Kids’ Birthday Parties: This is Your Life Now

What can I say about birthday parties for the under-5s?

Well, it’s nice for them to get a chance to let their hair down and hang out with their friends. After all, they spend the majority of their time within the bosoms of their families, and what time they don’t is spent trapped within institutions; institutions that will carry them to their graves.

I’m talking about the parents, of course. Poor bastards: walking about with baby puke patches on their best jumpers, sporting big black panda eyes and stress lines like seismographs on their foreheads, and grinning at each other like frightened chimps as they desperately fight to stave off the twin horrors of sleep and full mental breakdown, all while trying to pretend that somehow it was all worth it.I guess the old saying’s true: a moment on the hips, a lifetime of IKEA trips.

Remember when your social calendar was measured in weekly increments rather than bi-annually? Remember when you used to gaze across the horizon of your life and see nothing but unfettered fun and wine-tinged sunsets? Remember when you used to hit the town in a loudly-laughing posse of posers, and then stay out drinking and dancing till dawn, leaping the next day’s hangovers like they were half-foot-high hurdles? If you hit the town with your posse these days,try to herd you into some dingy old men’s pub with a vaguely nautical name, where even the women have anchor tattoos on their biceps. But you don’t have to worry about any of that, because nobody asks you to go ‘out out’ anymore anyway.

They ask you to kids’ birthday parties instead. This multi-coloured nightmare is your social life now: coffee and cake at the soft play surrounded by a thousand screaming kids. You’ve all got so much to talk about and catch up on, you and your friends, but good luck talking about anything other than your kids. Your brain may cycle through a database of potential topics – politics, entertainment, nutrition, religion – but whatever it is you think you’re going to talk about, you can’t open your mouth without saying something like: ‘Apparently Skye’s in the ninetieth centile for weight’ or ‘What Jason lacks in language skills he certainly makes up for in spatial awareness.’

If you do manage to kick-start a non-parenting related conversation it will inevitably be cut short by one of your children running up to you screaming with a blood-covered face (‘Daddy, I tried to put my head through the wall like a ghost but it hurt me!’), or loudly agitating for a shit.

Mind you, I find that kids are handy to have around in these sorts of situations, especially since I discovered just how bad I am at mingling. There’s nothing like quitting drinking to reveal how socially awkward you are at root. I’m really ferociously bad at shooting the breeze or shooting the shit, or whatever shooting-based analogy you care to use. I’m bloody awful at it. After a few minutes dribbling out the kind of small talk an old tramp at a bus-stop would be ashamed to profer, it’s nice to be able to go:

‘WHAT’S THAT, JACK? YOU WANT ME TO GO DOWN THE CHUTE WITH YOU?’

‘Jamie, I don’t think he said anyth…’

‘I’LL BE RIGHT THERE, SON! Hold my miniature box of Smarties, will you.’

I usually swagger into these parties desperately sucking in my stomach muscles (what exists of them) to retract my bulk in case I encounter old acquaintances who haven’t borne witness to my gradual slide into jelly-bellied oblivion, and who might yet still be fooled into thinking that I play squash every now and again, or occasionally eat lettuce. It’s a fragile illusion, usually broken simply because it’s really hard to hold a fat torso in the shape of a capital ‘C’ for more than twenty minutes without getting stomach cramps.

Towards the end of these soft-play parties the kids are typically ushered into a side-compartment of the main hall to have a spot of grub. Invariably, their eating-space is fenced in and cordoned off like the canteen in a maximum-security prison, an association only lent more substance by the fact that they can get tattoos done after their snacks. Seeing my eldest son standing in his vest later that night looking like an old lifer always makes me regret not having asked the resident face-painter to daub a little blue tear-drop beneath one of his eyes. In preparation for the next party I’m teaching him to say: ‘Hey esse! Do we got a fuckin’ problem here?’

Whether the party is held at a soft-play or in a house it always ends with gifts being handed out to the attendees; wee bags of ‘fuck off’ as I like to call them. What an ingeniously polite way to get rid of people. Treat them as you entreat them to leave and it doesn’t seem so harsh. ‘It’s been a fun two hours, but please take your toy helicopters and little whistles, and get the fuck out of my house.’ Adult parties often drag on without any clear or definite end, so I think we would benefit enormously from introducing some sort of gift bag system:

‘So my Sally’s language skills may not be the best, but, I’ll tell you, her spatial awaren… oh, what’s this?’

‘It’s a bag of marshmallows and vodka miniatures. Now fuck off.’

————————————————————————————————————-

READ MORE ABOUT THE NIGHTMARE OF SOFT-PLAYS BY CLICKING HERE

Scotland’s Smacking Ban: a Hit?

‘Smacking’ sounds really nice, doesn’t it? The word, I mean. If you’re hungry for a snack, your lips might smack; if your gran comes to visit she might ask you to pucker up and give her a big old smacker on the kisser. Onomatopeiacally, a smack is rather like a crack, but much less forceful: sharper, cleaner, kinder.

It’s the sort of sound that makes you nostalgic for the good old days, when men were men, women were women, and botties were smacked. By golly we miss those halcyon, smoke-hazed days, before the cultural assassins in the Stalinist SNP tried to rob us of our right to smack: a right that is as sacred to us Scots as is the right to bear arms to the Americans, by God! And we will fight to defend that right!

I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll organise a protest outside of the Scottish parliament: six-thousand angry parents and their six-thousand passive, blank-faced children. We’ll march them up to the front door, whip their trousers down, bend them over our knees and show Nicola Sturgeon that we mean business with the world’s biggest six-hour-long, six-thousand-bum synchronised smacking, the sound of which will fill the air like revolutionary gun-fire! Smack, smack, smack! Read our bums, Nicola! We won’t be turning the other cheek on this one. Well, we will be, as a matter of fact, but only so we can bloody well smack it, too!

…Language is a funny old thing, isn’t it? Time and again we bend and smash and smush and twist our words as though they were putty and paste, making paper machier towers that we let ourselves believe are permanent, solid, unbreakable. We build words around us like ramparts, and take up sniper positions behind them; we try on words like we’re shopping for clothes, seeking out dazzling combinations that accentuate our wealth, power, sex appeal, or contrition – does my guilt look thinner in this sentence? – or else use them to reinvent ourselves entirely; sometimes we use words as shields to protect us from the force of the truth: the truth of who we are and what we do: enemy combatant; extraordinary rendition; my honourable friend; friendly fire; constructive dismissal; it’s not you it’s me; McDonalds Happy Meal.

‘Smacking’ isn’t really smacking, you see: it’s hitting. Why don’t you try saying that instead? ‘Smacking’ is hitting a small, defenceless child, and that’s true regardless of the strength of the hit, or whether the point of impact is a bottie, a thigh, an arm, a face or a chest.

If you’re defending what you perceive as your universal human right to smack a child, then at least be honest about it. Rip the mask from the face of that word to reveal its true identity, and lay bare your own sub-Lecter-ish lust for pain and power. Spell out your intentions both to yourself and to the world at large. Shout it from the rooftops: ‘I demand the right to hit and inflict pain on the fruits of my loin without consequence or interference, whenever I see fit and however spurious the reason.’

In terms of self-delusion there’s very little difference between ‘I don’t beat my children, for goodness sake, I just give them a light corrective smack’ and ‘I’m not an alcoholic, for goodness sake, I wait until at least lunchtime before having my first drink!’

‘Yea, yea, yeah, you ponce!’ you might cry. ‘But I got smacked, and it never did me any harm!’

Ah, that familiar cry, countered so many times by the now-equally familiar cry, ‘Yes it did, because you believe that it’s okay to hit children.’ I’ve noticed that the most ardent supporters of ‘smacking’ are usually those upon whose faces you can see the tragic consequences of a life lived through shortcuts in a permanent present tense: crumbling teeth; unkempt hair; blotched and bloodshot eyes that show the world a map of impulse forever left unchecked.

Probably best to eschew parenting advice from someone who’s lazy and blinkered enough to hit first and ask questions later.

Plus, if smacking is your go-to punishment of choice, how do you punish your child for hitting somebody? By hitting them? What message does that send? Especially since they may be hitting other people precisely because you’ve taught them that hitting is permissible.

‘But how else will children learn right from wrong?’

Take violence from our toolbox, and we’re powerless! It’s true. That’s why we still beat children in schools, and our boss is legally entitled to smash us in the face with a tyre iron. That’s why when the judge is about to pronounce sentence in the courtroom he might say something like: ‘The defendant has been found guilty on all counts of his robbery charges. Now bring him here so I can kick the fuck out of him.’

I can understand the impulse to hit. Of course I can, I’m a human being, and I live in a world that contains Piers Morgan. I can even understand the impulse to hit a child. No creature on earth can inspire such anger, and scream-inducing helplessness and frustration as your own child. But I would never – and could never – do it. I don’t think I could ever look my kids in the eye again, and I’d feel like an irredeemable failure as a father.

In no other sphere of life do we condone hitting as a solution. Even savagely violent, hopelessly recidivistic killers are spared violence as a behaviour modification tool. Looking for another reason not to hit your child? Let reason itself be your reason. Behold the maxim below that’s been floating around cyberspace in meme form for quite some time now:

Now that our eldest son, Jack, is approaching the age of reason, we’ve started using a sticker-based behaviour-modification system, through which good behaviour can be recognised, rewarded and reinforced, and bad behaviour can be circumnavigated. It’s not a perfect system, granted, but it seems to achieve its aims without causing major psychological damage. The other week, Jack was trying to pilfer a biscuit before bedtime; he had a hand inside the bag with a biscuit held between his fingers in a vice-like pincer grip. When I calmly advised that his current course of action would result in the immediate loss of a sticker, he couldn’t have dropped that biscuit any quicker if I’d been an armed New York cop shouting ‘Freeze, dirtbag!’

On a few occasions, thanks to the child’s method of learning and evolving through mimicry, he put on his best faux-cross-face and told me he was going to take a sticker away from ME.

Replay that scene again, mimicry and all, but this time imagine that I’d hit him.

‘Kids will run wild if you don’t show them who’s boss.’

It’s hard to believe that we once allowed teachers to belt our children up and down the schoolyard, making our own flesh-and-blood handy scapegoats for everything wrong in a teacher’s life from sexual frustration to really bad hangovers.

But there are still those who would give a wildly disingenuous defence of smacking, both private and corporal. They’ll tell you that there’s a direct correlation between the ban on corporal punishment, and a decline of discipline, order and respect in today’s society. That somehow if we were to take the next logical step and ban smacking entirely then discipline would cease to exist. Instead of there being negative consequences for misbehaviour, kids would instead be disproportionately rewarded for their breaches: “Ah, I see you’ve thrown a television through the window of the old folks’ home, Timmy. What would you say to a lovely new Playstation 4, slugger?” (PS: If anyone should be beaten for their transgressions, it should be me for splitting an infinitive in the previous sentence)

You want to be disingenuous? I can be disingenuous too. My friends, there’s a direct link between corporal punishment and child beatings, and the advent of both world wars. Violence begets violence, you see.

We can’t live in the past. We have to move forward. Learn from our mistakes. As has become abundantly clear in recent months and years, there are many among us content to hark back to the good old days, which weren’t really all that good anyway. They wish they still lived in a world where they could be thirty-thousand feet in the air in an aeroplane piloted by a shit-faced captain, knocking back whiskeys, maniacally chain-smoking, free to punch their child in the face should they have the temerity to cough, and occasionally stopping to hurl sexually-charged racial abuse at one of the stewardesses: ‘Phwoar, you’re alright for a darkie, sweetheart!’

I don’t think the smacking ban has a realistic chance of being properly policed or enforced, but it might just open up the issue to public scrutiny – as it’s doing right now – and perhaps dissuade parents from adding smacking to their parental repertoire. The ban, however symbolic its application, will at least amplify the message, loud and clear, that we don’t live in that world anymore.

Kids say the funniest *@!#ing things

We were all in the living room. My partner, Chelsea, and I were sitting on the couch alongside our eldest son, Jack, 3. Meanwhile, baby Christopher, 1 today (Happy birthday, Chris!), was loping around the floor somewhere, scanning for toys. Yes, he lopes. He can’t walk; he doesn’t crawl: he simply lopes, balancing on one arm and swinging his body around as he weaves and circles towards his target, his movement styles a mix between a disabled French bell-ringer and Golum from Lord of the Rings.

Today’s topic of discussion was language.

‘Jack,’ said his mum. ‘Tell daddy that new word you invented today.’

Kids love to invent words, don’t they? We were on a family holiday earlier this year, in the exotic Scottish seaside resort of Girvan, and while Jack and I were out for a walk Jack we passed two stone lions positioned either side of a set of stairs. I pointed to them and asked, ‘What do you think their names are?’

‘Entie and Fooamie,’ he asserted, without any hesitation.

I nodded. ‘The one on the left is definitely a Fooamie.’

Back on the couch, Jack looked confused.

‘You know, Jack, that word you told me earlier today,’ his mother said again. ‘You remember.’

He thought for a moment, and then his face lit up with the force of his recognition. I smiled. This was going to be adorable. What was he going to say? Flubbalumptious? Labbabbachook? Skoonsh?

‘Arsehole!’ he shouted.

I laughed. Or rather a laugh shot through my lips like a bullet. My laugh emboldened Jack,  spurring him on to fill the room with arseholes. My laughs responded by upgrading into sub-machine-gun fire. This spurred Jack on even more. He was a demon drawing power through an inter-dimensional portal: the power to say ‘arsehole’. By now we were all laughing. Even baby Chris, who’d loped towards the din of our laughter, and hauled himself to his feet at the base of the couch, and proceeded to moo-hah-hah like the world’s tinies evil genius. Chris was just mimicking, of course, like a mini-Predator playing back Billy’s laugh at the end of the original film, but his laugh, our laugh, and the multitude of arseholes, all combined to create a laughter vortex/timeloop from which none of us could escape.

We eventually had to do some damage control.

‘Bet you weren’t expecting him to say that,’ said my partner, rubbing a tear from her eye.

‘Where did he hear that?’ I asked. ‘Neither of us use the word ‘arsehole’.’

‘Arsehole!’ shouted Jack.

‘Jack!’ we both shouted back. But we couldn’t really give him a row. After all, this Pandora’s Box with nothing but arseholes inside had been opened by his mother.

My partner explained that Jack had heard the word weeks ago from, as he described it, a ‘big fat lady’ who was coming out of the toilets in our favourite ice-cream parlor. Chelsea had tried to convince Jack that he’d misheard, and that arsehole wasn’t even a real word: a hard sell in a world that contains Piers Morgan.

‘What are some real words?’, we asked him, in a bid to distract him and lead him away from profanity. The three of us shouted out random words, the only link between them their innocuousness.

‘Paper!’

‘Leg!’

‘Submarine!’

‘Toothbrush!’

‘Goldfish!’

‘Carrot!’

‘Hedgehod!’

I couldn’t resist it.

‘Arsehole!’

‘ARSEHOLE!’ Jack screamed with delight.

We fell about laughing again. Chelsea had no choice but to punish me, banishing me from the room just as we would banish Jack if his behaviour ever crossed the line.

‘Daddy, you go and stand outside in the hall for a couple of minutes and think about what you’ve done,’ she said with a smirk that she hid from Jack.

Off I went, head bowed, feet shuffling.

‘I want to go with Daddy!’ shouted Jack.

‘You can’t, Jack, you’re a good boy, only naughty boys get sent out of the room.’

I opened the living room door just as Jack’s brilliant little brain found a solution to the problem of not being naughty enough to accompany me on my exile.

‘Arsehole!’ I heard him shout.

Fifteen seconds later he was standing next to me in the hall, a proud smile on his face. We high-fived.

He’s a clever wee arsehole.

The Complete: Twelve Things I’ve Learned as a Dad

My partner and I have two kids, one who’s just turned three, the other who’s about to hit his first single-digit milestone. What you’re about to read is a non-exhaustive, arbitrary list of the 12 things I’ve learned as a Dad over the last three years. I hope it’ll strike a chord with you, or at least make you smile.

1.) Buggies suck.

You know the old proverb. “Fold or unfold a buggy for a man, and he’ll be able to push the baby for a day. But teach him how to fold or unfold the buggy, and you’ll pretty much still have to do it for him every day, because he’s a bloody useless, temper tantrum-ing son of a bitch.”

The operation of most modern buggies is remarkably simple. Click, clunk, click, push. Press, pull, fold. So why then do I find myself, every single time – and I do mean every  single time – jumping up and down in a car park, my arms flailing about like I’m a possessed, half-pissed semaphorist trying to marshal an airplane. I’ve been shown how to operate the infernal contraption time and again, on an almost daily basis, and each time I say, ‘Ah, of course, now I remember. Next time will be easy’. But next time isn’t easy. Next time is another angry wrestling match betwixt man and plastic. It’s like Groundhog Day, but by the end of the movie Bill Murray is even worse than he was at the beginning, rampaging around town trying to mow people down with an empty buggy that’s drenched in his own blood.

2.) Never use the ‘Bad Man’ to deter your kids from disobeying, or running off.

The bad man is a demonic boogey-man routinely conjured by lazy parents to strike an easy jolt of fear into their children. Why choose to inspire terror when the same result could easily be achieved through gentler, less traumatising means, namely by employing the twin powers of reason and imagination?

(Starts with a snicker, which builds to a convulsing laugh, and ends with me in violent hysterics, hardly able to breathe and slapping my thigh like a coke-fueled cowboy) Who am I kidding? The ‘Bad Man’ practically has his own room in our house, en-suite and everything. He gets breakfast in bed every morning; he even gets to leave the toilet seat up after a piss. At first we used him sparingly. ‘Don’t run off round that corner. The bad man might be there.’ Then we set up a hot-line. We started pretend-calling him on our phones for the most minor of infractions. ‘Hello, is that the bad man? Yeah, he won’t blow his nose. You’ll what? You’ll skin him alive?’ (lowering phone and whispering to son) ‘I can’t negotiate with this guy, he’s a fucking lunatic, you’d better just do what he says.’

We whiled away our evenings riffing on the bad man’s skills and temperament like a pair of sadistic session musicians, using our eldest child’s amygdala as an instrument:

‘The bad man’s got an electrified glove that will burn you like toast,’

‘He’s got a time-grenade that’ll blow you back to the prehistoric era and your head will be crunched off by a T-Rex,’

‘He likes to melt children down and make them into candles, and then he pees on the candles.’

Reason doesn’t work on young children. That’s why you need to get yourself your very own on-call behavioural terrorist.

Long live the bad man.

3.) A bacon sandwich tastes so much sweeter after you’ve suffered through 3,000 episodes of Peppa Pig.

Not 3000 new episodes of Peppa Pig. The same episode 3000 times. Each staccato plink of that theme song starts to feel like a knife to the spine. I hate that my three-year-old loves it so much. It’s horrible. Not only does it make you feel like you’re watching TV through a spy-hole, but the pig-kids are insolent, disobedient little shits and the father is a marginalised moron who’d be more useful to the world on the inside of a soggy BLT. I’ve largely cut meat from my diet, and don’t eat pork anymore, but I’d happily make an exception for Daddy, that snorting, bumbling bloody imbecile.

Don’t let your kids watch Peppa Pig, if not for the reasons above, then surely because the pigs themselves have clearly been drawn to look like walking, talking big balls-and-cocks. It’s obscene. Peppa Pig? Peppa BIG Nutsack more like.

4.) Toilets will never be the same again.

A week or so ago I had to make a hurried journey to the bathroom, with just enough time to forage for a book before the main event. I perched in comfort, readying myself to begin the expulsion not just of my internal waste, but also of the day’s worries and frustrations. I was happy. I was safe. Nothing out there in that noisy, calamitous universe could touch me, at least for five minutes… or so I hoped.

The screams of my second-born son, Christopher, reached me from downstairs. He’d been placed atop a soft blanket of toys by his mother as she made a brave attempt to cook dinner. Christopher’s not usually prone to screaming, but when he feels the need he makes sure to broadcast those screams at just the right frequency to pierce steel, skull and concrete. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ came the sudden cries from my eldest boy, Jack, who had decided to accompany his baby brother’s fervent WAH WAH WAHs with a din of his own.

Jack staggered and trudged up the stairs like a mustard-gassed soldier: ‘DADDY, DADDY, MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’

‘WAH WAH WAH!’

‘MY EYES, DADDY, MY EYES!’

Jack had found a bottle of his mother’s perfume, and naturally had decided to spray himself directly in the eyes with it, the bold little scientist. ‘MY EYEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!’ he cried.

That’s what most trips to the toilet are like these days. Remember that old Dad-centric cliché about a bathroom being a man’s last bastion of peace in a chaotic household? It’s full of shit. The bathroom door may as well be spun from spider-silk or constructed by a mime artist. If your kid needs to get through that door – locked or not, and no matter what you’re doing in there – then you’re opening up. They’ll rap and they’ll tap and they’ll chap and they’ll bang on that door until you’re forced to waddle towards it like an all-penguin John Wayne. They’ll then make you stand there by the sink in hellish, bowed-leg silence, like a naughty dog – squidgy poo-parcel half-nipped and glistening – as they proceed to take the longest piss in the world. They might even plump for a particularly savage shit, just to rub some salt into the wound.

It’s toilet Top Trumps, and your kid will always win, principally because it reflects rather badly on you as a parent if you force your kid to stand outside in the hall and shit themselves.

5.) TV is your friend

Don’t listen to the snobs: your TV is as much a part of the family as the grandparents, or that funny uncle with the twitch. My partner and I vowed never to use the TV as a live-in babysitter or motivational tool, and largely we’ve observed this vow. We’re careful to offset time spent in front of the TV with oodles of outdoor larks, jigsaws, puzzles, pretend play, books and tickle-fights. But sometimes… Just sometimes. Some days. TV may very well rot your children’s brains, but the brain-rotting skills of children themselves are unmatched and exemplary, so in this dirty war no weapon is out of bounds. I’ll be honest: if it wasn’t for the TV I’d probably have immolated myself by now.

6.) Don’t sweat the swearing

I don’t care what the Preachy McTutters of this world say: a swearing kid is a fucking hilarious kid. Naturally we don’t deliberately teach our three-year-old swear words. We don’t create Venn diagrams to show him the full galaxy of obscenities at his disposal, or give formal lessons every weekday morning. ‘Now, Jack, I want you to say it again, but this time I want to hear you enunciate the consonants like we practised. Ki…ki… ki… Ku… ku… ku… kun…kun…kun…. That’s it, you can do it!’

You simply don’t realise how much you profane as a matter of course until you’re sharing your home with a kid or two. Don’t get me wrong, over the years we’ve tried to shrink our pool of bad words (removing an em eff here, a cee there) and reduce the frequency of our swearing, but a 100 per cent standard is impossible to attain: as long as there are frights, stubbed toes, dropped plates, inconsiderate drivers and sudden swirls of anger there will always be ‘bloody bastards’, ‘shitting buggers’ and ‘Are you fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkking kiiiidddddddddding meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees’.

A friend of mine recently told me that she and her husband had been aghast to hear their three-year-old daughter saying ‘Oh my God!’ As I listened, I had a flashback to all of the times our Jack has blasphemed, bee’d, essed and effed, all of which were entirely and inescapably my fault. I’ve heard him affectionately refer to a playmate as ‘a wee bugger’; I’ve watched him dancing around the toilet chanting ‘Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!’ like some demented shaman; I’ve seen him sneering a swear through one side of his mouth in the same manner and voice as a 1950s Italian-American Godfather, even shaking his little fist: ‘Sunnnnnn of a bitch!’; I’ve watched him lightly slap his own forehead and cry out ‘Oh fuck’. It’s like some horrendous version of Blankety Blank sometimes. He knows where the bad words go just from the context given by the first few words of a rant. “OK, here’s your next one, little Jack. The guy tailgating me is a blanking blank?” “He’s a f….”

In saying all of that, he’s seldom swore the same swear twice, largely because we react to each utterance with calm neutrality, gently re-directing his words down a different path without giving the no-no words any sense of power by confirming their taboo status.

Some examples:

“Yes, you can say (x), but it would be better to say (y) instead. Yes, maybe next time we’ll just say (y)”

or

“No, I didn’t say that, darling, you must’ve misheard. I said ‘rubber trucking other cuffer‘. What does it mean?… I’ve no fucking idea, son.”

7.) People lie about their kids.

Nobody talks up the beautiful, life-affirming aspects of parenthood. All parents-to-be are given the same bleak and nightmarish pep-talk by existing parents: “You’re having a baby? Oh, you poor bastard! Forget sleep. Forget sex. You’ll be up to your knees in shit and piss. You’ll be so tired you’ll start hallucinating sentient raisins. You’ll be stressed out. You’ll probably start serial killing frogs, and using your head as a hammer to smash down play-parks. Your left leg will turn into an eighteenth century courtesan and you’ll marry it off to a viscount. Your right leg will fall off, but not before exploding and taking out a municipal park. You’ll shrink by five feet.You’ll think you’re an owl. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here, my cousin was a dad for one day and he set fire to himself and tried to ram-raid a church. With a bison. I’m telling you; you might as well just kill yourself now, save the trouble. That’s how awful kids are.”

And then once your kids are a bouncing, bawling reality, and you’re asked the same old questions: ‘How are things at home?/How’s life as a parent?/how is/are the kid(s)?’ you lie then, too.

Maybe you’ve just spent the day at home cuddling your kids while watching a movie, or joyously laughing at their inspired silliness, or moved to tears by their innocence and sense of wonder, but you’ll always shake your head and say: “Those fucking kids will be the death of me!”

8.) Bye, bye, sex life

Scheduling amorous activity with your partner when you’ve got children is difficult; scheduling it when you share a bed with your kids (our youngest, baby Christopher, sleeps in an adjoined extension, and our toddler usually sneaks in beside us at some point through the night) is nigh on impossible. The very fact that you have to ‘schedule’ at all is a bitter pill to swallow (a pill to swallow? Christ, there’s a Freudian slip). Sex isn’t an activity that lends itself well to scheduling or good time management skills, although as I’m writing this sentence I’m remembering a little something called ‘the entire sex industry’ that rather depends upon both of those things for its growth and survival, so I guess I’ll rephrase and refocus my argument somewhat: good time management and awesome scheduling skills may be useful, but they sure as shit never made anything sexier. Sex in the home between two partners should be sexy, urgent, primal, spontaneous, and not boring and clinical like making an appointment to see your bank manager (if you’re currently banging your bank manager, please feel free to imagine a different analogy).

The ideal scenario is for both kids to be fast asleep, and for us to slink silently from the bed and into the hall downstairs, to commence the world’s quietest bout of passion, like two mime artists make-believing a normal sex-life. If we make it to the living room we’re in for a riot of locked-knees, cold bums, burnt bums and stiff necks. We still have to be savagely quiet, but if there’s an accidental scream at this point it’s usually because we’ve stained the couch we’re still bloody paying for.

Wherever the venue, time is very much of the essence; because we’re both aware that we could be interrupted at any second, our coupling becomes less like a spontaneous act of love and more like two people desperately trying to beat their record on the mechanical bull. Never matter. I’ve always excelled at getting it done quickly.

9.) Dinner time will never be the same again.

Dinner time used to be a time for… well, eating dinner? I think that’s what I used to do at the dinner table, anyway; I might even have regarded it as a sacred space; a place for joyous reflection, vigorous discussion or occasionally just silent bliss. A bit like the toilet, but slightly more sanitary. I’m wiser now. I know that mealtimes shared with young children at the dinner table have the same grim uncertainty as urban warfare; the mess, the thuds, the shouts; the hunks of chicken strewn over the floor like innards; the Dexter-style ketchup splatter.

The more kids you have, the worse it is; the more it becomes like some almost impossible late-80s video game. You have to work fast to plug the correct mouth with the correct piece of food at exactly the right moment, or else it’s screamdemonium. To achieve this near-impossible feat you have to ignore your fallible human brain-body-interface, and turn yourself into either some sort of psychopathic, epileptic octopus; a Hindu God on fast-forward; or a demonic incarnation of one of those big shaky tube things that flails around outside American car dealerships.

It’s Hell. As you slither and dart around the dinner table, plugging half-escaped screams with chicken nuggets, and begging older children to eat something, God damn it, ANYTHING AT ALL, your own dinner will grow cold as the grave; cold enough to attract polar bears to the table, who’ll burrow their weary bulks into the uneaten snow-dune that your mashed potatoes have become. You’ll spend long minutes shouting terrifying proclamations at your children through a megaphone: “Stop trying to knock your little brother unconscious with hunks of lamb! Eat that bloody sausage, don’t just push it around your plate! Eat a pea at least? One measly pea?! You won’t eat a pea?? Do you hate me? You must really hate me if you won’t eat a pea. Maybe I’ll just choke myself to death on those peas, would you like that?? Don’t care about that, do you? Well maybe you’ll care about the fact that your stomach is so hungry it’s gained sentience, and is in the process of trying to escape through your mouth so it can eat your face off. SCREAM MORE QUIETLY, WILL YOU, YOU’RE WAKING UP THE BLOODY POLAR BEARS!!!”

10.) Discipline is like its own science

When we were assembling our parental toolkit we decided not to include vicious punishment beatings; after a fierce debate, we also ruled out the construction of a medieval torture dungeon in the cupboard under the stairs. This left us with rather limited options. How were we going to civilise our eldest son?

We couldn’t use reason, because reason doesn’t work on toddlers and very young children, the absolute fucking psychopaths that they are. Seriously, you’d have better luck teaching pigeons to do maths.

We couldn’t ignore his behaviour or use undiluted bribery to subvert it, because unless you’re born into a disgustingly rich family dynasty whose destiny it is to rule the world through golf and evil, it’s probably best not to turn your kid into a fat, scheming, morally-vacant sex maniac.

So we used stickers. Not to cover his mouth or eyes or anything: no, to build a reward system that would encourage positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. Jack has to hit five stickers to get a reward, which could be anything from a mini-adventure to a small toy he plucks raffle-like from a cardboard bucket we keep hanging from the wall. He gains stickers for doing things like being polite and well-mannered for long periods of time, listening well, being kind to other kids and to his little brother, and helping out with chores. He loses them for things like smashing his baby brother in the face with a toy helicopter.

I had a few reservations about the system initially. I worried that we were teaching him to jump through hoops to get trinkets, rather than encouraging him to be good for goodness’ sake. I quickly moved past that when I remembered my realisation from a few paragraphs ago that all kids are psychos, and if you aren’t going to hit them, then you’re sure as shit going to have to bribe them. I guess, as well, that it’s a good idea to erect a moral framework around your kids as early as possible, despite the fact that they might not appreciate the point and deeper meaning behind the framework for many years to come: stabilisers for the soul, if you like.

My other fear was that the justice underpinning the system would be dispensed arbitrarily, based more upon what mood we happened to be in at any given moment than on solid ethical principles. For instance: ‘I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO HEAR ANY PROLONGED VOWEL SOUNDS TODAY! YOU JUST LOST A STICKER!’ or ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP? I’M TRYING TO WRITE THIS BLOG ABOUT WHAT AN AWESOME DAD I AM. THAT INTERRUPTION WILL COST YOU TWO STICKERS, MY FRIEND.’

But, once we’d ironed out the kinks, we discovered that the sticker system works well, both as a deterrent for naughtiness and as a skill-and-confidence builder.

I must confess, however, that there’s a dark, ceremonial joy to be harvested from de-stickering a child. I find myself adopting the tone, voice and poise of t Pinhead on those rare occasions when I have to take one away. “Ah, human goodness, so delicate and ephemeral, so easily lost or moulded. Did you feel pride when you earned this sticker? Pride is a sin of which I’m happy to divest you. There are no stickers in Hell, boy. Only pain.”

By this point in the speech, he’s usually smashed his little brother in the face with a helicopter again.

11.) Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy – especially if you’ve got more than one child.

Stay-at-home parents shouldn’t be devalued or denigrated. I’m jealous that my partner gets to spend every day with our kids, but at the same time I’m absolutely fucking relieved that I don’t have to, because giving your mind, body and soul to your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Beautiful, enriching, incomparable, yes. But absolutely draining. I love and respect my partner immeasurably for what she does.

The only people who think that looking after babies and kids at home during the day is a piece of piss, and not as challenging or important as a ‘proper job’, are a) people who have had their amygdala surgically removed and replaced by a bag of morphine; b) the dead; c) super-advanced Japanese butler robots; d) the sort of loud-mouthed, blathering troglodyte who still says the word ‘Phwoar’ out loud when he sees a set of breasts, and who spends his days doling out sage nuggets of wisdom like, ‘Birds love it when you whistle at them from up high, makes their fucking day it does’ and ‘Course, I don’t know what the world’s coming to when those poofs in the courts won’t even let you call them darkies anymore,’ and e) blinkered, bitter or judgemental working mothers who subscribe to the ‘I’m not doing that so it must be wrong’ mentality.

Unfortunately c) doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately d) and e) do.

12.) Being a Dad is amazing.

I originally planned to go down the cop-out route for thing number 12. I was going to  entitle it, ‘Having kids means not having the time to write the twelfth entry on a list of twelve things’, but upon reflection I think I’m going to take my tongue out of my cheek, temporarily remove my scatological-hat (I was going to shorten that to ‘scat-hat’ in the interests of snappiness, but I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea and picture me in the closing minutes of some ungodly German porn flick taking off a hat that only minutes before had been squatted over by two dead-eyed, loose-stooled lunkers, and then proceeding to wipe a waterfall of effluent from my stinging eyes.So rest assured there won’t be any scatology anywhere in this entry, none at all: and if there is, I’ll eat my hat) and show some honest-to-goodness heartfelt humanity.

Being a Dad has handed me happiness and focus in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Every sentimental and groan-worthy cliche about parenthood is true. Though each member of my nuclear family may occasionally irritate every atom and fiber of my being, they – individually and collectively – are everything to me. And without them I’d be nothing.

Nothing else matters.


MORE PARENTING ARTICLES

A celebration of public breastfeeding

The nightmare of the soft-play area

Being at the birth

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 3)

Thank you for returning to read the rest of my far from comprehensive, barely instructional list of twelve things I’ve learned so far as a parent. May it strike a chord, or make you feel smug and superior, you hubris-filled wanker. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. You can read PART 1 here and PART 2 here.

9.) Dinner time ‘aint what it used to be.

Dinner time used to be a time for… well, eating dinner? I think that’s what I used to do at the dinner table, anyway; I might even have regarded it as a sacred space; a place for joyous reflection, vigorous discussion or occasionally just silent bliss. A bit like the toilet, but slightly more sanitary. I’m wiser now. I know that mealtimes shared with young children at the dinner table have the same grim uncertainty as urban warfare; the mess, the thuds, the shouts; the hunks of chicken strewn over the floor like innards; the Dexter-style ketchup splatter.

The more kids you have, the worse it is; the more it becomes like some almost impossible late-80s video game. You have to work fast to plug the correct mouth with the correct piece of food at exactly the right moment, or else it’s screamdemonium. To achieve this near-impossible feat you have to ignore your fallible human brain-body-interface, and turn yourself into either some sort of psychopathic, epileptic octopus; a Hindu God on fast-forward; or a demonic incarnation of one of those big shaky tube things that flails around outside American car dealerships.

It’s Hell. As you slither and dart around the dinner table, plugging half-escaped screams with chicken nuggets, and begging older children to eat something, God damn it, ANYTHING AT ALL, your own dinner will grow cold as the grave; cold enough to attract polar bears to the table, who’ll burrow their weary bulks into the uneaten snow-dune that your mashed potatoes have become. You’ll spend long minutes shouting terrifying proclamations at your children through a megaphone: “Stop trying to knock your little brother unconscious with hunks of lamb! Eat that bloody sausage, don’t just push it around your plate! Eat a pea at least? One measly pea?! You won’t eat a pea?? Do you hate me? You must really hate me if you won’t eat a pea. Maybe I’ll just choke myself to death on those peas, would you like that?? Don’t care about that, do you? Well maybe you’ll care about the fact that your stomach is so hungry it’s gained sentience, and is in the process of trying to escape through your mouth so it can eat your face off. SCREAM MORE QUIETLY, WILL YOU, YOU’RE WAKING UP THE BLOODY POLAR BEARS!!!”

10.) Discipline is like its own science

When we were assembling our parental toolkit we decided not to include vicious punishment beatings; after a fierce debate, we also ruled out the construction of a medieval dungeon in the cupboard under the stairs. This left us with rather limited options for our stratagem to civilise our eldest son.

We couldn’t use reason, because reason doesn’t work on toddlers and very young children, the absolute fucking psychopaths that they are. Seriously, you’d have better luck teaching a pigeon to do maths.

We couldn’t ignore his behaviour or use undiluted bribery to subvert it, because unless you’re born into a disgustingly rich family dynasty whose destiny it is to rule the world through golf and evil, it’s probably best not to turn your kid into a fat, scheming, morally-vacant sex maniac.

So we used stickers. Not to cover his mouth or eyes or anything: no, to build a reward system that would encourage positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. I say ‘we’. I wasn’t allowed an opinion on the new discipline system, on the grounds that I hadn’t accrued enough good behaviour stickers. She’ll train me to put the toilet seat down, and open packets of cold meat without tearing them into eighty different pieces yet.

Jack has to hit five stickers to get a reward, which could be anything from a mini-adventure to a small toy he plucks raffle-like from a cardboard bucket we keep hanging from the wall. He gains stickers for doing things like being polite and well-mannered for long periods of time, listening well, being kind to other kids and to his little brother, and helping out with chores. He loses them for things like smashing his baby brother in the face with a toy helicopter.

I had a few reservations with the system initially. I worried that we were teaching him to jump through hoops to get trinkets, rather than encouraging him to be good for goodness’ sake. I quickly moved past that when I remembered my realisation from a few paragraphs ago that all kids are psychos, and if you aren’t going to hit them, then you’re sure as shit going to have to bribe them. I guess it’s a good idea to erect a moral framework around your kids as early as possible, one that will hopefully make deeper sense to them once they get older and start thinking beyond rituals and commands: stabilisers for the soul, if you like.

My other fear was that the justice underpinning the system would be dispensed arbitrarily, based more upon what mood we happened to be in at any given moment than on solid ethical principles. For instance: ‘I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY PROLONGED VOWEL SOUNDS TODAY! YOU LOSE A STICKER!’ or ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP? I’M TRYING TO WRITE THIS BLOG ABOUT WHAT AN AWESOME DAD I AM. THAT’LL COST YOU TWO STICKERS, MY FRIEND.’ 

But, we found a groove, ironed out the kinks, and discovered rather quickly that the sticker system works well, both as a deterrent for naughtiness and as a skill-and-confidence builder. There’s a dark, ceremonial joy to be harvested from de-stickering a child. I find myself adopting the tone, voice and poise of the horror character Pinhead on those rare occasions when I have to take one away. “Ah, human goodness, so delicate and ephemeral, so easily lost or moulded. Did you feel pride when you earned this sticker, boy? Pride is a sin of which I’m happy to divest you even as yet blacker sin pours from you like a faucet. There are no stickers in Hell. Only pain.”

By this point in the speech, he’s usually smashed his little brother in the face with a helicopter again.

11.) Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy – especially if you’ve got more than one child.

Stay-at-home parents shouldn’t be devalued or denigrated. I’m jealous that my partner gets to spend every day with our kids, but at the same time I’m absolutely fucking relieved that I don’t have to, because giving your mind, body and soul to your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Beautiful, enriching, incomparable, yes. But absolutely draining. I love and respect my partner immeasurably for what she does.

The only people who think that looking after babies and kids at home during the day is a piece of piss, and not as challenging or important as a ‘proper job’, are a) people who have had their amygdala surgically removed and replaced by a bag of morphine; b) the dead; c) super-advanced Japanese butler robots; d) the sort of loud-mouthed, blathering troglodyte who still says the word ‘Phwoar’ out loud when he sees a set of breasts, and who spends his days doling out sage nuggets of wisdom like, ‘Birds love it when you whistle at them from up high, makes their fucking day it does’ and ‘Course, I don’t know what the world’s coming to when those poofs in the courts won’t even let you call them darkies anymore,’ and e) blinkered, bitter or judgemental working mothers who subscribe to the ‘I’m not doing that so it must be wrong’ mentality.

Unfortunately c) doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately d) and e) do.

12.) Being a Dad is amazing.

I originally planned to go down the cop-out route for thing number 12. I was going to  entitle it, ‘Having kids means not having the time to write the twelfth entry on a list of twelve things’, but upon reflection I think I’m going to take my tongue out of my cheek, temporarily remove my scatological-hat (I was going to shorten that to ‘scat-hat’ in the interests of snappiness, but I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea and picture me in the closing minutes of some ungodly German porn flick taking off a hat that only minutes before had been squatted over by two dead-eyed, loose-stooled lunkers, and then proceeding to wipe a waterfall of effluent from my stinging eyes.So rest assured there won’t be any scatology anywhere in this entry, none at all: and if there is, I’ll eat my hat) and show some honest-to-goodness heartfelt humanity.

Being a Dad has handed me happiness and focus in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Every sentimental and groan-worthy cliche about parenthood is true. Though each member of my nuclear family may occasionally irritate every atom and fiber of my being, they – individually and collectively – are everything to me. And without them I’d be nothing.

Nothing else matters.

TV Review: Red Dwarf, Star Trek Discovery, The Orville

Red Dwarf is like that uncle who used to make you laugh to the point of pant-wetting when you were a child. You hailed him as a comedy genius, and constantly recited his routines to all who would listen, and to all who refused to listen, too. His visits brought light and laughter into your life, and you anticipated them with levels of excitement usually only reserved for Christmas.

Years passed. You got older. Your uncle’s visits became less and less frequent. One day, completely out of the blue, when you were busy doing something excruciatingly banal and thoroughly adult, probably putting up a shelf or something, there was a knock at the door. ‘It’s your uncle!’ came the cry. You ran to the door, almost injuring yourself in the process. ‘He’s back!’ you cried, grabbing the door handle and yanking it open… ‘My hilarious uncle!’… and there he was, standing in-front of you, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a light-up neon bowtie spinning around on his collar. He pulled his face into a gurn, and then brought his face a few short inches from yours. “BOOOOOOBIIIIIEEEEESSSSS!” he screamed, before loping off and around your house like a maniac, occasionally farting as he went. You later found him slumped in an armchair, staring out of the window.

A little part of you died that day.

After he left, you had a good, hard think about it. Maybe he was never funny; maybe you only thought he was funny because you were a kid and, well, everything’s funny when you’re a kid. Someone saying ‘socks’ is funny when you’re a kid. You prepared to jettison every fond memory of his visits and the laughter they brought; a time to put away childish things, and all that. But then you dug out some old home movies; watched him at work in his prime. And he was funny. God, he was funny, just as funny as you always remembered him being. So what the hell happened to him? Did he have a full mental breakdown?

You later hear that he was checked into a sanatorium, possibly never to re-emerge.

But he came back, your well-loved wonky uncle, like you always hoped he would, and you felt eager and hopeful again, despite all evidence pointing to more pain, disappointment and heartache on your part. And do you know what? He was better. He wasn’t quite the uncle you remembered, but neither was he the goofy, slavering imbecile who’d cast a worryingly unfunny shadow across your soul and doorstep. He kept coming back after that, each time stronger, more coherent, funnier. Last week, a near miraculous thing happened. Your uncle, despite his age and the trauma he’s been through, was almost – not entirely, but very, very, very nearly almost – indistinguishable from the man you remembered.

What I’m trying to say, as I wrestle with this rather tortured and over-long analogy about a mentally-ill uncle, is that the opening episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth season, Cured, in which the boys from the Dwarf encounter the frozen figures of Hitler and Stalin in a disused moon-base, was something of a relief and a delight. The cast seemed to be back in the full swing of their characters, there weren’t too many laboured puns or clichés, the sci-fi premise behind the episode was interesting without over-shadowing the jokes, and the episode made me laugh out very loud a hearty handful of times. Sure, some of the sequences in Cured – particularly the threat montage and the overlong guitar jam – felt a little rushed and perhaps fell a little flat, but overall I don’t think the episode would’ve felt out of place in the show’s fourth of fifth seasons. Red Dwarf may never recapture the thrill of its heyday, but each time it returns it builds a stronger and stronger case for its continued existence.

I’ve been boldly watching Star Trek since I was a teenager: I started by gorging myself on cassettes of the Next Generation lent to me by a friend, which led me to seek out the seminal exploits of Kirk and Spock. Later, I fell in love with the rag-tag, war-torn crew of Deep Space 9. Janeway was next, whose adventures I really rather enjoyed, give or take a few Kes’s and de-evolved lizard people along the way and … next there was… em, you know, Enterprise… and stuff. It was… well. I guess Captain Archer’s dog was sort of okay?

Maybe it’s an inevitable consequence of getting older and becoming less passionate in general, but when news broke of Star Trek Discovery’s imminent arrival I never found myself getting particularly excited. When the trailer was released, and it seemed to suggest that Discovery would be another Star-Trek-for-People-Who-Don’t-Like-Star-Trek generic space romp in the vein of the recent ‘reboot’ movies, even less so.

But, expectations be damned, it’s bloody good.

It’s different, of course: bigger, slicker, grittier and glossier, but every Trek series – whilst remaining true to the central Roddenberryian vision and ethos – has been drastically different from those preceding it, and always a product of the time in which it was made. Star Trek is about the future of humanity, sure, but that future is always given shape and voice by contemporary concerns. Discovery is about tough choices, moral relativism, a clash of cultures and the ethics of war. Shades of grey abound. In fact, there are enough shades of grey in Discovery’s opening few episodes to make Captain Picard’s hot tea and the entire canon of Deep Space 9 seem positively technicoloured in comparison. That’s one inevitable consequence, I suppose, of making your lead character a mutineer and a war criminal who’s sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of the first episode.

Sonequa Martin-Green is terrific as the aforementioned mutineer, former Starfleet officer and Vulcan-raised orphan Michael Burnham. The Walking Dead never really afforded Martin-Green the opportunity to showcase her full range and talents; here she’s mesmerising, compelling, tackling with aplomb the tricky task of playing someone who’s both human and Vulcan, and all at once both more and less than either.

Having Burnham front and centre allows Star Trek to do something it’s never done before: have a captain who’s something of an asshole. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) may be the Doctor Who Number 6 of Star Trek, but Burnham ‘aint no Peri. (Incidentally, though it places me in a minority, I really like Colin Baker as the Doctor, so my comparison isn’t intended as an insult to Jason Isaacs or his character).

Discovery also gets top marks for its reinvention/retconning of the Klingons. Like this new incarnation of Star Trek itself, its Klingons share a through-line with the past, but are for all intents and purposes shiny and new. They look more like Cenobites than the 80s/90s-era Klingons we’ve come to accept as the official standard of the species. And they’re other-worldly, and eerie, and menacing, and interesting, something they haven’t been for a long time. Throughout the life-span of The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 the Klingons – with their stiffness, pomposity, laddish bragging and love of drinking – came to possess all the terror and nuance of an obnoxious drunk uncle at a party to celebrate grandma and grandpa’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. My apologies to uncles, who appear to be getting something of a rough ride today.

If Star Trek Discovery isn’t Star Trekky enough for you, then you can always seek out The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi doesn’t-really-know-what-it-is-edy. Despite the show’s mind-bending ideas, improved CGI and novel blend of sci-fi tropes and dick jokes it looks and feels exactly like early-90s Star Trek – which of course is no accident, given that the show’s creator and captain Seth MacFarlane is a life-long fan of the show, and forged his vision for The Orville through collaboration and consultation with such heavy-hitting Trek luminaries as Rick Berman and Jonathan Frakes.

And do you know what? I like it. It combines two of my favourite things: nostalgia and puerility. I’m still not convinced about Seth MacFarlane’s ability to carry a live-action show, but his Captain Mercer is growing on me with every episode, and the characters of Bortus (Peter Macon) and Isaac (Mark Jackson) have already proven themselves to be deep wells of dramatic and comedic possiblity. Keep making it so, Seth.

You can read a piece I wrote about Red Dwarf series X and XI for the lovely people at Den of Geek here.

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 2)

Thank you for returning to read the rest of my far from comprehensive, barely instructional list of twelve things I’ve learned so far as a parent. May it strike a chord, or make you feel smug and superior, you hubris-filled wanker. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. You can read PART 1 here.

5.) TV is your friend

Don’t listen to the snobs: your TV is as much a part of the family as the grandparents, or that funny uncle with the twitch. My partner and I vowed never to use the TV as a live-in babysitter or a motivational tool, and largely we’ve observed this vow. We’re careful to offset time spent in front of the TV with oodles of outdoor larks, jigsaws, puzzles, pretend play, books and tickle-fights. But sometimes… Just sometimes. Some days. TV may very well rot your children’s brains, but the brain-rotting skills of children themselves are unmatched and exemplary, so in this dirty war no weapon is out of bounds. I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for the TV I’d probably have immolated myself by now.

6.) Don’t sweat the swearing

I don’t care what the Preachy McTutters of this world say: a swearing kid is a fucking hilarious kid. Naturally we don’t deliberately teach our three-year-old swear words. We don’t create Venn diagrams to show him the full galaxy of obscenities at his disposal, or give formal lessons every weekday morning. ‘Now, Jack, I want you to say it again, but this time I want to hear you enunciate the consonants like we practised. Ki…ki… ki… Ku… ku… ku… kun…kun…kun…. That’s it, you can do it!’

You simply don’t realise how much you profane as a matter of course until you’re sharing your home with a kid or two. Don’t get me wrong, over the years we’ve tried to shrink our pool of bad words (removing an em eff here, a cee there) and reduce the frequency of our swearing, and on the whole we’ve been successful in our efforts, but a one hundred per cent standard is impossible to attain: as long as there are frights, stubbed toes, dropped plates, inconsiderate drivers and sudden swirls of anger there will always be ‘bloody bastards’, ‘shitting buggers’ and ‘Are you fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkking kiiiidddddddddding meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees’.

A friend of mine recently told me that she and her husband had been aghast to hear their three-year-old daughter saying ‘Oh my God!’ As I listened, I had a flashback to all of the times our Jack has blasphemed, bee’d, essed and effed, all of which were entirely and inescapably my fault. I’ve heard him affectionately refer to a playmate as ‘a wee bugger’; I’ve watched him dancing around the toilet chanting ‘Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!’ like some demented shaman; I’ve seen him sneering a swear through one side of his mouth in the same manner and voice as a 1950s Italian-American Godfather, even shaking his little fist: ‘Sunnnnnn of a bitch!’; I’ve watched him lightly slap his own forehead and cry out ‘Oh fuck’. It’s like some horrendous version of Blankety Blank sometimes. “OK, here’s your next one. The guy tailgating me is a blanking blank?” “He’s a f….” “Nooooooooooo!”

In saying that, he’s seldom swore the same swear twice, largely because we react to each utterance with calm neutrality, gently re-directing his words down a different path without giving the no-no words any sense of power by confirming their taboo status.

Some examples:

“Yes, you can say (x), but it would be better to say (y) instead. Yes, maybe next time we’ll just say (y)”

or

“No, I didn’t say that, darling, you must’ve misheard. I said ‘rubber trucking other cuffer‘. What does it mean?… I’ve no fucking idea, son.”

7.) People lie about their kids.

Nobody talks up the beautiful, life-affirming aspects of parenthood. All parents-to-be are given the same bleak and nightmarish pep-talk: “You’re having a baby? Oh, you poor bastard! Forget sleep. Forget sex. You’ll be up to your knees in shit and piss. You’ll be so tired you’ll start hallucinating sentient raisins. You’ll be stressed out. You’ll probably start serial killing frogs, and using your head as a hammer to smash down play-parks. Your left leg will turn into an eighteenth century courtesan and start trying to marry people. Your right leg will fall off. You’ll shrink by five feet. Your eyes will explode. You’ll think you’re an owl. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here, my cousin was a dad for one day and he set fire to himself and tried to ram-raid a church. With a bison. I’m telling you; you might as well just kill yourself now, save the trouble. That’s how awful kids are.”

And then once your kids are a bouncing, bawling reality, and you’re asked the questions: ‘How are things at home?/How’s life as a parent?/how is/are the kid(s)?’ you lie then, too. Maybe you’ve just been sat at home cuddling your kids while watching a movie, or joyously laughing at their inspired silliness, or moved to tears by their innocence and sense of wonder, but you’ll always say something like: “Those bloody kids will be the death of me!”

8.) Bye, bye, sex life

Scheduling amorous activity with your partner when you’ve got children is difficult; scheduling it when you share a bed with your kids (the baby sleeps in an adjoined extension, our toddler usually sneaks in beside us at some point through the night) is nigh on impossible. The very fact that you have to ‘schedule’ at all is a bitter pill to swallow (a pill to swallow? Christ, there’s a Freudian slip). Sex isn’t an activity that lends itself well to scheduling or good time management skills, although as I’m writing this sentence I’m remembering a little something called ‘the entire sex industry’ that rather depends upon both of those things for its growth and survival, so I guess I’ll rephrase and refocus my argument somewhat: good time management and awesome scheduling skills may be useful, but they sure as shit never made anything sexier. Sex in the home between two partners should be sexy, urgent, primal, spontaneous, and not boring and clinical like making an appointment to see your bank manager (if you’re currently banging your bank manager, please feel free to imagine a different analogy).

The ideal scenario is for both kids to be fast asleep, and for us to slink silently from the bed and into the hall downstairs, to commence the world’s quietest bout of passion, like two mime artists make-believing a normal sex-life. If we make it to the living room we’re in for a riot of locked-knees, cold bums, burnt bums and stiff necks. We still have to be savagely quiet, but if there’s an accidental scream at this point it’s usually because we’ve stained the couch we’re still bloody paying for.

Wherever the venue, time is very much of the essence; because we’re both aware that we could be interrupted at any second, our coupling becomes less like a spontaneous act of love and more like two people desperately trying to beat their record on the mechanical bull. Never matter. I’ve always excelled at getting it done quickly.


For a longer consideration of the deleterious effects of children on your sex life, click here.

Click on PART 1 for the first four 12 things.

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 1)

1.) Buggies suck.

You know the old proverb. “Fold or unfold a buggy for a man, and he’ll be able to push the baby for a day. But teach him how to fold or unfold the buggy, and you’ll still have to do it for him every fucking day.”

The operation of most modern buggies is remarkably simple. Click, clunk, push. Press, pull, fold. So why then do I find myself, every single time – and I do mean every  single time – jumping up and down in a car park, my arms flailing like a possessed, pissed semaphorist trying to marshal an airplane, loudly threatening an inanimate hunk of cloth and plastic with death and destruction? I’ve been shown how to operate the infernal contraption time and again, on an almost daily basis, and each time I say, ‘Ah, of course, now I remember. Next time will be easy’. But next time isn’t easy. Next time is another angry wrestling match betwixt man and plastic. It’s like Groundhog Day, but by the end of the movie Phil can’t play the piano and he’s still having eighty doughnuts for breakfast. Why aren’t kids born with wheels?

2.) Never use the ‘Bad Man’ to deter your kids from disobeying, or running off.

He’s a demonic boogey-man routinely conjured by lazy parents to strike an easy jolt of fear into their children, when the same result could easily be achieved through gentler, less traumatising means, namely by employing the twin powers of reason and imagination.

(Starts with a snicker, builds to a convulsing laugh, ends with me in hysterics, hardly able to breathe and slapping my thigh like a coke-fueled cowboy) Yeah, right. Fuck that. The ‘Bad Man’ practically has his own room in our house, en-suite and everything. He gets breakfast in bed, and even gets to leave the toilet seat up after a piss. At first we used him sparingly. ‘Don’t run off round that corner. The bad man might be there.’ Then we started riffing, really having fun fleshing out the character:

‘He’s got an electrified glove that will burn you like toast,’

‘He’s got a time-grenade that’ll blow you back to the prehistoric era and your head will be crunched off by a T-Rex,’

‘He likes to melt children down and make them into candles, and then he farts on the candles, and then he pees them out.’

We started pretend-calling him for the most minor of infractions. ‘Hello, is that the bad man? Yeah, he won’t blow his nose. You’ll what? You’ll skin him alive?’ (lowering phone and whispering to son) ‘I can’t negotiate with this guy, he’s a fucking lunatic, you’d better just do what he says.’

Reason doesn’t work on young children. That’s why you need to get yourself your very own on-call behavioural terrorist. Long live the bad man.

3.) A bacon sandwich tastes so much sweeter after you’ve suffered through 3,000 episodes of Peppa Pig.

Not 3000 new episodes of Peppa Pig. The same episode 3000 times. Each staccato plink of that risible theme song starts to feel like a knife to the spine. I hate that my three-year-old loves it so much. It’s horrible. Not only does it make you feel like you’re watching TV through a spy-hole, but the kids are insolent, disobedient little shits and the father is a marginalised moron who’d be more use to the world inside a BLT. I’ve largely cut meat from my diet and don’t eat pork anymore, but I’d make an exception for Daddy, the snorting imbecile.

Don’t let your kids watch it. If none of that convinces you then never forget that the pigs are clearly walking, talking big balls-and-cocks. Look at them! It’s undeniable. Peppa Pig? Peppa BIG Nutsack more like.

4.) Toilets will never be the same again.

A week or so ago I had to make a hurried journey to the bathroom, with just enough time for a brisk detour to pick up a book. I perched in comfort, readying myself to begin the expulsion not just of my internal waste, but also of the day’s worries and frustrations. I was happy. I was safe. Nothing out there in that noisy, calamitous universe could touch me, at least for the next five minutes.

I was perched on the toilet, enjoying my brief reprieve from life, when from downstairs came the screams of my second-born, Christopher. He’d been placed atop a soft blanket of toys by his mother as she bravely attempted to start cooking dinner. Christopher’s not a kid usually prone to screaming, but when he feels the need he makes sure to broadcast those screams at just the right frequency to pierce steel, skull and concrete. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ came the cries from my eldest boy, Jack, accompanying his baby brother’s fervent WAH WAH WAHs.

Jack kept wailing as he staggered and trudged up the stairs like a mustard-gassed soldier: ‘DADDY, DADDY, MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’

He’d found a bottle of his mother’s perfume and naturally had decided to spray himself directly in the eyes with it, the bold little scientist that he is. ‘MY EYEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!’

That’s what most trips to the toilet are like these days. Remember that old Dad-centric cliché about a bathroom being a man’s last bastion of peace in a chaotic household? It’s full of shit. The bathroom door may as well be spun from spider-silk or constructed by a mime artist. If your kid needs to get through that door, locked or not, and no matter what you’re doing in there, then you’re opening up. They’ll rap and tap and chap and bang until you’re forced to waddle towards it like an all-penguin John Wayne. They’ll then make you stand there by the sink in hellish, bowed-leg silence, like a naughty dog – squidgy poo-parcel half-nipped and glistening – as they take the longest piss in the world. Or even a particularly savage shit, just to rub some salt into the wound.

It’s toilet Top Trumps, and your kid will always win, principally because it reflects rather badly on you as a parent if you force your kid to stand outside in the hall and shit themselves.

THANK YOU FOR READING, YOU ADORABLE BASTARDS.

ANOTHER FOUR NEXT WEEK.

The Sex Life of Parents

As a teenager I worked very briefly in the tomato department of a fruit-and-veg packing plant. I had to stand at a conveyor belt for eight hours a day placing tomatoes – eight tomatoes at a time – into an infinity of plastic punnets. Tomato, tomato, tomato. Punnet, punnet, punnet. Before taking this job I’d counted myself among the tomato’s greatest fans. I loved everything about those round, red sods: their soup, which was warm and comforting, like a cuddle at a lower-tier relative’s funeral; how the tangy wetness of a single sliced tomato could bring a whole bag of finger-waggin’ sass to a boring old cheddar sandwich (imagine a tomato saying ‘Hmmm mmmm’, ‘you go girl’ and ‘ah don’t THINK so’); how easily a tomato could be transformed into a portable ballistic weapon with a single bite.

After two-and-a-half days of non-stop tomato-packing it’s fair to say that my love for them was waning. As tomatoes dropped through my fingers by the thousand-load they came to assume the consistency and snack-appeal of cricket balls, possessing the sass not of an enormous black woman in the audience of Ricky Lake, but of a recently-deceased Alan Titchmarsh. Tomato, tomato, tomato. Punnet, punnet, punnet. Tomatoes. I was bloody sick of them. Immune to their charms. They were just things now, lifeless, inanimate things, devoid of all joy and use and substance. I never wanted to sink my teeth into one of those round mother-fuckers ever again.

That’s pretty much how witnessing the births of my children made me feel about vaginas.

At least for a while. The forswearance was temporary, dear reader. Once the stitches had healed, and the missus had reclaimed her inclination, and my NAM-style fanny flashbacks had ceased – ‘The head… the head was sticking out, and, and it was blue, man… it was covered in blood and …bent out of shape and… oh CHRIST… (swigs another quart of bourbon)’ – things went back to normal. Attitudinally at least.

Unfortunately, the temporary reframing of my perspective on vaginas was merely the opening salvo in a much wider war upon my sex life; a war that was being waged against me by – in a weird, round-about-way – my own sex life from the past. My enemy: the physical manifestation of fifty per cent of my own sainted DNA.

Having sex with kids Having sex when you’ve got kids

Your baby’s first words to the world, unspoken and unspeakable, consist of a simple resolution never to let you have sex again. ‘Em, hello – you’ve got me? Why would you want to do this again? PUT THOSE THINGS AWAY!’, their wails seem to say. Babies are nature’s most exquisitely evolved biological padlocks and chastity belts. Your new kid on the block is a cock-block; a hex on your sex. How much wood would a rude dad chuck if a rude dad’s son hucked puke? I’m not even sure what that last sentence actually means, but I do know, with clarity and certainty, that y’all ‘aint getting any sex – at least not until after the divorce.

Until then you’ll roam the earth a foggy-eyed sexless husk, splitting your time between cooing and cursing, pooing and nursing. Inclined to be amorous, but too tired to follow through, or else perfectly well-placed physically but too mentally frazzled to get into the swing of things.

Or, worst of all, the planets of your desire will align, and you’ll be in the midst of blissful sexual abandon when a baby’s cry will cut through the air and wilt your willy away to nothing. They know, they just seem to KNOW when you’re at it, those tiny bastards, wherever you are in the house, and whichever stage of the process you’re at, and they’ll move heaven and earth to put a stop to your shenanigans.

Our kids have always seemed unknowingly to favour their mother on such occasions, and many, many times my chivalry has been punished; having selflessly provided pleasure through non-penetrative means I’ve been denied an orgasm of my own by the sounding of a baby’s cock-blocking klaxon, halting us pre-coital, and sending her to soothe the baby back to sleep, and me into the bathroom for a consolatory wank.

So having sex when you’ve got kids is hard. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those couples who’re to be found in the pub within seven days of the birth, telling people you’re on a well-deserved break from the stress and exhaustion of parenthood, and noisily proclaiming to all who’ll listen that having a baby needn’t affect your social commitments or change your life. Not change your life? It’s a baby, not a slight fucking limp, you vomit-smeared scrotums. Anyway, if you’re one of those couples then you’re probably free to make the beast with two backs as often as your built-in babysitting network will allow, in which case this article isn’t for you, and you should stop reading it immediately. May I suggest you go fuck yourselves? You’ve clearly got the time.

Aural sex: ‘Come ear!’

Every sexual encounter between you and your partner has as its template the fervent spontaneity of the first eighteen months or so of your relationship; the heady, come-to-beddy days where any time, occasion or flat surface (vertical or horizontal) would do; when your hands felt grafted to the skin of the other. It’s the memory of these days that makes the meticulous scheduling of sexual activity seem so off-puttingly antiseptic, despite the absolute necessity of such planning when you’ve got kids in the house. It makes what’s supposed to be five minutes a good solid hour of passion feel about as sexy as a hospital appointment.

Because of this new reality it pays always to be on the lookout for ways to return a little verve and spontaneity to the process. Just last week my partner used her skills of time and resource management, and sexual intuition to exploit a rare opportunity. Both of our kids were asleep before 8pm, and neither of us appeared to be ill or over-tired, so off she slinked upstairs to the bathroom to slip into something a little more comfortable.

Unfortunately, I had no idea this surprise was in the offing – and she in turn had no idea that I was bursting on a shite. As she stood naked in the bathroom, seconds away from togging herself up in a titillating outfit, the sound of my fist banging on the door relayed this information to her swiftly and efficiently. ‘Get out!’ I implored her. ‘Get out quick, I’m literally about to shite myself!’

The door whooshed open. ‘That’s killed it,’ she said, as she brushed past me to go change into some lounge-pants.

Another hard-core sesh as a parent

Despite the existence of a multitude of niche German movies lurking in deeply unhygienic corners of the internet, there are few greater passion killers than an unexpected jobby. So we decided we’d take a rain-check on the cha-cha-cha and snuggle up on the couch and watch TV instead. But still. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the promise of sex had set my ridey-sense tingling. I made some overtures, seductively wiggling my eyebrows and shuffling up the couch towards her crotch like some brain-starved zombie.

‘Why don’t I do something for you?’ I asked.

She didn’t say ‘no’. She said something much worse. She said: ‘You burst in on me before I had a proper chance to wash myself, and I’m not going back up to that bathroom to inhale the smell of your boufing shite, so I guess we’ll just have to keep watching TV.’

I’m sure I’ve heard that line in a porno somewhere. Wounded and thwarted, I bided my time. We took stock and tried again. I shuffled closer and we went in for a kiss. Our lips softly butted, but as soon as they’d touched she yanked her face away from mine with a violence normally reserved for cases of whiplash in a car-crash. A grimace of displeasure warped her features. This isn’t a particularly encouraging sexual signal, unless you happen to be some sort of sadistic deviant, or have been married for twenty years (the two are by no means mutually exclusive).

‘What is it now?’ I asked.

‘Your ear,’ she said, shuddering. ‘It stinks.’

She was right. I had an infection in my left ear. But like the smell of a man’s own farts, I’d grown used to it, and had little idea it was so repulsive. So I couldn’t fault her disgust, but even still I sulked, my pride wounded, the thin and tenuous bubble of my sexual confidence well and truly popped.

‘Don’t sulk. I’m not rejecting you, I’m rejecting your ear.’

‘Yeah, whatever,’ I said, even sulkier still.

Don’t listen to what these women’s magazines tell you. Sulking is HOT. It really works up a soak.

She tried to be conciliatory. ‘Maybe… maybe if we have to kiss, you could come at me from one side only, keep the bad ear away.’

I shrugged. She sank deep into thought. Seconds later, there was a light-bulb moment, followed by a big grin. She stroked my shoulder, eager to share her epiphany.

‘Or why not just do me from behind?’

I gave a dismissive wave. ‘Nah, it’s finished. I’m vile. I’m a vile and disgusting creature. I stink and I’m horrible.’ I don’t know why I was so gloomy about it; that realisation had never stopped me before.

We watched TV in silence for a few moments.

‘Maybe…’ she began, the words tip-toeing carefully out of her mouth, ‘Maybe if you put your hearing aid in, it’ll plug the smell!’

I shook my head. ‘Maybe I could just f*** you with a walking stick?! Jesus, now I feel disgusting AND old. Brilliant.’

At this point she laughed. I did, too. How bloody ridiculous.

‘Is this what our sex life is going to be like now?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’ll probably get much worse.’ A third child is very much in the offing for the not-too-distant future, so our offing days are probably numbered.

‘What do you want to do?’ she asked. I smiled.

In defiance of the Gods of Domesticity and Sexual Scheduling, I did her from behind.

And then I ate a tomato.

Why love is more important than sex

I swaggered around the homestead one weekend morning, naked except for a dressing gown, which billowed around my bare arse like a Roman’s cloak – but a Roman’s cloak that was soft and cosy and really rather effeminate, if I’m being honest. I’m a morning person, much to the consternation and occasional fury of my partner, who either isn’t a morning person or simply isn’t a ‘me’ person. I like to greet the day with a series of nonsense songs, daft-dances and urgent finger-clicks, whilst she likes to greet the day by violently murdering me.

Despite my glee I had woken up with a bit of a jumpy tummy, which probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I have the same diet as a bin inside a McDonalds’ restaurant. My stomach issued a rumble here, a grumble there, a Mexican wave of nausea there. But no matter. I still had a song in my heart, and a fart in my… Oh, hello. A fart! Where did you come from, you little tyke? Well, the conditions aren’t ideal, but if you really must insist upon making a life for yourself in the world outside my rectum, then who am I to… let me just feel it out here, and give a little squee…

Oh.

Oh my.

You’ve heard of a shart, right? Well this wasn’t a shart. It was pretty much a full-blown shit.

One doesn’t accept a surprise defecation quietly. My loud regrets, interlaced with hissed staccato swearing, stirred my sweet from her slumber, and led her siren-like to the hallway, where I stood temporarily frozen by fear, regret and disgust. I quickly bolted to the bathroom, grabbing up cloths and cleaning products. I didn’t want her to see this, to learn what had happened! To my horror, a few stray droplets of poo peppered the tiled floor of the bathroom in my wake. I sprayed and wiped and rinsed the tiles at lightning speed, and then hurtled into the hallway to mask or remove the worst of my shame. Why had we carpeted the hall and not kept the laminate, I lamented! Her footsteps drew closer still. It was too late, too late! I bombed back to the bathroom to grab more cloths, and to wash down my legs, but in my haste I slipped on a section of tile I’d just cleaned, flew into the air and just about knocked myself unconscious against the wall.

Even though I genuinely thought I’d have to go to hospital to be treated for a concussion, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a human being laugh as much or as hard as ‘the love of my life’ did that day.

Some people say that love is sticking by someone through thick and thin, being willing to go to the ends of the earth for them, risking life and limb in pursuit of their wellbeing and happiness, being willing to lay down and die for them. I’ve no doubt it is. But love is also still having the desire to fuck someone after you’ve witnessed them shitting the floor.

If our sex life can survive that, kids should be a doddle.

2 Tina Turners & the Hand of God

I was at work the other day, plinking away at my keyboard and staring listlessly into my screen like a post-lobotomy MacMurphy, when a Tina Turner song came on the radio. Nothing terribly remarkable about a Tina Turner song coming on the radio, I’m sure you’ll agree, unless you happen to live in some alternate universe in which the state has declared the playing of Tina Turner’s music a crime punishable by death. I don’t know why Tina Turner’s greatest hits would be so drastically proscribed in this or any other universe, but I do know that I’ve just come up with a cracking premise for a marginally-successful straight-to-video movie, which I’ll probably call ‘Tina Turner’s Totalitarian Terror’.

 

Anyway, seconds after Tina Turner had growled huskily from the radio, an email notification popped up in the bottom-right corner of my screen. It was a communication from a lady in our vast group of interconnected companies whose existence, up until that point, had been unknown to me, and whose name I’ll never now forget. That’s because her name was Christina Turner. Again, nothing terribly remarkable about that on its own, but put the two Tina Turner-related sensory assaults together and you’ve got something quite remarkable, if only in the sense that I’ve just remarked upon it.

 

Tina Turner in the ears; Christina Turner in the eyes. My brain spasmed, temporarily overloaded and unable to cope with this Tina Turner-mageddon. I half-expected to look down to find a woman with gigantic hair vigorously fist-pumping my cock, while looking me in the eyes and shouting: ‘You’re not having a stroke. EVERYTHING’S Tina Turner now, you SON OF A BITCH!!’

 

The odds against these two events coinciding are precisely fifty-six squillion gazilli-jillions times infinity to one. Trust me, I’m a maths guy. That can mean only one thing: this was no coincidence. Fate was clearly sending me an important message through the medium of a frizzy-haired pensioner with a rhythmically gangrenous hip. But what was fate trying to tell me? I mulled it over. Of course! The function of the first Tina Turner was to draw attention to the second. Because the second Tina Turner was clearly in terrible danger.

 

I cracked my fingers, held them poised over the keyboard like some heroic concert pianist, and set about sending what would surely be the most important email of Christina Turner’s life:


‘Hello Christina Turner,

 

You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. Now that the introductions are out of the way, I need you to listen to me very carefully, but, you know, listen to me with your eyes. Today I received a message from Tina Turner. Sounds great doesn’t it? No, Christina. It’s not great.

 

It’s bloody awful.

 

You’re in terrible danger. We’re talking ‘strange man in a wet-suit clutching a sharpened parrot skull standing at the foot of your bed when you wake up at 3am for a piss’ terrible danger. We’re talking ‘the sharpened parrot-skull opens its hellish maw and says “Christina Turner, you’re in terrible danger,”’ kind of terrible danger.

 

I know what you’re thinking: this guy’s crazy. How would he even be able to contact Tina Turner? I’m ready to make you swallow your doubt, Christina, because Tina Turner spoke to me through the radio. Now do you believe me, you stupid bitch?

 

I’ve got to ask: you don’t happen to live anywhere near a place called ‘Nutbush’ do you? Do yourself a favour and stay away from the city limits; in fact until I can fully analyse Tina’s message, you so much as see a hungry squirrel in a hedge, you run like fuck, girl.

 

Chin up, Christina Turner. We’ll get through this together. Always remember that you’re ‘simply the best’.

 

PS: Better than all the rest.


A few minutes later my phone rang. It was Christina Turner, in tears, in hysterics no less, telling me she was terrified and had phoned the police. I’d never felt more relief. But as Christina Turner sobbed and sobbed, a sudden panic seized the smile from my face and set my heart a-palpatating. Yes, one Tina Turner was there to draw attention to the other. But what if I’d got my Tina Turners mixed up? What if the Tina Turner in danger wasn’t Tina Turner, but TINA TURNER? The famous one? Of course. After all, why would fate go to all that trouble to intercede on behalf of a prole?

 

JESUS CHRIST, TINA TURNER WAS IN TROUBLE!

 

Dear The Tina Turner Fan Club

At this very moment you hold Tina Turner’s life in your hands. She is in grave danger. I should know, because I got an email from somebody who is essentially called Tina Turner at the same time as a Tina Turner song came on the radio. OK, so the radio station we’re tuned to plays at least nine Tina Turner songs a day, but who made you an expert at divining fate? Do you want Tina Turner to die? Well, do you? Who are you going to be a fan of then? DIANA ROSS? Fuck off.

 

Please just warn her. Even though she probably doesn’t have that long left, it would be a shame to see her gutted like a fish/squashed by a falling safe/succumbing to painful flatulence as a result of too much dairy in her diet.

 

PS: I’m making a film called ‘Tina Turner’s Totalitarian Terror’. I was thinking of casting Burt Ward as Tina, you know, to generate a bit of left-field buzz. Ask her what she thinks.


If you have ever believed yourself psychic, or in tune with fate or the heavens, if a person about whom you’ve just been thinking contacts you that very same minute, hour or day, then you’re probably just as crazy as the alternate version of Jamie Andrew who actually did send those emails to Christina and Tina Turner.

 

The coincidence actually happened, but my point is that coincidences always do. We’ve spun a maddeningly intricate web of connections across and around our humble little hunk of rock which spins inside a vast and infinite universe. How could they fail to? We choose to imbue coincidences with an air of relevance or destiny because a) that’s how our brains have evolved, and our travel, technologies and societies have evolved too quickly for the old grey matter to catch up, and/or b) we’re ridiculous, shart-brained narcissists.

 

My Tina/Christina Turner coincidence was just that. It would be ridiculous to think that there was some greater meaning or message behind it all, but for some reason hundreds of millions of people all around the world tend to interpret the world’s hundreds of millions of more conventional, non-Tina-Turner-related coincidences as evidence of God’s hand in the mix. So what do you think now? That God, or fate or who-or-what-ever you think linked those Tina Turners together in order to inspire me to write a blog post about how coincidences are just coincidences and not incidences of fate, so that…?

 

Oh.

 

Oh my.

 

Well played, fate.

 

You’ve danced privately for me. You’ve unsteamed my windows.

 

I guess that’s a ‘fate accompli’.

 

A Letter From The Interceptor

A few years ago I wrote an article about a funny, tongue-in-cheek piece for the lovely people over at Den of Geek about the thoroughly-entertaining 80s gameshow ‘The Interceptor’, which sent its contestants on a cross-country treasure quest, and pitted them against a flying psychopath.

This summer (please read those two words again, but in the style of a movie trailer) a person purporting to be – and whom I have no reason to doubt actually is – The Interceptor himself, aka Sean O’Kane, wrote to the editor of Den of Geek, expressing his approval of my article, and waxing lyrical in his inimitable, thesaurus-based way. Sean O’Kane isn’t exactly the world’s most famous celebrity, but it was nice to have my humble jumble of words acknowledged by an icon of my childhood.

You’ll find the letter (well, email actually, since this isn’t 1989 anymore) below the picture of a horse-mounted O’Kane, and below that the link to my original article.

BRING BACK THE INTERCEPTOR!

Dear Simon,

my daughter and her pals were surfing the net and stumbled upon your site DoG and to my surprise found the content regarding Interceptor not only belly achingly jovial but the tone and humour captured the essence and candor from a part of my journey for which I,m proud of.

27 years on and I still receive kudos from a short lived moment of an unequivocal utter octane fueled party. (stunt training came in rather handy)

Thank you for sharing the trauma and cupidity this show evoked ,I myself turned my poor mother prematurely grey from leaping off our roof onto a plethora of mattresses in the pretense of stunting lost in my imagination in my fun filled childhood……Those memories flood from my cortex to my hypothalamus whilst inseminating copious libation…….he he.

I liked it !!!!!

With Unabashed Optimism And Merriment.

sean o’kane

www.seanokane.com 


And here is the article: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-interceptor/36586/revisiting-80s-uk-game-show-interceptor

 

Tailgaters: The scum of the Earth

Tailgating’s such a self-evidently selfish and dangerous thing to do that I shouldn’t ever find myself in the position of having to craft a rant about it. But here I am. And here I go. Because not a day goes by when I don’t find myself connected to my fellow road-users by a six-inch length of invisible tow-rope.

If you’re a tailgater it’s my fond hope that one day you too will find yourself tailgated: by a hungry gator. You are a menace. An abomination. An attempted murderer of children. It’s fair to say that even Mary Whitehouse and Jesus think you’re a cunt.

Don’t microwave kittens. Don’t drown kids.

Don’t. Fucking. Tailgate.

Yes, attempted murdered of children. You read that right a few paragraphs ago. That’s how I perceive tailgating when I’ve got my kids in the car, especially since law decrees that those two wee guys have to be strapped into perhaps the most vulnerable part of the car. That’s why I go so absolutely bat-shit bananas crazy when I’m being tailgated. That’s why my 2-year-old son, half-sponge half-parrot, once shouted ‘FUCKING ASSHOLES’ following a particularly heated exchange with a tailgater, after which I decided to modify my in-car language and call people ‘dozy pillocks’ and ‘silly billies’ instead; and a little less vigourously, too. I’ve tried everything to dissuade tailgaters, from angrily Capaldi-ing the mirror, to thumping the horn, to gesticulating violently out of the window. The latter sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. I once repeatedly struck the side of my car with my fist, alternated with a shooing motion, a subtle bit of sign language that  convinced the hogger behind to fall back a few car lengths. Another time I shook my fist out of the window, and instead of falling back the wee dim-wit douche-bag behind me started happily and enthusiastically waving and flashing their lights, thinking I was their pal.

When I haven’t had my kids in the car with me I’ve often responded to tailgaters with the old emergency-stop/urgent-accelerate manoeuvre to scare them out of their stupidity, a move that I’m willing to concede is potentially just as dip-shitted as tailgating itself, but… you know. Anger. Ditto finding a roundabout, going 360 and doing some revenge tailgating.

While the biggest tailgating culprits are, perhaps unsurprisingly, adolescent males – those image-conscious, testosterone-packed pustules of preened bravado – the roster of roasters is incredibly demographically diverse: the old, the young, the rich, the poor, of every gender and ethnicity you’d care to imagine (with the exception of Australian Aborigines and transgender Inuits, who aren’t terribly well represented in Central Scotland). I especially despise jewellery-bedecked, big-haired women in gigantic jeeps and 4X4s who tailgate with the insouciance of a psychopathic tank driver who’s gone rogue in an urban combat zone. And old men in high-end cars, who seem to think they’re driving inside a car advert along an empty mountain road.

The collective arrogance and indifference of these bastards disgusts me. We live in a world of illusion. Our place in the ever-connected cosmos is predicated upon hope, fear and self-deception. We wear ties, we go to school, we work, we shop, we shit, we sleep, we fuck, we drink, we watch TV, wash rinse and repeat, and we do this under the eternally indifferent gaze of a gazillion galaxies. We salve ourselves against  insignificance by embracing ritual, and blot out the truth of our tenuous grasp on existence with a cavalcade of hugs, drugs and distractions. We’re never more than a missed meal, a terrorist bomb, an unexpected diagnosis or a measly momentary lapse in concentration away from a descent into agony and anarchy, a whip back of the Wizard of Oz’s curtain to find the grinning spectre of Death, scythe sharpened and ready to slice.

Chaos, then, is the force that truly governs our lives. Ipso facto, what you’re saying when you tailgate is that you are above the laws of chaos; that you’ve extrapolated from the atoms around you a full account of the future, its every twist and turn, and have granted yourself immunity from the billions of chaotic surprises that break and bond our species with every passing microsecond of existence. You’re a God, no less. You can hug my bumper and be absolutely sure that a sheep, a bird or a child isn’t going to appear across the road in front of me causing me to hammer my foot on the brakes, that my front tyres aren’t going to blow out, that I’m not going to suffer a heart-attack behind the wheel, that any number of unexpected catastrophes aren’t going to propel the speeding bulk of your car through the crumpled backs of my children.

You absolute fucking asshole.

One last appeal to you, young men: I know you like to drive your car in an almost horizontal position, but please don’t cause me, or my partner and children, to end up in a permanently horizontal position in a hole six feet below the ground just because you’re desperate to get your hole. “Man, the birds are gonnae be fightin’ for a sook of ma boaby once they see me recklessly endangering the lives of the children in this car.”

I’ll always be more inclined to express leniency towards people found guilty of fist-to-face murder or serious assault than towards a single one of those blase, bumper-riding sons of bitches. The only time it’s ever permissible to tailgate is when you’re a cop trying to force a fleeing lunatic off the road. At all other times: don’t.

You tailgaters can bite me.

PS: Tailgating is a crime of which I’m sure I was occasionally guilty in my impetuous, arse-headed youth, and so, in the interests of spreading my disapprobation evenly, rest assured that I’m retrospectively cunting myself.

Want to read more motoring-based anger? Click here for a mild rant on Parent and Child parking spaces.

The Muppets and Beyond: The infuriating ways our kids absorb TV

When I was a toddler my mum said the only thing guaranteed to bring me – and by extension her – a modicum of peace was The Muppet Show. For half an hour each week, the Muppets and their unique brand of noisy, vaudevillian anarchy turned my eyes into swirling portals of obedience.

When my son Jack came along I wanted to forge a common tie between our childhoods. With that goal in mind I set about Muppetifying his existence with the fiery-eyed zeal of a bat-shit Baptist preacher. I was a maniacal man of the cloth, a felt-obsessed fundamentalist with a Henson-sent mission to introduce our son to the all-consuming love of frog almighty.

Muppet DVDs flooded into our flat, all manner of movies and TV specials. Manah Manah became the official nonsensical anthem of our little kingdom of three. As Jack grew older, and gained the ability to toddle and teeter, the Muppet Show’s theme song became a siren’s call, a piece of music with the power to draw him from wherever he happened to be in the house straight to the feet of the TV, where he’d stand bent-kneed and bopping, beaming with born-again-glee and clapping his hands.

It was around this time that his maternal grandmother bought him a Gonzo stuffed toy, which instantly became an extension of his little hand. Jack guarded it like a junk-yard dog, not permitting even so much as a brief separation to allow his mummy to wash the grimy, big-snootered blighter. Piggy, Kermit, Animal and Fozzy soon followed, forming a full Muppet menagerie, but Gonzo steadfastly remained his favourite. He had a book chronicling all of the Muppets from the 1950s to present day, and he could identify the vast majority of them if you said their name.

I bought the Muppet Movie sound-track on CD so we could listen to the gang during car journeys. If ever wee Jack was grumpy and tired, even wailing and screaming from his car seat, it only ever took a few strums of Kermit’s banjo (careful, there) to snap him into contented silence. I swear that the Rainbow Connection was like a dose of aural ketamine.

I’d often sit next to Jack in his room bringing his Muppets to life: doing the voices, making them interact with him. This proved so popular that he’d frequently insist, on pain of tantrum, that those five fellows accompany us everywhere we went in the house, narrating everything as they went. My throat started to feel like a cat’s scratching post. It got to the point where I couldn’t even make a cup of tea without having to engineer a squabble between Piggy and Kermit, or make Gonzo do a death-defying leap from the top of the biscuit cupboard, Jack standing there silently scrutinising the performance, ready to chime in with a Waldorf and Statler-style putdown should things take a dip in quality. I was eventually held so thoroughly hostage by my kid’s imagination that I feared I wouldn’t even be able to go for a shit without Kermit announcing it as an act.


Jack’s mum hated The Muppets. Not straight away, but familiarity very quickly bred contempt. What was nirvana for our son for her felt like being Guantanamoed inside a giant clockwork orange. “You did this to us,” her haunted eyes seemed to say each time they met mine. “You’re the reason that I have to watch puppet pigs singing Copa Cabana eighty times a day, you bastard.” It wasn’t long before she was pig-sick of Miss Piggy, couldn’t bear Fozzy bear, wanted Beaker to beat it, Gonzo to begone, Scooter to scoot, and Kermit to fuck off.

She soon got her wish.

Jack began to refuse or reject items from The Muppets’ TV canon time and again to the point where I stopped offering them as an option. They receded from his day-to-day life, and then started to fade from his memory. Eventually, if the muppets appeared incidentally on some random TV show, or he caught sight of them in a book or magazine, he’d narrow his eyes and scrunch his face up, in the manner of a middle-aged man passing someone on the street they thought they kind of half-remembered from their school days. “Muzzy… Gruzzy… em… Fruzzy! That was his name. Fruzzy Hair. I think he used to sit behind me in English class.”

I’d like to think that in the months and years that followed the waning of Jack’s love for the muppets – as his obsessions evolved and expanded – that his mum actually came to retrospectively appreciate those felty little fuckers, and even kind of miss them. After all, if you’re going to be forced to watch something over and over and over and over again, ad infinitum, then you at least want that something to provide a dung-tonne of variety. And you can’t get much more varied or multifarious than a TV and cinema universe with so many crazy creatures that it makes Game of Thrones look like a two-character Alan Bennett play.

Still. Toy Story was Jack’s next great love. His mum was happier with this. Great movies, right? All three of them. Brilliant movies. You ever watched three movies twenty-five-thousand times? I don’t care if those three movies are home-movies of your own kids being born. After a few consecutive cycles you’re going to be reaching for the baby thermometer and stabbing your eyes out with it. “There’s a snake in my boots! Yes indeed there is. I’m going to use it to fucking strangle myself!”

A little bit of desperate IMDBing heralded the happy news that there were three five-minute shorts and two half-hour specials featuring Bonnie’s (nee Andy’s) gang that we could add into the movie rotation, but even then the novelty quickly wore off (although that scene in the Halloween special where the Pez dispenser pukes in disgust at the sight of the iguana boaking up a toy arm makes me laugh every single time). I even considered sending Disney a begging letter. “Please, please, please, please, for the love of God, hurry up and make Toy Story 4 so we can have one day, JUST ONE DAY, of watching those son-of-a-bitch toys doing something unexpected.”

If you’ve got, or ever had, young kids you’ll know how futile it is to try to counteract their brief but all-consuming obsessions.

“What do you want to watch today? Postman Pat, Ice Age, Count Duckula?”

“Woody and Buzz.”

“Madagascar 1, Madagascar 2, Madagasca…?”

“Woody and Buzz.”

“Oooh, how about How to Train Your Dragon?”

“Woody and Buzz.”

“I’ll give you a million pounds to watch nothing.”

“Woody and Buzz.”

… “The Muppets???”

The worst was yet to come. YouTube is both a blessing and a curse. I credit it with teaching Jack the alphabet – or at least expanding, reinforcing and cementing what his mum and I taught him – and making him more proficient with numbers, but there was a time when he fell in love with a series of videos by a kids’ content-provider called Chu Chu. As in, “I think I’d rather Chu Chu my own arm off than watch another second of these asshole videos.”

Chu Chu is an Indian company that produces Pigeon-Street-style animations of cherubic, rosy-cheeked white kids singing in stilted, weirdly-emphasised English with an Indian twang. Jack watched it so much I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d gone to school sounding like Apu from The Simpsons. Chu Chu bring all of your favourite nursery rhyme classics back to life, just like this one, you know, the one about your Dad chasing his son through the house in the dead of night because he’s going to eat all of the sugar raw… I mean, what the hell IS this shit?

To be fair to Chu Chu, 18-months to 2 years after Jack’s first exposure to their inimitable brand of transatlantic nursery-rhyme stylings we still sing the Johnny Johnny song, and the semi-bhangra version of ‘No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’ is still our favourite.

While Jack enjoyed a series of micro-obsessions with Thomas the Tank Engine, Puss in Boots, Peppa Pig (that plinky-plonk theme tune is my Manchurian Candidate-style trigger for mass murder), Paw Patrol (one day I will kill you, Rubble, you big jawed arsehole. And why do the people in that town call on dogs for help instead of the fire brigade or the actual bloody police?) and various others, he’s now got a broad and sophisticated palate of televisual tastes. Which is code for ‘we probably let him watch too much television’.

But still no Muppets.

I picked up his little brother Christopher the other day, who’s too young to watch TV but certainly old enough to appreciate its bright and noisy charms.

“I think it’s nearly time we had a chat about the frogs and the pigs, young man.”

The Doctor Falls: A Haunting Look at Love, Loss, Death and Hope

Doctor Who is, and always has been, a family drama, so in theory it should be palatable and accessible to all points of the age spectrum at all times; in practice it’s always oscillated wildly between the worlds of childhood and adulthood. There are some episodes a little too silly or garish for my tastes, but which my son adores. Equally, there are episodes I consider mature, thought-provoking and insightful that my son considers confusing, boring or terrifying, or sometimes all three at once.

The show’s tone can change between and within seasons, and sometimes even within episodes themselves. From its inception the show’s been on a tone rollercoaster: from the stern and semi-educational stylings of William Hartnell’s grandfatherly doctor, to the karate-chop hijinks of Jon Pertwee, to the Mary Whitehouse-bating body horror and gothic grizzliness of Tom Baker’s early years, to the girny slapstick buffoonery  of Sylvester McCoy’s maiden season, to the multi-layered, sometimes senselessly intricate and confusing pseudo-nonsense of Steven Moffat’s stewardship.

Season 10 of Doctor Who (or season 37 if you’re that way inclined), its most recent, has grappled so ferociously and frequently with love, loss and the haunting spectre of death that it’s hard to imagine the gooey cuteness of the Adipose, Pex of Paradise Towers or the farty menace of the Slitheen existing in the same universe. While the show has also never been funnier – the impromptu appearance of the Pope in Bill’s living room being an especial highlight this season – Capaldi’s impending departure has cast a death-shaped shadow over the season that’s introduced a heavy, inescapable note of sadness to the show. If this sounds like a criticism, it most definitely isn’t. The marriage of mirth and melancholy has been a godsend for the show, as has the marriage of Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, who have been uniformly excellent together. And let’s not forget Matt Lucas, who was an incredibly pleasant surprise – almost a revelation – as Nardole.

Steven Moffat is occasionally guilty of over-loading his narrative, throwing more elements and novelties into a story than its structure can bear, until the episode collapses in on itself, or disappears through a wormhole up its own arse. ‘The Doctor Falls’, however, was pretty much perfect in terms of pacing, mood, dialogue, plot, emotion, the loops and links within the double-episode finale and to the series’ own past, and the deft handling of some of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters and villains. The Doctor Falls – haunting and affecting; immersed in hope, horror, sadness and goodbyes, and all draped in the cold white of death – was a fitting swan-song for Bill and Nardole, and a somberly satisfying sort-of send-off for both the twelfth doctor and Steven Moffat himself.

David Tennant’s pre-regenerative parting plea – ‘I don’t want to go’ – is regarded with a sneer by a vocal minority of fans, who consider it a particularly egregious example of Russell T Davies’ over-fondness for schmaltz and sentimentality. The Doctor would never behave like that, they snipe. He never greeted any of his previous regenerations in such a spirit of whiny arrogance before.  It’s not death, just change.

But it is a death. How could it be anything other? When we move towns, countries or houses, when we leave school, get divorced, become parents or start a new job, our changing brains and circles (of both friends and influence) and circumstances and stances and outlooks change so drastically – albeit slowly over time and not finger-click quick like a regeneration – that the new people we become are almost entirely disparate entities, with perhaps only a tangential connection to our ‘true’ or ‘original’ self. We break with our pasts, our youths, our lives, in a dance of perpetual reinvention. Imagine how we would feel if we routinely changed our entire body: face, physiology, biochemistry, height, weight, age (gender?), everything. Who would ‘we’ be?

Moffat managed to make the Doctor’s impending regeneration feel like the most final of goodbyes, despite the fact that we all know it isn’t. His handling of both the Doctor and the Master/Missy really hammered home the point that each new version of these characters is so distinct from the others as to be wholly separate beings. The Twelfth Doctor has moved away from the exquisite alienness of his first few years to embrace a deeply earnest sense of humanity and kindness. Missy found redemption, of sorts, through death at the hands of her previous incarnation. With that in mind, it makes sense to arrive at the conclusion that if Time Lords can counter their core instincts, if regeneration can favour revolution over evolution, then each regeneration is certainly a death. But the final message needn’t be fatalistic. Perhaps the feeling we should take away from the finale is that the power, and hope, of change resides in all of us.

The Doctor Falls lends legitimacy to Tennant’s farewell, and adds a greater poignancy and sadness to Capaldi’s upcoming exit, an exit I’m already very, very sad about. On the strength of this incredible episode (both of its parts) I may even miss Moffat, too.

Jamie’s Digest (2): Cool Bits From Books

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Catholic Tastes

In light of both the ascension of the DUP to the role of king-makers, and Germany’s recent parliamentary vote in favour of legalising gay marriage, I thought the below was exceptionally relevant. It’s an extract from a piece published in a gay newsletter in Southampton the late 1970s by a man named Paul, a volunteer for the Solent Gay switchboard. A copy of the full text (which speaks of his sorrow at the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the country), as well as appearing in the newsletter, was also sent to the Rev. Ian Paisley, Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, a trio he felt had lent credence to those who would level violence and abuse at gay people.

Many heterosexuals like to remark that if everyone were homosexual, the human race would come to an end. (The human race would suffer the same fate if the entire male population became Roman Catholic priests, but God in his infinite and unfailing wisdom ensures that only about 5% of us are homosexual and that even fewer are Roman Catholic priests.) In view of the acknowledged importance of sex in perpetuating the human race, it is strange that there are still those who regard it as something shameful, embarrassing or rather awkwardly special.”

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson (p.347 – 349)

The Bondage of Work

The below extract is for those of us (most of us) who are unlucky enough to work for ‘da man’ in any of his multifarious guises.

Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship. Nowhere else is freedom of speech for the citizens of free societies so curtailed. They can abuse their political leaders in print or on radio, television and the Web as outrageously as they wish, and the secret service will never come for them. They can say that their country’s leader is a lunatic, their police force is composed of sadists and their judiciary is corrupt. Nothing happens, even on those occasions when their allegations are gibberish. The leniency of free societies is only proper. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to spout clap-trap, as regular surfers of the Web know. If employees criticise their employers in public, however, they will face a punishment as hard as a prison sentence, maybe harder: the loss of their career, their pension, and perhaps their means of making a livelihood.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen (p.149)

Mo’ Men, Mo’ Problems

As a humanist an atheist and a secularist (sometimes we all walk into a bar) I’m appalled at the prejudice frequently levelled at my fellow human beings on account of their skin-colour, country of origin or set of beliefs; I’m further appalled by the foreign policy measures and media hyperbole that has inflamed hatred in this country and abroad. However, I’m also appalled at the way in which our freedom to criticise religion, in all of its forms, is slowly being eroded, mostly – it has to be said – through fear: fear of violent reprisals, and also fear of being on the same side of the argument – albeit for vastly different reasons – as the nation’s execrable clan of right-wing racists. That being said, however incompatible I consider organised religion to be with a measured, rational view of the world, and however strongly I may wish mankind to move beyond the infantile and supernatural, it’s always a good idea to seek out differing and (especially) opposing views; to be as well-informed and educated as possible on the history, structure and practice of religions.

Below is an extract about the history of Islam that you may find surprising (or perhaps not).

The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were afforded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at the time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had ong veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny. The Quran makes men and women partners before God, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in the wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treat them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle. They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion , though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.”

Amazon Link: Islam – A Short History by Karen Armstrong (p.14)

Brazil Nut

Nemesis – an account of the rise of an ordinary man in one of Rio’s most infamous favelas and his rise to the rank of don of the criminal under(and over)world – is a wonderful book: fast-paced, exciting, shocking, thoughtful, well-written and meticulously researched.

The extracts below give shape to the idea that tackling poverty and inequality through state and welfare policies/spending is not only an essential component of our common humanity, but also makes sound long-term economic sense. Effective social policies and less poverty equals a society that has greater stability, greater contentment, less crime, less unrest and less violence across the board.

After decades of dictatorship and chaotic transition, renewal and optimism were surging out from the federal capital, Brasilia, towards the furthest reaches of the country’s body politic. Whole regions and classes were reviving after a long period of neglect and deprivation. The sudden arrival of a period of prosperity that saw unemployment fall to record levels and personal spending increase significantly is crucial in explaining why Rio was becoming less violent. Young men in the favelas were turning away from weapons and drugs in favour of education and settled employment.”

While China was lauded for pulling some 100 million citizens out of poverty from the mid 1980s, fewer noticed Brazil’s more monumental achievement flowing from [socially democratic political moves and social policies designed to eradicate the chronic, crushing poverty experienced by a significant proportion of Brazil’s citizens). In Brazil, 30-40 million people managed to cross the poverty line. Given the much smaller population of Brazil, this was an even greater feat than the Sino equivalent.

The consequences of this golden era for Brazil’s political personalities were immense. The primary beneficiaries were the poor, not least those who lived in the favelas of the south. This was especially true of Rochina. Its isolation from other favelas and its now well-established tradition as a large market, both for the residents and for those coming from outside looking for a bargain, enabled it to ride the wave of economic confidence with a swagger. This growth spurt offered alternative employment to its younger men and women, and so the drugs trade became a somewhat less attractive career path.”

What was the biggest obstacle to political reform? Well, surprise, surprise: “The vested interests of Brazil’s powerful, if numerically small, economic elite proved deft in constructing numerous barriers.”

Amazon Link: Nemesis by Mischa Glenny

Read books, motherfuckers. Read books.

WTF #1 – A Cock and Ball Story

I took my almost-three-year-old son to the library a few weeks ago, asked him to flick through the rack and pick one out for us to read. He chose a gentle, harmless, lovely little tale about a… my blood ran cold. “Jack,” I thought to myself, “you appear to have eschewed the ‘children’s’ section in favour of the ‘books about gigantic cocks and bollocks’ section. I scanned through the pages. Originally French, eh? Christ, it had to be.

“Ah, let us raise a glass to arr new friend, who een no way looks like a reedeeculous beeg cock and balls.”

Barbapapa is a children’s book about a band of French folk and their good pal Billy Big Baws the Walk-n-Talk Cock. I would’ve made allowances for taste and decency had this been a cautionary tale about the dangers of intra-organal friendships or a warning about the dangers posed by male genitalia (especially the mutant variety), but a cursory examination of the text revealed that not a single human character in that story was moved to scream: “SACRE BLEU, WHYYY ARE WE WALKING DOWN ZE STREET WEETH THEES ENORMOUS NUTSACK, INSTEAD OF RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES’?” This book was unashamedly pro-baws.

I don’t know exactly what the hell is going on here, but I’m on the phone to le social services.

I’ve scoured the internet, too, and all I’ve found is a handful of people all reminiscing fondly about this book. Not one of them has pointed out the striking resemblance Barbapapa bears to a bouncy big boaby. It would be like us picking up a copy of Spot and discovering that the dog we loved as a child was actually a four-legged, hairy vagina.

“Fire! Fire! Queek, call ze fire brigade!” “Are you mad? Thees ees clearly a job for a giant spurting cock!” One wee guy’s even rubbing Barbapapa’s dirty blow-hole, for heaven’s sake!

CASE CLOSED

BARBAPAPA? BARBABIGCOCKANDBALLS, MORE LIKE!

General Election 2017: Use your vote, but use it wisely

In the run-up to the council elections earlier this year Ruth Davidson posed on a mobility scooter, presumably as part of her campaign to raise awareness about how underdeveloped the Tory party’s sense of irony is. Really, Ruth? That’s like Thatcher trying to win over the working class by posing for the 1985 Socialist Worker’s calendar, lounging across a pit entrance, and naked except for a miner’s helmet and a puff of coal-dust on each cheek.

The Tory party – in both Westminster and Holyrood – is working hard to channel the spirit of an apparently remorseful abusive partner, swearing with all of its might that ‘this time things will be different’.  In the grip of delusional desperation in Scotland – and owing to a sense of sinister, Voldermortian assurance in England – the Tories are busy positioning themselves as the party of the disabled, the disenfranchised, the poor, the NHS, the working man. ‘I’ve changed, honestly I have, you’ll see, I love you, I don’t want to lose you. I promise that this time I won’t beat the absolute fuck out of you, and then cheat on you with the posh bit of stuff up the street.’

I can understand why the guy with the monocle from Monopoly would vote Conservative, but why has the party enjoyed such an upsurge in popularity among the working class? Why are people who rely upon the NHS, a healthy welfare state and a large swathe of well-funded, publicly-run services (particularly in the care sector) essentially voting for their own destruction by embracing a party that is, at root, ideologically opposed to all of these things?

Our predominantly right-wing media is partly responsible for this state of affairs, of course, that steady drip-feed of lies, hysteria and manipulation masquerading as news and comment. Look on in envy, Kaiser Soze, because yours is no longer the greatest trick ever pulled, son: tabloid newspapers are owned by billionaires and staffed by middle-class urban professionals, but somehow the working class is convinced that they speak for them. This same mentality runs rampant in America, as evidenced by its people hailing a heartless, ruthless billionaire, who built his billions on the broken backs of millions, as a man of the people (It’s not even clear that Donald Trump is a person, much less a man).

It also seems to me that the thunderous orchestra of social and political issues that makes up the soundtrack to our dizzyingly complex and hectic lives has been reduced to one single, deafening scream: BLOODY FOREIGNERS! “I don’t want these bloody Poles and P***s using our bloody NHS!” Well, take heart, my frightened, reactionary friend. You keep voting like this and the NHS won’t exist anyway. Who knows, maybe that’s been the agenda/evil plan all along.

As a little aside, it also amazes me that most of the British nationalists and unionists I’ve encountered – the ones with streaks of racism in them so prominent they’re actually visible from space – have also been, almost unfailingly, great admirers of the Queen.

“LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!” “FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY!” “I BLOODY LOVE THAT WOMAN!” Ah, a violent, semi-literate alcoholic skinhead with a hair-trigger temper. I’m sure the Queen will be inviting you round to the palace for tea and cucumber sandwiches any day now. Again, she’s a billionaire who sits on a throne and wears a crown. I don’t know what part of that makes Davey from Possil imagine that their love and respect is somehow mutual. The Queen probably wouldn’t piss on most of us if we were on fire.

Our charred corpses, on the other hand…

“Well,” people in Scotland might say, “I need to vote Tory to keep that wee dwarf Sturgeon out. She only cares about making Scotland independent!”

It seems a bit churlish to lambast the leader of what is ultimately the ‘We’re Committed to this Very Specific Thing’ Party for being committed to a very specific thing. Spoiler alert: yes, the SNP is pretty keen on Scottish independence, primarily because it’s our last, best hope to conduct and manage our affairs in line with our political, economic and social needs and aspirations. But the SNP isn’t a one-trick pony. Its manifesto also embraces civicism with a heavy smattering of socialism, something most people would know if they ever had occasion to hear Nicola Sturgeon talk without some arsehole shouting ‘BUT WHAT ABOUT INDEPENDENCE, DWARF?!’ at her every three seconds (I don’t think poor Nicola finish her breakfast without somebody asking her if she intends to grant self-determination to her cornflakes).

Do you really want to vote for Theresa May: a wobble-voiced Thatcher-lite who looks like she’s trying to regurgitate an albatross each time she laughs? Or Ruth Davidson, a passionless politician with the soul of a middle-manager?

The old saying goes that the longer we live the more right-wing our views become: we start off as idealists, and crusaders for justice, but evolve into bitter, jaded cynics as we come to the painful realisation that the world is a great, immutable sink-hole of unfairness, indifference and cruelty (In fact, wait, isn’t that actually a line from the Tory manifesto?).

So if a leftist is capable of transitioning from left to right, then what the hell kind of moral journey does a Tory undertake as he or she advances into their twilight years? How much more ‘right’ can ‘right’ get?

Do you really want to find out?

England: vote for Corbyn, come what May.

Scotland: Be Ruthless.

**Hey, wait a minute. It’s finished? But what about Scottish Labour? Well, exactly.

F*** The Walking Dead Season 3: The Return of the Un-Fun-Dead

How can I describe Fear The Walking Dead for the benefit of those who haven’t yet sampled its delights? Here goes.

Imagine writing a list of all the things you love about The Walking Dead. Now imagine pulling your pants down and taking a long, slimy shit all over that list, working and twisting your hips so you actually spell the word ‘shit’ with your own shit as you shit it out, like piping the icing on the world’s most abominable cake. Imagine stomping your bare feet into all that shit, really spreading and squishing it around, and then getting a lamb to lick the mess from between your toes.

Well, I’d rather watch you do that than watch another season of Fear The Walking Dead.

So I guess that makes me a sicko as well as both an unhinged completist and a self-flagellating masochist, because I am going to watch another season of Fear The Walking Dead. Why don’t you join me? Or jump back in? Catch up. Take the plunge. Misery likes company, after all.

Here’s a re-cap of the action so far, presented in the sort-of style of a sort-of recipe.

Ingredients you’ll need to make:

A series which purports to show the fall of civilisation

The fall of civilisation (4 episodes)

Getting to a boat (2 episodes)

Being on a boat (4 episodes)

I wish that they were still on that boat (3 episodes)

What happened to that boat anyway? (2 episodes)

A hotel? A Mexican death cult? This could get interesting (4 episodes)

I was promised way more boat than this (2 episodes)

I suppose Fear The Walking Dead itself is a little bit like a boat, a broken boat; cast adrift on a rolling sea of plot as the tides of tired tropes and waves of cringe-worthy contrivances hurl and tug it hither and thither. It’s doomed to sail on uncertainly and aimlessly, at least until the day it’s dashed on the rocks of viewer apathy.

Despite garnering higher ratings than Better Call Saul (What the hell is wrong with Americans? No wonder you voted for Trump!) that day surely can’t be too far away. The only thing stopping me from jumping overboard with this show – “ABANDON SHIT!” – is the faint, infinitesimally small glimmer of hope that things might get better; that I might actually start to care about the characters.

Earlier this year The Walking Dead – FTWD’s zombie daddy – wrapped up what was arguably its weakest season yet. Even in its better days The Walking Dead was never likely to earn itself a place in Television Valhalla, standing shoulder to shoulder with the mighty classics of our age. It’s often clunky, schmaltzy and over-padded. Who cares though, right? Not every painter can be Van Gogh. Not every TV show can be Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or Rectify. But at least The Walking Dead is capable of turning out exciting, haunting, affecting and powerful episodes, and I actually care about most of its characters. Especially Carol. And except for Carl.

Fear The Walking Dead, on the other hand, is objectively – on the evidence of its episodes to date – a bad show, as I’m sure the subtle analogy I deployed at the beginning of this piece, involving lambs and human feces, made clear. The tag-line for Fear the Walking Dead’s upcoming season might as well be: “YOU ACTUALLY THINK THIS SHIT’S GOING TO GET BETTER, DON’T YOU?”

I hope it gets a lot better. I really do… Or at least marginally better.

Anyway, here’s a re-cap of the characters:

Madison Clark

Hi. I’m Madison. I’m an archetypal strong female character in the kick-ass-mom mould. Good, right? Well, no, because I’m poorly written and portrayed as if I’m a Vulcan at a funeral, walking around with a jaw like a steel-trap, frowning and moaning the whole time. Seriously, I’m so unlikeable I can’t even stand myself. I was in Deadwood. Remember that? Man, that was a good show. And now I’m in Un-Deadwood. Fuck. I wish I’d taken that part in The Strain. At least I’m not a total pussy like my boyfriend… whatever this name is.

Travis… thingy. Or am I?

Hi, I’m Travis. Or am I Curtis? I think I’m Curtis. Am I? Or is that the name of my actor? One’s Travis, the other’s Curtis. No, I’m Travis. I am Travis, definitely. Or am I Curtis? Fuck, is my name Cliff? Christ, I’m so boring and devoid of a concrete identity it’s no wonder I’ve no idea who I am. Dull, dull, dull. I’m desperately trying to survive a fledgling apocalypse here: how the Hell do I manage to be so utterly boring in the process? I just mope around all day looking like Tully from Sesame Street, and pissing on people’s parades. But don’t worry. I beat two punks to death at the end of last season. That was a wee bit interesting and people seemed to dig it, so they’re going to ‘Rick’ me up for season three. WE’RE GOING OVER THE CLIFF EDGE, BABY! Hmmm. That doesn’t work if my name’s not Cliff though. Travis… Travis… Travis… A-HA! WHY DOES IT ALWAYS BRAIN ON ME?!

Or am I Curtis?

Alicia Clark

Hi there, (bats eyelashes) boys are like soooo gross, shutup I love boys, oh God I love my iPod, but oh God I’d die for my boyfriend, he’s like my bff, oh my God, gross that is like SO unfair, oh my God I hate you guys, I’m such a girl, I’m so ditzy, oh I’m on a boat, OMG, boys, I can talk to boys out here, uh-oh I almost got us all killed, FML, I wish I wasn’t so naïve and blindly trusting and … (CHUNG CHICK) Hi there, that was the sound of me loading a fresh cartridge into my shotgun, that’s the kind of thing I do now, because I’ve just inexplicably woken up in possession of the wise, noble soul and tactical combat knowledge of a 900-year-old warrior-general, and the inner-calm of a Lara Croft android. I’ve gone from ‘Damn, she MOAN’ to ‘Michonne. DAMN’ in less time than it takes a man to check IMDB to see if I’m safe to wank over.

Nick Clark

OK, let’s get all of the Johnny Depp and heroin addict gags out of the way first, shall we? What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Zombies, that’s what! I’ll also give you Edward Needle-hands, Willy Wonky and Crack Sparrow. There. All out of your system now. Hi, I’m Nick. I worked out how to walk safely through hordes of zombies pretty early on in the apocalypse. You just smear yourself with zombie guts. I tend to do it every single time I’m out amongst the zombies, because I quite like being alive, unlike those fucking idiots on The Walking Dead. Anyway, give or take my recent spell in a Mexican death cult, I’m probably the best character on the show, which is a bit like being awarded best in show at Crufts when you aren’t actually a dog. Or maybe it isn’t. I’ve taken a lot of heroin.

Victor Strand

I’m mysterious. Christ, I’m mysterious. Look at me lounging against the bars of this cage in my dapper clothes, offering gruff nuggets of cod-philosophy and intrigue to my jonesing new friend, Nick. It’s like my old dad used to say: if you find yourself imprisoned under martial law during a zombie apocalypse, make sure you’ve got a junkie as your right hand man. Junkies are indispensable survivalists, and not a liability at all; everybody knows that. I’m Strand, by the way. Or am I? Who am I? Who are you? Who’s Abigail? Ah, forgive the mystery, it’s my boat, you see. And I’m going somewhere. Where? Well, aren’t we all going somewhere? Christ, there’s that mystery again. I’m also dangerous. Did I mention that? Can’t you see it? Dapper and dangerous. Positively stranger-ous. I’ll cut you and you won’t even know you’ve been cut. I’ll cut the rope on your dinghy. I’ll shoot you. I’M IN LOVE WITH DOUGRAY SCOTT. He was great in Love Actually. He wasn’t in it? Well, what was the one… Kathy Burke was in it. He had the long hair and that? Anyway, I love him, and we’re all going to Mexico so we can… Oh. He’s dead. Fuck. Erm… eh. Yeah. (sigh) I’m boring now.

Chris Manawa

Hi, I’m Chris, which is short for ‘Christ, I’m an awful character.’ Remember how you thought Carl Grimes was the most awful boy in existence? Well allow me to introduce you (points at self) to this cunt.

You watched me at the end of last season and thought to yourself, ‘Oh, thank goodness he’s dead, I hate that fucking guy’, and then when the guy who plays me appeared in Agents of SHIELD – as Ghostrider’s brother – you thought, ‘Phew, well that seals it then, he’s absolutely, definitely, incontrovertibly dead,’ and then the character was only in the show for about three episodes, and you thought, ‘Oh, fuck, maybe Chris ISN’T dead’. And then you couldn’t quite remember if my death had only been hinted at or if it had been shown on screen, and you thought to yourself, ‘Actually, now I’m thinking Curtis killed him… or did Curtis kill the guys who killed him? Wait, is it Travis or Curtis… but… shit, I can’t remember’, and then you didn’t even care enough to Google it.

Oh, and Ofelia, too. I guess she’s a thing?

F*** the Walking Dead returns to US screens on Sunday 4th June with a host of new characters, and hopefully the tragic death of a few old ones.

Scotland’s Hot-Spots and Pot-Holes: A Wee Tour

What self-respecting whistle-stop tour of Scotland could begin with anything other than a picture of the Bronx?

It pretty much goes without saying – except for the fact that I’m currently saying it – that we’re all different. People are different; places are different. People are different because of places, and places are different because of people. Some places are good, some places are bad; some are happy, some are sad; some are absolutely beautiful, some are Kilmarnock. Vive la difference! Taking a stroll through the posher portions of Corstorphine doesn’t feel quite the same as a wee jog through the Bronx, for the simple reason that there are far, far fewer cunts in the Bronx.

You needn’t travel half-way around the world to see such stark contrasts between places. Look in the next city over, or the next town, or the next street. Small steps can reveal seismic shifts in mood, architecture, diversity and affluence.

Case in point. Grangemouth and Bridge of Allan. Two towns nary twenty miles apart, but strikingly different, I’m sure we’ll all agree. I live in the former, and couldn’t afford a house in the latter even if Bridge of Allan were to be razed to cinders by a 700-megaton nuclear strike.

Yes, Mr Andrew, I can see that this property’s caught your eye. At offers over £500,000, this cosy impact crater filled with thousands of irradiated skulls is something of a steal. A lot of people would give their eye-teeth to live here and, believe me, thanks to the fallout, a lot of people now literally have them.”

Grangemouth at night: Bladerunner meets Dante’s Inferno, via The Wire

Grangemouth is famous for sky-cancer, violence, drugs, drinking, destitution, pollution, prostitution, deprivation, and Kay Adams. Bridge of Allan is famous for being twinned with ‘Raised Walkway of Colin’, New Hampshire, USA.

Grangemouth’s town centre comprises mainly fast-food outlets and betting shops. Bridge of Allan’s high street boasts a rich blend of bespoke brands, shops and outlets, that only a cousin of the queen could afford to shop in. Both of the towns have charity shops. There’s a slight difference in number. Bridge of Allan has one; Grangemouth has 19,658. Each and every one of Grangemouth’s charity shops smells like the soup-splattered bloomers of an incontinent octogenarian grandmother (‘Today’s special is broccoli soup with a soupcon of piss”); they sell things like nicotine-stained doillies; microwave instruction manuals from 1983 (that have all been vandalised with crayon-drawn pictures of penises); and MC Hammer albums on cassette (that somebody’s taped over with the game ‘Horace Goes Skiing’ for the ZX Spectrum).

Bridge of Allan’s charity shop, on the other hand, is actually a boutique, darling. It’s called ‘Mrs Periwinkle’s Benevolence-themed Haberdashery for Those of High Breeding’, and it sells pre-loved harps and tiaras made from unicorn teeth.

There’s the bridge. Allan’s just behind that tree. No, not that tree, the one next to it.

Just in case you’re not getting the picture here, I’d like to draw your attention to Bridge of Allan’s chip shop, which has a sign in the window declaring it ‘Gluten Free’. Not even kicks to the head are gluten-free in Grangemouth. Last time I was in Bridge of Allan, I found  only one example of street-littering. The litter? A handful of mussel shells. Bridge of Allan couldn’t be any more genteel and middle-class if somebody knitted it a giant Pringle sweater, and drove it away in a fucking Volvo. Even the graffiti on the bus shelter is in Latin (I believe the bus shelter’s just been purchased for £500k by a Saudi sheik).

Still, one man’s palace is another man’s hovel. People from Dollar and Dunblane think of Bridge of Allan’s residents as ‘schemies’.

“Well, McKenzie, I heard that in Bridge of Allan they drive their children to cello recital… (whispers) in BMWs.”

“Oh, Florence, those fucking savages.”

Linlithgow: a traffic jam with some bunting.

Just along the road from Grangemouth is the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow. It’s a town that’s steeped in history, prestige and affluence, sure, but it’s also a town that is, paradoxically, something of a shite-hole. Linlithgow’s worst feature is the architectural atrocity known as The Vennel, a retail and housing development that I guess developers and council officials fifty-plus years ago thought would give a modern, even futuristic, sheen to the town, but which now, in the cold light of day, makes it look like the 1960s have thrown up over the 1750s. The single road that cuts through the middle of Linlithgow’s high-end high-street is permanently clogged with traffic, which makes a trip through the town feel like being stuck behind the funeral procession of the person you hated most in the world whilst running late for the first day in your new job as a ‘Punctuality Co-ordinator’ for Linlithgow Council.

The name Linlithgow means ‘place in the lake by the damp hollow.’ Historians believe that the ‘damp hollow’ being referred to here is Bo’ness, a town that was built to serve as Mary Queen of Scots’ toilet. Bo’ness is in the process of being regenerated, but, regrettably, it’s being regenerated into Colin Baker. To be fair to Bo’ness, despite the fact that its town centre has all the vibrancy and razzmatazz of 1930s Albania, and its annual children’s festival is an alcoholic apocalypse, Bo’ness is actually a perfectly fine place to find oneself (as long as you don’t use words like ‘oneself’ in the open, or they’ll kill you). It will probably never find its name included in Scotland’s unofficial roster of shame, alongside less-than-salubrious towns such as Methil, New Cumnock, Cumbernauld, parts of Paisley and, of course,…  

Cowdenbeath’s hottest tourist attraction

Cowdenbeath? Cowdenbeath? What sort of a name is Cowdenbeath? It sounds like the act of explaining a slaughterhouse to a stupid person.

“Cow… den wheelbarrow?”

“Nope.”

“Cow den horse?”

“Try again.”

“Cow den beef?”

“You got it, smarty-pants!”

On the evidence of my one short trip there, filtered through the focal point of its local Co-op supermarket, Cowdenbeath IS a slaughterhouse; a slaughterhouse of the soul. It’s Slaughterhouse 1, 2, 3, 4 AND 5. Take the ‘laughter’ out of the ‘slaughterhouse’, and what are you left with? S-house. And that’s short for shit-house. Cow-incidence? I think not. Walking through the Cowdenbeath Co-op was like walking through the final level of a zombie FPS. Driving down its high street led me to believe that someone, somewhere is making an awful lot of money from the sale of plywood window-boards.

Still. There are worse places…

Imagine if Irvine Welsh made a film set amongst the Orcs of Tolkein’s Middle Earth, starring Jeremy Kyle as himself. You’ve just imagined Alloa. The tagline of Clackmannanshire, the town’s parent district, is ‘More Than You Imagine’; Alloa’s tagline is ‘It Really Is Just As Shit As It Looks, I’m Afraid.’ In fact, it’s even shitter than it looks. The bleakness and hopelessness of the place is somehow bigger on the inside, and the deeper you plod towards its centre, the more pronounced the effects become, like some haunted TARDIS controlled by the ghosts of Nazis. God seems to have taken great care when creating most of the places on earth; when he made Alloa he just poured a bucket of tattoos and limps over Central Scotland. I’ve never been so depressed and afraid walking through a town, and I’m from Grangemouth, remember? The last – and only time – I visited I took my son to a Manhattan-themed cafe for lunch. The Manhattan theme was an ill-fit, like lingerie on a corpse. If it resembled Manhattan at all, it was a Manhattan that King Kong had thumped and shat over. 

That’s not Alloa’s only incongruous (or Kingkonggruous, if you like) association. I find it cruel indeed that Alloa’s name is only one altered emphasis away from being a Hawaiian greeting, when Alloa is to Hawaii what Donald Trump’s ballsack is to … well, Hawaii. The impression conjured by that assocation with the South Pacific makes Alloa seem even worse by comparison. If you do receive a garland around your neck to mark your arrival in Alloa it’s more likely to be made of a burning tyre than lei. Please feel free to make your own joke about the wisdom of looking for a lei in Alloa.  

Throughout the course of this piece of writing I’ve catalogued a smattering of towns and highlighted some of the differences between them; all filtered, of course, through my own biases and prejudices, and written very much with tongue planted firmly in cheek (except for the bits about each of the towns I’ve mentioned – I meant every word). But do you know who else holds ideas about the differences that exist between places? Who not only knows about these differences, but can quantify them to the billionth decimal place, and will almost certainly use this data to take over the entire universe?

Asda.

That’s right. Asda. If you’re ever on the road and find yourself pin-balling between motorway service stations and retail parks, visit a broad sample of Asdas and have a good look at the things they sell. There are standards and staples, sure, products you’ll find in every Asda up and down the country, but sometimes the goods on the shelves – or the absence of particular goods – can speak volumes about the town in which you find yourself. Sometimes the look and feel of an Asda – the features it has – lets you know just what the retail giant’s evil overlords think of your town, or the town you’re in.    

The picture above is of Asda in Robroyston, and shows the police clearing up after the daily 11:30 murder. This Asda is bigger and boasts more mod-cons than its Grangemouth cousin, but inside it’s a green-and-grey carnival of lumpy people, whose faces have been morphed into masks of despair by the onslaught of life. This Asda makes the one in Grangemouth seem like a Monte Carlo Mardi Gras. Asda Robroyston does special deals on packs of razor blades, spades, body bags, and allows you to buy as much fucking paracetemol as you like.

Never mind the Office of National Statistics. There’s no better way to take the socio-economic pulse of the local area than a stroll through your local Asda. What’s that you’ve picked up there? Ah, a cumin and broccoli risotto sprinkled with shredded hundred-pound notes. I don’t know exactly where you are, but it’s probably not Fauldhouse, right? Have a look around the George department, why don’t you, try on some of the clothes. Are you wearing a £1.99 T-shirt with a picture of Tweety Pie on it, and cow-print leggings? Goooooooooood morning, Cambuslang!    

A trip round Asda in Bearsden will make you feel like a pauper, even if you’re a chartered accountant from Queensferry called Gerald. The place is big, and fresh, and clean. The cafe has mood lighting, for Christ’s sake. It looks like a trendy Scandinavian vodka bar. The check-out staff are all part-time astrophysicists. The people who shop there are unfailingly beautiful, and those who aren’t are at least immaculately turned out. No small wonder, since the clothes on sale in the George department wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Milan.

See below for a picture of Asda Bearsden.

Asda Bearsden

These big supermarkets hold data that could swing elections, and help governments address such over-arching global and societal problems as inequality, poverty and hunger. That they use their power to sell me £3 jeans and Pepperamis is almost unconscionable. Anyway, I can’t hang around here all day.

I’m off to Asda in Ayr to get myself a chocolate-flavoured brick of lard sandwich and a sub-machine gun.

Jamie’s Digest (1): Cool Bits from Books

I’d like to share with you a few passages I’ve stumbled across in books I’ve been reading recently that have struck a powerful chord with me, variously for reasons of eloquence, prescience, insight or good old-fashioned entertainment value.

To kick things off, here’s an excerpt about Donald Trump that sums him up succinctly and powerfully, and echoes the way many millions around the world feel about his rise to political power:

“He was slowly turning the country into a videocracy, a land where one person could spread disinformation and lies to millions of passive spectators who were hypnotised by the flashy, false glamour of television. Every month there seemed to be a new scandal, but nothing could bring him down: not the stories of bribery or of prostitution, not the gaffes or toe-curling vulgarity for which he was famous. There was no depth to which he wouldn’t sink. But none of it made any difference: he was ferociously defended by his mediocre political allies and by his hirelings in the media… There wasn’t a trace of statesmanship or gravitas; there wasn’t a hint of honesty or dignity. It drove me nuts and, having done my bit to warn of the danger by writing a book about him, I now yearned to go home.”

Neat, right? Except what you’ve just read wasn’t about Donald Trump at all, but Silvio Berlusconi. I guess history doesn’t always have to wait half a century or so before repeating itself.

That damning summation of Berlusconi was taken from Blood on the Altar: The True Story of an Italian Serial Killer by Tobias Jones, a book I’d heartily recommend, whether you have a predilection for serial killers, travel writing or both (imagine if there was a more literal mash-up of that sub-genre : Route 66 With a Busted Wing by Theodore Bundy; Yorkshire: From Dusk till Dawn by Peter Sutcliffe; Eastbourne Uncovered by  Harold Shipman).

Sometimes Jones can ramble a teensy bit too far off the beaten (to death) track, but his affection for and empathy with the bereaved family, his thirst for justice, and his passion for Italy in general and the Basilicata region in particular (not to mention his deep knowledge of the region’s culture and history) all work in concert to make Blood on the Altar a well-researched, gripping, gruesome, grizzly and (mostly) fluid piece of work.

Amazon link: Blood on the Altar

The [redacted] [redacted] [redacted] of [redacted] [redacted] on [redacted]

The following excerpt is taken from You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen, a book of striking relevance to this new age of offence in which we now live. Cohen is an author whose style and literary substance I admire greatly; that he was a contemporary and devotee of Christopher Hitchens – my oratorical and journalistic hero – only serves to amplify the keen respect I already hold for him. I think this book – while some may criticise it for occasionally stating the obvious, or preaching to the converted – is an incredibly lucid, important and necessary piece of work, and should be read by absolutely everyone (while they’re still lucky enough to enjoy the comparative freedom to do so).

“The faster you strip cultures down, the more you find contrariness and disputation, rather than a solid core, until eventually you reach the individual, a mammal shaped by evolution, material needs, cognitive biases and historical circumstances no doubt, but still a creature with a better right to state his opinions than kings and clerics have to silence them.

The faster you strip down the respectful arguments for religious censorship , the more you see the nation, tribe or community splintering, until you are left with one group of individuals with coercive power behind them demanding the right to censor another group of individuals because they disagree with them.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book

This book is pants – and I mean that as a compliment

I can’t resist buying books for our eldest son, Jack. I’m an avid reader (as is his mum), and a very vocal champion of the benefits and rewards of reading; as such, it’s a delight to see Jack so enthusiastic about and captivated by reading. Books are great for the burgeoning intellect, and even better for the imagination. It’s a constant source of joy and puzzlement to me that there are so many hidden gems and incredible bargains to be picked up in charity shops: as a hoarder, especially of books, I can’t understand why anyone would want to throw one away, much less a classic.

I picked up a special edition of the second book in the Captain Underpants’ series (all books in the series are written and illustrated by American author Dav Pilkey) during one of my recent charity shop forages. I had no idea there was a series, much less that I’d picked up book two of twelve. My son loved the book so much that my partner ordered him the full ten-book box set online (we had no idea there were actually twelve books in the series at that point).

The Captain Underpants books is intended for slightly older kids than my (almost) three-year-old, but because each volume is packed with good-natured naughtiness, inspired nonsense, mind-bending baddies, oodles of toilet humour, mini comic strips, and features an engaging illustration on every page, they’re more than able to maintain his interest, excite his imagination, make him laugh, and leave him longing for more.

I’ve only just discovered that a Captain Underpants movie is on general release this summer. It’ll be interesting to see my son’s reaction to his beloved heroes talking with American accents, given that I’ve made the three main characters of Principal Krupp, George and Harold sound reminiscent of the headmaster from The Inbetweeners, Louis Theroux and Peter Capaldi respectively.

Anyway, I’m a sucker for alliteration, and if you are too you’ll enjoy the below excerpt from the fifth book in the Captain Underpants series. Oh, and buy your kids – or the small people in your life – these books.

“The creamy candied carrots clobbered the kindergarteners. The fatty fried fish fritters flipped on to the first graders. The sweet-n-sour spaghetti squash splattered the second graders. Three thousand thawing thimbleberries thudded the third graders. Five hundred frosted fudgy fruitcakes flogged the fourth graders. And fifty-five fistfuls of fancy French-fried frankfurters flattened the fifth graders.”

Amazon link: Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman

The Mary Whitehouse Experience

Mary Whitehouse, the woman who spent the latter-half of her life campaigning to stop Great Britain’s religiously-and-politically conservative ‘values’ being warped and eroded by the Godless, licentious, lusty, lefty luvvies, commies, adulterers, swingers, blasphemers and homosexuals of the state-funded BBC (and beyond), died in 2001 at the grand old age of 91. She wanted to clean up TV, and society with it. Spoiler alert: she – and the National Viewers and Listeners Association (NAVLA) lobby-group that she spear-headed – failed miserably. You need only watch The Wire, The Sopranos, Dexter, Cracker, Black Mirror, Queer as Folk, The Inbetweeners, American Horror Story, or indeed most other shows on the schedule barring Songs of Praise, to see the truth of this. This book is a humorous look at some of the real gems from the Mary Whitehouse/NAVLA archive of letters both written and received on subjects as various as the child-traumatising horrors of Doctor Who, pop groups who appear to advocate teenage uprisings, accusing Jimmy Hendrix of having a wank on-stage, and this example below, where a newsreader is taken to task for insinuating he might be about to take a piss. It’s amazing how tame some of the supposed infractions of moral decency that Mary Whitehouse seized upon seem now from our vantage point in modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah (no place I’d rather be). If only Mary Whitehouse could see us now.

“Letter to BBC newsreader Richard Baker

7 May, 1973

Dear Mr. Baker

I am sure I speak for very many people when I say how much your work both as a newsreader and as the compere of ‘These You Have Loved’ is appreciated. It always seems to me, if I may say so, that your work has real quality.

It is because of this that I venture to make two criticisms. The first, and most important, was the remark you made recently at the end of a news bulletin which carried, as its last story, a feature about the antics at the opening of a new lavatory. As you signed off you made some remark about having ‘to go’ yourself. Watching the screen, your own expression of embarrassment led up to the conclusion that these lines had been prepared for you, and were not spontaneous as these final ‘punch lines’ are obviously meant to appear.

Mr. Baker, we have a high regard for you, but remarks of this kind are not only an intrusion into our privacy, they are an intrusion into your own. I feel quite sure, from the impression of your personality which comes over the screen, that you would not normally publicly inform a gathering of your friends that you were going to the lavatory, you would just go!

I have intended writing to you ever since that particular episode, but was moved finally to do so by your remarks about ‘feathered birds’ in ‘These You Have Loved’ on Saturday night. I know this is a small matter, but feel sure that the people who gain so much enjoyment from listening to this programme are unlikely to think of women and girls as ‘birds’. I know we felt irritated by it, and are rapidly coming to the conclusion that there are no programmes which one can watch or listen to without meeting this general cheapening of culture and people.

Could you have a word with the people who prepare your scripts?

With best wishes, and again many thanks for so much.

Yours sincerely,

(Mrs) Mary Whitehouse

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson

Happy reading, folks.