My Personal Hell – Valentines Day

All the world loves lovers; all the world loves people in love

I woke this morning with a profound sense of relief. Not for the ‘groundhog day’ existence that I appear to be living at the moment, no, this was far more important – Valentines Day has packed up and fucked off for another year.

For the serial singleton this can be the worst of days. Not only do you have to listen and watch couples acting out some semblance of happiness, (this can be a torture in itself), but you’re also forced to painfully examine the complete balls-up that is otherwise known as your personal life.

Of course, if you’re happily single, then fuck it! It’s a bit like having a get out of prison free card for the day, as well as a much larger bank balance. Things become more complicated when you love someone, but for whatever reason haven’t got around to telling them; perhaps it slipped your mind, or you were too busy watching porn, whatever…. In this situation the anonymous card comes into effect.

I once received a card in the post where the person had spelt my name and address out by using bits of cut up newspaper. This left me in two minds – to begin with, the stalker alarm started to ring; however, even more worryingly, I was fucking impressed by the effort involved, after all, for those who know me, I have got a very long name. Lesson: if you’re going to be an odd ball, at least raise your game – put the work in. What makes this worse is that I recognised the typeface from the various newspapers the she, or he, had used. This probably says more about me than you could possibly ever need to know.

Of all the unhappy people on St Shit’s Day, there are one group of individuals who have my complete sympathy. For those people who find themselves in love with someone already taken this must be akin to going to a twenty-four hour film of your own shit life, in surround sound, and with no popcorn. In this situation one must try to avoid contact with anybody remotely resembling a human being for at least twenty-four hours. This includes all forms of media; do not under any circumstances choose this day of all days to listen to any song that in any way reminds you of anyone that you have even the slightest feelings for. Of course this depends on the lyrical content of the song; for example, if it involves killing, maiming or even just a huge dose of extreme bitterness, you should still keep well away.

I suppose life should be full of little romantic gestures and not saved up for one day of the year when retailers and the media offer up a huge fuck you and forcibly ransack your dignity and your money. Although, who am I to talk about this? A failed career as a hopeless romantic provides me with very little credibility on the subject of love. Still, thank fuck it’s over with for another year and I can return once again to my slightly happier version of miserable.

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Lightning does strike twice

Why is it so hard to move away from certain aspects of ones life? As a younger man I found it almost too easy to walk away from anything, be it a person, situation, or both. This may have been forced upon me  at the time, but the fact it that it’s something that I became rather adept at – no attachments, and those that did slip through the net didn’t last too long.

Now as the years have piled upon me and I edge towards an unwanted middle age I find it increasingly hard to let go; even when all my instincts tell me otherwise. I’m not sure anymore if this is just the simple effect of getting older, or perhaps an attempt to cling onto something that doesn’t exist. If the personal events of 2010 taught me anything it was not to let my guard down at any point, to keep focused and detached; to keep moving forward, even if that meant being alone.

Of course, being the idiot that I sometimes find great success at being, I did the complete opposite of that, but then, I’ve never been one to make my life easy for myself, that would be far too simple and dull. Indeed, for some unfathomable reason known only to me, I’ve found great success at fucking my own life up at the drop of a hat; almost like having ones finger permanently glued to the self-destruct button. Of course, the danger is that you not only hurt yourself, but those around you. Those that don’t in any way deserve to get caught up in your own personal Nile full of shit. I possibly come across here as a man who doesn’t care. That premise couldn’t be further from the truth; I do care, sometimes too much. I would burn in Hell rather than set out to hurt those who in truth mean the whole world to me.

Moving on though, letting go; this presents me with more of a problem.

Here, six weeks into 2011, this is not a problem that I want or need, and yet there it is. Holding onto something that you can’t have and will never have can be a painful exercise. A hopeless, unreachable dream; a dream which in reality soon becomes a living nightmare. In time, this wears you down, it leaves you weak, you become careless and unpredictable. So, you look in desperation for a solution; you remove yourself from that situation, you shut yourself away and you rebuild the wall that had previously been smashed to pieces by the most beautiful creature on Earth. You try to start again, to regain some semblance of order in your life; to regain control.

You convince yourself that life will soon begin to flow again if you can overcome the seemingly impossible task of letting go. Time moves on apace, other problems are taking up your time, and you’re almost glad, it’s almost a welcome distraction – something else to worry about, another thing to lose sleep over.

And then…..

Here it comes again. Punching its way like a heavyweight from the back of your mind. The old feelings are still there; of course they’ve never really been away, just covered up like the furniture left standing in an empty house. You’ve tried to let go and then BANG! A situation presents itself and you find yourself slap back in the
middle of the storm – the last thing you wanted to happen has now fucking happened – lightning does in fact strike twice it seems.

Lost Moments…..

Paradise found down by the still waters
Joined in the race to the rainbow’s end
No fears no worries just a golden country
Woke at sunrise, went home at sunset……

Innocence. The loss of simpler times; of a golden age and those carefree days spent running wild. These are memories that I have spent time pondering in recent days; and more importantly, trying to pin-point that moment in time when that simple, child-like innocence departed and set me upon the path towards the man I have now become.

There comes a time when the harsh realities of life begin to become all too plain to us; when the magic and wonder depart and the truth becomes clear. I look back and wonder if anything remains of the happy child I once was; is he still there within me somewhere, or like time, has he gone forever, left in the past, never to return.

As is the case with many of us, the first blow to my magical world came when I first realised life’s most harsh reality. Death. I remember all too clearly the moment when I first realised that sooner or later all of us must die. I remember the shock, the emptiness and, most of all the fear. Even at such a young age, nothing is really ever the same again once this has been revealed to you. However, adulthood, or your concept of it, seem a lifetime away; it gets pushed to the back of ones mind, and you carry on. Before I had discovered this though, I had unknowingly had my first experience with death. One of my earliest memories is of myself and my parents rushing at some haste to my maternal Grandmothers house one summer afternoon in 1977. I can still recall seeing my Grandmother there, sitting in the chair, seemingly asleep; and of course, this is what I was told. This moment has always stayed with me; and sitting here, thirty-three years later, it is still as clear as a perfect blue sky in my mind.

This protection, of certain truths being kept from you, is the main thing that sustains ones innocence. My memories of my early childhood are in the main, happy, fun-filled ones. Days of sun, bicycles, games and running down lanes and through woods and fields. Days that seemed to go on and on, and where holidays seemed to last forever. Days that were filled with imagination and adventure, where anything seemed possible. Days where I felt totally fearless. Days that I thought would never end.

After moving around over the years, I now live a few short miles from where I grew up. Every once in a while I go back there; not just to the small town, but back to the lanes and forest tracks that I once knew so well. I’m not sure what I hope to find there; many years have passed, but the landscape remains the same and I can still hear the ghosts of my childhood calling me; the birds singing, the chime of the ice cream van on a Sunday afternoon, the rumble of the steam trains from across the river,the smell of hay, the lambs calling to their mothers in the fields beyond our garden. I go there in the hope that I can find myself again, that I can reconnect, that I can rediscover the lost magic…..

Bring you a tale from the pastel fields
Where we ran when we were young
This is a tale from the water meadows
Trying to spread some hope into your heart
It’s mixed with happiness – it’s mixed with tears
Both life and death are carried in this stream
That open space you could run for miles
Now you don’t get so many to the pound…..

Whilst I’m not in any way one to live in the past;  the time I spend revisiting the lanes, streams and fields of my childhood is never misspent. Life, as we all find out, is a serious matter; time is short and there are moments when I long for a simpler, more carefree existence. Walking along the river, on a summer’s evening, I find it.

I don’t envy children growing up today. Too many distractions, and what would seem to be a unnessesary pressure to grow up far too quickly. The media play a huge part in this; whipping up hysteria and fear, causing parents to become ‘over protective’ of their children. This wasn’t the case during my childhood; my parents where strict, but I was allowed the freedom the be able to play and enjoy being a child. Of course, I  was fortunate, and I do realise this; I grew up in a very small Worcestershire town on the edge of farmland and a forest. Life in a city would have been very different.

Childhood,is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows….. (John Betjeman)

The ‘dark hour of reason’. The loss of innocence. A feeling that time has passed; that the moment has gone. In many ways, that feeling never really leaves you; there are moments in life where you feel that something that you want so much might just happen. Sometimes you can even pin-point a time when the thing you wanted so much, should have happened. These moments last for but a second, and afterwards, when the moment has passed, you know in your heart that this was the chance you’d been waiting for. Of course, all too often we let these chances in life pass without acting upon them, but by then it’s far too late, and one is forced to move on. Like a fly trapped in amber however, these moments stay with you.

It’s hard to pin-point when innocence finally goes. It’s a gradual process. As you get older, you become more exposed to life around you and the truth surrounding your own life becomes all too clear. In my case, I began to realise that perhaps everything at home wasn’t as perfect as I’d once thought; as I started to grow, I became more aware of the money problems, of the fighting between my parents, and finally the day when they separated. When faced with these ‘grown up’ problems I really didn’t know where to turn; my poor Mother was forced to work two jobs in order to put food on the table and pay the bills. On top of this, I began to struggle at school, I became a victim of a few stupid bullies and soon learned to stick up for myself. However, it was a very painful period of time, and during those few short years the last traces of childhood wonder and magic vanished from within me……

The sunny sand we ran along
Everyday began upon
The summer’s kiss of love and adventure
And every June that we fell into
Left a mark upon us too
Etched forever as a moment we’d remember
And we’d remember
The empty woods where we played
Every hour of every day
The holidays went on forever

And in the woods was a soldier’s tomb
The ghost of which looked over you
And God was there amongst the trees
We felt his whisper as the summer’s breeze
And every night and every day
I learnt to love it in a special way
As I remember
What it’s like to walk amongst butterflies……

(Lyrics to ‘Tales from the Riverbank’ and ‘Amongst Butterflies’ by Paul Weller)

Closed shop mentality will only damage Labour

I’ve watched with interest this weekend  the uproar surrounding the news that Alan Milburn was to accept a role as the new ‘social mobility tsar’  for the coalition government. The reaction from a number of Labour members and supporters, particularly on Twitter has been disappointing, but not altogether surprising. Whilst I myself do not hold any especially warm feelings for Milburn, this continued tribal attitude to politics, and to the Labour Party itself does us no favours at all. In fact; it makes us look childish and silly.

People have a short memory. After all, it was only a short time ago that Gordon Brown was trying to assemble his own ‘Government of all the talents.’  Like it or not, Cameron is only attempting to do exactly the very same thing; and we are now in a situation where the public mood calls for greater cooperation between the main political parties.

As a party we have bigger fish to fry. We are going through a vital leadership campaign, one which will decide the electability of  Labour in the coming years up to and beyond the next general election. We must put all of  our energies into getting our own house back in order; a great deal of damage has been done to the party in recent years, and we have lost a lot of Labours traditional support  throughout the country. Now is the time to complete the leadership process, and then to unite as a party behind the eventual winner. Not only must we concentrate on ensuring  that we  provide an effective opposition to the inevitable damage that the coalition will cause; but  we must also regain the trust and support of the Labour heartland.

Milburn and his like belong in our past; and we should consign him there along with our petty partisan attitudes…….

Loose Ends

This entry doesn’t refer to either the 1980’s soul outfit, or the long running Radio 4 programme. This is something of a one-off, in as much as I’m doing something that I seldom do – talking about myself.
In many ways I’m a lucky man; I’ve managed to live my life so far in something of a beautiful, organised chaos. I’ve never really planned for the future, always lived day by day, hour to hour, taken life as it comes and carried on regardless.
Never counted the cost.
I’m not one for introspection either; I’ve never been comfortable looking back on the past, the years that are now starting to fly by. Partly because I’ve never really seen the point; partly because I’m always worried about what I’ll find there waiting for me.
It’s only recently that I’ve begun to question this. I could put this down to getting older, or because I’ve had several months of very worrying health problems. Either way I’ve realised that there is so much in my past that remains unanswered, loose ends that need to be tied up and sentences that require a full stop.
My family history is rather cloudy. I lost both my parents at a young age and this is where the doubts in my mind start to arise. My parents separated when I was eleven years old; my Dad was something of a wayward character; he worked away during the week, and I only saw him at the weekends. Of course, like all young boys, I worshipped the ground he walked on, even though we never really did any of those normal ‘father and son’ things together. At that age though, I had no idea as to what sort of a deeply flawed man he really was. Without wishing to turn this into a truncated auto-biography I’ll skip forward to 1993. The intervening years had been very tough on my Mum; she had suffered from health problems since childhood and this wasn’t helped by quite often having to have two jobs in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. I can even recall times when she went without food just so I could eat. So, in 1993 my Mum suffered a massive asthma attack, this had happened previously, but this time it was just too much. She wasn’t strong enough and tragically died. She was just forty four years old – a tragic waste of life.
I dealt with this by leading what I would consider now to be  a fairly reckless life, which I am undoubtedly paying the price for now. However, as always, I ploughed on and life continued on it’s rocky path, good times and a lot of bad, dark times. I’d always thought though that this had made me stronger, perhaps in reality it just made me harder. I’ve come to realise this year that I’m not that strong at all.
I’ve never really got over my Mum’s death, and I don’t think in reality that I ever will. I suppose the trick is coming to terms with that fact; the loss never really goes away, it just sits there in the shadows waiting for you. I’ve got friends who’ve also lost parents, family and friends, and I suppose I’ve been able to comfort them in some small way, because I really do know how they feel. In some ways I wish I didn’t.
With another click of the fingers we move forward in time again. This time to London, 2001. Over the years, I’d only given a few passing thoughts to my Dad, I’d never really though about trying to find him or contact him. Something happened in my mind though that made me change my mind, and I contacted one of his old friends from home to see if I could locate him. I wasn’t prepared for the answer – my Dad had passed away ten years previously. No one had made any attempt to tell me.
My Dads side of the family is somewhat of a mystery to me. He was Welsh, and grew up in the mining town of Bryn Mawr, in Gwent, South Wales. He was part of a very large family, had been married before he met my Mum, and had two other children, a boy and a girl – my half brother and sister. This is as much as I knew, I’d never met any of my Dads family and they were seldom mentioned at home during my childhood. A whole side of my family had been kept from me, and I had and still have no idea why; after all there’s no one left to ask.
Recently I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about this. Far too much time in fact; it’s not been an easy process. After a bit of investigation I discovered that Dad had died in June 1991, two years before my Mum; I was only seventeen at the time. A few years previously ha had somehow managed to contact my mum, and asked to meet her, I’m not sure why, but it was probably to do with money, anyway she went to meet him – I refused to go. On her return, she told me that his looked somewhat downtrodden and down on his luck, she almost felt sorry for him. I didn’t pay too much attention. Something has started to bother me though, something that I’ll  never know the answer to now. I’m convinced that she knew he was ill, and I’ve started to wonder if she knew about his death two years later; and if so, why she kept this from me. If it was to protect me, I can understand this, but being the age that I was at the time, I find it hard to believe that she would have done this. I like to think that she wouldn’t have.
A visit to Wales recently has made me think about this even more during the past week or so. I spent sometime visiting my Dads home town and the surrounding area; a bleak, post Tory collection of ex-mining towns. Perhaps in some way’s this explains my miserable demeanour at times. I feel a direct connection with this area though, I feel comfortable being there, and as I walked the streets of Bryn Mawr on that Saturday afternoon, I could feel the ghosts of my past calling me, leading me on to what I should have done a long time ago. I need to resolve my past. Only by going back, can I move forward with any certainty. For a start, I have an older half brother and sister that I’ve never met. This is something that I’ve now started to address, but it’s not a simple process. However, I do need to persevere; I grew up as an only child, I’ve always been very independent and self-contained, however, the need to be part of something bigger will not leave my head…..