Quiver, Mortals, for I am the Hero of Edinburgh Zoo

100_3490We took our son to the zoo as a birthday treat last week. As I was holding him in my arms above the red river hog enclosure (African piggy things that look like the warthog from The Lion King), his Captain America cap tumbled from his head and fell twenty feet to the ground below. One of the pigs was snouting and snuffling its way across the enclosure, on a direct course to intercept the cap with its hungry jaws. It had already half-devoured a large paper packet that contained the remnants of its latest meal, and we had no reason to doubt, as it drew closer and closer to my son’s favoured headwear, that we’d be saying bye bye to the Cap cap once and for all. The pig nudged and drooled at the cap with its wet snout, before pushing it aside like a hockey puck and continuing on its slobbery way. We breathed a sigh of relief. There was still hope.

I took the wee guy down the steps at the side of the enclosure, handed him to his momma and strolled down the hill, a strong sense of purpose propelling my limbs. I stood with the palms of my hands pressed against the top of the first of the two fences that marked the perimeter of the pigs’ domain. What sort of a father would leave his son’s favourite cap – a superhero cap, no less – to rot in a piggy prison when it was within his power to put things right? What sort of a father would leave an injustice-shaped hole in the fabric of his son’s burgeoning universe, and turn a blind eye to the hot tears of frustration coursing down his cherubic little cheeks? Not on my watch, universe. Not for this pot-bellied father!

“Jamie, it’s okay, he doesn’t really care. Look, he’s happy, let’s just go see the flamingos, he’s perfectly fine.”

But I could tell that he was dying inside, the poor little bastard. We all knew what was about to happen…

“Don’t you even think about it,” she said, as my fingers started twitching, and my arms started flexing. “Don’t you bloody embarrass me, Jamie.”

Huh! And I guess Iron Man was embarrassing, was he? When he was SAVING THE WORLD? Oooh, don’t save the world, Iron Man, you’ll give me a red neck. I’ll never be able to show my face at the lunch club for ladies, let’s just forget this silly baddy fighting malarkey and go out for some tapas?!

“Honestly, we’ll find a zoo keeper and they can fetch the hat later. It’s okay: you don’t need to do this.”

Huh! And come back to the remnants of a half-devoured hero’s hat, and see the sickening smiles of satisfaction under the snouts of those wicked beasts? Tell you what, why don’t we just throw our son over the fence and be done with it. No, that hat is coming back to us, by God, or I’ll be gored to death trying. AVENGER ASSEMBLE!!

hogWith all of my might, I hurtled myself over the imposing three-foot fence, bounded forward two feet and then mustered all of my remaining reserves of strength – both physical and mental – to clear the hellish bulk of the second three-foot fence barring my way. I may even have beat my chest like a gorilla, I can’t honestly recall, the adrenaline was running too high.

I trailed a gaggle of pigs behind me like the Pied Piper of Ham-lin (I just high-fived myself) as I strode across the enclosure. I bent down and heroically scooped up the cap and held it aloft in my fingers of justice. Snuffle, snuffle, gobble, ruffle, snort. The pigs advanced on me like a rash of hairy asthmatic tumours, their tusks trained on me like spears. I could almost hear the Indiana Jones music playing in my ears as I vaulted the two fences to the safety of the main thoroughfare.

“Well,” I said with a Ferris Buellerian smirk as I handed the cap back to my adoring son. “What do you think about that?”

“Oh, Jamie,” my partner said, as she struggled not to faint with relief and admiration. “I really, really, really want to check our boy into a crèche and have you sex the fuck out of me right here against the very fence that was the site of your greatest act of raw, almost over-powering machismo. Give me that noble, selfless penis, give me it right here and now, you bloody warrior.”

Well, perhaps I’m paraphrasing ever-so-slightly. What she actually said was:

“You fucking idiot.”

292457_421261067939971_1651654860_nI just smiled. Because that’s when you know you’re a real hero. When you’re not hero-ing for the praise. You’re just hero-ing because… well, because you don’t know how to be anything God damned else. It was at that precise moment I realised that Nickelback had probably penned their song with me in mind.

“Now let’s go,” I said, puffing out my chest, “before a zoo keeper comes along and gives me a telling off.”

We hot-footed it out of there.

Just as Captain America himself would have done.

My good lady was still shaking her head. “You do realise those pigs are about as dangerous as the ones at Muiravonside Country park?”

I scoffed. “That’s the sort of talk that got Steve Irwin killed.”

Hero status: intact.

PS: If he’d dropped his hat in the chimp or tiger enclosure, I’d’ve taken the £8 hit.


MORE ZOO-RELATED TOMFOOLERY IN MY NEXT PIECE ON PANDAS AND POKEMON

Additional animal mayhem from the archives

The time I killed a snake in Turkey…

2012 trip to the safari park: Part 1

2012 trip to the safari park: Part 2

Dealing with grief:the death of three rats and a dog

Why I’d love to live under a dictatorship

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I sometimes watch the news and find myself unable to process and interpret the dizzying, conflicting array of agendas, voices, wants, desires, schemes, half-truths, un-truths, exaggerations and lies. How I long for a simpler existence. Unless you’re in the 1 per cent – or one of those lizard people that David Icke’s always banging on about – nothing you say, think or do matters anyway. Free thought and moral relativism are exhausting. So I’ve been dreaming about a different world. A better world… Imagine it with me.

Instead of humming and hawing, and deliberating, and debating, and compensating, and weighing consequences, and wondering who’s telling the truth, and trying to work out whose image is being manipulated by which media outlet and why, and reading articles, and journals, and manifestos, and pamphlets by the library-load in a vain, ever-futile attempt to work out why you should care, what you should do, how you should think, who you should trust, and why, why, why, a thousand times why… wouldn’t it be refreshing just to wake up in a world where a man went on television, stood on a flag-draped podium and shouted, ‘DO WHAT I SAY OR I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU.’

Yes, of course it would be horrible. But wouldn’t it also be, you know, awesome?

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The more I think about it, the more I’m certain that I would have thrived under a dictatorship. School would’ve been an absolute doddle. When you live in a totalitarian state you usually find that the most important book in the school syllabus is a book of poetry that the dictator has written to commemorate Squiggles, his dead guinea pig. I would’ve been an A+ student.

“When our dear leader wrote that he ‘loved ickle wittle Squiggles little face’, and then went on to say that ‘he missed that fuwwy, fwuffy, cuddwee wittle face’ I cried for six days. And rhyming ‘face’ with ‘face’? Such a strikingly bold choice, but then our dear leader is nothing if not strikingly bold, may he reign for another ten million years, and may his enemies drown in hot gallons of their own blood. PS: On that note, Little Jimmy Graham in class 2B said that guinea pigs are vermin and eat their own poo, so I wonder if perhaps he needs a spell of ‘mandatory re-education’ in the Airdrie gulag? PPS: I wonder if he’ll be needing his new Nike Airs in the gulag. I’d be more than happy to look after them.”

And there’s another awesome aspect of living life under the iron fist: the ability to have your rivals – or even just people who happen to blow their nose in a rather irritating way – carted off to prison or the afterlife with the minimum of effort.

“Dear State Bureau of Citizen Improvement for the Glory of Our Mighty Leader,

Last night, just after my Dad confiscated the Xbox controllers from me for giving him cheek, he went into his bedroom and said to my mum, ‘Dictator? Dick…taker more like!’ He also quite clearly and audibly insinuated that he had a bigger penis than our great leader.

PS: any chance you could ask him where he’s stashed the controllers as you lead him crying and screaming from the house? ”

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REPORT CARD SUMMARY – Jamie Andrew

School: The Merciful and Munificent Leader’s Institution for the Inculcation and Responsibilisation of Our Great Republic’s Pre-Citizens Junior High

MATHS – A+

  1. 2 + 2 = whatever our Dear Leader tells me it equals.
  2. If x + y(2) – c(a) / 245.76 X yy2(cos24), is it the fault of the Jews? = Yes.
  3. Describe Pythagoras’ theorem = No. Pythagoras was a reactionary intellectual separatist whose belief in angles is a threat to the mighty secular perfection of the Great republic. Also, almost definitely a black Jewish homosexual.

ENGLISH – A+

“Animal Farm, by the treacherous bastard Eric Blair, is a piece of pernicious capitalist propaganda that says more about the author’s barely concealed sexual attraction to pigs than it does about life in our glorious republic. All copies of this book should be burned, and its author’s bones disinterred and pooed upon. Besides, if it’s a good book about pigs you’re after, you can’t beat ‘Without Rhyme or Reason: The Tragic Death of Squiggles.’”

MUSIC – A+

Essay: “Our Dear Leader’s fingers do not stretch over the fret of a guitar, therefore guitars are flawed, and possibly a plot by our enemies to humiliate our Dear Leader, which is why I spent a semester confiscating 7000 guitars from the local community, recording the noise of me smashing each of them to pieces with a hammer, and releasing the finished edit as the number 1 hit single, ‘Guitar Ownership is a Capital Offence by Decree of our Benevolent and Magnificent Leader, May All his Wanks be Uninterrupted and Unhurried.’”

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With school finished – and aced – I’d be straight on to a long, successful career in the Ministry of Propaganda where I’d be writing school text books, newspaper reports and government missives. Like:

“Americans: do they really bathe their young in Coca Cola, and have sex with hawks? Yes. Yes they do.”

“The French speak of freedom and revolution. They also use cheese as a deodarant and play with their uncles’ dicks. Don’t listen to them.”

“Why the Spanish are almost certainly a nation of transsexuals who enjoy sex with dead whales that they dress up like giant flamenco dancers.”

“Forcing the Germans to build a wall to help us keep the Germans out of our country: the importance of sniper turrets.”

Work is often a place of stagnation, a repetitive, soul-sucking dirge that booms in your brain until you shuffle off to the grave with a carriage clock tucked under your oxster. Imagine how much more exciting it would be if your working week was a hot-bed of attempted assassinations and high-stakes mud-slinging, where Friday would quickly inherit the acronym TFISA (Thank fuck I’m still alive). Retirement wouldn’t just be a relief. It would be a real achievement. Like completing Halo on Legendary without getting shot once.

At this point, please feel free to imagine me letting out a wistful sigh. (pause for wistful sigh) Ah, those were… well, not those were the days, I suppose, because they never happened. But those should’ve been the days. Those could still be the days.

Do they advertise dictator vacancies at the Job Centre?

A few words on death

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I think about death. A lot. I was thinking about it today. Thinking about how all of us, no matter our views on nudity, modesty or the sanctity of the body, will inevitably find ourselves lying dead and naked on a slab with some poe-faced mortuary attendant hunched over us with a clip-board. That’s the best case scenario. Worst case, some psychopathic medical student will be playing keepy-uppy with our severed balls or tits. On the bright side, we’ll be dead and we won’t give a shit either way. Regardless, I want them to know, these ghouls. I want them to know that I’ve lived my life accepting the allignment of my destiny with theirs. I want to communicate with them from beyond the grave. I was thinking a stomach tattoo. I’m torn between I KNOW A NECROPHILIAC WHEN I SEE ONE and YOU’RE NEXT. I’m open to suggestions.

That led me to thinking about people who work in funeral parlours. Do undertakers and mortuary assistants have appraisals at work? What form do they take?

Funeral director: probably the most hilarious of all the professions

Funeral director: probably the most hilarious of all the professions

Well, Colin, thank you for attending your annual review today. For starters, can you tell me anything that you think you’ve done well in the mortuary over the last twelve months, anything you’re particularly proud of?”

Hmmmm… well, of all the bodies I’ve tended to this year, less than thirty per cent of them ended up looking like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.”

A real improvement on last year, Colin. Now, can you think of any way that you could make your processes more efficient?”

We could… put the make-up on people while they’re still alive in the hospice, get them in and out faster on the day?”

“Oh, that’s brilliant, I’ll make a note of that.”

Face-painting?”

I’m not sure I follow…”

Well, I’m always at a loose-end during the funeral itself, but if people brought their kids I could set up in a side-room and do their faces up like cats and wizards and that. Charge five pound a face.”

(nodding vigorously) And then, if any of the adults are particularly upset as they file out of the service, they’ll come out, turn a corner and…”

BAM. Wee guy with a tiger face.”

Wee guy with a tiger face!”

I know a tiger face would cheer me up.”

Oh, me too, Colin, that’s….BRILLIANT! You’d just have to make sure to wash the brushes out before you used them on the kids’ faces.”

I could just use different brushes.”

(claps hands together, frantically scrawls in notepad) This must be how Mr Miagi felt in the Karate Kid! Any other initiatives?”

(ponders) You know, when people think funeral procession, they think sssllllow. But why does it have to be slow? If the drivers absolutely caned it, we could squeeze in a few extra funerals every day, plus the mourners would be too distracted to be depressed.”

Make it more fun!”

Make it more fun. Give the hearses a siren like Ecto-1 from the Ghostbusters. People would go crazy for that shit. Give the guy with the big top hat who traditionally walks in front of the procession a quad bike.”

Jesus Christ, Colin, you’re taking me to funeral director school today, son!”

Maybe this is a little too radical, but how do you feel about group discounts for bonfires?”

hearse

I would hate to be a mortician or an undertaker. Imagine coming home frisky and angling for sex. I imagine there’d be an insistent, unshooshable voice in my partner’s head saying to her: “How the hell can he be horny after looking at dead bodies all day? Unless… oh God, he isn’t horny BECAUSE of the dead bodies, is he? I swear to Christ, if he tells me to stop moving around so much I’ll snip his dick off…”

How could you ever feel horny ever again? I know there are some strange aphrodisiacs in this world, but recently-deceased 87-year-old Gladys McLintoch surely isn’t one of them. Sex and death are inextricably linked, and sometimes proximity to death, and fear of mortality, can trigger the reproductive instinct; that being said, most normal guys wouldn’t gaze down at the face of a dearly departed old granny, allow a lop-sided leer to slip across their lips, and think to themselves: ‘The wife’s going to be walking like John Wayne when I’m done with her tonight.’ 

One final thought: do hearse drivers get to take their work vehicles home and use them recreationally, like taxi drivers do? “Well, it’s an absolute bastard to reverse park the thing, but it’s so good for the weekly shop. I can fit in the bog paper, washing powder, everything.” 

When your kid goes from angel… to Hell’s Angel

behaveangelImagine the scene. Your kid is on the cusp of becoming a toddler. They spend their days teetering around, swishing behind them a rainbow of babbles, innocence and light. They seem to tip-toe across rooms like a lady at an etiquette school balancing books on her bonce, their little head wobbling gently in the manner of an acquiescent Indian’s, but holding firm and steady, their gaze fixed on some far-off and unseen horizon.

There are, however, no books resting atop that diminutive dome, only a single, solitary halo, round and bright and smooth and solid, a perfect crown for a perfect kid. The halo will stay, of that you’re certain, permanent proof of your supremacy as parents. The concept of sharing? Tick. A sweet, happy and loving disposition? Tick. Absence of tantrums? Tick. You’ve done everything right, in fact you’ve re-written the rule book, and made right look positively, prehistorically left. Hundreds of thousands of years of child-rearing distilled and crystalised into the body of that zen-like little creature you’ve gifted to the world. If you had a mic you’d drop it, walk past a billion-strong crowd of parents with a sneer on your lips and a swagger in your step: “Suck our block-rocking cocks, Doctor Spock! Mum and dad out! ”

I remember the days well. When our little boy was very small, my partner and I would find ourselves in restaurants, or soft-plays, or attending children’s parties, surveying the raft of shrieking, wailing, kicking, screaming, biting, slapping demon spawn around us; we’d observe the scarlet-faced, coarse-voiced frustration of their parents, and we’d each raise a silent furry eyebrow in the other’s direction. Our eyebrows would receive such regular and herculian workouts that it’s a wonder the juts of our brows weren’t rendered cro-magnan with the extra layers of muscle.

Afterwards, in the car or safely back home, we’d dissect the scenes, two Glasgow tenament women gossiping over a fence, arrogance and self-righteousness flooding from our mouths like bile-flavoured milkshakes: “Did you see it when that kid hit that other kid? Oh, I know, and then when he… yeah, and then that little girl, you know the one, the one with the messy big face, when she kicked that boy in the… oh, I know, I know. And when that kid stole that sandwich from the smaller kid and shoved it in his mouth, and the mother just… well, she just sat there… I mean, our kid would never do that, never, and even if he did, well, I mean, we simply wouldn’t stand for it, would we?” No, of course that wouldn’t happen to us. Impossible. I mean, that’s a halo on his head, not a hoopla. It’s fixed. It’s everlasting. We’ve won at parenting, that’s what that halo means.

It’s the age-old tale. Just as you’re busy awarding yourself with a machine-gun volley of self-congratulatory slaps on the back, a funny thing happens…

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Your kid turns into a fucking asshole.

That’s right, people. A beautiful, wonderful, magnificent asshole, sure, but an asshole none-the-less. They push kids. They snatch toys. They hurtle down the aisles of the supermarket whooping and laughing, their ears closed to your hollers of protestation. They lob their dinner at the cat. They lob the cat at their dinner. They start ritually sacrificing goats and glugging the blood like wine.

The transformation doesn’t happen overnight. At least it didn’t for us. I still remember the day when the bubble of our hubris was loudly and decisively popped, in public, during a trip to the safari park. The lion’s share of the day (forgive me) had passed without incident; our darling boy had cooed at the elephants, stood enthralled by the giraffes, and laughed his little ass off at the meerkats. It was a time of great joy, and peace, just like all the rest of our times. Why should this day be any different? In retrospect, it was the most apposite time for the universe to send this particular piano of truth crashing down atop our heads.

My son, as we learned that day – and have never forgotten – is highly skilled at perfectly timing his tantrums and manic episodes to coincide with those moments where we find ourselves trapped and unable to pull free from the orbit of his naughtiness. Like, for example, when we’re crammed into a small boat with twenty-five strangers en route to Chimp Island.

chimp boat

I had been excited. “I wonder what those chimps are going to get up to,” I said to my partner. “The reason these boats have cages around them isn’t simply to protect us from an audacious chimp attack or prevent us from falling overboard. They’re there to protect us from the rocks and sticks the chimps like to hurl at the boats. Not to mention clumps of their own shite. God, I’ll bet they’re going to go absolutely mental, and jump around and throw shite at us. Oh please say that they’ll do all that, please, I can’t wait to see them go crazy!”

Disappointingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they did nothing. They just stood there on the shore, staring mutely at us, bored and weary looks weighing down their ancient hairy faces. My son instantly siezed the opportunity to show his lesser cousins how boisterousness was done, homo sapien-style, claiming centre stage for himself. He writhed and flailed in my arms, shrieking like a banshee in a house-fire, his little limbs pumping like pistons oiled by evil. He occasionally ceased his shrieks to sink his tiny little teeth into the soft flesh of my shoulder. I had to hold him back, and aloft, like he was some psychopathically recalcitrant zombie Scrappy Doo. All eyes on the boat turned to us: the hairless missing links that were infinitely more interesting to behold than the sluggish, half-arsed primates across the water.

Water, I thought. I’ll give him a drink of his water; that’ll distract him. Well, it did, and it didn’t. He started loading it into his mouth like liquid ammunition and spitting it everywhere, raining down globs of watery child saliva upon the shoulders of those poor souls  unfortunate enough to find themselves in our immediate vicinity. Never have so many sorries been uttered in such a short a space of time to so many by so few. I could already hear the judgements and condemnations forming in their minds, as they prepared to engage in the same sorts of conversations that we’d always enjoyed having about other people’s naughty children. It’s funny how you find yourself playing to the gallery during those moments, loudly spelling out the extenuating circumstances behind your child’s behaviour for all to hear. “He’s not normally like this… I SAID HE’S NOT NORMALLY LIKE THIS, CAN YOU HEAR ME AT THE BACK UP THERE?! I’LL SAY IT MORE LOUDLY, I SAID HE’S NOT NORMALLY LIKE THIS!”

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A few weeks ago we attended an American friend’s fourth of July barbecue. Naturally, we dressed Jack in a Captain America costume, complete with superhero shield. I had been very close to ordering my partner and I Uncle Sam hats and Obama masks for the occasion. Thank Christ I didn’t, because when we arrived there was nothing identifiably American about the occasion, save for the host herself. I blame my misconceptions on Rocky IV, which I’ve obviously interpreted as some sort of cultural documentary. I dread to think how we would have dressed our kid had we been invited to a Hindu celebration.

Anyway, our wee guy was five to eight months older than most of the kids at the barbecue, and was long overdue a nap. As a consequence, his ‘well-developed concept of sharing’ was buried deep within a fog of pissiness. He snatched books and toys from the smaller kids, and knocked them over like pins at a bowling arcade. You feel paralysed at times like this. People who have no frame of reference for your kid’s behaviour will naturally assume that you’ve raised an asshole. You want to chide your kid, to show that you’re not a passive parent who tolerates unruly behaviour, but at the same time you feel you have to hold back your sterner inclinations because you also don’t want to come across as the boom-voiced, authoritarian dick you are at home. I just ended up sounding like Hooks from Police Academy, with an apologetic, wobbly whisper escaping from my mouth in the mould of ‘Don’t move… dirtbag,’ followed by a muttered string of, ‘He’s not normally like this-es’ and ‘He’s a wee sweetheart at home-s.’

Don’t misunderstand. Our boy isn’t the devil. He’s still a sweet, bright, caring and loving little person, and thoroughly well-behaved the vast majority of the time, which is one way of saying that the beatings are working. He’s never surly or aggressive or violent, he just occasionally likes to flaunt his moxy, and wear a look on his face that says: ‘There hasn’t been a naughty step built that can hold me, motherfuckers.’

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I guess the occasional bout of bad behaviour is par for the course at certain stages of a child’s development. And sometimes what we class as bad behaviour is a by-product of limits being tested or the flexing some new found muscle of freedom or experience. It’s our job to introduce him to consequences and responsiblity, certainly, and to socialise him, and protect him from the unfiltered excesses of his own ego and the punishments he might face from those outside the family with a less forgiving eye, but it’s also our job to understand what he’s thinking and how he’s feeling, and ask ourselves why he might be behaving in a certain way. We owe him that. Sometimes he’s hungry, sometimes he’s tired, sometimes he lacks the language skills to convey his feelings and communicate his desires, which can lead to frustration. Sometimes, when we make an effort to trace the genesis of a particular action or behaviour, we’ll discover that we, the parents, are the unwitting Kaiser Szozes.

For instance, we’ll chase him around the house telling him we’re going to eat his legs off, and then react with shock and anger when he later runs up to us and sinks his teeth into our leg. Or we’ll make the experience of teeth-brushing more fun by preceding it with a round-the-house, laughter-filled chase, and then lose our shit when he decides it would be funny to replicate the chase in a busy supermarket when we’re lugging heavy baskets of fresh produce. This is one reason we’ll never smack or strike him. What will you then do if your child hits someone? Hit them harder? To teach them about the abuse of power and hypocrisy?

We’re learning that the toddler years, especially as we prepare to enter the infamous ‘terrible twos’, are a period of constant adjustment and correction, of our behaviour as much as his.

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It’s reasonably easy to predict what a baby will do. But as a baby becomes a toddler becomes a child becomes a teenager becomes an adult, the range of possibilities stretched before them – of thought, of action, of mood, of mind, of experience – increases a million-fold, transforming the relationship between cause and effect into a dizzying, ever-multiplying web of connections. They’re exposed to other kids, other family members, other adults in your friend circle, strangers, the TV, a multitude of new sounds and smells and toys and concepts. Life is complex, and complicated, and so’s your kid.

What I’m saying is, should ever see our little boy dashing around a supermarket with a mischevious glint in his eye as we lumber after him like angry dog-catchers, or hear me roaring in pain because my darling son has just sprinted towards me and sunk his teeth into my crotch, please reserve your judgement. I promise to do the same for you. And keep your eyes trained on the empty space above his skull. If you screw up your eyes and strain really hard, you’ll still be able to see the faint outline of a halo. Not quite as bright as it once was. Maybe not as perfectly round. But it’s there.

I promise you it’s still there.

MORE ARTICLES ON PARENTHOOD

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

The CW’s Arrow: one in the eye for logic

arrow1Enjoyment of the superhero series Arrow requires a steel-reinforced suspension of disbelief. Don’t come to Arrow expecting the gritty, heightened reality of a Christopher Nolan project, or the air-tight, all-bases-covered, intricate plotting of the likes of your Wires and Breaking Bads, and especially don’t come to it expecting rich and subtle dialogue a la Better Call Saul, Transparent or The Sopranos. Your only choice is to wholeheartedly embrace Arrow’s two-fingered salute to sense, logic and reality, and simply revel in its slick ridiculousness. Switch off your reason-circuits and enjoy the glamorous, steroidal throat-punches that punctuate its cartoonish narrative.

This is a CW show, after all (apologies to the hyper-popular Supernatural and the exquisitely compulsive iZombie for the derogatory sneer). You know the basic template. All of the characters are ‘beautiful’, chiselled and dazzle-toothed, even those supposedly from the wrong side of the tracks, and living on the proceeds of crime and welfare in the unforgiving murk of the ghetto. People seem to spend their days trading clumsy snippets of exposition with each other. That’s when they’re not busy spelling out exactly how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way, at all times. Themes are hammered into your eyes like nails. Plots are always wrapped up with healthy helpings of coincidence, contrivance or deux ex machina. Or sex. If someone dies, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be back in an episode or five with a barely believable explanation for their survival.  

Furthermore, Oliver Queen is a ‘superhero’ who is rendered wholly invisible by a baggy hood pulled loosely over his face. No one ever tries to whip the hood off, even when they’re standing a half a centimetre away from him. And John Barrowman’s… a bad ass?

John Barrowman as 'The Black Arrow' in the CW's 'Arrow'.

John Barrowman as ‘The Black Arrow’ in the CW’s ‘Arrow’.

You see? That little voice – the one that watches TV and delights in shouting out, ‘Wait a minute, that could never happen, because x, y, z’ – must be silenced when watching Arrow. I’ve always done a pretty good job of suppressing that little voice. Until this week, when the fourth episode of season two turned my little voice into a crazed drill sergeant turned auctioneer.

I’ll set the scene. A black gangland boss calling himself ‘The Mayor’ rolls up to an army of cops in an armored personnel carrier. Flanked by a series of machine-gun-toting goons, The Mayor proceeds to give an angry and impassioned speech about guns, and how he’s going to use them to rule the city, ostensibly by killing lots of people with them. The violence is heavily sign-posted, to the other characters as well as to the audience. In fact, The Mayor couldn’t have less subtly foreshadowed the violence had he ended his speech by saying, ‘And now, without any further ado, and thanking you for your patience during my angry waffle about killing you, I am very pleased to announce the beginning of our bloodbath.’

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All the while the cops hunch uncertainly behind their squad cars, their guns drawn, just waiting for a cue to act, a cue to say something, a cue to do something, a concrete cue, an indisputable, cast-iron cue, but blast it, they can’t, because that cunning gang hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary, other than stand on a public street armed with automatic weapons threatening to kill everyone. Then The Mayor and his guys open fire. People dive for cover. Bullets pepper the squad cars. The cops wait a full six seconds before half-heartedly returning fire. By which point a significant proportion of the cops are dead.

Hmmm. Arrow expertly somersaulting through a horde of bullets and emerging unscathed? Women always having perfect hair even when imprisoned on a nightmarish island? John Barrowman being tougher than Chuck Norris? I can just about buy all of that. But to believe that American cops would hesitate to respond when faced with a heavily armed gang of black males in a deprived urban area – and not just hesitate, but allow themselves to be picked off like teen sluts in a 90s slasher flick? I’m sorry. In a world – in an all too real world – in which a well-heeled, unarmed black boy brandishing a hotdog is liable to end his day on a mortuary slab with fifty-six bullets ploughed into his chest, that’s just too much unreality for me.

I’m off to watch something a little more authentic, like Ben McKenzie’s acting on Gotham…

PS: I still love Arrow, even though every fibre of my being tells me that I shouldn’t.

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

cosleep1A benchmark is looming in our lives, one I’d guess most parents have already reached by this stage in their children’s development. My little boy is nearly two, and since birth he’s shared our bedroom with us. For the first couple of months he slept in a Moses basket by our bed. After that, he graduated to a special stilted extension that clamps on to our double-bed on his mother’s side. Most nights he’s to be found spread-eagled across three-quarters of the total available area, forsaking his own little jutted corner and pushing his mum and me to the outer fringes of bed-space and beyond. Often my knees dangle over the spongy precipice of my side of the mattress, a faint sliver of duvet tugged sparingly to my body, an arrangement that brings warmth to a mere one shoulder and half a leg.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Except now we have to.

Baby number two is arriving this November, and the bright torch of cosy snuggledom will have to be passed down from the eldest sibling to the newest. This makes it sound like a noble act in which my son is a willing participant. My language masks the fact that our son will probably interpret his relocation to his actual bedroom – or ‘the toy room’ as he surely thinks of it – as banishment; his position at the maternal breast usurped by a shrieking, snivelling little upstart with nothing in the way of special skills beyond the amazing ability to shit, sneeze, piss and cry all at the same time.

A random toddler, somewhere in the world, exhibiting that famous toddler scowl.

A random toddler, somewhere in the world, exhibiting that famous toddler scowl.

My son no longer breastfeeds. I guess his mum’s pregnancy hormones and a concomitant change in the composition of her milk convinced his taste buds that it was time to move on. He still stares at his mum’s breasts from time to time, with the same look on his face that you or I would wear if we spotted someone in the street with whom we were positive we’d once passed an evening, many years ago. Sometimes, when we’re all lying in bed for story time, he slips a hand down his mum’s top, buries it in her cleavage and says, ‘Comfy in there.’ (That’s my boy!) Then he’ll fall asleep, a fond look written across his tender little features somewhere between peace and triumph.

Breastfeeding was the main reason we decided to co-sleep, to make night feeds easier for mother and child (and, let’s face it, for Daddy too). I say ‘we’ decided. That’s not strictly accurate. My partner outlined the kind of mother she wanted to be, and I gladly and wholeheartedly supported it. I’m thankful every day that I was blessed to have children with a woman whose methods, which I’m sure will earn her the label of ‘new age mother’ or ‘hippy chick’ in some people’s eyes, hark back to a more mother-centric time. Had she decided to bottle feed and move our baby to his own room within a few months, I’m sure I would’ve supported that, too, but I’m grateful that she was able to open my eyes to the alternative; an alternative that I fast accepted as the definitive. That being said, I recognise that all mothers and couples have different stresses, commitments and priorities in their lives that don’t always easily accommodate the ways in which we’ve chosen to approach parenthood. I’m just glad we were able to find a way that works for us, and makes us all happy.

Even though my son’s suckling days – for both sustenance and comfort – are over, his continued presence in our room is about so much more than nurturing or convenience. It’s a gift. Each morning I wake up to find a little face smiling at me across his mother’s tummy. He’ll shout ‘Morning time’ and clamber over her legs to nuzzle in between us, cradling my face and giving me a big wet kiss on the lips. More and more frequently, as my fear of rolling over in my sleep and crushing him to death has subsided, I’ve woken to find him nestled in to the crook of my arm, and get to watch his tiny, delicate chest rising and falling, a series of soft little susurrations issuing from his lips. When I wake up, he wakes up, grabbing my hand and telling me, ‘Mon, Daddy, mon, morning time’, before sliding himself off the bed and demanding I follow him. The thought of not seeing his face in the fresh seconds of each new day, of not knowing he’s safe and with us – I mean with us, right with us – fills me with a suffocating sense of dread. I know he’ll only be a few feet away in another room, just along the smallest hallway in the world. I know we’ll all adapt and adjust as a family and nothing will be lost or broken. But still. My boy. My team. We should be together. Always. Even when we’re all snoring and farting in bed.

Whenever I do this, my last thought before drifting off is always 'Please don't let me kill the baby.'

Whenever I do this, my last thought before drifting off is always ‘Please don’t let me kill the baby.’

Because the vast majority of people in the Western world don’t co-sleep with their children – having the luxury of space and surplus bedrooms – our decision to do so is often greeted as if it were some weird new-age aberration. It amuses me when baby boomers and their elders scoff at co-sleeping, or somehow think it’s an unhealthy form of coddling, given that most of them grew up in one-bedroom tenements where they had to share a bed with eighty members of their extended family.

I know what you’re thinking, though. Conjugals, right? I guess there are a lot of husbands and partners who would baulk at the idea of co-sleeping with their kids for that very reason. Isn’t sharing your bed with a tiny human an impediment to sex with your partner? Well of course it is. But so is having kids in the first place. Besides, not having a bed to rely on forces you to make better use of things like walls, tables and washing machines. I’m conscious that the previous sentence makes it sound as though my life is an uninterrupted cavalcade of adventurous humping, when that may be over-egging the pudding somewhat. A child is a living reminder of death: your actual death, and the steady death of your recreational sex life. A lot of the time we’re too tired after long hours absorbing and deflecting the time-hungry hyperactivity of our unbowedly kinetic little human. Or else find that our supplies of sexiness and reservoirs of randiness have been depleted by the wiping up of one too many jobbies, or the fifty-sixth recitation in a row of Jack and the Beanstalk. Now that’s a passion killer. Especially when you later find yourself shouting out ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ at the point of ejaculation.

The next few months are going to tough for the three (soon to be four) of us, but we have to do what’s best for Jack and the new baby. We can’t risk the safety of our newest arrival if Jack decides to  object to the sharing of his domain, and we can’t subject Jack to a screaming wake-up call every two to three hours when his little brother or sister wakes up to feed. We’re going to have to help Jack adjust to the new reality in stages; make it seem like the bold, empowering and exciting journey towards independence that I guess, in many ways, it is.

Perhaps I’m worrying in the wrong direction here. For me, the only thing worse than the thought of my son being upset by his impending move is the thought that he won’t really give a shit about it one way or the other. And it’ll be me waking up at four in the morning with a heavy heart and a halted tear, creeping through to his room with a blanket and a pillow, begging to be close to him.

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Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

 

Flies, Lies and Crime Fighting Dogs

fliesI hate flies. They repulse me. If there are too many of them occupying a room in which I’m planning to eat, then I can’t eat. Not until I’ve blasted each and every one of them from the sky with a precision towel flick, or taken the fight directly to them on every wall, ceiling and light-shade upon which they’re bold or stupid enough to land.

My 22-month-old son has observed the ritual many times. I settle down to eat, and before I’ve even ingested so much as a morsel one of the poo-eating ninjas whooshes out from behind a curtain and tries to 9/11 my mashed potatoes. I have to kill it. My jaws lock with disgust, my appetite drops dead. Before I can eat another forkful, I have to kill it, else I’ll spend the remainder of my meal-time imagining its filthy little body crunching between my teeth. So I jump and curse and flail and rage, mad-eyed and spitting, demanding that every human eye in the room become part of my fly-detecting CCTV network.

flies2

It’s rubbed off on the wee guy. He’s become my most trusted fly-spotter. “Daddy… FLY!” he’ll shout any time he sees one, lifting a finger aloft to mark its final resting place. Sometimes it’s a spider, or a fleck of paint, but what he lacks in accuracy he makes up for in vigour. If you ask him, “What do we do with flies?”, he’ll smack his palms together in an almighty cymbal motion and start shouting ‘FLY! FLY DIE!’ And my heart will swell, and I’ll think, “That’s my boy!” I’m surely witnessing the first delicate shoots of his first verifiable inter-generational neuroses, handed down from father to son. It’s truly a landmark moment. So he probably won’t be a Buddhist… but if keeping flies alive is the cost of admission to Buddhism, then I’m glad to have priced my son out of that disease-saturated market. Death to Fly-SIS!

You’ve got to really think about the way your kids see the world at this age, and consider the things they’ll cut and paste from you and the world around them to compile their own personalities. We went to a funday at the weekend and watched a police dog display. Hitherto he’s considered dogs to be plodding, docile beasts that put up with his shit and occasionally lick his face. The police dog display taught him that these furry fuckers he looks upon so fondly are also capable of taking down a fully grown man with a bounding gallop and a single arm-snarling leap. As he watched the dog savage the downed policeman’s arm, I had to make it clear to him that this wasn’t the norm. I framed it for him thusly: “This dog is a special dog. It helps the police. It helps the police fight the baddies.” His face bunched up into a frown before breaking out into a smile. “Fight baddies!” he said, nodding to himself, before shouting out “BATMAN!”

batdog

“Yes, that’s right,” we told him, “the dog fights the baddies like Batman.” (He’s a big fan of the cartoon.) He then proceeded to spend the next five minutes pointing at the dog and shouting BATMAN over and over again. BATMAN! BATMAN! BATMAN! Rather than remark on how clever he was, bystanders unaware of the context in which he’d processed the dog’s actions might’ve thought we’d raised a fucking idiot.

I always want my son to see the mechanism behind things. I’ll probably clue him in on the whole Santa Claus cover-up when he’s a little bit older, so he can use the knowledge to hoodwink and manipulate his daft-ass school friends. Perhaps he’ll tell them that Santa’s a ferocious half-rat, half-alien killing machine that’ll kill them in their beds unless they leave a pile of their mum’s panties on the living room floor. Or that unless they all pay him a fiver each Santa won’t be able to afford enough magic dust to fly on Christmas Eve. The possibilities are endless. In my imagination, that is. Something tells me that my missus isn’t going to allow me to take our little boy’s dreams in my fist and crush them like rice cakes. Spoilsport!

badsanta

Just before I left the house last night I slipped a fake rubber hand up the sleeve of my jacket, and held my ‘hand’ out for my son to shake. At the climax of the handshake he found himself holding a disembodied human hand and staring at a bloodless stump on his dad’s arm. His world-shaking shock lasted only a second, before my real hand spat out of the stump accompanied by a happy TA-DA! “Pretend hand!” I smiled. “…tend hand,” he nodded. I then repeated the trick from the beginning a few times, showing him the whole process from start to finish. His mum did it for him too. He’s now cool and happy with the rubber hand, and I fully expect him to be using it to put the shits up his grandparents by Christmas. Unfortunately, I think part of him now believes two contradictory things at once: that I have two real hands, but also that one of my hands is fake. As I left the house and waved him goodbye with my real hand, he shouted: “Bye pretend hand!”

Is it possible to fuck someone up in a good way?

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Where have you been all my lives?

linlithgow

Linlithgow: driving through its heavily congested high street makes you feel like you’re stuck behind the funeral cortege of somebody you’ve always fucking hated.

A few years ago a friend and I visited a shop in Linlithgow that specialised in religious and spiritual bric-a-brac. It was a weird little place: the sort of place where the Bible and the Koran shared space on the bookshelf alongside titles like ‘How to Exorcise Satanic Monopoly Pieces’ and ‘Making Your Cursed Monkey Foot Work For You.’

I wish you could’ve seen it. It’s not there any more. I’d like to think it just vanished in a puff of smoke one day, or that it never actually existed and my whole experience of the place was an hallucination triggered by the proximity of some ancient and evil artefact. But there’s probably a more humdrum explanation: the place was just too bat-shit mental to turn a profit. A Needful Things where none of the things were needful, and the devil running the place wasn’t a very good salesman.

spider-jesus

When you first walked into Needless Things there was a giant Jesus on a crucifix hanging on the wall; a Native American dream-catcher bounced from the ceiling above a wooden statue of an axe-wielding Native American chief in full ceremonial head-dress; Buddha squatted on a little side-table in a corner of the room, and a stone Virgin Mary stood on the floor next to him. It made me smile. I’d seen Night at the Museum. I sincerely hoped that the religious figurines would come to life at night for a scrap and a raucous party, and the shop-keeper would open the shop the next day to find Jesus scalped, and Mary no longer a virgin.

The lady who owned the shop was a tiny, shrivelled raisin with a limp. A quick visual sweep of her wrinkle-etched face convinced me that she was at least 6000 years old. I was surprised she could still walk owing to the tonne of jewellery that bedecked her bird-like frame, the weight of which gave her the gait of a half-wrecked skinless Terminator. I’m sure she was created in a laboratory as part of some weird genetic experiment to splice Yoda with Mr T.

She was also – and I’m struggling to be charitable here – absolutely fucking mental. Pitied the fool, I did.

mrt

The old woman teetered and clinked her way across the shop-floor towards us, fixing us with a calm, predatory stare from her lifeless shark eyes. My friend was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks at the time (a condition  that could only have been exacerbated by the sight of this mystic dinky toy with a waxwork face moving in for the kill), information she shared with the old woman after they entered into a discussion about protective amulets or some such shit. The words ‘panic attack’ appeared to be one of the old woman’s triggers; she adopted a look somewhere between possession and constipation. I guess she was thinking.

‘Panic attacks,’ she said, her ancient lips hardly moving, lending her the appearance of a poorly-painted, haunted ventriloquist’s dummy. ‘Some people think that panic attacks are to do with your brain. Others think they’re to do with bad things in your childhood. But did you ever consider… [wait for it, I thought] that they might be caused by something that happened to you… in a past life?’

Em, no. No, we hadn’t considered that. Mainly because we’re not absolutely insane. I was relieved that this crazy old coot hadn’t entered the medical profession.

“I’ve checked you over, and your panic attacks appear to have been caused by that time you were chased through the garden of Eden by a T-Rex. I’m prescribing an enchanted emerald and a bag of magic frog dicks.”

past-life-regression-therapy

The best was yet to come. She went on to claim that one of her pals – undoubtedly called Mags or Betty – had given her a past-life regression, during which she’d discovered that she’d been a black slave, transported on a galley from Africa to America. I bit my lip so hard I almost ate my face. She stared back at us. This woman was entirely serious. She believed it without question. She further claimed that this revelation finally explained why she had always felt such an affinity with black people. It’s a testament to the entrenched racism of most elderly people in Central Scotland that the only sensible explanation this woman could find for liking black people is that she used to be one two hundred years ago.

I wonder what wee Yoda is doing with herself these days, now that her business has folded. I’d like to think she’s returned to Brooklyn to be with her people. I can just see her now, limping up to a gaggle of guys on a front step somewhere, throwing her arms wide and hollering: “It’s me! It’s Acqwon! I’ve lost a bit of weight since the 18th century, and granted I’m now a tiny white Scottish pensioner, but don’t you recognise me? Come on, homeys, let’s roll up a trouser leg and shoot some hoops!”

FURTHER READING

Jesus Loves You: that’s the problem

Jesus is a jerk

Jesus comes to Stirling

 

Frustration? I can’t be arsed.

cheWhen I worked for the Scottish Court Service I joined the union and became a representative for my office, primarily because I liked the thought of officially sanctioned time away from my desk, and indeed the entire building. It helped that most days out on union business consisted of 5 per cent conferencing to 95 per cent drinking.

Whilst installed as the office representative I became adept at asking meaningless yet persistent questions at conferences in a bid to justify my presence in the union flock. I’d say something like, “A few people in the office were asking if they could get some free pens. Well, can they?” and then nod sagely. I once half-heartedly participated in a strike for better pay conditions. I spent an entire day standing at the picket line limply clutching a sign, chain-smoking and nodding silently at everyone as they walked past me. I think I muttered ‘scab’ under my breath a couple of times, just as my hero Che Guevara would’ve done. A manager eventually brought me out a cup of coffee and a sandwich, which I accepted without hesitation. I think you’ll find that the Communist Manifesto has quite a lot to say about the importance of balancing worker solidarity with the delicious necessity of free cheese sandwiches, even if they do come from the hands of your bastard enemies.

Sometime during the steely reign of my short stewardship, our national executive issued a memo urging us to boycott Coca Cola. Coca Cola was accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of workers at its many sub-contracted South American bottling plants. Right-wing paramilitary groups – allegedly in collusion with the plants’ owners – were murdering, or otherwise ‘disappearing’, workers for the crime of organising unions. The workers were only trying to ameliorate their poor working conditions and make a better life for themselves and their families.  Coca Cola’s silence and inaction in the face of this horrific systemic homicide was taken as tacit approval of the paramilitaries’ methods. “COCA COLA? …Death-o… Cola… more like,” I’d mutter quietly to myself, before taking another sip of Coca Cola.

coke

My personal boycott lasted less than four hours. 9am until lunchtime. Vive le revolution! I loved Coca Cola back then, you see. Drank it every day. Came to depend upon it. It was my fizzy heroin in a can; my daily hangover cure. “Why can’t they be killing workers at Dr Pepper factories instead?” I lamented. “I fucking hate Dr Pepper.” I was ashamed of my weakness. There were men in the world who would give up blood, freedom, family and oxygen for their principles, and I couldn’t even kick Coca Cola for four fucking hours. Thankfully, I’ve long since abandoned the drink. Not for any ideological reasons. I’ve simply arrived at the conclusion that Coca Cola is a black broth of tooth-taking, penny-polishing, pancreas-punishing arse-juice that leaves your heart flopping about like a fish in a bucket. And that’s a Scotsman saying that.

When something I own breaks, I tend not to fix it, but instead force myself to adapt to the new reality of its brokenness. I once had a TV that could only be switched on if the power button at the front of the unit was pressed in as far as it could go and held there at a constant pressure. Naturally, instead of mending or replacing the TV, I pressed the button in as far as it would go, and then used a rook from my chess set and a roll of masking tape to hold it in place. I then left it like that for three years. Check mate, TV. Check mate!

When the locks in my old Fiesta started to fail one by one, rather than have it mended I simply allowed my method of entering the car to evolve naturally. When the lock on the driver’s side seized, I clambered in to the car through the passenger side. When the passenger side failed, I went in through the back seats. When all of the locks had failed, I climbed in through the boot. Every time I entered my car it looked like I was either a) participating in an all-cripple version of It’s a Knockout, or b) in the process of breaking into it. Thankfully, in the part of town in which I lived, car-jacking wasn’t an unusual occurrence, allowing me to fit in as ‘one of the lads’.

I don’t think I suffer from apathy per se, or at least not all of the time. I have an incredibly low tolerance for frustration that co-exists with a fear of failure, an expectation of failure and a rage at the world for not doing what I want it to do. If I sometimes take the easy route, or hit the button for the ejector seat, it’s less about laziness and more about saving myself an exhausting, four-letter-word-fuelled explosive meltdown.

My mum said I cried and wailed at the age of four because I couldn’t write functional computer programs on the ZX Spectrum. When I was twelve, a faulty dot-matrix printer made me so angry that I snapped a fountain pen in half, leaving me with a big blue face that took an hour to scrub clean. If I hadn’t been wearing specs I probably would’ve been blinded, no doubt learning in the process some biblical lesson about the cost of anger: a pen for a printer makes the wee fanny blind, perhaps.

When my step-sister and I linked our Gameboys together and she beat me at two-player Tetris, I headbutted my Gameboy, smashing the screen to smithereens. I hid the evidence at the bottom of a toy hamper, and waited for the heat to die down. For more on this subject, have a read of this:  http://www.denofgeek.com/games/videogames/31783/frustrating-games-in-videogame-history ).

Don’t ask me to fix finicky things, or build up intricate items of furniture from Ikea. I’ll only end up hurling them out of a window. Or standing around with a big red face promising to murder myself in a series of increasingly ludicrous ways. “If this piece doesn’t fit I swear I’m going to puncture my lung with a toothbrush, and spend my dying minutes cracking my fucking skull open by beating it against my own knee! I MEAN IT, I REALLY MEAN IT, I FUC… oh, it fits. Excellent.” (strides off whistling)

If I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll swing the car around in a cloud of f’s and c’s and take a ten-mile detour in the wrong direction rather than confront the heart-pumping frustration of a very mildly inconvenient traffic jam. The modern world makes a Hulk out of me. I’ve almost ripped worlds apart trying to open tins of corned beef.

corned-beef-fail

In my early twenties my GP referred me to a Stress Management group, which comprised a gaggle of cripplingly shy and shaky-handed people, including one old hippy guy who was in a state of terror because he thought we were all going to invite ourselves en masse to his house after the meeting. I don’t belong here with these fucking mental cases, I thought to myself, rather uncharitably, and wholly unrealistically.

Still, I thought it would be smart to keep going, in a bid to better understand my stinking thinking, and how to counteract it. Week two arrived, and I was cooking some chicken in the oven before group. I was starving, and running late. The chicken had been packaged in some sort of plastic tub, which in retrospect I don’t think should’ve been placed in the oven. The plastic warped with the heat, and when I tried to retrieve it it wobbled and wilted in my hands, sending globs of burning hot sauce all over my hands, and raining chunks of chicken down upon the kitchen floor. I hurled the floppy, half-empty tub across the room and aimed a hard kick at the oven. “THAT’S… IT!” I shouted, standing there with my arms hanging down at my waste, my fists balled in rage. “I’M TOO STRESSED OUT TO GO TO THIS STUPID FUCKING STRESS MANAGEMENT GROUP!” The delicious irony of this angry ejaculation caused me to laugh like a madman, my anger gone as quickly as it had arrived. I never made it back to the group… although I did try to break into the hippy’s house a few times.

asdasd

The independence referendum in 2014 shook me out of my apathy a little. I genuinely cared about the political process again, and desperately wanted to do my bit to bring about change, even if my bit was just talking twaddle with strangers and signing an ‘X’ on a little piece of paper. I have friends who felt moved to canvass and campaign for their parties of choice in the wake of Scotland’s political re-awakening. I thought about it. And then realised I couldn’t be arsed. Oh, there’s a town meeting tonight. Right, I’d really better get along and… actually Monday’s not a good time for me. It’s Game of Thrones night. There’s one on Wednesday, too? Hmmm. I’ll probably be a bit tired by then… OH WHAT’S THE POINT, WE’LL ALL JUST GET CRUSHED UNDER THE WHEELS OF THE MACHINE, FREE WILL IS AN ILLUSION, THE ILLUMINATI CONTROL EVERYTHING ANYWAY. Plus I’ve got to take my missus to the bingo.

Yes, I’m crazy. But I think to campaign for things – to dedicate your life to an ideal – is its own form of craziness. I’m the wrong kind of crazy to change the world. I wish I could harness my rage and frustration and point it in the direction of a worthwhile cause, but I can’t (unless it directly involves my family’s health, happiness or safety, I’m not really interested). Thankfully, there are passionate people out there with the zeal of psychopathic stamp collectors who can fly the flag on my behalf across a whole range of issues. I salute those fucking lunatics, I really do. Half-heartedly, of course.

When I can be bothered raising my arm.

PS: I started writing this in February.

The Killer in our Midst

sahara_desert_0115

From the sky a fist of invisible, infinite fingers presses searing-hot knuckles down upon the sand. Little Mtopo’s cheek thuds onto the dry desert floor, all fight extinguished from his limp and emaciated body. His lips are locked together with the cement of thirst. The rest of him thuds down, too, but he can’t feel it. He can’t  feel the hunger that knifes at his belly; can’t hear the carnival of flies that cavorts above his head. None of it registers. All sensation, all pain, is reduced to a one single uniform scream that rings from every pore and cell in his body: a shrill song of death.

You are dying, Mtopo… dying.

Up he goes, up, up, up, hovering high above his body with its spilled fingers and jellied limbs, looking down and around and over and through, and beyond, surveying the prison of his former life through the panopticon of his soul. His short, miserable life is over. Ten years… ten fast and brutal years. A sorrow engulfs him, but he is flying, soaring, seeing more widely and clearly than he has ever seen before – perhaps than any man has ever seen – and so the feeling finds no purchase. He is dead. At last, he is dead, and all life’s hungers – both literal and metaphorical – are behind him.

For endless miles in every direction the sand shines a dazzling shade of white as blinding daggers of light are hurled between the giant dunes. A faint wind, rinsed by a billion soft grains of grit, is the only thing to disturb the near-sepulchral silence of the desert. Until… shuffling, far below. Something shifts into view below him. Someone. A robed man, padding across the sand towards him – but not towards him, exactly: there is no ‘him’, no ‘me’ any more, just whatever remains of him down on the desert floor – picking up pace as he closes the distance. Mtopo’s soul, from its vantage point, regards the man as a bird would an ant. He watches as the man stops and leans over his body, watches as the man starts to plead, to wail, to throw his arms in the air, to shout. The words drag Mtopo’s soul back into the fading husk of his body with the speed of a lightning strike. He does not want to die! Suddenly, he struggles, he fights, he yearns to connect with the living world, to hear its substance, to be rescued from his flight into eternity.

“Oh, Mtopo, MTOPO! I CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS HAS HAPPENED! OH, MY, OH GOODNESS, OH WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED, MY SWEET MTOPO?” The man cups either side of Mtopo’s face with a pair of big, leathery hands, and scoops his head off the sand like a chalice, staring deep into his vacant eyes. “Price is dead at 57, Mtopo. Can you fucking believe it?”

With every ounce of effort he has left, Mtopo cracks his lips apart, his last words crawling from his mouth to the dust below:

“First… Ronnie… Corbett… and now… this…”

“…Fuck you 2016.”

2016 is the number of dead celebrities so far in 2016

ronnie

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that we shouldn’t mourn the deaths of Prince, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman et al. Of course we should. They were terrifically talented, influential and inspirational people. More importantly, they were human beings. What I’m suggesting is that we should cut this ‘2016 is a serial killer’ shit the fuck out.

“Why are you doing this, 2016?” “Come on, 2016, put a stop to it now, this is beyond a joke!” “Who will you take next, 2016, you calendar-based psychopath?!”

Stop it. Stop. It. 2016 isn’t killing anyone. 2016 isn’t speeding past the houses of middle-aged celebrities spraying them with bullets. When Bruce Forsyth dies we’re unlikely to hear about it on Crimewatch. “Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward who may have seen this man in the vicinity of the elderly entertainer’s home last night.”

2016

It’s probably true to say that the number of ‘celebrities’ has been increasing exponentially year-on-year, to the point where we now have more celebrities than we have ever had at any other point in human history (and a fair few that stretch the definition of celebrity to its limit); and, of course, more celebrities equals more celebrity deaths. Celebrities are dying at the same rate they always did; it’s just that in this internet and social media age we’re hearing about their deaths instantly and incessantly. Remember how your grandparents used to have conversations like this:

“I’ve not seen many movies from (*celebrity) recently.”

“Deid.”

“Deid? Nah. Your arse, they’re deid. Really? No. They can’t be. Are you sure?”

“Deid ten years.”

“TEN years? You’re lying.”

“Deid. Why would I lie?”

“Who told you?”

“Read it somewhere, or it was on This Morning or one of those other bloody things you watch. Telling you, though. Deid. Long deid.”

“We’ll see about this.” (frantically dials the operator) “Hello, operator, could you connect me to Hollywood please?”

Not now. These kinds of conversations have gone the way of the Dodo and the 8-track. They can’t exist in an environment where on-line headlines like this assault us on an almost hourly basis: “MAN WHO ONCE NODDED AT ROGER MOORE IN 1976 AS HE PASSED HIM IN THE CAT-FOOD AISLE IN SAINSBURY’S, AND THEN ROGER MOORE SAID ‘ALRIGHT’ TO HIM AND THEN THEY HAD A BRIEF CONVERSATION TRAGICALLY TAKEN FROM US AGED 104.” People. Die. All. The. Fucking. Time. Celebrities are not being disproportionately targeted by the Grim Reaper.

The internet has amplified our fear of death, and allowed us to join cyber-hands to belt out a much louder, more mournful chorus. The gist of our lyrics is this: if these fascinating, extraordinary, charming, beloved, successful, talented people can pop their clogs and be erased forever from the surface of the earth, then we’re really fucked. We already know that death is an unbeatable opponent. It just sucks to have it rubbed in our faces.

For the sake of our collective sanity, for the sake of the millions of men, women and children snuffed out by war, for the sake of the hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who have to shit outside on a rock, live underneath a strip of corrugated metal and die at the age of 19 from an eye infection, please stop saying that 2016 is murdering celebrities. If anything, it’s trying to murder all of us. It’s a minor miracle we all wake up in the morning.

Read this article from The Telegraph, which is rather good, but please do not ever read anything from The Telegraph ever againhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/why-are-so-many-celebrities-dying-in-2016/

Reflections on the Suicide Bombing in Pakistan

Nobody give a fuck about Pakistan, no? My Facebook newsfeed isn’t exactly overflowing with outrage and Pakistani flags. I refuse to believe we’re all racist. I mean, this is human pain and misery on a grand scale. We’re not monsters. We’re – largely – compassionate people. We must simply view most Western European/North American/antipodean countries and peoples as the closest match to our own, and so when something happens to them, it makes us think, ‘Fuck, that could happen to us’. Thus we desperately try to ward off the demons of our collective fear through exercises of mass solidarity (not suggesting for a second, however, that the expression of solidarity is devoid of human feeling). When we hear about horrible things happening in Pakistan, to fellow human beings, we receive it as we would news about a serial killer picking off prostitutes or homeless people. We feel a momentary pang of compassion, which quickly passes when we convince ourselves that we aren’t in any immediate danger from the threat. They’re not like me. I’m not like them. That wouldn’t happen to me… Even though there’s some suspicion that Christians may have been the target of the attack. Not white Christians though, eh? Maybe we’re a tiny bit racist. Or selfish. Or human. Or all three.

I hereby extend my sympathy to victims of religious and political violence everywhere, regardless of creed, colour, country, race, religion, age, sex or social standing. We’re all human beings.

Louis Armstrong was wrong. This is a pretty shit world (although admittedly his song wouldn’t have been so catchy had he conceded that).

999: The Devil’s Real Sign

hos1It was a normal Sunday night, which I was spending staving off the reality of Monday morning by immersing myself in as much mindless entertainment as possible. As my partner and little boy slept in the room next door, I was busy jacking cars and killing cops (it would’ve been a different Sunday night entirely had those two verb-noun combos swapped partners) through the hyper-violent medium of Grand Theft Auto.

I heard a woman-shaped holler from the bedroom, and tutted. No doubt I’d forgotten to do something, or was being commanded to undertake some meaningless, non-urgent task just as my ever-precious man-hours were dwindling down to zero. I chose not to react straight-away. Sometimes being half-deaf has its advantages. A second passed, maybe two, and the holler came again, more insistent this time. This was a bad sign, like when you see the lightning flash at the same time as you hear the thunder. But I didn’t think the situation was serious serious; just serious in a ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ kind of way. I bounced the Xbox remote across the table and bounded up from my seat like an ape, growling out a surly and exasperated ‘WHAT!?’

The hollers kept coming. I loped across the room, grabbed for living-room door handle and yanked it open; in the hallway outside, a pack of words like sharp-toothed dogs were lying in wait. “SOMETHING’S WRONG WITH THE BABY! JAMIE, WHAT IF HE DIES?!” At that precise moment, my world collapsed. A hurricane of adrenalin ripped through my body. Thoughts sloshed in my head like oil; the world spun simultaneously into fast-forward and rewind. I had no language, no reason – there were no decipherable sentences imprinting themselves across my subconscious like lines of ticker-tape – but even without the power of coherence my brain knew that this moment could be an ending; and one in which I could be trapped, ever-looping, for the rest of my natural life.

I burst into the bedroom to see my little boy’s eyes rolled back and lifeless, a deathly pallor painted across his skin, his lips turning a bruised blue. “HE’S NOT BREATHING! HE’S NOT BREATHING!” Panic propelled me through the house as I thumped and flailed for the phone, my brain buzzing with blood and static. Seconds stretched like hours. I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t think. “Darling, come on, darling, mummy’s here, you’re okay, darling, open your eyes.” My partner’s pleas haunted every room of the house.

It’s too late, I thought… It’s too late.

apar

I stood in the close outside my front door hollering ‘HELP!’, and hammering on my neighbour’s door. Milliseconds later I was dialling numbers into my phone, not even aware of when it had made its way into my hand, or how. A voice – a dying echo of my own – pleaded with the emergency services: “Please help me, I think my son is going to die.” My neighbour and her friends opened their door on a wild-eyed, spluttering apparition. Wordlessly, they followed me into my house, rushing, running, racing to the bedroom, where they stood prostrate and helpless, not knowing what to do, or what was expected of them. I didn’t know either. I’d summoned their help in a blind panic, a mad-eyed monster of instinct and fear. I didn’t know what to do. My little boy was dying, and I didn’t know what to do.

The ambulance seemed to take both seconds and hours to arrive. Paramedics checked my son over; by then he’d snapped out of his fugue and was breathing close-to-normally again. He vomited, and cried. As we wiped his face and set about changing his vest, he started calling for the cat. We laughed, amused that amid all the chaos and panic his sudden illness had caused, and all the unusualness that now surrounded him, all he cared about was the company of his four-legged friend, a friend who was unable to reciprocate his love on account of being quite, quite terrified of him. Mostly, though, it was a laugh borne of the relief that he was able to ask for anything at all. Five minutes ago, to our absolute certainty, we had lost him, and had resigned ourselves to enduring the rest of our short, miserable lives as ghosts in search of a death.

The paramedics, those Vulcan-like stoics, were satisfied that he was stable, and not in any imminent danger, although he still seemed weak, hot and feverish. Mother and son rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance, and I took the car, a decision for which I berated myself mercilessly as I sped out of the street. How could I be thinking pragmatically about our return journey from the hospital? What if he dies in the ambulance? Aren’t his last moments worth the cost of a taxi ride? He’s okay, I kept telling myself, he’s sick but he’s okay, he’s with his mum, he’s surrounded by life-saving medical equipment and he’s in a vehicle that’s speeding him to a building that’s filled with highly-trained medical professionals. Try as I might I couldn’t stem the flow of panic. Each time my brain almost managed to quell my heart with reassuring thoughts, a feedback loop sent fresh waves of adrenalin bouncing back between them both. I’m not a superstitious man, but I couldn’t extinguish the irrational notion that my very complacency could be the thing to sign my son’s death warrant; that keeping calm was an act of hubris for which I would be punished by the universe through my son. Adrenalin jolted through my body, forcing my foot down upon the accelerator. I thought about my son being in the ambulance. I thought he was okay. I was almost certain he was okay. But I didn’t know. Maybe he wasn’t.

Schrödinger’s child.

amb

I got to the hospital before the ambulance did, a fact that should’ve been reassuring. If it was serious, I tried to tell myself, they’d have overtaken me on the motorway. My brain, however, reliably pessimistic, managed to conjure a thousand harrowing counterpoints to this theory, from a spent battery to a six-car pile-up. Over the next five minutes or so, a clutch of ambulances arrived in the A&E bay, and I rushed to meet each one. My partner and little boy weren’t on board: only a cavalcade of beleaguered old ladies and grim-faced men. I knew that I should’ve felt some measure of sympathy towards them, cast them as principal characters in their own stories instead of resenting them for being unwelcome extras in mine, but their pain and autonomy meant nothing to me. I only cared about one ambulance.

Eventually, it trundled into the bay. Slowly, silently. Both good signs. But still…

The ambulance rolled to a stop, one of the paramedics opened his door and slipped out of his seat on to the tarmac. As he opened the rear doors, a soft and plaintive ‘Daddy’ sailed out of the gap. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more relief.

We spent the next few hours cradling our swaddled son in our arms in a succession of waiting rooms and consultation rooms, watching him doze, relieved but never quite relaxed. By the early hours of the morning, he’d regained something of his old Jack-ness. He wanted to explore the corridors, and we let him waddle penguin-like past gurneys and trolleys, palm-slapping walls and pushing wheel-mounted stools around like they were comfortable leather Daleks. The nurses we saw were pleased with how he was behaving and responding, but said they’d feel happier keeping him in overnight. We were happy too, on both counts. I couldn’t stay, so drove home to sleep for a couple of hours – not an easy proposition – and bring back fresh clothes, toys and food.

hos2

He had another seizure first thing in the morning, which was almost as terrifying as the first one for his mum, who had sat next to him all night in a hospital chair, worried, watching, and unable to sleep. I arrived a short while later expecting to find my son shrivelled and withered like a turtle with its shell ripped off. On the contrary. He was watching Peppa Pig and eating Quavers. He was hot, tired and clammy, but otherwise fighting fit. Thankfully, all of the tests they ran on him came back negative. No sepsis, no heart murmurs, no epilepsy. He’d simply had a fever, probably brought on by nothing more sinister than the common cold or a tummy bug, and the only remedies we were advised to dispense were TLC and Calpol.

We now know that it’s reasonably common for babies and infants to experience a seizure as a result of a high fever. It’s not the high temperature itself that causes the seizure, but rather the speed with which the temperature spikes. Any sudden and severe upsurge in temperature can send their little bodies into overload, and into a seizure that can last for six minutes or more. I don’t think forewarned is necessarily forearmed, though. One of the doctors told us that when it happened to her kid, despite having a vast encyclopaedic knowledge of infant medicine at her disposal, her heart leapt against her rib-cage like a zoo tiger rebelling against its bars. I’m paraphrasing her ever so slightly. If it ever happens to our child again – and it goes without saying that I hope it never, ever, ever does – I doubt I’ll be able to whip out the stopwatch and look calmly into his little blue face, wondering when it’ll be finished so I can get back to Grand Theft Auto. ‘One minute twenty nine, one minute thirt… come on, son, hurry up, I’ve got prostitutes to murder!’

Later that next day, my sister told me that as a child I used to suffer from high temperature spikes rather frequently, which tended to inspire hallucinations rather than full-on seizures. I once hallucinated that a swarm of bees was crawling out of my mouth. Wailing and terrified, my mum sought to assuage my panic by lifting me up to a mirror to show me that it was all in my head: a move that only served to highlight just how much she still had to learn about the nature of hallucinations. Having been brought face to face with incontrovertible proof of my own terrifying bee-ness, I proceeded to scream the house down. I don’t remember any of that. I do remember being a little older and running through to my sister’s room, and barricading myself beneath her covers, because all of the toys in my room had come to life and were trying to get me. Was that seizure-related? I always assumed I was a mental-case, or else possessed an over-active imagination.

I've managed to find 62 per cent of my childhood nightmare on-line.

I’ve managed to find 62 per cent of my childhood nightmare on-line.

Case in point. I used to have a recurring nightmare about a jester who lived in a palace that was tiled top-to-bottom in squares of black and white marble. The jester’s hat and shoes and tunic all carried the same black and white pattern. His wide, mad eyes were black-and-white swirls that pulsed and morphed and spun in his head, round and round like some hideous kaleidoscope. He’d laugh maniacally, a horrid, high-pitched laugh that was almost a shriek. Anyone unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of those terrible eyes would fall under their hypnotic spell, and find themselves frozen to the spot, laughing and laughing and laughing without end, doomed to become living statues standing in tribute to their own eternal insanity. My family would be his usual victims – my mum, my grandparents, my uncles, my cousins. They’d all be standing in the Jester’s palace laughing that same crazy laugh, their eyes swirling, and I’d be rooted to the spot along with them, free from the jester’s spell, but crying, frightened, unable to escape. I remember standing fully awake in the hallway of my childhood home around the time of the nightmare’s reign, thinking that the jester was in the living room waiting for me, and I fell to the floor and froze, unable to move for a very long time, despite my terror.

Was that a seizure, too? Did I pass on this tendency to short-circuit to my son? Or was it just a coincidence? Whatever the truth, after an event like this the over-riding instinct is to blame, if only to give a face to the culprit, a face you can plainly see and identify, and recognise for the next time. As we sat in the waiting room, I blamed the Chinese we’d had the night before, my mother-in-law’s new cat, the damp in one of the rooms in our house, assorted sneezers we’d come into contact with, myself for not realising how ill he’d been.

How the jester made me feel on that long-ago afternoon is exactly how I felt during those frantic five minutes on that terrible Sunday night. Helpless, powerless, afraid. As a Dad, I know I can protect my son from choking on a grape, I can push him out of the way of a car, I can even leap in front of a bullet for him, but there’s very little I can do to save him from the random and unseeable dangers that lurk around every corner: microscopic assailants, planes falling from the sky, bin lorries hurtling over pavements, asteroid strikes. I guess the unquenchable fear of the unknown comes with the stewardship. It’s something all of us face, whether we’re parents or not, this fear of life, and fear of death, but somehow it’s worse to bear by proxy, when that fear is distilled into the shape of your child.

There are parents out there who have to cope on a daily basis with children suffering from lingering, even life-long, illnesses; there are parents out there living through the unimaginable grief of having lost a child. I’m more grateful than I could ever express that we don’t count among their number, and I have boundless admiration and sympathy for those parents who must endure such enormous burdens. Our boy was fine. We were scared shitless, but no great or lasting harm was done. We were lucky. I know this.

However, what-ifs of relief can be almost as unpleasant as what-ifs of regret. I still get random flashes of my little boy’s face as he was seizing that send shivers down my spine. Last week I took him to the park, and as we were driving home he became drowsy and started to nod off in his car seat, fighting it all the way so his head kept dipping and lurching. I knew it was normal, cute even, but still a little voice in the back of my head was screaming: ‘STAY AWAY FROM THE LIGHT!’

When the little guy is older, he’ll never remember that this happened to him. Hell, he’d forgotten it while he was still in the hospital – coincidentally around about the same time as we discovered the play-room and its explosion of toys. When he was discharged in the late afternoon, as we were readying ourselves to leave the hospital, we asked him, ‘Do you want to go home and see the cat?’

‘No,’ he said, shaking his head, before bounding off in search of a toy train.

‘Fuck the cat,’ his demeanour seemed to say. ‘This place is awesome.’

I envy him.

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More articles connected with parenting available on this site:

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-Play Warehouse

On Being a Dad

Young Jamie: Portrait of the Artist as a Wee Bastard – Part 1: Merlin

Have a read at this story I wrote when I was eight-years-old, and then wallow in the pointlessness of it all as my 35-year-old self tries to provide some context.

MERLIN

It all starts off very innocently, like Enid Blyton meets Tolkein with a homeopathic splash of Clive Barker. A bunch of lads on a quest for treasure, facing adversary, fighting foes and helping each other out along the way. Aaarrgghhh, a wolf! Never fear: you can always bet on karate Callum and his sharp sword of lupine vengeance! Yay! Aaaarrrgghh, a canyon! Never fear: we’ve got bridge helmets! Ya… wait a minute, we’ve got what? You know, bridge helmets; it’s not phallic or a horrible medical condition or anything, it’s literally a helmet that shoots out a bridge to aid safe passage in times of trouble! Oh well, in that case… YAY! ‘Mon the bridge helmets!

Aaaarrrgghh, a pit of snakes…It’s at this point where everything becomes a little bit Tarantino-y. A new cast of characters from my class is introduced, who are all summarily dispatched in a series of increasingly brutal ways. Oh, Hi Brian…KABOOM! Brian? BRIAN? Hey, Kenny, how’s it goi… AAARRRGGHH! Into the pit with you, Kenny, and you’d better not even think about inexplicably finding a sword in that pit of snakes! Oh, you’ve inexplicably found a sword in that pit of snakes, have you? Well, I haven’t got time to ponder the ridiculousness of that plot contrivance, for I am about to ENGAGE THE BRIDGE HELMET, AN INSTRUMENT OF MERCY THAT I DOTH REPURPOSE AS A WEAPON OF WAR! SAY TOODLE PIP TO YOUR NECK, YOU SWORD-FINDING MOTHERFUCKER! Any more baddies want to try their luck? Oh, hi James Dick… I Hope you’re a fan of… face-punching! Biff! Boof! Badam! As if it wasn’t bad enough already for the poor boy having to suffer through primary school with a surname like Dick (subtlety and compassion are rare bed-fellows indeed among the male under 20s), he gets put into my story and further brutalised by enduring a murky, open-ended fate at the hands of a gorilla.

‘A gorilla found him.’ It says so much without really saying anything at all, leaving you, the reader, to imagine for yourself the specifics of poor James’ treatment at the hands of this savage bipedal beast. I’m leaning towards a biblical interpretation of ‘found’. I always imagine a gentle ‘tap tap’ of the shoulder followed by a blood-curdling scream, and an angry, whispered warning from the gorilla that ‘what happens in the dark, dark forest, STAYS in the dark, dark forest, son.’

At least Craig gets the kind of quick death that can only come from being ‘found’ by a comet (it’s too weird to consider a biblical interpretation of ‘found’ in this instance, although feel free to imagine a frightened boy being fucked by a comet). Thankfully for my band of merry goodies, and the wider planet, the comet only seems to scorch a one-human-sized area of ground, leaving me to doubt that what we’re dealing with here is actually a comet. They’re not renowned for their precision. By my young self’s comet-related reckoning, the dinosaurs should’ve been able to harmlessly header their comet back into space and get on with lumbering about and eating things.

The ending’s a bit rushed, in the sense that there’s a fire, the all-too-convenient discovery of WATER HELMETS and a whopping one-hundred-grand pot of prize money. I dunno, death, murder, cold-heartedness, greed. It’s clear I was a child growing up in Thatcher’s Britain. All that was missing from the narrative was a magical poll-tax riot.

A lot of elements in this tale that are ripe for Freudian analysis: extending helmets, helmets that spray liquid, a pit of snakes, a boy called Dick. This story was clearly about my own penis.

I love my teacher’s red-pen critique at the end, which boils down to: ‘Loved the story, Jamie, really loved it, right up until the bit where you murdered all of your friends, you fucking sociopath.’

Existential nightmare at the soft-play warehouse

softplay

Last week we took our son to soft-play, or The Hunger Games with rubber-foam-ladders as I like to call it. We entered the reception area and were buzzed through a security door into a giant warehouse filled with bright primary colours and screams. It felt like we were visiting a criminally insane toddler on death row. Those screams. Those… screams. I closed my eyes and imagined the thudding din of helicopter blades alongside the cacophony of piercing shrieks. This could be a war movie, I thought; ‘Nam, only more brutal. Why was this happening to us?

It was mid-week. The schools in our area were all in session, which we thought would guarantee us a quiet afternoon with a low kid-count: silence of the bambinos. Unfortunately, we hadn’t known that a neighbouring town’s schools were closed for in-service days (or Teachers’ Gin Days if you like), and that, as a consequence, the soft-play would be the site of a full-scale osmotic invasion of hyperactive, psychopathic Stirling kids. Sartre was bang on when he said that ‘Hell is other people’, but his aphoristic aim should’ve been more precise: hell is other people’s kids.

I wasn’t alone in my pain. I could see it etched into the weather-beaten faces of the parents who fringed the perimeter of the play-area, their wearied flesh pressed and wedged into the cheap plastic seats. We walked past a succession of toothless, sunken-cheeked grannies, who were all wearing the same expression, one that silently screamed: ‘I WISH YOU COULD STILL FUCKING SMOKE IN PLACES LIKE THESE… YOUNG LUNGS BE DAMNED!’ Their dark, haunted eyes evoked the horror of a holocaust. I smiled faintly at them, and steeled myself for the nightmare to come.

Kids are crazy little bastards (apart from my kid, of course, who’s clearly an exceptional human being, and nothing at all like your shitty little disease-ridden mental cases), propelled by sugar and selfishness. They lack both the developmental capacity to credit other people with having selves distinct from their own, and the ability to show compassion and regard for the well-being of others. Helping our son safely navigate the tunnels, ladders, ball-pits and climbing platforms of each of the three mini-fortresses was a hazardous and stressful endeavour. Kids careened about with the frenetic zeal of angry dwarf Gladiators, as they pushed, shoved, kicked, and thudded their way through the mazes. Our son became a tiny Indiana Jones, dodging four-limbed-boulders here, ducking roof-bound punch-bags there, all the while cooing and smiling, oblivious to the great danger that threatened to engulf him from every direction.

My fear was focused at the microbial level, on the shiny surfaces that were slick with sweat and saliva and piss and Christ knows what else. I was sure that my hands carried the traces of the bogeys and bum-kernels of a thousand wet-nosed, shat-nappied children, and every disease, from swine-flu to AIDS, was busy gleefully replicating itself in my blood. Who cleans this place? Do they get down on their hands and knees and scrub every inch of every surface, or do they shrug their shoulders and think to themselves, ‘Screw it, kids are ill all the time anyway, and I only get paid £5 an hour, so fuck this, I’m going to spray some Febreeze over this ball-pit and then go out for a smoke.’

ballpit

Despite all that, the three of us soon found ourselves in the ball-pit, doing the back-stroke through the multi-coloured sea of circular-filth-nuggets. Our son was delighted with the ball tsunami his thrashing and splashing created. A few other kids jumped in just as we were beginning a ball-fight, and before long all fire was concentrated on my face. I retaliated, of course, because where else are you going to get the chance to throw things at children and get away with it? Once the blood-lust abated, I fished my son out of the balls, sat him upright and said, with a great deal of enthusiasm: “WHO WANTS TO GET OUT OF HERE AND GO DOWN THE CHUTE?” Three random kids thrust their arms into the air, shouting “ME!”

“Well, I wasn’t actually talking to you guys, but, what the hell, I guess you can come along.”

And so we dragged a comet’s tail of kids behind us as we clambered out of the ball-pit and began the long, slow journey to the top of the fortress. One little boy, slightly older than our son, went out of his way to help little Jack navigate the climbing platforms, pulling him up at each level and making sure he was safe and steady. Once we reached the higher levels, he stuck to Jack like glue, protecting him from the hordes of wayward children as they sped towards us on their savage and singular trajectories. I figured I would have to re-evaluate my stance on the inherent psychopathy of children. Here was a noble and nurturing boy, a credit to his sub-species. I guess I was wrong, I thought. Kids are sweet and caring and kind after all.

I quickly re-re-evaluated, though, and come to the conclusion that he was the fucking worst of the lot. Clearly he was responding to me as the alpha of the pack, and keeping Jack safe was his way of appeasing me and showing due deference. If I’d ordered him to pick up Jack and hurl him from the battlements, the sick little bastard would have done it without hesitation. I guess that’s why I felt completely justified when I kicked the little boy in the stomach and hurled him down the chute backwards.

When I told my partner I was going to write about our experience at the soft-play area, she said: “Just remember to write that we all had a nice, fun time, because we did. Don’t do what you usually do and make our perfectly normal, happy family times sound nightmarish and horrible. And for Christ’s sake, don’t say something sick like you kicked that nice little boy in the stomach and then hurled him down a chute backwards.”

“Oh, and please try to call it something nice like, ‘Family Fun Times’ or ‘Super Soft-play Day’. Don’t call it something awful like, oh, I dunno, ‘Existential Nightmare at the Soft-Play Warehouse.'”

Folks, I did have a really, really nice time, it’s just that ‘nice’ isn’t all that funny or interesting to anyone except us, and – most importantly – this is Jamie Andrew With Hands, not fucking Mumsnet.

A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Do. Not. Eat. The. Food. I waited an hour for Nachos that cost me a fiver, and when I say Nachos, I mean half a bag of Doritos that somebody had blown snot over and then shoved in a microwave for twelve seconds.
  • Do check your socks before leaving. I was lucky this time, having by chance selected the one pair of socks I own that doesn’t have a gaping hole in the toe. You don’t want to be prancing around a plastic fortress looking like Albert Steptoe.
  • Finding a parking place at these day-glo hell-holes is perhaps the most heart-busting part of the saga. You won’t find one. Even though these soft-plays are usually inside giant warehouses, there are only ever about six parking spaces. You’ll find yourself driving round and around like The Hulk on steroids, unleashing torrents of vile, paranoia-themed bile at your fellow space-seekers, shouting at families for not waddling back to their cars quickly enough, and trying to manoeuvre your car into a four-inch gap before finally screaming ‘FUCK IT’ and angrily mounting the kerb to park on the pavement.

More family-related articles for you to enjoy:

A celebration of public breastfeeding

Baby talk: Baby’s first workplace visit

Happy Fathers’ Day to me

Weighting it all up

 

Young Jamie – Confessions of a Serial Douchebag (Part 13)

Little Marcos was an adventure play-area in Glasgow. I could've drawn a thousand different things to represent the experience on the page: colourful things, fun things. Instead I chose a giant sign that reads 'Little Marcos'. A sign, I may add, that never existed in real life. How can I be sure it never existed? Because the little stick family I drew beneath it suggests a scale that would place the sign somewhere in the region of sixty-feet above our heads, and composed of letters more than a hundred feet high. It's a degree of opulence that tends not to exist outside of Stalinist Russia or an alternate universe where the Nazis won. Clearly I had a lot of space to fill on that page, and instead of offering a considered and detailed picture, my young brain simply thought, 'Fuck it, teacher, you're getting big letters and you'll be happy with them, pal.' And, indeed, the teacher seemed satisfied, seeing fit to dispense another in a long line of too-easy ticks. I would’ve respected her more had she written: “Jamie, you’re a lazy wee cock. If you were Van Gogh I expect that your famous self-portrait would've been a canvas with the words 'THIS IS ME' written on it. PS You disgust me.”  Screw her, though, because she didn’t seem to notice that I’d spelled Little Marcos “Little Mar'Cos”, with an apostrophe half-way through the word, as if it was a Klingon moon or something. Actually, where does the apostrophe go? Was the proprietor Marco, or his Spanish cousin Marcos? Was there one little Marco, or several? OK, this one's a bit of a minefield, so I think I'll excuse my teacher's brazen approach to marking in this instance.   Less forgiveable is the blind eye she turned to my spelling of “cousin's”. Going to my cussons party was I, teach? The soap party? All of us herded into a big warehouse, being scrubbed down for three hours? You bloody goof-ball of a woman. Anyway. I think I should be commended for coming up with an alternative set of lyrics to 'Fast Car' that improve the song immeasurably. Try it. Experiment with different ways of fitting my diary extract to the song. I did. For about ten minutes. AND THEY SAID I’D COME TO NOTHING?!!

Little Marcos was an adventure play-area in Glasgow. I could’ve drawn a thousand different things to represent the experience on the page: colourful things, fun things. Instead I chose a giant sign that reads ‘Little Marcos’. A sign, I may add, that never existed in real life. How can I be sure it never existed? Because the little stick family I drew beneath it suggests a scale that would place the sign somewhere in the region of sixty-feet above our heads, and composed of letters more than a hundred feet high. It’s a degree of opulence that tends not to exist outside of Stalinist Russia or an alternate universe where the Nazis won. Clearly I had a lot of space to fill on that page, and instead of offering a considered and detailed picture, my young brain simply thought, ‘Fuck it, teacher, you’re getting big letters and you’ll be happy with them, pal.’ And, indeed, the teacher seemed satisfied, seeing fit to dispense another in a long line of too-easy ticks. I would’ve respected her more had she written: “Jamie, you’re a lazy wee cock. If you were Van Gogh I expect that your famous self-portrait would’ve been a canvas with the words ‘THIS IS ME’ written on it. PS You disgust me.” Screw her, though, because she didn’t seem to notice that I’d spelled Little Marcos “Little Mar’Cos”, with an apostrophe half-way through the word, as if it was a Klingon moon or something. Actually, where does the apostrophe go? Was the proprietor Marco, or his Spanish cousin Marcos? Was there one little Marco, or several? OK, this one’s a bit of a minefield, so I think I’ll excuse my teacher’s brazen approach to marking in this instance.
Less forgiveable is the blind eye she turned to my spelling of “cousin’s”. Going to my cussons party was I, teach? The soap party? All of us herded into a big warehouse, being scrubbed down for three hours? You bloody goof-ball of a woman.
Anyway. I think I should be commended for coming up with an alternative set of lyrics to ‘Fast Car’ that improve the song immeasurably. Try it. Experiment with different ways of fitting my diary extract to the song. I did. For about ten minutes. AND THEY SAID I’D COME TO NOTHING?!!

Young Jamie – Confessions of a Serial Douchebag (Part 12)

If you're old(ish) like me, this one will really take you back. Remember when WH Smith used to be called John Menzies, and all of their shops were inside blue coal bunkers? Those were the days, eh? They certainly don't make shops like that anymore, by God. In the olden days, you got yourself a few hundred magazines, dumped them in a big metal tin, buried them under a half-tonne of coal, threw in some kids, shut the lid, and waited with a bag of sweeties to see how many of them would make it back alive with a copy of the Beano. They're soft, the kids of today, that's their trouble. Doors on their shops? Windows? Breathable atmospheres inside them? Pah! Pampered pussies! Real men choked on coal-dust if they wanted to do something unforgivably sissy like reading. ** One important question springs to mind here. What in the name of Jesus WH Smith were tongue lashers and PADS? I've no memory of them whatsoever. It sounds like the sickest combination of words a horny young boy has ever typed into Google. Yet again, the teacher simply puts a bloody great tick against the work, questioning nothing. “Yep, tongue lashers and PADS, trapped inside a blue coal bunker, quite a typical weekend for you really, Jamie.” ** No alarm bells ringing, Mrs Teacher? None at all? Don't you think that instead of dismissing the obvious terrifying subtext of my writing you should've invested your time in composing an urgent note to my parents? -- “Listen, word to the wise, I think your kid's really, really fucked up. I mean really. Like, if he gave me an apple, I'd have it tested for strichnine, you feel me? Don't you EVER visit Colin again, right? Don't do it. FUCK Colin. And don't you ever leave that boy in that house alone again... especially if you've got live pets in there. These maniacs, they always start off with cats, before you know it they've stabbed the lollipop lady. If you do nothing else then for Christ's sake get a grip of this pads and tongue lasher thing and start taking a regular inventory of your sanitary drawer.”

If you’re old(ish) like me, this one will really take you back. Remember when WH Smith used to be called John Menzies, and all of their shops were inside blue coal bunkers? Those were the days, eh? They certainly don’t make shops like that anymore, by God. In the olden days, you got yourself a few hundred magazines, dumped them in a big metal tin, buried them under a half-tonne of coal, threw in some kids, shut the lid, and waited with a bag of sweeties to see how many of them would make it back alive with a copy of the Beano. They’re soft, the kids of today, that’s their trouble. Doors on their shops? Windows? Breathable atmospheres inside them? Pah! Pampered pussies! Real men choked on coal-dust if they wanted to do something unforgivably sissy like reading. ** One important question springs to mind here. What in the name of Jesus WH Smith were tongue lashers and PADS? I’ve no memory of them whatsoever. It sounds like the sickest combination of words a horny young boy has ever typed into Google. Yet again, the teacher simply puts a bloody great tick against the work, questioning nothing. “Yep, tongue lashers and PADS, trapped inside a blue coal bunker, quite a typical weekend for you really, Jamie.” ** No alarm bells ringing, Mrs Teacher? None at all? Don’t you think that instead of dismissing the obvious terrifying subtext of my writing you should’ve invested your time in composing an urgent note to my parents? — “Listen, word to the wise, I think your kid’s really, really fucked up. I mean really. Like, if he gave me an apple, I’d have it tested for strichnine, you feel me? Don’t you EVER visit Colin again, right? Don’t do it. FUCK Colin. And don’t you ever leave that boy in that house alone again… especially if you’ve got live pets in there. These maniacs, they always start off with cats, before you know it they’ve stabbed the lollipop lady. If you do nothing else then for Christ’s sake get a grip of this pads and tongue lasher thing and start taking a regular inventory of your sanitary drawer.”

Young Jamie: Portrait of a Serial Douchebag (Part 11)

pineshop

First of all, I know a teacher’s job is to steer pupils towards greater knowledge and understanding without emphasising their ignorance or undermining their fragile confidence, but surely, in this case, it would’ve been appropriate for my teacher to have remarked: “THAT’S a fucking motorbike, is it, Jamie? THAT thing, that looks like a log on wheels with a human face and a blue top-hat, with a scorpion’s stinger coming out of its ass? Maybe you should’ve been smacked in place of Tasha, you dense little dickbag, along with whomever named that dog Tasha in the first place. Tasha? Is it a dog or a Slovenian hooker? I’m absolutely convinced that your entire family should be exterminated. At the very least, I hope you’ll be infertile, Jamie.” That’s what I would’ve written in response to this piece of shit, so it was probably a blessing that I never went into primary teaching. I can see it now: “Timmy, you’ve spelled your name Tymmee. Look, let’s just stop wasting each other’s time here before one of us gets hurt. I’d strongly advise you to get the fuck out of my class and never come back.” Normally the teacher writes in red at the bottom of the page those words the pupil has spelled wrongly, to let them practise spelling it out correctly. Here, the teacher has used this space to convey her incredulity that my family would be going to a pine shop to buy a car. “A pine shop?” she gasps. “A pine shop?” I rage back at her. “Haven’t you heard of a pine shop, woman? What are you, working class? Where else would my family go to replenish its fleet of wooden cars, you arsehole?”

Do scary movies still scare you like they used to?

scare1Are scary movies as scary as they used to be? Did the movies that scared you as a child still scare you when you watched them as an adult?

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.”

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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.

The Shining

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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)

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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:

SKCOLLOB.

You’re still the King, Stephen, but your Shining was shite. 

Dawn of the Dead/28 Weeks Later

dawn1I 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.

flameZombies 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

fred3Freddy 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

scare3And, we’re back.

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).

dinner

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

600full-the-blair-witch-project-screenshotThere 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.

paranormal-activity1I 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

timeteam

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.

Comets, chicks and rapping dicks

taylorIt 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.

rapThat 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.

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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.

And finally…

dancing-dadWhile 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.

Goodbye.

Brave man risks life to warn of brick danger

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Gary Fardarcarson

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?”

brick

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’.

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Topenga Fardarcarson

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.

“Still…. alive….”

And then he shot him.