As a very young child, my fear-reflex was helped along by my older cousins, who used to lock me in a room with films like The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist playing through a too-high-to-reach television. It was like being trapped in a PG version of Saw: “Want to play a game? Find a way to reach the VHS player and stop the Poltergeist tape before the clown pops out from under the bed, or be left with life-long phobias and mental instability. You have thirty minutes.” Thankfully, my cousins’ high-jinks didn’t leave me with any lingering psychological scars, else I wouldn’t find myself happily married to the murderous circus clown of my dreams today.
Most of the time, fears fade with age. Or else they go out of fashion, as a whole generation of scare-afficionados is swiftly desensitised to the horror bag-of-tricks employed by its predecessors (for instance, I now realise that the scariest thing about the original Poltergeist wasn’t the clown or the tree, but Tangina herself, the creepy little specster).
I remember watching The Exorcist for the first time with my friend Greig, circa 1996, when I was a lanky, spotty ne’er-do-well of sixteen. it’s fair to say that we were less than terrified. In fact, the movie’s prologue, which focuses on an archaeological dig in Iraq, elicited this classic response from Greig: “It’s like fucking Time Team so far.”
The rest of the movie nudged us between amusement and sheer, skull-splitting boredom. When the little girl pissed herself at the piano recital, we reciprocated by pissing ourselves laughing. By the time she’d went full-demon and stabbed herself in the lady bits with a crucifix, we were hankering after an actual episode of Time Team. This is the movie that had them fleeing from the cinemas in the early 1970s? What a bunch of flare-wearing, lilly-livered shitebags they were back then.
That’s not to suggest that the 70s wasn’t a scary decade. It was (and not just because of its sexually-demonic light-entertainment stars). For evidence of that, look no further than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and its iconic chainsaw-wielding posterboy. Leatherface was portrayed by the masterful, and sadly departed, Icelandic mayhem-maker Gunnar Hansen, his performance arguably setting places at the dinner-table-of-horror for such esteemed future guests as Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers and even Ash from The Evil Dead.
Gunnar, my friend. You scared me well, and you scare me still. Your legacy – despite the usual blight of sequels, prequels and remakes – will endure. So long as human beings possess beating hearts, you’ll be upping their tempos to salsa-techno with your lumbering gait, mask of human skin, roaring chainsaw, and murderously mercurial child-like disposition.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (more on which later) is one of the few horror films that still retains the power to send shivers down my spine, as well as precipitate a wave of cliches whenever I write about it. As a semi-tribute to the late, great Gunnar, I decided to take a journey back through my adrenal gland’s browser history and re-evaluate the fear factor of some of my favourite freaky films. After I’ve done that, I’ll probably have a go at trying to cure my annoying addiction to alliteration.
I first saw The Shining when I was around nine years old. I tagged along with my parents to the home of two of their closest friends, a husband and wife duo who were reasonably devout Christians. I say reasonably devout, because entertaining a bored nine-year-old by slapping on a VHS cassette of a spine-chilling psychological horror featuring madness, domestic violence and elevators of blood, isn’t exactly up there on the top ten list of things Jesus would do.
“Come play with us, Danny. Come play with us forever.” Those words were the mallets that tapped out the tune of fear on the Glockenspiel of my young mind, and they chime with me still. These days, whenever I find myself wandering the corridors of some tacky hotel or guest house that hasn’t bothered to update its décor since 1975, I always expect to turn a corner and find those creepy little twins blocking my way. And ever since The Shining, I still haven’t found the courage to get back on a tricycle. One day at a time, Jamie… one day at a time.
Let’s talk about Room 237, the contents of which played havoc with my psychosexual development. One moment I’m watching a splendidly lithe lady slinking out of a bathtub and giving Jack Nicholson a long, lingering snog, and the next I’m watching Jack getting it on with a half-rotted, cackling old corpse, her green-tinged skin festooned with leaking pores. My poor burgeoning erection – and they were tentative enough in those early exploratory days – wilted like a dying flower. Exposure to The Shining at such an impressionable age forced me to equate lust and arousal with fear and revulsion. Maybe those two Christian friends of my parents knew what they were doing all along, the crafty puritans. The jokes on them, though, because as an adult I’ve never been able to walk past a graveyard without getting a stiffy. (which rather upsets my maniacal-clown wife, but that’s his insecurity, not mine) Take that, God! (PS:I’d really like to get it on record that this is a joke, and your dead have nothing to fear from me)
I recently re-watched The Shining and found that the movie now acts more upon my intellect than my adrenal gland. I still find it a fascinating, atmospheric and haunting film, but any lingering childhood fear has been supplanted by my confusion over what message Kubrick was trying to convey. Is Nicholson’s Jack Torrance viewing the hotel through the prism of his insanity, or is the hotel a malevolent supernatural force that’s driving him to commit heinous acts? And, most importantly of all, why is the hotel closed for the winter when there’s clearly money to be made from ski-tourism?
According to the documentary feature ‘Room 237’, all of that speculation’s just surface gloss, because Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining was really about the massacre of the native American Indians/the faking of the moon landings/the Holocaust/ants working for the CIA/the Queen being a flesh-eating reptilian space-lizard called Keith, and any number of amusingly crazy interpretations.
Muddled, flawed and infuriatingly ambiguous the movie may be, but at least Kubrick’s take on The Shining is powerful, thought-provoking and chilling. Stephen King’s later stab at adapting his own source material was… hmmmm. How can I put this? I won’t even try, because I love Stephen King and I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I’ll let Danny Torrance do the dirty work for me by inviting him to scrawl his verdict on the back of a bathroom door with his mum’s lipstick:
You’re still the King, Stephen, but your Shining was shite.
Dawn of the Dead/28 Weeks Later
I first came across the original Dawn of the Dead when I was about seven or eight. I’d recorded a normal, non-horrifying programme on VHS, which ended, and was followed – after a brief transitional crackle of flickering grey lines – by the first five minutes of Romero’s mall-based masterpiece. On that first viewing I never saw a single zombie or a soupcon of blood, only a fat, bearded man in a TV studio speculating about the cause of the zombie uprising; however, that was more than enough to send a battalion of panic storming through my bowel. I hit ‘STOP’ on the VHS player, and spent the rest of the evening wide awake in bed, pretty much convinced that the broadcast had been real.
Years later, I discovered that the movie wasn’t really scary at all. Or perhaps by that point I’d been desensitised by a steady diet of Freddy Krueger and Pinhead. Whatever the truth, shuffling, grey-faced zombies just weren’t going to cut it. (the opening minutes of the modern remake are scarier than the entirety of the original) Dawn of the Dead is, however, a very good film, and one that has a lot to say about something even more terrifying than zombies: the empty, selfish, consumerist societies we’ve constructed for ourselves; that theme’s only become more relevant as the greed-is-good decades have flown by.
Zombies didn’t terrify me again until 28 Weeks later, when Robert Carlyle’s river-based escape from a legion of fast-moving zombies had my heartbeat thumping in my eye sockets. For me, though, the most chilling part of that movie is the claustrophobic scene where Jeremy Renner and his rag-tag band of refugees find themselves trapped inside a vehicle, encased in a cloud of poisonous fog. They’re forced to watch helplessly as a unit of soldiers slowly and soullessly works its way up the street towards them with flamethrowers – their fates switched from meat at the hands of the infected, to clinical waste at the hands of the government. The horror stems from the scenario’s unsettling plausibility in these post-Katrina times, and especially in the wake of global news reports on the on-going refugee crisis.
PS: I don’t know if I was just tired or super hungover when I watched it, but the fast-moving, spider-jumping zombies in the crappy 2008 ‘Day of the Dead’ remake (the one with Mena Suvari ) freaked me out so much that I had to keep pausing the movie to give my heart a rest.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3
Freddy Krueger is more fondly remembered for his wisecracks than his menace, despite both his genuinely unsettling appearance in the first film and back-to-basics reinvention in the disappointing remake. I do, however, recall being absolutely terrified of him as a child. What could be more jarring to a young mind only recently acquainted with the concept of death than a demon who leaps into the safety of your dreamworld and offs you while you sleep? Scarier still is the thought of this demon stalking you when you’re confined to a mental institution, where the people who might – just might – be able to save you are pre-disposed not to believe a word that comes out of your mouth. Watching as an adult, the Nightmare films make me laugh – especially once Freddy becomes more like a malevolent Dennis the Menace in entries 3 through 6 – but they definitely caused young me a few sleepless nights, Nightmare 3 in particular. The scene where Freddy rips the veins from a boy’s arms and legs and uses them to puppet him through a window to his death still makes my skin crawl.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I first watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a teenager. I remember watching the first five-or-so minutes and being distinctly underwhelmed by its home-movie-esque production values and ropey dialogue. ‘Oh great’, I thought to myself. ‘A bunch of mildly irritating teens in a camper van. This one’s going to go Full Time Team’. I evoked my friend Greig’s trademark antipathy, stared at the screen and riffed a variation on his time-honoured classic: “It’s like fucking Scooby Doo so far.”
And then the gang picked up a disturbed and unpredictable hitch-hiker, and things started to get interesting. Furthermore,the van contained perhaps the most unsympathetic and abrasive disabled character that’s ever been committed to celluloid. This film did a good line in crazy; this film was going to bump off a guy in a wheelchair and make me glad about it. I decided there and then that I liked the cut of this rough, grubby, dirty little flick’s jib.
I expected little more from the movie than the usual bout of teen-dispatching a la every slasher movie I’d yet seen; what I didn’t expect was to find myself enveloped in a blanket of dread come the closing credits. I should’ve known better. This movie is the granddaddy of most modern slasher horror, after all. When I say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is horrible, I mean that as a compliment. It’s horrible in all the right ways: not gratuitously, nihilistically horrible like the Hostel films. There’s next to no blood, and most of the terror is psychological. The horror leaps out from the discordance between the banal and the brutal: ornate furniture crafted from bones, lamp shades made from flayed human skin, a family dinner that’s made all the more gruesome by how ordinary it’s perceived to be by all but one of its participants (here’s a little clue: it’s the non-cannibal).
The violence in the movie – Leatherface’s mallet swiftly thudding down on an unsuspecting victim’s head, a woman thrust onto a hook like livestock awaiting slaughter – is so business-like and empty of human feeling that it’s utterly chilling to behold. In the end, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s amateurish production values and lack of slickness amplify the scares a thousand-fold by making everything seem sickeningly real.
PS: The movie is loosely based on the exploits of real-life, serial-killing cannibal Ed Gein.
PPS: The modern-day remake of the movie is a slick cannibalisation of the original, and it’s … well… how can I put this? Can we bring back Danny Torrance again? Come on, Danny, get your lipstick out, son.
Blair Witch Project/Paranormal Activity
There are no half measures in your response to the Blair Witch Project: your imagination either places you so completely in the shoes of the movie’s characters that you can feel every second of their mounting panic as it builds to a crescendo of terror, or you shrug, roll your eyes and say: “This is crap. It’s just a bunch of middle-class pussies running about in the woods, and then some guy stands in a corner. When’s Time Team on?” (Rule of three: we’ve reached ‘Time Team reference’ saturation point. Henceforth there will be no further nods to that gentle, Tony Robinson-helmed Saturday tea-time larkabout.) (And Danny Torrance is out, too. No, no, stop whinging, Danny. We’re sick of you and your finger-based shenanigans, son. Beat it.)
I had my feet planted very firmly in the former camp. I imagined, I empathised, I shat myself. My susceptibility to the found-footage sub-genre of horror would later leave me at the mercy of Paranormal Activity, a film that somehow managed to sneak past my near-clinical scepticism and deliver a ghostly sucker-punch to my synapses.
I watched Paranormal Activity with friends, and spent the duration of the movie cracking sarcastic jokes about the quality of the acting, and mocking the startled reactions of the female members of the group. Now and again I’d feel a wave of goose-flesh running down my skin, but I put it down to too little sleep or too much coffee. The movie ended, I left the house, got in my car and drove off into the night. Then BLAM.
Gooseflesh claimed every inch of skin. I replayed scenes from the movie in my mind, or rather they replayed themselves in my mind without my consent. I felt like I was starring in every horror movie at once, fully convinced that everything from a vengeful poltergeist to an escaped mental patient was hiding behind my back seat just waiting for the right moment to strike. I couldn’t outrun my fear. It followed me home. I switched on every single light in the house, even in those rooms I had no intention of visiting. A 2am trip to the bathroom was undertaken at Usain Bolt speeds: I moved so fast I could’ve dodged Oscar Pistorius’s bullets.
I was a thirty-year-old man who didn’t believe in ghosts.
I haven’t re-watched Paranormal Activity since, although I have seen Paranormal Activity 2. And it was a steaming pile of scareless shit. Go figure.
Time Team and Beyond
Which films no longer scare you, and which ones still scare the living bejeesus out of you, even as a fully-grown adult? Which films are you ashamed to be afraid of? And which films never scared you in the first place – the films that failed Greig’s crucial ‘Time Time Test’?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or alternatively I could just go fuck myself.
It wasn’t so long ago that bearded British scientist Matt Taylor, who was involved in a mission to land a probe on a comet, had his reputation steam-hammered into the ground thanks to the shirt he was seen wearing in the videos and pictures released from launch control. It was a colourful shirt emblazoned with artsy, cartoonish images of naked and semi-naked women, the sort of attire beloved by big, bespectacled men in IT departments the world over. People went ape-shit. Nobody cared that this man was helping to push the boundaries of human knowledge through the exploration of celestial bodies hundreds of thousands of miles beyond earth’s orbit; they cared that his shirt, when viewed through the Hubble telescopes of their eyes, appeared to be beaming back images from the 1950s. He was hounded on Twitter. ‘You meteor-shite!’ they snarled. ‘You Star Wars wanker, you mother-hating space rapist!’ (All of those tweets were from me, incidentally) Inevitably, he was forced to appear on television weeping with contrition like some errant child, each individual tear-drop containing a micro-world of apologies for everything from the extinction of the dinosaurs to Citizen Khan being recommissioned.
If that’s the world in which we’re living and evidence of the stern standards we wish to uphold, then fine: let that big bastard’s tears fall from his eyes and form a gushing river of change that will sweep our culture’s misogyny out to sea. As long as the rules are consistent, and punishment for dissent is meted out in parcels of equal size, then I don’t have a problem with that. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Before I expand on that, an admission. I’m rather out of touch with the zeitgeist. At home, I only watch TV shows that I’ve specifically sought out on the back of recommendations or internet buzz. I don’t do live TV, so I don’t do soaps, reality TV, talent shows or chat shows. My current in-car CD collection comprises the hits of Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. When I’m not listening to golden oldies, Radio 4 is my station of choice. Whenever I venture from my middle-aged comfort zone by scrolling through the other channels, I inevitably catch a blast of contemporary music and find myself moved to the point of murder by the inane, ear-battering mantras besieging my brain (I felt this way even as a teenager – I think some part of me has always been 35). For the same reason, I don’t do music television. (that, and the fact that I’m unhip as fuck) Which is why it came as something of a culture shock to witness a few hours of MTV whilst babysitting at a friend’s house.
That saucy-shirted scientist with whom I kicked off this article was on the brink of being dragged behind a tractor through a field of AIDS-tinged razor blades for his sexually insensitive taste in clobber, and yet most of today’s male music superstars – especially those performing under the urban banner – seem to have built their careers and fortunes upon singing about overpowering, deceiving or manipulating women both socially and sexually.
In one video, a young gentleman decried women for being materialistic whores, whilst wearing a £10,000 watch. In another video, a trio of gentlemen itemised the things they were gong to do to an unspecified woman’s ass with or without her consent, a grimy and depressing little ditty that had the look and feel of a video manifesto for Rape Club (I know, I know, first rule, we shouldn’t talk about it). In yet another video, a sharply-dressed young gentleman with snakes for limbs spent four minutes calling his girlfriend a slut through the medium of song. And yet these guys, far from being derided on Twitter, are celebrated as heroes. It seems that it’s okay to be a retrograde, chauvinistic thug as long as you sing it and don’t put it on a shirt. Plus, singing about pussy is clearly more important to humanity than landing space probes on a moving comet.
Perhaps Matt Taylor could’ve emerged from the whole fiasco with his dignity intact had he gone on TV and, instead of crying like a big bitch, broken out an angry, sexual rap about the probe mission:
‘You see me comin’, girl, uh,
You see me comin’ through the void of space,
Gonna wreck your place,
Gonna land on you and probe you all up in your face,
Gonna read you girl,
Uh, you need me girl,
Gonna do you hard in full view of the human race.’
And instead of wearing the shirt with the naked ladies on it, he could’ve had actual naked ladies on stage with him, who could’ve rubbed their crotches against his leg as he chucked money at them.
While I’m here taking an angry shit on the modern world, from which I’ve been displaced since birth, what in the name of God’s hefty testicle has happened to dancing? It would appear that the best way to wow a club dance floor in 2015 is to dance like a man with an itchy arse having a stroke on the moon. This stinks, primarily because that awkward, twitchy-legged spasm has always been my signature dance move. How cruel for this style to come into fashion only once I’m an antediluvian irrelevance who isn’t even allowed to dance at family weddings for fear of unleashing a tornado of shame and embarrassment.
I once perpetrated some dance-moves on the packed floor of a night-club in Magaluf circa 1998. My style was described as ‘top-half 90s, bottom-half 70s’. If I tried that now the description would remain the same, although the numbers would refer instead to literal ages rather than stylistic decades of the 20th century.
You’re not required to dance to Radio 4. I think that’s why I like it so much.
PS: I wrote this while wearing a polo-shirt with vaginas all over it. You mean pictures of vaginas, right? Em… yes?
Of … course.
An Airdrie man put his life at risk to bring the hidden dangers of bricks to public attention. Gary Fardarcarson was moved to take action by the horrifying ambivalence of the people in his local community – dubbed the ‘brick-blind’ by Gary – whom he believed were long overdue their first brick-related tragedy.
“I’ve got a lot of time for bricks,” says Gary. “Don’t get me wrong about that. Ask anyone: some of the best times of my life have somehow involved bricks. I really love them. But what you’ve got to understand is that I really love guns and choking people, too, and you’re not going to stand there and tell me that those things are safe. Not if you don’t want choked and shot, you won’t.”
Gary remembers clearly his moment of revelation.
“I was watching these kids playing in this piece of derelict wasteland, and there were bricks. Bricks everywhere. These poor kids were surrounded by them. I started crying, crying so hard I couldn’t see through the telescope anymore.”
“Somebody has to do something, I thought to myself. But what?”
To hammer his message home, Gary spent the next three months eating nothing but bricks. It’s estimated that Gary ate the equivalent of a modest semi-detached ex-council house in Rutherglen. Doctors involved in his case described him as being ’67 per cent more brick than man.’ He was almost sectioned seventeen times, but every time they sent people after him, Gary choked and shot them. Consuming such vast quantities of bricks also put a considerable strain on his health. He suffered six heart attacks. Both of his kidneys failed. He lost all seven of his teeth. And his anus was torn asunder like a horde of hedgehogs kamikaze-ing a lawnmower.
“My mates would joke with me, ‘Is that you having Weet-a-bricks for breakfast, Gary?’ Listen, I was having bricks for breakfast, a brick sandwich for lunch – which is basically just two bricks with another brick in the middle – a light brick snack, maybe some slate or something like that, hot bricks for tea, and a wee daud of clay for supper, change it up, you know, because I couldn’t just eat bricks and nothing but bricks all day; that would be fucking mental. I’d even drink pints of melted bricks.”
Gary is now confined to a wheelchair and shits out of a hole in his thigh, but he’s adamant that it was all worth it. “Noone can say that bricks are safe. And that’s down to me.”
A spokesman for the brick industry reviewed Gary’s data and told us to ‘fuck off’.
Gary’s ex-wife Topenga could offer no clue as to Gary’s unconventional behaviour. “No, nothing. No hint,” she said. “Nothing in his background could account for this. Well, his mother did used to dress up like the Rock Monster from The Never Ending Story, smash him over the head with bricks and then have sex with his Dad over his bleeding, semi-conscious body whilst they both pretended to choke and shoot each other, but I don’t think that ever affected him.”
The ghost of Freud confirmed that ‘sometimes a brick is just a brick.’
Gary later admitted to us that he wasn’t even a real person. “I’m actually a fictional character created by a man named Jamie Andrew for the purposes of a ridiculous, meandering blog. I mean, Fardarcarson? Come on. That’s not even a funny name, it’s just vaguely ridiculous. I’ve got dreams, you know. I’d eventually like to leave the confines of this blog and go on to do something else with my life, maybe in the theatre or something like that, but it’s going to be tough when this cunt has written me into a wheelchair. Let me get this straight, Jamie, you don’t have the creativity to execute this idea properly, so Gary Fardarcarson over here has to suffer a life of paralysis and shitting out his leg? Great move, you hack. Thanks for that. And I’m from AIRDRIE? SERIOUSLY! You couldn’t have cut me even a tiny break? Maybe, JUST maybe, if you’d spent a little less time googling minor character actors on IMDB and watching porn, you’d’ve given me a more satisfying character arc. And another… oh come on, really? I’ve just noticed something… What’s with that picture at the start of the article? Is that supposed to be me? That is NOT how I see myself. For starters, I’m a slim, sassy black lady with dreads and diamante-capped teeth. So fuck you, Jamie Andrew… Fuck you!”
Gary Fardarcarson slumped in his wheelchair as the last of his organs began to fail. Just to leave no doubt as to the trajectory of his hopeless predicament, at that very moment a truck filled with bricks careered off the road, mounted the pavement and splatted that ungrateful bastard into the tarmac.
“I’m still… alive…you… hack,” said Gary.
The driver exited his truck and proceeded to choke Gary’s dying body.
And then he shot him.
Prepare yourself, Dads. I’m about to tell you how you can get the most out of fatherhood, be an excellent role-model to your child and wring as much money as possible out of the experience. Pay attention.
You want to take your baby to interesting places. You want their developing brain to be exposed to as many stimulating sights, sounds and smells as possible. The trouble is, places like that are mega expensive. The zoo, the safari park, Deep Sea World, science centres. Jesus. Wave your wages goodbye. Worse still, your kid is never going to remember you taking them there, which means you’ll only have to take them again in a few years’ time. A double juicing.
Luckily, I’m here to help. Don’t worry. You won’t have to print counterfeit money, stage a break in at the dead of night, or pretend to be a family of safety inspectors. The solution is simpler than that. Just make the first trips to these places sufficiently memorable that you won’t ever have to take your kid back there again. You really need to go for it though. No half-measures. Trauma is the order of the day. Those memories need to stick, and stick hard. For instance, you could walk around the safari park wielding an axe while dressed as a blood-soaked clown, occasionally shrieking animal noises into the pram. Or holler bomb threats in the science centre as you kick over exhibits and topple giant models of ears. Or better yet, smuggle speakers into Deep Sea World and blast out the sounds of machine-gun fire and glass shattering as you stroll through the Underwater Safari. The accompanying screams of terror should ensure that your baby will never EVER forget their first hippo/giant ear/shark/police station. Job done. Plus, if you get sent to prison for any of this you won’t have to pay towards the child’s upkeep while you’re away. Brilliant.
Speak to your child in English but with a French accent. Ceaselessly. Never let up. By the time your child is two they’ll be – unsurprisingly – speaking English with a French accent. The reasons for doing this are twofold. One, it’s funny as fuck. Two, if your baby grows into a deeply ugly or stupid child, you can always tell people they were adopted.
If your partner asks you to change a nappy, do it without hesitation. However, instead of using a boring old nappy, try selotaping wet bits of cardboard you’ve ripped from an old Weetabix box to your child’s arse. I wonder if you’ll ever be invited to change nappies again. You’re welcome, my friend. (PS: You might end up being sectioned, but mental people aren’t expected to contribute to childcare, so if that happens then get your feet up, surround yourself with your favourite blunt items and bloody enjoy yourself, you deserve it)
Encourage your partner to breastfeed, but not because it will save you fucking around with plastic bottles and having to get up through the night for eighteen months or so, or because it’s good for your child’s health or some namby-pampy, new-age shit like that. Do it because occasionally your child will detach itself from the boob and let milk dribble from their mouth like Ash the android from Alien after his fight with Ripley. Trust me, it looks really cool. You can then take pictures of it and send them to Sigourney Weaver, along with hundreds of begging letters. It’s win/win. She gives you money or arranges for you to be in Alien 5, you’re on easy street. She instructs her lawyer to obtain a restraining order (“Get away from her, you BITCH”, Kind Regards, Sigourney Weaver’s legal team), then you sell your story to The Sun. Cha-ching.
Act early to disavow your child of supernatural lies and nonsense, while at the same time ensuring a whopping future pay-day. Here’s what you do. Before your child is old enough to speak, erect a gravestone in the back garden that reads: ‘SANTA CLAUS.’ Take your child to visit it every day, and remind them that Santa died of a massive heart attack in 1978. Add to the fun by hanging a crucified tooth fairy to your living room wall. Wherever there is myth or childhood flim flam, expose it in the most brutal way you possibly can: a snuff video of the Easter Bunny’s last agonising moments on earth, perhaps, or a book that proves Jesus was a time-travelling paedophile from New Jersey in the year 2786. Crush those dreams. Crush them hard. It may seem cruel, but it will benefit your child in the long-run. Here comes the great bit: once they’re at school, get them to send letters to the parents of their little friends threatening to publicly expose their bullshit in the playground unless a regular tribute is paid into your bank account. “GIFF MY DADDEE TEN POUNS A WEEK OR I TELL TOMAS THAT THEIR NO SANTA, OK?” Watch the cash roll in, which you can then spend on Weetabix boxes and selotape.
Forget any of the erudite arguments put forward against the existence of God by Dawkins or Hitchens. You want to disprove God? Just take one long look at the ocean floor, and behold some of the horrendous and upsetting abominations down there: things with see-through condom heads and eight hundred legs that drag themselves over the pitch-black seabed like luminous tumours; swarms of sentient, electrified cucumbers with neon afros; things that look like eyes perched on dismembered heels.
Allow me to crystalise my thoughts through the medium of song: and a one, and a two… and a one, two, three, four… “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small…” Really? Really God? You made them all? Were you drunk, God? Did you have a fucking mental breakdown? Also, if these creatures are so crucial to your Jesus-related master-plan, then why did you hide them underneath 20,000 feet of crushing blackness?
Anyway, I’m not too concerned about the nightmares of the ocean. I don’t live there. When I visit, I just sort of trust that people are going to skim or fly me over it as quickly as possible. What I’m more concerned about is the land, specifically my little portion of it. I’m talking insects people. Hellish, hideous insects. God, I’m talking to you again: what possible reason, except for a laugh, could you have had for creating a slug, a woodlouse or a tic? Seriously, you’re mentally ill, mate.
Summer is upon us, which means that even as I write this hordes of insects are amassing at the peripheries of our suburban castles, just waiting for the right moment to breach the defences and invade. Spiders, flies, wasps, ants, beetles: the whole bug-ugly battalion of multi-legged motherfuckers; hideous creatures that look like they were brought into existence by the collective imaginations of Clive Barker and HR Geiger after a night of particularly heavy drinking.
Insects disgust and agitate me in ways that no other creature on earth has yet managed, with the possible exception of Katy Hopkins. I hate them because they’re travesties, abominations, and harbingers of filth and disease. I hate them because they make a mockery of my mission to protect the homestead from foreign invaders. I hate them because my primal programming compels me to avoid or destroy them. I hate them because they remind me of my own pointless and arbitrary existence on this planet. I’m a mere sack of meat, a host, a vessel, vulnerable, venal and killable: trapped in the ageless, endless cycle of shagging, spawning, shitting, eating and dying in which every species on earth is ensnared and engaged. And all of that comes into sharp focus whenever I see a spider stringing and spitting its arse-glue around my living room lampshade. I think I think too much. I think I need to get out more. (But in a fully-sealed bio-suit, of course) I wish I was a spider sometimes, if only so I wouldn’t have to worry about spiders all the time. (Note to God: if you do happen to exist, and the Buddhists were right, then please don’t be an asshole and read the previous sentence as a direct and literal appeal to you to reincarnate me as a spider. I was using your name conversationally, and you know it, you big rotter. FYI, I want to come back as myself again, only thinner and richer)
Summer’s influx of insects turns me into Howard Hughes, driving me to bouts of irrationality and insanity. I’ll gladly sit in the house suffocating myself half-to-death in the baking, dog-killing heat – the windows and doors clamped shut, gaffer tape stretched over every gap and crack – if my oxygen-sacrifice will prevent the entry of even one housefly. YOU… SHALL NOT PASS! As a child, I couldn’t eat my breakfast in the kitchen, or enjoy a simple shit in the bathroom, until every fly in the room had been snuffed out. I’d waddle around the bathroom snapping at flies with a hand-towel, always on the cusp of crapping myself, but despite the agony unable to sit, squat or shit until every last one was vanquished. The thought of those verminous swines lowering themselves onto my exposed buttocks mid-shit like some team of anal astronauts (Buzz Aldrin indeed) was too much to bear.
My fly fury wasn’t confined to the bathroom and kitchen. I had venetian blinds in my bedroom, which came in handy for my part-time career as a heroic fly exterminator. Each slat was perpetually splattered with the blood and pus of dead flies. I’d stun them, perch their break-dancing bodies on a slat, and then pull the cord to concertina them to death. My mum had to keep taking the blinds outside to scrub them down, doubtless wondering if her son was manifesting the behaviour of a nascent serial killer.
In our household, we kicked off summer with a war against ant-kind. Now, ants are great if they happen to be animated and voiced by Woody Allen. They’re not so great when they’re festooning your tiles and participating in a cheeky conga-line across your counter-tops. Their invasion was slow, insidious. I’d find a handful of them peppered over the tiles next to the kitchen window every morning. I’d snuff them out, squishing their little bodies like bubble-wrap beneath my fingers. They’d return, they’d die, they’d return, they’d die. Then, nothing. No ants. Not a single one. Days would pass. A week, maybe. I’d cautiously declare the republic of my kitchen an ant-free zone, rejoice in my victory over those mangy, mandibled monstrosities. Alas, the first ants were merely the scouts for a full-out invasion force. The ants returned, they always returned, but each time in greater number, swelling their ranks until my fingers were black with the blood of a hundred tiny soldiers. They made my bin-cupboard into a fortress. One day I opened the metal sugar tin – sealed so tightly that nary a microbe could squeeze between lid and box – to find them swimming through the sweet white sugar like kids larking in a summer lake. Naturally, I killed them all. Over endless weeks I watched them slip and scurry beneath and between tiles and cupboards like something out of the X-Files. I watched as they sent forth their scouts and raised an anty flag above our fridge. I raged, I ranted, I splatted and thumped. Killed, cleaned, shifted and scrubbed. I genuinely debated slicing off their tiny heads and spearing them on Blu-Tac-mounted toothpicks as a warning to the survivors. Nothing worked. Nothing could stop them. With a small, reasonably mobile child in the house, I was reluctant to opt for the nuclear option: chemical sprays and bait traps.
I discussed the problem with a lady at work. She appeared to have the answer. “I will tell you something that is guaranteed to work. Something that will send those ants packing, never to return. It’s simple, costless and effective, and it has always worked for me. What you must do is…”
“…Just ask them to leave.”
I bought chemical bait traps. They fucked off. Yay genocide!
Flies and ants may be bad, but wasps are the worst. They’re psychotic. I once had one in my living room that buzzed and dive-bombed at me with the ferocity of an airborne tiger. I attempted to swat it with a phone book, which I assumed would at least subdue the unruly fucker. It didn’t. The wasp came at me madder, faster and harder. I retreated from the room and slammed the door behind me. I may even have whimpered. One thing was clear: I needed to regroup and formulate a strategy. First item on the agenda: how the hell do I regroup when there’s only one of me?
Let’s examine the enemy’s mindset by putting ourselves in its place for just a second. Imagine yourself hovering a hundred feet in the air with a jet-pack strapped to your back. Now imagine that a giant is swiping at you with a block of flats. What would you do? You’d probably whoosh off to safety, in the process splattering yourself with a good few litres of your own fear-scented shit. What you probably wouldn’t do is whip out a fork from your pocket and zoom towards the giant shouting, ‘LET’S FUCKING DO THIS, YOU BIG NONCE!’ I know that wasps are miniscule-brained, biological automatons, but credit where credit’s due, I know a hard bastard when I see one. Wasps are fucking mental cases.
Thankfully, insects have been less visible and less of a problem over the last few years – wasps especially – owing to our cold summers and even colder winters. This is why, despite how much I may whinge about the scattershot nature of the Scottish weather, I wouldn’t change its dire character for the world. Australia, South Africa, FL USA, everywhere else in the world where it’s hot and humid: enjoy your beautiful sunshine. But also enjoy your endless, nefarious hordes of slimy, creepy, crawly, stingy, bitey little bugs and beasts. I’ll be here watching the rain drum against my windows, snapping the occasional fly and snubbing the odd ant, happy that at least my unwelcome visitors don’t have fangs or venom.
If you’ve just welcomed a baby into your life, prepare to have the following question asked of you at least eight-thousand nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine thousand million billion times:
“What weight were they?”
So you tell them, they nod and they smile a dreamy little far-off smile, and you think to yourself: ‘What the fuck significance does that particular measurement hold for you, my inquisitive friend?’
Why has this question become de rigueur in discussions about babies? Seriously, I want to know. The information is neither important nor interesting; furthermore, the question could be insensitive if the baby being asked about is either over or under weight. I guess what people really want to know when they ask that question is whether or not the baby is healthy. Here’s a little pointer: if you’re having a calm and pleasant conversation with a mother about her new baby, then it’s probably safe to assume that the baby is healthy. Otherwise the mother would be a depressed husk weeping at your feet.
If you’re an asker of that particular question, I’d like to interrogate your motivation: are you compiling statistics for the ONS? Do you have a giant ever-expanding graph on your bedroom wall showing the comparative weights of all babies within a 40-mile radius, which you pore over like some drooling serial killer in the dead of night? Are you planning on cooking these fucking babies?
“8 pounds? Cool, that’ll be gas mark five for forty minutes.”
Is it a boasting thing, like when men get together to compare battle scars? Or is there a maternal hierarchy based upon birth-weight-related agony?
“So what was your wee one’s weight? Six pounds? Huh, that’s not giving birth, sweetheart, that’s shitting out a Malteser. My son was 11 pounds, hen. Wee bastard’s noggin ripped my vag apart like a mace smashing through a paper bag. You don’t know your kid’s born.”
I’m going to start asking for evermore obscure measurements from new parents: “What was the diameter of your daughter’s ankle? How mathematically spherical was her head? Can you give me her hand-span? I’m writing a book about children’s hands.” That’ll put a stop to this nonsense.
The Maths of Mort
Staying loosely on the topic of maths and measurements, I’m reminded of an expression my mum was fond of using in relation to a big body of water near her home-town of Drumchapel in Glasgow. It was a canal, or a reservoir, or a flooded quarry pit, or something, I can’t remember exactly (I could phone her to clarify, but that feels too much like proper journalism to me, and that clearly isn’t part of this blog’s mission statement). But she used to say to me, ‘Oh Jamie. So many kids died in that water…’
Wait for it…
‘… that it wisnae even funny anymore.’
How many kids had to drown, before the people of Glasgow stopped laughing? What a wonderfully unfortunate turn of phrase. I never knew there was an acceptable level of dead-kid titterage, or such strict rules and limits. This is a minefield, people. We need to quantify and clarify. Luckily, I got together with Stephen Hawking and Carol Vorderman and put together a handy little graph.
First of all, let’s address the deficiencies. Unfortunately, the graph can’t tell us the weight of the children. Thankfully, the graph can tell us that nine is the cut-off before laughing at drowned kids ‘isnae even funny any more’. You now know, extrapolating from the data, that if you happen to find yourself in the East End of Glasgow regaling the occupants of a rowdy pub with hilarious stories of oxygen-starved, water-clogged kids, that big Shug and his pals will laugh along with you, slapping your back and even buying you pints, only up until the mention of the tenth drowned child, after which point you’ll probably have your teeth knocked out. Presumably then a gang of hairy welders will attempt to rape you with a succession of upturned bar stools. And, worst of all, you won’t get any Ferrero Rochers.
I’m here to help.
Links to other parenting/kids articles:
The following video is a clip from an amateur abomination of a movie called ‘The Many Strange Stories of Triangle Woman’ that I found on LoveFilm during a bout of insomnia. Triangle Woman, the narrator, has pretty much fuck all to do with triangles. She just stands in-front of the camera spewing out non-sequiturs and pulling crazy faces. “Have you ever thought about air? I wonder if a squirrel could use it as a bankcard. Hmmmm. My fanny is purple like a dead tree.” Then some bad actors get together for about seven or eight minutes and something mental happens, and Triangle Woman comes back to compare cake to sparrows for a few minutes. Don’t watch this movie, but please, please watch the clip. It’s so stupid, ridiculous and naff that it made me snort out a gallon of tea from my mucous membranes.
I give you… Mr Brombellarella. Just imagine that the Chuckle Brothers had a stab at remaking Twin Peaks.
Where to start? Well, the soundtrack’s clearly been ripped from an early 90’s soft porn film that’s set in space, some movie with a name like ‘Starfish Troopers’, ‘Intimate Space Invaders’ or ‘Phwoar Trek 2: The Girth of Khan’, no doubt. All except Mr Brombellarella’s circus-nightmare themed jingle, of course, which was clearly composed especially for the movie, although perhaps the word ‘composed’ lends a grandeur that isn’t deserved. It is fucking funny and mental though, so kudos.
Who the hell is Mr Brombellarella? What makes him tick? How did a half-daft tramp with Parkinsons’ land a job in a lawyers’ office? What did he stash in the fridge? My money’s on a bagful of human eyes dyed orange and a bowtie with the souls of a thousand children stitched inside of it. Move over briefcase in Pulp Fiction, there’s a new mystery in town!
Here’s a question for you. What’s the connection between a woman with a stiff neck, two young girls with shades of The Shining about them, a lawyer’s office and an old man with a bow-tie who inexplicably dies when a woman slaps a guy? Nothing. Not a sausage. It’s nonsense as fuck. The people who made this hilarious heap of shit probably defend it on the grounds that its detractors ‘just don’t get it’. But there’s nothing to get. This eight minute sequence, and indeed the whole movie, is a schizophrenic’s dream with a budget. Mr Brombellarella did, however, make me laugh like a child hooped up on a cocktail of E-flavourings, so I can’t shit on the movie or its makers too much. They brought me fleeting, but intense, joy. Every little doo-woop noise or bat-shit head-shaking had me in stitches.
Here are a few comments about ‘The Many Strange Stories of Triangle Woman’ from viewers and reviewers on IMDB, in case you’re tempted to watch the full 90 minutes:
- Avoid this one at all costs, maybe calling a relative (even one you hate) that you haven’t spoken with in years is better than this.
- The ratings don’t go low enough to express how awful this movie was. It is like someone with money got together mental defectives, adults with childlike minds and people suffering from dementia together and asked them to write their own stories.
An incredible waste of time and an insult to the viewer
Author: belowareptile from Planet Earth
30 July 2009
I could not watch more than about 15 minutes of this sad excuse for a movie. I was enticed to watch it by the short synopsis given here at IMDb. Big mistake.
From the very start the acting is incredibly bad, to the point that it is frustrating to watch. Vivian Jimenez Hall is unengaging, unprofessional and possibly the worst actress I have ever had the misfortune of seeing. The others “actors” are just as bad.
Quite seriously, EVERYTHING in this movie is bad, bad, bad. The music is bad, the cinematography is bad, the direction is bad, the lighting, the wardrobe, the casting, you get the picture.
Some bad movies attain a cult status, because they are so bad that they are funny. This is not one of those movies. Avoid at all costs.
There’s even an apology from somebody who was involved in the production of the movie. But you’re probably going to watch it anyway, right? To be fair, it’s better than ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ but not quite as good as having your balls ripped open with a Stanley knife.
It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week, so I thought I’d pitch in with a rebuttal of some of the most common arguments levelled against women who wish to feed their babies in public, and should be able to without stigma.
Number 1: The ‘how would you like it if I just took a shit wherever I liked?’ argument
“Oh, that’s interesting,” comes the familiar sarcastic cry from the army of mammary-phobic morons inexplicably allowed to walk our streets unsupervised, “Breastfeeding is a biological function, and so is defecating, so why is one okay in public, and the other isn’t? In fact, since pooing is an almost inescapable daily necessity, shouldn’t we be more supportive of street-shitting than we are of breastfeeding?” They say it with a self-satisfied smirk, believing themselves to have constructed an argument worthy of Plato. ‘Defend your gross act of nipple-sucking now that I’ve lumped it in with jobbies, you Guardian-reading heathen’, their eyes seem to say.
This is a bullshit argument brought to you by the same people who brought you: ‘Letting gays marry? Well why don’t we just allow people to marry their pets?’ If you can’t see the distinction between the process that allows us to eliminate waste from our bodies and the mechanism that enables mothers to provide their offspring with life-boosting nutrients then your high-school biology teacher has failed you, and they should be redeployed to the McDonalds’ serving hatch immediately. Also, you’re a fucking moron.
We are compelled to poo in private, in dedicated, enclosed areas, for the sake of good hygiene and for the good of public health. If the streets were awash with excrement, as once they were, the NHS would implode as it scrambled to find enough cash to treat a hundred million cases of pinkeye a year. We’d all have diarrhoea, all of the time, and our children would go blind from munching on an unknowable number of poisonous people-pats left dotted up our streets like cats’ eyes. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, doesn’t pose any risk to human health or safety. No-one’s going to get their eye taken out by a sling-shot of titty milk, or catch some horrible contagion from a mother’s briefly exposed breast. Also, and this is crucial, nobody – save the most despicable or inebriated of us – wants to remove the stigma and consequences associated with shitting in public. There’s no pro-jobby lobby about to stage a million-strong march on Westminster waving placards bedecked with slogans like “WE’RE DESPERATE FOR EQUAL TREATMENT”, “SQUATTERS’ RIGHTS” or “WE WILL SHITE THEM ON THE BEACHES.”
Which brings us to argument…
Number 2: The ‘Fair enough, you’re breast-feeding your kid, but I don’t see why I, or my kids, should be forced to see that’ argument.
This argument is seen by its proponents as a corollary to the street-shitting argument. The implication here is that there is something inherently gross, shameful or dirty about the act of breastfeeding, and that children should be protected from this highly-damaging sight. After all, it’s a scientifically proven fact that kids who spend even a few seconds near a woman who’s nurturing her infant child can go so maniacally ape-shit for tits that they have to be brought down with tranquiliser darts and treated with ritalin and morphine cocktails for the rest of their lives, lest they become warped and broken-minded sex offenders living in syringe-littered bedsits.
I know that some babies have trouble latching, or can’t, and I’ve witnessed how gruelling it can be for new mothers – sore, sweating and exhausted – to pick up the knack of breast-feeding. I don’t seek to denigrate mothers who bottle-feed. I was mainly bottle-fed, as was my partner. In fact, I can’t think of a single person I know who was breast-fed, at least beyond the first few days or weeks of their lives. Bottle-feeding is as pervasive as it is persuasive, a torch handed down from generation to generation without much debate or forethought. It’s the method by which more and more mothers are choosing to feed their newborns, in the UK and around the world, to the point where breast-feeding is beginning to be seen as some bonkers new-age fad, the boob equivalent of reiki or homeopathy.
Maybe if more children could see breast-feeding in action, and have its function and benefits rationally and gently extolled to them by their parents or guardians, there would be a much needed sea-change in our attitude and culture. A good thing, too, because the benefits of breast-feeding are legion. For the baby, breastfeeding means increased protection against a host of bugs, afflictions and diseases; an improved ability to homeostatically self-regulate; a higher likelihood of developing good communication and language skills; and a lower likelihood of developing things like diabetes and heart disease in later life. For the mother, breastfeeding means a decreased likelihood of brittle bones and post-birth anaemia; a decreased likelihood of developing ovarian and breast cancer; a closer bond with their child, and, of course, a financial saving of approximately £600 a year.
For the father, breastfeeding means a decreased likelihood of having to fuck around with bottles and sterilising kits for six to eighteen months, but an increased likelihood that his precious breasts, those vaunted fun-bags he thought were his exclusive domain, will be off-limits for a very, very long time.
And with that tongue-in-cheek, cheeky tit-shot we arrive very aptly at the next argument…
Number 3: The ‘bare boobs are indecent and sexual’ argument.
This argument is of course connected to the previous argument in the minds of those who would cling to it: breasts are sexual, and so having them out in public is inappropriate. It’s all about context, really. Breasts can be sexual, but let’s not forget that men find them arousing – deep in their primal core – precisely because of their ability to support their theoretical offspring. Breasts don’t exist in a vacuum; divorced from their primary function, they’d be about as alluring as a knuckle or a liver. Breasts exist to sustain life, and ultimately men’s fetishisation of them is both a regrettable by-product and a corruption of this purpose.
Before I morph into Germaine Greer, let me state for the record that I’m certainly not immune to my biological impulses, and find myself rather a big fan of breasts. But, let me repeat the word again: context. There is nothing sexy or sexual about a woman breast-feeding, and if you think that there is then you belong on a special edition of The Jerry Springer Show, togged up in nappies and sucking a dummy. Do you think male gynaecologists go home and masturbate over the thought of all the vaginas they probed that day? Hunched and sweating, muttering to themselves: “I knew you wanted me to… take that glove off, girl.” Context!
If my partner suddenly whipped her top off in a busy nightclub and started jiggling provocatively I’d feel rather aggrieved, and ready to fight any man who ogled her. But when we’re in public and she pulls a bit of boob out to feed my son, hell, even a full boob, it elicits no stronger a reaction from me than were she to scratch her arm. It’s normal and natural, and if I feel anything it’s pride, and a sense of security that my little boy is getting all of the natural, life-giving nutrients he needs.
Remember, those of you who agree with or actively employ the arguments dealt with in this piece: women don’t feed their babies just to piss you off. They feed them because they’re hungry, Einstein. A breast-fed baby – up to a certain age – pretty much only cries when it needs fed, and it is cruel – and detrimental to their development – to leave them wailing without immediate resolution. Because of this, mothers don’t always have the time to dash off to a darkened room, or cover their head with a towel like a budgie at night-time, just to appease your fuckwitted, Cro-Magnon thinking. Why should they in any case? And, no, breast-feeding mothers can’t just stay at home to save you the sight, because being a full-time, 24/7 carer for a tiny human being can be arduous and isolating (as well as incomparably beautiful and enriching) and mother and baby deserve a break, and the chance to get out and about wheresoever they please.
There’s no justification for adopting a negative stance towards public breast-feeding. The fabric of the country won’t unravel. The world won’t end. But more babies in the future might just get the chance to reap its benefits. We owe it to them.
But if you really feel you can’t be supportive, then at the very least be neutral, and keep your nose out of other people’s breasts.
I was discussing Father’s Day a few weeks ago and my brain completely failed to make the connection between me, the occasion and the smiling little entity who shares fifty per cent of my DNA. Even after ten months, it still hasn’t properly sunk in. Obviously I feel being a father every day, in a thousand different ways, but I still occasionally have to stop and pause as the thought taps me on the inside of the skull: ‘Hey, mate. You’re a Dad. You’re his Dad.’
Existing parents tend to talk up the stressful elements of parenthood: the shitty nappies, the lack of sleep, the subordination of social life to the needs of the child. And, yes, these elements form a large part of the process, but surely nobody enters into the parenthood pact believing otherwise (unless they’ve got a fleet of nannies or happen to be the sort of old-school father who congratulates the mother of his child and then says, ‘Cool, good luck with it all, gimme a shout when he’s ten.’). Parents won’t usually tell you how absolutely amazing it is to have a baby, and if they do you’ll be left thinking either that they’re dull blowhards who’ve lost all perspective on life and should be eliminated forthwith or else you’ll only appreciate their words in an unemotional, abstract way, like you would if someone told you how great it was to be the world fencing champion. I hate to fall back on the favoured cliché of parents everywhere, but I’m going to: unless you’re a parent, you can’t possibly understand how it feels.
Christ, I hated people who said that to me before I was a parent, especially those who thought they could use it as a Top Trumps card to win any argument.
“I think you’re wrong, actually, it’s faster taking the B-road to the back end of the town, and then turning left at the quarry and following the bypass all the way to the promenade.”
“Well, maybe you’ll think differently once you’ve got kids of your own.”
Beware all new parents hoping to use that specious reasoning to defeat their childless friends: parents of multiple children can use it on you just as easily, making you feel like you’re in Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch. “One child? Luxury!” If you really want to win every argument on earth, best get pumping, Genghis Khan style.
Being a Dad is wonderful. One little smile from my son can melt my curmudgeonly heart. I could watch him sleeping on my chest – the rise and fall of his own little chest, the puffing of his cheeks – for hours on end. His laughter is the most intoxicating drug ever devised or discovered. Watching him grow and change and learn over the past ten months has been the most gratifying, enriching experience of my life. I can’t wait to meet the person he’s going to become. (I’ll revisit this web-page once he’s turned sixteen and I want to knock his jaw out)
Being a Dad is also terrifying. Every day welcomes a new cycle of nightmarish scenarios into my thoughts, perils I have to protect him from, everything from skint knees to terrorist insurrections. Seemingly benign everyday objects that were previously absorbed into the background of my perceptions have now been given starring roles as villains in the most terrifying real-life movie ever produced. Things like Blu-tac and cushions are now potential sources of death and injury, making each day feel a little like the first five minutes of an episode of Casualty. I can’t stand on a balcony without imagining him tumbling to his death. I can’t take a trip in the car without shivering at the thought of an eight-car pile-up. Everything is terrifying. “Oh great, a bouncy castle! Or, as I like to call it, THE INFLATABLE THEATRE OF DEATH! You’re giving him a plastic spoon, ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY, HE’LL USE IT TO RIP OUT HIS OWN EYES!!!”
I understand completely why people want to show off their kids: why there are so many people on Facebook with their children’s smiling faces set as their profile pictures; why there are so many parents who feel compelled to chronicle their kids’ every fart, burp and blurble on-line. That love, that pride, that fierce and overwhelming dragon of emotions, is born in you the moment your child arrives naked and screaming into the world. A child is a boundless miracle, a perfect and perfected distillation of mother and father; the link between the ancient past and the infinite reaches of our human future made flesh. In the hospital, looking down at the helpless, innocent creature swaddled in your arms, you can’t help but imagine that all of the answers to the great mysteries of existence – of your life, of all life – lie somewhere in those tiny eyes.
For the first few weeks of my son’s life I had to restrain the impulse to lift him up into strangers’ faces and yell: ‘LOOK AT MY SON AND STAND PROSTRATE IN THE PRESENCE OF HIS FUCKING PERFECTION, YOU NOTHING!’ I’d walk past a line of other people’s babies and mentally judge them, one by one: “Shite, shite, shite, shite, shite.” I wanted to pay for his immaculate face to be put on a billboard in every country of the world, and force every radio station to suspend their worthless chatter and music in favour of an unbroken soundtrack of him sleeping and breathing. On a planet where millions of species are birthing infants by the metric tonne every fraction of a second, my child is the only one who matters.
I’m not a religious person, or a believer in God, but I now think I understand something of the impulses behind religion. My partner and I have brought our son into the world to die. That’s a certainty. Perhaps that guilt is what propels thoughts of the afterlife. I’m a good person. I wouldn’t knowingly bring down a death sentence upon my son, the person I love most in the world. There must be something else. Some after-earth paradise to which he holds the admission ticket. And if this is really all that there is, then what is the point of this endless cycle of birth and death, where the only aim is to stay alive long enough to perpetuate your genes?
This is the hand we’ve been dealt, creatures on a rock spinning in space, defined and enriched by our mortality. Better to experience existence and its many joys even with the promise of extinction than never to have the chance to exist at all. If we’ve only got one world and one life, then I want my son to have a happier, better, richer life than I did, in a vastly upgraded world (Microsoft World 15), and I will move heaven and earth to make that happen. That’s the point of existence for me, and if it’s the only point, then it’s a bloody good one. If God exists at all, in whatever form, then he doesn’t make you: you make God. Because God isn’t in your children. He is your children.
Yeah, that was blasphemous, and corny as hell, but in my defence, I’d just like to say fuck you, fuck you all in the face.
Thankfully, I became a Dad at just the right time. For most of my life I’ve been a bumbling, feckless, rudderless arsehole, perpetually dragging myself full-circle through the wake of my latest calamity: an emotional suicide-bomber; a clueless, selfish mess of a man. I was content to drift between places, people and ambitions in the vain hope that the jigsaw of my existence would one day solve itself. But I changed, evolved. I overcame my arrested development. My brain was at last able to outpace my adrenal gland. I finally realised who I wanted to be, what I needed to do and where I wanted to go. It helps that I met the perfect person at the perfect time. I wish I could take back all of the many mistakes I’ve made, and undo all of the hurt I’ve caused, but then if everything in my life hadn’t happened exactly as it did then my son – my beautiful, precious little boy – would never have been born. In a macrocosmic sense, the same goes for the wars and genocides that have been characteristic of our species since we first teetered on two legs. I’m thankful for them, and wouldn’t travel back in time to kill Hitler or save a billion people if it meant losing my son in the future. So, I guess what I’m saying is, to use urban gang parlance, fuck all y’all, and PS: cheers for dying, guys.
These days, I’m settled, driven and focused (still a grumpy fucker, and prone to the odd brain-fart, but otherwise a new man) in a way I never would’ve thought was possible ten years ago, and ready to keep being the thing I never thought I’d be, never ever ever: a good Dad. Of course, I only get to be a good dad because my partner is such an amazing mother, the most nurturing, kind, patient, loving, self-sacrificing person I’ve ever met. I’m perpetually humbled by the way in which she makes the life-enhancing but often gruelling responsibility of bringing up our son 24/7 look so easy, when – despite what clueless sexists will tell you – I know it’s the hardest, and most important, job in the world.
Plus, she got me lounge pants for Fathers’ Day. That alone wins her the gold medal. Now I just need a flat cap.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral? It’s got to be something uplifting, right? Something that’s going to keep the tears from falling from your mourners’ eyes by reminding them of the good times. And if tears do come then at least, thanks to you, they’ll be happiness flavoured tears. OK, the mourners won’t be doing Dick Van Dyke-style up-in-the-air heel clicks or cartwheeling over pews (unless you’re Thatcher); after all, there’s only so much happiness that can be wrung from a cold room where people have gathered to wear black and contemplate the bleak inevitability of death. But with a few simple pre-expiration choices you can help them come to terms with your passing, and that’s an incredibly noble thing to do. We, the dead, owe it to the living to keep their spirits up in their time of grief, right?
Fuck that. If you’re coming to my funeral, you’re a convulsing, snottering wreck, or you can get your dry face the fuck out of my swansong. I’m literally going to have doormen punting people out for not being upset enough. “Sorry, missus, today’s funeral is a two-wail minimum, and you’ve barely scrounged up a sob. You can leave quietly, or big Davie over there will really give you something to cry about.” I want ‘Everybody Hurts’ by REM played on a constant loop, and I want people to complain because it’s not sad enough, and then to suit the mood somebody has to put on a tape of dogs being murdered instead. I want people banging on the coffin lid pleading to be buried or burned along with me, because a world without me is simply too nightmarish to contemplate. I want a queue of people lining up to grief-fuck my dead body. I want people openly killing themselves in the aisles. I want my funeral to look like a peasant revolt and sound like a field full of raped cats in a hurricane.
I’m really looking forward to my funeral, actually. I’ve got a few ideas of things I’d like to put in place for it, if I can get a few volunteers to help.
- About half-way through the service, an actor pretending to be a detective bursts in and says, “Jamie was murdered. And someone in this room is the murderer. And we’re not leaving until we find out who.”
- Pass around song-sheets and make everyone sing organ-accompanied versions of ‘Killing in the Name’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton’.
- I want a big, fancy funeral, worthy of a president or a pope, so I’m going to secure an obscene amount of funding by allowing Coca Cola to sponsor it. This means that all of the speakers will have to endorse the product, but that’s a small price to pay for a platinum gravestone. “I think… the only thing that’s going to… (sniff) get me through this difficult time is the… (sob) sweet, sweet, full-sugar taste of delicious Coca Cola.” My coffin’s going to be shaped like a vending machine. No, scrap that, my gravestone will be a vending machine, so people can enjoy a nice Fanta when they come to cry over my rotting corpse. Plus, everyone’s going to have to wear red and white at the funeral or they’ll be in breach of contract and Coca Cola will sue them. As a consequence of this legally-binding colour scheme, my funeral’s going to look like a Santa-themed funeral.
- My face is beamed on to a large screen at the front of the congregation. I put on by most mental, mad-eyed glare and yell down at them: “I’M GOING TO HELL. AND YOU’RE ALL FUCKING COMING WITH ME!” At this point, my paid henchmen will lock all the exits, and a smoke machine will start pumping smoke into the room. You’ll just be able to hear my maniacal laughter over the screams.
- If I’m being cremated, just as the coffin slides out of sight along the conveyor belt and the curtain drops, a stunt-man will run out screaming and covered in flames.
- Either that or I’ll have speakers in my coffin blasting out the panicked yelps of a trapped cat.
- I’m going to hire a stand-up comedian for the wake, but they won’t know it’s a wake. They’ll be told it’s a seminar for morticians, and thus will be encouraged to use their sickest material, especially jokes about dead bodies and funerals. I won’t be the only one dead that day.
Please help me accomplish all this. It’s what I will have wanted.
There’s nothing more terrifying than a cabal of older women suddenly having their maternal instincts re-activated by a baby. You’ll see this happening most often when parents take their newly-spat spawn into their workplaces to show them off.
At first, all is calm. Just another day at the office. Normal. Innocuous. Unremarkable. Near-arthritic fingers rat-a-tap-tap, tatter and clink on keyboards. Phones trill, machines whirr and beep. A discussion about shoes is underway. And then it happens… One of the old women snaps her head back on her neck and takes a long, deep sniff of the air. The other women turn to look at her. The sniffer nods slowly and sagely. There can be no doubt: the seer has saw, preparations must be made. Excitement swells in the air, a Mexican wave of agitation rolls and rushes through the office. The women begin to chitter and hyperventilate like spooked monkeys.
The door to the main entrance, two floors below, creaks open, and they can hear it. They can smell it, taste it, feel it…
“It’s here…” comes a whisper from the old seer, “…it… is… among us.”
A woman starts to beat on the floor with the handle of an umbrella, and all of the others clap in time. The beating and clapping gets louder and louder, angrier and angrier; as it builds to a crescendo the women accompany the percussive rhythm with a malevolent hum, the droning of a thousand wasps, a sound that gets deeper and deeper, louder and louder, before finally exploding into a roar, then a shriek, then a howl. THUD THUD THUD! RAAAR RAAAAR RAAAAR! The oldest woman in the office leaps onto her desk in a single bound, defying both reason and medical science. “Chillldddreeennn,” she moans, her body convulsing violently. “CHILLLLLLLLLDDDRRRRREEEENNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!” she screams, throwing her veiny arms into the air and shaking her fists at the heavens.
All of the women lope and scurry away from their chairs like something out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. A fist fight breaks out at the head of the line as the women vie for pole position and the first crack at the baby. Three of them are killed, but still the horde advances, fingers outstretched, eyes red, bulging and demonic. The parents reach the top of the stairs and are assailed by a terror that detonates in their stomach and makes mince-meat of their bowels. They see it but can scarcely believe it: the mass of elder zombies staggering towards them, moaning and gnashing. The parents stand frozen with fright, the car seat clutched tightly in the father’s grip, their poor baby swinging inside it like bait.
“COME TO YER AUNTY JEAN!” shriek twelve of the women, even though none of them are called Jean. Within seconds they’re upon the baby, a hellish scrum of old ladies, hands grabbing and clutching and clenching and tearing, like a grizzly death scene from The Walking Dead.
The baby is gone, taken, passed among the old ladies like crack. The parents can no longer see their child, just a mess of grey limbs and hair-dos. They only know their child is still alive because they can hear the old ladies talking and cooing away at it.
“OH,YOU LOVE YOUR AUNTY JEAN, DON’T YOU? YES, YES YOU DO, YOU LOVE YOUR AUNTY JEAN! OH, I COULD JUST KEEP YOU. I’M GOING TO KEEP YOU, YES I AM, I’M GOING TO TAKE YOU HOME AND KEEP YOU AND THE POLICE WILL HAVE TO SHOOT ME TO GET YOU BACK! OOOH, HE’S GOT MY EYES, DON’T YOU THINK? WHAT ARE YOU FEEDING HIM? BREAST? OOOH, FORGET THAT, YOU NEED TO LOOK AFTER YOURSELF. GET HIM THE BOTTLE. GET HIM A BOTTLE AND PUT HIM IN HIS OWN ROOM AFTER THE FIRST WEEK, HE’S GOT TO LEARN, HASN’T HE? IT’S NOT FOR ME TO SAY, BUT THAT’S NOT THE WAY I’D DO IT, COURSE IT’S YOUR BABY, SO MANY PEOPLE WILL GIVE YOU ADVICE, BUT DON’T LISTEN TO IT, JUST IGNORE THEM ALL, YOU’VE GOT TO DO YOUR OWN THING, EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO MY ADVICE, IN WHICH CASE FOLLOW IT TO THE LETTER. OH, HE’S SMILING AT ME, HE WANTS ME TO TAKE HIM HOME, DON’T YOU WANT ME TO TAKE YOU HOME? COME LIVE WITH YOUR AUNTY JEAN, YOU LOVE ME DON’T YOU, LOVE ME BETTER THAN YOUR OWN MUM, DON’T YOU??!!! YOUR MUM’S GOING TO HAVE TO PRISE YOU OUT OF MY COLD DEAD HANDS, ISN’T SHE, HMMM???!!”
I think we can all agree that taking your infant to work can be a savage and unsettling experience. Old women in offices make David Bowie’s character in Labyrinth look like a registered child minder.
You’ll notice that no men were mentioned in this little office-based reconstruction. That’s because they were all sitting at their desks muttering ‘it’s just a fucking baby’ and ‘you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.’ Sure, some of them looked up from their monitors for three seconds and aimed a half-hearted wave and an awkward ‘hiya’ in the general direction of the baby, but most of them just continued typing, wishing with all their hearts for the baby to fuck off.
Next time on Baby Talk, we deal with the age old question: “Oooh, what weight is he?”
The following isn’t really a book review. It’s a reproduction of selected text from ‘Derek Acorah’s Amazing Psychic Stories’ along with reproductions of some of the things I scribbled in the margins of the book after reading the populist, hocus pocus pish-fest for the first (and – unless there really is a hell – unquestionably the last) time.
The format is easy to follow. Derek ‘says’ something, and then my defacements follow in bold. I wonder if you can tell which emotion dominated my thoughts as I read Acorah’s delightful little book? Let’s do this:
‘However we think of these beings, we all have guiding influences in the heavenly realms who have been allocated to us from birth and who will remain with us for as long as we live on this Earth plane. We may not be aware of their presence, and indeed, some would say there is no such thing, but I can promise you that there is.’
very empirical, asshole
‘You may not be able to see them or hear them, but I doubt that there is anybody alive in this world today who has not at some time or other been inspired by spirit to make a decision which has altered their life quite radically in some way.’
‘Guardian angels, spirit guides and family members in spirit do not of course reserve the right to make their presence felt in our lives only when we are in mortal danger or when we need reassurance. Our guides and guardians are designated to us at birth to ensure that we conduct our lives in the manner chosen by us prior to our incarnation into this physical life. Because we have free will, our God-given right, we may put ourselves in danger of choosing the wrong pathway and veering away from our chosen life’s experience, and it is the job of our guardians and guides to make sure that we do not stray.’
so it’s their job to ensure that we can only exercise free-will insofar as we follow a pre-arranged pattern? sounds more like fucking Quantum Leap to me
‘I was allowed a certain amount of success as a footballer, but did not achieve the standard that I wished.’
i.e. you were shite!!!
‘I was feeling depressed. Life was not being kind to me. Nothing was going right. I had deep financial problems and my emotional life was in a catastrophic state. I felt that I had nothing left to live for. Ending it all and taking myself over to the spirit world seemed a very appealing option.’
(I’d underlined deep financial problems and simply wrote) BINGO
‘As I walked towards the murky waters I thought how easy it would be just to keep on walking and to disappear completely from this earthly plane. ‘What do I have left to live for?’ I asked myself.’
‘Physical circles are meetings of a number of mediums, usually between six and eight, who sit with the sole purpose of assisting one of their numbers to attain physical mediumship. Physical mediumship is the point where a medium goes beyond the gifts of clair-audience, clairvoyance and clairsentience and develops the ability to produce ectoplasm in substantial enough quantities to enable a spirit to be viewed by those who do not have the ability to see clairvoyantly.’
aka a bukkake wanking circle (I also underlined the name of one of the mediums in this circle – Ray Pugh. Classic.)
‘It is true to say… (continues for a long paragraph)’
no it isn’t
‘Although it may sound terribly appealing, I am afraid that there are no banks of winged angels heralding our arrival into the spirit world with celestial tunes played on long golden bugles. There is no heavily bearded Saint Peter, guardian of the pearly gates, waiting with a large book in hand to hold us accountable for all our earthly deeds.’
yeah, cause that’d just be fucking stupid, wouldn’t it, Derek?
‘As the spirit form gently rises, a silver cord linking them to their body becomes taut and then breaks, leaving the spirit free to float upwards and on to the realms beyond from whence it came.’
like a balloon. Neat. You horse fucker
‘Astral travel is where the spirit self leaves the physical body to travel through the astral planes. This is achieved through deep meditation and should not be attempted by everyone.’
OK, thanks for the fucking warning.
‘When we have experienced everything, both good and bad, then we remain in the world of spirit, dwelling in the higher realms forever.’
EVERYTHING? Like being stabbed to death by a man dressed as a clown? Obliterated by shoving a high-pressure tire pump up your bum? Being flattened by a steamroller while having a distracted wank at some roadworks?
Note to self: How does Acorah filter out hoaxes or separate genuine paranormal events from instances of stress and psychological disturbance. Or is his criteria: if people write to me, it’s ghosts.
‘Some people may undergo a number of serious accidents or dangerous incidents and will survive to carry on with their physical lives. The results of those incidents may impair their physical ability to live their lives as before, but that is what they have chosen to undergo on their life’s pathway in order to achieve soul growth in the next life. Other people may experience just one accident and will pass to spirit as a result. It is all down to our own personal choice, but at the end of the day we pass on to the spirit world when the time is right and no sooner.’
(flicks through catalogue) Mmm, I think I’ll have four minor accidents and a fatality this time, please. What do you have in the way of chromosomal deformities? I want to treat myself for my 80th incarnation.
‘Remote viewing is travelling astrally to a place with the sole purpose of viewing that place, be it an office, a home, etc. People may claim to practise it, but great care should be exercised when listening to such claims. I have heard of many where the remote viewing is basically a combination of guesswork and cold reading.’
Oh, NOW he’s a sceptic! Priceless. This is like when Scientology pisses all over psychiatry. Destroy the competition.
‘I am often asked why innocent babies and young people have to go through horrendous events in their short lifetimes here on earth, why some young lives are cut short by either accidents or acts of malice or cruelty by another person, why some children succumb to illnesses which take them back to the spirit world at an early age, why hundreds of thousands of young lives are cut short due to famine, disease or natural disaster. The answer is simple: those young souls chose to undergo those experiences before they incarnated here on Earth. And why? To take their spirit selves further up the spiritual ladder, and closer to the ultimate heavenly state.’
So, dead babies are really just angels about to get their wings? Fuck you, Acorah.
‘In subsequent incarnations they may choose an easier lifetime here on Earth. They may choose to be born into a loving family, wanting for nothing and with a relatively trouble-free and long lifespan. After such a life they will still become closer to the Godhead when their time comes to pass back to the spirit world, but they will only have climbed one rung as opposed to the many rungs they climbed in their harsher existence.’
How many rungs are there, you scientific bastard?
(on the death of a child) ‘It is, however, true that the spirit of their child chose to experience that particular method of passing. They chose it for their soul growth, just as the spirit selves of the parents chose to experience the loss of a child in a violent way.’
Match.com’s got nothing on Heaven’s sick-ass soul matching service. “Ah, little Timmy, I see you’ve put down on the form that you want to be matched with a set of nice, affluent parents, and you’ve stressed that they must have a good sense of humour, and also be keen to see their child brutally murdered before their very eyes. As luck would have it…”
‘I’m sure that everybody has at some point heard the statement “Oh, they’re an old soul” or “They’ve been here before!” being made about a small child or baby. And it is true.’
Hmmm, people use these largely meaningless non-literal expressions, so this must be empirical proof of the existence of the afterlife. WATCH OUT DAWKINS, ACORAH’S FUCKING COMING AND HE’S GOT SCIENCE!
CHAPTER 11 – A Joint Message
So THAT’S how he does it!
‘The people in the spirit world are no different. When they see a loved one in the depths of despair or worrying over a situation, they will draw close and give as much physical comfort as they possibly can.’
Is a hand-job from a dead ex-girlfriend out of the question??
‘”Was it my guardian angel, Derek?”
I was able to tell her that it was most definitely a loved one from the world of spirit placing a hand of reassurance on her shoulder.’
You fucking Scouse scumbag.
‘Sean breathed a sigh of relief. “So I’m not about to pop my clogs then?”
“No,” I told him with a smile.’
Is that ethical? Sean, mate, get on to NHS 24. Never take medical advice from a failed footballer whose best mate is a ghost.
‘Sean’s experience is unusual but not unknown. I have heard reports of people who can give such detailed information of events in a previous lifetime that it has been possible to check and confirm what they have said is correct.’
Then why not put these examples in your fucking book?
‘Sometimes when children are ill and have a high temperature they may start to hallucinate, as the medical profession calls it, and see beings who frighten them. They are not hallucinating at all. What they are seeing is spirit beings who are unfamiliar to them and so they are frightened, just as I was frightened as a six-year-old boy when I saw the spirit form of my grandfather in my grandmother’s house.’
Every doctor in the world on line 1! I hallucinated bees as a child, Derek. What were they? Ghost bees?
This review is from: Derek Acorah’s Amazing Psychic Stories (Paperback)
It would appear that the art of proselytising has gone corporate.
I was shopping in Stirling with my family yesterday. By which I mean they were shopping, and I was wandering the streets like a refugee displaced by war, desperately wishing I could return home. As I walked past Debenhams for the 857th time, I realised how thoroughly, head-thrashingly bored I was of the Thistle Shopping Centre and its Hannah Barbera-esque monotony. In a bid to shake things up, and stave off the desire to hurl myself under a bus, I decided to weave a different route through the white-walled labyrinth. I was also hungry. Ultimately, I didn’t care where the detour took me, as long as it took me to Greggs the bakers. Keeping to a semi-religious theme, you could say that I was on the road to Ham-ascus. Well, you could say that. But you probably shouldn’t. And I wish I hadn’t. Even the Christmas Cracker people would’ve rejected that piece of shit. I’m very Syria did that joke.
Anyway, let’s get on with this. I don’t want to be responsible for you being seized by the desire to rush outside and offer your skull to the nearest steamroller. My new route took me past a place I never expected to see in a mall in Stirling. To be honest, our Calvinist history not withstanding, I was shocked to see it in Scotland. It was the ‘Bible Learning Centre’, a neat, glossy, corporate, well-lit and slick shop filled with book shelves, biblical figurines, and blackboards. It looks for all the world like a cross between a classroom and a showroom, which I suppose it is.
“Hello there, I’d like to test-read a Bible.”
“I can tell by just looking at you that you’re a classic model man. We’ve just got an exclusive range of Bibles through the door, all kitted out in the original Hebrew. Bit pricey, but your neighbours will covet the hell out of them.”
“I was thinking maybe something a little more modern and conventional. Something reliable, affordable, with room for the kids.”
“Hmmm, I can do you a second-hand King James. Mint condition, apart from some kid’s drawn a spurting cock over the story of Lot’s wife.”
The centre is a base for God-botherers, which means that preachers now have a permanent, six-day-a-week presence on Stirling’s streets. Except the people from the centre, who were loitering with intent outside the mall, neither bothered nor preached. Instead, they stood quietly in a row, holding posters and pamphlets perfectly still in their hands like mime artists, approaching and cajoling precisely no-one. I half expected them to be wearing little badges that said: ASK ME ABOUT MY JESUS.
What a wasted opportunity. I say if you’re going to go God, go full God, or not at all. Yes, Jesus was part of a touchy-feely, New-Labour-esque shift away from the lightning-and-locusts focus of the rather brutal Old Testament, but even in his softer, less-murdery, sandal-wearing incarnation, God/Jesus was still hard as fuck. He came down to earth and took more lashes than Anastasia Steele and an Iranian blogger combined, and didn’t even flinch when the Romans nailed him to a piece of wood. The guy’s a dangerous, kinky mental case, who could wink out the world with a twitch of his nose; he doesn’t want a line of meek, sharp-suited morons representing him, some ball-and-bowtie-less Muslim Brotherhood. He wants nutcases. Hectoring, full-blown nutcases.
He wants people like the guy I used to see standing outside one of the shopping centres off Union Street in Aberdeen, who would turn up every day with an amplifier and a microphone and let everyone know – through the medium of angry shouting – that they were all evil bastards who were going to hell. No exceptions. Even the babies were bad’uns.
I miss that guy.
Perhaps if the Stirling missionaries injected a bit more vim and pep and honest-to-goodness fire and brimstone into proceedings, more people would visit the Bible Learning Centre. I know I would. “WELCOME YOU HORRIBLE FORNICATORS, SECRET MASTURBATORS AND SINNERS! COME SEE OUR DIORAMA OF HELL, WHERE ELTON JOHN IS FUCKING A DINOSAUR AND RICHARD DAWKINS IS BEING WHIPPED BY STALIN.”
Yesterday, the centre was deserted but for one lonely volunteer sitting up the back of the shop padding away at his mobile phone. No doubt he was taking to Twitter to enthuse about how great Jesus is. Tweets like:
@drippyhippy If you think about it, isn’t the Bible just a great big Tweet from God?140 characters, and Jesus is the star! #teamGod
@JesusTheFirstRockstar WOO! Jesus, your guitar solo of love flew through the amp and blew the devil from my stage! The crowd surfed him to Hell. YOU RULE JESUS!
@PiousPaul My cat licked its own chuff, so I burned her in the name of Jesus. #saynotopussy #mercifulJesus
If Jesus came back today, WWHD? I’ll tell you what he’d do. He’d lose the heid, Bible-style. “ANN SUMMERS IS HEAVING WITH CUSTOMERS AND MY SHOP’S EMPTY?!” he’d bellow. “DILDOS?!! THE ONLY THING HOUSEWIVES SHOULD BE PUTTING INSIDE THEM IS MY LOVE!” Then he’d go on a major ‘taps aff’ rampage, smashing the shit out of every shop in sight, making his funny turn in the temple look like a sulky pre-schooler’s huff. Then it would be back to basics: floods, earthquakes, pillars of salt, the lot. “I’m never taking 2000 years off again,” he’d say, loading up another lightning bolt.
But thankfully you don’t need to worry about that, because Jesus is about as real as the doodle I just did on my notepad of a half-frog, half-beaver with George Galloway’s face.
Anyway, we’ve all learned something today. We’ve learned that the people of Stirling are more interested in nipple clamps and edible knickers than the Bible. And I’ve learned something, too: I actually quite like you, Stirling.
Thanks, Bible Learning Centre.
PS: Good people of the BLC: I’d rather my son spent a whole day wandering around a museum exhibition entitled ‘Pictures of Murdered Prostitutes Throughout the Ages’ than spend thirty seconds in your dead-eyed play-pen of lies. Happy Easter!
So, the Walking Dead is back from its mid-season break, and with it our appetite for gorging on the harrowing exploits of the only group of people in the world with less chance of happiness than the characters in Eastenders. It’s fair to say that The Walking Dead is a show low on hope, and high on showing what little hope there is being dashed. An average episode can often make you long for a more uplifting way to spend your recreational time, like reviewing CCTV footage of fatal road traffic accidents.
The cancer of hope is the theme hammered home more explicitly than usual in the latest episode, What’s Happened and What’s Going On. Rick, Michonne, Glen, Tyreese and the group’s newest member Noah travel to Virginia to the gated community Noah and his family called home before the outbreak; a community that poor, naïve Noah believes will both still be intact, and safe enough to act as the group’s new home and fortress. It isn’t. And it isn’t. A combination of bad people and zombies has converted the once-safe haven into the kind of dangerous, dilapidated ghost town we’ve come to know, love and expect from the show.
The episode’s pre-credits montage offers a haunting array of images chronicling the futility of hope in the new post-civilisation world: we see Woodbury, the Prison, a painting of a cottage – with blood seeping over it – that bears an eerie resemblance to the one in which Carol mercy-killed a kid. These are all places where hope slowly established itself only to be quickly, cruelly and brutally deposed. And yet it’s clear from the expressions on Rick’s and Glenn’s faces during their conversation early on in the episode that they allowed themselves to hope that Noah was right about his former home – that it was safe, that things would get better – despite all evidence to the contrary based on the unending disappointment and suffering they’ve endured across four and a half seasons of The Walking Dead. We’ll return to that feeling later.
The images in the montage are interspersed with a eulogy that Father Gabriel is delivering, which we have no reason to suspect is for anyone but the recently departed Beth, especially when we see the grief-stricken reactions of Maggie and Noah. While some of the images – the prison, Woodbury – are there to contextualise the theme and set the tone of the episode, others, like the service itself, are actually flash-forwards, something that doesn’t become apparent until the episode starts moving towards its heart-breaking conclusion. The whole of the opening montage is a clever – and very artfully directed – piece of misdirection which pretty much buries the death of one major character in the grave of another. We don’t realise it at the time but what we’re watching, in essence, is a trailer for the death of Tyreese.
Inside the gated community Rick, Glenn and Michonne move off to reconnoitre, leaving Tyreese baby-sitting a distraught Noah, who has just realised that everything and everyone he had ever known, loved or taken for granted is gone. Gripped by grief and rage, Noah runs off to his family home to see with his own eyes what has become of his mother and brothers. Tyreese follows him into the house and there, in the room once occupied by Noah’s twin brothers, he stands staring slack-jawed at photos of happier times that are stuck on the wall. While he is lost in this fugue of empathy and horror one of the reanimated brothers staggers up and sinks his teeth into the big man’s arm.
In the scenes leading up to Tyreese’s death there are many references and allusions to childhood, both direct and indirect: Tyreese’s recollection of his father’s words about the price to be paid for becoming a citizen of the world; the very site of the attack itself, a little boy’s room; how Tyreese wedges himself under a desk like a frightened child (it reminded me of the scene in Eternal Sunshine where Jim Carrey relives his experience of being an infant).
The bulk of the episode concerns Tyreese’s battle against the infection which manifests itself through hallucinations of people from his past, both the good and the bad: the Termite he lied about killing; the two little girls who met a grizzly end in the cottage he shared with Carol; his sister’s boyfriend Bob; Beth herself, and even the Governor, who returns in the only way possible without causing a fan revolt. His dialogue with these people, his dialogue with himself, revolves around his actions and decisions since the outbreak, his commitment to forgiveness, pacifism and being a good man, and the deaths that may have followed these commitments. Ultimately, Tyreese decides that the price that must be paid to be a citizen of the world is too high – in this world at least – and allows himself to slip away towards death and some form of peace.
Before that happens – and before the full meaning of the pre-credits sequence becomes horribly clear – there is a thrilling sequence in which Rick and co attempt to save Tyreese by employing ‘the Hershel method’ and cutting off his infected arm. They manage to get Tyreese to the safety of the car, and speed him away, but they’re too late. During this sequence the audience is put in the same position as Rick and Glenn were in at the start of the episode: of allowing hope to seep into their hearts. I must confess that despite acknowledging the scarcity of happy endings (middles and beginnings, too) in The Walking Dead I thought, just for a moment, just for a second, that Tyreese was going to make it, and found myself doubly crushed when he didn’t.
A sad end, then, to Tyreese, a larger-than-life, loveable character. He was an overgrown child with a heart full of huffs, tantrums, love and absolutes; a man – despite his gentle nature and pacifism – that you’d always feel safe around. It’s a shame to see him go, and even more of a shame that he never got the chance to come into his own, or fulfil the promise of the character we first met in season 3 (or indeed match the original version of Tyreese that exists in the comic books).
Overall, What’s Happened and What’s Going On was a robust, affecting and effective 42 minutes of television. Unfortunately, the many great things about this episode – its strong and ambitious narrative structure, its haunting air of melancholy, the stand-out acting chops of Chad Coleman – are rather marred by The Walking Dead’s time-honoured over-reliance on shoddy dialogue and silly, contrived plotting that stretches credibility. Here’s a selection of the most mystifying happenings in the episode: a limping Noah being easily able to outrun Tyreese; Tyreese letting his guard down and not sweeping the whole house for threats after all he’d seen of the zombie apocalypse thus far; and Noah being rather too conveniently incapacitated on his way to fetch help from Rick. And most of Noah’s actions in this episode were either jarring or too narratively convenient, which makes me suspect either that a) the writing was a little bit shit, or b) he’s one to keep an eye on, potential-baddy-wise.
PS: Given the way our use of IMDB usually complements our viewing, I wonder if show-makers are deliberately bringing actors back for flashbacks and dream sequences after their deaths in a bid to throw future viewers off the scent. “Oh, so The Governor makes it to season 5? Ah, Bob’s in that episode, so he obviously doesn’t die from that bite. Maybe he’s immune…”
I recently participated in a charity event called ‘Scrapbooks and Rapbooks’, where I read from the diary of my 16-year-old self. The event inspired me to dig out these two complementary yet contrasting pieces on the subject of love. I say ‘pieces’. More like pieces of shit. Especially the first one, the poem. It’s basically a few nifty lines surrounded by a sea of overly sentimental faux-profound pretentious fuckery. Instead of going to all the effort of penning a poem I could just as easily have written ‘I KNOW A COUPLE OF BIG WORDS, NOW WILL YOU PLEASE FUCK ME???!!!’ on a piece of A3 paper, photocopied it and stapled it to trees and lamp-posts throughout the local area. As a strategy, it wouldn’t have worked, but at least it would’ve been honest. I wrote the poem when I was 17, and it makes me want to vomit up my heart and squish it underfoot like a dying fish.
The second piece, which is more of a rambling essay-of-sorts, I wrote when I was 25, and was inspired by an episode of Ross Kemp on Gangs. I wonder if you can also tell that I wrote it not long after a break-up, another in a long-line of healthy relationships my younger-self was addicted to machine-gunning to death in fits of faithless, fickle, sexually feckless behaviour.
I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the correct word in this context, but I certainly bid you to tolerate the following musings. First up, the piss-ass poem. Bits of it really are reminiscent of a song written by David Brent.
Science Vs Religion
A paradox, a fraud amongst feelings,
A laboured lie cursed upon souls:
Of all the bonds that bind a man,
None can be so false as ‘love’.
Our minds control our destiny, not our hearts,
And what we feel can run no deeper than the
River of blood that runs through us all –
A deformity, a bastard born of man,
A twisted, deceptive purity! Inconceivable! –
it grows from our ignorance, not our instinct;
what lunacy a force as such could join the
feelings fortified in man.
To grieve a child can not be love.
Can it not be seen that creator weeps when creation fails?
What we grieve in loss is not empathy for the lost
But for an emptiness in ourselves –
Pity for a hole in us, not in earth.
To take a woman can not be love.
Nothing more can couplings be than means to lust and procreate,
A web of neurones, nerves and volts, making mortal drives seem great!
Another held above one’s self –
That’s tantamount to suicide!
Then dead am I.
For this that shudders down my veins,
From pounding heart, through all my brains:
but bubbling broth of DNA?
Have faith, my friend, join hands, let’s pray:
Once fingers fondly skirt the flesh,
All limbs entwined and hearts enmeshed;
Once the cliché’s been embraced
the ugly beast in each soul faced;
Then once you’ve watched the whole world die
Deep down dark, in mans mind’s eye,
And asked yourself (but please don’t lie),
Tell me, friend, but did you cry?
My friend, once you’ve experienced that…
Atheism, as your doubts, will crumble to dust.
To ask how love can be is futile.
To simply know that it does must suffice.
Excruciating, eh? Anyway, on to the next one.
In a television documentary series entitled ‘Ross Kemp on Gangs’, British actor Ross Kemp travelled the world to spend time with various gangs renowned for their brutality. The episode I watched featured the town of Auckland, New Zealand, where Kemp chronicled a native gang called ‘The Mongrel Mob’.
The Mongrel Mob’s members all feel shunned or abused by society in some way. Thus they have formed a clan of like-minded sociopaths hell-bent on visiting violent retribution upon society for these perceived slights and wrongs. Some of the group rage against society with a twisted sense of propriety and righteousness ; others gravitate to the group simply because they enjoy raging for destruction’s sake.
In this particular episode Kemp spoke with an elderly member of the Mongrel Mob about the role of women in the gang dynamic. It became clear that the gang members valued not subservience in their women – as a master would a pet – but instead didn’t value women at all. Those women who were permitted entry to a Mongrel Mob clubhouse entered on the proviso that they left their human rights at the door. They were expected to surrender themselves into the Mongrels’ fold as nothing more than shrieking, sucking, walking, fucking vaginas.
One of the old charmers recalled to Kemp a distant time when, in one of these very clubhouses somewhere in the dilapidated suburbs of Auckland, he ripped off a woman’s pants with his teeth, and then used them to pull out her tampon. The tampon, as you might expect, was soaked in blood – as, very quickly, was the chap’s face. Naturally – as you do in these situations – he then asked a male friend to lick the blood from his face, and then invited his acquiescent comrade to share with him the tampon feast. Maybe this recital will have more impact if I present it in plainer English: they ate her fucking tampon.
Kemp asked the romantic so-and-so why he thought the woman had tolerated being treated in this manner. “She was in love with me in those days,” he replied.
Kemp, stony-faced, asked what happened next. I got the feeling Kemp wasn’t holding out hope for a sanguine ending to the tale. Neither was I. “I made love to her on the bar in front of me mates,” said the Mongrel, somewhat softly.
Did I really hear that? Did you just really read it? Love? A guest appearance from such a word in this old man’s lexicon seemed as incongruous as Kemp himself appearing in an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. [VOICE OF PRESENT-DAY JAMIE – I WROTE THIS PIECE IN A PRE-EXTRAS WORLD. YEARS LATER, RICKY GERVAIS WOULD INDEED CAST KEMP IN PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. VERY FUNNY IT WAS, TOO.]
If this act was performed in and, if we assume, received in the spirit of love, then what can the rest of us mean when we lay claim to the same concept? What price a declaration of love when its currency has been devalued so by wretched creatures such as these?
But then words are nothing more than representations of concepts; arbitrary symbols that refer to a framework we have erected to make sense of the things and ideas around us. They aren’t the actual thing that they represent, merely esoteric representations presented in a form tangible to certain human groups of representations of things filtered through our fallible, objective senses; and isn’t pinning down the nature of love a million, billion times more baffling than trying to unravel the middle section of this nonsensical and heavy sentence? [VOICE OF PRESENT-DAY JAMIE – MAYBE IF YOUR SENTENCES WERE BETTER AND MORE COHERENT IT WOULDN’T BE SO MUCH OF A PROBLEM, JAMIE]
We must remember, however, that The Mongrel Mob has chosen the Nazi interpretation of the swastika as the symbol of their ‘struggle’ against society. The irony that the Nazis were a mob of mongrels who would gladly have purified this assortment of mainly ethnic, dim-witted alcoholics with extreme prejudice is sadly lost on them. So, perhaps their definition of love should not be unquestionably accepted as definitive.
But isn’t that the point? I could profess love to a calculator, and no man on Earth would have any right to question my commitment or feelings towards the object. I could love that calculator more than a man loves his wife. I could love a sunset, or a painting, or a dung beetle. I could love with an unmatched burning intensity a woman who steals my house, or love a woman I’ve just brutally raped. I could love fifteen women at once. What do I, do we, mean when we say that? How is my love for a woman the same as or different from the way that any number of men love women; or that women love men, women women, and men men?
I’m sure we all have our own sense of truth in this matter. The English language may be standardised, but the emotion of love (if it can be called an emotion) varies in its form from person to person, culture to culture. I have read many interpretations of and theories about love in books on religion, psychology, sociology, philosophy, biology, anthropology and history. [STILL DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE FRENCH I TOOK, THOUGH] I’ve read comprehensive studies and reports (even Cosmo-fucking-politan), asked many friends and acquaintances, searched my own thoughts and feelings, and still I’m not sure whether or not love even exists.
We all agree what it means and feels to be angry, sad or afraid. But ask us of love and each will offer a different and ‘definitive’ translation: the woman married for 60 faithful years to a loving husband will cite the trials and tribulations of holding together a union over six decades as the epitome of love; the woman who holds her newborn child in her arms may know no greater case for the manifestation of love than the feelings stirred in her by the tiny pissing puke-bag under her care [I’VE GOT A SON NOW. HE IS INDEED A TINY, PISSING PUKE-BAG, BUT THE BEST TINY, PISSING PUKE-BAG IN THE UNIVERSE, AND I WOULD CRAWL NAKED OVER IRRADIATED BROKEN GLASS TO KEEP HIM SAFE]; the teenager who stands at a girl’s house in the early hours of the morning with a bunch of flowers and a fluttering heart believes that no-one has felt such strength and purity of love as he has at that moment, believes that love itself wasn’t born until his eyes fell on the object of his affections; the men at the altar, both the priest and the groom, have different ideas about, but perhaps equal intensity in their feelings, of love, for God and woman respectively (some may say the two aren’t mutually exclusive); the man who cheats on his wife but still loves her; the Muslim man who loves his daughter but kills her to restore family honour; the woman who takes an overdose of pills through an overdose of love; the stalker who waits unseen outside of his idol’s home with a wedding ring in one hand and a knife in the other; the woman lying at the bottom of the stairs in a broken, bruised heap, her husband towering over her triumphantly on the landing above: all love.
And the man who makes love to a brutalised woman on a bar in the presence of his mates.
But, again, that’s the point; if indeed there is a point. None of us can do more than see the world through our own eyes. My analysis of love, however more elaborate, is no more or less useful than any analysis that may be offered by a member of the Mongrel Mob. Whether you believe in love at first sight; or that love is forged through hardship over time, or whether you believe that love itself is a questionable concept doesn’t matter so much as the thought that all of this belief is just personal conjecture.
Yes, it’s interesting to discover how highly people revere love and the idea of love, or what in regards to it they believe to be true, but it can never be anything more than merely interesting. Revealing about the person doing the soul searching, yes; but not conclusive: never definitive.
In this respect belief in love – perhaps specifically romantic love – requires a similar leap of faith to belief in God.
I could state that we are all animals and no more capable of romantic love than starfish or kangaroos. To attempt to convince you of this I could fashion an intricate argument that harnessed power from the fields of zoology, anthropology, biology and every episode of Trisha; tell you that survival and reproduction is our over-riding goal, and even our love for our offspring is essentially love for the continuation of our own genetic and ancestral line. Which would tie in very nicely with what I might claim next: namely that all love emanates, at root, from the self, to the self. I could even rattle out a witty little aphorism that runs a little like this: ‘You can’t make people fall in love with you; you can only help them to fall in love with themselves’. Pretty trite and catchy, yeah? I could tell you that you’ve all watched too many bloody movies and that real life is more like The Sopranos than Ghost.
I could even, if you so wish, quote a study which found that the brain of someone supposedly in love exhibits the same waves and patterns as the brain of a bona fide lunatic. Is there a man or woman alive who wouldn’t agree with that? I could even, in final desperation, disavow love as a Frankenstein emotion, or expose it as nothing more than other emotions like guilt, anger, pride, fear and vanity wearing a clever disguise.
Would it matter? If love is indeed the new religion, then its associated supporters and fundamentalists will care not for any of my opinions. And why should they? Faith is their bulwark. Maybe it’s yours too.
It’s nice to hear and say sometimes, isn’t it? To love and to be loved. What would we in the West do without it? Besides, what’s the alternative? To remove ‘love’ from the dictionary, to wipe it from our hearts and minds would be as successful an endeavour as one faced by your average grumpy, secular British father should he wish one year to ban Christmas from his house. Sure, it’s a load of overly-sentimental tacky shite that has significantly decreased in impact and worth over the millennia, but just try explaining that to your kids or your wife.
Which of these likely lads do the odds favour to sustain a meaningful union long enough to have children?:
Man A: “I love you, darling. Will you marry me?”
Man B: “You see, sweetheart, love is an artificial construct born of our own narcissism and naivety. Something foisted on us and indoctrinated into our fragile minds from birth. Often one of the first words we’ll ever hear. It’s perpetuated in the classrooms, the churches, the cinemas. And, interestingly, the Marxists believe that love ultimately leads us to marriage, which in turn ensures that the working man is sufficiently pacified and preoccupied to almost guarantee that he will never wish to or be able to revolt; he’ll be nothing more than an efficient cog in the machine, thus preserving the balance of power in society and protecting those in its higher echelons. Anyway, since everybody else seems to be doing it, and since I don’t want other men to be able to sleep with you too easily, do you want to put this ring on?”
You’d die alone, wouldn’t you?
So maybe you agree with me; and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think that love is one of the constant forces of the universe, and I’m just a cynical, selfish, failed-romantic motherfucker. Your opinion, then, is as irrelevant to me as mine is to you. It doesn’t mean you still can’t be right.
In conclusion, then: it seems to me that if love can mean so many different – and often contradictory – things to so many millions of different people, then the word and the idea begins to be stretched to the point where they are rendered almost completely meaningless… but then what do I know? I don’t believe in God either.
Maybe He loves me anyway.
Imagine my astonishment when I logged into this site’s email account to find that some plucky little reader out there had come up with a Brody-related image that’s as insane as it is festive. Well done, mysterious artist, whoever you are.
There’s still time to submit your own to firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s a link to the original picture and mission statement:
A very lovely lady at work gave me a her-dog-themed Christmas card, which was sweet and thoughtful. Here it is:
Isn’t it nice? Isn’t the wee dog really cute?
This is how I repaid her:
If any of you out there with too much time on your hands are up for creating pictures that whisk this adorable little quadruped into other places in time and space, then whip them up and drop me an email with the blighters attached. Let’s make Brody the most famous dog in the universe after Lassie, the Littlest Hobo and Hitler’s dog.
I’ll collate the pictures and we’ll give them their own hashtag on Twitter or something, because that’s modern as fuck and I’ve very much got my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, whatever that is.
(I already know I won’t receive a single picture of this fucking dog, not even a shit one where he’s at the pyramids, but please let me have my little deluded Yule-fuelled moment. I’m crying now. But my tears are for the dog. He could’ve been somebody. He could’ve been a contender. Goodbye.)