October 26, 2009

Yesterday I visited my cat Tess. She doesn’t live with me but is looked after by some very good friends. She’s their cat too. She’s a shared cat, though cats, were they able, would deny belonging to anybody.

She’s old now. Nineteen. And tiny. She weighs just under 3kg. Her brother Bobbin died a few years back at the age of fifteen.



Tess may miss him. We don’t know. They used to cuddle up with each other, but then Bobbin would always take it one step too far and try and have his way with her. I never knew what to do. Should we impose our morality on our cats? Tess would always sort things out with a high pitched meow and a whack. I couldn’t blame Bobbin; he deserved some fun after having vets do their business down below many years ago. I was always amazed and surprised that he still had the urge.

And then you find out more things. Who knew cats had barbed penises? Not me. So Tess, I’m sorry I didn’t stop him.

Tess is doddery now. She’s totally deaf and fairly blind but otherwise in reasonably good health considering that, in human years, she’s 173. When I saw her a week ago she had a little siezure of sorts. It could have been cramp, or rheumatism, arthritis, a stroke. She stood up and all one side of her had gone dead. She could only walk sideways and she kept bumping up against the wall. After a short while she recovered.

She has difficulty getting up and down stairs. She can’t jump up on to beds or sofas anymore, but she can fall off them.

Yesterday she was in good form. I spent a bit of time with her, trimmed her claws and combed her fur. She’s pretty good at taking care of herself and grooming, but she’s old, so she doesn’t mind a bit of help.

And she’s found a new friend, though I think it was the sun that was the attraction.




W Hate Smith and Bob Dylan

October 25, 2009

This is a blog post of hate. Maybe. Most of the following is true. The odd line, here or there, may be made up. Not quite a lie. when is a lie not a lie? When it’s a joke? How would we know.

I am starting to hate W.H. Smith. When I bought Watership Down off them sometime in the early 70’s with my Christmas book token, I loved them. But it couldn’t last.

It may be a plan they have. Sometimes, when love breaks down, when we know our days are numbered, we will create hate just to give ourselves an escape plan. Woolworth’s fought for our love til the end, and as a result I think they will come to be missed. But clearly W.H. Smith have a death wish. I’m no expert, no forecaster, but they will go. One year, two years at the most. And they won’t be missed. When the last W.H. Smith closes we will all breathe a sigh of relief, and, at last, will be given back our shopping free will.

Am I being harsh? I hope they go, but I do not wish to see their staff out of jobs. If I worked for W.H. Smith, simply put, I would work for them no longer. I would be sacked. I would refuse what they demand of me to do. And this is the crux, this is the damnable act; the way they make their staff ask us unneccessary and unwanted questions.

Their crime against the customer is heightened when it’s a W.H. Smith at a train station. Few of us travel to train stations to hang around. We’re usually coming or going and W.H. Smith is a good (well, the only) place to pick up a newspaper. And even that’s not so easy.

I knew what I wanted. A bottle of Lucozade and The Guardian. That’ll be £2.69. But wait! If I buy The Sun at 20p I can get the Lucozade for £1. But I don’t want The Sun. I can get one paper and a drink for £2.69 or two papers and a drink for £2.2o. But I don’t want that little bundle.

Still, beggars can’t be choosers (and despite my supposed P-list status I am a beggar) and so I go for the two papers and a drink cheaper option. Damn that Murdoch and his conniving ways (though it’s Sunday now and the paper remains unread).

I queue to pay. A longish queue. No surprise, for each person upon reaching the cashier is subjected to the same attempts to make the customer buy things they, until that point, didn’t want.

It starts with a “How are you today?” I reply “very well. And you?” But my question gets no response. Instead she asks me if I would like some chocolate for £1. No. Then I’m offered chewing gum. No. If I’d wanted these things would I not have picked them up? Am I too arsey? Yes, a little bit. But she takes the biscuit when she offers me a rabbit. Then a toaster. Then a mail order bride. All for £1.

Her final attempt is to offer me a  free Evening Standard. I tell her two papers is enough, and I think she starts to get the idea that I’m not falling for the devil’s sales pitch.

Later, on my way back to the station, I pass St. Martin in the Fields. A church no longer in any field, but right on the edge of Trafalgar Square. As I walk along the left hand side of the church, heading away from the Square and towards Charing Cross I walk along a display of photgraphs from around the world, and underneath each a lyrical line.

I don’t know much about Bob Dylan and so I fail to realise I am reading the lyrics to “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” in reverse order. When I get to my end, which is the beginning, I understand the story.

Mark Edwards was stuck in the Sahara in 1969. Around the same time that a man stepped out on to the moon. In the desert he was greeted by a nomad who made him a cup of tea. They sat, drank, and the nomad brought out an old cassette player and played what may well have been his only cassette. And it was the Dylan song. Mark decided to illustrate the song with images from his own and his friends travels. If you’re passing the church, maybe on your way to or from the station, and you have the time, it’s worth a look.


It’s not what you think. Though, looking back on the evening I had, I almost wish it was.

No, I haven’t become a he-whore. On Saturday afternoon I went to the Coal Hole on the Strand, and there I met a bunch of magicians.

I’d been invited by The Beacon. Now of course he has a real name, but let’s not spoil things. For me, he is, and always will be, The Beacon. You can find out more about The Beacon, but not much more, here. He has a blog about strange belief and behaviour, and, having just finished The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene for this week’s book club, I can’t help but feel I was summoned by The Beacon, who may well become my very own Richard Smythe (a character oddly missing from the Neil Jordan film adaptation). Smythe is a rationalist, and so, I suspect, are all these magicians and mentalists who happily turned my brain into a pile of mush and confusion.

After what I saw that Saturday my life will never be the same again. Oh, and I drank a lot.

The invitation came through Twitter. I’d never met The Beacon before, nor spoken to him. Yes, I know it sounds like the set-up to a trick but it’s not. Our only communication had been through Twitter, and I have no idea why he invited me along. But let’s face it, if you got a invitation to meet a melee of mysterious magicians in a dingy old Victorian pub, well, you’d go, wouldn’t you. Wouldn’t you?

(Oh, and to the person who left the comment the other day stating that the world of Twitter is not real… well, after my Saturday experience I’m tempted to agree).

I got there at 4pm, planning to leave after a couple of pints and head off to the cinema. I left at 10pm (ish). I walked out of the Coal Hole and found myself in a London I had never seen before; urchins pulled at my trouser legs, flowers girls thrust baskets of poseys’ at me, toffs rolled by on penny farthings, and a peeler blew a whistle somewhere away in the fog. (Never leave a pub drunk when it’s throwing out time for the cast of Oliver).

And in the pub the magicians’ set about me. Rob Brown made me sign my name on the back of a card. He did this;  he did that, he… I can’t remember… too much to drink…  all I know is, a little later he pulled out his wallet and my card was in there. Signed. Now, I know it’s a trick, but-

I knew it was a trick when he got me to sign a 10p piece, and then, whilst it was safely wrapped up in my hand, proceeded to bend it out of shape. I’m sure he had a pair of pliers somewhere about him, but still, I have no clue what went on there. It’s magic, or it’s not magic. And I know it’s not magic, so… but… what happened? Am I that unobservant? Well, no. He’s just amazing. I know one thing, and that is the truth; it is a trick. But then I am being shown something else that makes no sense. And how did Jesus do that thing with the bread and the fishes?

Rob also tried to hypnotise me. It didn’t really work, but then we were in a crowded and noisy pub. I could feel where it was going. I could sense how I was being manipulated. And I can see how many people will go with it. I asked Rob if he had more success with females. I had a theory; Rob couldn’t hypnotise me but a sexy female magician could. It’s a kind of flirting, and you can choose to go there or not. I felt all Graham Greene again; if The End of the Affair is about faith (or the lack of it), in both love and God, then I’m afraid, Rob, I didn’t have faith in our love, but I do believe you are a god. I held a card at arms length. Rob told me it was the heaviest thing I had ever held. Well, of course, it seemed like it was getting heavier because it’s hard work holding your arm at length. Then he said it was getting lighter again. I knew it wasn’t, but it did, a little bit. You made me momentarily believe in something that I know cannot be; you evil devil.

All the tricks made me feel nauseous. I tried to explain to the magicians that they should take this as a compliment. I’m not sure I convinced them. Dammit! I KNOW they’re not doing magic. So what are they doing?

It’s sleight of hand, it’s misdirection, blah blah blah. But it’s so much more. I could find out, I could Google, I could maybe even learn… but there would be something missing. Magician’s are dangerous people. They know more than you or I, but they’ll claim not. They’ll say they did a trick wrong, to fool you, to empower you; and then somewhere down the line, maybe two or three months later, maybe years, decades even, they’ll go “a-ha!” And they’d have had you, got you, all that time back, without you realising.

Avoid them. They’ll mess you up forever. Go and learn a trick; fool yourself into thinking you’re like them. Look everything up on YouTube. you’ll entertain the kids at Christmas but someone’ll see the mechanics and you’ll come unstuck.

And they, the bastards, they make you shuffle the cards. You shuffle them. Like it matters. Like it’s having some effect. Like you’re in control of your own destiny. They’ll let you cut the deck. They’ll let you change your mind. And you fight this because you know it MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER. But you acquiesce. And you feel in some small part that you do matter, that you can affect the outcome. And then the demons’ screw you!

I’m feeling nauseous again.

Thank you so much Rob Brown, Neil Edwards, Iain Dunford, The Beacon, and all the other magicians I had the pleasure to meet but, mainly through drunkeness, the inability to remember your names.

A final thing. One of the magicians was called Jonathan. Just before he left he came up to me. He’s the cousin of Stephen, the son of my Godfather… complicated I know, and again not the set-up for a trick (or not quite). He remembered me, Stephen, and himself playing some kind of ghost game when we were teenagers. In 1978. 31 years ago. He remembered us meeting 31 years ago! I stood there a little open mouthed, a little drunk. I needed to know more.

And, like that, he was gone.

Bloody bloody infuriating brilliant evil magicians.

Bigmouth strikes again

October 12, 2009

I’ve a big mouth. I can’t help it. If I could I would. It’s always been with me and to some degree it’s part of my undoing. As a child of three or four, at nursery, the teacher would sit me on her knee and look down into my mouth to jokingly see where all that noise came from.

It’s never gone away. Occasionally I am allowed to forget. But there’s always something there to remind me.

In relationships things can be fine and dandy. Love can be in the air. It can be all around. Then one day, and I rarely see it coming, she will lean in to me, and carefully and gently go “sshhh.”

Here I am as the appropriately titled Launcelot Gobbo in a Salford Youth Theatre production of The Merchant of Venice.

"conscience", say I, "you counsel well."

"conscience", say I, "you counsel well."

Today, on the train, I did something I rarely do. I had a phone conversation with David Mercer, an old friend and a man partly responsible for putting us on TV all those years back in 1987. He’s to blame folks for ten years of Trev and Simon. Now he runs Total Eclipse TV.

I don’t like talking on phones on trains. I avoid it. I don’t like others talking on phones on trains. I scowl at them. But today, for maybe something like the third time in my life, I talked on a phone on a train. And I forget, I’m a big mouth. No matter how hard I try, when I think I am talking quietly I clearly am not.

Getting off the train at Charing Cross I sat on a bench to finish our conversation. A smart middle aged businessman approached me and I asked David to hang on a mo. The businessman told me off; he said that I obviously loved the sound of my own voice. I was embarrassed, mortified, shamed. I apologised. I tried to apologise more but he wasn’t having it. He’d made his point and moved on. He was off.

I am sorry. And to all those people I bothered who didn’t have the heart, nerve or whatever it takes to say something, I apologise. I just wish this man had scowled at me, said something on the train, instead of saving it up with a dig at the end of the journey. But it can take guts to say something and maybe his move was the best to make.

For what it’s worth, I do not love the sound of my own voice. I doubt I love any part of me. I know he didn’t mean it so, but I have been thinking about it so. I must have some kind of crazy ego about me, after all I’m typing this now and who knows who’ll read it, but no, my voice is the constant bane of my life.

Maybe it’s an illness, maybe I can be cured by a voice coach. But it is difficult for me to face up to it as such a problem. I choose to think I am quiet and unobtrusive, but every know and then my own voice yells at me through the reactions of others.

As I thought about this post; as I thought about the comments of the man; the voice I hear in my head is still mine. Try listening to your own voice and see if you can hear it as you would like to hear it; maybe sounding like Sinatra or Morgan Freeman. I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. It’s always me. And me doesn’t half go on.

Tonight it is choir. It’s our birthday. We are a year old. tonight I can sing loud and blend in.

Do you like corn? Do you like cups? Then you'll love...

Do you like corn? Do you like cups? Then you'll love...