Saturday, July 08, 2017

Quiet

I've not really written anything for weeks.

It's not even through a lack of inspiration; I'm bristling with ideas.

Actually... I've written a lot in recent weeks. I just haven't written anything like a blog or a story. I've been channelling my blogs, my creativity, plus my anxiety and my unhinged madness via social media - the medium I love and loathe in equal measure. I've written more on Facebook in the last three months than the previous nine years.

It's because while I steadfastly refuse to get remotely excited about the last great adventure (until we're in Scotland), I can feel the mixture of elation, fear and trepidation rising inside me and it's completely out of my control. I am a big bag of sentimentality.

I expect things will change once we've gone. I will have much to tell people about escaping the rat race while not being wealthy... at least that's the plan.

Life, at the moment, is a wee bit like a delirious fever dream without the fever and a lot more anger.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Art of Staying Sane

Let me quantify something. What I'm about to write might be considered the moment when many people who read this might consider I've finally sailed over the edge of sanity and into loony land. The fact that I am rational enough to make this distinction, sadly, means I'm probably still sane...

Is it me or does the world now seem like some scripted soap opera where you literally only have to wait a week before there's some new plot twist that makes you go 'WTF?' not only because now days it's easier to type than 'What The Fuck?' but also because we pretty much ignore normal now unless it has a high body count or sounds like an episode of The Simpsons leaking into reality... Honestly, I'm growing increasingly convinced this is just a big fuck off simulation billions of the years in the future which aliens plug into and relive the hell that mankind was. My mate Roger would say it is now malfunctioning, but I'm wondering if it's deliberate: a warning to future sentient beings that if you go the path of humans it ends up in madness... Orange and blue madness with random death wishes and intolerance thrown in.

I really do wonder if the drugs worked too well when I took them because now I know that 7 of the 8 main symptoms of Alzheimer's are the same as being stoned, I'm surprised the government simply don't accuse dementia sufferers of being potheads and have done with them...

In April 1989, a thoroughly nasty piece of work (I do have a habit of attracting them like flies to shit) who I worked briefly for told me to fuck off and do my own thing because I clearly wasn't suited to his kind of work. My shop didn't open until the October, because what should have taken 6 weeks to get into place ended up taking nearly 6 months and in 1989 I smoked so much pot the simple fact I managed to start a business (and kept it running for so long) suggests I might have been mega-successful had I been straight. The thing was between May (the month), when we got the loan to start Squonk and by the time I opened it, we frittered away half of the money just in living expenses and interest rates. I'm not suggesting that was anyone's fault but mine and with hindsight I should have got a part time job to ensure we didn't spend my business start up cash.

I'm feeling the same way about the move to Wigtown. It is now fuck knows how long since we 'sold' our house, got fucked over and then sold it again and yesterday, May 24, we were supposed to have moved and in reality we're no closer to that move than we were the day we drove back from Scotland having decided what house we were going to buy. Maybe between them and now I should have done something with my time, because while my overall mental health has been fine, boredom mixed with extreme frustration has thrown my usual rational self into a slightly 'couldn't give a fuck' mode. It doesn't help we have another election looming; the UK has just suffered its latest 'terrorist' atrocity and Chelsea and Arsenal are playing in the FA Cup final, so whoever wins it's lose-lose for a Spurs fan...

I have been (half) joking recently about thinking that this is hell and we can't leave. Couple that radiant optimism with Alan Moore's theory that we exist in a perpetual groundhog day that we are unaware of so therefore it plays out the same for eternity. So, in other words, when you think 'what if I'd done that differently?' that is what you think every time. Surely they're both the same concept? Variations of the hell theme...

The boredom is the worst thing. Since I packed up smoking I seem to be unable to fill the voids with anything constructive; although to be fair I weigh the same now as I did in July 2012, so I don't fill the voids with the eating of junk (although I do have binges occasionally, just last week I bought and ate - shared with the dogs - an entire white cabbage; raw and crunchy and probably burned more calories eating it than were in it).

It's the limbo I can't stand. I barely write anything. I flounce about listlessly, take the dogs for long walks. It's like depression without feeling that bad. I have essentially become a bored housewife...

I find it frustrating that my inner bastard won't do any gardening because it won't be my garden for much longer and because we blitzed the house pre-sale, there's nowt to do on the DIY homefront. I look at my heavily-laden gooseberry, red and blackcurrant bushes, my rejuvenated plum trees, my raspberries and the sea of white flowers in my strawberry beds and wonder if I'll actually get any benefit from them and then it reminds me of the two children who used to live next door. They moved into a house with a wonderfully stocked veg and fruit patch, lovingly maintained by Fishwife and his noisy children. They just dug it all up and dumped it in a skip - it would have made Percy Thrower cry. He worked for Sainsbury's at the time; he said anything he wanted he could buy at a discount. Within two months their garden looked like a patch of the Somme.

These people will inherit the country.

So, if anyone knows the art of staying sane I'd be dead keen on knowing the secret...

As some people are aware, I've grown a beard. I did it for a joke, of sorts. When the first house sale fell through, when the new ones came along I was so... dispirited I said, "I'm not shaving until we move." It was a kind of self-reverse psychology, figuring if I did something stupid it would speed things along. Hah. Where's your rational thought now, Hall? Huh?

I look a bit like a crap Captain Birdseye impersonator but for the first time in 55 years, you can actually see a beard, because it's white and wiry, not blonde and wispy. It is horrendous. I hate it and it's hot in hot weather. I was going to get rid of it last week, after almost ripping my face off because of the constant itching and then the worst thing ever happened... The wife said, "I really like it. It suits you. It balances your face."

What on earth does that even mean? 'Balances your face' ... Was it lopsided? Did it just wander off on it's own like a dazed and confused old man? Did I look, I dunno, a bit like a late Picasso?

I tell you what it actually means. It means, 'I like it, don't shave it off.' I hate her sometimes...

So I think I'm going mad in some kind of bizarre computer simulation and to add to the hell I have a beard during the hottest days of the year so far. I'm not mad, I'm simply stupid.

Bim.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

First Impressions

I wrote in some notes for another, unrelated, blog entry, Marmite Man. It wasn't a new brown sludge-like superhero, it was a self-effacing comment about the effect I have on people. It's always pretty much been the case that people either like me or really dislike me. It is something I have grown to live with over the years and is only ever a problem when I meet someone I like and they think I'm a wanker.

Probably the most 'famous' incident of this was in the late 1980s. One of the groups of friends the wife and I hung around with were very divided about me. It got to the stage around 1987 when several people would literally turn on their heels and go somewhere else if they saw my car parked outside the usual house we gathered in. One of my best friends at the time was a guy called Derrick, he had a really good friend called Roger and the latter hated me with a passion. He thought I was a gobshite (my words, not his) and he really couldn't stand to be in the same room as me. It looked grim and Roger admits being one of those people who would rather go home and do bugger all than share his evening with that loud and opinionated fool (me).

The fact that I generated so much (almost) hostility with a certain faction of Derrick's friends didn't appear to cause any lasting problems; we were, at the time, all pot-smoking pseudo-hippies, but it was obvious that my presence, at times, was probably about as desired as pants full of poo.

As this was the '80s and most of us were still in our 20s, there was a lot of parties and at one such party, one group of my friends kind of collided with another... It wasn't at all confrontational, they just didn't really talk with each other, so at this party there were groups of people in the lounge, in the kitchen and in the garden. Roger was with his side of 'our' friends, I was sitting in the lounge and our paths hadn't crossed. His little party gravitated to the lounge, split up and Roger was left looking like some people do at parties, I had a spliff on the go and thinking it should at least make an effort I offered it to him.

At roughly the same time as this was happening, one of my other friends, Vince, had quite quickly realised he was extremely pissed and started roaming round the party looking, for some strange reason, for me. I wasn't a big drinker even then, preferring to do irreparable damage to my lungs instead, therefore I tended to be the designated driver, although this particular night that wasn't on the cards. Vince, however, knowing he was headed down that alcohol hole of whirling ceilings and huge quantities of projectile vomiting, wanted to me to drop everything and take him home. This wasn't happening for a number of reasons, so as I was handing the spliff to Roger, I said, "We'd better get out of here, this is going to get ugly, messy and sick." And it did, in a most unpleasant way...

Being as adverse to drunks puking everywhere Roger joined me in the garden and that was where we stayed for best part of the rest of the evening. It appeared that Roger's first impression of me was slightly tinged with the 'Phil Stereotype' rather than me as a rational adult human being. We bonded over a hate of Thatcher, similar politics, football and a surprisingly similar musical taste and to cut a long story short, the following Friday while we were round Derrick's, Roger didn't turn on his heels and go home, he turned up and we spent most of the evening engrossed in friendly conversation. A friendship was born.

In 1991, Roger came on holiday with us - a bunch of people went to the Lake District and he came along and it was there, I think, we started to become very good friends. Over the following 15 years, we went on holiday with Roger and his new partner Barbara six times. One of those holidays is quite important in the grand scheme of things, because like Roger's first impression of me, our first impression of the south-west of Scotland was 'we'll never go there again!'.

It was September 1998 and my mum had died six months earlier; my life had been in a massive turmoil because of that and work [just to remind people Dez Skinn sacked me because I had to go to my mum's funeral rather than deadline day at the magazine] and we all thought a nice week in Scotland would be just what the doctor ordered. We booked a cottage in Ballantrae, thinking it would be as picturesque and romantic as Robert Louis Stevenson's book.

It was a shit hole.

The cottage was damp, cold and cramped. The 'village' of Ballantrae was dull, uninspiring and got christened Corby-by-the-Sea - which, thinking about it was an insult to Corby - and the pub was like the Slaughtered Lamb transposed to Scotland and with no werewolves. To add insult to injury, we often went on holiday in late September as the weather usually proved to be excellent and true to form we had over a half a week of lovely warm days coupled with everywhere being shut.

With hindsight, which is an odd thing at times, we discovered that we pretty much went to all the places you should avoid and the few bright spots were overwhelmed by the general crappiness of the holiday. However, one of the 'wrong' places we went to would come back and haunt us...

Ballantrae is in south Ayrshire and that is, even today, a relatively deprived area, so as four of our days out were in and around there it was always going to be difficult to find something better than run down. One of the other days took us to Stranraer - an awful place in '98 with 'no hope' slung round its neck and it was on the Rinns (the peninsular Stranraer sits at the top of) we found the first lovely places - Port Patrick and Port Logan - this was more like what we expected. On the recommendation of the landlord of the pub in Port Patrick, we spent the next day driving around Wigtownshire.

After a nice morning at the botanical gardens in Castle Kennedy, we took a drive round the coast road. First we hit Port William, which was another quiet coastal village, which also seemed shut, we travelled further along and amazingly drove past beaches we would eventually fall in love with. We found ourselves in the Isle of Whithorn, which really did tick all the boxes - picturesque, pub with real ale and, as xenophobic as this might seem, some English people who made us feel more at home than at any point in the week. The plan after we'd had lunch was to drive back up the coast, visit Whithorn with its theological history and then head to Newton Stewart.

Whithorn was shut. It was also a strangely ethereal place that was more akin to a ghost town than a village almost classed as a small town. It was like the village of the damned... The girls now needed the loo and according to the OS map there was one in a place called Wigtown, which would be a short detour off the main route. We found the public loos easy enough and while the girls' did what they needed Roger and I decided to check out the main drag.

All I can say for sure is I wasn't the only person in our group of two who felt like we were being watched. The uneasy feeling spread all over all four of us; this place seemed dead and inhospitable. In fact, it could have been twinned with Whithorn! The entire place felt decidedly creepy and we spent less than half an hour there and high tailed it out. We got our shopping in the lovely town of Newton Stewart, stopped for a pint in a local hotel and discovered that Wigtown had been decimated by the closure of its principle two business in the previous year - the distillery and the dairy - and that a lot of that part of the country was extremely sectarian, with many links to Northern Ireland (no peace agreement at this time). We reasoned that our unsettling experience might have been down to that and the fact it didn't look like a tourist village, so we must have looked like happy black people in 1950s Alabama with beach balls and swimming cossies.

On the way home we all agreed that that 'experiment' was not something we planned to repeat again, ever. South-west Scotland became the last place we'd place on our list of potential holidays.

Fast forward 14 years and the UK is celebrating having both the Olympics and the Queen's 500th birthday, or something like that. I was working at a school and out of the blue, the wife's brother's then girlfriend (now wife) asked us if we fancied a week's free holiday staying at her dad's place... in Wigtown...

It was free. We hadn't had a holiday for two years and if nothing else we could use the place as a base and head inland and look for places we missed 14 years earlier. When we arrived there we found a completely different 'town' than we remembered. It was full of book shops, small antique places, a newspaper museum and the place was buzzing with anticipation at the forthcoming book festival the following month. We were made to feel extremely welcome and by the end of the week, having discovered loads of fantastic places, beautiful beaches, wondrous woods and at least three pubs that sold good real ale, we had changed our opinion of it.

So, when the offer came again two years later, when both of us were at a low ebb, it seemed like a godsend. It was very much a repeat of the previous holiday, but we discovered more places and the first tentative noises were made about the possibility of us retiring there.

In 2016, we received a bad prognosis for the mother-in-law; she didn't have long to live and this was seen as a blessing by all her children because she had been suffering enough. The distasteful part was that the wife ended up with more inheritance than she expected and suddenly, after some figures and numbers were crunched, we realised that we could move there - now.

So, in February, we headed off to Newton Stewart to see half a dozen potential homes. The one that I felt was least likely was also the only realistic purchase available in Wigtown and as you can guess, it was like a home and we fell for it immediately.

Now, we're on the cusp of May and the move is likely to happen in the next six weeks; after some setbacks we're back on course.

In 1999, after over a decade of living in Wellingborough, we'd decided to become slumlords and rented our house out and bought a dump in one of the worst parts of Northampton, despite vehemently discounting the purchase as a 'fucking stupid idea'. I had 13 months of unequalled hell there, but we sold the place to a young family from South Ayrshire (!), who gifted us £23,000 profit. This enabled us to buy the house we've now sold. Our first impressions of that 13 month holiday in purgatory was bad and it still is bad, but we made money from it, so really it ended up being good, although I'll always look back on that year as a means to an end and nothing more.

We might have made a bad mistake. Camelot tells lottery winners not to move away from family and friends, but we ain't won the lottery and we do know people up there - none of them are 'friends' as yet and the Marmite factor might kick in - but I've been reliably informed I'm nowhere near as 'salty' as I once was.

I'm hoping that Wigtown proves to be as good a friend as Roger turned out to be and that first impressions prove bugger all in the grand scheme of things, or maybe it's because, sometimes, you have to give something another go before you commit to anything long term.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Something Very New & Very Bold

Hello.

On the following link is my latest 'blog'

http://phillhall.tumblr.com/

It is called Procrastinate Now! and is in three parts. You have to LISTEN to part 1, then 2 and finally 3.

Even if you don't like it please consider the amazing amount of bullshit I had to suffer to be able to get the poxy thing to you in the first place, even if it is in 3 parts because Tumblr is the only thing I can find that allows me to upload audio files and I simply can't be arsed to learn how to podcast when there's obviously far more complicated ways out there.

Anyhow. I talk for about 29 minutes about a load of fuck all. Next time there might be a subject.

I hope it wasn't/isn't a waste of your time, but if it is, whose fault is it? Really?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Insert Title Here

Let me get this straight; from having to pay to have a wee to being taxed because you happened to die. we all know that life costs money, constantly and persistently. There is no escaping commerce or cash or surcharges or added extras or tax... No wonder when Gene Roddenberry had the idea for Star Trek it would be set in a universe where there was no need for money and there were no cultural differences because (arguably) there was no culture.

I always thought the idea of developing ST styled transporters - not for humans but for food and materials - would probably be the end of famine (at least), but can you imagine the amount something like that would be exploited? How much would you sell a concept like this for? The reason I ask is because in the current age nothing will ever be for free.

This sudden interest in general economics has been brought to you by someone who is moving and for the first time has taken an actual interest in it. Fuck me; why on earth would anyone want to do it? It's not the actual moving that's stressful, it's opening a letter from someone you will owe money to and realising that not only are they asking for money, but also your anal virginity...

There's this TV show called Rip-Off Britain, it shows how criminals and chancers to 'legitimate' thieves can rip us off. The thing is, instead of that Matt bloke presenting it, we should just see an infinite cycle of every CCTV camera in the country - 2 seconds and move to the next, ad infinitum... It is after all just showing us snapshots of rip off Britain.

***

Yesterday I said to the wife, "I'm surprised [given what the neighbours are like] that no one has commented on the SOLD sign or the fact that [after over 17 years] we're moving." This morning (and bearing in mind it was only 9.55am as I typed this) while throwing some stuff into the bin, the soon-to-be-relegated-to-history Mr 24-Carat Fuckwit, next door, says, "Moving then?" As a stater of the bleeding obvious for a number of years this was pretty much par for the course. I nodded, made that half-smile half-oh-well face and hoped he would just slope off back into his grotto to be fuckwitted on his own time. He didn't...

Now, as some people are aware, I have three default settings when dealing with people I really have zero time for: nice, aggressive and mischievous; I've been in a reasonably excellent mood for the last couple of weeks, so see if you can guess which of the three I opted for?

"Moving anywhere nice?" I nodded and made uh-huh noises and followed it up with, "But it's all still early days, it could all go tits up and we'll be stuck here." I watched my sentence sail above his head and hit the stratosphere. I could also see he was itching to ask me more questions, probably because of prompting from his porcine assistant. "We've bought a house in Scotland," says I, suddenly deciding which way I'm going to lead this conversation.
"Scotland?!" He says, feigning interest.
"Yeah, I'm fed up with this country. Fed up with all the doom and gloom about Brexit and immigrants."
"I couldn't agree more," he says, "I'm getting fed up with never hearing a bloody English person on my own street. I thought this Brexit business means we're stopping all these foreigners coming here, no one seems to have told this street." I raised my eyebrows in what could have been construed as either agreeing or disagreeing. He continued without any prompting, suddenly after nearly two decades thinking he actually had something in common with me other than us both being mammals, turning the conversation into the longest continuous use of words between the two of us - ever. "He's [pointing at the Romanian family house often spoken about here] selling his house." Very observant as he has a great big For Sale sign on his house. "Apparently he's bought a fookin great big house in Weston Favell." He hasn't; he's moving his family back to Romania, despite both his kids having been born here, because he's fed up with the abuse.

I also secretly suspect he's moving because of my new next door neighbour, Nic...

We'll return to Fuckwit in a moment; first a word from our resident conspiracy theorist...

The Romanian family are, it has to be said, quite gregarious and friendly, the teenage daughter has turned into a stroppy mare, but the rest of the them are lovely and fit in with the very multi-cultural street. They have lots of visitors, some Romanian, some British or maybe of other European persuasions.
Nic, our new neighbour, who replaced the Irresponsible Children who lived there briefly before him, is also Romanian. Me being the kind of person who, if I went on holiday to Spain, would spend 50% of the holiday avoiding fellow British people, knows it's not completely unreasonable to presume that just because they're two Eastern Europeans from the same country, in a foreign land, they might not become instant friends, but the tension between the two is palpable. The established guy treats the new guy like he was a (former) member of the Romanian Secret Police and while you see both men bantering with neighbours and their own clique of Romanian friends, you NEVER see them fraternise with each other. Plus, my more-established neighbour has literally only been talking about selling up since my new neighbour moved in. Perhaps he knows where the bodies are buried, or he simply likes being top Romanian in the street, but my money's on something nefarious...

So anyhow, Fuckwit goes off on a UKIP styled rant that belied my belief he was a complete and utter wankstain on society - he's worse! Telling me how our hospitals are clogged up with disease-ridden foreigners and the country is being stopped from being where it deserves to be by liberal do-gooders wanting to extend the hand of friendship to anybody, whether they're Muslim or just plain foreign.

Seriously, if I needed a solid, determining factor, to make my mind up about moving it would have been this ten minute conversation with the epitome of ignorance and hate... But, you need to remember, this was the man who said we were going to have a prolonged heatwave in 2012 because his mate Pete said so. His mate Pete probably also dictates Fuckwit's foreign policy. The man, sadly, is indicative of a large percentage of people in this country, informed by ignorance and turning that ignorance into a wild and crazy game of Psychopathic Chinese Whispers, by adding their own little twists or beliefs. No one in our street who speaks to him now will hear anything other than there was a Romanian family who have done so well out of this country in less than 5 years, are now living in a better house than any of us ever will.

I'd hope he - the Romanian over the road - makes more than enough money to buy a big fuck off mansion in Cluj or by the Black Sea just so he never has to hear a vile English accent spewing hate ever again.

Anyhow, once Fuckwit had finished his rant, he looked at me and said, "What are you going to do up there?" Without so much as a pause or a skipped beat, I said...
"I'm joining the independence movement, despite being a migrant of sorts, and pushing for full EU membership for an independent tolerant Scotland."

...

...

Honestly, I could have said, "Unë jam duke u bashkuar me lëvizjen për pavarësi, pavarësisht se një emigrant në terezi, dhe shtyn për anëtarësim të plotë në BE për një Skoci e pavarur." [That's Albanian, you know] for the reaction it got. The problem with fuckwits is they have no sense of irony and are also as thick as pig shit (although that is rather harsh on pig shit).

I suppose I could have been considerably more confrontational, but I really didn't see the point.

***

This will piss Fuckwit off. There's a chance that my house and the one owned by the Romanian family could both be the targets of a local Asian slumlord. The real shame for me is I won't be here to see his face if that's the case.

***

A recommendation of the televisual variety to all my friends with discerning tastes. Watch the series called Patriot. Just do it; don't argue with me. Honestly, you will not see anything quite as strange - a deadly serious 'spy' thriller, made like a sitcom and acted like no one knows what the hell is happening. It's the most off-kilter thing I can remember ever seeing and while it is very very serious, it is also intentionally unintentionally brilliantly hilarious...

***

It has now been well over 6 months since I disengaged every Google service from my mobile phone, apart from the ones that I couldn't switch off.

Do you what difference this has made to my mobile telephoning pleasure?

I now get a yellow triangle appearing telling me that I have the Google Play Store switched off so I won't be able to automatically update [EVERY FUCKING THING IN THE WORLD ALL THE FUCKING TIME AND ALLOW US TO KNOW EVERYTHING WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU]. Shame that, eh? I can still make phone calls, send text messages, take crap photos and occasionally check the BBC sports page for the latest football scores. Despite Google telling me at every opportunity that my enjoyment will be spoiled and I won't be able to keep up to date with all the fantastic things happening, it seems that my enjoyment is enhanced and nothing is spoiled, so they can go and enjoy everything I'm missing out on with a giant spindle up their arses...

It would be win-win if only Google would believe me when I tell them I don't want them in my life because it feels like I have an automated stalker looking over my shoulder, all the time.

All I have to do now is find a browser for this PC that isn't Chrome, but is as easy to use and that I feel comfortable with using. I just don't 'get' Firefox any more; its quirks outweigh Chrome's.

***

Moving, by use of a removal firm, from Northampton to Wigtown could well be the single biggest cost I have ever incurred for a service. It's one of the few times I have put a ballpark figure on what I thought the cost would be and been way under what it actually could be. The cheapest quote we've had so far has been £300 more than our own top end guesstimate. It appears that removal firms work on the basis of £1000 a day, plus extras or VAT.

***

If the current population of Wigtown (pronounced, we have been told, Wigton) is really 1002 and if the family we're buying the house off of move out of the 'town' and are replaced by us, the maths tell us there will be 1000 people living there.

There's approx 225,000 people living in Shoesville. If the ratios are true then there should be just a 225th chance of me encountering arseholes on the road, fuckwits as neighbours or racist xenophobes while out walking the dogs. You can just tell one of those things is going to be worse than it is here...

***

I stood and looked at my garden yesterday; the nectarine tree is blossoming, there's evidence of spring everywhere and it is one of the few things I will miss about moving. I have a blog in my head for a later date about the pros and cons of this change of life experience and the things I want to do before it happens, but my garden has been one of the few things that has consistently given me pleasure over the last 17 years - fruit, veg, duck eggs, peace and tranquillity, sunburn, bonfires and a real feeling that you could be in the middle of the countryside.

Yet as I typed that last sentence I realised that the new house has a very similar garden, which faces the same direction and is in the middle of the countryside - it'll be an interesting comparison.

***

While decluttering this last week, I wondered what kind of nonsense I threw away last time I decluttered because I had so much shit I couldn't even remember why some of it was saved. I also did found a box of 'floppy' discs with content from my first ever PC - 1992 to when I swapped over to CDs - 2000. I must have got a new CD-burning computer in the January of 2000 because I had no later date than the 8th Jan 2000. I know my current PC is about five years old and is the second one without a floppy drive.

Anyhow, I have transferred a huge number of discs onto an area of my hard drive. I expect upwards of 50% will be in programmes that won't be transferable and many things (such as old Pagemaker files from Comics International days) are simply taking up space until I delete them and get rid of their existence once and for all.

I did find something from the late 90s that might possibly embarrass one of my friends...

Monday, February 13, 2017

Escape to (and from) the Country

Day One:
Saturday 6.00am: got up.
7:03am: Left NN3 for DG8
8:20am: M6 Toll Road - snow (after bloody miles of 50mph zones)
9:30am: North Staffordshire - blizzard
10:30am: Tebay Services - temperature up to 4 degrees - coffee and break
11:20am: Scotland
12:35pm: Newton Stewart - a little over 5½ hours and 330 miles.
2:00pm: First viewing - Kevan Terrace, Newton Stewart. Lovely house, extremely nice setting, museum over the road, excellent condition, cheap and with shared access which proved to be the major stumbling block. Decided later that the house was too small as well.
3:00pm: Second viewing - Arthur Street, Newton Stewart. My house. My favourite for all the practical reasons to do with location, plus it appeared to have a kitchen to die for. It was massive - a four bedroom, dormer bungalow with lots of garden, a view of the river Cree and three minutes walk from the town centre. It simply failed to grab me by the balls and as much as it was a huge and lovely spacious house, it just didn't feel right. I left feeling slightly dejected.
4:00pm: Decide to drive down to Whithorn (18 miles south) to see what it's like on a Saturday afternoon.
4:30pm: Whithorn is dead. It's like a ghost town; no shops are open of the ones that remain trading. The first person we saw was in the doorway of the dodgiest looking pub you will ever have seen looking like he was smoking a crack pipe. We stopped and had a little look around; it was cold both physically and existentially. I began dreading Sunday.
5:00pm: Wigtown - heading back to Newton - we decided to check out the 'afterthought' - so called because the wife got me to add it to the list to boost our viewings and give us comparisons; I thought it looked grubby and not very hospitable on the estate agent's details, so we were both pleasantly surprised to see it had had a nice white and bright green paint job. It didn't make me think any positive things; I was convinced Wigtown would be a bust.
6:30pm: House O' The Hill, Bargrennon (West Galloway Forest Park) and dinner in our favourite pub in that part of Scotland. Newton proved to be a bit of a bust food wise, especially for fussy vegetarians, so we went where I knew the beer was good and the food excellent. Without dwelling on it - 5/10. It was more disappointing than anything else.
9:15pm: The wife went to bed; I farted about on the laptop, while drinking a pint of Bellhaven Best (keg - ugh) bitter. Avoided Match of the Day and went to bed at 11.30pm feeling like Scotland had stopped being the dream. The last person I saw before I went to bed was a slightly overweight man with cropped hair and a short-sleeved Scotland shirt staggering down Queen Street, where our hotel was, not looking in the slightest bit cold; he looked like he could eat heavy metal, with ease.

Day Two:
07:30am: I got up and started drinking coffee.
09:00am: the wife got up and we went and had a very nice breakfast and a chat with Nicole, the maitre de, and she told us some 'interesting' facts about where we were going and confirmed that the man in the pub doorway may well have been smoking crack. That feeling that if we went then we'd be home before it got dark crossed my mind, but the wife was reinvigorated...
10:15am: Sainsbury's for some food on the way home and some beer for my fridge.
11:00am: Third viewing - Wigtown Road, Sorbie. This house could have been a royal palace for a fiver and we wouldn't have bought it. Sorbie is essentially somewhere between two other places and is about as isolated a community as you can imagine. The house was fabulous and had it been on the outskirts of Newton we would have bitten their hands off; as it was location proved decisive.
12:00noon: George Street, Whithorn, or High Noon in Whithorn and the house that I've been talking about since June. What an utterly stunning house. Head and shoulders above everything else we'd seen and a place that would cost - no lie - in excess of £300,000 in dodgy parts of England. A massive sprawling Regency house in a wide road that has so much character and so many empty shells of former businesses. Whithorn is freaky. Very freaky and it was clear the people selling were doing it because the wife hated it there. We couldn't find fault in the place and it's a steal. If I had to spend the rest of my life in Whithorn it wouldn't be for long. We were gutted, because even my wife was realising that it was a wonderful house in the village of the damned.
2:00pm: Botany Street, Wigtown. BOOM! You know when you really aren't looking forward to a party but you go along intending to stay for as little time as possible and it turns out to be the best party you've been to in yonks? That was this. Ticked all the boxes from location to quirky architecture and we've decided we're going to buy it. Well... we hope to buy it. I'm putting an offer in tomorrow, subject to whatever subjects we need to meet.
3:00pm: Ferville, Station Road, Wigtown. Large, expansive bungalow overlooking Wigtown Bay and by far the best living room view so far, but the place has been empty for two years, it was cold, unloved and is showing signs of damp. The garden was too small but the sheds and outbuildings were useful - it's a modern place and had potential, but we'd already made up our minds.
3:30pm: Stopped to photograph the stunning views from Wigtown.
3:35pm: Onto the A75 - 330 miles and we would be home.
9:00pm: home, knackered but with our hopes and spirits lifted stratospherically.

38 hours, 700+ miles and I couldn't sleep when I finally went to bed. The excitement is almost visceral. Updates will follow.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Emotional and Practical Maths Thing

Much to the wife's bemusement and pessimism, I set a six month time limit to move away from Northampton and start afresh in the south west of Scotland. This is me being far more optimistic than I have been for a long time and it's because the way time goes now if we don't set a target, realistic or not, we'll never get around to it.

Therefore if all goes according to plan I'd like to be in the vicinity of Wigtownshire by the end of the forthcoming summer. This would be the most ambitious of all of my potential life-changing ventures and one that pretty much has a dead end attached...

We both view this as our final move. The house we go to has to be the house we want to spend the rest of our life in and one that the wife will feel happy about staying in when I, logically, shuffle off to Hades long before she does. I joke about having a list of reasons why I want to get away from Northampton and England, but there is a mental list which seems to be forever being added to. The reasons for staying here are becoming limited, but there are some strong reasons that will take a lot more emotional toll than I'm probably expecting.

The practical mathematics behind this potential move into the unknown is pretty simple: if we get what our house is worth on the current market and other personal issues are settled quickly, we will buy a house outright (no mortgage) not far from the sea and have a substantial nest egg to sit on until I reach retirement age or the wife can access her own work's pension - which should negate the need for her working after 65. A little over 10 years of working whatever part time jobs I can do, while the wife pursues and develops her own interests and we can have however long our retirement together lasts where we want (or hope) to be.

The maths downside is property doesn't move up there and profit isn't often in the sales equation; location plays a big part and if it did go tits up and we hated it, moving 'home' would mean downsizing considerably and only if we were lucky enough to find a buyer - the main house we're looking at has been on the market for 12 months with little interest, the others we have shown an interest in are not newcomers either.

Also in the mathematically column is the access to free prescriptions, good local and regional services, excellent air quality and a slower, less stressful, way of life (hopefully, because nothing is ever guaranteed). A house big enough to entertain visitors, with access to a cheap holiday base in a sumptuous and relatively uncommercial corner of the kingdom. Yes, if we take the isolated option, we would be 20 miles from the nearest supermarket; nearly 30 miles from the nearest train station and as distance is probably more of a worry as you get older than anything else, the things such as ambulance times might sound like scary things we shouldn't have to factor in, but I have an incurable disease and even if I look after it well and do all the right things, it will gradually beat me (hence why the air quality is pretty much a deciding factor for me), so the last thing I want to be doing is dying while an ambulance is 40 miles away...

If both or one of us can get even just seasonal work, as long as we're bringing in £12k a year, we won't really have to worry about the nest egg and one thing we've not just learnt but sadistically enjoyed at times this year has been how frugal we can be on ridiculously small budgets - but being a forager has always helped in some areas - from July to November, there are apples, blackberries, sloes and plums (although not this year), chestnuts, hazelnuts, mushrooms and an assortment of other things that save money and in a place that's just south of the Galloway Forest Park, I know that mushroom season will bring untold delights and new specimens and I've always fancied trying seaweed so living by the sea will also help. I also decided that I might start eating locally caught sustainable fish again - I might not, but it is something I'll consider exploring especially if the local fishermen of the Isle of Whithorn and Port William sell off their boats.

Plus, and a key fact, I forage because I love it not out of necessity, so it's a win-win situation.

But what of the emotional impact? When someone wins the lottery the usual advice to them from Camelot is 'don't move away from your family and friends', and this is because some people want to buy a castle or a house overlooking the sea 300 miles from everyone they know and then discover life is a wee bit lonely or not as idyllic as they expected. The same applies when you do something like this at an age when it's probably not as sensible in reality as the intention feels it is.

The obvious biggest wrench is going to be friends and family. The way my family is, it pretty much doesn't matter where I live I'll probably see them as often as I do currently and the wife knows that her only relative that she wants contact with spends a couple of months a year, maybe longer, in Wigtown, where his wife has a studio, so there's a good chance we'll probably see more of them. My brother-in-law did ask the most pertinent question so far: "Are you going to fall out with all your neighbours like you usually do?" I can only say that I won't go out of my way to napalm any new bridges; but, you see, this is what some of it is about - de-stressing to the point where my intolerance of fuckwits is back down to 'ambivalently uninterested' and I feel the only way of truly doing that in the 21st century is to go to a place where the likely concentration of fuckwits is going to be considerably less per square kilometre than it is in Northampton.

Of course, the problem there is: what if all that peace, tranquillity and semi-retirement is so fucking boring I go even madder than I already am?

I have no idea, but I can guess what would happen down here, if we had no mortgage but still had to adhere to the excesses of the modern economy and with the knowledge that the Tories are going to be in power until I'm a distant memory and that we're all going to die, probably in our own filth being tormented by a YTS twat forced to work in social care by the UKIP coalition...

We're also talking about a place that is 350 miles away from where most of my people live; it isn't even well positioned for airports and it's easier to get to Belfast than it is to get to Glasgow. It's less than 20 miles from England - as the crow flies, but almost 100 miles by road or rail and to add insult to injury, geographically you drive 250 miles straight north and then turn left and drive 100 miles west - the Irish Sea prevents you from travelling northwest and cutting time and distance from your travels.

Friends, however, is a different kettle of fish. I might have 400+ Facebook friends but in reality our close friends are the ones we still see, socialise with and exchange gifts on special occasions. We know that some of them will not hesitate to visit us and we know, sadly, that it could be the last time we see some of them, in person. And we're blessed with having a lot of friends, even if we don't see them all as often as we'd like (so you could argue never seeing them again won't be that difficult, but even if that is true I don't ever think I'm not going to see people again).

It would mean the end of the quiz team and while that sounds like a trivial (heh) loss, it has played a big part in our social life since the turn of the century - we're good at it, we have a laugh and we're probably still in profit over 15 years. If we can't find a quiz (or two) when there, are as far as I know, only NINE open pubs on the entire Wigtown 'peninsula' and over half of them look as rough as a haggis' arse, it curtails our nights' out, unless we want to travel 25+ miles.

Whatever happens, it will be a massive change to what we've grown accustomed to. Can we do it? Will we do it? We can, whether we will depends on the next six months. If we can sort out the Doug-destroyed interior of the house, scrub it up a bit and get a top price valuation - which I think is very achievable - then yes. I pretty much have to stay in reasonable health throughout the coming year and start earning again, even if it's just a part time job. My biggest worry is that the wife is condemning herself to the rest of my life without any feasible exit plan; I mean what if I end up worse than Victor Meldrew? Murder is still illegal in Scotland...

Then there's this EU thing. I see Scotland as a way back into something I never wanted out of. I see Scotland going for independence again and winning it and I see myself as being part of it. I see Scotland as being vehemently anti-Tory and, frankly, I'm not going to find that anywhere else in the countries with the same degree of autonomy. The majority of Scots hate Tories; I feel something unifyingly spiritual about that...

I want to do it. I'm fed up with my life at the moment and want a new challenge. I've lived in Northamptonshire for all but 2½ years since I was 7; that 44 years I've been within a 15 mile radius of Northampton's Market Square and, if I want to be brutally honest, I really don't like the place any more. Local scribe Alan Moore can wax lyrically about the town, but it's become a metaphor for the general feeling in the country - a lack of tolerance, selfish, self-centred people spreading their discontent into even the most easy-going people. I've seen a lot of the town and its inhabitants over the years and the decent people are becoming few and far between. Oh and it's a fucking shit hole.

Plus, while I can harp on about the health benefits enough, the 'social' problem is simple - I won't be able to go out for a beer with Roger or the other Phil - even if it doesn't happen as often as it should now. I won't be visiting Tony in Duston to set the world right and won't meet up with the Dog Crowd to watch madness on four legs run around like headless chickens and cheer us up.

Popping round a mate's will have to be a new potential discovery and having friends over for dinner or to watch a shit film will have to be with a new bunch because the old bunch might only get up once a year. I won't have my blood close by, but my chosen family, however disparate they are to each other, will be the wrench in the works for me.

I have to make the decision, alone, but with the wife as well. We have to be sure it's what we want together and individually. It is scary, but in a really exciting way as well as the frightening bits. If I really did sit down and write a two column list of the pros and cons, there is no competition, the pros would win easily.

There is one other silly thing... When I moved back to England in 1969, I had already adopted Tottenham Hotspur as my football team, but felt I should adopt a Scottish football team (I adopted cricket and rugby teams as well). So, since 1970 I have supported Stenhousemuir. I know they play at the Ochilview and they're situated midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh and they average 500 attendance. They have been in the bottom two tiers of the Scottish league ever since I followed them. They have won one thing, some obscure lower division cup and have been relegated more times than promoted. I've never seen them play and I kind of would like to. They are in the same division as Stranraer and have been in the same league as Queen of the South (Dumfries), so I could finally go and see what lower Scottish League football is really like. I mean, how good is that?

And now shit begins to get real... At around 7am on Saturday morning, as the sun only begins to rise and with the chance of some snow on the ground, we're off to see SIX houses, 357 miles away. And we'll be back by late Sunday night... This blog entry was originally started in October. Time marches on relentlessly and without any pause; we need to grab hold and let it shake things up, one last time.