Sunday, 31 August 2014

Nine and a Half Weeks

That form, sat gathering dust in the front room, seems an appropriate metaphor for my young life.

This was my place at university studying modern history. Ours was the first academic year under the system of tuition fees as the 'prizes for all' culture had clashed with an obvious lack of taxpayers' money and made the old system of “if you're good enough you can go” unsustainable. I'm not entirely sure what the answer is and maybe people do respond in a more motivated fashion when money for which they're personally liable is on the table. What I do know is that sending thick middle class kids to university makes little sense, that opening it up to the terminally dumb diminished the value of the qualification by definition. Now we're in a messy and complicated world where apparently you're fucked and burned if you're under the age of 35 and don't have a degree, but at the same time they have a real terms value of practically nothing.

I'd told them repeatedly that this needed to be completed as the deadline neared. Predictably enough, I don't have their national insurance details, or know how much they earned in the last 12 months, and nor do I want to. Intrusive as questions like this might be, I suppose it's a necessary part of ensuring people don't falsely cry poverty. There's also the matter of student finance, which I'm hesitant about getting involved with as I don't trust my parents not to convolute some crisis as an excuse to snatch this money I'd be liable to pay back. The deadline approaches and the form remains untouched. What about all this nonsense Bob had talked about being backed to the hilt? Of how they'd do anything within their power to make this thing work? Then it's passed, and passed by a few weeks, then a whole month. My place at Uni has now been flushed down the toilet.

Bob, Irene, thanks a fucking bunch.

Fearing their response, that they would somehow turn this around and make it out to be my fault, I 'tell' them that I've changed my mind about higher education and will be looking for a permanent and full-time job instead. Bob goes ballistic, telling me “don't piss into the wind then tell me it's fucking raining”. Deano is in startling shit-stirring form, simultaneously arguing that I should be forced to go to university against my will, that anyone who is in higher education is a 'bum' and a 'parasite' who needs to 'get a proper job' and that, possibly inspired by Pol Pot, we should close all educational centres and institutions that cater for anyone over the age of sixteen. Presumably everyone would leave school and become a farm labourer or sweep a factory floor. But then again, who would design the equipment being used on the farm, or the finished product being assembled in the factory?

Wouldn't someone like that need a degree or similar qualification?

It speaks volumes about our family that my parents actually take this bollocks seriously, and begin to argue the 'merits' or otherwise of it. Please understand what I tell you about Teenage Kickings, this book I'm writing – IT IS NOT A WORK OF FICTION. I really did grow up around these people, people so determined to maintain a position of superiority over others within their family that history, a sense of what mattered and the rules of life as we knew it were constantly re-written. Over time it became apparent that whatever choice I made would be the wrong one, that when it came to Deano and my parents it was a case of “heads we win, tails you lose”. For Rob, it had been even worse as he was promised he could go to college if he got the required results.

He promptly went out and did enough to get on the computing course he'd lined up, only to be told that, well, they'd actually taken it for granted that he would fail and not meant what they'd said. I'll repeat that for the removal of doubt – his own parents were sat there, hoping he would miserably fail his exams so that they could send him out into the world of work and wouldn't have to support him through further education in any way. As for Deano's role in this, he'd done many things with his life and I'd reached the conclusion that my personal thoughts on his choices were none of my business. Why he hadn't extended the same respect I have no idea, nor is there any satisfactory explanation of why his rather demented and contradictory views, motivated first and foremost by the monumental chip on his shoulder, were being taken so seriously – outside of what Rob and I both knew which was that he meant more to our parents than either of us ever would.

Someone, please just tell this prick to shut the fuck up – and then shoot him.

Amazingly, I end up negotiating 'permission' for a year out, which is absurd considering that I didn't really have a place at a university anymore. However, the suggestion that either Bob or Irene were in any way responsible for this would have been a capital offence and I very much doubt the authorities would ever have found the body. Deano looks mightily pissed off, but probably does not know this reality, namely that I could not have gone anyway, that when push came to shove neither Bob nor Irene could be bothered to fill in a piece of paper. Bob makes a tasteless remark about “protecting his investment” and I shake my head, part of me wishing that I might finally see some of this phantom 'investment' that he's wittering on about. How about holding a job down for more than five minutes, shithead?

I'll say this again – I didn't 'choose' not to go to university. By the time I ostensibly made that 'choice' my place was null and void. This is something that I would remember, despite their best attempts to re-write history and depict it as an act of free will on my part.

As far as they were concerned, my parents were infallible, incapable of wrong.

Deano's more pissed off about this than anyone. He realises that the second I'm out earning, the stick he has to hit me with and assert his dominance/superiority will disappear. A few nights later I'm instructed to take the dog for a walk. Ok, I don't want an argument. Then Lauren, spoilt little bitch that she is, chips in that she needs to be allowed to come with me. I'm dreading this but know how it is. When Lauren doesn't get her own way, she starts crying – and when Lauren starts crying, Bob has a ready-made excuse to turn violent. I walk the dog and it's getting dark, but she insists on us staying out a while longer. I really don't know what to do here – this seems irresponsible, but when Lauren doesn't get her own way, she starts crying – and when Lauren starts crying....I weigh up the options and decide that one more walk round the block is the lesser of two evils, the least worst option.

Whether or not it was, it was the wrong option nonetheless, and within seconds of coming home Bob has me in his signature move, choked and with my head being slammed repeatedly into the wall.

His performances here tended to follow a pattern. Initially, Bob would lose it and engage in some (usually relatively minor) act of violence to put the wind up you. You would then be subjected to some hackneyed nonsense about how you were 'on very thin ice' and suchlike. Then he would (sort of) calm down and go all pseudo-profound, repeating himself ad nauseum and saying several thousand words while managing to say precisely nothing at the same time. Some of these exercises in physical and psychological torture would go on for several hours and feel more like several days. You'd be asked 'straight' questions, hesitate while you worked out what the 'right' answer was and then be ridiculed or (as I was here) called something rude, like a “spineless wanker” or whatever, for hesitating and/or dancing round the head of a pin.

I'm able to filter most of this so that it's just noise, but it's obvious what this is really about. Oblivious or in denial about his own role in destroying my chances of going to Uni, Bob is pissed off with me for 'choosing' not to go and was just waiting for me to put a fingernail out of place, offer some sort of excuse for him to go off on one. Deano is wading in, suggesting he “throw the fucker out on the street for a few nights and see how he copes”. Everything comes under the radar, choices of clothes, my haircut, friends they've met a handful of times but somehow feel equipped to judge, my 'lack of a skill or trade' which, coming from a fake electrician and he of the abandoned apprenticeship is pretty fucking funny on reflection. It starts to dawn upon me, my older brother and my Dad actually hate my guts. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but I can see hatred in Bob's eyes and Deano's there, stirring the pot and pushing his buttons, thoroughly enjoying himself.

I head out the next morning, ten parts to look for work and ten parts to get away from them, thoroughly sickened by this moment of epiphany.

I realise that I'm entitled to JSA and, seeing as I'm actually looking for work, why not? At least it means I don't have to ask for handouts from home, effectively needing their permission to attend a job interview.

Deano finds a justification in his rather warped mind for 'opposing' this, although again nobody is answering the question, what the fuck has this got to do with you? I couldn't care if you're 'opposed' to this or not, unless you're offering to cough up every time I need to catch a train to Preston or whatever?

And if you aren't, then what exactly would you like me to do instead - sit on my arse and take your abuse on a nightly basis? Start sleeping in a shop doorway while you point and laugh? Slip off to some woods and blow my head off?

However bad things got, it would clearly never have been enough for him.

I'll never forget this period of time, and the lengths my own brother was prepared to go to, his desparation for me to fail, solely so that he could re-enforce his status as 'top dog' within the three of us. Nor will I forget that Bob and Irene were either too fucking dumb to see this was what he was doing, or actively complicit in undermining Rob and myself to protect 'the prodigal son' from reality. There at the back of my mind was the truth that dare not speak its name, that the supposed justification for the bile being showered on me, namely my university no-show, had actually been out of my control. But, once our family was convinced by and set on a version of history with which they were comfortable, there was no chance of small matters like the truth being allowed to get in the way.

Anyway, within a couple of weeks, Deano would have fucked it up bigtime, but not before trying to drag me down with him.

I'd kept hearing stories that he liked a good ectasy-fuelled 'gurn' at the weekend, but wasn't sure what to believe. It's also fair to say that my views on narcotics at the time were somewhat stupid and ill-informed, inspired by the panic around illicit drugs that seemed to wilfully ignore the number one cause of crime, disorder and ill health in Britain, which of course is alcohol. He comes home one Sunday afternoon and is talking complete shite, stringing words together that might all appear somewhere in the English dictionary, but in a random order that says 'data, not information', makes zero sense and has no discernible meaning. He then claims there's a monkey in the window, that people are bleeding when they quite demonstrably aren't. He picks up a brush and starts stroking the thing, believing it to be the dog. Irene offers a pearl of wisdom, the hilarity of which displays her own stunning naivety.

Go to bed, you're pissed”.

I try to explain that this is not something alcohol-induced and calling a doctor to ascertain exactly what's been consumed here might be a good shout. His own stupid fault or otherwise, we still don't want a fatality on our hands. She's not listening.

Later that night, Bob and Irene have hit the hay and I'm watching TV when Deano comes back downstairs, STILL ABSOLUTELY OFF HIS HEAD. He strokes the brush/dog again, then makes a worrying move towards a bottle of whiskey in the kitchen. Eventually he's coaxed upstairs but there's precious little chance of him, or anyone else in close proximity, getting a decent night's shuteye. What was that about the three-to-a-room shambles being a 'temporary solution?' - more than five years on, here we were, really wishing we didn't have to put up with him stomping around, talking random bollocks about some Italian bloke called Giovanni, presumably somebody he was hallucinating to be in the room at the time. He then chows down on a sock which he's hallucinated to be a kebab.

How the fuck is he still like this the best part of twelve hours after coming home?

What exactly has he taken?

How much...and when? And no, I don't want some.

Anyone amused by this story should know that it isn't remotely funny at the time - you're terrified of interacting with this guy in any serious way for fear of saying the wrong thing, interfering with the make-believe world that's in front of him and provoking a spontaneous and unpleasant reaction. Terrifyingly, he goes downstairs and you hear the front door close. He's out wandering the streets and...I'm just glad I can finally close my eyes and forget all this bollocks.

Amazingly, Bob hasn't woken yet.

The rest of the story is something I'd hear second-hand, but it involves some violence on imaginary adversaries in a garden, the filth being called and Deano being brought home at 5am. Apparently the weekend had been driven principally by LSD, Ketamine and one or two other stimulants – with the benefit of having got a life since I won't go all puritanical on the question of mind-altering substances, but it might be a fair comment to suggest that punching the crap out of trees that you imagine to be people might be a sign you've over-indulged. This time it's his turn to cop one of Bob's sermons, which I'll admit I never experienced while off my head on alcohol, illicit drugs or anything else. Is it easier or even more insufferably painful to listen to? I have no idea whatsoever. What I do know is Deano's response was an act of despicable cowardice.

He repeats the story about my alcohol-induced hospitalisation twelve months earlier, in an attempt to shift the focus onto somebody other than himself. Now Bob had been away while I'd drank myself into the back of an ambulance, which was a lucky break of the ball in many respects. However, it had been something that he'd mentioned more than once, referenced as a card he hadn't yet played, potential blackmail material. Now, with his back against the wall and his eyes staring down the barrel, he'd decided to play it. Fortunately, both Bob and Irene decide not to re-visit something that had been dealt with at the time, and at least Irene, to her great credit, is thoroughly mortified by the depths Deano had been prepared to sink to. When this was replayed to me the next day, I wondered exactly what I'd done to merit that kind of vitriol.

Why had the humiliation less than a week earlier not been enough for him?

Why, when under a bit of heat for the first time in a long time, was it me he'd turned on and gone for? Little things like that reveal so much about a person's mindset.

When he returned from a similar binge in a similar state about a week later, Deano was given an ultimatum by our parents. It's worth clarifying that he wasn't thrown out as such, merely told to cut out or at least lighten up on the narcotics, or make arrangements to live elsewhere if he wanted to keep making those choices. Faced with that particular 50-50, Deano decides that the drugs do work, and he's going to stick with them. The following morning, Rob and I are told to pack his stuff while he sets up base at a friend's house. I'm asked how I feel about his departure – does it really fucking matter? Ok, I'll tell you how I felt at the time – good fucking riddance and I hoped he would never be back. This bastard had taken every available opportunity to have a little dig, pushed Bob's buttons to the point where I feared for my physical safety and then who had he gone for when he found himself in a hole, solely as a result of his own actions?

Why on earth would I feel sorry for him?

The nine and a half weeks he was away were the closest thing to normality that Rob and I would experience in our young lives. Something we never properly accounted for at the time was that Bob was out of the country for the overwhelming majority of that period, and Rob's transformation in terms of confidence and self-image just defied belief, but not before he'd delivered a few words of wholly unnecessary gratitude that sent a chill down my spine. Rob turns to me about a week after Deano's departure and says he wants to thank me 'for not bullying him or making him feel small like Deano did' – er...what? Although the picture had become gradually more clear over the previous few years, it was around this point that the level of dysfunction in our family, how oppressive and militaristic it had been, and the effect this had had on the weaker individuals or black sheep within it, became apparent.

That he actually expected to be mistreated, and had no genuine belief that he was worth anything better, was a sad indictment on all of us, myself included. I resolved there and then that 1) I would do everything within my power to undo any role I might have played in him getting to this state and 2) I would fight any attempt by my parents to bring Deano back, if only so he would never feel like that again. Rob's confidence very gradually but very definitely lifts, I land myself a job where I would spend the next four and a half years, and (hand on heart) two months go by without a single ruck, argument or fallout. No conflict, no raised voices, nobody looking to assert themselves or dominate anybody else. Then Bob throws a spanner in the works. He meets Deano in a pub, comes home with some sob-story about how he's 'starving to death' and destroys the nice yin-yang balance we had going on.

Sickened by the duplicity of the man, who'd sworn he was 'on our side', I go out for a few hours.

It was only at this point that I realised something about my biological father. He actually needs conflict and people falling out around him as a justification for him to throw his weight about, lay down the law, get across a few 'home truths' and what have you. The previous nine weeks, while representing bliss and the start of a brave and bright new world for Rob and myself, had been a nightmare for him. Love, peace and harmony had left the man feeling curiously redundant, surplus to requirements and with a greatly diminished justification for his own existence as the enforcer. As things stood within that environment, no enforcer was necessary, and bringing the cause of so much friction back was, incredible as it sounds, a situation with which Bob was altogether more comfortable.

I told him what Rob had said to me about his expectation of being bullied, and asked him why he was breaking up something that had been more civilised and sane than anything we had recognised before. We were given a story that would turn out to be as big a fabrication as 'the dodgy dossier' on which we the Iraq war started. Apparently, Deano was five stone wet through, suffering from chronic malnutrition and resembling an inhabitant of Auschwitz. His situation was deadly serious and approaching a state of life or death. We had to do something now, or it would be on all of our consciences were we to do nothing and then hear of him passing away. Once I discovered that this of course had been a disgusting pack of lies designed to yank at our heartstrings and guilt complexes, I would never trust a word that Bob told me again.

I would also discover, much later, that Deano had no wish or intention to come back, was happy partying with his friends, and needed to have his own arm twisted. He was even told, amongst other things, that his brothers were really missing him. In some ways, he was as much a victim of this mess as anyone else, having gone of his own accord in the first place and never actually asking to return.

Rob and I would quickly return to the status of second class citizens.

Ok, one more serialisation and then we're out – here's tonight's listening and take it easy.

Chatting Up the Gasman...

Many thanks again for reading – if any of you have a question regarding Teenage Kickings, the writing of it or some of the wider subjects discussed in the book, drop us a line on Facebook or to the generic e-mail address here. I'll collect them and put together a one-stop response to all of the (sensible) questions on here as soon as I can.

I've been limerent three times in my life. One of the determining factors in exactly when the timeframe for this book ended was a sincere wish not to upset someone. Someone who was the unwilling and blameless subject of my condition some six and a half years ago, someone I still have dealings with and enormous personal regard for. You know who you are and I'm aware that while I was shaking and spluttering, generally being an emotional car crash and behaving somewhat strangely every time you came onto my radar, you were genuinely concerned and asking after my well-being. That means a lot. I also know that I was never supposed to find that out for reasons known only to other people who I'm glad I have nothing to do with these days. It's a blessed relief we sorted it and that things have worked out so well for you since. I've never gone in for happiness being some sort of inalienable right, but in your case it's utterly merited and thoroughly deserved.

Kudos mate. Kudos.

For those of you who aren't used to me talking about someone like that, I'll wrap some context and a bit of countering negativity around it before you reach for the bucket. Nicola, my Limerent Object in 2002-03 (although if you asked her and one or two of her, er, associates then they'd probably tell you I was still utterly bonkers about her now) is easily the one of the three I have the least fond memory of and would have the least time for if we ran into each other tomorrow morning. I'm not sure if I actually dislike her or not, although it's an interesting notion that I would feel any genuine warmth towards someone who knew the nature of the power she had over me and found it utterly fucking hilarious, told me to my face that she hoped she “haunted me forever” (why Nic, why?), told repeated lies about me and seemed to be on some sort of personal mission to prang as many raw nerves as she could while maintaining that manipulative, butter-wouldn't-melt “who, me?” look to the outside world.

Rob actually spent two weeks working there putting a catalogue together and was horrified by three things. One was how little work most of the people who turned up there actually tended to do, another was the appalling level of gossip, often malicious and unfounded, that people would circulate about their team-mates. Usually it was of the 'who's shagging who' or 'who wants to shag who' variety and to be on the receiving end was infuriating. The difficulty came in differentiating the true (very occasionally useful to know) stories from the total fiction and stuff peddled for wholly malicious reasons. Frighteningly, nothing was ever done about it as management themselves saw the office motormouths as a a useful mine of misinformation. I mean, who cares if it's actually true or not, as long as a few sickos get the cheap laugh they crave?

The third thing that horrified him was Nicola, although I discovered the feeling was mutual when she told me he was “even uglier than you are”, a classless and pathetic attempt to twist the knife if I've ever heard one. Rob couldn't believe this was the girl I'd been telling him about – he knew she was 'special' to me in some way, and so he started looking at previous winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup to see which year she won (his own words although he would only reveal this to me after I'd snapped out of it for fear of sparking a row – I think that's a pretty harsh assessment anyway). He also observed (not incorrectly) that she wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer and that, well Daz, you might be somewhat limited in terms of common ground and interesting stuff to discuss. Others who noted something similar made the quite hilarious recommendation that I should 'come down to earth' (ie dumb down) in order to bridge that gap.

Er...what?

Why doesn't she read a few books instead?

That's the problem with an irrational and involuntary state of infatuation – it's total pot luck who comes out of the hat and the extent of the shit you have to deal with. Once I got plastered and coughed about this to someone (although I didn't remember doing so and only learned of my 'confession' several months later having blacked out) then I was basically fucking toast in career terms. This was also, let us not forget, the daughter of the Managing Director, who was using the place to find her a long-termer who could be controlled but would have anyone caught having 'a dabble' with his Little Princess taken outside and shot, make no mistake. Rationally, having anything to do with her would make no sense whatsoever unless you wanted to be her Dad's bitch for the rest of your life or alternatively, fancied being doused in petrol and then set on fire.

But then I wasn't thinking rationally...

I get talking to a girl one night after meeting up briefly with a couple of pals. We're travelling in the same direction so agree to share a cab. She's absolutely lovely, clearly in possession of a functioning brain and seems to have quite a few interesting thoughts she's not shy about sharing. But I'm not remotely attracted to her in any way despite her complimenting my hairdo and remarking that “I mean, my next boyfriend could be some random bloke I meet...like you”. This must qualify as the least subtle hint of the decade, and a bankable top tenner in the all-time stakes. Tragically, I tell her that, nice as she is, I have 'feelings' for someone else, a someone else who has something of a claim on me as a result and that she shouldn't waste another second thinking of me in that way. Lovely Lisa lived less than five minutes' walk from me, yet we never saw each other again. I hope she's totally happy, whatever she's doing, and that she took my advice never to give me another moment's thought. I really wasn't worth it.

Limerence does different things to different people, but I've always hated feelings of which I am not in control. Your freedom to choose and understand for yourself how you relate to others, along with the ability to make rational judgements about anything relating to that person, are the first two things that go down the toilet. The drive and desire to perceive this deeply flawed human being as a near-goddess completely aced anything negative that I might have heard or had been told previously. When I did hear someone say something along the lines of “she's a dizzy slapper” or “stuck up cow”, it hurt me deeply and personally, incredible as that sounds. But then, not wanting my 'feelings' to be exposed to the world and run the risk of personal armageddon, I chose not to speak up in her defence. This in itself felt like some sort of betrayal, like I was taking the coward's way out and personally letting her down.

Utterly insane when I look back on it, but then this condition is...

Nobody is worth that sort of devotion, but some are more unworthy of it than others.

Makes me quite appreciative of you-know-who and you-know-who on reflection.

This was also the episode where there was the clearest sense of resolution at the time. I gave her my phone number (the initial conversation was through a mutual friend but I did speak to her in person to make sure she had it). I suggested that if she felt there was something worth exploring or talking about then she should call me safe in the knowledge that there was a pair of loving arms waiting for her. If a week or so went by and I heard nothing then I'd leave it and she would never hear from me on this subject again. Everyone crystal clear regarding where they stand and no need for awkward confrontation. That night, I quite literally sat by the telephone for hours (waiting for someone to pull me through, when the nozzle didn't ring I knew it wasn't you). At about 9pm it rang and I took a deep breath, then proceeded to put on the sexiest, warmest, most alluring voice I could.

Helloooooo!!” I answer in a tone that must have sounded faintly ridiculous.

Hi I'm from British Gas – we want to know why you haven't paid your bill?”.

Way to make a complete twat of yourself, Dazza...

Of course she didn't ring, and this seemed to do the trick. A couple of weeks after that, I snapped out of it. My rational head was back working again and this in itself was liberating, despite the professional and personal chaos that was going on around me at the time. I didn't really care much about the job I had by then and pretending that spare parts for boilers or the career aspirations of a Manc gobshite with a small penis was some sort of passion of mine had become an increasingly difficult act to sustain. All that mattered right now was that I was free from these ghastly, awful feelings that I'd never chosen, for this idiot I would have next to zero in common with and would never make a conscious choice to get involved with for all sorts of reasons. When attempts were made to re-write history (and aren't there always attempts to do this?) I never lost sight of the fact that I HAD given her my number and put my feelings out there.

That this had been met with a rejection of sorts is precisely why the episode had ended so swiftly.

I said I would forget about her and move on, which is exactly what I actually did, although certain people were only interested in believing what they wanted to believe.

In reality, there was no way on earth I would ever re-visit this regardless of the pressures or strains I would be put under to do so. It had been too difficult to deal with at the time, incredibly painful to talk about with anyone at all and Dazza just wasn't for giving up the lifeline he'd been offered by this storm cloud lifting.

If that meant I had no professional future there then so be it.

If that (hypothetically, we hope) meant being snatched off the street, stuffed in the boot of a car, driven somewhere quiet and invited to dig your own grave, then I'll come back to you but my gut reaction is to say “make sure the gun's loaded”. To paraphrase Morrissey, if the choice is between Death and Limerence then I must say “neither one particularly appeals to me”. Becoming limerent again remains my biggest fear, an indeterminate sentence in a private hell from which there's no obvious escape.

At least when you're dead, well, you're fucking dead aren't you?

How you approach someone who you used to have these intense feelings for but no longer do is an interesting conundrum. Uppermost in my thoughts was to make damn sure I didn't say or do anything that might be construed as 'bitter and twisted' and wrongly attributed to the factoid or conventional wisdom that 'she didn't want you and you can't handle it'. I was conscious that certain 'helpful' people would attempt to build up this rather false picture and so I did what nobody should ever do in their dealings with anyone. Instead of being myself I devised a strategy and set of rules in terms of how I'd interact with Nicola as and when the situation arose. Always be polite, but never over-friendly. Don't ask questions about her personal life or go into too much detail about yours. Never, ever lose your cool with her or raise your voice.

Hand on heart, I was really quite grateful that she hadn't thought me worth bothering with.

No bitterness or angst on that score at all.

But when people start saying (almost literally) that “I don't want you but nobody else can have you either” and the force of a large organisation comes down on you to back that up, wrecking a career you were working hard to build, it's not unreasonable and totally human to get more than a little bit pissed off with all involved.

I wanted to move on, but for reasons unknown I didn't have permission.

And nobody was telling me why...

To be continued some other time – I'll leave you with a bit of EBTG and take it easy.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

External Validation and...Limerent Again

If people like your good selves hadn't been reading this stuff, I would have stopped writing it a long, long time ago. Thanks again to every last one of you.

One, maybe two more after this and then we're over and out. I have a significant decision to make regarding exactly where I take this.

If I had a pound for every cold, callous person I have met in my life, the sort who 'don't do feelings' and dismiss those that do as soppy or insecure, I would probably have an additional tenner to my name but that isn't the point. One of my great irritations in life has been the lectures from people who have had easier lives and speak from altogether more fortunate positions than myself. I don't want to know what you, with your nice family who loved and provided for you, made you feel wanted and like a significant part of their lives, would do in my position precisely because you have never, ever been in anything that vaguely resembles it. You're dealing in at best ignorance and at worst outright misinformation. DO NOT lecture, hector or harass me about 'moving on', 'getting over it' or anything else. You have precisely nothing to offer here.

Now fuck off, your Mum's on the line and I think she wants to cuddle you.

A (quite brilliant) doctor and I were discussing something called 'Bullseye Syndrome' a few years back. Remember at the end of the show when that all round twat Jim Bowen would ask the audience what the contestants should do? “GAMBLE, GAMBLE, GAMBLE” cry the sheep with nothing to lose. Sheep who have no idea what the five hundred pounds those guys or girls had already won might mean to them. The point is – it's remarkably easy to offer 'advice' from a more comfortable position and tell someone to do something you'll never have to do yourself. This is how you can spot the difference between someone who's had a complicated life and another whose existence might have been relatively straightforward. Those who have spent most of their time in cruise control, broadly getting things their own way, tend to lack empathy, be more judgemental and over-simplify complicated questions. Just an observation.

In reality, every last one of us needs external validation of some sort, be it from our friends, significant other, work colleagues or somewhere else. A little reminder that we are of worth to humanity in one way or another is essential and can not be derived exclusively from ourselves. If nobody would miss you should you kick the bucket tomorrow, then what does that say about you and your life? The degree to which individuals require this might vary from one to the next, but that does not mean it's in any way precious or insecure simply to acknowledge how essential it is. Apart from the tiny minority of psychopaths and sociopaths amongst us, we all have feelings and a sense of self that needs to be maintained in one way or another. I'm fortunate to have met some wonderful people in the last few years who I know would miss me were I dead.

Thanks all of you – for being here and for being you.

I reflect on this because it was something that was sorely lacking in my life when I most needed it, principally when I was a teenager and a young adult. This is a confusing, sensitive and often fragile period of our lives, when we exude a confidence to the outside world in order to deter life's parasites and vultures, but precious little is absolutely certain. They call these your formative years for a very good reason, namely because your environment fuses with your DNA to form something I often refer to as a person's hardwiring. Sociologists and shrinks often talk about serial killers and other human tragedies in the context of them either being pure evil on legs, or the product of a broken home and environmental dysfunction. In reality, it's very, very rarely down solely to one or the other and usually owes itself to an unfortunate mix of the two.

I mean, there are plenty of functional psychopaths and sociopaths out there who are capable of blending into society, whereas many people from appalling domestic situations do not go on to behave in destructive or diabolical ways.

So what's the truth here?

I desparately wanted my parents to love and approve of me. One of the reasons that Rob never took the faintest interest in formal education was precisely because he'd seen how much work I'd put into the whole experience, and still, it produced next to nothing in terms of a rising approval rating from my parents. I barely touched alcohol until I was a young adult, stayed in and buried my head in books when parties and socialising were out there as options. I took exams deadly seriously, believing (falsely) that the hard work now was some sort of downpayment on an altogether more straightforward future. But more than anything, it was the love and pride of Bob and Irene that I craved. Looking back, my thoughts on this are that unless your child becomes a serial rapist or mass-murderer, that's your child and you should regard him or her as something precious in your life.

But...nothing I ever did ever seemed to be enough. Every achievement was downplayed to protect the 'feelings' of other people who saw themselves as bigger fish in the family hierarchy. Look, if YOU are not happy with your own life then YOU go and do something about it. I'll do everything I can to help and support you. DO NOT drag other people down to your level or diminish the positive things they might have done just to make YOU feel better in some perverse way. Going into further education was wrong because it made me a 'parasite' who didn't have a 'proper job', but then getting a 'proper job' was somehow wrong too. Not even being called into a meeting and told that I was the sort of 'state system product' that Oxford and Cambridge wanted to apply to them was enough to earn a few nice words, just a little bit of external approval.

I mean, what the fuck did you actually WANT me to do with my life? What could I have done to keep YOU happy?

I can't believe I was forced to look at the equation that way, but that is really how it was.

Bob, I know you don't give a shit and never did. Living in sheltered accommodation with one leg smacks of not-so-instant karma, doesn't it?

Irene, stop deluding yourself you were in any way a half-decent mother, or that you were powerless to improve the situation. Buy yourself a big mirror, then stand and look in it for a very long time.

Between you, you've managed to make my young life a nightmare...and wreck the potential I once had.

Well done. Hope you're happy.

It's 2002 and things are looking generally positive. The money I'm being paid for this job is a parcel of shit, something of an insult, but I'll put that down to the fact I'm young and relatively inexperienced. There are people who have been here too long, become complacent and sloppy, stopped caring whether that's down to lack of carrot or stick (in reality, there probably needs to be an element of both to keep people motivated). The cash situation will resolve itself if I just keep doing what I'm doing, working harder than they do, displaying a general level of competence virtually unknown in that place. One other person in our office knows his arse from his elbow and, as is often the case, he's not calling the shots. I often wonder what happened to Dennis, top bloke and very good at what he did, dispelling the myth about Canadians being a bit slow...eh.

The rest are pretty fucking useless – some I regarded as friends but we have to look through a crystal clear lens here. It probably owed more to demotivation than an inate lack of ability, but perhaps the decision that was ultimately made not to persist with many of them down the track (more of which another time) was the right one. Anyway, they've stuck me on this management development award, which would ultimately see me sent to France, in an altogether different state of mind than when the process started I should add. I've also just implemented a new contract with a large-scale catering firm, which isn't too shabby for a lad of twenty years old. When people I work with now talk about the perils of 'business implementation' and what have you, I smile and remember I was doing a slightly more low-brow version of it when I was barely out of college. It really isn't as hard as it's cracked up to be.

When the conventional wisdom would flip overnight, and turn into something nasty, I never lost touch with these realities. Why did you stick me in a competitive environment with certain people's blue-eyed boys? Why did I leave so little room for argument that they had no choice but to send me to France? Why did you entrust me with something that required dedication and detailed knowledge, instead of asking a guy with 10+ years of experience to do it? Because I had something they didn't and had proven it for long enough for that reality to be unavoidable. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

And then...

Nicola was the daughter of the managing director of the outfit. What did I know about her? Well, she seemed pleasant enough, and quite nice on the eye without being absolutely spectacular. She saw some people she could have a laugh and a joke with and others she couldn't, which is pretty much like most of us. She had a boyfriend, but their relationship was messy and she was quite open about the fact that she'd cheated on him with more than one person. I knew for a fact that she'd slept with a lad from work after a Christmas Party (avoid them like the plague if you're reading) and then confused the poor fella by asking that they be 'mates' afterwards. He seemed genuinely to be in love with her and I don't know if this sense of confusion or heartbreak was the reason he left, but it cannot have helped.

We didn't talk much, but things were civil and polite when we did. I was never one of those she regarded as a genuine friend or someone she could open up to, but then not everybody is.

One morning I walk past her like I had dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. Do I actually say hello and ask how she is, or just nod and acknowledge her presence? I don't get the chance to mull that one over for long. Something appalling happens and I'm shaken, like a fighter who's taken a mammoth right hand flush on the jaw. The electricity ripples through my body and I'm queasy, sick, fragile and in a bad place. My head shakes involuntarily. Something akin to a nasty flush comes across my cheeks although I've no idea whether or not they have changed colour. This is controlling me and not the other way around. A few seconds later it hits me – you remember Carly don't you? How could you forget that day when you were fourteen and the rules of this life suddenly changed?

Oh, for the love of God, no. Somebody kill me, please.

I didn't know what this was at the time, but I was limerent again.

I want to die, right now...

A matter of three weeks later, we're on that management development course. Not exactly being Oxbridge material, Nicola can only have been there because of family connections but she's there nonetheless, and doing okay until she tells our training manager than she sees herself being an air hostess in five years' time. I'm presented with some mathematical problem-solving and a touch of public speaking about people management, two of the few areas in which I'm fairly strong. We go out that night and I can barely so much as look at her. I'm twitchy and frightened, barely functional and what I do say is cold and robotic. She addresses me as 'Dazzler' as we walk back to the hostel, a nickname I would come to despise in the years that followed for that reason. Please, it's Dazza and only Dazza if you can. She tries to hold my hand at one point, playfully I presume, and I recoil in horror, not feeling worthy of something like that.

Her mate Jo (a lovely girl and seriously fit with it) then asks me why I've been so insular and withdrawn, basically ignoring them. Nicola chips in herself and makes things a thousand times worse. Look, the reason I've been avoiding contact with you is not because I don't like you or want nothing to do with you, quite the opposite. I have these 'feelings' that are out of my control and am not entirely comfortable with. Of course, I tell her it's all in her head and she's been imagining it. As had been the case back in 1996, something had crystalised before my eyes – this is why she's here. Her dad has got her on the payroll, precisely so he can find someone who will be a 'significant other' to her but can also be controlled and have sufficient fear of losing everything to stay in line.

I knew that my life, at least for the forseeable future, would not be the same and was about to become a whole load more complicated.

The odds of becoming involuntarily infatuated on this girl were about 500-1. I think we should put it down to rotten luck.

She was initially blameless, but sadly I can't say that with the benefit of knowing what happened later.

I've got a funny feeling my switchboard is going to go mental tonight – I'll leave you with some more New Order and thanks for reading.


Coastal Retreat, Get Rid of It and...Did She Have a Brazilian?

Crazy, fucked up 48 hours we've had – thanks again to everyone who has been in touch. Rob, as always, thanks for being the best thing in my life. I'd happily take a bullet for you and smile while doing it.

To paraphrase the Gogos, I wonder at times like this if the whole world has lost its head.

Well, probably not – just some of it.

Anyway, enough of the general love-in and back to business.

It's 2002 and Irene is pissed off, but hatching a plan. Rob and I are the only ones in the house working as Bob is claiming to suffer from a mysterious ailment, the cure for which would appear to be several gallons of milk per day and to continue smoking like a factory. He does not see a doctor at any point to confirm what's wrong, but self-certifies and signs himself off. He doesn't sign on and claim JSA or housing benefit because 'his pride' won't allow him to. Irene is actually forbidden from working herself as Bob fears she will either meet someone else or stash fifty pence a week under a floorboard until she has enough money to escape. Deano appears to be spending most of his time in a drink and drug-addled haze and nobody appears to have a problem with this.

Well, Irene has come into some money and she's talking to Rob and I about escaping. Our wonderful, fantastic grandmother is no longer with us, having suffered a stroke and then a heartbreaking cognitive decline until her passing was actually a relief to all concerned. I'd stopped going to the hospital shortly before she died, simply because I couldn't cope with watching the brave, strong, immensely independent woman who I remembered winding up like this. Not really recognising who I was, technically alive but deceased in every other sense, unable to do anything without assistance and myself stood there, unable to do anything to ease the pain. I've never made my mind up about assisted suicide but if she'd asked me to smother her with the pillow there and then...well, I had a financial stake in it so it would have looked somewhat suspicious.

RIP and God bless you Elizabeth. Hope to see you up there some day.

I didn't have a financial stake in it for long though. We inherited a small sum of money which could only be taken after our 21st birthday, unless our parents signed a consent form. Well, Bob was straight in there telling us to get it into a building society account, claiming that the Chorley and District Building Society were paying out SEVEN PER CENT interest. Look, the only bank accounts you'll find with terms so generous are those where you might be able to help yourself to a spot of Nazi war gold from the vault while you're there. Perhaps the Zurich and District Building Society offer such a deal, but nowhere near where we lived. For once I put my foot down and told him no early withdrawal would be taking place and I'd be respecting Elizabeth's wishes. Wishes I took deadly seriously. Rob, to his great credit, followed suit.

What Bob really wanted was to get his own greedy paws on that money, whether it was for his own gain or simply to stop us from having it. So, not long after being rebuffed on this score and after a couple of weeks of sulking, he developed his mystery illness and proceeded to spend the next three months on his big fat arse at home. The bills still need paying and 'pride' is preventing him from claiming any sort of welfare entitlement. Rob and I are doing what we can, paying a bit extra and passing up our social lives while trying to hide our disgust at the circus that's surrounding us. This was a house in which the adults seemed to behave like children and vice versa. Rob's got a day off work, but, not for the first time, Irene wakes him up in the early hours. I know because, despite us both being adults, we were still sleeping in bunk beds, three to a room.

Rob, I need you to go to the cashpoint right now and get some money out” - I genuinely forget the amount.

So, Rob dutifully trudges down to the cashpoint and makes a withdrawal, having just been paid. He then gets a second instruction, to take the money up to a housing association office in the morning, sign as Mr Robert Pearce and ask no questions.

That way, they'll tell you no lies...

So he does exactly as he's told, but gets a nasty surprise and some feedback he wasn't anticipating. “Thankyou Mr Pearce, would you like to know what this means?” asks the useless bureaucrat operating on the nod, just one of the millions that seem to have been recruited onto the public payroll to wreck our lives over the years. Anyway, perhaps I'm being overly harsh on the poor sod, “go on then” says Rob, more than a tad curious as to the enormity of what he'd just done. The response crystalises everything.

It means you won't be evicted. You continue living there as normal”.

Bob, with his head either in the sand or up his arse, had completely neglected to consider the impact of his own behaviour on other people. We were THIS close to being made homeless as young adults and, with his (putting it politely) patchy employment record, where else would he have had to go? It's worth pointing out just how much you need to do in order for the council to evict you from one of their houses. All of this despite paying our way and then some. Irene had kept this rather important detail from the rest of us, putting Bob's feelings before anyone and anything else, including dealing with reality as it presented itself. I would only hear this story years after the fact, but it was utterly jaw-dropping when I did.

And...had my kid brother just unwittingly committed an act of serious fraud by signing and doing this in our Dad's name?

Not long after this, Rob would attempt to move out, and Irene would push Bob's buttons to the extent that he ended up being beaten up and left shaken by the experience. Yes, his own mother behaved like a fucking ganglord and had her son physically attacked – probably to maintain the source of cheap credit she had going. Whenever she claims “I stayed with him for the kids” I always remember shit like this. The reality is he was far more important to her than any of us will ever be – and, being human, I can't just 'let it go' or 'move on' from something like that. The pain of knowing this is too real, and will probably stay with me forever.

Anyway, Bob got his money, eventually. Irene starts talking to me about (what I understood to be) the full extent of our financial woes, how Bob is turning down work while sat on his arse as it's 'beneath him', doesn't pay what he thinks he's worth or whatever and the bills are racking up, unpaid. We're thousands of pounds down and have more going out than coming in. His lifestyle requirements haven't changed and there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming desire on his part to change that situation. Fucking parasite. And she loved him more than she loved us. I will never, ever get my head around that. Then she starts crying, probably genuinely and not something you would learn at drama school. I realise the enormity of the situation “go up the bank, sign the form and do what you need to do with the money – just pay me back when her house is sold”.

Shamefully, I persuade Rob to do the same thing.

Shortly afterwards, she makes a decision. The second that house is sold, she's off down to the south coast. Rob and I are welcome to join her, as is Lauren. I suppose she wanted people who would pull their weight and not be a constant burden, and quite what Deano would make of this, having subsequently 'swapped sides' in the parental situation and become 'her rock' I'm not quite sure. She's gonna leave Bob and him behind and, for shame, I'm attracted by the bribe of whatever help is available to get me through a degree course - talk about gerrymandering. Rob and I agree immediately to the idea, not just in principle but to invest ourselves in it financially and emotionally. He even tells his boss not to consider him for promotion or anything like that because he won't be around for much longer. He's fully signed up to this.

I, on the other hand, just stop trying so hard, knowing I'll be out of there soon enough. There will be no 'handing' your notice in' here. It's pack a few bags in a military operation one morning and we're on the run. If he manages to track us down, we stand and fight. We're both ready and are willing to give up our jobs and every personal tie we have up here to make this work. All she has to do is say “when” and the operation goes into overdrive. Then, nothing for weeks, until the next thing we hear. Bob and her tell us that they're moving to Scotland, that we are (sort of) 'allowed' to come up there with them but our lives are down here. I seem to have missed the family meeting at which this was first discussed, but since when did our feelings about anything count for shit? Does she understand the enormity of what she's done here?

I mean, was she double-crossing us, using Rob and I to do nothing more than indulge a fantasy in her head? Has she realised the extent of the sacrifice that we were ready to make at the drop of a hat, and how she's utterly fucked us over?

Not for the first or last time, Rob and I had been thoroughly shafted.

It's 1992 and Irene is pregnant by the bloke she now claims she couldn't stand the sight of anytime after about 1985. Work that one out. They seem to regard this as cause for celebration, so she's either a phenomenal actress or full of shit...and no, she didn't actually go to drama school so draw your own. Anyway, we're pulled into a 'family meeting' which rarely happened as, generally speaking, decisions were made and the rest of us left to clear up the carnage left by their general incompetence. I offer nothing, wondering what the 'right' answer is but aware that we're overcrowded already. Rob is wishing they hadn't confused him with someone who gave a shit and wants this rather tedious episode to end before he tops himself. Deano then offers up a Derek Bentley-esque salvo that I'll never forget.

Get rid of it”.

Wow. Just wow.

Well, I'm gonna stand up for the fella on two counts – no agendas here. First up, if you're going to ask people how they feel about something, then their actual feelings about the subject can't then be off limits. If in reality you could not give two shits about the way this impacts on other people then don't indulge in the facade of pretending you do. Secondly, he observed that this 'little princess' would be spoiled rotten, indulged with all of their time and resources, with the rest of their children painfully neglected and regarded as second class citizens. I have to say this would turn out to be the single smartest thing he has ever said about anything, ever. Every last word would be made gradually more profound by the events that subsequently followed, every last minute, every last pound that was invested in the child that Irene had actually wanted all along. The rest of us had simply come up with the wrong answer and the wrong genitalia.

Sexist cow.

Quite how Lauren would react to reading this I don't know, but then she seems to have far more time for Deano than she does for Rob or myself. Personally, I think the truth is rather important.

The trouble with our family is they keep re-writing history simply to make themselves feel better.

I mean, how do you reason with someone who's lying to him or herself?

My drinking buddies have gone home, but I'm staying out, flying solo. I've just got away from the Wolseley mafia, have bought myself some new furniture and I'm celebrating. Do I put myself in the clear and drop this complete cunt right in it by disclosing exactly who he's been having it away with? One to ponder over a beer, and another one, then a couple of whiskeys. I'm bored but do I want to go home? Fuck it, let's hit a club. I'm close to the dancefloor and, contrary to my style, I force a smile from a rather attractive lady sat across from me. She smiles back. After a couple of minutes I sidle over and introduce myself. Apparently, she's from Brazil, doesn't speak fluent English but her mate does, and she confirms that I'd been spoken about in terms of (something along the lines of) “not bad”. I'm now chatting someone up through an interpretor. This is fucking brilliant.

We have a few drinks and a dance, then Celia, Elizette and I stop at a kebab shop to plan the immediate future. I was never a kebabs man myself, even back in the bad old days when I ate meat. I had donner meat a few times and always imagined that to be what dog might taste like. They're both stunningly attractive, so what the fuck are they doing with me? Someone tells Celia she has a 'nice rack' and is promptly told to fuck off. It's true though, they would definitely keep your ears warm in a blizzard. However, I'm spending the night with Elizette, although I do suggest (half in jest) that there might be room in my bed for all three of us. We jump in a cab and I'm putting on my pokerface, keeping it cool. Chicks love that, don't they?

Celia's on the couch and Elizette and I head off to cross a few language barriers and indulge in the altogether more universal lexicon of lurv. Nice body, fucking NICE body. Way, way, nicer than mine. You could have bagged yourself an absolute player, but seem to have settled for mediocrity instead. Celia told me she'd been 'lonely' and hadn't had contact with a bloke for a while, so maybe that's it. We both understand what this is – this isn't the start of something wonderful, it's just hot, steamy and thoroughly meaningless, utterly casual sex. And I put in the performance of a lifetime. The headboard is sounding like the intro to Blue Monday and she's wailing her approval in Portugese. Eventually, everyone is happy and I pass out with her in my arms. So nihilistic, so pointless and yet so curiously beautiful in the same time.

While this is happening, Celia starts to feel she's missing out, so wanders into my brother's room in the hope of seducing him. “FUCK OFF!!” is the shout from the next room and I try not to laugh. Babe, I'm sure I could have gone one more round, awkward as it might have been. I wake up and need to get them home as they have no money. I give them enough for a cab, swap numbers with both of them and then go to the fridge. There are two half-eaten and decomposing kebabs in there, full to the brim with evil donner nastiness. I suppose I was always a vegetarian in spirit, although I'd continue down the carnivorous path for a while longer. We'd speak once again, but the three of us knew the score. This was just one of those brief encounters, a fucking good one, but it had zero mileage whatsoever.

And to answer the original question, no she didn't.

I'll leave you with one of the records I've been listening to while putting this together.

Take it easy and I'll catch you next time.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

As It Is When It Was

I cut my head against the wall...

More of which later.

My heartfelt thanks to the handful of people who have spoken to me about some of the subjects raised in these serialisations over the last few weeks. It's been a blessed relief to come across at least a few of you who remember me back then and recall what actually happened, which sits some quite some distance from the conventional wisdom that's applied retrospectively. You know who you are and the least I can do is take the time out to say...thanks so much, I love every single one of you.

I explained to one of those people a few weeks ago that the main purpose of this was not to pour out a “woe is me” tale of misfortune and disaster, although there will inevitably be times when it comes across that way. What I sought to do was join the dots between the various issues and complications that existed at the same time and provide a clearer picture of how all those dots joined together. Mindful of the fact that I'm only going to do a couple more of these for the sake of everyone's sanity, I'll try and wrap a bit of context around a period in the late 1990s and leave you to make up your own minds.

It's a Saturday morning and I'm walking through the park. I don't know what I'm going to do because I've (inevitably) got no money, but Gazetta Football Italia has long gone and potential highlights of the next 48 hours look somewhat thin on the ground. It beats the hell out of being stuck in the house with them anyway. Past the pond, past the football pitches and I'm another ten minutes or so from town. Then, out of nowhere, three lads jump out from behind some trees. Three lads I recognise. Before I know it I'm tackled to the floor. One of them has got me pinned down and another is repeatedly booting me in the ribs. I'm outnumbered, ambushed and defenceless. I curl up in a ball and go into damage limitation mode but the kicks keep coming and this is starting to really hurt. One of them, who fancies himself as a prizefighter, is working the body.

Fortunately, he punches like a girl but I dare not tell any of them that.

They mention something about a motorbike. What the fuck?

I'm in pain and in shock. I lie on the ground for a few minutes until I know they've gone. I carry on walking but looking anxiously over my shoulder, still not knowing what I'd done to deserve the pre-meditated and unprovoked attack that had just taken place. Three of them, jumping out from behind trees and ambushing a guy on his own with his head in the autumn clouds. Self-proclaimed hard men who can only operate as members of a gang, preying on those not used to violent altercations and who are not expecting them. Yeah mate, you hard bastards. Later on, the leader of this unfortunate trio would claim when pushed that I had broken into his garage and revved up his motorbike. Of course, I had no idea he owned one and anyone who knows me would laugh themselves silly at the prospect. I have enough difficulty riding a bicycle with my high centre of gravity without resembling Bambi on ice.

And I've never ridden a motorbike to this day – I may on occasion attempt to ape James Dean's haircut, but believe me that's where the similarity ends.

Being on the receiving end of random violence was something with which I was familiar, although I'm not disputing for one second that there will have been others even within my peergroup who will have endured worse. In all honesty, it was always more likely to take place at home than anywhere else, although one or two incidents stand out. One took place on a midweek morning where three little shits (trouble always comes in trios, doesn't it?) collared me and took turns to tee off on any part of my anatomy that wouldn't leave a visible mark. One would tie me up and the other two would fire away with impunity. Then teacher turns up and it's all Sunday smiles, as if they were so excited about physics 101 they'd turned up early. Oh, puh-lease!! I never gave any of them the satisfaction of knowing I was hurt, but be assured, punches in the kidneys from lads bigger than you take their toll and do a cumulative damage.

Why exactly did they do this? Absolutely no reason whatsoever. For kicks, I suppose...

There were other instances of casual violence, and, not being the type to initiate force myself, my record in such contests was pretty fucking pathetic. But worse was the psychological abuse, raised to the factor of about twenty eight after limerence had begun to eat it's cancerous way through my self-esteem in 1996. I was well aware that I resembled the lovechild of Adrian Mole and Penfold, that I regularly looked exhausted and like shit, that I had bags under my eyes and wore a broken, defeated expression. Already fragile and sensitive to nastiness, needle or negativity, you can be assured that hearing about this ad nauseum was the last thing I needed. I got enough of this shit at home, where there were ample reminders of how worthless, unwanted and insignificant you were. It really, really did not need re-enforcing in any way.

But it was, again...and again...and again. And it slowly broke my heart.

The Milanese catwalk was always an unlikely career destination.

But then, I'll let you in on a secret - the reason I had bags under my eyes and permanently looked knackered was because of a little thing called insomnia, you fucking moron.

There were fifteen terms at school, which nicely mirrors the fifteen rounds that made up a championship fight back in the days before the medical profession had them cut to twelve. This seems highly appropriate, since not only do I recall my school days as some sort of bloody war, I can identify somewhere around the eleventh or twelfth round as the point I completely changed tactics and started swinging back. Socially, I withdrew completely and became a sort of self-imposed angry loner, applying the old Vietnam War mentality of “trust nobody and regard everyone as the enemy unless you have reason to believe otherwise”. I was in the full grip of mental illness and suffering a very gradual but very real breakdown, but couldn't put such weakness on display for fear of being utterly destroyed.

So...I started to fight back, with my tongue and my brain, not my fists. I discovered I had a sense of humour that could be cutting, incisive and sometimes downright cruel. Anyone who so much as looked at me in a perculiar way got both barrels back. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, there was no discrimination on the grounds of race, sex or anything else. I was equally off-hand and rude to everybody. The alternative was opening up, admitting to an inability to cope with what life had stuck on my plate over the previous few years and inviting personal armageddon on myself. Of course there were innocent people caught in the crossfire, guilty of nothing worse than trying to befriend someone who had lost all faith in humanity and therefore could not let anyone in.

The harder they tried, the snappier and more unpleasant I got. Ostensibly, I was a complete bastard.

Two of you stand out like a sore thumb and I hope you know who you are. I'm really sorry and hope you understand you caught me at a bad time. The aim of this book was not to excuse every last thing or to portray myself as an angel, because I certainly wasn't. The only commitment we should all have is to the truth.

Lying to ourselves is easy, but this can only stifle our development as human beings.

To every last person who might have caused me pain (physical or emotional), heartache or any other negative feeling in that period I want you to know something – I forgive you. You were but children yourselves and I've learned from personal experience how being bitter and twisted, holding grudges and storing up hatred ultimately hurts ourselves more than it does anyone else. To that honest soul who took a few hours out of his life to go through some of this and remember it as it actually happened, thanks so much. You're right, I did put on a brave face for a long time, but I'm a human being with a heart and feelings, not a robot. I couldn't keep doing it forever, because like you and everyone else, I'm deeply flawed and merely mortal. To the two people I referenced above, thanks so much for being my Facebook friends. It may mean very little in real terms, but it's more than I deserve and means so much on a personal level. God bless both of you.

When the 'ban' came into effect a couple of months ago, I felt a mix of emotions. Part sadness and sympathy for whoever felt insufficiently able to move on, part a sort of hubris at having my ego stroked and my continued existence acknowledged. Perhaps the reason that it provoked the spontaneous reaction that it did is it stirred up memories of how I was remembered, specifically as some sort of bad guy or pantomime villain, when the reality was way, way more complicated than that. I've spent so much of the years since feeling guilty, that the first word I should say to someone from back then when I ran into them was sorry. For fuck's sake, sorry for what? For having a nervous breakdown? For being unable to cope with abnormal levels of shit and stress at a ridiculously young age?

Look, I'm not going anyway and the last thing I want to do is cause any (more) upset or harm to anybody from back then. Just nominally re-instate me and end the fucking childish games. Whoever you are, you're dealing in issues way more complicated than you understand them to be.

I'll leave you with the album that inspired the title of this post – As It Is When It Was is the third track on the record, about eight and half minutes in.

Thanks as always, and tonight is a double so see you soon.



Saturday, 19 July 2014

2-4-6-8 Motorway, Rainman of the Year and...the Hospitalisation Game

Anyone who thought this book would be an account of petty self-justification and excuses should be re-assured by what they're about to read.

It's 2004 and I've got the mother of all battles on my hands here. I've got to keep myself alive but can't possibly give those bastards what they want. Imagine a sanitised, corporatised, bastardised version of Dazza, stripped of his personality and anything that might vaguely resemble an original thought or idea. To paraphrase Archer in the film, Scum, “they're not having me”. I could so easily give myself an easy life, at least ostensibly, and play their game. But I have to be able to sleep at night, look people whose opinions I respect in the eye and tell them that whatever flaws I might have (and there are many), sycophancy and brown-nosing are not amongst them.

When I look back I probably dwelt too much at the time on the viciousness of the people I was dealing with – hey, the upper echelons of any large organisation is full of people like that, so quit complaining and lie in the bed you've made for yourself. How do you think they got where they did – on merit? By doing something useful? Get a fucking grip, Dazza. They knew when to play the game, who to kiss up to and when to twist the knife. They're completely aware of how useful you could be to them, which is why they've merely made your life a fucking misery as opposed to actually getting rid, and you've made a conscious choice to resist. The right choice for a multitude of reasons, no argument there, but a free and conscious choice nonetheless.

I wish that's where I'd been ten years ago, but I wasn't. Instead an idealistic sense of injustice and having been robbed was eating away at my very being and driving me, amongst other things, to drinking like there was no tomorrow. It's a Friday night and the guys I was with earlier have (quite sensibly) gone home. Not me though – I'm flying solo now, having a few to forget the pain and then a few more to remember what it is I was supposed to be forgetting. I'm absolutely poleaxed, out in the middle of nowhere and the buses back to somewhere near where I live have stopped running. Bollocks to it, let's travel in the opposite direction, have a little adventure. I get on and then off again, with precious little idea of where I am. None whatsoever.

Before I know it and without doing too much, I'm walking on the M6 – well, I was always gonna find my way home one way or the other, right? The legality or otherwise of what I'm doing does not strike me as a relevant point, nor does the very realistic prospect of getting killed. Death, even a slow and painful one, is eminently preferable to surrender to the evil bastards hell-bent on snatching my spirit and soul for as little as they can. They're not having me, THEY'RE NOT FUCKING HAVING ME!!. Life has brought me face-to-face with a fate worse than death and you know what? Being six feet under has its appeal right now. I remember calling in sick one morning because I couldn't take anymore, looking up at the light fittings and imagining how I'd look, dangling from them. Better than being an empty and vacuous Patrick Bateman clone, surely?

I'm walking up the hard shoulder on the right hand side, so cars and lorries are heading towards me. A few drivers pip their horns as if to ask “what the fuck are you doing?” and then I see one on a mobile phone as he passes and flashes his lights in my direction. I immediately reach the conclusion that he must, must be onto the filth about the knobhead walking along the hard shoulder. So I do probably the single most stupid thing I have ever done in my life – I cross the motorway. Yeah, I run across the M6 in the darkness of the early hours – whether or not I fully observed the Green Cross code is of little significance in that context, right? But, just in case you're curious, I did wait until I had a decent shot of getting over there without being splattered.

It was stupid, selfish and dangerous on a level that never occurred to me at the time. Imagine the poor fucker who's driving home from the late shift or whatever and has this wrecking ball run out in front of him. He or she would have been haunted by that mental image for the rest of their life, seen my face in his or her nightmares, eyes like saucers, looking distinctly 1980s with his Lotus Eaters haircut and denim jacket. While my misery would be over, someone else would be serving a life sentence. I often wonder how I'm not either dead or in jail and still have the occasional moment even now where the thought of ending it all appeals in one way or another. I think that's a personal choice, but it's also fair comment to say you shouldn't get unwilling participants involved.

Anyway, here come the pigs. I'm stopped and breathalysed (off the chart, apparently) and bundled into the back of the van before I get myself or somebody else killed. There's a fine and it's only a civil and not a criminal offence, so I take the kick in the nuts and the free ride home, realising that resistance of any kind or attempting to be some sort of smartarse could land me in a whole heap of shit. They drop me off and I make the rest of the way home and tell my kid brother what's just happened. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this story is how unfazed he was by the whole thing. That's how used he was to my self-destructive behaviour. Sorry kid.

Still, lost the battle, won the war eh Dazza? They never had you...

As I was once told, we're all good at something. It can only be a god-given thing as application and concentration were never strongsuits of mine, but I've always had an a penchant for numbers, to the extent that I was once asked if I'd ever appeared in a film starring Dustin Hoffman. Give me two numbers and what you'd like me to do with them and I'll come back to you pretty quickly, with an answer straight from the head. Somehow, this was enough to bag a top grade at GCSE Maths, which surely says more about the failings of our education system than it does about me. There was some very, very muted acknowledgement of this and other achievements the day I got my results and then, well, nothing until we got a letter through the post a few months later.

The school were having an awards night and would be awarding prizes to those who were deemed to be the best achievers at various things. Knowing that I hadn't won anything and having substantial emotional baggage relating to the place, I was quick to state that the whole thing was a waste of fucking time and that I wouldn't be bothering. Fine. No problem. Then, a few weeks later we get another letter through the post. I say 'we' because it's addressed to me but Irene opens it anyway, as she was prone to do. Apparently I've won the super-duper mathematical fucking genius award, or something like that. What the fuck? I can think of half a dozen people off the top of my head who deserved that more than I did. I appreciated the money though, bought the cheapest book I could find and spent the rest on a New Order album.

Given the opportunity to bask in some reflected glory and claim credit for something they had fuck all to do with, Bob and Irene's collective mood suddenly changes. We're going, irrespective of my feelings on the subject – and I'm gonna dress up like a complete twat in a suit and a tie, and smile at all the appropriate points, and laugh at people's shit jokes, just so they can look like half-decent parents and say “that's my son”. Where were they when I needed them? Neither of them would so much as crossed the road for anything to do with me and yet here they were, insisting I go back into a pit of vipers I'd been so glad to get away from just so they could project an (utterly false) image of normality and respectability to the world.

Anyway, two things happen. Firstly, after Irene's constant banging on about this for weeks (felt like years but c'est la vie) I snap and tell her I can't face it, that I was desperately unhappy and unwell while I was there, that I felt like an outsider and had no positive memories of the place whatsoever, that sufficient time has not passed for me to face something like this. Her response? She tells me that this is news to her (which I knew even at the time to be untrue) and to “shut the fuck up and stop feeling sorry for yourself”. As the day comes closer and she realises I really can't face it, she starts tugging at the heartstrings, tells me how much it would mean to be there. Er, where were you when my world was falling apart around me? AWOL, that's where. Indulging that spoilt little bitch and putting Bob before your other kids, like you always did.

On a more cheerful note, I also arranged an interview with Michael Stark (of Brookside fame) on the same night, so was able to wriggle out of it in the end. Not that even that could go ahead without them gatecrashing and trying to turn it into some sort of 'family event'. I was there to ask him some serious(ish) questions about social reaslism in soap operas, their relevance in contemporary society and all that jazz. Thanks very much for 1) turning that into a fucking circus – was that your childlike way of punishing me? And 2) ringing in to the school with a nonsense excuse about being unable to do the awards because of a family illness. Someone was ill, but that wasn't why I couldn't make it. “You should have rung them yourself - I brought you up better than that” she said.

Irene, whichever way you 'brought' me, I can assure you it was certainly not up.

It's August 1999, it's a Saturday night and the sun is out. I'm killing time to a large extent, but hey at least I'm out of the house. I get to the top end of the park where it joins town and am probably just gonna wander for a while and clear my head. At least that's the plan until I run into a few friends of mine. Fortunately, I was never a White Lightning man, and have the only mouthful of the stuff I have ever tasted in my life. People who know me well will understand the gravity of this statement, but I think I'd rather be sober. I've never got why anyone, anywhere would actively choose to drink what tastes like the content of a car battery when there are perfectly reasonable and affordable alternatives out there such as Windolene, Pine Cleaner and Surgical Spirit.

Come into town for a couple of pints, Daz” - well, on reflection it's quite amusing that they made that sort of effort to persuade me, or that I should have needed persuading. I was seventeen and a half at the time, and so the idea of having the odd cheeky and slightly illegal beer in a pub should have been (to quote Brian Harvey) as normal as having a cup of tea. How repressed was I that this still struck me as some sort of big deal? How suffocated had I been by years of nagging and wholly fallacious scare stories about how I'd end up sleeping in a shop doorway giving sexual favours for loose change? Eventually, I go into town for a couple of beers. Or, at least that's what I thought was happening.

I'm suddenly being plied with drink – and seeing as it's free I'm going for it. I bang three pints down my neck in about twenty minutes and then the boys bring over the Goldschlager. This would have been about 53% at the time and I rapidly dispose of four of them. Then another couple of pints, and 'the mystery pint' which consists of anything and everything that one of them couldn't be arsed finishing. I've nailed all of this inside an hour and I say my goodbyes, thank them for their time and generosity. I set off home and then...the lights go out. The next thing I remember is waking up in a hospital bed and violently yanking a drip out of my arm. It would be the first of many, many hours that have disappeared from view as the camera switched itself off.

Just to clarify, rumours that I sang 'the King of the Swingers' from the Jungle Book for loose change have since been proven to be untrue – I don't even know the words.

On the grounds of safety I sleep in the bottom bunk that night (young adults sleeping in bunk beds designed for kids – only at our house, or in prison) and I promptly piss myself (sorry kid). Anyway, the following morning Irene's response amazes me. She bangs on about how wretched these friends of mine are, 'getting me drunk' like that and not calling their night off to join me in the hospital. Hang on a minute, shithead. They'd bought me drinks and stuck them in front of me, that much is true. But then nobody had put a gun to my head and forced me to set off like there was no tomorrow, banging the stuff down my throat like it was lemonade. I was immensely grateful that Bob was out of the country at the time as he would have seen this as an opportunity to throw his weight around.

In reality, this was nobody's fault but mine – thanks for reading and I'll catch you soon.