Friday, September 29, 2017

Pop Culture Is Dead to Me

It's time for a lot of words that will mean very little to most people who stumble onto this...

It's not through boredom, neither is it through a sense of a need to share; it's more about other things such as prevention and/or time saving exercises. At least that's how I condone it. Plus, sometimes I need to do this kind of shit to keep myself fully insane.

TV and Film.

Let's start with film. I've kind of given up on films. Blockbusters are slowly failing to do it for me, probably due to being all style and no substance. I pretty much approached the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel with zero expectations and was still disappointed by it and I'm sitting here struggling to think of a film I can remember watching that I've enjoyed...  actually, with the exception of Wonder Woman, I'm struggling to think of anything I've seen in the last couple of months that I can remember watching (I had to go check in case I missed anything glaring).

Even critically-acclaimed films are leaving me feeling as though the genre needs to go on hiatus for a while.

As for TV... Well, I'm watching less than I did and I'm struggling to love much of what I have.

[Spoiler Alerts]

The Marvel TV stuff, principally Iron Fist and Defenders were largely meh. I didn't think Iron Fist was as bad as a lot of people, but the guy playing Danny Rand acts as well as I can run to the moon (the star of that was the character Ward Meachum, who essentially went from being an arsehole to a man you just had the utmost sympathy for) and it essentially didn't do anything but set up the next show - which has been the complaint of all of the series since the first Daredevil; nothing concludes, ever. Unlike the comics, this is something casual viewers of TV sometimes want - resolution.

The Defenders was quite lame and the Hand has become as convoluted and dull as the Inhumans did in the SHIELD series. Marvel's TV wing is in dire need of something positive to happen because it's not going anywhere slowly. Seemingly proven by the imminent cancellation of the as-yet-unseen Inhumans.

The Walking Dead had me floundering in 2016. At the end of Season 6, I knew, like many of the readers of the comic knew, how Season 7 would start and I'd grown quite fond of some of the characters, specifically Glenn's almost comedic ability to 'almost' die every series. I wanted the showrunners to do what they'd done occasionally in the past and throw the 'Series Rulebook' out of the window and deceive 'us in the know' - but they didn't, so it took me 10 months to get around to watching the season opener and meeting Negan and his baseball bat and then I fast forwarded through the intensely gross moments and concluded it was just torture porn.

The rest of the series was essentially the antithesis of that first episode. There are actual LOL moments - a real rarity - and unfortunately there was also a shark riding a unicycle about to be jumped by a tiger, hiding in the background. I presume they've all seen Mad Max, because it seems like TWD has turned into a kind of Undead Max World. Illiterate rubbish tip dwellers; isolated communities, mad psychos with polystyrene filler in between to enable all of the bonkers things to have some meaning or validity.

It was quite enjoyable in a slightly surreal kind of way, but with the 'walkers' now decaying very fast and the survivors dealing with most deaths before they reanimate, the main threat is now less dangerous than living in Australia and one of the worst things about the dead now is akin to putting your fingers into a rotting potato by accident. Surely, as we may discover, if there was an apocalypse, some normal people would survive and not just all the psychopathic rednecks?

Which brings us nicely to the current run of TWD's sister show Fear TWD, or as I like to call it - Fear The Moronic Living. Whereas TWD has that dystopian post-apocalyptic nightmare misery deeply ingrained in it, FTWD is like a comedy parody played earnestly without the cast being in on the joke. It is everything TWD isn't`. It is populated with utterly dislikable characters who appear to be immune to death and they must be saving a fortune on make up because the dead only appear when they need to fill the void between one ludicrous scene and the next. The main character is Madison Clark and there has never been a lead character in a series that you will want killed off more than her. However, she seems capable of walking into places with warlords who make Negan seem like Frasier Crane and walk away with the impossible. Perhaps she just puts out a lot off camera?

I remember last year, my mate Kelvin was slightly surprised to discover The Strain was still going. It finally ended with a 10-part series, last week. What a load of old wank it was too. I really don't know why I persevered with such a dreadfully self-indulgent original-V-standard series, but I did and it ended in a totally meh way. Corey Stoll, the main star was loathsome; his son in the series possibly the most horrid young person since the last one and most of the other characters were just there to help the plot plod along. It was hammy, seemed to borrow loads from others despite having a fairly unique premise for a vampire series and should never have made it past series 1. Don't be tempted if you see a box set or it's shown on some obscure cable channel.

Preacher's first series was fun. I could pick many holes in it, but it was great comic book nonsense with some funny lines, ultra violent scenes and lots of Europeans pretending to be from Texas. The second series was as dull as beige. It was too long, didn't do enough with Starr as it should and missed all of the characters so skillfully introduced in the first series. It's following the comic to a certain degree but it seems to be following all the bits in the comic that didn't make it brilliant. The second series was so meh I'm struggling to remember what the cliffhanger at the end was...

As Odin Quincannon in Preacher, Jackie Earle Haley was a serious nemesis for Jesse Custer, but he presumably died when Preacher's town was wiped off the planet. Haley reappears as The Terror in possibly the most enjoyable load of nonsense you'll see this year. The Tick is pretty bloody excellent; a surrealist comedy with swearing, violence and a serious undertone. the brilliant Peter Serafinowicz is The Tick, who may or may not be a physical manifestation of his sidekick Arthur's mental health issues.  The first 6 episodes are well worth watching and there is a brilliant bit of continuity dismissal in episode 2 (obviously filmed much later than the pilot) the Tick's costume has noticeably changed since said pilot, but only minutes between the Tick and Arthur's scenes. This was dealt with the following exchange:
Arthur: Has your costume changed?
The Tick: Yes!
And they just carried on.

Game of Thrones dropped the nudity for more dragons, zombies, backstabbing and a faster pace. We're heading for the final season - eventually - and if you've stuck with it this far, however it ends will probably be some form of anticlimax. Plus, it was obviously too dangerous the film in the arctic, but in the books when winter finally came everywhere had 50 foot snowdrifts; in TV's Westeros, winter coming is a hard frost and some shallow lying snow. Plus, let's not discuss how the Wights got their massive chains or how small GoT world really is when you're flying a dragon or you're Gondry.

I haven't watched Twin Peaks yet. I'm just not sure about it any more.

Other stuff? There must be other stuff. I mean, what else do I do with my time? A lot of the things I have watched (like S7 of TWD) have grown hairs and gone bald. I watched Better Call Saul when I moved up here and that felt like it had been sitting on my hard drive for months. The wife has the last two seasons of Supernatural to watch and the new one starts in about three weeks (unless it's been cancelled and I missed the news, I mean, I've never watched it).

The Expanse is the closest thing I've seen on telly to Babylon 5 in years; passable SF and SFX married with bad acting and dodgy accents; it just needs a Vorlon (and there might be one just round the corner...). There hasn't been a Shameless US since I last did this to rave about and Lucifer starts again in October - with the four standalone episodes that were supposed to have concluded the last series. Can't say I was too happy about Superman joining the cast, but the show often deceives you that way with weird casting that works.
The last series (maybe final, please) of Sleepy Hollow ended up being quite shit, but frankly it had been shit since season 2. Agents of SHIELD lost the plot and improved its ratings enough to be renewed and I don't watch the DC shows.

Meanwhile in space... Star Trek: Discovery debuted this week. I have loads of continuity problems with it, mainly to do with Klingons; and I feel that maybe they should have simply rebooted it rather than try and retell the past in a different more expensive way. Not sure about the former TWD alumni in the #2 chair or the Harry Potter one in the #1 chair, but that story hasn't started yet and I worry I'm going to be looking out for episodes that DON'T have Klingons in them.

On the flipside is... The Orville, which is not a show about a space-faring green and yellow bird operated by a wanker called Keith, but is a ST parody by the Family Guy people, best known for their Simpsons parody. It's poor. Very, very poor. It will last 6 episodes. It should have been good and Adrianne Palicki (or however she spells her name) is wasted on it, so no one wins. It spends too much time trying to be Brian the dog meets ST:NG; which I really don't think would be as bad as this.

Yes, everything here is from the USA and a few of them are veering into stories involving a totalitarian state run by a twat, so even some of the bad stuff has had moments. British TV of the serial variety..? I might need reminding that there is any worth mentioning, especially as I really couldn't give a seriously runny shit about Doctor effing Foster, the life of a dead monarch who appears to have been reinvented as pretty or any of the other things that appeal to me about as much as having a case of the seriously runny shits. So there.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Quiet

I've not really written anything for weeks.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Art of Staying Sane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These people will inherit the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bim.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a shit hole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Something Very New & Very Bold

Hello.

On the following link is my latest 'blog'

http://phillhall.tumblr.com/

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Insert Title Here

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...

...

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Escape to (and from) the Country

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

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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Emotional and Practical Maths Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Public Information Coupled with Prophecy

I'm betting you all hear someone at some point, every year, say, 'This bloody cold has been bugging me for weeks now' or something very similar.

Here's the thing - a cold virus lasts between 24 and a little less than 72 hours. Plus, unlike flu viruses, the number of which can be counted in the tens, cold viruses can be counted in their thousands and this is fundamentally the main reason why scientists will not come up with a cure for the common cold anytime soon. That doesn't really address the opening sentence though.

When you get a cold, your natural immune system does what it is designed to do, it fights the cold virus and it kicks its arse. Cold viruses are nasty little buggers, but they aren't usually killers. However, depending on your current state of health when you get a cold, you could be open to a number of other things, which aren't colds but we associate them with colds and therefore believe them to be either the same cold or another - a misnomer that a well known newspaper debunked recently. The fact is when we get a cold and we kick its arse, it depletes our immune system to the level of allowing other, related, ailments to gain a foothold. You know all that green snot you get about four or five days after you have a cold. That isn't the cold, it's sinusitis - an inflammation of your sinuses caused by some other bug that has managed to inveigle its way into your head. What about that cough? That must be the cold? No, it's probably inflammation of your airways because of the cold. What about the headaches and the aches that stick around? Well, the headache could be caused by a number of things, probably the coughing or the sinusitis. The aches are simple; we all get them, but being run down from having had a cold makes you feel achy.

But... what about when the cold actually comes back. You know, almost the same symptoms but about two weeks after? Yep, that's a cold. Only it's not the cold, its another one, because your immune system has fucked up one virus, but not another similar one which now uses your immune-deficient system to piggyback into another bout of you feeling crap, having a runny nose and general shitty-ness, known in some circles as 'man-flu'. But it isn't the same cold and you're unlikely to suffer from that one ever again (because there's thousands of cold viruses, you could catch a different one every week for 1000 weeks and there'd still be thousands left to bugger you up).

So when someone says, 'this bloody cold will never go away' you just know that they're suffering from related ailments connected to them having had a cold, which have then rolled onto another cold.

Clear?

Good.

Now, as many people who know me will be aware I have COPD or in my case Chronic Bronchitis and it is incurable and it will rob me of years of potential life. It is what my mum died of and in 2012 I discovered I would follow suit. Being diagnosed with it at 50 was scary and as my mum was 64 when she died it is even scarier, considering I moan incessantly about how fast time flies.

I addressed the problem immediately and stopped smoking on August 10, 2012. I have fallen off the wagon a few times, the worst being last summer when positives turned to negatives and instead of falling into another bout of depression (another problem with COPD is you tend to get chronic illness depression) I started smoking again, specifically my old friend cannabis.

It was done almost as a celebratory thing. Look that sounds twisted but bear with me. I was initially diagnosed as 'severe' which is also scary seeing as there are only four stages of COPD and the final one has the word 'palliative' associated to it and if you don't know what that means, Google it. When, last spring, I was told I was now 'moderate' it appeared that 3½ years of cessation had been extremely beneficial; my COPD nurse was really surprised and over the moon and my lung capacity charts were incredibly heartening. So when I lost my new job in May, I went round a friend's house, got stoned. I mean, my lungs were better now so why not let my hair down?

It didn't take me long to realise that I was probably now doing far more damage than ever before, because I was now looking to socialise with people I know who smoke. Hell, I even got a job in a taxi firm with NO no smoking policy in their offices. I've now fallen back onto the wagon, which considering what happened is probably a good thing, but for a couple of months I was stupid.

Now, here's the irony. If I get bronchitis (and I'm prone to about two bouts a year, which is really surprisingly good considering the word 'chronic' and what it means), it has this rather bizarre effect on me. For about three days, until the shit [read: phlegm] really hits the fan, I can breathe better than I have for about seven or eight years. I've often joked that if I could have the bronchitis without the infection I'd be happy because I don't seem to suffer from the 'obstructive' part anywhere near as badly as I do when I'm 'healthy'. I also joke with people that the thing that scares me the most isn't a chest infection, but a simple, common or garden ... COLD.

My specialist nurse practitioner said to me during my first appointment after diagnosis that colds were not good for COPD sufferers and they were as serious as the flu was for the elderly (now I have regular flu shots every year and I've had the pneumonia shot which keeps me free from that for a few more years). I said to the wife two weeks ago when she had two days off of work with a really horrid cold bug that I couldn't remember the last time I had an actual cold virus. Tempting fate or what?

On Thursday, I woke up at about 8am with that slightly 'electric' feeling coursing through my veins; that 'uh-oh, something aint right' feeling and when I hacked up a load of unpleasant coloured mucous (it's something I've grown accustomed to, not the unpleasant colour, just the mucous) and my throat felt like it had been caressed with razor-blades, my first thought was bronchitis. It wasn't.

I'd started to feel vaguely human again by Thursday night I figured I'd maybe picked up one of those 24 hour bugs, but Friday morning arrived and I again felt like shit - but worse. I still did my stuff, the chores around the house, the cooking, dog walks, but by Friday afternoon I felt bloody awful, like I shouldn't have done any of the things I usually do. By the evening I was proper ill.

We'll skip Saturday for a second and fast forward to today. I got up at 9am and by mid afternoon I was feeling pretty good. By 11pm - while writing this - I was pretty much back to normal, with only the residual effects giving me grief. I have a sore chest from all the tickly coughing and I'm a wee bit snotty still, but honestly, I feel considerably better. (although in the two hours since writing this all and then taking a break from it I have had two almighty sneezing and coughing fits...)

On Saturday morning, I really thought I was going to die and when I didn't I realised that I now knew how I was eventually going to die. From the common cold. I am a Martian. I must be....

One of the worst things about getting old is the need to have to get up in the night, sometimes more than once, to have a pee. Despite the cold weather, it's never really been that much of a problem, even if I sometimes would forget to breathe while peeing because I was so cold and had something akin to an asthma attack as a result. It sounds stupid but apparently I'm far from unique on this front, except most people who do it (or don't as the case may be) don't have chronic respiratory problems...

I take something called a carbocisteine, which, without going into fine detail, helps me shift unwanted junk off my chest, especially in the morning, because at night my airways produce lots of stuff to protect them from the fact they are permanently damaged - this isn't anywhere as positive as it sounds. However, at 8.15am, it had been over 8 hours since my last dose and after walking downstairs to get the paper and take my morning tablets, I realised that I could barely breathe. In fact, I couldn't catch my breath at all and anyone who is asthmatic without an inhaler will tell you, when you can't breathe you panic and if you panic you forget about breathing and a normally vicious circle turns into a psychopathic nutcase of a circle. I've managed to train myself to calm down and override the panic, so imagine what was going through my mind when I discovered that not only was I panicking, but I couldn't calm myself down and I started to realise I was suffocating.

Oh boy... think you've been scared? Try imagining you're suffocating...

Also, just to add insult to injury, it was cold on Saturday morning, very cold, and one of my triggers to calming myself down is to wrap myself in something warm to focus on. I was standing in the kitchen, freezing my arse off and I couldn't breathe. I had visions of the wife finding me dead on the kitchen floor. I kept having blasts on my Ventolin, but as any COPD expert will tell you, it's better for asthma sufferers and not a lot of good for anything else, and it wasn't working. I couldn't even hyper-ventilate, which is also a trick to combat it, because I couldn't get enough breath to do it fast enough.

Eventually, I managed to get myself under control, but not before scaring the living crap out of myself. I did it by literally remembering something from the Dr Strange film we'd watched the night before, about having to learn to do something or you'd die. I focused the cold out and slowly, but surely began to breathe deeper and more evenly. The rest of Saturday was awful, truly awful and I then had another, less severe, attack at 3.45am Sunday morning. Fortunately that took a couple of minutes to get over - as I was in a warm bad - the one on Saturday morning took a lot longer to get under control (or it might not have been, it just felt like an eternity).

Some time in the future I am going to get a cold at a point where I am not as strong as I am currently and it will kill me. I no longer have any doubt about it. I think that it might have been exacerbated by my bit of falling off the wagon in the summer, but the reality is colds are up there with cancer, heart attacks and being shot by an American as potentially deadly things.

As a result I've decided to be pro-active. Up until last summer I'd got myself to a pretty fit level, probably fitter than I had been for a long time. I strengthened all the core muscles, I walked 2 miles a day with the dogs and I pushed myself to the point where my recovery levels even impressed me, but I potentially ruined it, so I have to do it all again, even though I'm older and have probably done some more irreparable damage.

I've enquired about Tai Chi, as this has been recommended by a number of organisations and I've been encouraged to join a COPD choir - which presently scares me more than dying. Once the residue of the cold is gone and I've avoided every living being for three weeks so I don't catch another, I am going to start pushing myself again, even if it kills me...

I kind of feel that I'd rather die of a heart attack doing something, than in a wheelchair, with an oxygen mask on gasping for breath that never reaches my shrivelled lungs. I'm never going to do anything really strenuous again, but I'm 55 in April, I probably won't want to. I'd really like 15 more years, anything over 70 would be a bonus and a half. To be able to do that I need to look after myself and avoid cold viruses. The problem is there's 1000s of the buggers and there's only one, quite damaged, me. I've always liked crappy odds...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sexually-ambivalent Wallpaper

God moves in mysterious ways...

Really? I would never have guessed.

The reason I say this is because according to one website He's (or She's) been stealing all the creative geniuses (Bowie, Prince, etc) to create a new Earth where everyone and everything is at peace and loves you all. The writer of the 'article' also claims that anyone who died in 2016 is going to this new utopia. That means Lemmy missed out by a few days and my mother-in-law goes despite being neither creative nor peaceful...

Other things I saw pop up in my social media feeds [don't even go there] included a Venusian who used to work for the US government, THC found on meteors and that the UK by-passed living and chose to go straight to perpetual purgatory. I'm sure one of them is fairly accurate and I'd put my money on the Venusian...

The thing I find ironic about fake news is that anyone who has ever read a newspaper (specifically the Sun, the Mail or the Express) has been reading fake news for decades. It seems that the largely unrestricted Internet has pissed off the other media - who probably thought they had a monopoly on making shit up - and it's now a 'problem'. Am I the only person here to see this particular irony?

Actually, the real irony here is that the world has gone so surreal and bonkers that fake news can even be considered real; but who could have forecast some of the crazy shit that has happened?

I was slightly bemused to hear that paracetamol is about as effective a pain killer as a punch in the mouth is a sign of friendship. I was even more slightly bemused to hear that the NHS uses it and spends far too much money using it.

I was equally bemused that our current government's default position of blaming everyone else for problems despite it being their fault to begin with still hasn't been seen through by, well, everyone. Or perhaps it has but no one can be arsed to argue any more? There is also that other default position of NEVER ANSWERING ANY QUESTION - EVER!

Changing the subject, just to be contrary for a minute (yeah, I know, very rebellious of me), I feel I need to throw my 2 cents in about Sherlock...
Back in the late 1980s, there was this independent comic book called Elementals and, at the time, it was fairly cutting edge and quite different for essentially a superhero team book. It was also relatively successful and built up a host of fans, not least because the creator, a guy called Bill Willingham, had a growing reputation for being very left field. He caused something of a mild controversy (which I expect would have raged far worse in the Internet age) by writing an editorial thanking his growing army of fans for their support, but asking them, in a very candid way, to stop asking for stuff to happen in the comic. He was growing tired of people asking for so-and-so to fight blah, or girl to fall in love with boy and he explained that Elementals was his story, his idea, his property and his decision where he takes the story and for the love of God stop asking for shit that won't ever happen.

A lot of people didn't like this attitude and argued that without the fans Elementals would not be where it was. Frankly, fans think this all the time, yet in Bizarro World where they actually get to write their favourite comic/film/TV series, no one can understand why it's rubbish, incoherent and makes no narrative sense at all. If you have a product and 10 people like it and all ten people make different suggestions about how to improve it and you incorporate all those things, what will you have? Something better or some kind of hybrid abomination of wishful thinking?

Indeed.

Sherlock has come in for criticism from just about all corners. Not overwhelmingly and it has been outweighed by positives, but still far more dissenting voices than you would ever have believed possible after the fawning reviews when it launched. The problem with things like social media is it gives twats like me a platform to air their opinions and if they are controversial enough or I have enough friends, I will be heard [seen] by more people than if I was just down the pub with my mates talking bollocks. I also know I've watched things that people have had orgasms over and I've walked away thinking that part of my life has been wasted that I'll never get back. The thing is as I'm getting older I'm appreciating more and more that this kind of thing is all about personal taste and that we all differ in our opinions of things. Why spoil your day/week/life by getting wound up by your own dislike of something? It's about as productive as raging against time and about as effective.

Sherlock is essentially action/adventure TV and is designed to entertain. If it doesn't meet your expectations it's your problem. It's why ultimately the idea of a critic stinks in the 21st century, because everyone can be one and to varying degrees of ability.

A bit like vegetarians and carnivores and their poo.

If people want to rage against something the way some of them raged against Sherlock then they should, maybe, focus on the injustice surrounding us and growing exponentially every day; but somehow people can turn a blind eye to suffering especially if they can shout hysterically about a bloody TV show.

I recently said I hoped the Netflix TV show The OA didn't turn out to be a load of old twaddle. It did, but I find myself in a strange position. I neither feel as cheated by it (as some people did) nor did I expect resolution from it. I found it was a refreshing change to have a lead character who wasn't a Hollywood glamour model and supporting characters who were very flawed, emotionally crippled, ugly, overweight and had gender and sexuality issues. For every frustrating thing about the series there was - and boy, there were many - the feeling that those of us isolated, alienated or ignored by mainstream society also have an important place to play in the world was far greater than the 'mystery' of Prairie Johnson aka The OA.

I reconnected with an old friend recently. He'll be 58 soon and makes me sound as though I'm as fit as an Olympic athlete. He's currently in a relationship with a very glamorous 34 year old TV personality... This morning I've been contemplating arthritis, prostate examinations (if I was in the USA some doctor would have shoved his finger up my arse by the time I was 50 and charged me a mortgage for doing it) and the fact I have to get up twice in the night to have a wee. I'm thinking none of those things would make a 34 year-old TV personality feel the slightest bit attracted to me let alone horny and begging for it...

Or maybe she isn't and this is a tantric thing... Or she has a secret desire to work in a care home? Or he's hung like a fucking donk... but that'll be God, moving in mysterious ways, again...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Vicar Shits on Baby's Face - You'll Never Guess What Happened Next?

Just testing a theory...

***

A couple of times recently I've been reminded about my age and my lack of technological know how. Several people have informed me that everyone (I know and don't know) is now streaming everything and no one has record collections any more, they all keep it in the 'cloud' and play it anywhere they want, whenever they want with a thing called a 'playlist'.

Honestly, I'm over 50. I don't want, need or desire that shit.

I have a cupboard of vinyl I'm never likely to play ever again, but I'll be buggered if I'm getting rid of them (especially as record prices are pathetic compared to say that of collectable comic books) and one day, you never know, I might treat myself to a turntable.

I also have shelves and shelves and shelves of CDs; about 1000 to hazard a guess and this became a kind of point of jovial derision from a pal just before Christmas, because he couldn't understand why I just didn't upload everything onto my computer and claw back the valuable space being taken up by all those discs (he was suggesting I do this with just downloads, not pre-recorded CDs) and he argued that if anything happened to the hard drive, if I didn't have a decent back up I could just as easily re-download the stuff, or just never bother and listen to it via the net.

My stock answer is and always has been, I like to have something physical. It's probably why I was so resistant to making Borderline Press books digital, because in my world a book or a comic is this physical thing you hold in your hands, you can smell, you enjoy the entire feel and experience. It is why I have about 200 extra CDs containing MP3 libraries of things I probably won't ever listen to (again) but feel the need to own. It's there because if I ever get an urge to listen to some obscure Norwegian band or say a discography of early John Martyn, I know where to look (even if it takes longer to find now than downloading an album illegally).

Now, I have toyed with the idea of transferring it all to a portable hard drive that I can plug into other technology and have access to it (that way I can still keep the original CDs but tucked away in the loft or some place until I need to access them again, if ever), but because home habits have changed since the birth of the CD, I find that [our] listening habits have changed the most. Once, the stereo was the focal point of my living room, in many ways it took precedent over the TV - music was far more important than soaps or sport - but as computer technology developed and the internet appeared and then Napster, Apple, Spotify and those other slightly evil companies, who all became synonymous with music. It is a rare thing that the stereo in the living room is ever used now; if we want to listen to the radio we do it through the TV and the idea of putting a CD on and just sitting there doing other things seems to have become something from a bygone age, like watching Top of the Pops.

Then an interesting wrinkle appeared last week, something which I might have explained away as cheap technology. I mentioned that a band I liked released a new album in 2015 and I only discovered it existed the weekend before Christmas (and to add insult to injury it was so un-patronised I couldn't find a single illegal download of it anywhere on the net). My mate lent me the album. It's about as common as me playing CDs in the lounge that I actually put a proper - shop bought - album into my PC and within a track or two something odd happened...

Not only was I taken with the album, I was impressed with the sound quality. Now CDs are anathema to vinyl heads, a little like the way I can't get my head around the way that young people listen to music in 2017 - tinny little phones playing even tinnier music - yet here I was sat here listening to an album that sounded richer and full of depth. I ripped a copy and a little later played it back, and then played the CD again - using the same PC music playing app. The difference was quite audible and made me realise that I was in a strangely unique situation in that I had the foresight to compare the CD version to the 320kps version I'd ripped; if I download music I don't have that point of comparison.

Now, take one of my favourite albums of 2016. I received authorised WAV and mp3 versions, downloaded from the album's creator (for review), but unlike this guy's debut album I didn't have it as a physical CD and because I still haven't bought the new album I'm not totally sure that my wife's description of one track sounding like 'clowns having a fight' is going to sound at all like that played through my ghetto blaster, CD drive or car stereo.

Is it any surprise that vinyl is now selling more than it has for 25 years? Not only is the ANALOGUE sound much more aesthetically pleasing to the ear, there's a surprising amount of depth that digital can't copy, the same way. Yet, here I am suggesting that the humble (and soon to be obsolete) CD is as much of an improvement on MP3 files as vinyl is to the CD. I'm sure if your granny knew how and why to suck eggs she wouldn't need a manual...

I have always prided myself in the fact that while I illegally download 90% of my music, anything I really like I then go and purchase. There are bands who would never have got my money had I never got one of their albums from a torrent. Ironically, I would never have got into Steven Wilson and his band the Porcupine Tree without an illegal torrent, so he would never have got any of the money I spent on him had I been as tight-arsed about illegal downloads as he is.

A lot of my illegal downloads are digital versions of albums I own. I bought the things in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, I'm not paying for them again.

The point I'm dancing around is for a little while my mate's suggestion that I could have every bit of music I own in a little portable box sounded not an unreasonable idea (just so long as I could be happy that I had sufficient back ups), especially if the idea is to wire (or wireless) up the house so that I can access stuff through other technology. It would probably resurrect the old pastime of listening to music together in the lounge, especially when we don't want to watch TV and I commit to spending less time on the internet.

Oh and there's something else... I don't have very good tech. My speakers are cheap, my sound card is only slightly above adequate and I use a fairly standard and generic music player with basic settings. I pretty much always resisted the idea of going the full-on electronic route purely because of my shit gear. It then dawned on me that the album I borrowed from a friend was played on said shit gear and it didn't sound shit... I don't play CDs through my PC because I have a perfectly adequate Sony portable CD/Radio/Cassette thing less than 18 inches from my left hand. In my office I have the albums of one of my fave bands, on this PC I have these albums which I downloaded presumably to prove the point that it's easier to download something than turn round and rummage through 1000 CDs to find one thing in particular.

I played both versions. The CDs - bought in the mid 1990s - sounded considerably better than the FLAC (apparently CD quality files) downloads, even with my monkey-metal speakers... Apart from the fact that I was thinking I could eventually buy all Cardiacs material and hear it all like the first time, it also made me realise that having everything on computer file - whatever claims are made about which is better than the other - is a little like having photocopies of an artist's works. It has everything you need, but is maybe lacking in specific detail. If you squint hard enough you can hear the sampling...

Now, I'm also aware that anyone reading this is probably wondering if stating the bleeding obvious is going to be my blog theme for 2017, because if you're old enough you'll know much of what I've said already. I just wonder if for the sake of convenience we've allowed our standards to drop and with barely a whimper?

Waaay back when the century was young, I was on a forum with some like-minded chums, one of which was extolling the brilliance of TV at the time; how it was so much better than it has ever been before and I sat there thinking not only was the guy a plonker, he had also allowed himself to be swept up by the hype. I accused him of having allowed his standards to drop in the face of too much inferior product and the need to categorise. I was, not for the first or last time, called a miserable curmudgeonly old cunt who needed to lighten up...

Then recently the wife and I watched Edge of Darkness again, considered by many to be one of the top 3 TV dramas of the 1980s. It wasn't at all how I remembered it and it has dated terribly, like a Howard Jones single or the Boy George look. It was littered with absolutely awful (testosterone driven) dialogue; some really contrived situations and seemed to ooze '80s smugness. In short, had it arrived on screens in 2017 the way it did in the early 1980s, it would have been dismissed faster than Mrs Brown's Boys.

Measuring quality in a subjective setting is a personal choice; and time and memories change, distorting views and altering our perception; the same applies to growing accustomed to listening to lo-quality. However, if you can actually, physically, determine something is better by the quality on offer that is a different and objective thing and I think today's yoof (and a few of yesterday's) have slightly devalued music quality to the point where it has seeped into all of our lives. Elevator music quality is now the sound of the world and while many of us enjoyed pirate copies of blockbuster films back in the good old VHS days, it was so much better seeing it on TV or better still at the cinema. I discovered we still still have that kind of divide today.

One final point: I also don't think the sound quality applies to people trying to make money in music. Even The Guardian has latched onto brands rather than artists or genres. It's almost like the music is secondary to the brand appeal, so very little of the real music that is produced in the 21st century actually gets any air time... Unless of course there's a brand to go along with it. It's no longer music but cynical marketing with something rarely innovative at the end apart from people telling you how innovative it is.

***

Now, here's the weird one. When I wrote the opening paragraph of this, it was my intention to actually talk about radio and why, like the old-style music industry, it appears to be entering something of a swansong.

Listening figures continue to fall, less people listen to music radio because they have their own customised playlists or for variety they'll listen to a friend's (almost identical) playlist, or some artist... or brand's playlist. I can't help think that young people are as interested in radio as they are in serialised weekly television.

For example; I've grow increasingly disappointed by 6Music's output, because I believe it barely scratches the surface of alternate music (based on the station's supposed demographic) and spends far too much time promoting genres that Radio 1Xtra was created for and also seems, especially during the day, to want to be more like 1970s Radio 1 or 1990s Radio 2 but still playing too much populist 21st century shite. I really don't give a fuck how so-and-so is doing new things in hip hop or RnB; that should be 1Xtra's brief, not the god awful Lauren fucking Laverne, who is marginally more exciting than Mary Ann Hobbs, who simply just makes me wonder how these people ever got on the radio... I know Tom Ravenscroft is John Peel's son, but other famous people's children have been removed from the TV or radio for being much better and more charismatic...

So, this morning, in a vain attempt to reconnect with modernity I thought I'd try and find an internet/digital radio station that ticked 75% of my boxes (because expecting radio to tick anything greater is like expecting Middlesex Cricket Club to win football's World Cup - impossible for many reasons...).

My first port of call was Last.FM, which I once used regularly and is to 'blame' for a number of bands I now like based on their similarities to other bands I already liked. Obviously I can't remember the last time I went to Last.FM but I was sure I had it bookmarked, but couldn't find it. When I found the site via a search engine I didn't understand it. I had no bloody idea at all what a scrobble is/was/does and I couldn't find how to play a radio station or anything and when I finally managed to get it to play something it opened a link to a small You Tube video... In the immortal words of every young person ever - WTF? Look, I know I'm 54 and a self-confessed Luddite, but, come on... Websites shouldn't read like Albanian farming manuals!

Five minutes of trying other Bing suggestions, such as Jango and two others with instantly forgettable names and I decided to look at the free channels available on my (cheap and free) VLC media player. I (later) found out that almost 300 stations available at any given time will have as little as 0 listeners, on a daily basis, and that of the literally thousands of stations available many are duplicated, huge swathes are run by companies that flood adverts all over the stream (several you have to listen to at least 30 seconds of advert before you even find out if you want to continue listening - and if you hit refresh or back or even pause, the ad has to be played again).

Literally an hour of the 21st century equivalent of channel hopping yielded a monstrous fuck all. I found nothing that grabbed me by the balls or made me get all priapic - musically speaking, of course. Plus a number of 'specific' genre channels were playing music that I would not have put into that genre. For someone as bloody anal-retentive as me this was just a load of shit.

I couldn't find anything that seemed remotely up my street or that looked like it might introduce me to something different - because that was the main reason for wanting to do it in the first place. To listen to something new that I might not even be remotely tempted by. To find a new North Atlantic Oscillation, Blow Up Hollywood, Porcupine Tree, Ulrich Schnauss, Manual, Nordic Giants or whoever.

I am totally amazed some of these musicians continue ploughing their furrows in a world that ignores their genius. I know, why do I continue to write despite the fact I'm never likely to be paid to do it again? I do it because I enjoy it and by whatever Gods might exist if I could play musical instruments I'd be just as dedicated and creative even if no one wanted to share my own brilliance.

***

One last thing about creativity and ting...

Umpteen months after saying she'd read my book, a window of opportunity appeared where the wife could read and edit my book. Then she chickened out and came up with an excuse (that sounded very Hall-like in its 'logic'). I joked that it might be a multi-million selling book in waiting and her reaction to this felt more like a 'Yeah, but what if it isn't?'

I swear to whatever gods there might once have been if I end up pegging it and then she reads it and thinks it's brilliant, how is that going to be of any benefit to me? Huh?

Monday, January 09, 2017

The Futility of Existence

The New Year is just over a week old and I already want to slash my wrists - length ways - and put my face into an industrial blender...

If someone had said to me as recently as last year that 'you can't educate against ignorance,' I would have glared at them with added incredulity. I can't say I feel the same way now. I don't know if I've just been unlucky, but I seem to have witnessed a degree of fuckwittery this week that has all but shattered my faith in humanity surviving until the 22nd century.

Honestly, I'm not going to waste your time with some of the unbelievable examples I've witnessed, for a number of reasons, but my sanity is the top one and your spare time is another; let's just say that the prospect of moving to Scotland and semi-isolation was facing a crisis of faith, but yesterday I was seeing if there were any affordable islands and ruing the fact we haven't colonised other planets...

Actually, I will give you one example, basically because it perfectly illustrates the surreal nature of the world today: I was watching the FA Cup and on one of those MBM things I sometimes follow it was suggested that the game we were watching was 'as dull as brown wallpaper' - a fair surmise. Someone took this personally and accused the MBM of being negative and was going to boycott it from that point. Someone asked what was negative about a factually accurate report that was echoed by the TV pundits. The person who took it personally then accused people of insulting him and that because he was a season ticket holder he had more right than others to have an opinion. The truth appears to be that he expected others to agree with him and when they didn't he accused them of insulting him - because no one agreed with him. Is that just plain ignorance or some kind of underlying psychopathy?

I suppose current affairs has something to do with it - fake news, outrageous opinions, intolerance - but it's really getting to the point where my underlying feeling is if I don't disconnect from this mad fucking world I am going to buy a Kalashnikov and off a few dozen twats before I get taken out... The Age of Reason has been replaced by the Age of Opinion (and we all know opinions are like arseholes, it's just some are stinkier than others).

As 2016 descended into some black comedic satire of existence, lives lived and governed by thoughts and feelings took over; pragmatism, facts and rationale all ignored in favour of things 'which felt right' - like Brexit, Trump and the demonisation of the disenfranchised, and the fact the year clicked up one more hasn't changed the world, it's still the same and getting worse.

Then I discovered that even those of us who feel we're skirting under the Manipulation Radar are anything but; because even if we're not playing the new Game of Life, it [the Game] knows everything about us that it will ever need. Big Brother exists just as Orwell predicted, the thing is Big Brother is a capitalist business model rather than a government.

Faced with ignorance on a grand scale; intolerance at levels not seen for 80 years and prospects on the horizon that make taking an acid bath sound fun, it leads me to ask: what is the point? I made a couple of odd resolutions on December 31st. The first was I was going to try and refrain from clicking 'Like' on anything Facebook related and aside from music, I was going to post nothing that promoted anything other than my own brand (ie: my blogs). After getting involved in a number of futile exchanges at the end of the year, I reinforced my decision NOT to get involved and to stay civil and I've even chatted with a friend about how to survive without social media.

Even if I profess to not spend much time on Facebook, it is open on my browser whenever my browser is open, therefore I'm always just a heartbeat away from it. I can't say the same for other social media - I still struggle to even understand the significance of Twitter even though I'm on it; I mean, its very nature means that unless you spend forever following it you only ever get a snapshot of its world.

But the major problem I have is a refusal to sync my phone with my computer and therefore my social media world. Back in the 1990s, when I worked for that man and spent a lot of time on the telephone, we often used to joke about the mobile phone adverts telling us that we can now speak to people while we're on the beach and we'd look at each other and say 'why the hell would we want to do anything like that when we're on the beach?' ... Well, that's how I feel about my mobile device being a mini version of my PC. My mobile is for phone calls, text messages and bad photographs. I occasionally use the browser on it to check football scores or news, but that is it. I can go out without my mobile and never realise it and I like that; I think that liberates me a little.

Now, I have a desire to have my entire (new) house wired up and wireless. I want PCs and laptops to be linked to TVs and stereos and even mobile devices, but not so I can always know what So-and-So thinks about Wassname at the touch of a button; it's so I can watch or listen to things without having to transfer them onto some solid form of conveyance. I am also aware that it is my age that dictates this despite knowing many people older than me who are far more tech-minded than I've any desire to be (Just look at Miriam Margoyles, who at 76 knows more about the workings of computers than I know about my own crotch).

I also have always chosen to ignore adverts on the TV or radio, so I tend to have ad blockers on browsers and any other thing I can find that will limit my exposure to shit I don't want to see to a minimum. I have always believed that if I want something I'll go and buy it; I don't want or need something telling me what I need or should want; if anything adverts turn me off of things rather than peak my interest. That's also my age and as I get older the last thing I want is to take up my valuable minutes with some shit that an 18-year-old doesn't batter an eyelid at. I appreciate that everyone is selling something, but if I could have a shit filter on my net life it would the busiest thing in my real life.

Depending on what mood I'm in, we're either headed towards war, economic oblivion or social disorder and that's just me being optimistic. Couple that with some of the frankly surreal nonsense I'm seeing friends getting engrossed in, the growing number of old friends showing slightly far right wing opinions, and everyone's futile arguments with people who DON'T WANT THE TRUTH because they don't like it; they'd rather believe in unicorns that shit rainbows and spunk cash in the mouth of whoever is prepared to felate it.

I actually quite like life, it's probably one of the main reasons I never offed myself during the worst months of my depression, and I can't help thinking that if I can just come up with ways to entertain myself that do not involve any form of interaction on the 'social' side of the internet (but not stop using it because it does have its benefits) then I think I'll put a couple of years on my life. It does mean I will have to rely on old fashioned means of communication such as emails, telephones and in person, but I figure the less time I spend looking at memes the better my life will be. If I get what I want this year then I'm going to have to spend time doing stuff, deliberate social media withdrawal might be the best practice.

But therein lies the problem. An old acquaintance of mine, a guy called Chris*, did his PhD on Technology Dependence and the addictive nature of social media and he concluded (in 2009) that once you've become enveloped in social media it is akin to drug withdrawal to try and kick the habit. I can see this because as much as I fucking hate it at the moment, I'm a bit scared/worried about not being on it and this has nothing to do with FOMO (Fear Of Missing out) and more to do with filling a void that I would fill if I had something to fill it with...

The bottom line is just how much of it I can do without. If I went out everyday and various people came up to me and annoyed me in obstinate and childish mental ways, I'd avoid them, wouldn't I? All I need is a plan of withdrawal and interesting (and possibly new) stuff to keep me occupied. I do have a working plan of action, but even that involves remaining connected and just that simple fact makes technology addiction as real as drug addiction. Years after stopping smoking, I still sometimes find myself (usually) imagining a contrived circumstance where I can smoke again and that usually ends up with a week or two falling off the wagon, if I don't push the urge back where it belongs. The idea of not having that Facebook crutch has a similar effect on me and that is probably more worrying than anything else.

It doesn't help that it is January and a time of the year when we're all (except my mate Roger) desperately scrambling around to try and find something to occupy our time that doesn't involve watching shit TV and eating the rest of what was left over from the festive season. With the prospect of cold, snow, still gloomy days ahead of us, what could be better than sitting in your warm [insert somewhere here] gloating over how bad the world is, or being all sympathetic to someone whose life is being played out for everyone to see. Don't get me wrong, I'm just as guilty of it and I wonder if others feel, months down the line, as bloody stupid about it as I do now? Using social media as an intervention tool or a method of discussion regarding mental or economic health is a bit vulgar, even if I've done it on numerous occasions.

Social media is at best facile and at worst psychopathic and it's all just a tiny snapshot of everything because, especially with Facebook, you'll never know for sure about everything that is happening because it is algorithmically censored. I discovered this recently when a) I discovered a band I'm 'subscribed' to released an album in August 2015 and b) when I clicked on the Timeline of a friend and saw the legend 'Stories you might not have seen' and there were countless posts that had never made it to my own page, despite me 'following' this person. Facebook pretty much decides what you can and can't see, but because the average person has a specific number of friends unless you have all the time in the world it is difficult to keep track. Now, my infamous alter-ego has very few 'friends' because it is a shell account (originally created to play myself at Scrabble), yet even the real people on it are limited in their exposure. I see, at most, 50% of my own posts on my dummy ID page, and part of me thinks a snapshot is a good thing (because you don't really want to know everything about someone because that gets a bit ... stalker-y), but another part of me thinks that because of it there is a subtle manipulation going on that we're not aware of because it never dawns on us.

In an odd way, the internet once represented anarchy in its purest form; now it is just like everything else, designed to cull as much information from us to work out how the rich can screw more money out of you (I have no money, so they're getting fuck all from me apart from my time and my reprogrammed mind and ...).

*I lost touch with Chris because he isn't on any social media, (he also, rather heroically, doesn't play games on either his PC or a games machine), answers emails about 12 times a year and admits that despite teaching computer science, having a PhD in computing and the ability to dismantle and reassemble a PC with his eyes glued shut, he spends almost no time at all on any of his computers, or phone, preferring to do things that wouldn't have seemed out of place in 1975.