Friday, December 31, 2010

Final Call

I think being optimistic about a New Year died a long time ago. True optimism; the kind where you genuinely think that the coming year will usurp the previous one and exceed all expectations only exists in some. William, the spinal injuries doctor I saw on December 22nd, laughed and agreed with me when I said that once upon a time a doctor would give an honest and considered opinion, but now paints the worst possible scenario. It's not that he really believes you're going to die, but if you don't: everyone's a winner!

We have to accept that the experts got it wrong and that the majority of us will not be the last generation better off than our parents. I suppose all of my friends and family with children will have to work extra hard to guarantee that their children have a fighting chance of being happy - but the massive pessimist in me looks at any child born in this century and I get a pang of fear and despair where there should be joy... Let's be honest, for a lot of people the future is a scary place that some wish will never come. We can stick our heads in the sand and pray (if we're even remotely religious) or just hope that things will get better, but unless we're already rich, have a wealthy relative who thinks the sun shines out of our arses or we win the lottery, life is going to be a hard slog and it will lead, every year, to this point, where we wait for the festivities to start and declare that next year it'll be better.

It won't.

Oh and by the way, I was feeling this way during a large percentage of the Labour administration; having this current shower of shit doesn't exactly fill me with hope (especially as I will be one of their statistics before midsummer arrives) but neither does it make me feel any differently than I have in previous years.

It does make you feel as though you have to grab hold of the good times and cling onto them or their memories for as long as you can, because the shit is going to far outweigh everything else in our lives. There hasn't been a lot to get me emotionally charged this year; it has been friends on Facebook posting abhorrent and frightening examples of human crassness and misery that have stirred passion inside me more than anything else. From friends with seriously ill partners to idiots wilfully being cruel to animals and the depths that humanity will sink to, either personally or politically - these have been the things I wish weren't happening.

It's damned altruistic of me to want a world, with my friends in it, that hasn't got some shit sandwich waiting to be devoured. But that's what I'd like. I might be considered a grumpy old cunt by a lot of people, but I'd really like every one of my friends, and their friends, and their friends' friends to be happy; even if its just for one year: I'm sure some of them are or have. I've maybe been too wrapped up in being a miserable old git to have noticed.

My corner of the world is pretty crap. North, south, east and west my friends are suffering in different degrees and it just doesn't seem very fair. Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when I had my shop, my landlord Mr Chan, who I got on extremely well with, once said to me, "I don't want life to be better, I just want it to be fairer," and that sank deep into my heart. It's a saying that resonates with me far more than anything else. It must do; I remember it now as it was told to me. I try to forget the fact that Mr Chan knew that he was asking for the moon. But it isn't really too much to ask for. Is it? Fairness, that is, not the moon...

The problem I have is that I don't know what I want from 2011. I half expect that whatever I might want won't happen, but what will happen will be similar to things we've seen in the past. I expect the misery to continue for many and that is unfair, but, hey, life is just fucking unfair - haven't you realised that yet? Some people will close their eyes, continue spending, get themselves into increasingly more debt, give their offspring a real crappy negative equity legacy to inherit - Your father's will says you will be burdened with his debts as well as your own! Other people will just grin and bare it, being carried along on a flow of false optimism, but why burst their deluded bubbles; they're simple, but happy.

This isn't about me being some kind of week long mega-Scrooge. I might hate Christmas, but (presumably through my Scottish heritage) loved NYE. it was, for me, the real thing to celebrate - getting through one year and facing the next with renewed vigour. None of this pretending to celebrate a fictional character's birth when all it really is is a chance to get yourselves into more debt, do everything in excess and not really give a flying fuck about anyone else. Christmas should be the like the Olympic Games - once every four years, that way we can try and attempt to appreciate it. All we have to do is move it to February 29th and convince every one else that Christ was actually born on Leap Year day.

In 2011, I celebrate my Silver Wedding Anniversary, but in reality despite having been married to the wife for 25 years, I've actually been with her 28 years in January - so we're just talking numerics. On April 19, I enter my 50th year on Earth. Yes, it might not be my 50th birthday until 2012, but the maths are accurate, so we're just talking numerics again.
2011 might also give me the opportunity to begin a new career - as a desk jockey or shelf stacker at Aldi, perhaps - woo and indeed hoo. At least I won't be alone; there'll be an extra ½ a million joining me, all vying for the shit left at the bottom of the Job Centre's waste bin. My 7 months off of work in the last 20 months is going to look great on my job applications, isn't it?

Still... 2010 had a few highs: some new friends, a great year for Spurs, eight months of job satisfaction, stopping smoking, um... Gosh...

I suppose seeing some of my friends suffer, having a prolapsed disc (now with added nerve damage), being told I face imminent redundancy and having a dreary year bookended by some of the worst Siberian weather Blighty could muster and throw at us must all be forgotten about and I should go out tonight with tinsel in my hair, a bottle of Scotch dangling from my utility belt, a cheesy grin and enough optimism to wake the dead? Perhaps I should, as I expect 2011 will go downhill fast.

This final blog post has been brought to you by Happiness Guaranteed Inc. Now fuck off and leave me alone until next year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nostalgia Factory

My employment history is... um... chequered. I don't know if I just rub people up the wrong way or if I'm just an arrogant bastard, but I have an employment history that makes me cringe at times. But, to be fair and to put it in perspective, I also have a past where I have been very unlucky and have worked for some CAUCs.

Obviously I can't really talk about my current job, but, if I did most of it would be positive. I'm not going to talk about my 11 odd years in publishing, because I've already written a book about that which runs to 130,000+ words and that missed a lot out. Maybe when the arsehole who I worked for has died and I don't have to worry about a malicious lawsuit (which he would pursue even if it meant spending the last penny in his pocket), but for now I will just continue to embellish the story with more and more nuggets from my memory.

I could talk about working for TNT, but as that lasted 3 hours I'd be hard pressed to make it last longer than this sentence. Equally, I could talk about the job I had when I got married, but that story fits in with another I'm not talking about just yet; or I could mention my 3 months at Levi's; a job where I got sacked because I complained about them not training me to do a job I was employed to do. But, again, that wouldn't really amount to more than a small paragraph.

I could talk about Initial and Bill Port, the man who called me a 'useless wanker' and wouldn't have been wrong, but he did so in a really malicious and nasty way. Bill was responsible, in a roundabout way, for me opening my shop; so while I have zero respect for him and hope he's long since died, without him I might not be where I am today (crippled and staring at redundancy).

I could waffle on about the 2 years I worked for my dad, behind bars (social club, not prison), or the subsequent part time jobs I had as a barman up till I met the wife. I could regale you with a fantastic story about working at Lings Forum when I was 17 and one day I might. The only problem with retelling this story is that the arsehole responsible for me getting the sack is now the wife's brother-in-law and while I always said I'd never forgive the bastard... I have. But only because he's married to my sister-in-law and I believe that is karma working at its best.

It seems that talking about my employment history has baggage attached, whatever job I've done. Except maybe for the YMCA. I have wanted to write this for a long time but figured it was a futile and pointless exercise unless there was a pay off. Now, it seems there is...

After walking out of my publishing/editorial job (he says he fired me, I say I quit), I had a few months of being unemployed. I couldn't get a job doing what I had been doing because being an editor for a comics magazine holds absolutely no truck with serious publishers and publications. It's a little like going for a job as a butcher on the basis that I gnawed a bone once - or at least that's the impression I got. There was an ignominy about it and it took me about a week to realise it. My journalistic career, regardless of how much money it paid me and the respect I earned in the comics 'industry', didn't amount to a bean, let alone a hill of them. I was faced with the prospect of being 39 and having no career.

The wife and I were becoming so poor we were having to shop at a place where we shopped at anyhow, but were now watching the pennies and buying frugally. Daily Bread is a co-operative, is still there and sells cheap vegetarian staples. It was now a requirement rather than a occasional detour. It was a cold February morning and we were heading back to the car when we bumped into our good, but not often seen, friends Ian and Sarah. Ian was a pagan weirdo and Sarah was the ex of my former best friend. They had found each other and were happy, despite their hang ups. Sarah was a part time counsellor, Ian, formerly of British Rail, has somehow managed to change his entire life around and was now CEO of the Northampton YMCA.

Northampton YMCA in 2001 was an unusual beast. It was largely autonomous from the rest of the YMCA movement. It made money through a mega-successful homeless housing scheme and it was run by 80% non-Christians. Ian, not a Christian, felt that the best people to hire were the best people to do the job, not the best Christians to do the job and subsequently Northampton YMCA had won numerous awards and retained the respect of just about anyone who mattered. The fact that Ian often turned up for work in a dress, or had more jewellery than Ratner's was neither here nor there, what mattered was the fact that he got homeless kids off the street and eventually through his team of caring and dedicated staff turned them into useful members of society.

So, we're standing outside Daily Bread and they ask me how things are going and we told them how it was. Sarah suggested, I thought jokingly, that I went and worked for Ian and he seemed up for it. "But... But, I'm not working with scum bags!" Says I.
"I think you'd do well at it," says Sarah and Ian agreed. My wife gave me a stern look and reminded me that I was currently not earning a brass farthing. I weighed it up in my head and agreed to go along and do a volunteer session, figuring that I could say I hated it and the subject would never be mentioned again.

I turned up at St Matthew's Hostel at midday on the 15th February. I was scheduled to do a maximum of 2 hours to allow the staff to hold a meeting. If there was any problems I was to interrupt them, otherwise I was on my own.

At 6.45pm, Rose Stewart the manageress came up to me and said that the wife had phoned to see if I was okay and that I really should consider going home. She was over the moon about me; said that I was a natural (as did Sarah) and said that as soon as my CRB was cleared I'd be offered shifts. I started working for the YMCA on March 3rd with a two day induction course. I was offered a full time job in the March of the following year and for a while the team that worked at St Matt's were 2nd to none. We were good; we were an excellent team and everyone loved everyone else.

I went in, voluntarily, on Christmas day to cook the residents' dinner and was just a phone call away from being there in case of sickness or emergency. It didn't change after I got a full time job there. But by the summer of 2002 things started to change. The YMCA was so successful we were offered more money to expand the services and new staff joined the team. We didn't really need them. It actually had a negative affect on work and many of us found that the jobs we had that worked well for one person, didn't work well for two. A perfect example was the night shift. Prior to the influx of extra cash, we had a sleepover rota. If you were on sleepover, you basically crashed out about 1:00am, got up about 7.30 and went home when the morning shift turned up. There was an emergency bell to ring if the residents needed help or attention, but nine times out of ten no one was disturbed. Yeah, they would try it on with new staff or agency, but if you were one of the regulars, you were respected. The new money meant an extra night staff, who didn't go to sleep and subsequently got bored out of their minds with no company.

By the end of 2002, the Christians had started to look at Northampton YMCA under the microscope. It was a fantastic advert for the work they could do, but it was run by a hippie and a lot of his staff were not, how shall we say, very spiritual. They shafted Ian, reorganised the structure of the YMCA and made it so that he had to reapply for his own job, knowing full well even though he was the best choice, he wouldn't get it. Over 4 months, they fucked him about left right and centre until they appointed a man called Storey in his place. Ian was offered a senior role at Connexions and the YMCA changed tact completely.

I applied for a different job at the Y, got it, and so moved away from St Matt's and into Cheyne Walk. The new CEO changed the operating practice of the place and suddenly new residents had to be offered 'spiritual guidance' if they required it and to determine whether they required it, it became part of the interview process. If homeless people weren't already God botherers, they sort of faced a dilemma - become one or risk not being offered a room. This was never a written rule, but it was inferred to us in team meetings. We also noticed that more and more new members of staff had more experience being religious than they did as experienced workers with the homeless. People started to become concerned.

In the winter of 2004, my mate Jon became the target of some unwanted attention from my new line manager. Jon, who I'm told is a good looking fella, found he was increasingly being put in awkward positions. Comments were made, surreptitious gestures made, little touches, that were not welcomed, were made. Jon became literally scared because my boss - a moose of a woman - was now suggesting that unless he gave her a 'good time' he might find he has problems in his job. Both me and another colleague witnessed her sexual bullying and inappropriate behaviour and when she finally made the aforementioned ultimatum, Jon decided to take it to senior management. My boss had been hand picked for her job by the new CEO. She was a member of his church and was clearly not experienced enough to do her job. In fact, I was more experienced than her.

An investigation was conducted; people were interviewed and the evidence against her was both damning and numerous. The investigation team concluded that she had done nothing wrong and that it was misinterpretation by Jon and his witnesses. We were amazed.

In the spring of 2004, Jon followed the book on an unruly and drunk resident. He did everything that was expected of him and laid down in the policy and procedures handbook. He ejected a drunk and violent resident from the hostel on a cold March night. The CEO arrived at 7:00am the next morning and found the resident sitting on the main steps, breaking milk bottles and freezing his arse off. He stormed up to the hostel office, refused to listen to the reasons for the ejection and suspended Jon for misconduct. Jon, totally fucked up by this, quit without fighting. He concluded that it wasn't worth it. If they refused to see that he had been sexually intimidated, they weren't going to rule for him in this case.

Three weeks later, I was in a team meeting when I made a sarcastic remark about Supporting People - one of the organisations that funded us. We were due an inspection by them and I commented that previous inspections had been a waste of time because their inspectors didn't have a clue what they were looking for and we might as well just carry on regardless. I was thrown a stern look by my boss. This was at 10:00am. At 12:15 the same day, one of the senior managers called me into her office and told me that I was being disciplined for remarks made. I stormed out of her office and confronted my own boss in her office. During our heated argument, she said a remark that was something like - you should never have sided with Jon - so I went back to the senior manager's office, repeated what had just been said to me and asked to put a grievance in about my boss. I felt this was proof that I was being picked on. Two days later, my boss handed in her notice, took her remaining holiday and never came back to work!

The following Monday, our colleague who had also defended Jon in his sexual harassment case was told she was being let go and her contract was not being renewed. She was an excellent worker and all the residents loved her. In fact, you could not find fault in any of her work. The main reason for her dismissal was because the management didn't feel she was cut out for this kind of work!!!

I remember talking to my mate Paul Smith that day and saying that I'd better watch my back because I was going to be next. He said for me not to make jokes like that because stranger things have happened.

On the Wednesday, the senior manager called me into her office and told me I was being suspended - on full pay - because there had been an accusation, an allegation, made about my by one of the residents. Gobsmacked, I asked what the allegation was and was told I couldn't be told until they had time to speak with the resident themselves. I got home and both me and the wife were shell-shocked. I had an allegation made against me and no one would tell me what it was. I phoned Ian up and told him, he said that they could not suspend me without telling me what the allegation was and that I should ring the boss up straight away and demand to know what the allegation was. I did this and she said she would call round my house on the way home to talk to me.

She admitted that when she had suspended me she didn't know what the allegation was, only that her boss had authorised it. She had gone to see her boss - the 2nd in charge - after I'd called and he told her that I was being suspended because a former resident had claimed that I had told her that my boss had been sacked and that I was going to replace her. it was claimed that this happened while my boss was being investigated on the sexual harassment charges. I explained to the senior manager that I had not seen the resident in question since the previous Christmas, long before any of this had happened. She suggested I got myself a lawyer.

This was April 2004. I was suspended but didn't hear a thing for two months, so at the beginning of June, feeling like I was in limbo, unable to go away on holiday because the details of my suspension meant I had to be available at a moments notice, I decided to contact the senior manager and ask her what the fuck was going on. I was informed that she was on two weeks holiday and nothing was likely to happen until she got back. I was furious. I felt like I was being fucked about, so I contacted the CEO. I wrote him a long letter, asking for him to look into the situation. Within a week, a hearing was scheduled and I took Roger along as my witness and to act like a lawyer type person. The allegations were made, I answered them and the meeting concluded.

Two weeks later, I was invited to a meeting with the CEO. I chose to take Paul Smith (a caretaker, but also an ex-union man) with me. Now, it's important that you understand the job I was doing. I was now working with young people who had moved on from the YMCA and were either living in accommodation provided by the Y or on their own. We were part of a Tenancy Support Scheme. This meant that we helped people who were no longer residents. We were also encouraged to keep in communication with them, as a sort of last resort support mechanism. This had always been the ethos of the YMCA while Ian was in charge. However, several months before my ex-boss had quit, she pulled me into her office and asked why I'd sent texts to a resident at midnight. I explained that I was replying to texts I'd received from an ex-resident because he had locked himself out of his new flat and didn't know what to do. I even had the texts to prove this. She agreed that we had a moral responsibility to help our kids if they were in trouble and the thing was forgotten about.

The meeting with the CEO went very badly. He informed me that there was not enough evidence to prove the allegations against me, but he felt that it was not a good idea to continue employing me. Paul, who was extremely religious and regarded by many to be on their 'side' stood up for me big time. The CEO then said that I had been punished for continually contacting ex-residents - we stood our ground and said there was nothing written down that we shouldn't help ex-residents in a time of crisis and that it was actively encouraged for people in my specific job. The CEO ignored this. Paul then intervened and asked what exactly the YMCA wanted of me. "To leave," was the reply I received. I said I had done nothing wrong and had no intention of leaving. To which I was told that if I didn't leave, I would be continually suspended until they got something on me where they could fire me. Paul was disgusted, I was totally amazed. This was a deeply religious man sitting in front of me - a Christian.

I asked what were they prepared to offer me to leave and this is where things got even more interesting. I was told if I agreed to leave, the YMCA would offer me a severance package that suited me. I was to go away while he spoke with his colleagues and they would be in touch within the week. And so they were. I was offered two weeks money and a one line reference stating that I had worked for the YMCA between date A and date B. I told them to stick it up their arses and that I was going to see my lawyer.

They got back to me with a new offer and I still got in touch with a solicitor who, like the wife, wanted me to sue their arses off. But, I had already decided that this was not what I wanted to do. After much negotiation, we agreed that on a package totalling over £5000 and the guarantee of a good reference highlighting all the achievements I had while I was working there. I signed a piece of paper that prevented me from taking them to court and we parted company.

However, I struggled to get a job in the care industry. I was going for jobs I was totally qualified to do yet wasn't even getting an interview. I felt that perhaps the YMCA had reneged on their side of the deal. On failing to get a job at a local hostel which i had had a successful interview for, I contacted them and asked why I'd been unsuccessful. I was told that I was perfect for the job, but there was a line at the end of my reference from the YMCA that caused them to not offer me it. The line said: "Mr Hall left the YMCA by mutual consent" - this had not been on the original reference I was shown. I was about to get my solicitor to fuck them over big time, when the Mayday Trust offered me the job of Deputy Manager at their hostel in Wellingborough. I figured they were not as bothered by the offending line as others and saw that I was the right person for the job.

Three weeks into working at Mayday, the area manager came into the office and asked to see me. He wanted me to explain what this superfluous line at the end of my reference pertained to. I them had to write a statement out explaining why I'd left the YMCA; what entailed, in fact, everything above was submitted to them and I was told that I still may lose my job. I informed Mayday that I intended to sue the YMCA if I did lose my job, because they had added that line without my knowledge or agreement. It was concluded that as I was offered a lot of money to leave, that I was not in the wrong and had done nothing to warrant the treatment. I kept my job, but I felt like I had to work very hard to do it. The wife still wanted me to get a lawyer onto the Y. It seemed that while I kept my position at Mayday, the reference from the YMCA had caused enough smoke for someone to think there was a fire. I just wanted to forget about it; suing seemed like a fruitless exercise.

Sadly, both Sarah and Paul have since died. If it hadn't been for Sarah I wouldn't be working in this industry and if it hadn't been for Paul, I might not have been as good as I became or got as much actually and spiritually from it.

In September 2010, I learned that all of the YMCA's funding had been lost and that the CEO and many of the deeply religious lackeys who he put in position rather than the people who could actually do the job were losing their jobs. It was sad that some of the excellent people still working there will also lose their jobs come March, but karma has swung around and bitten these hypocrites on the arse big time. I hope that none of them find a job easily and the ones who fucked me over never work again, lose their houses and get sent to Hell by an astute St Peter. It's what they deserved for being evil Christians. And we worry about Muslims and other religious fundamentalists - fucking Christians are just as insidious and evil.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fear of a Blank Planet

Next year, blog titles will be surreal rather than 99% relating to the music I'm listening to.

۝ ۝ ۝

I don't know if stopping smoking has made my tolerance for alcohol unimaginable, but I drank two bottles of Shiraz last night - 13½% - in about 6 hours and woke up this morning with a slight ache behind the eyes. I didn't even feel remotely drunk, apart from during Doctor Who, when I could quite easily have gone to sleep. However, I'm not sure it was the wine that was making me sleepy; the wife's verdict of last night's episode was quite succinct. Shit.

I've always struggled with DW X-Mas specials; I tend to feel stuffed, half-pissed and sleepy, therefore can never remember much about them at all. Last night I was very alert, having not stuffed myself and still only ¾ of a way through my first bottle of red. Yet the sleep wanted to come, despite it looking pretty amazing. It suffered from several things - a naff story, a poor shark and not enough Amy Pond. It was, a big disappointment and that seems to fit in nicely with my opinion of Moffat's run so far - so no surprises there.

۝ ۝ ۝

I remember when Christmas Day TV was the highlight of the year. Now it's pretty much a load of gnarly old wank. Our TV was on pretty early; we watched bits of Singin' in the Rain, then it got turned off and I put on Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas CD and then Classic FM for some carols. We then took the dogs for a walk, came home saw a bit of the Ronnie Corbett tribute thing, which was slightly disappointing, but the Egg's Box £3.60 gag was stupendous!

Then it was the Who crap, followed by a repeat of Tuesday's Top Gear and then, what has been the highlight of this festive season for us so far, we finished watching the last 3 episodes of Misfits (although we still have the Christmas special to watch tonight). This has been a quite brilliant TV series, which we missed when it was first on and I decided on a whim to download both series last week. We have watched 3 episodes a night for the last 4 nights and have found very little to fault it (and even the faults we found were counterbalanced by the superb scripts and the increasingly dark tone the series has taken).

It has been described as Heroes crossed with Skins, but that is actually damning it with faint praise. Heroes was pretty much shit and after watching Misfits, Skins is nothing like what real teenagers are like. Misfits is quite a brilliant observation of what kids are really like in today's world; Skins thinks it is, but is obviously written by older adults who think they know what its like to be an adolescent. There is so much in Misfits that makes you want to cringe or can't actually believe, but it has a ring of truth around it that, the at times far too melodramatic, Skins is missing. Robert Sheehan as the fuckwitted immortal Nathan is a revelation, while Iwan Rheon as the creepy Simon is a far better character than you imagine he's going to be. In fact, over 12 episodes, the writer has developed these characters so well it is no wonder it won a BAFTA. It's also a bit rude, both verbally and sexually and has gone from being essentially a bit of a comedy to a dark and nasty thing.

I cannot recommend it more.

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We've got a pretty busy week coming up, which is why we did our usual thing of making sure that Chez Hall is a no-go zone for the big day and the Boxing one. We have a full house on Tuesday and Thursday, we're out on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and then we'll have a few days to recuperate before we both go back to work.

My return to work is going to be unusual; mainly because I won't know how long I'll be there before I become a victim of the austerity drive. In reality, it might be a strange return to work in many ways; for starters, I'll be in a new office with new colleagues to get to know; I have nearly 20 days holiday to take before the beginning of March, I have a staggered return to work, so I'll be part time for nearly a month and then I might be out of a job by March anyhow. So, going back to work might not be so much as going back to work, more like winding things up at work...

۝ ۝ ۝

I did a semi-Samaritan act on Christmas Eve. I was sitting in my office getting ready to go to bed when I heard a strange noise out front. It sounded exactly like what it was, a man blowing into his hands to warm them up. I did a sort of double take, to be honest, because the rather big man standing under the lamp post out front was wearing just a T shirt and was obviously very, very drunk. I watched him stagger down the road, slip on the ice and land on his arse, struggle to get to his feet and then lean on a car and do the same blowing into his hands as he did outside my house. He looked cold and quite worse for wear. Someone over the road, leaned out of their window and asked him if he was all right, but he waved them away and waddled down the icy street a bit more.

By this time I had gone to the spare bedroom to follow his progress as it offers a better view of the street. The guy who leant out of his window was gone and the drunk was lurching further down the street. He slipped again, this time grabbing the wing mirror of a parked white van and managed to keep himself on his feet. He blew into his hands again, shook his head and started off again. He rounded the corner at the end of our part of the road and went over again. This time he didn't get up as quick and looked in distress. I had just got out of the bath and the temperature was -8 outside. I wasn't about to go out in it, but I decided that perhaps the police should be made aware. I would have hated to discover that a frozen body was found on Christmas Day just round the corner from my house.

I called the local nick and spoke to an officer who sounded so full of seasonal good will I thought perhaps his children had all been murdered by a paedophile. "Not a lot we can do about it, sir."
"What if he dies of hypothermia?"
"That'll teach him to go out and get drunk without wearing the appropriate winter clothing."
"Well, I thought you'd better know, as I would feel guilty if his frozen body was found and no one informed you." This seemed to stir some form of humanity in the man.
"I'll inform the local patrol car, perhaps they can take a drive round your way, see if there's any sign of him."

I've not heard of anyone found dead on my road or around it.

But, spare a thought for the family of the Bristol woman, Joanna Yeates whose body was found yesterday. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, that family, the woman's fiancée and people who knew her will probably never view Christmas in the same light ever again.

Also, Elisabeth Beresford, the creator of the Wombles, has died. Expect Mike Batt and Bernard Cribbins to lead the tributes!

★ ★


Early days, but waking up this morning to discover that England had humiliated the Aussies by bowling them out for 98 and then managing to race to 157 for 0 was a great way to kick Boxing Day off. Hopefully they will wrap this test up PDQ and retain the Ashes. Just the tonic for the end of a crap year!

Manifesto

The third in a series of unpublished blog entries; this one is from December 2009.

To say that politicians are essentially all cunts would, of course, be a complete lie. Cunts are useful, most politicians are as useful as using wax for a condom.

I'm supposed to become more right wing as I get older - most of my friends have - but instead I'm just becoming more commie than I've ever been before (despite having some fascist and ecological tendencies). I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to be a champagne socialist, but frankly I've managed 47 years without any substantial money behind me, so no point in changing that now, eh?

I can't bring myself to vote for a party that calls itself Labour at the moment. I wouldn't vote Conservative under the threat of death and torture and voting for anyone else is just a pointless exercise. So, voting in this country is not really about freedom now, just our preference for the vagina du jour of government.

Every day I see political incompetence, whether its from central government or from local, jobsworth organisations. Politics is now almost a joke; but it can't be because the country and the planet are far more important than a bunch of short term 'I'm all right Jack', fly-by-night defilers!

I've toyed with the idea of entering politics for years, but as I've got more extreme I realise that the world is out of tune with the way I think. Yeah, I have like minded people around me, but what are a bunch of people with a bit of common sense when you have entire branches of the civil service made up of people who couldn't find their own anus with a map and a torch?

If I stood for anything now it would be Common Sense (with a bit of a mix between popular and unpopular, because you can't be a politician and please all the people all the time; plus a touch of the Draconian because we live in a society that needs a kick up the arse); but also for the future, not just of the planet, but of the country.

The way I see it is a manifesto outlines the keys things a political party will do in specific areas of government: health & welfare, the economy, education, defence, home and foreign, social and law and order. There are myriad more things in a proper manifesto, but lets stick with these to start:

The main problem with any administration is there's never enough money. I sit and look just about every aspect of this country as we struggle to get out of a recession and what do I see as a solution? Throw money at it. The problem is there isn't any, so clever politicians (an oxymoron if ever there was one) try and come up with ways of funding things outside of government. Surely, and if we're going to be controversial, why not kick off with a doozy, the pull the troops out of everywhere; I'm fed up with this country trying to be the policeman of the world; let the bloody Yanks do that, they want the job. Turn Britain into a country like Holland or Norway or Finland - have an army, but one that defends our own shores, throws a few thousand troops at the UN and generally keeps it's nose out of other people's business. How often do you see the Dutch Home Secretary standing up pontificating about the injustices of the world, saying that his government will throw the full weight of their army into Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran or...

Can you imagine the money this country will save if it didn't have a nuclear warhead policy; if it didn't pour billions of pounds into an Afghan war that can go on for ever? Can you imagine how much work a year's worth of Afghan funds would achieve in run-down urban areas? How much it would go to supporting the haemorrhaging National Health Service? In fact, if we just became like any other country, we'd be rolling in it. And before you start spouting off about how we will suddenly become vulnerable; that's bollocks. How vulnerable is New Zealand? How much of a threat to the rest of the world are the Kiwis - unless it involves a rugby ball? The world is a different place - it might not be as safe as it once was, but we can have a home defence that protects us but doesn't go pissing off every other culture or race because of our allegiances.

So that's Defence and a big chunk of the budget taken care of. If the armed forces don't like this totally new idea of running our country, they can bugger off and be mercenaries somewhere if all they're interested in is fighting and propagating the belief that we're always a few minutes from doomsday.

Law and Order and Social Health and Welfare are things quite close to my heart and there's no easy fix in a country that still perceives itself as a group of haves and have nots. Some areas that I would concentrate on initially would be getting the police to actually solve crimes. I'd offer traffic police the choice - become a proper policeman or go and join the Transport Police, because they're going to be in charge of our roads from now on. I want police doing the job they have to do. Solving crimes, preventing civil disobedience, community policing and rebuilding the respect that people once had for the people that kept us safe. With the money saved from the defence restructuring and other savings I'm yet to unveil, I would be shovelling money at urban projects and rural ones too. I would be rebuilding the community infrastructure of estates and areas and if adults or children do anything to prevent this work from continuing and doing good for communities, then they will be punished, isolated and ostracised. If people want to fight the system then the system should be allowed to sanction people to the extent where they have to conform or they'll starve to death. Harsh, but for God's sake, you have to push human rights to a limit if you want a society with useful contributors in it, not worthless spongers, drug addicts and criminals with no intention of working or participating. If people in run down urban areas fight against the renewals, they get benefits stopped; they have amenities removed; they have restrictions placed on them and their families until they accept that they are in the minority. If they can't conform to a harmonious society, they get evicted; they get penalised and the only options they have is to either knuckle down and work at it or bugger off to another country and see how they get on there.

There's the issue of immigration always rearing its ugly head. Well, the answer is simple - if you're a British citizen you can stay; if you're applying for citizenship and you are offering something to this country, you can stay. If you want to come and live here, you have to follow the same principles if you want to move to Australia or New Zealand - how much money are you bringing with you and which of the following skills off a select list can you bring with you? Don't fill the criteria? Then don't come here. We'd offer limited refuge to asylum seekers, because we're changing our foreign affairs policy in line with our defence. We'll vote the way we see fit on issues and as we no longer want to be America's deputy, we don't want any of the political baggage that comes with sensitive issues like asylum seekers. We'll do our bit, but we're not pissing off every Muslim or communist country in the world just to please some stiff-shirted US president or senator.

So, what am I going to do with all those soldiers that don't want to become mercenaries or stay in the new smaller streamlined British armed forces? Well, youth crime is something that needs attention and the concept of putting most kids in prison is pretty hard to swallow unless they're prolific little shites or have committed a crime that can't be resolved by any other issues. What I'm suggesting is not a Boot Camp or form of National Service; just a number of existing YOIs and STCs be changed into Life Camps, where enforced residents learn about the world - if necessary, the hard way. These camps would put young people into them to work on the areas of their social skills that are either non-existent or haven't surfaced in a discernible way. We're not talking borstal, but we're talking school of life. Plus, with more money for urban regeneration, hopefully crime figures will drop when communities have something to do.

What about the economy? Well, economics was never my subject, but the first thing I'd do on the domestic front is cut taxes for anyone earning under £15k. From £15-30k there would be a sliding scale of taxation. £30-50k would have a higher sliding scale; £50-100k would be higher and so on and so forth and people earning over £250k would be expected to pay more, depending on their assets and equity rather than their yearly income. National Insurance would become a direct income source for the NHS. Pensions would be upped to the standard of living, and extra aid would be given to those that need it, while those who are independently wealthy can opt out of state pensions for tax relief on their savings.

I would instruct councils to start building council houses again, whether they run them themselves or put them out to associations, I don't care, but we need more social housing and with a proviso built in that if they are good tenants and pay on time within a period of time they can buy the property for a fraction of its actual value. Only brown field sites would be used for this kind of regeneration.

I would offer tax concessions to entertainments outlets and gyms - be seen offering better deals for families and the overweight and get cuts to make your deals worth your while. I would try to get councils to build more swimming pools and charge reasonable rates to families - make entertainment and fitness affordable, so that people don't feel tempted to download music and films; so that there isn't a black market. I'd be radical and look at different areas of funding. For all the successive governments drug policies; why not legalise drugs, allow chemists to sell them, cheaper than black marketeers and tax them.

This is where I came to a halt. I started, if memory serves me correctly, to get bogged down by the areas of government that I don't understand or I'm not familiar with.
Also, note that in December of last year, I didn't know who to vote for, but I wasn't suggesting a vote for the Liberals.
Since starting this blog, this and the two other unpublished things are the only pieces of writing that I saved and didn't delete. There has been a little jurisprudence applied in what little editing I did.
I lined these all up to be published throughout the day on December 25th. My intention is that for that day I won't turn the PC on. I will not check emails, but instead I will spend it with the wife (you remember her), the dogs and some peaceful Christmas music, maybe a bottle of wine or JD. Last year, I didn't turn off the computer and ended up spending an hour or so fucking about on Facebook, while the wife sat downstairs waiting for me to finish being boring. I don't intend for that to be the case this year!

So, if you've read one of the 3 X-Mas posts that are scheduled today; then I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and that you had peace on Earth and showed goodwill to all men.

The Tony Livesey Show

The second in a series of things I wrote that I didn't publish; this is from May 2010.

I'm pretty pleased about my firsts. First single - aged 6 - The Doors: Touch Me. First album - aged 10 - Holst: The Planets Suite. First US comic - aged 10 - Swamp Thing #1 (you'd understand if you understood comics). First famous prog rock group I met - 15 - Genesis. First marriage - aged 24 - still going strong!

A small, but select group that I realised has another notable first. The first person I ever sent and then received an email from: Terry Pratchett.

At least one of you reading this will have been there and will remember this. It was sometime in the early 1990s; Jay would remember better as he didn't consume vast quantities of drugs at the time; and I had just, with his help, I seem to recall - Jay's not Terry Pratchett's - set up my first modem and email reading software. Jay had a magazine, can't recall which one, but it had Pratchett's email address in it. I had just written a very positive review of the graphic novel interpretation of Mort and figured it would be interesting to see if he read the magazine I was working for.

His reply acknowledged that he had seen the review and that he read the magazine. Jay pointed out to me, after I received my first ever email and from some one famous, that my review of Mort had started off by me saying that I didn't read Pratchett because I found him a bit crap...

Me and famous (comics) people, eh? I do have a habit of inserting my foot or just saying something completely outrageous...

I was invited to the grand opening of a new era in comic book shops, back in 1990. A group of London businessmen had founded and opened this shop called Stateside Comics, which was basically your Marks and Sparks/Fortnum & Mason's of the comic shop world. It sold new comics and old, old comics for more money than your house is worth. It was the corporate comics shop personified. At the time, I had my own quaint, little, seedy and slightly grubby comic shop; all this glitz and glamour did nothing for me.

About midway through the opening 'gala', one of the owners called me and my friend over and we stood around talking for a few minutes. In our company were two goths, a bloke who would become one of my best friends and two of three principal owners of Stateside. With them knowing I was freelancing at the comics industry's only recognised comics magazine (and apparently my opinions were held in high esteem, for some strange reason), they were eager to impress me (which I now look back and laugh at considering I was this tracksuit wearing hippy, who looked like a 30 year old version of Frank Gallagher from Shameless) and one of the owner's, a guy called Mike Gold, says, "So, Phil, what do you think of our artist and all his groovy designs?"

Now, I'd already mentioned to several people that I thought the artwork adorning the shop was a poor and radically crappy version of comics great Jack Kirby (Google him), a man responsible for probably most of the comics that we regard as iconic nowadays. The Stateside artist was one Shaky Kane and there was nothing about his artwork that was anything more than badly done pastiche. However, I wasn't that analytical... "Sorry to say this Mike, but it's crap. The guy's a poor Kirby copy at best. I would have thought you would have gone for something a little less badly done retro," or words to that effect. But overall, my assessment was pretty derogatory. It took me nearly 20 minutes to realise why the two goths walked off in a strop. I thought they were fans, I didn't realise that one of them was Mr Kane himself.

He didn't like criticism; he never made it.

A year later, I think I usurped myself. I was at the annual UK comic book convention, which at the time was called UKCAC and was held in London. This was about 3 months before I became full time at the magazine and I was still very much a retailer first and foremost.

I was in a queue waiting to get into the publisher exhibition area, standing with a couple of fellow shop owners and we were chewing the fat and talking bollocks; ie, comics. We got onto the subject of the Marvel comic called The Mighty Thor, a book that I had loved as a kid, but by 1990 it had become a bit like Shaky Kane - a poor copy of a once great thing. I was still finding my feet in comics and therefore I had no real idea who was who and what was what, I just expressed my mind, freely and without prejudice. "Don't get me started on Thor," I said to my audience. "I was the comic's biggest fan for years, had everything from Journey into Mystery 83 (the first ever appearance) to the point where that moron Tom DeFalco started writing it." The group of people in front turned to listen to me. I can't remember my exact words, but I gave this scathing opinion of the Thor writer and Marvel's then editor in chief that I could have been describing a child molesting Nazi war criminal. One of the group in front was looking at me, the whole time. my audience had stopped sniggering and I looked at this short, stocky, bearded guy looking at me and said, "You know I'm right. DeFalco is shit."

And then we were allowed into the publisher room...

And one of my cohorts informed me that the guy who I enthusiastically praising Tom DeFalco's lack of writing acumen and probably inability to gain an erection without a rubber hammer was none other than... Tom DeFalco. Twenty years later and I hate to say this, but the only two words that come to mind, even now are: Tee & Hee...

Of course, sometimes my propensity for being a complete and utter bastard can have the adverse affect. I didn't write reviews very often, but when one of my then comics heroes Chris Claremont walked off the writing chores of one of my favourite comics - The X-Men - I was mortified. As far as I was concerned, for all his faults, NO ONE could replace Claremont. The new writers had a hard time. Marvel put two aspiring young Turks on the two X-Men books; Fabian Nicieza, a former editor on one and Scott Lobdell, a former comedian on another. I hated both of them. Nicieza was my preference, if only because he'd written some good stuff in the past. However, this didn't stop me from launching into a series of personal attacks on his work, which led to the two of us having a massive argument in a public forum. Oddly enough, we became good friends after the dust settled.

Lobdell, was another kettle of fish entirely. I was friends with his and Nicieza's boss, a guy called Bob Harras. He knew who I was and who I worked for and appreciated the influence a major comics magazine had. Plus we liked each other. Bob told Fabian and Scott that I was the guy he'd be using as a yardstick. He'd read them my reviews at every monthly editorial meeting; he basically beat them both with his 'Phil Stick'.

Scott really, really didn't like me. While I gave Nicieza the benefit of the doubt, In my opinion, Lobdell was a buffoon and a fraud; there was no way he had earned the right to write the best selling comic in the world. In fact, Scott was bugged by me and my unrelenting criticism so much, he almost quit. It would have happened if it hadn't been for his father. Scott told me a few years later, after we'd also become good friends, that his dad had said that the only way he could beat this was to write stories that impressed me and changed my opinion of him. This is exactly what Scott did and slowly, over the space of two years, his stories went from 1 and 2 ratings to 7 and 8s.

I still occasionally hear from both of them. Fabian seems more interested in discussing football (soccer) than comics, which suits me fine - his daughters are both excellent, ahem, soccer players and as he is of Argentinian origins, football is a religion to him. Scott will send me an email every other year, saying we should catch up. We never do, but the fact he still does it is good enough.

My worst faux pas though was when Marvel gave upcoming British artist Liam Sharpe the job of drawing The Hulk. As a big fan of the emerald monster, I was intrigued. The story was as usual pretty excellent, but the artwork, from an artist with huge potential was pretty abysmal and I said so. In fact, I tore into Sharpe like the bully kicking sand in the weed's face on the beach. He quit the Hulk and I was satisfied that I'd ruined a potentially successful career, I retreated to my Fortress of Solitude.

A couple of years later and I'm standing at the bar at the Bristol-based UK Comics Convention, feeling quite drunk, when this bear walks up to me and asks me if I was Phil Hall. I stupidly said, yes; which could have been really silly considering the size of this man in front of me. He wanted to shake my hand; which I duly did. He wanted to thank me for putting his career back on track and suddenly my interest was peaked. He started talking about the shoddy work he'd done on the Hulk and he must have seen all the colour drain from my face. I looked at him and said, "You... You... You're... Liam Sharpe?" Knowing the answer before I asked the question. Liam Sharpe makes the Hulk look a bit of a poof. He was enormous, definitely a bit of a biker look going on and despite my 6' frame, I felt dwarfed by him. He could quite easily and in many cases quite justifiably have ripped my head off and shit down my gaping wound and I wouldn't have had much of an argument. But, instead, he was thanking me like I'd given him a kidney. I even tried to apologise for all the hurtful things I'd said in the reviews, but he wouldn't have any of it. "If you hadn't said what you said, man, I wouldn't be working in comics now."

I've seen him a number of times since, even at a Rush concert, a long way from his home town on the south coast, and he always gives me a hug - I struggle to breath for days, but there really, truly, is no malice intended.

I was told a few years later, by someone who has been in the industry a lot longer than me that creators respected my opinions because I wasn't like all the other sycophantic hangers on. I talked business for as long as necessary and never dwelt on anything. Most of all, I was interested in the creators as human beings, not as sausage machines - which was how one artist described himself at a convention once.

I've never believed that people doing a job should be put on a pedestal. That said, it might be a character fault of mine to feel it is my duty to bring them down to earth. I've sat and had drinks with Alan Moore a number of times - we rarely talked comics and one of the few times we did, I berated him for not allowing one of his earlier works - Captain Britain - from being reprinted by Marvel. He had his reasons for not letting Marvel reprint it, but he was also stopping two other creators, not as successful as him, suffer from not getting the remuneration they deserved from reprint royalties. Within 6 months of that conversation, Marvel had scheduled a reprint. Dave Thorpe and Alan Davis would get what they deserved from such an excellent series and Alan gave his royalties to the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund. Everyone was a winner!

Obviously, sometimes I really upset people...

In 2002, a review from D.R. Booth of a Catwoman comic in Borderline had someone completely unattached to this comic, but a top name professional all the same, contact me with a letter filled with hurt, recrimination and bad language. Booth, one of our team of reviewers at the time has written a review of said comic, but had actually neglected to review the comic at all, preferring to question whether or not the female writer of the comic had gotten work in the industry because she slept with a more successful writer. I accepted the review because the reviewer was saying that the writer of the comic was so bad, the only way he could see how she got the job was by performing sexual favours. I felt it was a good review; it was satirical, funny and ultimately 120 words that wouldn't start a war or kill anyone.

So, my reply to the writer who had been on the receiving end of the 'sexual favours' was measured, professional and direct. No, the magazine wouldn't offer a retraction; they were the comments of an individual, which we had a disclaimer about at the beginning of the magazine and the magazine would not issue an apology. His response to my reply was startlingly vicious. The writer, who I believe was hoisted by his own self-importance, threatened us with legal action, he threatened to 'sue our asses off' and even sank to the point where he said if he ever met me or the offending reviewer he'd show us what was for.

As you might imagine, this pissed me off a little. Had I been at Comics International, it would have been handled differently; my old boss would probably have turned it round and run the letters as a way of showing what a plonker the writer was. Instead, I replied saying that he could sue us all he wanted; we didn't have any money; every one involved was a volunteer and that I'd see him in court - if he paid my expenses. The confrontation petered out; but friends of this writer started to stop being so helpful to us - it wasn't a major problem, we didn't depend on US creators - but it upset a few people on the 'staff'. It could well have been the first straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak.

This was compounded by a further altercation between me and a A list British writer about a year later. Naturally, it wasn't my fault how it started, but when I have arguments with people I don't tend to dance about; I go straight for the throat and work my way backwards. With Fabian Nicieza this worked; the argument we had had on Usenet started viciously and ended up with us laughing about it. With Warren Ellis, I took his holier-than-thou accusations and rhetoric badly, so I just out Ellis-ed him. The Southend-based writer (not the Nick Cave band member)n was renowned for being a no holds barred, straight for the jugular kind of bloke and for much of the late 1990s the two of us become good mates because we were very much the same. However, by the early 2000s, we were no longer mates, because, for some reason, bad blood had risen.

Borderline was in trouble. It had been let down by Cool Beans World; lost a lot of its US benefactors, had failed in its bid to become a 'proper' magazine and people involved in its production were suffering. A publisher called Top Shelf had, several months earlier, announced it was going out of business unless it could be saved by either donations from people or same said people buying their back catalogue of unsold books. Top Shelf not only saved itself, it actually went into the black. Comics people had united for a good cause and saved it.

Borderline was a real success - critically. However, it had a group of people who really didn't like it. This group was essentially the sycophants of the Warren Ellis Forum on Delphi. The WEF was the largest gathering of arselickers in the comics industry and a very high proportion of them would walk barefoot over broken glass just to stick matchsticks in Ellis' shit. If he said the sky was a lurid pink, by God it was. He lorded it over fans, fellow professionals and a small group of people who I still find it difficult to categorise. There was a group of wannabe writers and artists, some designers, a few programmers and a fair share of 'I'm not sure what he does but he's friends with Ellis or his cronies' type people. From the moment Borderline came out, Ellis and his band of brothers attacked it remorselessly. There was no rationale for it; my team consisted of some very knowledgeable people, many who were on this WEF thing, and none of them could see any real reasoning behind the disdain - except that I was involved in it.

So, when Danny Black, my PR guru, came up with the idea of asking the comics industry to bail us out; it was the WEF that took the request as something personal. Ellis, who by this time had become so hoisted by his own petard, rarely posted on his own forum, but he made this an exception and he made sure that what we were trying to do was looked upon as crass and distasteful. His flunkies all backed him up and I, when I eventually saw the abuse being levelled at us - and it was abuse - decided that I needed to go onto the WEF and make an attempt to stop it from turning into a lynching.

Ellis took serious umbrage at my presence; so I made it personal and attacked him and the fact he'd just recently lost his father. The things I said were not nice and there was absolutely no excuse. The only mitigating circumstance I had was the fact that Ellis and his crones had been seriously disrespectful and downright nasty to my editorial team, who didn't deserve the harsh words and defamatory comments made about them or the magazine they worked for nothing to produce every single month. The only thing I've ever believed about the entire hate campaign aimed at Borderline was because none of them had come up with the idea first and they all believed they were the next generation of bright young things to come from comics journalism.

Little did any of us suspect that while way ahead of its time, Borderline was also the last throw of the dice. The final fling for comics magazines. I'm proud that it was an excellent advert for what comics journalism is capable of. I'm not proud of the fact that people hated it because of my involvement in it. Personally, I blame a lot of that to the man who gave me the opportunity to work in comics magazines in the first place; but that's a story for another time and another place.

But Borderline was another first for me. My first comics award; my first proper comics magazine, developed, designed and delineated by me (I say delineated, because all I did was polish all the brilliant work that others submitted to it) and for all the bad luck that dogged it and the bad vibes that, at times, still reverberate. I'm proud of it and the fact that we gave it a real go. The naysayers all won in the end, but it took a long time to put us down for good.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Forever Autumn

The first of a series of things wot I wrote throughout the year but never got published.

The Internet has become legit over the last few years. When I say 'legit' I actually mean that its inveigled its way into society to the point where it is now a universally recognised method of communication. I noticed a few years ago that the BBC, real advocates of the www, were reading texts, tweets, Facebook comments and stuff from their own websites. My initial reaction was this was filler for the 24 hour news service, and while that opinion hasn't really changed, I don't actually see the difference between using the 'net to communicate or writing a letter.

It doesn't change my feelings that reading viewers comments and opinions is a little pointless - despite having had my own read out on Radio5Live. The cynic in me wants to scream 'who gives a shit about what Mrs B of Halesowen has to say about the current state of [blah]'. Obviously, I'm right - no one really gives a shit, but 20 million of us still contribute in some way or another to the cacophony on the TV, radio and media.

As someone who, at least, was trained to be a journalist, it's nothing but inverted snobbery. I don't think these people who contribute are worthy of contributing, because part of me knows that whatever Mrs B has to say, she is one person and one person rarely makes a difference. Besides, Mrs B might be an extremist who believes that people using cycles on pavements should all be castrated or sterilised. She is, of course, entitled to her opinion, as am I. The Internet has led to people like Mrs B becoming more opinionated. 30 years ago, she wouldn't have rattled off a 'tweet' or an email to whatever offending group she does now; in fact, she might have been loathe to even put pen to paper - because, what good would it do?

But the legitimisation of the Internet has led to it now being a place where there are no boundaries, a place that has 'encouraged' our right of freedom of speech.

You hear, almost weekly, about some poor schmuck who has lost his or her job because of the amount of time they spend on Facebook or for tweeting or posting something derisory about their employer. People lose their jobs over the Internet's use now. Whereas we are encouraged to give our opinions on any current affair going, we face destitution if we say or infer something that could be construed as derogatory to our employer. Inflammatory comments about the government are treated like words of wisdom, vague comments about your job can see you hauled before countless disciplinary panels. It is a fine and very blurry line.

Recently, in the paper, there have been two quite believable examples of how the Internet is both a joke and a very serious business. Take, for instance, the young man from the Midlands who jokingly said he'd blow up Robin Hood airport if the bad weather prevented him from meeting the girl he'd struck a friendship up with. He was fined £1000 and will now carry a criminal record because of a love-struck comment aimed at, in the majority, the people who knew him. At the appeal, lawyers argued every facet of the case, even quoting John Betjemen's 'friendly bombs' line. The case was being decided by high court judges and they will have to balance a mixture of witty impromptu comments with the current security state the world is in. Had the man been called Mohammed Yousif or something like that, we probably wouldn't be viewing the story with the same disdain.

There is also the point where you have to ask yourself, who was reading this guy's tweet and thought it bad enough to report to the police? More important than that, how come the police and the CPS decided that this person, with no criminal record, in a good job and arguably a respected member of his own societal group, should be prosecuted. A lesson, perhaps? I don't know why, but I do know that in a period where the police force are struggling to enforce their law (and faced with massive cuts next year) and have virtually given up the fight against anti-social behaviour in many areas, this looks really bad. An easy prosecution? Not at all, because the fall out from it has left a bad taste in many mouths.

However, the other side of the coin was shown later on in the paper, when a hotelier was faced with unbelievably bad reviews from guests staying at his establishment. The reviews were so bad they have had an adverse affect on business and there's not a lot the hotelier can do about it. The bad reviews will remain on the net long after the hotel and its owners have died and bad reviews always have far more resonance than good ones. it was estimated by one journalist that a bad restaurant review in a Sunday supplement can have a short term bad effect on a business, but an on-line review can be devastating.

When I was working at the magazine, one of our young interns asked why we never got letters praising the magazine, why we only ever got letters of complaint. There is a reason for this - people are more compelled to criticise than praise and very few would put pen to paper without a negative reason. There is also a wider, professional, reason - good news doesn't sell, bad news does, and while the link might seem tenuous, the readers have learnt over the years that a complaint is more likely to get printed or responded to than a compliment.

For many years, governments have wondered how the Internet can be policed. Initially it was because of the proliferation of porn, Now every one is a critic, an expert or a voice in the vast wilderness; they are also, and I've harped on about this for years, people who can and will be pernicious, nasty, vindictive, un-supportive, outrageous and vaguely illegal. The Internet is much much bigger than the world and with the rise and rise of social networking sites it will continue to blur all the known boundaries of decency, privacy and prurience. The Internet allows most users to be something they aren't when on line. This isn't a new thing, but as more and more people use the net and see what they can use it for, there's more chance of it descending into the depths that only a handful have seen so far.

If nothing else, the next few years are going to be a real learning curve for people, as more and more organisations, prospective employers and people scrutinise your on-line behaviour, to determine whether or not you are right for them.

Since writing this, the guy who threatened to bomb Robin Hood airport lost his conviction appeal. He obviously has a 'friend' who is a really pernicious bastard, because research suggests that the people who 'shop' people like him are invariably people who are close to the offender in some way. Presumably this was done because Robin Hood man said or did something that his friend felt strongly enough about to fuck up his life. My gut instinct says this person was probably a Christian...

A Blast from the Past

Has been deleted until I can a) work out how to format it properly and b) until it's funnier.


Have a happy Christmas, if that's what tickles your fancy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trading Dark Matter on the Stock Exchange

Despite having a number of bonus blogs scheduled for the next few days, this is probably going to be my last 'live' entry until next week; by which time it will all be over for another year and we can all start saving again.

I wouldn't do Christmas if it wasn't for the wife. I like wishing people a good one, but when it boils down to it, it's just a massive excuse to get into debt, buy shit and be excessive. I might not be religious, but what I miss about Christmas is peace on earth, goodwill to all men and that slightly magical feeling it seemed to have when I was a child. I love carols; I adore the idea of people getting rid of all that selfish aggression that is rife between the months of January and November. But other than that its just one big fucking commercial fuckaroo. There's bugger all on TV (like there is anyhow, but...), everything is Year in Review biased and excess is the order of the season.

The wife won't let me do Christmas. She hates the idea of me spending a grand total of £100 on the entire festive season. The fact that I would tell all of our friends and family that they're not getting the drippings of a rancid cow's arse, let alone a present or a card. I wouldn't have a tree, I would not have decorations and I wouldn't be cheery and festive. I might even stretch to a massive FUCK OFF wreath on the front door. Instead, I have to just chisel away at her making sure she spends less and less every year. Next year she might have to, especially if there are no jobs on the horizon once I join the massed ranks of Cameron's Career Unemployed.

I know this makes me sound even more like the grumpy old bastard that my blog persona has become; but seriously, don't some of you just wish Christmas could be a couple of days at the end of December and then get on with our lives?

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2011 holds a wee bit of trepidation. It is an unknown quantity that could be one of the scariest in my 48 years. There are some massive things taking place - my potential unemployment; a possible operation on my back; a 25th wedding anniversary just to name 3 biggies.

The consultant at the spinal injuries unit was a good bloke. He examined me, told me that I was still suffering from the prolapsed disc and from chronic sciatica. Referred me to a surgeon. Put me on Amitriptolene - which used to be the only anti-depressant available in the 1960s and 70s (despite it actually being more harmful in many physical cases) - it is now used to help heal nerve damage. He's confident I can regain a lot of what I've lost from the waist down. He also told me that it was time for me to try and return to my normal life; that going back to work, lifting things and getting some exercise was going to have a far better affect on me than sitting around worrying about possibly slipping a disc again - besides, it aint going to happen again, at least not where it's gone. It might go somewhere else, but it can't go in the same place twice!

One interesting thing did come out of my consultation; the doc reckons that I might have brought the prolapse on myself, because I stopped smoking; thus confirming the theory I had over the last couple of months.

The prospect of either trying to find another new career or taking a massive pay cut to remain in the one I enjoy is also the kind of thing you don't want on your mind at Christmas. But, shit happens and despite moaning for years, shit of this kind has not happened to me for a long time. I am not the guy that the wife married any more, so pulling my socks up and getting on with the task is going to be a lot easier than the pot smoking mid 20s layabout I was before I started my shop and began almost 20 years of non-stop employment!

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There are three things I want to do in 2011. The first is go to New York to see Blow Up Hollywood live and meet my good friend and inspiration behind BUH, Steve Messina. Steve is one of those rare things in the world, a thoroughly lovely guy. He's one of the most spiritual people I've had the pleasure of making acquaintance with and economy permitting I intend to visit him and party like its 2011!

Another person I fully intend to meet for the first time is Will Vigar. I've 'known' Will for over 10 years, yet despite that, we've never met in person and I fully intend to make sure that this anomaly is righted.

The other thing is quite simple really. I want to get naked with Karen Gillan. This is likely to be the least achievable of my wishes.

ي ي ي

In 2011, I also intend to go to more gigs. Roger and I are already going to Leamington in April to see Blackfield. With a bit of luck Amplifier will do a tour this coming year and depending on how far south they get, I will try and see them at least twice. I also intend to go to at least 3 more gigs - don't know who I'll see, but I've neglected my gig going in 2010. One is not enough.

ي ي ي

It appears that the thaw isn't going to happen just yet.
My opposite neighbours need loft insulation.
Either my disdain for fishwife is very apparent now, or he's discovered this blog.

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I would like to grudgingly wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable festive period. May you get what you want. Be nice to each other; don't let the bastards grind you down and come out the end of it with a real desire to make 2011 a special year. But above all else, don't die!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Under the Floor Again

Klytus, I'm bored...

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I don't know why Neighbour-Fishwife doesn't just buy himself a megaphone and traipse around the street shouting, "It's been snowing. The council haven't gritted. The roads are bad. Would you like me to SHOUT SOME MORE AT 7.30 in the morning?" Oh yeah, he doesn't need a FUCKING megaphone. Jesus Harry Christ if anyone EVER suggests that I'm loud again I'm going to remove their fucking eyeballs with their own testicles (and if they haven't got testicles then I'll use a rusty spoon)!

I'm sure he thinks he's doing a public service, what with him being a fireman and all, but seriously; you would have to be a mixture of blind, stupid and him to realise that we have had a lot of snow down and the roads are looking a bit white. And then, for some strange reason, he decides to get the shovel out on his patio and for some even stranger reason his shovel on his patio seems to make 500 times more noise than anybody else's. You might think I'm being a tad unreasonable here, after all, he needs to clear the snow away. I would be if he hadn't, after finishing this, piled his equally noisy children into his car and drove off somewhere. If my back wasn't fucked, I would go outside RIGHT NOW and shovel all the snow off of my patio, conservatory and shed roofs and throw it over his side. What with his abnormal children blowing fucking vuvuzelas at 7.45 in the morning and scaring the living crap out of my Ness (not to mention waking me up from a dream that involved Karen Gillan, completely naked and with nothing on her mind apart from pleasuring me)...

Okay, I lied. It was actually an anxiety dream about me having to read 10 things off of a list and failing miserably; but if it had been a dream about Karen Gillan I think I would have killed them all...

Roger said, "It seems we got between 2 and 3 inches [of snow], so Shoesville still got off lightly compared to the rest of the Midlands. Won't stop people saying they can't cope tho' ..."
Oddly enough, the wife returned home after being gone for work for ½ an hour. "The roads are atrocious, there are people driving like complete tossers, I'm going to catch the bus because if some wanker hits that it will win!" She got into work at 10am (she really shouldn't, she has a shocking cough and the beginnings of the flu) and reckons Northampton town centre looks like Alaska, with maybe 20 foot less of snow. Roger, it seems, was right. But I could have saved them all the trouble, because Fishwife was broadcasting this at 7.30 this morning!

Cunt!

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I'm off to the Spinal Injuries Assessment Unit for a 2pm appointment. I'm hoping that whoever I'm seeing will be able to offer me some advice and a possible route out of this debilitating mess. I'd like to be able to have the same amount of feeling below L4 that I had before the contents of my disc spilled out into the knot of wibbly bits called my nerves!

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If you're in Northampton or planning on coming here at all before February, I have to recommend you go to the Queen Adelaide in Kingsthorpe. In February, Paul and Krystyna Barton will be leaving the pub to pursue new ventures elsewhere. They have turned it into one of the best drinking establishments in the county and employed some good and amiable staff, such as Harriet and Billy, who hopefully will stay on after the Barton family have moved on.

I hope the last Christmas they have there will be the best!

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I cannot believe I did two reviews of the year and didn't mention MY FUCKING LOUSY KEYBOARD!!!!

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Can I just say that I really hope my good old mate Simon and his lovely lady Tracey have some good news in 2011. Of all my friends, Simon's lady deserves it and if there is a God he'll ensure that things go right for a change! Hang in there guys!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Leave Them All Behind

Clocks!

Let me quantify that statement: Fuck the Scottish.

Let me quantify that last statement: it would appear that our northern cousins are the only people in the entire British Isles that are opposed to double British Summer Time; despite the overwhelming evidence that suggests it will be extremely good for the country at absolutely no cost at all. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/20/british-summer-time-changing-clocks-accidents-daylight explains it all and has some very convincing arguments. It also has a couple of convincing arguments about NOT doing it; my favourite being: make GMT start in the middle of November and ending at the end of January - 5 weeks either side and the rest BST. I could live with that.

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I did a couple of year reviews and obviously I've remembered a few things that I wanted to mention (not that any of them will ever see this, but, hey...).

Over the first nine months of the year I was involved in the Intergenerational Project that I created and as a result of that I worked with a lot of really great people. These people included: Julia Baulch, Anne Lovely, Gilly Tompkins, Holly, Paul, Chris and the too numerous to mention members of the School of Life Steering Group, which I was honoured to serve on for nearly a year. Some of these people I actually regard as friends!

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I often mention the pub quiz. What I haven't mentioned is that for some of us the pub quiz isn't regarded as just pleasure...

We started doing quizzes about six years ago now. it started at the Bold Dragoon, me, the wife, Roger and B, plus Derrick and very occasionally Kate. We were the kings of the music quiz, winning probably 20 of the 24 that were held over a year, and we also won perhaps 40% of the General Knowledge quizzes. It was never for much, £20 here and there, but we soon accumulated a big kitty and realised that we could turn these winnings into something productive. We started to use the winnings to go out for a meal once every 3 months - paid for by our general knowledge.

We then identified the Malt Shovel's monthly quiz as another potential money spinner and won that a few times in the two years we frequented. That was well worth winning, with pots of £50+. However, it was around this time that Derrick started to stop enjoying himself. What he regarded as a bit of fun had for the wife, Roger and I become massively competitive. we didn't go to quizzes to enjoy ourselves, we went to win.

Things change. The Bold's quiz died - probably because it was won by us or our rivals Mucking Fuddled and Norman and Jackie left the Malt Shovel and their fabulous quiz was replaced by a moronic idiotic jackanape. We went to one at the White Elephant for about an year, but didn't win that very often, realising that it was far too common denominator for us. The quiz was filled with questions about ITV, modern pop music and celebrities - all the things we pretty much avoid like the plague.

Then we discovered the Vic and have been going there for the last 3 years. The team has changed little, the core four still remain, but we've been joined by Mike - who despite being extremely annoying at times, has become a bit of a wag and even occasionally answers a question that in the grand scheme of things wins us the quiz. And there's Colin, who just happens to be my oldest friend, having now known him since I was 13, which equates to a grand 35 years. Colin has won us a lot of quizzes over the last year or so he's been with us. He is, to all intents and purposes, our secret weapon. A font of irrelevant knowledge and someone who has embraced the ethos of the quiz team - winning counts, losing is something to avoid at all costs!

That said, both Mike and B enjoy the social side of the quiz nights; the people at the Vic are great and my previously mentioned mate One El runs a thoroughly enjoyable evening; so when we don't win, we can still enjoy ourselves. The good thing about our philosophy is that in the six years we've been doing it, we've averaged about 4 free meals a year - and that really can't be sniffed at!

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Apparently this: " I think Matt Smith is great, I want to have Karen Gillan's children, but it just didn't have that sense of fun and forget-ability that Tenant's DW had. " didn't make a lot of sense to a couple of you. Let me elucidate.

I used the word forget-ability for a specific reason; I felt RTD's DW was pretty much that, forgettable. I occasionally watch an episode on Watch or BBC3 and sit there racking my brains because I can't remember ever seeing it, despite the fact I watched them all. I have always thought of Doctor Who as throwaway Saturday night TV.
It's on and it's gone.
I rarely analyse it, despite getting involved in conversations about it and I rarely invest the same amount of emotional energy in it like I have some US TV shows.

Moffat's DW doesn't have the same affect on me. It's cinematic; looks brill; I love the actors and yet... there's something about it that isn't quite right. it isn't RTD's and RTD's was, at times, uber-shite and forgettable; Moffat's is also forgettable but also... soulless. That's what I meant. Sorry if I confused you, Roger (but you are eleventy-one now!).

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I just deleted an entire entry. Didn't want to tempt fate. Will use it on January 2nd.

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Be warned, over Christmas I have scheduled a number of blog entries. One on Christmas Eve and 3 on the big day itself, so far. These are things that have either been written and never published or in one case a reprint of something I wrote ages ago, that's worth repeating, IMHO.

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Here is a funny story I got from Roger this morning...

He and B were entertaining young friends last night. "I was attempting to be sociable with the South African chap last night, the first thing I said to him was 'So, where do you hail from then?' Not having heard him speak up to that point. He replied 'Aylesbury,' so my witty riposte on hearing his accent was, 'Blimey, have they got herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically over the plains of Buckinghamshire now then?' I said this in a jocular fashion so there was no reason for him to suppose I was doing anything other than joshing, but for some reason it sailed so far over his head it went into orbit, and he actually said, 'No, I'm originally from Siff Ifrica'!?!? I did my best not to larf!"

Tee and indeed hee...

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Apparently, the Big Chill is going to start to disappear on Boxing Day. The BBC's long range weather forecast suggests that by the advent of 2011 we could be sweltering in double figures as warmer, moist air from the mid-Atlantic will begin to dominate our weather.

Now, I, being like so many others, am a bit of a weather bore (what do you mean, you'd not noticed?) and I have five different weather websites saved in my Favourites list. There's UKWeather.com that was the place that told me about winter starting today and there's Accuweather, which is rarely accurate. In fact, Accuweather appears to be contrary to every other site I frequent and is the only one that offers a 15 day forecast - which sometimes has quite hilarious comments on it. BBC says rain, Accuweather says record breaking hot temperatures and possible sandstorms!

However, Accuweather also has the best named weather forecaster in the world, one Joe Bastardi, an American who it seems lives in the USA and does all of his European forecasting from the comfort of his own office in the USA. He is pretty much removed from the day to day and as a result I avoid reading his long range weather predictions for Europe because they're likely to be like Accuweather's 15 day forecast, based on the weather musings of Hans Christian Anderson... Except, a week ago, during all this arctic conditions, I did just that, I read Bastardi's column and baulked at it. He reckoned that we'd see milder conditions in the UK by Boxing day and that Atlantic fronts would bring temperatures in double figures by the New Year.

It now appears that he might be right and a week ahead of every one else. Obviously this being the weather it can all change - for instance the BBC weather site suggests dry and cold for tonight and tomorrow, while the TV forecast is now suggesting we might see 10cm of snow overnight. That said, on Countryfile on Sunday, they gave the 7 day forecast which by Monday morning was complete fantasy.

Now, there's a possibility: Fantasy Weather Forecasting...