’d beat you up.’

 

I must admit this made me pause. Interesting, I thought. That’s different. Nothing about swing arc or trying to develop a draw. No. None of that. ‘Do you know, if I was at school with you I’d beat you up.’

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, he didn’t say this nastily. There was no gritted teeth or saliva flecking on his narrowed lips. No clenched fists or narrowing, contorted brow. He didn’t raise his voice. He wasn’t overtly angry Dad, there was no threat of violence. But rather, he said it with a bland element of speculation. As if he was sizing up his own son and thinking to himself, ‘Yep, at nine, I could have taken you. No problem. Pussy.’ Had I not overheard him, I wouldn’t have noticed them. No one would. The dynamics of their relationship would have been hidden away.

 

I trotted on a few more bays, ditched my mobile ‘phone etc on the rubber mat, and got to work warming up with an 8 iron. The weather was good. Notton Park fat and green in the elbow of the valley. And as I started banging balls down the track, I considered that in this one sentence the entire back catalogue of this thirty-something Dad was revealed.

 

I looked back down the bays. Obviously he was a bit of a cunt. But I’d made that snap decision about him even before he spoke. His words simply confirmed the first impression he was radiating anyway. He was pappy. Soft at the edges. He had man boobs and fat arms. He wore a resort-branded t-shirt. Fatal. Wind back the years and you could see him building his own BBC Home Micro in 1987. And then programming some software using Cobal just to be even more of a cunt; creating a script that told him when to start revising for his GCSEs. For fun. He taped Star Trek: Next Generation. He found Lenny Henry hilarious. Later he preferred Blur to Oasis. Grade A cock, in other words.

 

Judging by his swing and the appalling flight trajectory of his ball, he was a sporting under-achiever. He looked like he was trying to use his driver to scythe some long grass. And there was something in his clean, slightly awkward movements that branded him a posh kid. You could tell that – nine year olds apart – he couldn’t fight. That he couldn’t come up with anything funny. Unless it was some hilarious gag related to Pi and the square root of a triangle. That he always did his homework on time. That he never had the fashionable gear. He lived in his school uniform. That he was bullied for being a cunt and has resented it ever since. Being a cunt and being recognized for being a cunt had pushed him into a job that would allow him to take his spite out on society and be even more of a cunt. Tax collector, something at the council that involved taking money off people for doing bugger all. So that they resented paying. So that he felt good about himself. And now he had a son and he was going to re-write his own life.

 

‘Do you know, if I was at school with you I’d beat you up.’

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra, just for you. And here was pappy Dad passing on a snap hook together with an over-compensating inferiority complex. The need of some parents to live vicariously through their kids is well-known.  Soccer Dads. X-Factor Mums. The kids are a second chance for them. To be the golfer that they never were or could be. To become the pop star they always dreamed of becoming by proxy. And so pappy Dad was drilling his son relentlessly to play off scratch and not enjoy a single moment of it. He was gifting his son with his own fears and short-comings. He was bending his son’s personality to the shape of his own needs. He was insidiously warping him. Perhaps pappy Dad and bendy son will refer back to this hidden moment in their relationship at some point in the future. Maybe son will remember this Sunday back in the summer of 2009 in a decade or so. ‘Do you know, if I was at school with you I’d beat you up.’ And at this point I hope son turns ‘round to pappy Dad and leathers the absolute fucking shite out of him. And if he does he will have fulfilled the destiny that was handed to him. And, smiling through a mouth filled with blood and broken teeth, one hand clutched to a rack of split ribs, pappy Dad should be proud.

Bonjour, Monsieur Le Monty!

Monty’s Gang, a book aimed at children under five has become a surprise bestseller in France. Wishing to save money, first time children’s author Linda Darrington translated her own novel into French using Alta Vista’s Babel-fish web site, a free service that provides online translation of simple sentences. Darrington’s book tells the story of a boxer dog called Monty who has a girlfriend called Ruby, and two cat friends, Kitty and Bobby. This innocent tale of one dog’s adventures with his furry pals has become an immediate existential classic in France due to the peculiar automatic translation process.  Innocuous sentences like: ‘Monty ran to fetch the ball’, which when run through the lingo program was translated as, ‘Monty a fonctionné pour chercher la boule’, seemed to accrue a deeper if less certain significance for the French readership than Darrington had originally intended. A translation back into English of that French phrase being, ‘Monty functioned to seek the ball’.

Monty's gang cover

The slim novel has become a coffee-table favourite amongst the Gallic cognesetti and has been placed on the philosophy syllabus of the Sorbonne university in Paris. Ms. Darrington said that she was surprised by the success of her novel in France and was busily working on the follow-up, tentively entitled Monty and the absent-minded empiriscist.

14/10/2003

Nessun dorma

The Republic of Ireland is to hold another referendum vote on whether to ratify the European Union Constitution, oops sorry, I meant European Union Treaty. How could I get those two mixed up? Obviously, the referendum held in June 2008 by the Irish – when they rejected the Treaty – wasn’t decisive enough and clearly showed the Emerald Isle to be wavering somewhat, and so, to give them another chance to get it right, it’s time to vote again. Which is only fair, don’t you think? Sometimes people don’t know what’s best for them. It’s a simple fact of politics. United Kingdom voters aren’t to be pestered with a referendum vote on whether to accept the Treaty or not as our Gordon doesn’t want to bother us with it. And believe me, I can see where he’s coming from – this voting lark and making your own mind up, it’s just a hassle. Pure and simple. Nothing but a bloody annoyance. You’re worried about your rising utility bills, saddened by yet another British casualty in Afghanistan, wondering where your next 0% balance transfer is coming from, not sure if England’s pace attack is going to be enough to overcome the Aussies in the Ashes, and you don’t need the sort of pesky aggravation caused by having to decide on your own political, cultural, economic and financial future, do you? It’ll just tire you out. Instead consider Gordon’s approach to the referendum and the whole EU Treaty business to be a sort of democratic direct debit, he takes all the work out of it for you. You don’t even have to know anything about it. Why would you? Just leave it to Gordon and his team. Safe hands, as you know. It just happens. Sorted. Now, if we’d still been talking about the EU Constitution then, obviously, it goes without saying, as Labour pledged in their 2005 election manifesto, the public would get a vote. That’s self evident. There’s nothing more binding than an election manifesto promise. Everybody knows that. So, yes, had it been the EU Constitution at issue, and we were signing up to say that we wanted to surrender sovereignty to a central Europe government with unelected quangos, and relinquish our economic and political destiny to a bunch of self-interested foreign powers, making it simpler for them squirt some oil on the wheels in order to give Multi-Nationals free rein to establish Europe as a New Age Sweat Shop, then Gordon would have badgered us with a referendum. He wouldn’t have let us rest. I can guarantee you that, day and night, night and day, he’d have pushed that referendum vote down our throats. We’d never have heard the end of it. How important it was. How vital it was that we considered what was at stake. How much we needed to weigh up the issues at stake and make our vote count. I have no doubts about it. But the EU Constitution got ditched when the Dutch and the French voted against it in 2005. The European Union Treaty is a completely different animal. Completely different. Not the same thing at all. In no way. So nothing to worry about. No need for a vote in the UK, you see?

 

It’s not been said whether they’ll be a further referendum in Ireland should the treaty be accepted in this next vote. But why would you need one? At that stage the vote would have shown to have evolved from the voters’ initial ignorance of European and world affairs to a proper understanding of the issues at hand and everybody would be happy. Voila! End ex. Perhaps they’ll want to give the voter a third chance if it gets rejected again. Just to be sure. Not everybody is going to grasp the complex issues at hand on the first or maybe even the second occasion. Voters make mistakes. And don’t we know it! It doesn’t mean you give up on them, does it? No. Keep hammering away, they’ll get it in the end.

 

Under the auspices of this innovative take on final results I think the FA should get on the ‘phone to FIFA’s Sepp Blatter. I would like to see England and Germany replay the penalty kick qualifier from the semi final of Italia ’90 over and over and over and over until England win. At which point I will be happy to accept the result and England can progress to the World Cup final, where, again, we’ll play as much time as necessary for Gary Linekar to score the winning goal. Three weeks should do it. A bit more if we’re lagging behind. Then blow the whistle the moment the old Walker’s crisp munching goal-raker bangs one into the net and puts us in front. They think it’s all over, it is now. It seems fair. Let’s have more of this way to settle things. Has anyone mentioned the procedure to Kevin Pieterson and the English Cricket Board? I think we might need it. Get ready for a long Ashes summer. We’ll still be playing come Christmas.

Did you know…?

Portly comedian Terry Scott was the son of Polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott. This fact explains the ‘tears behind the laughter’ expression visible on the chubby comedy actor’s face in the 1969 feature film Carry on Camping when Barbara Windsor leaves the tent in order to put the top back on her bikini. The same melancholic expression was often evident in snowy Christmas episodes of classic 70s sitcom ‘Terry and June’.

Has everyone gone to the moon?

Thank God for Jack Straw. Where would we be without him, eh? I will sleep safer tonight knowing that he’s used his superhuman power as Minister for Justice (does the role come with a Stan Lee designed costume? Something in figure-hugging bright red spandex with a blue satin cape) and denied Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs parole. Thank fuck for that! We don’t want that mad twat roaming the streets, do we? Phew! And I don’t feel that I’m alone in resting easier due to Jack’s vigilance and care. I think the people of Britain will heave a sigh of relief knowing that dangerous bastard is still behind bars and not menacing us all with his geriatric viciousness. Jack summed up the heaving tide of outraged public opinion that still seethes against the train robber: ‘Biggs chose not to obey the law and respect the punishments given to him – the legal system in this country deserves more respect than this.’ Too right. Let’s have more of this.

 

Biggs, for anyone who has no idea of history or popular culture beyond the size of Jordan’s tits and how many number ones Take That have had, was part of a gang who robbed a Royal Mail train in the summer of 1963, while the Beatles were at number one with ‘She loves you’ and The Great Escape was playing in cinemas, getting away with £2.6 million (about £38 million in today’s money when adjusted for inflation, probably more). Biggsy’s crucial role in the operation was to throw the mail bags into the back of a van after proving to be too thick to operate the train once they had it stopped. This is the Night Mail, get ready to board her, fat with the cheque and the postal order, cash for the rich, cash for the poor, chuck out the bags and stand by the door. Heading for Ledburn, slap bang on time. Mess with the lights and she’ll stop for the crime. Away with the readies and head for the safe gaff, play some Monopoly with real notes for a laugh. Keep our heads low until the fuss passes – but we’ll all do some time ‘cos of our dabs and the grasses. He was arrested in 1963 and sentenced in 1964. Biggs escaped from Wandsworth prison in 1965, went on the run through several countries and through several recordings with the Sex Pistols, before handing himself in back in 2001. Biggs is now 79 years old and has suffered a series of strokes whilst in prison. He’s served 10 years of his original 30 year sentence. Add on inflation and we’re talking about 140 years bird the geezer’s done.

 

Biggs has applied for parole on several occasions. All denied. This time the parole board had approved Biggs’ application for early release. Namby pamby liberal wets. Not like New New New Labour and their recently found vein of white working class values in the wake of last months council and Euro election debacle. When they lost ground to the BNP and Tories. Oh no, they’ve got their finger on the pulse now, after a mere twelve years in government. Local homes for local people. Kick dole spongers back into employment or cut their handouts. Keep octogenarian train robbers behind bars. No u-turn from rampant liberalism, just listening to the grassroots. Right on. And, let’s not forget, even the leftie-thinking parole board stated of blagger Biggs: ‘there was little evidence, apart from his increased age, to suggest he would not return to his old criminal lifestyle.’ And so Jack stepped in. Too right. I bet Biggs can’t wait to have a meet with some East End hard nuts and plan another big job. I can see it now, Biggs pulling armed capers with shootas, pausing mid-blag to rub Deep Heat into his arthritic knees and pop some glycerine under his tongue to ease his angina. Biggs pulling off daring jewellery heists like a modern day Thomas Crowne. Face contorted behind a ripped pair of 15 demier tights, sawn offs blazing. Screaming at the top of his voice through a blizzard of white fivers: ‘No bastard copper’s going to take me alive!’ And then being assisted into the getaway car by his home help. Come on, Ronnie, let’s get you back to the home for a nice cup of tea and some Madeira Cake. You can count your swag this afternoon when you’ve had a nap.

 

But no, we’re safe. Our Jack has overruled the parole board having seen through the villain’s decrepit façade. Dangerous, devious bastard that he is. That Jaguar Mark 2 will have to stop under wraps in a lock up down in Streatham a bit longer. Tuned and ready to knock off that Securicor van. Since 1966. A couple of pounds of jelly and a cosh in the glove box. Because Justice Jack has said: ‘Mr Biggs is wholly unrepentant and the Parole Board found his propensity to breach trust a very significant factor. He has not undertaken risk-related work and does not regret his offending.’ The slag!

 

I fully agree with prisoners serving out the full term of their sentences. Everyone should do what they’re given by the court. No arguments. And if we’re not going to have a death penalty (for now) then life should mean life. No parole, no get out of jail card, no requisite period. And so, under these terms, Jack Straw is probably right to deny the octogenarian parole. But it doesn’t really work like that. No one serves their full sentence. Someone given five years will do less than three. And good behaviour doesn’t alter the decision to release early any more than general ambivalence does. They simply get let out. And so I have to ask myself the question, does Biggs really pose a more serious threat to society than the killers of James Bulger? Who would I rather have living next door to me, Ronnie Biggs or child-killer Robert Thompson? Who would you? But Thompson has been a free man since 2001 and is still only twenty-five years old, after serving eight years for torturing and murdering a two year old boy. So where is the parity there? Money or human life, which does the criminal justice system prize the highest? When courts are handing out twelve month sentences for manslaughter.

 

Biggs is an easy target. For Labour to get tough on crime. To be seen to be tough on crime. High profile, few rights, a shed load of potential sentence left to play with. But does the denial of Biggs’ parole really serve a purpose other than to let big Jack stretch his heroic muscles? And what of Bigg’s apparent unrepentance, as stated by Justice Jack and the parole board? Hmmm. I seem to recall Jonathan King showing little repentance when he was released early on parole after being found guilty of four indecent assaults on fourteen and fifteen year old boys, and two offences of buggery and attempted buggery on two boys aged fourteen. Nasty crimes.  Life destroying crimes. King gave a press conference outside Maidstone Prison on the day he was released, three years into his seven year sentence. Did King show regret at his offending during this press conference? Oh no, just a sec, he was saying he hadn’t done it, that’s right. ‘I’m totally, absolutely 100% innocent.’ So how’s that work then? What message is that to send to the victims? To other like minded dirty bastards? To send to the parole board? To send to the Justice Minister? Out after serving half his time without any remorse. So why him and not Biggs? And correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t remember Ronnie Biggs slipping his finger up anyone’s arse when he robbed the mail train.

 

It might be noted that Bruce Reynolds, the ‘brains’ behind the Great Train Robbery, was sentenced only to ten years, after having been on the run following the crime and enjoying considerably more of the proceeds than Biggs ever did. Reynolds has been a free man since 1979.