Voyage to Middlesbrough

8.40- I’m on the train to Sheffield, to get another train which will then take me to Darlington, to get another train which will then take me to Middlesbrough for the Playoff semi-final match against Aston Villa. I will be there five hours before kick off. Lord knows what I will do, but I promise to write about whatever wonderful things I happen to experience.

As is often the case the night before a planned and suitably momentous event, I had a dream as precursor-

I was at a mostly empty football ground full of musky smog. I was standing on a small platform with a group of energetic football goons behind the goal. I never looked at them, they were just faceless goons.

It took a long time for us to score but eventually Adama got the ball in the middle of the box and caressed it into the right corner. The goons on the platform got animated. We started jeering an extravagantly dressed ballboy who seemed about the age of 25. He was hating his job, desperately retrieving the ball for his keeper to restart.

The dream ended with the ball-man goading us while Villa scored up the other end with a tap-in in a crowded box for the last kick of the match. The environment was so dead we didn’t even realise an attack was on. That was full time, 1-1. Not a bad prediction from the dream I think.

9.15- I have a very nice limited edition 2015 Boro shirt, worn only twice by the players for kit clashes against Brentford. The only trouble with it is that it’s got Adomah’s name on the back, who coincidentally is now banging in the goals for Villa. We pretty much swapped him for Adama (the fastest and most skillful player on the planet). He is of a mercurial temperament. There were some games where he looked like he’d never played football before, others when he would skip past Premier League players like they were plastic cones. This inconsistency continued through the Monk season, then Tony Pulis came in in January and really fancied him, and he’s been our finest player ever since. He’s a rocket. Apparently Chelsea want him for 30 million. So today could well be the last time I see him play in red.

dav

dav

9.24- I just got a call from an unknown number. I didn’t answer of course but I did check the voicemail about twenty minutes later. It was from a smoggy lady saying it was about my ticket. What the fuck is that about? I wonder. I check the front compartment of my bag and notice that my ticket has gone. I call the nice lady on the Boro helpline and she tells me Loughborough station just called to tell her they’ve found my ticket, but it was fine, she said. They’d duplicate it for me.

The modern world is full of safety nets. In the olden days about forty years ago they probably wouldn’t have been able to do that and I wouldn’t have been able to go to the match at all. That would be all I deserve really. That and no anaesthetics.

9.28- The last time I went to the Riverside was when I was just turning 15, in 2008. We got hammered 5-0 by Chelsea, Juliano Belleti scoring the finest 40 yard strike I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. The first time I went to the Riverside was 2007 vs Aston Villa. We lost 3-0.

10.55- Do you know what? I think I might treat myself to a nice refreshing lager beer soon. Do you know what also? I don’t think I’ve had a weekend without a beer this year. I know this because I last took a mental note of this in January, and since then the pattern hasn’t been broken. Something tends to happen every weekend, and when things happen you just have a beer. That’s just what you do. It’s quite sad in a way.

I bet for most people it’s been like that for forty or fifty years. People complain about not having enough money, but if you can afford a beer most weekends you should be very grateful to be a citizen of your country and not one of North Korea, eating rice and oats for breakfast, lunch and dinner and getting shipped off to the gulags for saying you’re not that much of a fan of Kim Jong’s hairstyle.

Which brings me to what I’m reading. I’m reading We by Zamyatin. This is a largely under-known and underappreciated text that was instrumental in inspiring the two powerhouses of modern literature- Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. I loved both of these other texts, particularly Brave New World which was more humorous and mind-boggling. The text is a satire of communism, and exists at some point in the future when the world is One State. Everybody is named after numbers, all buildings are made of glass so that all behaviour can be observed and everything is dictated by the Supreme Benefactor (some Russian version of Jeremy Corbyn). It’s very prophetic of North Korea today. I do enjoy it. My affinity with Russian Literature grows still greater by the year.

11.40- Today is a thirteen hour solo quest; a chance to get in some quality Jamo time. Sometimes it can be very good to spend a bit of time with yourself. Sitting on a train, reading, listening to electronic music, staring out of the train window like you’re being filmed for a documentary.

I actually enjoy my own company most of the time. It’s just the anticipation of it that fills me with dread. Hanging out with other people is much easier.

We often have a decision in life, to do one of two things. One of these is to go out and meet friends, have a few drinks and a few laughs. Needless to say this is an easy, enjoyable option. But alternatively we can sit glued to our desks battling with King Lear. Which is not something to look forward to, is difficult to persevere with and is enjoyable only in a few fleeting moments. But when we take the latter option, we can enjoy the next day much more, and we lubricate our minds with new ideas that refresh us in ways we couldn’t imagine if we just took the easy way out. The people who spend their lives on their own, reading, meditating, wandering through distant lands. They’re the mad ones and they’re the real ones who vanquish the tedious difficulties of human life.

Today I am simply in the North, completely unshackled, free to roam wherever, whenever I choose. And for this opportunity I owe life a lot of gratitude.

11.32- Just got into Darlington. If there was one thing I would say to summarise the North it would be that there are considerably more red bricks around. And viaducts, the cities are all full of viaducts.

I just bought a can of IPA for £2.50 from M+S. I remember somebody or other in politics- some fucking idiot, saying that us millennials should stop buying coffees from Starbucks if we want to get on the property ladder. He could equally have been talking about beer as well which is more expensive. My only point to add is; what kind of psychopath thinks houses are that important?

dav

dav

13.00- I’m in Boro now. The streets are very wide. It took me a while to find real civilisation. I’m sitting in a courtyard with another pale ale. I found a street where the pubs are all like boutique shops. There was a pub called The Devil’s Advocate, which is probably among the best pub names I’ve ever heard. But for arbitrary reasons I didn’t go there, and settled for the Slater’s Pick, which is a mediocre name in comparison.

There’s nobody in the courtyard except a headless multi-coloured manikin, with a motorbike t-shirt. I’ve had worse company in recent weeks.  

13.57-  I went to the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. As soon as I got in there some middle-aged smoggy with red hair on both sides of her head like rose petals kept talking to me about a couple of Lowry paintings. I felt mostly ambivalent towards this artist. Apparently he painted his paintings by commission mostly, some of them taking less than an hour each, which was something at least.

In another room there were a few strange Chinese videos, one of a naked woman devouring a variety of cosmetic products. Another of a woman, probably the same one’s feet, in ice skates as she is dragged by a trailer across the ground. There was also a photo of thousands of bikes piled up on a landfill site. Conclusion: China has got some serious problems.

14.48- I’ve still got a lifetime before kick off so I find a nice place on the grass nearby to bask in the sun in. I soon discover I’m not alone- there were lots of gangs of rowdy little smoggy kids waddling around making noises at each other. I was listening to music so was alarmed to find a particularly ugly child, covered in freckles and with two very prominent front teeth like a beaver trying to communicate me. He was with a posse of fellow juveniles but I didn’t look at any of them.

“Why have you got eggs?” he asked in a really high pitched, really northern accent. He was pointing to the boiled egg next to me. It had crushed in my bag, so I was planning on disposing of it.

“Just boiled eggs for a snack.” I explained.

He crushed it up with his hands and threw it down the hill.
“That’s fine, I wasn’t going to eat it anyway. “

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh just relaxing on this hill.”

His faceless minions remained completely silent except for a few giggles. The little brat then turned around as if to go away. They found something better to do than pester an innocent young tourist like myself. 

It went completely quiet, oh for fuck’s sake I thought. I turned round to see in the corner of my vision that the freckled brat had exposed his arse to me. As I turned his cretinous gang then cackled to themselves and scurried off back to a nearby garden with a trampoline.

For about five minutes I reclined on the hill and thought about what I was going to do to entertain myself for the next three hours in this crazy northern place.

Then a small rock landed on my rucksack by my side. I turned round and saw the freckled brat’s head peeping round the garden fence. I wasn’t welcome. It wasn’t safe. I grabbed my sack, got up and left.

16.30-  Is drinking on one’s own permissible? It always seems so in the books. Maybe the literary guys get a free pass in that regard. Maybe I am just one of the ordinary losers.

19.00 –The game was terrible to watch. Villa mugged us off, scoring a header from a corner and then shutting up shop. Boro all over them but never looking like scoring. My seats were wank as well, I was lodged in between some bloke and an absolute meat-sack. I could barely move my knees. Nobody around me was singing. It must be policy for the fans on the horizontal sides of any grounds not to sing. And let’s face it, most home grounds don’t even sing from the vertical ends. That’s why away games are what being a football fan is all about.

I still love the Riverside though. It’s paradise. You can’t beat this for pre-match music. Stolen by many inferior clubs. I hope they paid us for it.

19.43- The train journey back was long and left me much time to ponder my own past, present and future. Swathes of drunken thirty somethings carousing down the carriages drinking pink cans of gin and communicating with extra volume. I found a peaceful carriage to relax in and listen to Valvate by Recondite on repeat until I got to York.


A group of wankers with IPhones sat next to me and turned out to be Villa fans. One of the wankers referred to me as Bamford. Whom I’ve been likened to before. He started attacking me saying every player in Villa’s team except Gibson was better than Boro’s. 

“What you’re saying is just bollocks, just argument without substance. You’re just trying to provoke me, ” I said.

I was glaring at him the whole time. Giving his eyes no peace whatsoever. I think he respected me a bit more because of that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, you can win an argument with those strange balls in the middle of your face.

22.10-  I can now say that I’ve been to Chesterfield, York and Doncaster stations. Now I can add those Leviathan public transport bases to my checklist. The day was extremely deflating over all. By voyaging to the Middlesbrough town I gambled on a result and didn’t get one. But I experienced a few new things, and jotted a few of them down here so it’s not all crushing disappointment.

Until my next venture into uncharted lands, my imaginary readers.

 

No Deal

“Well James I’ve got some great news and some not so great news. Which one would you like first?” asked my beautiful, sexy, amazing girlfriend as she grabbed the lagers from on top of the bar and lead us across the astroturf. There seems to be more and more astroturf in the world every time I look. Astroturf bars, astroturf gardens, astroturf kitchens. Before we know it the whole House of Lords will be turfed up.

I got the feeling she had brought us to the pub to tell me something quite important, because she wanted to go just us two. Usually she would bring a train of equally whacky uni friends along who I’d have to begrudgingly endure. I looked forward to it being just the two of us for a change. We settled on a bench next to a ping pong table and I stared at her with weary eyes.

I’d just got back from the tory party conference in Manchester which had sucked the life right out of me, so I was delighted to go for a nice big pint of beer. Man those guys are in for a tough time if they think they are going to convince the electorate that they can operate as a competent government for the rest of the parliament. The whole thing was fantastic political theatre, the falling letters, the cough, the impostor with the P45. You’d expect to see that kind of imbroglio on The Thick Of It, not in real life. It was truly exhilarating. I really have absolutely no idea of the direction British politics is heading at the moment… Anyway, back to me and the awe-inspiring girlfriend.

“Great news first please,” she handed me a nice big pint with a giant white head on the top like a great big dollop of vanilla ice cream. It was the kind of beer you’d expect to see on a reasonably good TV advert. One of those adverts that conditions you so that you see a cold glass of beer and you just want to do things like watch football with friends.

“Okay. I got the teaching job.”

“No way? Wow. You must be very happy. ”

“I am!”

“Which one?”

“The one in Chalk Farm silly,” I didn’t know where Chalk Farm was, let alone what constituency it was in, so squinted at her slightly. When you are so close to somebody and you really love each other you don’t need words to communicate.  

“It’s in Northwest London,” I got a strong hunch it might be Hornsey and Wood Green. Or possibly Holborn and St Pancras. I’d check on my smartphone when I went to the toilet.

“And that’s the bad news then, the fact it’s in London, I take it Mars?”

Mars is short for Maire. This is pronounced Mar-ee, not Mare, like the horse. Her mouth and eyes moved to the side of her face as her head began to nod. She stared at me like I was a Green Party MP standing in a Labour heartland who’d just been told that unsurprisingly and despite a long and fearsome three months of campaigning I’d only managed to get a meagre 0.9 % of the vote share. I knew something was quite possibly very wrong now. I could feel my hands and feet beginning to sweat.

“Go on then, put me out my misery, what is the bad news? Are you dying or something?”

“No silly.

A long pause. It was purgatory.

“The bad news is that you won’t be seeing me anymore.”

On being told this I wanted to pick up my glass of lovely refreshing beer, relax my oesophagus pour it straight in, then kneel on the astro-turf while pleading and praying to a God I don’t even believe in for this to be a dream.

“Are you going to say anything James?”

I felt like somebody had jammed a coat-hanger in my chest.

“I just can’t comprehend how you’ve came to such a screeching U-turn all of a sudden.”

“A U-turn?”

“Yes a U-turn. Our relationship has been absolutely fine recently, I’d even go as far as to say it was particularly strong. And now you want to throw it all away-.”

“I’m moving one hundred and sixty three miles away James. I haven’t got the energy to have a ‘relationship’ at that distance.”

It looked like I had some convincing to do.

“I’ll level with you, overall I think that the decision to build HS2 is a complete waste of the taxpayer’s money. But my god that’ll get you to and from London fast. Getting to London will be the new equivalent of getting the 144 from Droitwich to Bromsgrove.” 

That didn’t cut ice with Maire. She wasn’t aware of what HS2 was, and I knew based on the mood she was in she wouldn’t listen if I explained. I sighed and then went to grab a massive swig from my pint and realised I’d necked it all already and was fighting with every sinew in my scrawny little body to resist the urge to grab hers and neck that as well. She didn’t seem remotely interested in it either. It was just a convenient prop brought in purely for the purposes of lubricating my heart before ripping it into pieces.

“We can come to some kind of arrangement surely. I’ll still come and see you. We can Skype as often as you need…”

“Are you trying to negotiate with me James?”

Maire often liked to play jokes on me, it’s part of the reason why I was so infatuated with her. I remember when on April Fools she called me up and got me to drive out to Aston Police Station, where she said she had been detained overnight for being caught with four grams of cocaine. Frantic with worry, I jumped into my Peugeot and gunned it down the motorway at seventy miles per hour, minimum speed. I got there and told the police that I was here to see my girlfriend who’d been caught with an illegal substance on her person. When I got there I went all round the station, even checking the women’s toilets cubicles, and subsequently I had to undergo the lengthy and infuriating process of convincing a female officer who saw me coming out that I wasn’t a pervert.

I called Maire and all I could hear coming out of the handset was her satanic laugh like the sound of thousands of hyenas in a hanging sack being burned alive. It took me a very, very long while to realise it but the whole thing was absolutely hilarious.

All my other girlfriends, had been so boring in comparison to my Maire. Both of them would just go on and on and on about things like how the devolvement of power to the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies was ‘constitutionally inconsistent,’ or they’d be more excited by Luxembourg’s new leadership contest than spending quality down-time together. I loved Maire because she wanted to do things like go to the cinema, listen to really loud, repetitive music, watch horror films and occasionally do a bit of sex together. Everything I thought I had, that perfect partnership that had served me so well for three whole months of the autumn term was melting before my very eyes.

“How do you feel about this?”

“How the mother-fucking fuck do you fucking think that I fucking feel about this?”

“Not good I take it.”

“No not good at all. Listen Maire. I love you.

“You can’t love me. We’ve only been almost together for three months.”

“You’re making a mistake.”

“I don’t think I am actually James. It seems like the obvious thing to do.”

Like an avocado, the world as I knew it had been sliced down the middle, twisted off into two parts, and had the core of it ripped clean out and thrown into the bin. I planted my face onto the slightly wet surface of the table and gave my scalp a massage by gently running my fingers over the curves of my skull. This attempt failed miserably. I raised my head.

“Right, I know this is going to sound a bit like I’m negotiating, but please just for my sake can’t we implement some kind of transitional period? Even if it’s just for a couple of months. This is a massive change for me…”

“How do you mean? Do you think I’m going to fuck you every other week for the next eight weeks or something? You think I’m going to drive down to Bournville during my precious school holidays for a bit of sex with my ex?”

I was puzzled at this, and took a moment to pause.

“You’re not going to screw someone else are you?”

“James…”

“No, sorry forget I said that. Listen, I could make a few amendments to my monthly budget and finance a trip or two every month or so. At least keep things as normal for a short while, so that I can get used to the idea of you leaving me. Please, You have to understand Maire that this is a cataclysmic shift of power.”

“Whose power?”

“Well it was my power, which you’ve taken from me. I feel like I’ve been castrated. You’re breaking my heart here Mars.”

“Being obscenely melodramatic about it won’t help you James.”

I returned my face to the wet wood, the hard wet wood. I tried massaging my head again but then got so frustrated by the impasse that I smashed my fists on the table like a very angry child. People looked over. Maire whispered in her gentle, angelic voice asking if I wanted her to do it for me. I said hell, yes I do. She then gave me the most celestial of massages, so soft and gentle. I wanted to cry, lots, like a very sad child.

“Have you thought about maybe doing a teaching job somewhere a bit closer, like Birmingham for example?”

“No. I want to live and work in London. Is that not obvious to you?”

“It just blows my mind that the reason you’re willing to dissolve our partnership is because you happen to have applied for a job in a different part of the country.”

“James,” she grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head and pulled my head up to look at her, like it wasn’t attached to my body because she’d just cut it off in battle.

“I’m not breaking up with you just because of that.”

“Well why the mother-fucking fuckedy fuck fuck fuck are you breaking up with me then.”

“I don’t know I just don’t feel like it’s working.“

“What do you mean don’t feel like it’s working?”

“We want different things.”

“I thought we wanted each other and that’s why we mutually agreed to enter into a relationship.” I thought I’d dismantled her with that one, but she came back with a bazooka.

“Things change James. I mean we want to do different things. I’m a Chemical Brothers kind of girl, you’re more… The Miliband Brothers.”

“Maire I thought we’d been through this together, so many times. I was completely ambivalent towards the Milibands, despite the fact that I thought Ed deserved a bit more credit from fellow party members, having contributed some seriously reasonable manifesto pledges in the 2015 election, such as the energy price cap for example…”

At this point, Maire started to groan, which I noticed she only really tended to do when I was talking about politics. Which was reasonably often.

“Arrrrghhhhh! Shut up James. You are driving me crazy.”

I told her I was going to get another drink. Maybe two. I even thought about going full-Farage and pinching a cigarette off the rabble rousing proletariat in tracksuits standing by the outdoor heaters. In the end I thought no Nigel, not today.  

 

Fucking Miliband brothers. Does she even know me at all? I bet she doesn’t know I voted for the Liberal Democrats at the general election. She just doesn’t care. Sometimes, sometimes I even consider that she may have lied to me and she has never even voted before in her life. And that’s so sad, because people really should realise how lucky they are to live in the longest lasting democracy on the planet and take advantage of that luxury. I’ve always thought that the U.K should take notice of the Australian voting system where voting is compulsory by law. About 5% of enrolled voters fail to vote at most elections and they get punished for it. And so they damn well should. In a very magnanimous way, the Australian government asks the voter if they have a credible reason for why they failed to turn up to the ballot box. If no satisfactory reason is provided (for example, illness or religious prohibition), a fine of up to $170 is imposed,and failure to pay the fine may result in a court hearing and additional costs. How would you like to be fined $170, endure a court hearing and the possibility of additional costs Maire? Not very much I don’t think. But that would be exactly what you deserve. Serves you right for not honouring, parliamentary democracy, you beautiful, evil bitch.

As I’m waiting for the bar man to come to the rescue, I look back over my shoulder at Maire. She’s wearing these silver crescent moon earrings. Light bounces off them and they sway as her head slowly moves. She is entranced by her mobile phone, and laughs hysterically at something on screen, probably a video on Facebook. Only a few days ago I had to perform CPR on her after she could barely breathe laughing at some videos of goats climbing up mountains. It’s not even funny I told her. But this made her laugh even more, so hard that I ended up laughing myself. The way they get down a near vertical cliff face in such massive, reckless leaps. It is quite funny really, in a way. I took in the full splendour of her smile. Such a sight to behold. My friend Abdul from P.P.A (public policy and administration) told me that she was the spit of Heidi Allen, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. And she is quite frankly what they might call ‘a sight for sore eyes’ if ever I saw one. How the hell have you pulled a girl like her? Abdul would always ask. No idea I’d tell him. Absolutely no idea.

“You waiting to be served mate?”

“Yeah, rum and coke please. Make it a triple. “

“We don’t do triples. I can do you a double and single if you want?”

“You know what mate. Fuck it, just give me three singles.”

“Coming up,”

I necked them all one by one with terrifying voracity as he laid them out on the table. The barman took a long look at me, with his hands crossed together and eyebrow raised.

“You had bad news or something pal?”

“You could say that yeah. She’s broken up with me.”

The bar man looked out through the window at the girl entranced by her phone.

“Are you saying that was your girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Jesus. I would have betted my life on her being your sister.”

“I’ll pay by card please.”

 

Right I need to play this really cool. Don’t even mention the break up. Make it look like I don’t even care all that much. Mustn’t look needy. She’ll be well into that. I notice there’s a song being played and it sounds like it might be her kind of thing. I searched Google for an app that identifies music (there’s bound to be one) and downloaded Shazam and found that it’s a song called Love Don’t Let Me Go by an electronic music artist called David Guetta. I go back to the table, grinning to myself. It wasn’t over yet.

“Such a good track this is. I love David Guetta, such a clever DJ.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah definitely. Guetta, he’s up there with the best of them for me. Faithless. Moby…” I start to bop my head slightly, “makes me want to go to a rave this does. I’ll check online if you want, maybe we can go to one of his gigs together if he’s touring?”

“I hate David Guetta.”

“Oh really? Yeah I’m not a big fan of his new stuff to be honest. It’s all a bit heavy and fast isn’t it?”

“No it’s just shit.”

“Oh yeah absolutely.”

Now Maire was eating a satsuma with confidence.

“We both know you don’t listen to music James. You have two albums in your flat, and they’re both by Keane.”

Why can’t people just accept that Keane are an exceptionally talented artist? That soft but dominating singing voice, the melancholic lyric bites, catchy tunes, the gentle piano. What more could anybody ever want from a piece of music?

Maire laughed again. I laughed back but really I wanted to cry again.

“You see James. You’ll be fine. You’re fine.”

“I won’t Maire. I still can’t believe you’re actually breaking up with me.”

“It’ll get easier. “

It wouldn’t get easier, in fact the exact opposite. I’d one day wake up and realise that none of this was a dream and then it would get much, much harder as it slowly sank in like the proverbial badger in the quicksand. I can’t even find a political analogy to suit such abject suffering. I can only think of something I saw on a nature documentary while I was waiting for Question Time to come on last month. I’m a tarantula and she one of those tarantula hawks, the insects that are neither tarantula nor hawk but are in fact parasitic wasps and she’s gone and stung me so I’m paralysed and she’s dragged me over to her nest so that she can penetrate me and lay her eggs inside me so a baby wasp larva grows and feasts on my insides but carefully avoids my vital organs so I’m on death’s door all the time but still alive and now the baby wasp larva is pupating and it’s grown into a wasp that’s basically another version of her that’s much more evil than I could possibly have imagined and she’s burst out of my abdomen and she’s doing that awful laugh and it’s all preposterous and I can’t bear it any longer …

I drew my smart phone from my pocket and checked the BBC headlines- 

Jacob Rees Mogg the bookies favourite to become next prime minister.

A conservative backbencher, never held a cabinet position….

Maire turned to me, twizzling a lock of her perfect brown hair around her blue varnished fingernails.

“James, has it ever crossed your mind that you might have an unhealthy obsession with politics?”

 

Your reasonable job application

Dear insignificant candidate,

We were desperately sorry to receive your application for the position of Reasonably Successful Career in London with Reasonable Salary and Benefits. Unfortunately,  after extremely careless consideration and due to the record low volume of applications and the exceptionally poor quality of these applications, we are sorry to say that you have been successful on this occasion.

Here at R.S.C.L.R.S.B we were deeply amused and impressed that a person of your qualifications, skills and professional stature could ever dream of becoming like us, living and working in London, with reasonably impressive bank balances and reasonably exciting recreational and sex lives.

We sincerely hope that you didn’t spend much time on your application, time if you had better management skills you could surely have spent doing more productive things with, such as drinking to excess and humiliating yourself in public, wasting what little money you have on things that make your life categorically worse, injecting heroin with friends,  and vigorously wanking in your bedroom (which is technically your mother’s because she pays the mortgage, and incidentally the house you will live in until your mid-late thirties).

We were so shocked by how poor and unprofessional your CV was, that we photocopied it and distributed it through all company departments. Everybody laughed, from the boss (to whom we are all abominable sycophants) through to Marta, the Slovakian cleaner with barely a basic grasp of the English language.

Please never apply with us again, and we wish you the worst of luck for your miserable future, when you will eventually inevitably have to settle for a much less reasonable job than this one, probably not even in London. We literally, could not care less about you.

Do let us know when you will be available for interview and congratulations again.

Worst wishes,

Mark ‘reasonable bloke’ Smith.

 Reasonably senior company executive departmental resources coordinator at R.S.C.L.R.S.B

BA utility subject at reasonable UK university.

 

 

 

Tim Clare DOTQ Couch to 80k Boot Camp: Review

I have been a fan of Tim Clare’s Death of a Thousand cuts for quite a long time, having had a piece of my own work gnawed to a pulp, spat out and incinerated on one episode. A bare-faced, unapologetic revelation about how sloppy a writer I was. This is the kind of revelation we all urgently need, the sooner the better, and one which we perhaps don’t get enough of in the safe space of creative writing seminars.

This happened when Tim was taking submissions from opening pages of novels (which I believe he is still doing, submit on his website if you dare) and analysing them section by section, taking no prisoners and crucifying them if necessary. Here he encourages a fierce and often careful critical voice when editing work.

In his latest podcast series (a whopping 53 episodes) Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp, Tim encourages writers to tell this voice to shut the fuck up and get the hell out of town. At the beginning of the series he starts soft and eases you into regular writing, encouraging listeners to write lists of names, objects or scenarios. Later it develops to free writes. Tim says just turn up, and for ten minutes don’t stop writing. The words you produce might be sappy, incomprehensible, meaningless or preposterous.

You might produce something like this-

Stabbing scythosaurs with scientists in Seattle. Umbrellas with undulating udders. Swimming again, why am I always swimming? James, wherefore dost thou swimeth so? That ladies and gentlemen is the question in question. Or, no, no, no that is not true. That would be unspeakable. We must not go there and together we must move somewhere else….

Or worse-

The dagger of life or the dagger of death? The dagger of the east or the dagger of the west? The dagger of the unborn, and the dagger of the unworthy, certainly. Swimming in the swamp, arms flapping about like newspapers in a London breeze, floating down into the underground. A sack inside a sack, inside a sack, lumpy lumps of lumpy lump and lump, which lumpeth forth into the lumpworld, where all are the lumpiest of lumps. Creatures feathered and friends also now with feathers. All armoured and conniving for the death and the destruction. Wanderers, (Bolton) will win the title and wanderers will wander, in this world forever.
But the actual production of words is paramount. You might not like what you’ve written afterwards, but stare at the page after a ten minute free write and you will see paragraphs and paragraphs of your own signature creation. Some of which might even have potential to be used in later projects, or even better, just turning up to write might even create ideas for projects in themselves. It’s actually quite a crazy thing to do, to create in such a way, experimenting in the laboratory of your brain. Looking at the words, you realise that was in your mind at the time. You might have things like that in your mind all the time, but you let them die like mindless lemmings, queuing up in their thousands to leap off the cliffs of doom. But if you wish you can freeze them, record them and look at them, clear, shameless, naked and inviting you to inspect and play with them. After all, the human creative capacity is the most exciting and mysterious thing in the universe for us, it’s why we get out of bed in the morning. So why not prod it, squeeze it and push it to it’s limits and see what happens?

Tim’s exercises are like an obstacle course, encouraging writers to flex their creative muscles in entirely new ways and approach their craft from exciting new angles. This can be anything from writing a scene with monosyllabic words, to writing from the perspective of an assassin hiding in a nearby tree. The possibilities are endless. But also, Tim encourages a change of setting when writing, having recorded one podcast in the woods, another driving around in his car at night. He argues that toying with your environment, routine and writing apparatus is essential for keeping ideas fresh, and the process fun.  I don’t think anybody could possibly disagree. 

Aside from listing a multitude of fun exercises that conquer the boredom, mental lethargy and pure dread that writing often brings with it, Tim is a truly warm, empathetic and hilarious guide. Listening to him speak is simply a pleasure. He says he doesn’t script the podcasts but if this is true he has an almost unbelievable, superhuman ability to conjure up hilarious and outrageously detailed metaphors (‘popping up everywhere like mushrooms full of hallucinogenic word juice’) and analogies to suit what he is trying to explain. He doesn’t even edit, it’s just one take and there it is, bang on the money every time.

cof

Dali himself gave me the heads up for my marking structure. I’m sure Tim’s is very different. Red for exercise, green meditation, blue reading, purple writing, with a load of letters on top to indicate less healthy things. This method is so effective because you can actually see your progress, right in front of you, in your bedroom, on the wall. Your mind loves that kind of clarity.

Doing the exercises I grew to enjoy Tim’s insights about life as much as his ones about writing. He speaks about the benefits of having a calendar, and marking it with colours for achievements e.g exercise, writing, meditating. The idea never really crossed my mind before, but I am doing it now and I’ve never been anywhere near this productive in my life (I have probably NEVER meditated, written, and exercised in the same day. As you can see from my calendar I did this loads last month). He talks a lot about cold showers as well, which is a step I’ve not yet had the drive (or bollocks) to implement, but I will take his word and will definitely be open to blasting myself with a torrent of nipple-sharpening water in future.

If you are like me, you know that writing is the only thing you’re half decent at, but find writing, the thought of writing, actually writing and anything associated with writing tends to freeze your spine and make you want to run away as far as you possibly can and hide up a tree somewhere, then you couldn’t ask for a better course. This will make you realise, slowly that you can do what you want to do, and it doesn’t have to be agonising. Or boring. It can actually be rather fun.

Who knows? one day you might even publish a novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Storeh

I

Kurt jumped off his BMX half way down Shelthorpe road. What number was it again, 49? 94? He pulled his Nike drawstring bag off his back and rummaged around until he found the the crumpled up flyer he’d got from the Post Office.

Looking for young elf with good atitude to help Santa spread xmas joy on weeknights.

Decent £, decent hours, mon- fri

Give Spike a call on 07565673241 or call on 944 Shelthorpe Rd if interested. Start IMMEDIATLEY

Santa-and-elf-coloring-page

Spike was in the lounge watching Top Gear with a can of Oranjeboom (red and black) when he noticed the little kid outside. The house was half-decorated, and all the floor was all splintery, dusty floorboards. Spike was fat, bald and his clothes were always covered in white paint stains.

He paused the show and went out to the front to hold out a big, strong workman’s hand. Kurt’s shake was nervous and flaccid, he simply allowed his hand to be enveloped. He kept brushing his hardened gel quiff to the side. It never moved an inch.

“So, you must be Kurteh?”

Kurt nodded.

“The name’s Spikeh, You look like a right young’n, how old are ya 13, 14?”

“15.”

“Oh, that a relief. Just means I don’t ave to pay ya properleh.”

Kurt contrived laughter noises.

“Only jokin ya little bastard. I’m full of little bastard jokes like that I am. You’ll find that out soon enough kidda.”

Spike went over to his van and unlocked the front. He checked the foot-well, grabbed a bundle of empty cans, and chucked them into his neighbour’s black bin.

“Ya mind if I call you Kurteh do ya lad?”

“Yeah.”

Spike paused a second and stared at Kurt, “Do you mean yeah you do mind, or yeah can I call you Kurteh?”

“Yeah.”

An even longer pause. Spike raised one of his eyebrows to the sky. He thought to himself, how have I managed to recruit another one? I bet this fucker can’t even count. Just my fuckin luck.

“Right then so you know what you’ll be doin today then Kurteh?”

Kurt shook his head, clutching tightly onto the strings of his drawstring bag like his life depended on it.

“Well as you might have noticed, I’m Santa and you’re my little elf. Now I’ve got a couple of things for ya.”

Spike went back into the van and picked out a small green hat from the footwell and a big white bucket covered in dirt. The hat had little gold bells all round the side, so it jingled much like a tambourine. On the side of the bucket were written the words

NO DONATION TOO SMALL


MERRY XMAS FROM SANTA, ELF AND RAINDEERS!

“This’ll be your at, and this’ll be your bucket. I need you to always wear your at, and always carry your bucket. All right? Now then Kurteh, I’ll show ya where you’ll be workin.”

Spike led Kurt to his garage door. He opened it up slowly to reveal Spike’s sleigh. It was built out of a trailer Spike previously used to take things to the tip. He had plastered it in lights, tinsel, and the odd bauble. In the middle of the trailer was a tall plastic Christmas tree with big purple baubles and green and white flashing lights. A plastic model of an angel stood at the very top, flashing at two second intervals. A speaker lay hiding underneath the tree for playing Christmas anthems. Bordering the trailer were four reindeer made out of brown mesh, all with a seemingly arbitrary number of limbs.

“Go on then kid, jump aboard.”

Kurt looked back at him to confirm he wasn’t joking. Then after a few seconds he realised he wasn’t and jumped over the back. His long, fleshless body clambered and rolled off the side, into a bed of straw and discarded roll ups.

“Ya like it do ya?”

“Yeah it’s all right.”

“Made it wi me own bare ands, me and me mate Wilkeh anyweh like. He’s in prison now, ya don’t wanna know. Only took us a few months. Don’t get me wrong it’s a heap of absolute shite if you ask me. People still like it. Fuckin idiots. They see it whizzing down the streets, fucking Pogues blaring out and they think it’s like Christmas day!”

Kurt stood there, blank faced next to the tree. He looked hopelessly out of place.

“You are a dumb little bastard aren’t you? But it’s all right. You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon. You just need to follow the trailer while I drive it around, and politely ask the people on the streets to put money in the bucket. Do you think you could do that Kurteh?”

“Yeah.”

“Wicked, and if you do that for me, we both make a bit of money, and go home to the pub afterwards appeh as larreh. Kapish?”

Kurt nodded.

“Any questions kidda?”

“Errm, what do I wear?”

“You can wear whatever the fuck ya like kidda, football kit, tracksuit, overalls, gimp suit. So long as ya wear that at. The public couldn’t give a toss so long as they think you’re an elf. And ya are you an elf, ent ya Kurteh?”

“What?”

“I said, are you an elf?”

“I don’t know?”

“What do you mean, you don’t fucking know, are you wearing an elf at or what?”

“Yes.”

“Yes you are Kurteh, so ‘ll ask you again, are you an elf or not?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” Spike produced a smile like some kind of evil shark. His teeth were a piano of silver metal crowns and yellow, natural teeth,  “all right then you little bastard. I’ll see yas outside here at 6pm, tonight, sharp as a diamond. And also, any bollocks from you Kurteh and I’ve got a queue of elves up to the McDonalds roundabout waiting to wear that Elf at for me.”

Kurt nodded, with the face of a turkey ready for the slaughter.

“Good lad. Now piss off would ya, I’m off to Mark Jarvis.”

 

II

 

On Kurt’s BMX ride home he was overwhelmed with content. He had never had a job before, which meant that he never really had any money. His mum gave him a fiver every week, but he ended up having spent that all on coke cans and chocolate bars by Tuesday. Other times he would starve himself a bit until he had enough money to buy a game for his Xbox. Kurt loved his Xbox, and being the elder brother of five and therefore having had to share it his whole life, he wanted to buy one for himself. He longed to become an independent gamer.

When he got to the top of his road he transferred his feet to the stunt pegs at the back and just let the bike roll all the way down the road until it took him to his driveway. Kurt opened the side gate with the sign on it that read, ‘BEWARE, trespassers will be SHOT!’ in a dripping red font, and concentrated briefly on not stepping on any of the dog chews and burst footballs strewn everywhere across the concrete garden. Kurt’s father was drilling in the shed. He glanced at his son through the window and removed his safety mask and shouted ‘“alright cuntybollocks?” Kurt wasn’t immediately aware. Kurt’s dad turned off the drill.

“I says, are you all right CUNTYBOLLOCKS?”

“Yeah dad I’m fine.”

“Did you get the fuckin job then or what?”

“Yeah think so.”

“When do ya start?”

“Tonight.”

“Ahh good lad. What were it doin?”

“Goin out wi yim in his sleigh and collectin cash.”

“Ahh well we all gotta start somewhere kid. The bloke all right?”

“Yeah.”

“Gotta watch out for these dodgy cunts these days Kurt. What were is name?”

“Spikeh?”

Kurt’s dad pulled up his T-shirt to wipe the sweat off his brow.

“Can’t say I know the bastard. Well you tell him if he does ote to ya I’ll drill him.”

Wilkeh switched the power drill back on and held sideways in the air laughing hysterically to himself for a moment before sliding back into the shed like a crab sliding back into its hermitage. Kurt grinned for a second, then went straight up to his bedroom to boot up Call of Duty, frothing at the mouth.

Three deeply frustrating hours passed, which Kurt spent trying to unlock Red Tiger camo for the G3, a gun Kurt didn’t even particularly like. After being repeatedly slaughtered at close quarters by a number of players with a much faster fire-rate weapon Kurt threw his controller at one of his little brothers.

“Kurteh you know what Mum said, if ya threw controller at meh gain then you won’t get play Xbox three days.”

Kurt looked at his little brother briefly as if to say yeah right, get fucked mate, and stormed out of the door. Stanley was left sat down on a bean- bag crying, controller on his lap. He soon forgot the grief that his older brother had caused him and his eyes lit up as he realised he had access to the Xbox.

“You betta let me go on aftward Stanleh.” A voice came from behind the beanie bag from another of the siblings on a smaller bean bag. All of the brothers looked almost exactly the same, only they came in different sizes. They were like Russian dolls in second-hand sportswear.

“Maybe tomorrah Andeh,” little Stanley replied.

Kurt threw on his Air Max, wheeled his bike round to the front and cycled off to Shelthorpe road for his first shift.

 

III

 

When Kurt got to his destination, he pulled out his Iphone 5 and checked the time. 17.54. He was 6 minutes early. The sleigh was now parked outside the house, attached to the back of Spike’s van. On the side of the van was a large unlit neon sign that read

IT’S FOR CHARITY!

Kurt realised his feet were shaking, and sweat had saturated his trainer-liners. He stared at the door with eyes wide open, like a little bunny in the headlights. He decided to just go for it, and swung open the front gate to walk towards the front door. He knocked once. Immediately he heard the barking of a ferocious canine.

He stood on that doorstep for just under fifty minute before Santa Claus finally opened the door. The house stank of stale fag smoke, which wafted out onto the street.

“Kurteh, we’re goin,” Santa said as he struggled to apply his snowy white beard to his face, which he attached to the sides of his hat with safety pins. His black boots were quite obviously his work boots.

“Where’s your elf at kidda?”

“You what?”

“Your elf at, what you put on your ed. Where is it?”

“Oh yeah. It’s in my bag,” he pulled the drawstring off his back and plucked out the dirty green elf hat and put it on his head.

“I told you, and I’m not being funneh, you always need that thing on your ed. Honestleh kidda, I’ve sacked perfectly good employees for smaller offences.” He took the opportunity to give Kurt a long, stern and calculated stare, which evoked terror in its recipient. Spike opened the van door for Kurt.

“Wait there a minute kiddeh while I go and switch on the genneh.”

Kurt sat there in the passenger seat, staring blankly through the windscreen whilst chewing the skin off his cuticles with his head at a 45 degree angle.  Spike switched on the generator in the back of the van, it roared into life and the sleigh lit up. The sleigh was mostly red lights, the charity sign on the side of the van was white and purple, and only the top half of the C was illuminated. It looked more like a fairground ride than anything Christmassy. Spike saw the C and dropped his sack from his shoulders and punched the side of the van with his fist. Kurt quivered in the passenger’s seat.

“Fuckin Leceh, bollocks.”

The introduction of Fairytale of New York came on as the vehicle dragged itself down the street. Spike then reached across the dashboard and opened up the glove box. Inside were two CDs, one a Ministry of Sound Ibiza Weekender compilation and the other Morning Glory by Oasis.

“Like Oasis do ya Kurteh, you little bastard?” Kurt looked puzzled.
“The band, Oasis.”

“Dunno em.”

“Jesus whatever they teach you kids in school these days, it ain’t nothin important is it,” and with that Spike fast forwarded to Roll With It, and turned it up full blast until everything vibrated. They stopped at the traffic lights just opposite McDonalds.

“Don’t wanna ear that Fairytale bollocks any more. Christmas songs are for wankers. Drives me insane it does kidda. I just wanna listen to proper music. From the nineties. You feeling Christmasseh then Kurteh?”

 

IV

 

They were in Barrow Upon Soar tonight. When they got to their first street it was dark and starting to rain. Above, the moon was hiding behind thick grey clouds, drifting fast. Spike had Kurt standing at the back by the trailer with the bucket while he slowly drove on in the van. If anybody was in the street, Spike expected Kurt to give them the bucket. He told him if he ignored anybody he would know about it, because he could see all that was going on in his side mirrors.

Kurt encountered all kinds of village folk and found most of them to be quite pleasant. Some were very impressed by the trailer, and others were completely disillusioned, but they kept their thoughts to themselves. Worshippers were enjoying a service at the Barrow Methodist Church when Santa and his sleigh rode towards them. In the car park a few of the parishioners had set up a table, offering mince pies and mulled wine. Noticing a gathering there, Spike stopped the van in the middle of the road, threw his roll up out the window and jumped out the side.

“Ho ho ho to the Church!”

He was attempting to make his voice as posh as possible.

“Merry Christmas to all, and what a fine day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.”

“Merry Christmas to you both!” said one elderly lady.

“Like a mince pie, some mulled wine?” said the other.

“I can’t have the wine sweety because I happen to be driving you see,” he pointed to the van and sleigh outside, “But I’ll have one of these pies if I may. Little fellow can’t drink you see. Not yet anyway, he’s only 13 years old. HAHAA!!”

Spike grabbed one and shoved it in his mouth in one and whilst munching he turned to his assistant, looking at him, and then the bucket.

“Have you got any money?” Kurt asked.

The women looked at each other with raised eyebrows. After a few seconds Kurt received a swift slap to the ear.

“What did I tell you about manners Kurteh? What do you say?”

Please can we have some money?” he then held the bucket out forwards.

“And what are you collecting for?” a lady asked.

“Chariteh,” Kurt pointed towards the purple and white sign on the side of the van.

“That’s wonderful, what charity is it?”

“That’s a good question sweetheart. Which charity you ask?”

“Yes. For example we are collecting for the Salvation Army,” she pointed towards her own bucket on the table, “which charity is your bucket for?”

Spike stood still playing with the curls of his beard and paused for ten seconds. Just as one of the ladies began to sigh, Spike said “cancer.”

“Oh Cancer Research UK, I see. A very good cause. And this is your little son is it, helping you out?”

“Yeah my pride and joy this one,” Spike put his hand on top of Kurt’s head and patted.

“Aww well it’s lovely that you’re both out doing good deeds over Christmas for no benefit of yourselves. Very refreshing to meet somebody who has taken the lessons of the New Testament well and truly on board!”

Spike had no idea who she meant, so turned to Kurt and shrugged his shoulders. Still smiling, the two ladies grabbed their purses from their coat pockets and dropped a few coins into the bucket.

“Cheers girls.”

The vicar then wheeled out from the back of the Church, vestments strewn across his shoulders.

“What’s going on here then ladies?”

“Oh hi Albert. Nothing, just Santa and his little helper doing some humanitarian work together.”

“Yes they’re collecting for Cancer Research.”

“Oh fantastic!” The vicar then pulled out a fresh twenty pound note and placed it into the bucket like it wasn’t a big deal.

“Merry, Merry Christmas! We’re going now aren’t we Curtis, we’ve gotta do the new estate now.”

“Great stuff gents,” said the vicar with a perfectly holy smile.

One of the ladies then grabbed a couple of leaflets from the table and handed them out.
“We have service every Sunday and we’ve got a special three hour one coming up on Christmas eve. You’re both very welcome to come down.”

“Oh it’s an honour to be invited it really is. We’ll be there won’t we Kurteh? Kurteh?”

“Yeah.”

Everybody smiled and waved as they left. As they got back into the van Spike told Kurt that that would do em both for the night, he ‘couldn’t be arsed to do anymore’.

When they got back to Shelthorpe Road Kurt handed over the bucket for Spike to count the cash. The sum was £43,37.

“Not bad Kurteh, for your first shift. “

Kurt was quite happy with himself.

“Here ya go Kurteh, here’s £9.80 or summet. You’ve earned that kidda.”

“Cheers.”

“Cash in and as well. You know what that means? Cash in and?” he didn’t wait for an answer, grabbed Kurt’s hand and put the cash into it.

“Thanks.”

He pulled out a Sainsburys carrier bag bursting full of cash from under the seat, and emptied the rest into it, then returned it.

“I’m off to the boozer with my pals now kid. Wanna come?”

“I’m 15.”

“Oh yeah.”

 

V

 

The days went by surprisingly fast for Kurt and he slowly grew accustomed to working, it made him want to leave school even more than he did already. He would go to school, go home, play COD for a few hours, then go off to Spike’s, work for four hours, then go home and play some more COD until his eyes felt like they were bleeding.

After the first week he turned over £37, which he kept inside a magazine under his bed so that his brothers wouldn’t steal it. He’d spent next to nothing of his earnings at school, intent on saving it to buy Call Of Duty WW2 before Christmas.

On arriving back at the house after his last shift on Friday, his parents called him from the lounge.
“Oi cunteh!” his dad shouted.

“Come in Kurt and say ello to your mam and dad,” said his mother. Kurt wandered into the room, hands where they always were, clutching at his drawstrings on his chest.

“Ow are ya cunteh?”

“Yeah how was work Kurt?”

“Yeah it was all right.”

“Being a good little helper are ya?”

“Yeah.”

“Paid you as he?” asked Kurt’s dad.

“Yeah.”

“You got enough to buy us all some nice Christmas presents?”

“Yeah.”

“Good lad Kurteh.”

“Yeah good stuff Kurt, proud of ya.”

“Well done Kurteh,” his mother said before turning her attention back to the television. Kurt went into his eight hour COD binge a very happy and slightly richer young man.

As the next working week pressed on, Kurt realised it wasn’t going to be so easy. One night in Sileby for example, a few kids with skinheads on Greedon rise had mocked Kurt’s hat and proceeded to throw rocks at him. When one of them hit the van Spike, fired up on rage and hot blood, went into the back of his van and pulled out a Fiskars XXL X27 Log Splitting Axe. He chased them down the street, cursing and giving them death threats all the way to Seagrave, leaving Kurt standing there, shivering and chattering.

A series of drivers who were blocked off due to the fact that the giant Santa sleigh and van was obstructing it got out of their cars and went over to the little kid in the middle of the road.

“What the fook ya doing here kid?”

“Dunno,” Kurt replied.

“Who’s driving this fookin ideous contraption, your dad is it?”

“Dunno, I mean, no.”

“Are you simple kid?” Kurt just stood there, staring at the reindeer.

A mob had formed outside the van now, getting bigger and bigger by the minute. Some were taking pictures to upload onto Spotted Sileby. They were moaning, cursing and spitting everywhere.

One skinhead finally says, “right I’ve had enough of this. I’m movin the fucker ma self. Aint no one else gonna fuckin do it.”

The mob cheered as the man climbed into the front of the van. He pulled the handbrake and van and sleigh gently dropped down the hill. He stopped at the corner of the road at the bottom and nodded his head to himself as if to say yeah decent job that. The mob got back in their cars, and honked their horns in jubilation as they began to move up the road.

“Tell your dad I’ll be after the cunt if he does it again,” the man got angry again, “fuckin chariteh? Bollocks! This ain’t for chariteh. You appy to just take people’s money are ya? Yas are the fuckin scum of the earth the both of yas.”

Still consumed by rage, he then grabbed hold of one of the reindeer’s head and ripped it off the side of the van, throwing it onto the pavement. His wife, stood on the pavement, loving every minute.

“Well done Toneh!”

“Come on Nickeh, that’s enough for me.”

Then he grabbed her hand and they walked off into the night together. Kurt wanted to cry.

His master returned an hour later, deadly weapon in hand, Santa beard and hat still firmly in place, out of breath and puffing hard on a fag.

“Couldn’t catch the bastards. I fuckin ate Silebeh.”

It took him a good few moments before he noticed the meshy reindeer skull staring at him from the pavement. The blood went straight to his bald head. He screamed at Kurt until his larynx wanted to burst out of his neck.

He picked up the terrified little kid by his collar and threw him against the side of the van, spitting into his face with every word. He proceeded to ask a series of questions he knew he would never get an answer to.

“How the FUCK could you let this happen?”

“Who the FUCK’s been driving my van?”

“How did you get to be such a dippy, worthless little FUCK?”

At one moment, Kurt feared that he might be struck by the axe in Spike’s arms, but it wasn’t to be. He swung backwards, but then stopped at the final minute and took a deep, deep breath. Spike grabbed the mangled reindeer, and threw it onto the sleigh.
“Get in the car now you little bastard or I’ll leave you ere on your arse.”

The journey back to Shelthorpe was quiet. For the duration Kurt desperately tried to hold back the tears in his eyes.

 

VI

 

Kurt’s weekend traumatised after what happened at Greedon on Friday night. He was starting to realise that Spike wasn’t a very good man. He was quite angry about how he had been verbally abused, and as he stormed buildings, tossed grenades, commanded air strikes and controlled helicopter attacks, he imagined every soldier he exterminated was Spike. It made him want to be a soldier in real life, if only there was a civilisation of Spikes somewhere out there that the government had an interest in decimating, little Kurt would have been on the front line with his AK-47, wanting blood.

But Kurt was getting tired of the same COD game. His friends at school were all teasing him by constantly gloating about how good the new one was. About how on the zombie mode instead of a knife you get a spade, which you use to cave the Zombies’ heads in at close range. Kurt fucking loved Zombies. He needed that game, badly. Which is why, unfortunately, he was resolved to carry on working until Christmas. He went to work on Monday as normal.

“Listen Kurteh. I lost my rag on friday night. I’m sorreh about that. Little fuckers throwing rocks mate. I ad to try and smash the little bastards or it wouldn’t ave been right. I chased the fuckers but they got away. That made me even worse mate. I remember a face though so I’m all right. I’ve cooled down now…”

He carried on talking but Kurt didn’t listen. It was Quorn tonight. He just had to carry the bucket around for a few hours, then he could go home and you know what.

The shift went agonisingly slowly. Partly due to the weather, the village people were nowhere to be seen. It was mostly dog walkers, and they rarely want to give out money to charity, they just want to walk their dogs and be done with it. Dog walking Bastards, Spike thought.

Kurt hated it when the streets were dead, not only because he didn’t make any money, but because it meant that Spike would speed off ahead in his van, and Kurt would have to sprint behind to keep up. Kurt was never a long distance runner. He was having a really hard time. Only to be made much harder when it came to the end of the shift as Spike counted the cash.

“12 quid Kurteh? This all you got is it?”

Kurt shrugged.

“Look mate, It’s simply not good enough. I’m not angry or ote. Just don’t be surprised that I ain’t paying you tonight. If you don’t work ard, you don’t get paid. Simple as.”

Kurt looked down at the cans in the footwell.

“You understand Kurteh?” Kurt nodded.

If only he had a spade, he’d know what exactly what to do with it.

 

VII
Mountsorrel was slightly better than Quorn, but the night was colder, and longer. He turned over £26.54 in total, and was paid £6 for four hours work.

“Let me tell ya ow it is. I’m running a business you see Kurteh. And with businesses, it’s all about making moneh. Notes. Cash. Fuckin WONGA. That’s what life’s all about kidda. You’ll find out when you’re older.”

Kurt felt very humiliated, but hoped for better nights to come. Spike reminded him of Tyler, the school bully who used to throw people’s Beyblades onto the roof of the mobile.

 

When Kurt got home that night his parents noticed something was awry as Kurt charged through the house, without saying hello. His parents rushed to the stairs.

“What’s got into you cunty boy?” his dad asked.

“How was work Kurteh?” his mum.

“Fine.”

The pair of them looked at each other, puzzled, then went back in the lounge to devour another episode of Gogglebox in a state of perfect mirth.

“This show’s fuckin ilarious!”

“Aint it! I ope little Kurt’s all right though.”

“He’s fine, he’s probably avin girl troubles or summet.”

 

As Kurt got up to his room he was crestfallen to see his brother Aiden playing Gran Turismo.

“What ya doin Aideh?”

“Playin Gran Turismo leave me alone,” Kurt hated Gran Tourismo.

“Let me play now.”

“No.”

“Leave him alone Kurteh,” the youngest of the band of brothers Andy interjected, brainlicker juice all round his mouth.

“Why you playin that fuckin shite game anyway?”

The brothers completely ignored him, engrossed by the race Aiden was taking part in. Kurt put his head in his hands, “ARRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH” then went down into the kitchen, and grabbed a packet of his Mum’s Silk Cut off the side. He went down the side of the house and smoked it until he got niccy rush. Then he went straight up to bed where he twisted and turned for a few hours before sleep.

 

VIII

 

A few more days of making little money, a few more days chasing the back of Santa’s sleigh. Spike was getting noticeably frustrated about decreasing cash-flow. The car journeys were tense and quiet. On Thursday after Kurt pulled in on his BMX outside Spike’s house, Spike burst out of the side gate and came out with, “Look Kurteh. You’ve really gotta pull your finger out tonight. No excuses. We’re in Mountsorrel, and it ain’t like Silebeh, everybody’s got money in Sorrel. Like they do in Quorn, but the bastards in Quorn aren’t as thick as they are in Sorrel, so they’re much more likely to throw a bit of cash your way if you give it a bit of bollocks. I’m not bein funny or ote mate, if you don’t do it proper and make me some cash I’m gonna ave to get someone else. Now stick on your at and grab that fuckin bucket and make your family proud, all right?”

The night started out well. A group of carol singers, aggravated by the fact their singing was being interrupted by The Pogues, went over to Spike and asked him to turn it down a bit. Spike said, ‘Yeah if ya give us some moneh.”

The superviser lady then proceeded to throw a few coins into the bucket.
“Come on love it’s for chariteh.”

She then made it a fistful. Estimating that the total of the donation was probably in the region of ten pounds, Spike was happy to drive off and leave them to it.  

“And merry Christmas to the fuckin lot of yas!”

Most of the people Kurt met ignored him, treating him like an annoying beggar in the street.

Please can I have some moneh?

We haven’t got any change, sorry. They’d reply. It didn’t stop Kurt from trying ever harder.

Merry Christmas, can I have some money please?

A couple of girls he realised were from school simply said no, then burst into hysterical laughter together, taking a photo of him next to the sleigh. Kurt looked very distressed. He didn’t want to be all over Facebook in his elf costume. He heard them cackling like hyenas from the top of the road. It just wasn’t fair. He lost his ability to talk to anyone after that.

He continued to hold out the bucket to everyone in the street, but nobody threw in anything. They just walked on, like he and the sleigh were an apparition, a hallucination of a depressing reality. Kurt glanced at the wing mirror and saw Santa, staring at him whilst toking fiercely. He exhaled and the reflection of his face disappeared behind the smoke.  The end was coming.

Spike stopped the van  outside The Swan Inn on Loughborough Road, with a firm, lasting oink of the handbrake.This jolted the sledge forwards and backwards. The Christmas tree waggled, from side to side then fell over so that it was leaning on the top of the van. 

“Come into the front Kurt. Show me that bucket kiddeh.”

Kurt passed over the bucket. Spike gave it a shake, then turned to Kurt, “there better be some notes in ere kidda.”

He popped open the lid, and found nothing but the change from the carol singers. He inspected them with his chunky fingers and found that they were mostly coppers.

“Fuckin done by a bunch of carol singers. And what money have you made kidda out of that, 20 pence or summat? Four hours work for twenty fuckin pence? It ain’t fuckin good enough. Go on kid, fuck off will ya. ”

Spike stormed out of the van and headed straight for the Swan, Kurt got out the other side and walked the other way.  A man was talking to his friend outside the pub. They were both wearing extremely elaborate Christmas jumpers. 

“So basicalleh, Mickeh’s missus says to meh, I’ll give you two undred and fifty notes if ya can carpet the entire ouse before wednesday. So I turns to er and I says, I’ll tell you what love, ow’s about you give me two undred notes, and I’ll have it done by tuesd-”

“Ayyy up Toneh, weren’t that the van what you moved on Greedon the other night?”

The man’s friend pointed to the sleigh, which stood there, flashing red, a reindeer missing on the side, Christmas tree collapsed, angel hanging upside down. Marteh heard the comment right as he was on the threshold of the pub and stopped dead still. He put his hands behind his back and reversed back with three long strides, before turning to face the man.

“Owe ya Santa?” the man’s dippy mate asked and giggled to himself. Nobody else laughed. All went completely quiet outside the pub.

As soon as the man opened his lips to speak, Spike had swept somebody’s pint glass off the table, emptied its contents the floor and hurled it at the man’s head. It missed by centimetres, and smashed up against a fence. The broken shards fell on top of a couple having a drink in the corner. 

Spike then threw his body at the man and rained down fists upon him like a windmill. His mate tried to pull him back by his waist, but Santa elbowed him in the nose and he backed off like he’d been electrocuted.

Little Kurt who was round the corner could hear the breaking of glasses and men shouting as they brawled. He realised he had no drawstring bag on his back, he’d left it in Spike’s van. He thought about leaving it, but then realised it had his mate’s Xbox controller in it, and some cash from the previous shift and a whole can of Monster. When he got there he saw a scrum full of men, with a Santa’s hat poking out the side. Women were screaming and confused men turned to leathering each other. Spike emerged from the bodies and got involved with anybody he could see.

The van was pumping out And the bells are ringing out….

“Fuckin ell,” Kurt murmured to himself as he climbed into the van one last time. He picked up his drawstring and was ready to leave the scene and walk all the way back to Shelthorpe, when he saw a police van swinging round the corner, sirens blaring. He’d never seen so much action in real life, only on GTA. He watched as the police eventually apprehended the renegade Santa, and got him face down on the cold pavement. People were still kicking him while he lay there being handcuffed, beard full of blood. Kurt grinned as they dragged him, shaking like a salmon into the back of a police car.

Kurt noticed the handles of the orange plastic bag poking from under the driver’s seat and pictured a brand new Xbox all of his own.

 

Hoping for England

Being a die-hard England fan is no walk in the park. The vastly underwhelming past decade or so of football has well and truly conditioned us to be deadly-efficient at sucking the tiny fragments and molecules of positivity from any situation, no matter how mortally depressing. We are in a sense much like the cacti in the desert that are able to somehow make a living in the most torrid of desert conditions. Sucking moisture from the dry sand.

Beneath the surface of habitual pessimism and the perennial ‘England are useless’ cliche, we have great hope that our national side might one day get its shit together.

A lot of this hope comes from the youth. There’s always some new kid on the block who bursts on the scene and sets the Premier League ablaze. Players like Sterling, Rashford, Ali, Stones, they seem to come around quite frequently.

Of course, we know that even if these players do develop into greats, it doesn’t mean they will do it for England. Look at Wayne Rooney, the bloke is the all time leading goalscorer, having scored more than Sir Bobby, but he’s done next to nothing in major tournaments, most of his goals coming from penalties against San Marino. He couldn’t hack it. But still, the arrival of the Messiah is always round the corner. A certain Harry Kane is stepping into those shoes nicely at the moment. He is proving to be unstoppable, and surely it won’t be long before he gets scooped up by the Galácticos and scales Alan Shearer-like heights.

But behind him and the new Tottenham wizz kids, we’ve got crop full of world beaters waiting to take their chance. Our under 17s just won the World Cup, and just about every other team below the 21s have excelled on the world stage this year. Let’s hope to God this Phil Foden lad and all of his mates get given the leg up they need. The potential is undeniably there. The signs are good. Let’s hope we don’t find a way fuck it up for them.

Every five years or so England managers are disgraced, and resign before being burned at the stake, and replaced with a whole new manager with a different ‘philosophy’ altogether. And with every new manager promises a complete squad overhaul and team revamp. This is of course a good thing.  It’s happened so many times now that one of these times the gamble has surely got to pay off. It has to happen eventually, that’s basic science. One day, the cogs will simple slide into place, and England will become a lethal footballing machine…

So we’ve been alternating between states of total, bone-crushing disenfranchisement, and latent bursts of flickering optimism. Now is certainly a period for the latter to dominate. Last night a diminished England team full of youngsters took on the world champions Germany and held them to a goalless draw at Wembley. We played pretty well in defence and attack and could easily have won the game, had we taken a few simple chances. The likes of Harry Maguire, Trippier, Abraham, Gomez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek rose to the occasion ( Ruben Loftus-Cheek. What the hell kind of name is that? It’s probably the wackiest name I’ve ever heard in my life, no word of a lie). Eric Dier is looking like everything we need in midfield right now,  John Stones is soon to become the most solid centre half in the Premier League. Vardy is a menace. Pickford has the makings of an excellent keeper. Despite the fact all of these didn’t look out of place on the night, we can’t help but think if we had super Harry last night the net would have bulged.

Watching Lingard miss that half volley inside the six yard box in the 93rd minute was typically exasperating. You’re watching it while it happens in real time and you just know it’s not going to go in. So you go up to the bar, and order a nice big pint of ale that you can’t really afford and you’re back in the real world with the rest of the shitmunchers.

Things can only get better from here and sooner or later we’re going to smash a chance like that into the roof of the net. We have the coolest manager on the planet, the best young talent, and are home to the finest league in the world. We even created this stupid game in the first place. We can’t keep letting the Germans have all the fun. It’s time for them to fuck off. They’ll surely get bored of it all soon anyway, and then it will be England’s time to take over the world…

That’s right, we always say it my fellow cacti, but there are some serious positives to suck from this England team, so get behind the lads because the good times are coming, you’d better believe it.

Afterlife is the best party in the world

Last weekend I experienced almost 16 hours under the upside down man, and after you’ve been on that journey for so long, you struggle to truly come back to Earth afterwards. 5,000 people turned up to the airport that is Printworks on Saturday to see the likes of Vaal, Recondite, Patrice Baumel, Mano Le Tough, Woo York, Tale of Us, SHDW and Obscure Shape, and more. My highlights-

On arrival Vaal was setting the scene in the Press Halls. She was playing all manner of experimental, dark and bassy sounds, which is what we have come to expect from such an enigmatic young artist. These were alongside a few classics like Polarstern from Mind Against, which never fails to drive anybody listening batshit crazy. I took delight in the fact I would be seeing another mesmerising set from her again at Part II, in 12 hours time. Patrice Baumel followed, with a much more upbeat, and bouncy set reminiscent of his prolific Voyage mix, featuring his classy new track Engage.

Then there was Kiasmos, who need no introduction. It was a live set, so the audience got the whole package, Looped, Swept, Lit, Thrown- the lot. It is always wonderful to see how much enthusiasm these two put into their sets, for them it is very much a performance. If you get the privilege of seeing these two perform live, you can expect them to be jumping around at the front of the stage, Janus Rasmussen’s, hair flopping about all over the place, elbows here there and everywhere. Standing there bathing in the glow of white and blue lights I even saw a girl crying to herself at one stage. Even I felt a bit like bawling like a baby when Bent came on. It’s emotional stuff.

Room two, The Charge Bay, was a nasty, dark little sweat-box when we got there to see Woo York. They were blasting through their devastating recent productions, such as Alien Worlds, Uranium Echoes and Afterlife’s very own Hypernova, all with electrifying acidy new sounds thrown on top in order to achieve all manner of lethal effects. You cannot beat the gallop of a Woo York beat. It picks you up and casts you into dark, magical new landscapes. The Woo York experience is so outrageous and other-worldly you barely know what to do with it but charge around like a rhinoceros on speed. This dark techno bunker seemed like the perfect location for it.

Recondite soon came on the scene, and when he’s there you know about it. With his seemingly infinite library of his own music, you have absolutely no idea what the man is going to do, but you know that you are in the hands of one of electronic music’s most esoteric geniuses. A man who only listens to his own music. Who does he think he is? In this one he teased us with classics such as Buteo, and a load of completely recondite stuff presumably from his new up and coming album. He achieved a perfect harmony between melancholy sounds from tracks like Sol, and the harder hitting stuff. He dropped Phalanx in, with force. My friend turned to me and said ‘this is the greatest track of all time’. I agreed wholeheartedly.

I’ve seen Tale of Us five times this year and every set has been completely different. Most tracks have been unidentifiable, and you wonder where on Earth they come from. Were they created by humans, or designed by some kind of divine entity and just put there like the rocks and the trees? Highlights from their closing set were new stuff from the unstoppable Mind Against, and the scintillating Fideles (another Italian duo who have burst onto the scene with their new EP released on Afterlife) playing The Tensior, those deeply computerised sounds raining down upon the crowd. They ended the same as they did in Amsterdam, with Bodzin’s thumping, glittering Strand (Afterlife) and their soul stirring and innovative edit of Hans Zimmer’s Time, eight hours of music ending on one piano note. The gratitude that Tale show at the end of every event, staying behind to clap the crowd, thanking them with hand on heart, is a wonderful thing to see and shows that they are truly grateful, seemingly in awe of their fans who have supported them in creating this mesmerising other world for us all to live in.

After getting our coats we zipped across to Shoreditch High Street via the overground to the after party at Village Underground, a simple, no-bollocks venue with one stage- a classic warehouse a bit like a cave. This is a venue that Tale of Us have no doubt become very fond of after turning up last year to debut their new night in the UK playing for eight hours non-stop. They would have been absolutely over the moon no doubt to see how their night has snowballed insurmountably over the past year.

Vaal again plucked a plethora of gems out of her hat, starting off playing ambient tracks like Hunter/Game’s Distant Storms, then later stomping through the night with tracks like The Hangar, and Barnt’s take on Monument.

Then a nice touch from the curators; Tale of Us decided to hand over the keys to the decks to SHDW and Obscure Shape to close the night. Their own set was of course impossible to truly sum up with paltry words, and was one of the most varied sets you could ever hear. Fideles, Secret Garden was a beauty, then loads of dark unrecognisable stuff. Towards the end we went back about 5 years with Skream’s Let It Go and some Trentemoller. They even threw in Another Earth, which for five minutes transported everybody to exactly that.

Cue SHDW and Obscure Shape who then proceeded to attack us with obscene stomping beats and dark, haunting sounds for two hours. They played nothing but their own stuff, and the occasional remix, like the naughty Konstantin Sibold remix of Gesang Der Toten Dinge. Their finest track though is Aus Der Tiefe Der Zeit, which they played early on to dreaming ears.

It was fantastic to see so many live sets, so many artists who believe so much in their own work and their own sound. Afterlife was created this way, achieving the perfect balance between the best live creators and performers with the most visionary, knowledgeable and skilled DJs on the scene. All with a penchant for ethereal sounds that take listeners to a dazzling new sensory universe.

To go to Afterlife is to immerse oneself in dark lights, a euphony of sounds impossible to discover elsewhere, an elated crowd, and a constantly fluctuating atmosphere bordering on the extra-terrestrial at moments. With the quality of artists you see on the bill, and the lightning speed that melodic techno (?) is progressing and evolving, every Afterlife is guaranteed to be a unique experience that nobody will forget. Afterlife is certainly the best party in the world.

man with gun

*

 

Man with gun enters room. Fully grown, mature, adult, man with beard, known to friends simply as ‘that man with the gun.’ Everyone immediately acknowledges man and gun, exchanging formalities such as – Good to see you man, it’s been too long, and nice gun bro, where did you get it? Man with gun stands by television, picks up remote in one hand whilst still carrying gun in the other. Points remote at television. ‘Whatever you do, don’t get them mixed up!’ I joked in an attempt to make him approve of me slightly more, so as to lessen the hopefully very slim chance that he might use his gun on me for whatever reason.

He flicks through TV Guide and finds show about monster trucks. Really big, massive, nasty TRUCKS like MONSTERS with really big, massive wheels crushing things forever, on camera. I start to wonder why man thinks it is necessary to carry large, metal gun, possibly loaded and with bullets. Maybe man thinks of gun as fashion accessory, like bracelet or watch. Maybe man feels like 007 with gun. Maybe the ladies are into the whole gun-thing…

 

**

 

Man with gun wears leather jacket inside and likes to talk about politics and football, sometimes momentarily making people forget the incontrovertible fact that he is still definitely, 100% in possession of deadly weapon, more specifically; gun. Everyone agrees strongly with man’s opinions, no matter how extreme or uninteresting, partly because man with gun is perceived as edgy and likeable, partly through fear of being shot with gun. Friend Steve asks man when he got gun and man says that he has had it ever since man was child. Man changes subject and mentions that he enjoys ice skating. Friend Steve asks if he skates with gun in hand and he says yes, obviously. It can’t be easy, on ice with big heavy, metal gun in hand, friend Steve says. Man comes out with, it’s actually a lot easier than you might think, holding a gun at the rink. Haahaa very lyrical. I carry on thinking about why man feels urge to be constantly armed with gun and think maybe gun is an anxiety-thing. Life can be very stressful for most people and maybe carrying gun just takes edge off. Friend Steve then says (quite sycophantically) “I can’t get over how cool that gun looks on you man. It really suits you. Damn I wish I could pull that one off.”

“Thanks dude” the man replies. A very long silence, then-

“So… shot anyone good lately?”

 

***

 

Man with gun’s wife comes into the room and sits on man’s lap then asks, “how are you both?”

“Fine thanks.”

Man puts arms round wife’s waist and holds gun with both hands pointing forwards, forefinger relaxing on trigger. He says they’ve been together for six years now, and got married the year before. He opens up wedding album on mobile phone and shows us endless series of photos taken somewhere in France of man, wife and gun together in state of perfect contentment. Man sheds tear whilst showing photo of man kissing bride at altar with left hand on wife’s cheek and right hand holding gun by side. Emotional Friend Steve also sheds tear.

I’ve had many rum and cokes at this point and can’t really hold it in any longer so I ask man, “this might seem like a personal question, and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. But when you both…you know… in the bedroom…together,” I point at gun “does the gun stay or…?”

“Yes that is very personal and actually quite rude,” wife nods head as answer, “and I’d also like to add that I may have a gun, but other than that I’m just a normal human being like everybody else. A human being with a job who likes to do things like watch television programmes about cars, spend time with my wife and children and have a beer at the weekends with friends. Why does the conversation always have to be about the fricking gun? This does NOT define me!” Man with gun is now red-faced and angry.

“You’re not going to shoot us are you?”

 

****

 

Man with gun has hair played with by wife whilst man gulps large mouthful of whiskey with grimace. “They aren’t trying to upset you honey. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The whole gun thing is just a bit unusual for most people at first, that’s all.”

“It’s fine. We can just draw a line under it now. Honestly.”

Friend Steve leaves room.

Big, massive MONSTER TRUCKS jumping off bales of hay and smashing into each other to loud AMERICAN ROCK MUSIC nobody knows. Friend Steve casually comes back into room in with large carving knife in hand, pointing downwards like dagger, sits down and scrolls through social media on mobile phone whilst humming. Everybody looks over and sighs. Man with gun scowls.

“Put the knife away Steve you loser.”

 

Cats and Death

Last Tuesday I witnessed the death of one of my cats at a veterinary hospital in Sileby. After a series of tests, results were inconclusive, but all the vets agreed that the cat was ‘not himself’, was suffering and should therefore be executed. This I found to be a surprisingly sorrowful experience, however, cat-mourning is far from a new phenomenon for me.

My family home has housed many cats over the years. At least ten since the millennium. Some of their tenures were much longer and their deaths/disappearances more tragic than others. I have never really had a connection with the cats themselves. I generally see them as passive, furry household ornaments. They aren’t intelligent, all they want from you is to give them food then they just do their own thing, whilst all the while looking like cats. I will give an account here of my family’s history of this pet, which I hope you will find at least mildly amusing.

When I was very young, and living at a previous house by the Soar with a massive garden, we lost our first feline. Ziggy, a kitten I seem to remember with white brown and black fur, disappeared one day and never returned. Speculation was that he/she may have been devoured by a fox.

I think there were more or less ten years of happy living for my cats following this omen. In this time we downsized to a three-storey on the new David Wilson estate. A shaggy black cat called Rowley, and nicknamed by my school friends as Dead-Cat (because he looked dead) was the next to go. He managed to survive until he was eighteen years old, two years my senior at the time. My father had a very intimate relationship with this cat, but as it approached senility and inevitable death, he lost interest, indifferently declaring ‘he is not the cat he once was.’ Rowley’s highlight for me was when at my sixteenth birthday party a friend of mine saw it lying on the sofa, went “awww a cat,” then went to stroke it and then famously recoiled in horror as his hand came into contact with its thick, dirty, matted fur.

Soon was a beautiful little cat called Maisie introduced to the family. She was black with a lovely little white patch on her chest. I was walked into the village one day, and I saw a congregation in the middle of the estate, they looked at me, then focused on something else on the grass by the roadside. I ignored them and walked on, and when I got home I soon discovered that she had been hit by a car. I remember her body on the sofa. I touched it, and it was here that I first understood what rigor mortis was, gaining hands on experience.

Next to disappear I believe was Daisy. She had an extremely thick black coat, with lots of brown hairs in and amongst it. Her disappearance is perhaps the most comic. The last time my family saw her was when she was on top of a neighbour’s car as it drove off. I can only hope it stopped at the destination she wanted to go to.

Another cat we once had was Dylan, who after pregnancy truly let herself go and became very overweight. She disappeared all of a sudden, and it was later discovered that she had moved to pastures new. A woman living at a house a few streets down had welcomed her in and satisfied her voracious appetite for food. She had no interest in coming back to visit her old home, or her son Barnaby, who is still with us today.

We had a cat named Cally for a very long time. She had a truly beautiful white and grey coat, and in her early days was named ‘the uncatchable cat’ for her lightning speed capabilities. I found her to be a particularly aloof and anti-social cat most of her life, but have an extremely fond memory of her. I got in after going to DBE whilst it was a good event in 2012, and couldn’t sleep, feeling pretty worn and torn. Cally came in to me and paid me a lot of affection, hugging me etc. It was very nice to have a reciprocated bond with such a soft and cuddly beast. She died about the age most cats should naturally expire.

Then we decided to pick a cat not based on aesthetic qualities, but perhaps a cat from a deprived background who nobody else would bother adopting, so as to give an undesirable, troubled cat a better life. The cat was originally found near the B+Q in Loughborough, which we were told is a particularly rough stomping ground for delinquent cats. Opinion on this cat was divided. It used to tear lumps out of an old and decrepit Cally. The screams were painful to hear. But I do remember once sitting in the lounge watching the television when a towering spider with terrifying goggly eyes thought it could casually dash across the lounge. Sydney cut it up with his claws and then devoured it piece by piece. He tragically died of AIDS, or some kind of cat equivalent that he’d has his whole life. Street life aint easy.

Then there was the cat in question- Dexy, an adorable cat, pictured looking into the camera above on the featured image, whilst spooning with a morbidly obese relatively recent acquisition called Marcy. She was seven years old when last week she stopped moving. We took her in to the hospital and in a couple of days it was declared that the best option would be to terminate her existence.

My mother, the archetypal ‘crazy cat lady’, had visited the cat every day since she was in the hospital, and said that she didn’t wish to go and see her final minutes. Myself and her husband John then resolved to go together. The evening was growing dark, and as we drove I was stuck by the gravity of the fact that these minutes now were to be her last ever experience of life on this Earth. We got in and he was in a cage, with a drip attached to his leg. He seemed quite fidgety when he saw us, but not altogether that bad. The vet asked us if we wanted her to leave us so we could ‘say goodbyes’.

We did and alternated at stroking her belly and neck.

“You’ve not had any of your water Dexy,” said John.

“I don’t think he’ll be needing that John,” I replied.

Strangely he started to eat his food at this point, which the nurse said was the first time since his stay began. There was a worry in the back of my mind that he might actually have been fine, but I soon extinguished this fear with the knowledge that the person with the degree in veterinary whatever will most likely know best.

Watching the cat eating had a powerful effect- here was a creature that had absolutely no idea that it was about to die, just going by the script, trying to protect its life, doing what life does best according to natural selection- soldiering on until the jaws of death come crushing down and leave it with no other option but to throw the cards away and let nature take its course.

The ten minutes or so was soon up, and the nurse came through. She asked if we would like to hold it during the process, we immediately dismissed this as excessive. I hoped that the cat might look at us both one last time, and as the lady came closer he looked at both me and John in turn, then sadly looked at the ground, defeated. It was like he knew it was the end. But I’m anthopomorphising…

Then it was absolutely, irrevocably, conclusively time to go. The vet got her syringe, plugged it into the tube, and pressed the plunger. The cat made no sound, and in an instant was reclining forward, paws stretched out, eyes stopping at half-closed. Then before we knew it, the vet said he’s gone.

By this point I was crying and I think John was too. It was the first time I had ever witnessed the death of a mammal. I never thought I would cry, its only a cat man, but it seemed so tragic. I barely knew the cat, it just happened to dine and sleep in the same house as me, but it was a real tragedy to watch it die. When I got home and was left on my own, I got very upset about it. I searched through the photos on my phone and set one as my wallpaper. This was perhaps most uncharacteristic of me, but the whole thing took on a deeper meaning and purpose.

I had just had the experience of a microcosm of death. A miniature, taster experience of death. The unavoidable truth that came bearing down was this- If I felt so sad about the death of this cat I barely ever associated myself with, and with whom I had very few experiences, how would I feel when I am confronted with the imminent deaths of my family members and later, friends? Everything will be amplified tenfold, the crying, the memories, the regrets. The intensity will be unprecedented and inescapable.

We have to benefit from these experiences, by contemplation and unfaltering engagement with the reality of it. What should naturally follow is that we prepare for it every day, by showing love and appreciation as much as possible, and undergoing new, unique and valuable experiences together with all those whom we love. With the inevitable distractions of our personal lives, this will oftentimes be highly elusive and impossible to achieve, but if we are aware of it, and we think about it, we can at least do as best as we can.

Death can not be overturned, it is coming and it’s final. To come face to face with death and endure the sadness that inevitably follows, is to realise the value of life is itself. Something we as humans struggle to appreciate, whilst tacitly believing that the time we are spending now is a rehearsal for some future main event, when all of our pressing desires are met and as a logical result of this will subsequently be in a state of complete and utter content.

You and I both know its all a load of bollocks. If we dare to peer beneath the surface.

Time is running out. Appreciate your family, friends and even your cats now, because one day they will disappear for all eternity and you alone will be left to ruminate on just how thoughtful, and charitable and brave you might have been.

There is no room for cowardice. Cowards will be due to pay a hefty price in later life. We must ask ourselves, is this a price we can afford to pay? And act accordingly.

Tamarite VI

The Spanish are no strangers to a party, or ‘fiesta’ rather. They do things very differently to us in the UK, where people either go to Revs on a saturday night, spend £40 on alcohol and ironically dance to Flo Rida, or the ‘cool cats’ who go to some sort of rave and dance until the early hours on a bag of cheap class As. In Spain, fiestas are part of the fabric of society, a way of life that everybody subscribes to. I’ll take you to one and show you what they’re all about..

It’s Saturday and this week the fiesta is in a place called Azanuay, which sounds very Welsh when pronounced, like it’s the kind of village Daffyd Thomas would live in. You find a bus that goes to the fiesta, whack your plastic bag full of booze in a plastic crate in the bottom compartment of the coach, then join the kids on board. You wanna leave this relatively late, about one o’clock would be ideal. In Spain, it starts late and ends late. We’re talking about 8-10 o’clock AM late. Because what kind of crazy party ends at a perfectly reasonable four, say o’clock?

From about midnight onwards, the streets will be adorned with gangs of teenagers sitting on the pavements, drinking a concoction of alcohol and pop from a giant plastic bottle they prepared earlier. They’re all wearing silly bright T-Shirts with skyscrapers on them and American City names in massive letters. They’re either very skinny or very fat. Many of them park up their cars, pop the boot open and play some of the most repulsive music you could possibly imagine, slowly bopping and laughing hysterically at something. Go a bit further through the winding streets, towards louder music, and you will find a stage where the real entertainment is. A band will play all of the Spanish school disco classics, which nobody seems to be getting tired of. If they don’t actually play Cotton Eyed Joe, they’ll play some Spanish equivalent to get the crowd moving. You don’t need to pay to go in, there’s no gate, no staff. You will, however need to buy some bingo tickets, and grab hold of the nearest translator you can find.

Now any accomplished Dionysian like you and I will understand that the essentials of proper party- alcohol, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and bingo. The lead singer of the band, a quirky young girl in a cowboy hat and vest, calls the numbers while the crowd are silent.

Unlucky. Someone gets a line almost immediately, and the house takes a while longer, too long. It’s like when the rickety old rope bridge you needed to get across the chasm and escape the monster is about to break, the rope fibres are slowly snapping. You have two numbers left to go. It’s only a matter of time before some crazed yob at the front makes the call and subsequently gets lifted up by his friends like a manager whose team have just won the Champions league. It finally happens, you sigh with disappointment, dream of what could have been. Then it’s back to business as usual.

At about two o’clock, the fourteen year olds’ mums turn up to pick up their disgraced little kids, who are still absolutely bingo’d off their faces. So what remains are a bunch of hardened party goers, the regs. The ‘DJs’ turn up, the family band goes home, and the music transitions into something a bit more adult. Near the stage area, there is a ring reserved for young bulls. There is seating all round, and professionals wind up the bulls, provoking them into a charge, then backing away at the last minute. The crowd is well into this of course, and occasionally pissed up people go into the ring and play around with the young toros themselves. The real mavericks get the baby bulls pissed first, pouring beer into their mouths. I heard from a lady that there has been a person who has ended up in a wheelchair from this in every town. This kind of stuff could only be normalised at a party in Spain. Have a go if you want, Jose says it’s definitely a good idea.

So the next few hours, until about five o’clock involve more drinking, and are therefore difficult to recall. For us it will involve asking a lot of people if they speak English, and being asked a lot about Brexit if they do, agreeing to go separate ways, receiving a grimace if they don’t. The music never really changes, it’s all just cheap Spanish crap like that Pitbull freak. One of the only songs I remember was that ‘Gasolina’ song. I remember listening to that on Now 62, when I was eleven years old along side ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Westlife, and thinking it was okay, in a jokey way. It’s not like they’re playing it at these fiestas as a one off either, I’d bet my left arse that it gets played every single week. Besides from being bad taste, to play the same old track week in, week out is nothing less than a sign of insanity.

When the sun starts to come out above the dancefloor, you begin to notice what you’re walking on, which resembles the garbage shoot in A New Hope. You are treading on all manner of rubbish and filth. Everyone is smoking, you, The DJs, your parents, your kids, the bulls. The personal space, which has slowly atrophied throughout the night, becomes almost non-existent. The environment is a bit like a rave, only the people there are one big family, there’s no drugs, and there was no DJ available so they went ahead and booked DJ Spanner, the forty year old with the baseball cap from down the pub, who ‘does the odd party’ when he’s not doing his normal job, which is plastering.

Before you know it it’s eight o’clock in the morning and you’re getting bored of it all. Everyone’s done with the bars now, and it’s onto the hot dog counters. They don’t have brown sauce in Spain, so you have to settle for loads of Mustard, or worse- ketchup. The bread is stale. There are some dodgy looking people around. You want to avoid Bethan as well. The night is over- it’s time to wait for that ten o’clock bus to take you home, get to bed, and then wake up at three o’clock on the day of rest, ready to eat paella, snails and rabbit.

So overall they’ve got the idea right with these fiestas. If I went when I was 16 I would have considered it to be paradise. It was what I was desperately looking for for most of my teenage years but rarely captured, a solid form of community with other kids. The kind that you achieve in holiday resorts, playing on the pool tables with new friends, drinking by the swimming pool together at night. The fiestas provided that. But you realise as you grow up, there are very few communities that one can truly belong to at all.

**

In Spain breakfast isn’t the norm. You might have a little something, like a peach or a coffee, but that’s it for the morning. What you’re waiting for is three o’clock, when it’s lunch time. Now I’ve stated before, it’s all about the meat with these guys. If it’s got flesh, eat it. They’d eat the stray cats off the streets if they had any meat on them.

As you might guess, rabbit tastes exactly like chicken, and is therefore nothing to write home about. Snails on the other hand, are the most pointless food on the planet. They come sizzling on a tray, and look exactly like the snails you’d find in your garden, not the giant ones from foreign lands. You get one, and find that it’s body has shrank almost entirely into its shell, then with your cocktail stick you are faced with a further challenge. That of scooping out the correct part of the snail, ignoring it’s digestive organs, which take up about fifty per cent of the pathetic little lump of mollusc flesh that remains. It’s then completely necessary to smother this all over in aleoli to mask the taste of it (which you should probably avoid at all costs) then shove it in your mouth and eat it, for some apparent reason. I had one and soon ruled out the possibility of tackling another.

The best thing about Spanish food is the watermelon, or ‘sandía’ en espanol. The family I lived with were provided with fresh sandías every week, the massive ones, with dark green skin, and perfect vermilion insides. You eat sandía for breakfast, after breakfast, before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, for dinner, after dinner, before bedtime. It’s so hydrating it’s crazy, and as someone who immediately after eating a meal– in spite of how full I am– has an insuperable craving for a dessert, it provided a very reliable, healthy, and delicious alternative to whatever shit I’d normally eat. I’ve taken my love for this fruit back home with me, and now try and ensure that my fridge is always stocked up with a nice big juicy sandía. It’s made my life all the better for it.

Why did I come to Tamarite? Something to do, mostly. But there are other underlying motives. I want to go to the quiet places, I want to go to my own places. A couple of years ago I went to Rome for a day. I walked on the streets that Julius Caesar once walked upon. I looked at the mighty Colosseum, and felt absolutely nothing.

Armies of tourists have murdered these cities, they are everywhere, inescapable, unavoidable, stealing it all for themselves and their camera phones. I’d sooner go to somewhere else nobody else is interested in, and see that culture, naked, free to be whatever it is natural for it to be, and blend in or stand out as much as I choose. Then the experience is my own, and what’s more I am not a mere cog in the tourist machine, but for a short while, a part of the system itself. Tamarite wasn’t Barcelona, or Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Rome, but you can’t say it wasn’t completely unique. For better or worse.