Thursday, May 30, 2013

This Week's Obsession

Some things are sent to try us, while other things are just ... well, you can finish that line, I'm having trouble finishing anything at the moment.

I don't know if having a job will make me less sensitive to everything going on around me, but this week I have really felt like I could just explode and either go on some mad killing spree or just burst a blood vessel and drop dead while raging against the injustice of fucking everything!

I've spent the last couple of days obsessing over my lack of being able to play Classic Scrabble any longer, via Facebook, because the old tried and tested variety, the one that has been played for years and for the last 6 at least on Facebook has changed; been made over; been made 'new & improved' with the emphasis on 'how much money can we make from this now?' I even put my old reporter's hat on, got in contact with the relevant parties and have been met by a wall of silence. One of the interested parties contacted me, asked me what publication I worked for, I said this was a freelance job and the article would be aimed at the UK's Saga Magazine and I heard nothing back from them either.

The sad truth is that Scrabble is predominantly played in the UK by the over 40s - a demographic that does not send shivers of expectations up the spines of anyone associated with social networking, mobile phones and portable devices. For every one of my friends with a 4G phone there's 3 who don't even know if they've got 1G let alone multiples and while the outpouring of contempt aimed at Scrabble on Facebook has been unprecedented it will ultimately amount to complaining to Tesco about Asda's prices - not a lot and they won't be interested.

If it hasn't been Scrabble it's been ATOS, the government employed health fascists who feel that most corpses are fit to work and have been told to get the figures reaped or lose the contract. Allegedly, and I really don't know how true this is (and I am a wee bit sceptical), but apparently over 10,000 people have died since ATOS were employed that can be attributed in some way to these people either having lost their benefits or just told they're fit even if they're on their last legs and just about to peg it anyhow. It's like they are unbelievably callous and evil and have decided to help the terminally ill die quicker by fucking them over financially. I have said it many times before, but how do the LibDems sleep at night?

We managed to lose the quiz last night despite dropping only 2½ points. Our main opposition - The Armenian Celebrities - who consist of two adults about my age and their son are walking encyclopaedias and usually screw up on the music round after forging ahead. Last night they managed to get 14 to our 12½ on the music, thus beating us by ½ a point and therefore only dropping 2 points for the entire quiz. It appears that instead of driving away the competition since we've moved pub quizzes, there are new teams challenging us. Last night, of the nine teams, six of them finished within 3 point of us - the competition is hotting up.

I woke up this morning (der-der-da-der) and I had a cut on the side of my nose and it felt like someone had punched me in the face. That didn't happen according to the wife and no dog jumped on my head. This is the mystery I am taking to Wellingborough this morning, as I face the shopping hell of the other Sainsburys.

There's a book review coming and I still haven't heard back from the bloke who offered me some work - more on that some other time.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Benign Warmongering

So, I got a job alert from the Job Centre Plus's Universal Job Finder thing as a Muslim Chaplain for the Ministry of Justice in Newmarket. The hilarity that ensued was so intense it would have registered on the Richter scale. Sadly the utter weirdness of this job alert was overshadowed by events in Woolwich and then in many places with unprecedented racial hatred. There's many things I could say about this, but, you know, no one needs to say anything much. I think we all saw some really odd aspects of human nature on Wednesday; aspects that perhaps are a direct result of the internet, films, video games and the utter contempt we hold for each other, when once we loved our neighbour...

Imam Phil
I have a conspiracy theory, but frankly, at the moment even I'm not convinced.

An interesting thing happened at the Job Centre on Wednesday; my 'advisor' commented on the number of interviews I've had, which is a higher percentage than average. "I get interviews because I tick the disabled box and they all have DEA targets to fill and DDA fears to assuage. They essentially don't want me to sue them for not interviewing me because I can do the job but have a disability."

"That's a very cynical attitude to have, perhaps you're just well suited for the job."
"I am. I don't go for jobs that I'm not well suited for. They don't give the job to me because I am disabled, I'm too old and I have an air of desperation around me now that suggests I'd do just about anything for a job. They have no intention of giving me a job, they're just going through the motions."
She then said something that put her much higher than her colleagues. "At the end of the interview, when they ask you if you have any questions, say to them, 'Now I've spent x number of minutes selling myself to you, what weaknesses do you see so that I can address these points and give myself a better opportunity of being successful?'" Which, you have to admit, is quite inspired. It's also a little like asking that girl at school out because you're scared of rejection, but hey I'm not scared of rejection any more, it's happening more often than a warm day. Think about it, it's putting them in an awkward position; yes they'll offer feedback after the event, but ask them for it right there and then. It doesn't mean you'll sway their opinion, but you'll get an idea from their reaction how well you've done and if you want to be arsey when the rejection comes you can speak to the manager and say, 'but you said...' The only thing they can say is that there was a candidate they thought might be better suited to the position or they have to be honest and as honesty can cost money...

The thing is I'm getting to the point where I really don't think I'm going to get a job any time soon and to be really scathing, the Job Centre Plus doesn't do bugger all to try and get people back into work; they can't offer solid actual jobs because there aren't that many of them out there and the ones that are suited to me have 100 others going for each and every one.


Let's move on, shall we?

The weather. I haven't talked about the weather in, ooh, at least 45 minutes. I actually almost devoted an entire blog entry on the BBC's monthly weather forecast, but because I'm up and down like the Assyrian empire at the moment I never got around to it and probably went and planted beetroot seedlings instead. The BBC/Met Office stuck their necks out and reckoned that we might just be seeing the end of our mini ice age. They reckoned that the upcoming bank holiday would be shit but after that things would pick up and we'd start to see some settled and warm weather...

Snow in May?
It appears that the complete opposite is now going to happen. The bank holiday weekend won't be that bad - no great shakes, but dry, sunnier than of late and a tad warmer and by Monday night, Tuesday morning the country will be hit by gale force storms dragging cold north Atlantic air back over us and keeping us all in that nice Christmas jumper, which is now getting a little threadbare on the elbows. Even the long range forecasts that seemed to echo the BBC have done a quick backtrack and one 'expert' reckons a cool June might give way to some warmer 'conditions' in July. Jesus fucking hell... Good weather is one of the few things that keeps me going at times...

I remember 1975, June 5th, snow settling on Goldings Middle School playing field. It's etched on my memory; I was sitting in old dragon Miss Blencow's classroom, watching it snow and thinking that this must be a joke. I was thinking that at 13! With the exception of 1979, only four years later and just as memorable for being a cold and miserable year and 1985, the year before I got married, when the warmest day of the year was ... October 1st, 2012 and now 2013 are quickly becoming memorable for all the same cold, wet, windy and fucking horrible reasons. But, and I know you shouldn't start a sentence with but, but I'm struggling to remember a summer since 1998 that has been anything to get excited about. We were blessed in the '90s with lovely hot and sunny summers and mild winters; it happened so often it became the norm, but now...

In 2003, we had ceiling fans installed in the main rooms of the house - bedroom, my office and dining room - and the one in the bedroom is used the most. The room is at the back of the house that gets direct sunlight on it for a sustained period of time and tends to get much hotter even if you shut the curtains, etc. We have had the fan on at night about 10 times in the last three summers, compared to 20 or 30 times each year for the first half dozen after we had it put in. This country isn't as humid as it used to be; it isn't as warm or as sunny or as nice and the temperature on my patio at the moment, on May 24th, is 7 fucking degrees, it's pissing down with rain and I'm not sure it's ever even been funny. I was told this evening that the temperature (outside of London) hasn't reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit since 2009. Is this true?

The Internet and its applications continues to throw 'improvements' at us that we didn't ask for and don't need. The latest is Scrabble, the only game I have stuck with through thick and thin, and it is having a facelift to allow early-adopter c*n*s to play the game on mobile devices. Never mind people like me who just like to play the fucking game on a computer; I'll lose all my stats, all my scores and because of some fucking ridiculous quirk, I'll no longer be able to play certain people that I'm not friends with on fucking Facebook. Of course, it's all an improvement to make my life easier and Scrabble's ability to sell to me, market me and use all my information and we seemed to think the Internet was actually free...

Ushuaia/Tierra del Fuego - Argentina
I had this idea. It's probably not even original, but, you know, it's still an idea. There might be 200 channels of shit to watch on TV, and I'm sure some of the natural history stations cover this, but I was only saying to the wife the other day about places on the planet that no one seems to ever visit. You know if someone said to you, 'what do you know about the peninsulas of the Baja of California and Kamchatska (on the opposite side of the Pacific) or that archipelago of islands that makes up a large part of southern South America, the bit to the left of Tierra del Fuego, which, in itself, would probably be an interesting place to visit. How many people actually know what Greenland looks like from the ground? Or what about that place I was banging on about a few weeks ago, Reine in Norway. I've never seen a TV show about that place and it's stunning.

La Paz, Baja of California - looks bleak, dunnit?
My Google Map tourism took me to the Baja and to what appears to be the capital of that peninsular, a place called La Paz (not the one in Bolivia) and the only word that I could think of was 'wow' and yet it was almost deserted from the street view images. It must be weird living at the end of one of the longest peninsulas in the world; I wonder what it's like if you don't own a boat?

There are obviously huge swathes of Russia and China that you can't do the Google street view thing and then there's those islands around Kamchatsky (I know, it was with an A now its got a Y) - that's the peninsula between the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk; just above Japan. In fact, I wasn't even aware that above Sapporo is this bloody massive island with a place called Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk - obviously Russian, but closer to both China and Japan than its motherland... What's the island called? Who lives there? Why does every single photo of the place seem to have 10 feet of snow on the floor?

Sakhalin Oblast - a place of geothermal interest and oil...
Aha, it appears it's on the island of Sakhalin Oblast which sounds like a drunk Irishman on weird drugs. The thing is it's a place that has swung back and forth between various owners; appears to be strategic because of the oil and has some of the wildest temperature swings I've ever seen - as cold as -35 in the winter and as warm as +35 in the summer; the place looks fascinating. But, so did huge parts of the Baja (and that is actually a protected place).

Arunachal Pradesh - who would have thought, eh?
Have you ever heard of a place called Cox's Bazar? It's about 200km south of Chittagong, in a part of Bangladesh I didn't even know existed, but I also didn't know that a massive wad of India - the Assam part - tends to be forgotten about: Arunachal Pradesh is closer to Beijing than it is to Mumbai!!!

What do you know about Micronesia? Patagonia? The Northern most parts of Canada or Norway or Finland or Russia? We know a fair bit about Australia, but what about the north west of it that never seems to be talked about - there's a place called Derby that appears to be about 1000 miles from anywhere; or Tasmania that only seems to be mentioned whenever a disaster strikes there.

Caspian sea and region
What's it like to live around the Caspian Sea? Most people are familiar with quite a few South American countries, but what about Suriname, Guyana, Ecuador, Paraguay and we've all heard of Uruguay and Fray Bentos, but what's the place actually like? I did quite good at geography at school and places, and locations is, I find, quite interesting (I devoured a book on South America once; it was just a tour guide really, but it told me considerably more about the place than I'd ever guessed or known), but even if these places are unbelievably boring - and trust me, I spent an hour 'driving' down the main highway on the Baja of California
Aspects of corned be... Fray Bentos, Uruguay
(using Street View) and it is just miles and miles and miles and miles of creamy flatness with a few sage brush and shrubs floating about. It is also unbelievably hot, according to the BBC's weather site, La Paz  can get as hot as 45c and I read that it's one of those strange places where whatever direction the wind comes from, it's warm.

I'd willingly travel around the world visiting all of these places for the benefit of television and education. Or I'd watch a travelogue about these places that people live but very few (British) tourists venture to.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interlude

My mood has been swinging around like a rugby player's scrotum in a wild scrum over the last few weeks and this morning my mood seemed to reflect the day. I got up a little after 8:00am and the sky was blue, the sun was shining and it looked too good to be true and after I suffered another (what are becoming more inconvenient than anything else) minor asthma attack - I just had to calm down and allow my tubes to open - things could only really get better after that.

But as the wisps of cloud started to build I started to feel ... apprehensive. I did have an interview for a job later in the day, but that was 7½ hours away; so I ran a bath and generally pottered about. I then did something almost worrying, I was supposed to go shopping this morning and I knew this, so after I finished my breakfast, I went upstairs and allowed myself to procrastinate and then completely forget about the shopping. I even did some hoovering, which I had decided to do later and then didn't, do it later I mean. There was this dawning realisation at about 10:24am that I was supposed to be somewhere else.

I spent best part of the 17 minute drive to Duston and the Land of the Living Dead trying to talk myself into turning round and going to Morrisons, which in itself was a bad idea (because I needed veg and you don't buy veg from Morrisons because it goes off in about 9 hours). I don't think it was the prospect of the Zombie Supermarket that was making me indecisive, I think it was the mood I was gradually easing myself into and true to form by the time I was loading the car up with the shopping, I had fretted about money, prospects, the job interview and various other things and bingo! I was borderline incandescent with rage. Couple that with several examples of fuckwittery by drivers who obviously got licenses by performing sexual favours on driving examiners - one Yaris driver actually caused an accident but pootled off without a scratch and was probably completely ignorant of what he (and it was a he) had done. [Sainsburys was, on the whole, pretty painless, but I started to scowl by the flour aisle so I think the zombies just gave me a wide berth.]

When I got home, I eventually wandered into the garden a little after midday and had to rid the new borders of at least four lots of cat shit (before Marley could find and eat it) and as I was by now a cross between Victor Meldrew, Jason Statham and Harold Steptoe, I was bemoaning the fact that, as a dog owner we come in for all kinds of criticism and pissy by-laws about dog shit (which I have always picked up - using a bag, naturally) and yet cat owners cats essentially can go and shit wherever they like but because you can't really follow the cat into peoples' back gardens you can't really stop it and, as we all know, cat shit has actually got a lot more toxins in it than dog shit (or human shit for that {faecal} matter). I am the first person to acknowledge that controlling a cat's arse is a bit like expecting Gideon Osborne to give a shit, but, for want of anything else to say that's constructive, I shall just go RAH RAH RAH RAH RAH RAH several times, (try to) take a deep breath and move on... [remember this last bit*]

Or back, as the case may be... On the plus side, everything is starting to grow (except my dwarf beans) and despite the semi-Arctic conditions of late, the lawn needs mowing more than once a week, suddenly, already. I had an uneventful walk with the hounds - Marley is muzzled at the moment because of her obsession with anything she can eat - and got to Wellingborough (where the interview was) at 3.20.

I had a great interview. I sort of went into it with the opinion that I wasn't going to get it; I only get interviews because I tick the disabled box and they're just obligated, and I'm now too old and no one really wants to give me a job. This is/was all part of this black cloud re-descending over me and, you know, if I could have kept that focus, that slight detachment, I might have got the job. I don't know if I haven't got it yet, but I'm pretty sure I haven't and here's why: halfway through I started to realise from their body language that they liked me and I suddenly thought 'Shit, I can get this job.' and proceeded to allow nerves to take over. The second half was nowhere near as good; I waffled; I harped on too much about inconsequential things and I think, no I'm pretty sure, I managed to talk myself out of getting it.

So I went down the pub. I met my old boss from the YOS and he proceeded to tell me how there's a good chance the already minuscule jobs market for my area is about to get smaller and at the same time flooded with more redundancies and the effects of more budget and funding cuts [Remember this point.**]. Oh happy day...

I then came home, had some dinner and watched that programme on the London Underground and said at least three times, 'Well, I never knew that.' The wife went to bed and I was at a bit of a loose end. Then I had a penny drop moment. * I have done a lot of serious yawning in the last three or four day; it just came on. Except it didn't. The series of minor asthma attacks I've had have all been very similar to when I recovered from my last chest infection - the one where I think I realised I had COPD long before I had the tests. The yawning is quite simply there's not enough air circulating around me at the moment - I mean, it might be that I'm just tired because I'm not sleeping particularly well, but I don't think so. I'm getting the very mild version of what killed my mother and will most probably be the death of me.

I actually came away from my afternoon revitalised, but the reality of everything often comes crashing back in, especially when you're suffering a little from depression. You think you've bounced out of it or have managed to get on with something and put it out of your head for a while and then something happens and it comes crashing back in, with trumps.

So, after the wife went off to bed and I was about to come up here to my office and procrastinate some more until the yawning got too much and I eventually went to bed, but Question Time started and the first question was about Europe and I sat and watched for a while until some young lady in the audience started to embarrass herself by sounding utterly naive and stupid (and she sounded absolutely like a bonkers possible future UKIP candidate because she was so bullish about getting out of Europe I thought she was going to hit someone ** and then another penny dropped. The Tories are probably looking at UKIP and thinking 'you beautiful people; you fucking moronic beautiful people'. You now think I've lost it, don't you? Nope, not a jot. Me - compos mentis.

The economy and the vilification of the poor was at the forefront of a lot of peoples minds prior to the local elections and for the first time in ages social class, the poor and the undeserving at being disenfranchised were heavily in focus and then the subject of Europe took over and grew and grew to the point now where the first 25 minutes of QT tonight was talking about Europe and they were still drawing the last breaths from it when I came up here to write this. Suddenly (and I don't like using that word and avoided it earlier when it was appropriate) it's the only thing everyone is interested in. Private Members Bills, referendums, pacts and what might have been Cameron's secret desire - all about Europe and the UK pulling out of it and everybody has stopped talking about the economy and the unemployment and the injustice of 2013 Great Britain. Genius politics. Can't win a debate? Change the subject.

I get loads of spam. I get 15 a week from someone called Adriana - one always says "Hey You" in the subject line and the other, which comes once for every five 'Hey You' emails is 'Are You Getting These?' Which is quite amusing in a spammy psychological kinda way. Tonight I have a piece of spam in the junk folder from a dating site; they appear a lot nowadays offering me unfettered and guilt-free sex tonight with a married woman who wants it BAD. I could say all kinds of inappropriate things here, but I won't. But I do have my own married woman and I don't actually have to pay her and she does exist. I mean, back when he was a young'un that Wayne Rooney fella liked shagging grannies - that's kind of apropos of nothing but I wanted you to have the following horrible image burned onto your mind for a few days: jumpers for goalposts and Wayne Rooney writhing around on the belly of a naked 70 year old who needs ironing and has a chain running from one nipple to her clitoris, which, because she is 70 is now like an old man's ear.

I need a job...

I actually think most Spam is just manufactured to make people laugh; like a meme delivered to your junk mail box; you don't have to look at them but if you do you'll remember that I was talking about another piece of spam from an earlier paragraph that I appeared to forget about mid-sentence, which is also not unusual for me. [This better be worth it...] This dating site spam is from a religious place; it's for Christians to meet and have none contact sex with each other until Jesus says they can marry. Now I glanced at the email and had to do a double take as I thought I was being offered Christian Minge, but then realised it was actually a Christian Mingle, which on Planet Phil sounds not too dissimilar.

"I mean what about Christian Minge, is it enticing, I mean what's the story?" To paraphrase a line from a very strange song.

Have I mentioned recently how I hate Chelsea and the Fat Spanish Waiter? Well, I hate them even more now. I hate football and at about 5pm on Sunday I shall hate it like I've never hated anything ever. I will then hate football all the way through the summer and right up until the start of next season when, like a smoker who can't quit, I will buckle and allow my life to be ruined by it, yet again. I just want to stand up, shake my fist at it and tell it how much I hate it, but it'll sidle up to me and whisper in my ear that I love it really and I want to have its babies and I'll roll over and take it like a girl...

I found another 20 CDs that I missed when I had the big download chuckout [sic]. I think this can be called a reprise rather than an encore.

Anyhow, it's gone midnight on what is now Friday morning. I'm telling you this for two reasons. The first is that there's a lot of stream of consciousness stuff above and in the glare of thick cloud, wind and rain tomorrow it might read like a retarded chimpanzee with a billion typewriters or I might just delete this line. The second reason is I'm going to local MP Michael Ellis's Jobs Fair at the Guildhall, at some point and for some time between 12:00 and 1:30pm. I have to get something signed to prove I was there and I'll be dipped in rancid spoo if anyone thinks I'm going to spend 1½ hours with a Tory MP and a load of minimum wage employers who wouldn't have a suitable job for me, they're probably right because I expect some twat somewhere will ensure that people who haven't served the full 90 minutes will have some of their benefits stopped or a finger amputated. But yeah, by 2pm tomorrow when I decide to upload this it may well be something completely different.

But it wasn't. The jobs fare was heaving; but there were no jobs that were suitable for me and apart from someone suggesting I do some volunteer work to boost my self-esteem, who I asked, very nicely, how volunteer work and better self-esteem were going to pay my mortgage, they had no answer for me. I stayed about 30 minutes; thought it was some pointless political stunt by some chinless wonder, who probably feels all important and big in the trousers as a result. I really wanted to throw some socialist invective at him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Probably because there were so many unemployed scumbags there, he didn't want to stain his suit...

So that was it.

Good luck to the Cobblers on Sat'dee. I'd like to see them win but feel that a season in League One with the squad and money they have might be slightly humiliating. Good luck to the Saints the following week against those bastard Tigers (I'm actually more optimistic about this than the Cobblers). Good luck to Brackley Town against FC Halifax (also on Sat'dee) for a place in the league just below League 2.

Is Bradley Wiggins (sir) a bit of a wuss? I only say this because two days before he pulled out of the Italian cycle race with a 'chest infection', the Guardian suggested he might pull out of the race because he had no hope of winning it and wanted to be fresh for his (unofficial) tilt at the Tour to see if he could retain it.

I gotta take the dogs out.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Televisual Treats

Bloody hell; a football rant, a review of an old book and now TV. It's like nostalgia only less old and gnarly...

I realised a long time ago that my TV blogs are about as interesting to most people as herpes or cat hollowing, so I stopped doing them. Ironically (possibly) around the time I stopped doing it we (read 'I') culled a lot of the shit we (read 'I') watched and as our (and I mean 'our') TV tastes seem to have narrowed considerably over the last 12 months, this is likely to be quite short. It most probably will have spoilers in it; well, there's no most probably at all, there will be.

However, there won't be spoilers in the following statement: "Jenna-Louise Coleman is very good, no Amy Pond but... but, hasn't this current (½) series of Doctor Who has been utter shite."

Right, that's that out of the way, let's move on.

Do not, under any circumstances, go out of your way to watch or even worse buy the box set of Netflix's Hemlock Grove, you will never be able to get the 9+ hours you spend watching it back and you will wonder what the hell is happening to television if utter shit like this can seep onto our small screens. It tried to be a cross between Dark Shadows, Twin Peaks and a post-modern Universal monsters and ends up having lots of soft porn, ridiculously cheesy dialogue and a plot that is stretched out - super thin - over 13 parts, and quite bonkers (in a bad way), which leaves a very poor taste in one's mouth and outs the likes of Dougray Scott, Famke Jansen and one of the (lesser) Skarsgards as nothing more than just mercenary imbeciles who have no quality threshold at all. It is risible and puerile and should be avoided.

I might pretty much detest most of the SyFy Channel's output nowadays, but it still does Warehouse 13 and that's back for another one of its piss poorly executed schedules. It's the second half of series 4 but feels like series 5 and I'm not about to question the logic behind it except to say the same puzzled scheduling befell Eureka and that got canned.

What Warehouse 13 did so well in series 2 seemed to have gradually been forgotten about once Claudia was made part of the team. The most recent episode finally ties up the ongoing story that has been haunting this series since the finale of Season 3 and it does it by returning to what made this programme so good in the first place - that (father/daughter styled) relationship between Claudia and Artie (and also Pete's unbelievably childish humour). It's still fun to watch; still shocking at times - when you really don't expect it to be - and I think it's a real nerds show, so I can't fathom why I'd like it.

That brings us nicely to the TV series most people have been talking about. We're halfway through season 3 of A Game of Thrones and I no longer like the series. The first two were awesome and inspiring, but I hadn't read the books then so it was all new and brilliant. Then I read the books and I pick every episode to pieces in my head. I see what they're doing and why they're doing it, but equally it's always been something that I cannot get my head around - if a book is good enough to be made into some form of motion picture adaptation, why does it have to be an 'adaptation'? Why can't it just use the book as more than a template? Why can't it actually use the book as its primary source - dialogue, story, plot all based on events in the book rather than just using it as an inspiration for some producer/director to do his own version because he doesn't really like the source material that much. I mean, why didn't Weiss and Benioff just invent their own fantasy/medieval/epic if they wanted to change it, merge it or fuck with it the way they have?

Some of my friends can divorce themselves from the two; but I struggle.

It is brilliantly acted and made, but this 3rd season seems devoid of soul and I don't know if that's a genuine feeling or one brought on by me having read the books. I also expected to write much more, yet I'm not surprised I haven't.

TV has taken on an almost chore-like feel with me of late. I've not really enjoyed a TV series since Shameless (US) finished a couple of months ago and I've been trying to remember something that's been on recently where I absolutely can't miss it or have to watch it as it comes out. I have been enjoying Alan Yentob's series on Primetime TV in the States and I did enjoy It's Kevin, but that's also finished.

And that's about it. If anyone can remember something else I watch (it must be good for me to remember so clearly) then remind me and I might amend this (if I have anything to say).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

This Year's Football Post

I respect the people who read my blog and therefore you'll notice that my football ramblings have all but dried up. I can't remember the last time I did one, in fact I shall check, so hang on a mo'... It was actually 13 months ago and while I have probably mentioned it occasionally, that was the last big one.

So why am I writing now - a week before the end of the season? Especially given the fact that my beloved Spurs are just playing out time before the inevitable crushing disappointment hits the fans and the prospects of another year of misplaced ambition and failure looms before even the first kick of a ball or David Moyes first game in charge at Manchester United. The logical answer, by the way, is that I'm a masochist. Or perhaps it's because I realise if I don't get it off my chest now my entire summer will be ruined by me walking around with a sour face and blaming AVB, not for being tactically naive (because he clearly isn't when he has who he wants at his disposal) or for experimenting in games where a comfortable 3-0 win would have sufficed but he conspired for us to lose to an inferior team. No, I'd blame AVB because he treats the poisoned chalice called the Europa League like it will be enough to quell the fans desire for the club to be just a little better than it currently is. Me and loads of my fellow Spurs supporters become incensed that AVB can prioritise a competition that ultimately can be only the thing responsible for us missing out on a Champions League spot this season. Ooh, a catch-22.

But before I get into one let's examine why AVB loves the Europa League and, more importantly, why he has to.

You'd think it was because he's already won it once, but the reality is I think he views Spurs as a stepping stone to return to a bigger club, but maybe not quite as mercenary as I make it sound. He joined Spurs (and if you believe rumours his contract has all manner of clauses in it that prevent Daniel Levy from paying him anything unless Spurs sack him after winning the quadruple and we all know how likely that is) knowing that his former team had prevented them from playing Champions League football. He saw what the board were prepared to invest, he didn't get his preferred players (some can say that he was never going to get them because of the lack of Champions League football) and still he decided that we were good enough to warrant having a go at both the Europa League and a top 4 in the Premier league (not to mention the other two domestic cup competitions). The players he inherited (Vertonghen, Adebayor and Gylfi Siggurdsson included as they were done deals before AVB arrived) coupled with the lack of signings once he arrived - Clint Dempsey was a panic buy at best - this was all about achieving whatever they could with much limited resources.

If AVB has any management acumen (or common sense and observational skills) he will have seen that the team he took over wasn't a patch on the one Harry left, but through some tenacity, interesting tactics and the failure of 18 of their fellow clubs to put anything like a consistent season together, Spurs will still finish in the top 5; that represents a massive achievement for the club and AVB knows this which is why he tried to win the Europa League as opposed to the much easier League Cup; it was because he realistically knows that the best Spurs can expect is to win a trophy such as this - maybe regarded as Mickey Mouse metal by the likes of me, but still a considerable achievement according to everybody but the English. Spurs aren't going to win the league (at the moment) and a guaranteed top 4 finish, as they found out, still doesn't mean dining at the top table. The best Spurs can expect is what they're going to get.

You could argue that AVB knows the best Spurs can hope for is Champions League once every two or three years and that lack of consistency does not give the club enough guaranteed financial stability (especially with the new stadium build travelling along at a crippled snail's pace) for the board to invest heavily to maintain a challenge in both the Premier and Champions leagues (plus Spurs have this abysmal psychological block now that seems to haunt them the longer a season goes on). It becomes a vicious circle that keeps us as eternal bridesmaids who get to sit at the main table just this once or twice, but must always return to their proper place.

You could argue that with an inferior team (regardless of how inconsistent Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City have all been this season) AVB still managed to be knocking at that Champions League door and right up to the last day (maybe). All AVB has done has put himself in a shop window for a much better team because he, personally, has suddenly showed something resembling consistency; his failure at Chelsea now classed as a blip, nothing else and that if he is still at Spurs in 3 years then he's either on the verge of a league title (we all know how likely this is) or he's achieved the absolute minimum requirement Levy expects. My personal belief is 3 years is the best a Spurs fan can expect, because if we're not challenging we're running to stand still and AVB is 35 and he's above everything else an ambitious young man - he wants to be a Real or Barcelona manager and if he can keep Spurs challenging for three years he'll make himself the best available choice for a lot of top clubs.

Regardless of the heroics Harry Redknapp and his team performed in the 2010-11 Champions League, the fact that Spurs fill White Hart Lane every fortnight with just 36,000+ people means that the regularity of that will only happen if Spurs build a new stadium (filling a 55,000 seater will not be difficult) and do not find themselves in a similar situation to their great rivals Arsenal, where the board is more than happy for that club to run and stand still just so long as the debt is being repaid. It is like the Arsenal board have put success on hold until they feel they can start spending money again. In fact, if I wasn't so wrapped up in my own team's politics, I'd be looking at the Arsenal and wondering if their fans are even more frustrated than me?

Another reality that I've been reminded of a lot in recent months is that Spurs have only really been knocking at this door for the last four or five years; before that they were as risible as a Bolton Wanderers or Leicester City as a 'dominant' force; the kind of team that wins a League Cup and dreams of its ancient history repeating; so having a team that at least challenges for a top 4 spot and is getting through to quarter finals of European tournaments should be enough to keep me happy for another 25 years. But the problem was Harry spoiled us. He assembled a starting XI that could just about beat anybody; yes, Spurs were as consistent as a Roman Abramovich recruitment policy, but boy was it fun - the rollercoaster that seemed to follow that old ethos of it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you played the Spurs way.

Well, the dichotomy I have is I can understand that AVB needs us to win a trophy like the Europa league because we're not going to win much else; but the dilemma I have is that I want Spurs to be a regular top 4 team; I want them to finish higher than Arsenal - in fact, I'd class a season where we finish 16th a massive success if Woolwich finished 17th; if you offered me this next season I'd probably bite your hand off because I know I wouldn't have to suffer the ignominy of having to put up with Gooner abuse again for another year. Just once now; that's all I really want. It's sad and pathetic, but if I accept the reality of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club that's really the best I can expect.

Even when it's in our own hands we conspire to throw it away. If it isn't a dodgy lasagne, a goal at Old Trafford that was not given; bad refereeing or just the team's inability to win games that would guarantee less nail-biting and desperate praying to a God who if he existed obviously doesn't like my club; Spurs have almost become this footballing version of a tragic drama queen.

Thanks to Everton's failure to win in the Mersey derby last weekend, Spurs cannot finish 6th and of course the Europa League now looks nailed on. Spurs' Premiership record of 4 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats following Europa's Thursday nights is actually the second best record of any British club since this restructure was introduced; but if those four defeats had just been draws then Spurs would have the comfort of being guaranteed Champions League football next season. The Europa league and AVB's determination meant we lost both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon at key stages of the season and we didn't win those games.

You could argue that Daniel Levy doesn't want Spurs to get Champions League football that often; it costs ENIC too much money and suddenly we're back to the new stadium issue, the real reason why the best Spurs can expect for the foreseeable future is 5th and an annual tilt at a competition hardly any of the Spurs fans want to see them play in. I saw this quote, from a fan, on the Guardian website following a game a few weeks ago and it summed things up for me, or maybe polarised them, you decide: "The reality is that, as things stand, barring a freak season we have zero chance of winning the premiership or the CL. Our best hope is on comps like the Europa league and the FA Cup. I don't support Spurs because I think they're going to win titles. That would be madness." I don't think it's madness to want my team to win the title. I'd like to think that even supporters of clubs like Northampton, Doncaster and Brighton harbour this notion that maybe, with Arab investment, they too might be able to sample the delights of what Chelski and Man Citeh have been experiencing; yet my mate, a solid Evertonian, doesn't follow his team because he thinks they'll win anything any longer, so perhaps I am in the minority at believing that improvement generates money, which generates investment and better players, which generates success.

I believe that ENIC should take a gamble; others think the safety first route is the only way forward and of course all of this becomes moot because without a top 4 finish, even if Spurs keep Gareth Bale for another season, they aren't going to attract the world class footballers they need to win enough matches to guarantee a Champions League spot and the vicious circle starts all over again. Daniel Levy was no longer prepared to invest huge quantities of money into the Tottenham experiment despite season after season of improvement; when Spurs finish 5th again this season, he will continue not to invest much money; Spurs fans will remain frustrated for the majority of the summer and by this time next season we will be having the same discussion as Spurs just fail, yet again, to break into the top 4 again. Tottenham Hotspur at 5pm next Sunday, will become the footballing equivalent of Groundhog Day.

Football historians might look back on this season, nowhere near a vintage by any stretch, and pinpoint Spurs abject capitulation against Fulham at home, or the 4 dropped points to the (almost certainly relegated cup winners) Wigan, or maybe even the pathetic surrender against Stoke on a cool day in May as the start of the decline, but AVB has managed to keep Spurs just about where they were from last season; you'd think that in his second season he'd have ironed out all the bugs, got in a few of his players; but where on this season's evidence he could probably mount an almost half-decent title challenge, because of the spectre of the Europa League looming yet again, the very best Spurs can hope for is a 5th place finish in the league and a run at a cup. That is all we are worth. That is all we can hope for. That is all Spurs will ever be. Dreams are no longer allowed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Unbelievable Bell-End

Just a quickie while I'm still slightly apoplectic...

I've been getting up early over the last month or so. Essentially I can't sleep and last night I either had an anxiety attack or a nasty asthma attack (around 2am) and therefore woke up this morning not in the best frame of mind. There's nothing more scary than thinking you're going to suffocate when your wife is snoring away like a good'un next to you and you kind of don't want to wake her because she has to get up for work this morning...

Anyhow, I got up about 8 and pottered about for a while and then the dogs all go fucking batshit - there was someone at the door and before 9am. I got the dogs in the kitchen and went to the front door and standing there is a man who I have seen before; he is one of my 'distant' neighbours; ie: he lives just down the road. He really doesn't look happy...

Now, people with good memories might remember the guy from a couple of years ago who banged on my door demanding that I move my car from out the front of his house. When I asked him how he knew it was my car he said because I have a Zafira (doesn't everybody?), but seemed not to notice that my Zafira was parked about 6 foot away from him out the front of my house. If you remember I barely got an apology from this twat.

"Excuse me, but one of your fucking dogs is in my garden trying to catch one of the cats. Can't you keep them under control?" He asks in a rising and generally agitated tone.
"I'm sorry, but what?" I said, completely befuddled.
"Your fucking dog is in my garden!" He almost screams at me.

I stood there, scratched my head, frowned, but didn't say anything. He then started to really get personal. "You fucking think you own this street. I've seen you, walking round like you're the most important thing in it. With your fucking dogs and your stuck up wife," and other stuff that just seemed to be a stream of invective.
"Hang on a minute, will you?" He did. "My dog you say? Can't be, all my dogs are in the kitchen."
"Well its not because its in my garden."
"No. You don't seem to understand. All my dogs are in the kitchen."
"No it is NOT!" He shouts at me. I'm growing really angry at this point, but instead of doing something stupid and punching the cunt in the face, I put my finger up in the air, in a 'hold on for a mo' gesture. I turned on my heels and thought I'll show the bastard, left the lounge door open and went and opened the kitchen door, where, quite amazingly, four dogs all sprang out and rushed to the open front door to greet the aggressive and nasty man who was besmirching their name. Marley even managed to jump up at him angering him even more.
"See, four dogs, all accounted for."
Suddenly looking less confident, he blurts out, "But it is one of your dogs." At this I grew slightly sarcastic.
"Yeah, it was probably that one," I said pointing at Lexy, the orange dog with the Queen Anne legs and the awkward gait. "She has the power to teleport."
Amazingly, this kind of took the wind out of his sails a little, "Well, whose dog is it?" He says, still with that accusatory tone in his voice.
"Do you know, I have absolutely no fucking idea at all," I said with a sarcastic little smile and you saw the man in front of me suddenly witnessing the penny dropping. I watched it, it was like realisation started at the top of his head and just seeped all the way down, in a fluid and revelatory fashion. There was this very awkward silence that probably lasted a lot less than it seemed. Then something remarkable happened; he just turned away and started to walk off. No apology, no nothing. "Oy," I said, but he didn't turn around. "OY!" I bellowed and his walk hitched a bit, but he didn't turn around, he just walked away.

I stood there on my doorstep (dogs now back in the living room) wondering what the fuck just happened and then it started to rain. I shook my head and thought I don't see this gigantic bell-end very often, he's from down the road and therefore not in my line of sight when I sit here, but I still cannot believe that I stood there and got all this abuse from him for doing nothing at all. I mean, how do you combat against something like that?

I wonder whose dog was in his garden? And if the real owners could arrange for it to happen again and again, maybe bring a few of his mates. I'd pay good money for that.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A (n Old) Book Review

Lisey's Story
by Stephen King

Contains spoilers - not just for this book.

There are just a handful of Stephen King books I haven't re-read over the years. The main reason for this is down to whether I have a vivid memory of the story. For instance, I haven't re-read King's book Hearts In Atlantis since it came out in 1999 because I can still vividly picture the book and the main story and three novellas that accompanied it. It may be due a read soon enough, but its links to The Dark Tower have meant that I'm reluctant to go there again for a while. I also like to give a definite period of time between reads - 10 years is often a good time because you can forget essential things. With The Shining, which I recently finished, it was 30 years, so it seemed almost like a new book and boy did it surprise me. I'd like to re-read Duma Key, but part of me is yelling that it hasn't been long enough to... surprise me again.

The underlying sub-plot of Lisey's Story is that the book's protagonist does not remember huge swathes of her time with her dead husband; like she has deliberately forgotten things that happened between them to ensure her own sanity. That was a little how I felt when I started to re-read this book. My initial thoughts were that it was so awful that I blotted it out, but after a couple of hundred pages I started to think that perhaps the theme of the book casts some magic spell over the reader, causing them to forget what Lisey forgot?

It was a little like reading The Shining again, in that I kinda knew what was going to happen, but I couldn't quite grasp it and then as I got closer to the climax I started to wonder if, by some bizarre thing that I can't remember, both the wife and I never finished it; because neither of us could remember much, if anything about the last 100 pages. Baffling.

Another problem, especially around the time this book was written/published - 2005/6 - was that King was coming in for some massive criticism both for the wholly unsatisfactory conclusion to his opus - The Dark Tower - and the poorly edited Cell, which seemed a bit like a 21st century rehash of The Stand with cell phones and zombies rather than Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail. Similarities between King's The Stand and Cell were almost cringeworthy, especially when one of the books main characters is killed halfway through (except when Nick Andros died it was shocking, in Cell it just felt... well, contrived. But I digress...) and I suppose many people looked at Lisey's Story and at Rose Madder and thought the similarities there were too close for comfort. The thing is, they're pretty much diametrically opposite; they just have a similar theme and that theme is 'somewhere else', just like the Dark Tower story or any other novel where the walls of reality are Lovecraftian thin.

So, I read Lisey's Story again and found it surprisingly hard work. It is written in a peculiar way and I'm thinking that perhaps I didn't take it seriously the first time around because I maybe missed some little things that would have stopped me from getting so angry with Stephen King. Sensible common sense me is shouting in my brain about how certain things just would't happen and then I realise I'm reading a fantasy horror novel and actually some of these things might happen because of the influences being exerted from ... other places.

Scott Landon is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist; as rich as Croesus and possibly, like most brilliant novelists, bonkers. He dies and two years later his widow, Lisey (or Lisa) Landon is cleaning out the place where he did most of his work and dealing with the mundane as well as the extraordinary; because she was married to this famous 'National Treasure' she suffers from the fanatics and fanboys who think her husband belongs to them more than he did to his wife - which, as the book goes on, you realise just how dependent he is on her, when he was alive and maybe even now he's dead.

Her brilliant dead husband has a past that is both terrifying, all too real, and just a little bit odd. Yes, he was abused by his father and he lived a young life that, through snippets, looked as horrible as you could imagine; but Scott and his brother Paul were both child prodigies but came from a family that had a long and terrible secret. It is never fully investigated and as the story goes on and you learn more and more about the past, there is never really an explanation as to why the Landons are the way they are, only that the Landreaus before them, in France, had had to leave their country. What is hinted at is a play on the idea of lycanthropy - the Landons are not werewolves, but if they 'go bad' there is a vicious and physical transformation that dissipates on death and if you didn't go the way of the so-called 'bad-gunky' you went 'gomer' or catatonic.

It's here where you start to see similes. Lisey's sister Amanda is a 'gomer', she also, like Scott's family, is a cutter - someone who self-mutilates and then escapes to a catatonic state when everything gets too much. It is during a bad episode with Amanda that things start to happen and we are introduced to what is essentially a nap hand of stories that will all converge at some point. There is Lisey's voyage of discovery - which includes meeting her own personal bette noir; there is Scott's back story plus the bits that Lisey has forgotten; and there is this other story - the fantasy world that Scott (and his brother) used to escape to, to get away from their bi-polar-like father and his cruel love. Scott calls this place Boo'Ya Moon, but in 'reality' what it really is is the pool of inspiration or imagination that everyone has access to but not everyone takes advantage of (and others take too much). It is also all of the dark places in your mind; the imagination that you'd rather not have, with unpleasant things hiding in dark corners and something that stalks you, but only when you're in that place after you should be. The imagination is the best creator of the wondrous, but it also creates the nasty things that are almost impossible to transcribe or describe.

What is clear is this book is both a whodunnit and in many ways also a time travel story. Much of it is in flashback, but that is also done in a very strange way, almost disjointed - not the way it is told but with an odd chronology. Also when I say it's a whodunnit, it is and it isn't. A Bool Hunt is a Scott Landon thing and that is a series of puzzles to unravel the truth of something, with a prize at the end. Either the dying Landon placed a future Bool Hunt for his wife, to be triggered at a specific junction in time or his ghost was still using his wife as an anchor, to protect her from something he knew was coming. The upshot is that you sense there's a lot more to Scott Landon and his family that you don't hear or read about. You finish it with a sense that  everything is already laid out in front of us and Scott's ghost just tagged along to ensure that it happened. Not that Scott's ghost manifests at all; it's a metaphoric ghost.

I suppose the sense of the dying Scott Landon 'knowing' what would happen as a direct result of his 'fame' and 'eccentricity' is a stretch even readers of horror novels would struggle with and that is perhaps why I struggled to find anything endearing in it first time around, but there's no denying that I now have a lot of respect for this book because it is very clever and had it never bothered with the (over long) epilogue you could well have walked away from it with a sense completion, of a circle having been closed forever. Plus, my memories of this book consisted of the piebald monster Scott was scared of and this pool of imagination where everyone comes to drink, but some come to catch fish or sail out to the centre and go for the bigger prizes and all of this seemed too much like another tip of the hat to the Dark Tower mythology.

While there is a movement - whether its by King or to quote Scott Landon, his 'incunks', to link all of his books together, on re-reading this I can see why people want to link it to other books - it seems to be the way with King - but I feel that King has many worlds he walks in and the Mid and End World ones might be right next door to The Territories (so close you can walk between them with barely a notice), or Boo'Ya Moon, the higher planes achieved by Ralph and Lois in Insomnia or the totally alien and unpalatable world glimpsed in From a Buick 8 (which, incidentally was set in Pennsylvania, where Scott and Paul Landon grow up). Jack Sawyer might have travelled to a world very much like that of Roland of Gilead in the two Stephen King/Peter Straub collaborations, but Jack's Territories are not Roland's world and neither of them are Scott Landon's. To wander into and reference a completely different King book (with no deference to the uneducated) thinnies probably exist in all of his worlds and act as a way for them to interact with each other and to confuse us 0- his constant readers.

Lisey's Story possibly ends up asking more questions than it answers, especially about the nature of this fantasy land and the things that transform there after dark. It is another example of the prick-teaser in SK; the way he likes to lead his readers up a dark alley with promises of something even more dark and weird, but then brings you back into the light, leaving you wanting more of this subplot, this segue, possibly even at the expense of maybe not finishing the book it comes from (Pet Semetary being the case in point for me).

Reading it the second time, I really started to feel an empathy towards Lisey Landon and realised that while she and her sisters never realised it, they had much more in common with the Landons than they realised and you do get the feeling that Scott had spent his life looking for one of the Debusher girls, especially the youngest and pluckiest of them, because he knew that she would be the anchor he needed to stop himself from becoming like the others in his family. In fact, the entire story made so much more sense second time around that I kind of dislike myself for being so down on it when it came out. I seem to recall opting not to review it (although I'm sure someone will send me a link and say, "Oy, memory man, what about this?") but I'd guess it would have been a poor review. Or maybe, in the days that followed reading it, the memory of it just started to fade away, because, you know, Boo'Ya Moon and the Pool are something we all visit but we maybe don't ever want to remember it because it will drive us mad.

In fact, I can no longer recall what this review is about, but if it was a Stephen King book it was probably awful...

7/10

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sour Grapes?

This sounds bad. I don't feel particularly British today. I actually feel a little like how a Muslim must feel if he accidentally walks into the middle of an EDL rally. I'm down on life in general, but I'm appalled at my fellow Brits and I'm appalled at the state of British politics when (not even thinly-disguised) racists get 139+ councillors elected and send a message out to the country that despite what some of us thought, we're actually becoming polarised to the extreme. There is a percentage of people who seem to care about the plight of the poor and disenfranchised and a percentage who care about the environment; but, it appears the rest of us, in the wake of Thatcher's death, have embraced the 'fuck you' culture again or, as I believe is more the case, has highlighted the fact that an awful lot of the population are selfish, self-serving, ignorant buffoons.

As if to highlight this, a UKIP candidate for the county elections branded the Labour Party as a bunch of Nazis, which, to be fair, had it been said in a very public forum rather than just a UKIP Facebook page might have got some reaction from the press, but this person, standing as a councillor either has no idea what Nazism is or is just fucking stupid (or both). He didn't win, but he got 3rd in his ward (out of 6). 800+ people voted for him...

One of the newly elected UKIP councillors in Basildon finished last with 46 votes in 2005 as a BNP candidate. While former MP Tony Clarke was campaigning for the Green Party during the run-up to Thursday's voting debacle met people who were torn between voting labour and voting UKIP. What? Shall I vote for a traditionally leftish party or shall I vote for Nigel 'Hitler' Farage's party? The two parties couldn't be much farther apart in terms of ideology, yet the ignorant buffoons of the voting world have grown so disillusioned with party politics that they no longer know what they want or how they want it; they will vote for the person who ticks enough of their own small-minded and probably bigoted beliefs.

Take for instance this campaign by UKIP based on national issues, which they can have little or no control over, specifically about immigrants. Apparently we have far too many in our country and they're stealing the jobs, benefits and housing of real deserving British people. What amazes me is that none of the major parties has even addressed this spurious and frankly wrong fact (is it because the playground gossip has made this a FACT now and the parties are scared of not being believed by an increasing percentage of society? Say a lie for long enough and you start to believe it) and nor has the press - well the Guardian has - but only 800,000 people read that paper (we really are a tiny minority). It doesn't serve the interests of the right wing press to 'explain' anything; they'd rather the people remained ignorant of the facts so they can manipulate them the way they always have. Independent research and collation of figures puts the immigrant population in this country at much less than 1million people; a tiny percentage of these people are claiming whatever benefits they are allowed - mainly child benefits - and the percentage of people claiming child benefit for a child that doesn't live here is actually ZERO, despite what the Daily Mail and UKIP will have you believe.

Of course, there's 'evidence' and there's anecdotal evidence. I have tonnes of anecdotal evidence, such as when I worked in Corby and was told by the unemployed kids that they can't get jobs because the Poles have them all; but when jobs became available in factories or around Corby - the jobs they accused the Eastern Europeans of stealing - none of them wanted to work at these low paid, demeaning jobs. "I'm nay putting my hand down someone's toilet for that kind of money," said one 18-year-old who probably will never get a job, even if he's forced to do one. Plus, all of these neo-racists who are calling for a cull on immigrants should be looking at the employers first and foremost, because they will employ Eastern Europeans because they work harder, earn less, want less rights and in some cases they can be abused whereas Brits can't.

You'd have a pint with him,
but would you really want him running the country?
Take for instance the Lincolnshire farmer who lambasted the new UKIP councillors in his local elections for promising to drive out migrant workers to ensure the jobs are there for English people. "We employ foreign workers because they will be paid less and work longer hours. No local people want these jobs, we've advertised for years; for British people it screws up their benefits and frankly they just don't want to do it. You can't force them to do a job like this." Or look at some of their 'policies', such as banning maternity leave, allowing smoking in public places, cutting the tax for the highest earners, implementing a 20p in the pound tax rate, with no allowances for the poor. The problem is UKIP and Farage appeal to the working class man and yet his party's position is one of right wing - Tory boy - politics dressed up in 1970s styled bonhomme. There are also UKIP's other 'policies', ones that will appeal to the (bigoted) working class bloke - the banning of gay marriage, the revoking of certain human rights and as was discussed on a number of UKIP forums on social media the removal from the country of any foreign national who is not skilled in his trade or whose job can be done by a British worker.

Plus there are the lies or prefabrication of the truth. Already UKIP have fallen foul of some watchdogs because of claims with no basis in reality; or the party's claim that the UK government pays Europe £53million a day to, as they say, subsidise policies to stymie UK growth. The real figure is still a staggering £19million a day, but naturally UKIP doesn't tell you what that £19m a day 'buys' us in terms of better debt repayment rates etc. UKIP talks like the UK is mired in the EU, being dragged down by it, but the truth is the opposite; we are already on the margins of a united Europe - Cameron prefers it that way - so we're not stymied at all by it, we kind of still do our own thing regardless of Merkel, Hollande and co and we actually benefit from it more than it bothers us. Plus our retail prices are much lower than they would be if we weren't in it.

UKIP benefited from the fact that at least a quarter of the country is fed up with politics and the 3 main parties. The Tories probably think if they can get the UKIP voters they can win an election, but UKIP voters are not just right wingers; I'd hazard a guess and say that a lot of them are just ignorant (like the UKIP candidate who claimed Labour were a bunch of Nazis) and it seems that someone, somewhere isn't taking advantage of this the way they could have and allowed a bunch of amateurs to steal a political march.

The sad truth about politics at the moment is no one has any real faith in Cameron and co; people are frightened of Ed Milliband (for a variety of reasons) or think he's just not statesman enough and the Libdems are finished for a generation - they were the ones who have suffered at Mervyn King's forecast of political pariahs the most and Tories must be grateful for idiots like Clegg and Danny Alexander because they're not finished like many thought they would be.

The Tories need to stabilise the economy, even if they have to spend money; so that isn't going to happen. Labour needs to seriously think about the Milliband effect and that is he is as much a liability as Neil Kinnock was. Replacing him in the next couple of months would be the wisest decision and then getting Yvette Cooper in to replace him would be the most forward thinking the party has been for years. Clegg will I reckon walk across the floor - he'll go Tory, but not until he loses his Sheffield Hallam seat and is staring at the political abyss with just a safe Tory seat being offered. And the rest? They might get re-elected and might possibly serve on some form of coalition because if you transfer Thursday's result into a general election, we'd have a massive hung parliament with UKIP possibly holding the balance of power.

There is only one thing I can think of that's worse than death - a Tory/UKIP coalition - there really would be nothing left...

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Lost

Our rescuers give up their weary mission
we were lost before we left

I rarely write more than bilious rants when I'm down. If you trace back the times in the last ten years - since I've had a blog - the number of times I've hit mental rock bottom, you can see a pattern; or maybe you can't, because you aren't me and my patterns aren't like maps. 

Depression hits me in different ways; sometimes it can last for weeks, other times... well, let's just say that sometimes I have the mental fortitude to literally just shake it off before it gets to grips with me and because I can, I tuck it away, somewhere deep and far away until it manages to resurface and have another crack at me. In a different way. From a different direction. With a new twist. I've always been moody; but these moods are usually typified by either grumpiness,  petulance, hysterical rants against the machine or quite remarkably, silence. Whenever depression manages to creep in, inveigle its way, it tends to be the silence that takes over...

When I was young, in my teens, you could say you were depressed, but it was usually disregarded because depression was a serious illness and only adults - proper adults - suffered from it. Depression also had that stigma, the 'mental' part of illness one. Not being able to cope was something women did (or didn't do), men were stoic, unemotional and detached from their weaknesses. Men were either real men or, well, you get the idea.


I suffered from a form of mental illness when I was 11. I had something that was labelled 'school phobia', which was something of a misnomer because it wasn't school that was the problem. What I was suffering from was a subconscious fear that manifested itself in the form of anxiety attacks, which, presumably because of my lack of maturity, were transformed into psychosomatic bouts of illness. My body reacted to the anxiety and kind of rebelled against my immune system, so I became 'ill' - high temperature, sore throat, rashes and sickness. It drove my mother to despair and one of the vivid memories I have was listening to her crying her eyes out on the phone to my uncle Frank because she had no idea, and neither did the doctors, what was wrong with me and to make matters worse, once I was at home, all the symptoms miraculously disappeared, until I had to leave the house again. What made it all the more vivid in my memory was the fact my mum rarely cried from stress, it wasn't in her DNA.

Then my eldest brother Ronnie got wed. I fucked about at the wedding reception like a flying monkey child and then, for the next three weeks, fell very quiet. This was all the evidence my GP needed and after a couple of sessions with a nurse who specialised in child psychology, and, of course, the disappearance of all the illness, the school phobia diagnosis was given and everyone was happy. The catalyst had been my brother's marriage; it seems that I was manifesting all this illness to stay at home because I didn't want him to get married and it was probably to do with how close I was with him and my fears that I wouldn't see him very often.

All of this came out during the three weeks of near silence, which as some of you will expect, caused almost as much worry in the Hall house as the 'illness'. Said illness was caused by my belief that my brother was marrying the wrong person and my almost precognitive belief that the marriage was a bad thing all round - which it proved to be. Fortunately, two very important things came from it and that was good.
My moods were always misinterpreted as attention seeking; even when I was quiet; but inside my head the world would often become a nightmare of what ifs. I actually worry a lot more than I let on and I play scenarios out in my mind that are just dark and tragic. I also know I'm not the only person who does this, but it doesn't make it any easier.

I was lucky through my late teens and twenties; the worst my depression would sink to was feeling sorry for myself, wallowing in self pity and wondering why the world had it in for me. But as I approached 30, I'd witnessed my wife and several of my friends have serious bouts of depression, for which I was always sympathetic, supportive and felt grateful that I had not plumbed some of those depths myself. I may have been there myself, but by this time I was self-medicating so much I wasn't really that sure where reality and fantasy started and stopped.

I said somewhere else, a while back, that all the time through my shop, its failure and my time working in comics, I never succumbed to depression, despite having, at times, good reason to. The first time, the first really bad time, happened about 12 years ago and seemed to be apropos of nothing. I'd spoken to doctors about feeling down and depressed a couple of times prior to this - specifically after my mother died and my former employer started treating me like a cunt; but I had always avoided anti-depressants - the main reason was I liked drugs too much and envisaged myself becoming dependent on them all too quickly - but when the full weight of the previous years came crashing down around my ears. I was lucky that I was surrounded by people who could help.

Yet, still I avoided the prescription drugs, preferring to experiment in relaxation techniques, listening to quiet music and having periods of reflection. I was not coping (and 'self-medicating' even more), but I sought holistic support rather than anything else. And, I pulled out of it, got back on with the job and ended up getting a promotion and spent two good years, relatively stress free.

The second noticeable depression event happened between June and the end of July 2005; but this was brought on by a definite tangible thing. I hated my job. I'd moved up from grunt to grunter and didn't really like it; couldn't cope with the inactivity and lack of activity opportunities, my work suffered, I got (probably justified) criticism at a bad time and only some excellent timing prevented me from a massive attack. That was postponed for another 2½ years.

Changing my job, on the face of it, was a bad thing. I was sacrificing a management position for a temporary, part time job, but it brought me back to the place where I was best at, working with people, helping them overcome their own problems - helping them with their problems kind of stopped me thinking about mine. And it probably allowed me to put my own problems to the side, much like I used to advise the kids I worked with - they aren't going to magically disappear, so try and put them out of reach for a while, so you can do other things. It's a mental trick, but if you can perfect it then you can deal with most stressful things.

There are three kinds of people who work in social care, from my experiences: those who can detach themselves from their work - these kind of people will do their job excellently almost indefinitely and never show any signs of the work getting to them. 
Those who become emotionally attached to their work and will burn themselves out inside 5 years and then be frightened of ever returning to that kind of work because of the fear it will happen again. 
Finally, there's the people who are ambitious and see social care as a way of attaining a management position that either pays them enough to keep them happy or spurs them on to go even higher - because, at times, getting promoted in social care is as easy as taking a piss. 

[There is also a fourth kind - the deadwood, but these tend to be people who see it as an easy job; a colleague of mine once called them 'hat stands' because they tend to stand around, doing nothing unless called on. These people rarely stay in that kind of work for long.]

When I found a home at the YOT, it was like my dream job had arrived. I worked with good people, worked to improve the lives of (largely) bad people. the work was rewarding, the money very reasonable and you are measured and rewarded for your hard work and common sense. I soon took on more and more responsibility and everyone was happy. Then my world caved in. In the space of 6 weeks, a series of events all snowballed and the crash was terrifying.

The trigger was a court case involving a young man I had worked with for nearly two years. He had been a victim of an assault and the victim of a conspiracy. All he was guilty of was defending his rights. The police came to his shared house to arrest a co-habitant and the lad tried to explain to the six police officers who had kicked the door in that it was a shared house and he wanted to see a warrant. To cut a long story short, he was sprayed, beaten up and arrested for obstructing the law. The case should have been kicked out by the CPS, but found its way to Magistrates. Not only did one of the police officer's statements 95% corroborate the lad's story, it was also completely different from the two officers bringing the charges. But the judge, presumably pissed off at having to still be at court on December 18th at 7pm, found him guilty and sentenced him to 6 months in prison, largely due to his past, despite having not been in trouble for 2 years.

That got me right down, because I'd got emotionally involved. Christmas was bad; Gifford was now very old and ill for a lot of it and the wife and I started to get that resigned bordering on hysterical look in our eyes. Both of us went through Christmas on the verge of tears and then the New Year came in with a scythe. I'd always said the worst week of my life was when my mother died and I lost my job at the magazine, but however distasteful this might be to some, the week Gifford died was a nadir. I won't go into the reasons of why one was worse than the other, but the same thing that happened in 1998 had happened ten years later. I lost my job.

Imagine if you will what a man shaped animated jelly would look like. That was me during January 2008. Reeling from the death of one of my dogs, witnessing the law at its worse and the inevitable hopelessness of it and then told my job was obsolete. Council cuts, you see, I was not officially an employee, just a sessional still; I was Oh You Tee.

Life? It just fell to bits. I had massive panic attacks; anxiety attacks; symptoms like a heart attack and because the wife was going through her own grieving, she couldn't be there for me as much as I (or she) would have wanted, so I suddenly felt isolated, alone and unbelievably frightened.

My boss at the time, a lovely lady called Carol, who is equal one of the three best bosses I have ever had (all at the same place of work, no less), was a real tower of strength for me; she battled tooth and nail to get me reinstated and recognised one concrete fact that everyone else had overlooked - I had been there 2 years; I had the same rights as she did, by law. I kept my job and was assured it by it being made a permanent position. The depression eased, but this time I had to have the citalopram remedy. 

I'm wondering if perhaps my life might have worked out a bit better had I just left and tried my hand at something else, because I can't help but think I'm not the first example of the kind of people who go into social care. I claim to be a man who can detach himself from the shit around me, but, you know... I'm maybe the second example but I've held on for longer.

The last five years have been well documented because it's all been blogged - diary-ised for the world to look at or, as is the case sometimes, ignore. 

It was my physical health that was next to take a battering as my bones decided to end their symbiotic relationship with the rest of my body. Naturally, ill health is as debilitating on the mind as it is everywhere else and twice more I plunged into the depths of despair. The first was the perfect example of why no two bouts of depression are ever the same. Between June and September 2011, I went into a self-loathing silence; spending my days playing mind games with myself, scared of interacting with anyone and then transforming into the guy most of you see. Going out, being gregarious, hospitable and affable. Even when I was with my closest of friends, the front came up and sometimes I wonder if perhaps I should have tried to become an actor, because at times my life feels like one long play. 

If you read some of the blogs from that period, if you know what to look for, you can see dark matter at work and the timing of this one sucked. I'd just got motivated to help a musician friend in the States increase his profile over here and simultaneously do the same for my own. I fancied moving back into an area that I've skirted around in the 1980s and as a hip almost 50 year old I figured I had the gravitas and the moves to pull it off.

Then redundancy had absolutely the most devastating effect on me, made all the worse by the fact that I was actually looking forward to it in the month leading up to it, but when it arrived it was like all the anti-climaxes in the world mixed with this hammer blow of uncertainty. I fucked up for my friend, hid away and, as I said, pretended to be me to everyone else.

Then I got the last job and not only did I have a confidence boosting interview, but compared to some of my previous jobs, it seemed positively easy. Yes, I wasn't earning anything near what I was and we'd have to keep the belt tight, but my self-esteem came flooding back; my verbosity returned and I think everyone saw this changed man, passionate again, with a determination to succeed.

Then three months in there were a number of setbacks, possibly exacerbated by me but not my fault to start with. Things changed, all the plans got pushed to one side and I had a bad time between that January and Easter 2012. To be fair, some things improved but I rarely felt like I belonged there like I have other jobs and also I should point out that a compromise agreement prevents me from discussing further any events that took place at my last place of employment.

It's now getting on for 10 weeks since we parted company and over the last three or four I've felt something happen. You hear people talk about the Red Mist, that anger that descends on you like some nasty fog. It doesn't happen with everyone, but most people, even if they've never heard the expression will get what it means. Well, I get the Red Mist, but I also get the Sickly Yellow Smog, the antithesis of the red. 

It's like once the defiance has gone and the pragmatism wavers and the resolution is tempered by the lack of prospects, you can almost see this cloak of despondency descend on you and what's worse is that is does this very slowly, but you know car crashes, that rubbernecking mode that people have, well I'm waist deep in molasses and I'm not moving anywhere, because I'm just watching myself fall even further.

The thing is I'm an intelligent bloke; I don't care how conceited that sounds, I am and I know the signs and have seen the signs and understand the signs to know that I've been sliding towards a serious, and that's Serious with a capital and in underlined bold, bout of depression; possibly the worst ever because I always managed to retain something during all the other bouts that I can't find with anything at the moment, no matter how hard I try and that is hope ... 

I know its bad because I've even abandoned my usual narcissistic tendencies and have been beating myself up over things and incidents that happened as much as 40 years ago. Fucking obsessive memories that I'd thought I'd blotted out years ago flooding back and causing me mental anguish of the most surreal kind - guilt over things that didn't happen; things I prevented happening or might possibly have happened if I twist my mind that way enough and make it all about me rather than anything else - because you do that when you're depressed not just because you're a narcissist.

The seeming futility of my job hunting gets me down and has me feeling paranoid for probably no reason at all; this has manifested itself into massive question marks about ability, deflation of confidence; heck (and don't take this the wrong way) I even realised that at the moment I offer nothing and take too much - everybody would probably be a lot happier (and wealthier) if I was dead (and I'm not suicidal, I'm just trying to rejuvenate some of that homespun pragmatism that I'm supposed to have). The news that the government will find any reason not to give me some of the money I paid in taxes also shouldn't surprise me. Heck, if you're unlucky the government will punish you even more.

I am conceited enough to know that some of you will read this and worry; while some will read it and think I'm attention seeking again - Look at Phil and his funny depression! Tee hee. And some of you will be heading towards, just coming out of, or living your own personal hells at this very moment, so my tales of woe and depression are going fly past you like a cold spring breeze. The world is like that at the moment. I'm not that deluded to think otherwise.

Do you know how much writing I've done in the last 10 weeks - not counting these blogs? About 5,000 words in total - that is piss poor for me. I've had all the time in the world to work on projects, but I haven't and I've then got annoyed at myself for not doing anything, created a vicious circle and used that as an excuse for why I haven't done anything; it's a kind of mental health procrastination. But, you know, I've kind of been doing that with everything for the last couple of weeks. A project with a friend got off to a brilliant start and then, like in 2011, faced with the actuality I froze and allowed everything to sidetrack me. My office looks like a shitstorm has hit it and things like my daily chores are getting done later and later, or, as I realised today, the hoovering hasn't been done at all this week. So the rest of my week is full of things that need to be done - I won't necessarily do them, but I've made a list; maybe that's what I need to help me pull out of this funk. 

You know, I think writing this is going to have one of two results - it'll either act as form of therapy and catharsis and I'll feel renewed and try to be positive, or it will just be the further heralding of things... things I don't want to contemplate.