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 intolerable racist and all round cunt 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.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Eureka, Dishy Dana and...No Regrets

False modesty gets us nowhere and actually rather pisses me off. As long as you're prepared to acknowledge your weaknesses with a degree of honesty, then do the same with your strengths. I'm a pretty bright and perceptive person, relatively switched on. I 'get' things, am able to join up the dots in my head and understand how everything fits together without being shown...and re-shown...and re-shown what to do. Sometimes I've wondered if I might have been happier in life had I been possessed of a mind that was slightly dopier and duller, less inquisitive and incisive. I've found out things that I probably wish I hadn't, but then you have to live with the reality that you're confronted with once a comfortable lie is no longer an option.

One of the great delusions under which most of us operate is that we have a lot of friends. Many thanks to all of those who are reading via Facebook, but there is no way on earth that I would consider all 216 of you to be my friends in the true sense. Do I have 216 friends? Hell, no. Does anyone? What about the people you talk to at work? How many of them would help you out if you were really in the shit? That would appear to be where the line is for my money – can you talk to that person in confidence about something sensitive and potentially embarrassing? If you were penniless or destitute would he or she do what they could to help you?

The reason that day in the Autumn of 1996 remains etched in my brain is because it served as a painful Eureka moment on a number of levels. As a general rule, teenagers are brutal and insensitive creatures, happy to refer to you as a mate one minute and then shit all over you just for kicks the next. I had no idea what I'd done wrong, but there seemed to be some particularly nasty and unpleasant vibes towards me from a multitude of directions and it was only at this point that I became acutely aware of them. For whatever reason, I was faced with the cold, clear truth and it was not good, regardless of the angle from which you looked at it.

The brutality I referred to means that essentially none of us have many friends at that age, certainly not of the sort that we could talk to about anything that was troubling us and realistically expect it to go no further. You'll understand the theraputic feeling derived from simply saying to someone else “I have XYZ going on in my life and it's really concerning me because...”. I'm looking over my shoulder and seeing arrows everywhere. I hear a voice and it reminds me “there are people here who would just love to fucking destroy you and now you've got this problem, a stick of dynamite that they'll gladly stick right up your arse if they ever get hold of it. So, who can you trust? Nobody”.

As for Bob and Irene, well, let's just say that some people were allowed to have feelings in that house and others weren't. Understanding that somebody is in a fragile state and dealing with them in a way that is mature and non-judgemental was not their bag at all. Why on earth would either of them waste their time talking to their kids about 'precious feelings' if they weren't subsequently allowed to put the boot in themselves? After all, that ability to act as judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one was one of the few aspects of parenthood that really appealed to them. So, there would be nobody to talk to or confide in. I really was on my own here.

I'd already been on the downward curve for at least a year before all this started, but now everything had crystalised in front of my eyes. There's a hierarchy within any institution and some wacky rules that make no sense. Of course, the most important rules within any institution tend to be the unwritten ones and now it was absolutely clear where I stood in the grand scheme of things. The outlook was bleak – I really was the lowest of the low in this particular food chain (although exactly why escapes me), seriously fucking hardcore phyto-plankton surrounded by much bigger fish. Realising this, and that there was precisely nothing I could do about it, was heartbreaking.

Quite amazingly, there were opportunities to go out with other people, none of which I took. One of the defining features of limerence is that you genuinely do not want anyone else. This isn't like a crush or a bout of puppy love which someone might have for more than one person at a time. Your LO has (unwittingly) invaded your brain, done a Poland 1939 on it and stuck the fucking flag in there. Perhaps it's for the best I didn't inflict myself (or my parents, for that matter) on someone else anyway. I was evidently a fucking mess, and they were, well, they were just them. I wouldn't wish either of them (or worse still, the combination of both) on somebody I cared about.

To be honest, I've always thought of romantic interest from others as either a) clear evidence of insanity on the part of my admirer or b) part of some particularly nasty practical joke designed to leave me cut up and humiliated. To paraphrase the game show, Jeopardy, if Dazza is the answer then what is the fucking question? And the chances are that if she's got something to offer and she's actually serious, she can do so much better than you anyway, can't she Dazza? So, do the decent thing, don't get involved and, above all, find a way to sabotage yourself. I'm aware of just how serious a self-image problem this represents, but it's my autopilot response to a kind of situation.

I don't deserve it, so if it comes along, I find a way of fucking it up.

Another characteristic of limerence is that it's been known to inspire some borderline (and even outright) stalkerish behaviour. I've had three episodes and, while the back catalogue is littered with reckless endangerment and stupidity of other kinds, it would appear that, ironically, this crisis of self-image acted as a means of applying the brakes, killing stone dead the really bad ideas that come into the brain sometimes. Limerence is very similar to being on drugs as your dopamine and phenelethylamine (natural amphetamines) are through the fucking roof. Just as other 'intoxicated' persons get crazy impulses or ideas, and sometimes act on them, so can someone who's involuntarily infatuated.

Looking through that lens, I re-remembered something recently when my kid brother and I were discussing this chapter of our lives. A lad I grew up with got 'into' this girl in quite a serious, intense way and, unlike myself, he wasn't backward about shouting up. This was completely out of character in itself as he was normally pretty quiet and reserved. It also became clear from fairly early on that he was, frankly, wasting his time and heading up something of a dead end but he became a bit demented about the whole thing and managed, somehow to get her phone number (the monumental dickhead responsible wants setting on fire as a point of principle).

After the disaster that was 'the Telephone Call' did he pack it in and move onto somebody else? Not quite – there was an unfortunate incident involving a table in McDonald's and him displaying to the world exactly how he intended to get his cathartic release (yes, pun intended). I should clarify that his clothes stayed on, but news of this 'simulation' got back amongst the pack of bloodthirsty hounds and he took quite a long time to recover from it. Of course, being a twat who was totally lacking self-awareness, I joined in the jokes about him masturbating to the MFI catalogue and being banned from Ikea, but there's no doubt on reflection that the guy was unwell, probably in a very similar way to the way I was.

He was always a top lad and I hope he's happy now, wherever he is and whatever he's doing.

And – thanks for the tip-off mate. Mental note to self – girls DO NOT like it when you hump the furniture and pretend it's them.

Anyone familiar with my alleged music career (now retired by popular demand) will know that I just didn't do love songs, at least not of the soppy, sickly sweet variety. Part of it was probably an image thing – I mean, it's hardly the stuff of your flawed anti-hero is it? Of course, the fact that I've never really been in love, merely unwell a few times, will have quite a bit to do with it. There's also that combination of intensity and melancholia that stops me putting such feelings on public display, at least at the time. A lot of people don't have that problem and find no issue whatsoever with writing songs, love poems, whatever else. Whatever floats your boat and good luck to you, just be very fucking careful who you show it to!!

Oh god how I miss my dearest Dana, cruelly robbed of me by that car crash/tropical disease/got eaten by a shark/ok, I'll admit to not remembering that bit. With her hair and her eyes and her nose and the sound of her breath when she slept next to me. How it breaks my heart that I'll never see, feel or hear any of this again. I want to die just so I can be with her. Wah. Wah. WAHHHHH!!”. It went something like that anyway, only let's just say the description of, er, Dana, was ever so slightly too vivid. You knew exactly who she was, right down to the fucking eyelashes!! And he's written this monologue about her (as a valid piece of English coursework, I should add) that's got most of us laughing our bollocks off.

Stop showing everyone, for fuck's sake!! In all seriousness, Dana (we'll keep it that way to protect the innocent) was absolutely lovely and you can't blame him for liking her - there was a lot to like.

Mental note to self – don't write any poems/songs/monologues/Adrian Mole-esque diary entries or anything else. And if you feel the overwhelming urge to break this rule, do so up in the hills somewhere, completely removed from civilisation. Stick whatever you've written under a stone or in a cave so nobody else can read it.

We've imported a lot of crap from America into this country – McDonald's and other Yankie junk food would be right at the top of the list, along with...High School Proms. I think I would happily shove them into Room 101 given the opportunity, and, contrary to what I was told at the time, take immense pride in having told mine to fuck off. In fact, our family's record at attending these things is mightily impressive – we were 0 for 3 on that score. Deano actually managed to get himself banned from his (I'm dying of jealousy) as a result of an unfortunate escapade involving a curtain cord and an asthmatic kid. Rob was told by Bob and Irene that he couldn't attend, despite expressing a clear wish to and there being no obvious reason why he shouldn't be able to go.

Me? I was mentally exhausted, broken and done in. I had no fondness for the place whatsoever and really needed a change of scene like nothing else. I can't regret this in the true sense as I didn't make the decision, but when I look back I wish I'd gone to college somewhere else instead of what was essentially the sixth form of my high school. A new environment, free from all of the negativity, shit and reminders of previous disasters would have been revitalising. As it was, by the time I actually left formal education at eighteen I was completely gone. Incredibly, going out and getting a job felt like going on holiday, a feeling that wouldn't last for too long but was very real at the time.

People getting dolled up, wearing outfits that looked utterly ridiculous and turning up in limousines just ain't my thing. Absolutely no fucking way, particularly when you factor in the absurd no drinking rule that was adhered to by a surprising number. The following day was my last before the exams, one I could and should have not bothered with. I didn't want to know about their phoney American bollocks beforehand or on the day and I found 'the video' the following day to be a combination of the tedious, the unfunny and the utterly fucking nauseating. I remember being told at the time that I was “making a big mistake that I would regret for the rest of my life”, to which I can only respond “no I wasn't and no I don't”.

Thanks for reading and I'll catch you soon.

Love Ya Kid, My Fake Inter-Supporting Ancestry and...Lessons in Love, How Not To!!

Rob and I have gravitated towards each other from quite a young age. Being tougher than me, he won't thank me for saying it but I utterly love him to pieces, would gladly take a bullet for the guy and regard him as the only family I have. We never really spoke about it when we were kids (living in constant state of fear tends to leave you tongue-tied), but there's absolutely no doubt that we were very much the black sheep of the family. We were even told more than once that their desired domestic unit consisted of Bob, Irene a boy and a girl. They got all of that, but also happened to have two children in the middle who one might regard as mistakes, mishaps, accidents or aberations. We were them and it shows in the way that people were treated.

When I look back, things started to go wrong when my sister was born. Bob's response was to spoil and indulge her, create an insurance policy against any thoughts Irene might have had of fucking him off and doing her own thing. Rather than rise above it and remember her other kids, she joined in this rather disturbing Dutch auction and so effectively all of their time and money (outside of the booze and fags budget, which remained a constant) went on her. The rest of us got fuck all and were basically neglected from that point onwards. Rob suffered more than anyone as a result and, although I had serious self-image problems of my own, I was Kevin Pietersen compared to him.

It was also around that time that Deano (my older brother) began to (at least as far as they were concerned) spin off the rails. In actuality, this consisted of getting drunk a few times, smoking a bit of blow and recognising formal education for the utter crock of shit that it is. Of course you'd rather he hadn't been doing it, but on reflection it was hardly earth-shattering stuff. My suspicion is this was his way of reminding his parents that he was still alive, forcing them to acknowledge his existence. He'd gone from being Goldenballs and the blue-eyed boy (which Rob and I never were) to just being another old toy that his Mum and Dad had got bored of. The drop was harsh, utterly unfair on someone so young and he couldn't cope. The fella has his faults, but I'm certainly not judging in this instance.

Rob got it something chronic though – I have no problem stating out loud that in absolute terms, he suffered more than anyone. He was constantly belittled, told he was no good and amounted to nothing. He was threatened with being sent to a school that was for people who were actually mentally retarded. He had it drummed into him at a young age that any sort of meaningful career would elude him and a job as a binman (not that I've anything against anyone who works on the bins for a living) was the best he could hope for. He tried to move out to get away from it all and was beaten up (more about that some other time). The lad has been through hell and come out of it stronger, tougher and more resilient than I'll ever be. I don't just love him, I really admire him and I'm dead proud to say he's my brother.

Knowing that both of your parents would have been happier had you never been born is a concept that (thankfully) will be alien to most of you. Confirmation of this came a couple of years ago when Bob was in hospital in the process of having a leg removed and, when asked if he had children, he chose not to mention us since, as far as he was concerned, we didn't exist. We were an inconvenience to him, it's as simple and as complicated as that. Exactly why I think he had kids in the first place is something I'll come to soon enough, but Rob and I know deep down how little we meant to both of them. Ultimately, it came down to what you could do for them, which is the polar opposite of what you'd expect in a parent-child relationship.

Sometimes I wonder how I'd get on if I went on that programme “Who Do You Think You Are?”. I'll tell you what I knew for some twenty-five years of my life. One side of Bob's family hail from Milan, the D'Angelucci clan (they support Internazionale and not AC, I was ultra fucking rapid when it came to asking that question!!). My great-grandfather, being an Italian living in Britain during the Second World War, was interned on the Isle of Wight in the early 1940s and this became the thread on which a novel (written by Bob, no less) was based. The other side of his family hailed from Dublin and were descendants of Pedraig Pearse, the Irish freedom fighter or terrorist depending on your perspective

Just tonight I watched 'In the Name of the Father' as a sort of tribute to Gerry Conlon (RIP and God bless). As teenagers we were forbidden from watching this film as it jarred a raw nerve and touched upon subjects dear to Bob's heart. We respected that and never asked to watch it, avoided talking about the whole Northern Ireland situation and generally steered well fucking clear.

Anyway, the punchline, you ready for it? I don't hail from Italians, that much is certain. Of course there is nothing remotely Mediterranean about me whatsoever, but when your biological father tells you this shit at a young age you're inclined to take his word for it. Hey, Vincenzo 'ICE' Nardiello had pale skin too so there. In all seriousness, I think this was a dating lie that was told to impress someone and got out of hand when it went down the road of engagement, marriage and having kids. Who and what do I hail from on Bob's side of the tree? I have absolutely no idea, and as a consequence I have precious little grasp of who I am. Not that either Bob or Irene have ever stopped to reflect on this and the impact it might have on other people.

Names removed to protect the innocent, at least for now...

I remember it like it was yesterday. I turned left out of the library, walked past her like I had a hundred times before and suddenly felt something that was just awful. The best way I can describe it is like being electrocuted and simultaneously having all of the blood removed from your body. That feeling of weakness, paralysis is something I will never, ever forget as long as I live. Is this what everyone goes through and, if so, why is it so utterly fucking painful? It would take me years to discover the answer to that question. Why do you freeze/tighten up every time this girl is within eighteen yards of you? Should you perhaps see a doctor about the faintness, nausea and chest pains you've been experiencing? Maybe you should just fuck school off for a while until all of this is out of your system.

Bless her heart, she's utterly blameless and I feel rough as a badger's arse for her (unlike a certain someone from my early 20s), but leaving this out would essentially constitute a direct lie. Had I turned right instead of left, I would have run into someone else and felt entirely the same thing, no question. The course of history would have been altered, but only marginally. Limerence is a fucking nightmare, particularly when you've no relative experience to fall back on. My confidence had already been shredded by years of negativity and nastiness at home, so I was ripe for a constant feeling of subservience, which is what limerence basically is. As far as my fucked up and diseased mind was concerned, she was a goddess, incapable of wrong.

I would quite literally have crawled across broken glass for her.

All that said...deep down I hated these feelings that had chosen me and not the other way around. I want to be as rational and sane as I can, so resent anything that compromises this in a meaningful way. I was desperate to wake up liberated from it all, not because she wasn't gorgeous and bright (she was both), but because I wanted to take back ownership of my own life. I assessed the terrain and concluded that the chances of success were slim to none, so my next mission was one of damage limitation. Being someone who had enemies who would have happily humiliated him, I got this better than most. Fortunately, I received some help from unlikely sources who had no idea.

Tell you what – I'll share those stories tomorrow. See ya soon.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why I'm Writing It and...Cheque This Out!!

Evening all - what a beautiful day to waste in front of a computer. Shame on this bunny...

So, why write a book about your early life when you're not famous? Whether or not that's a valid question depends entirely on whether or not you feel one has to 'earn' the right to give some sort of account of their experiences, then if so, by what criteria. I've read many a dull autobiography by some 'famous person' or another, closing the book and deeming that to be a waste of several hours which could have been spent doing something altogether more useful.

Look at the average footballer's tales of triumph if the point needs illuminating in any way. Endless repetition of games and goals that were already known to us, precious little insight and a sense that the truly revelatory stuff is being held back for fear of embarrassment to themselves, team-mates or whoever else might be capable of ordering a super-injunction. Then there are the pathetic, score-settling accounts of former Z-listers, written under the misapprehension that their star has not faded in some significant way, that the world has not moved on from their fallout with XYZ some 125 years ago. Yawn. Epic fucking yawn.

So..what if I wrote a book that is nothing like that?

I seem to have spent forever being judged by fucking idiots. Fucking idiots who have dealt in, at best, ignorance and, at worst, downright misinformation. There's no point lying about it or pretending to be stronger than I am. It pisses me off, really gets my goat and always has. It's an appalling weakness of mine. I sincerely wish I had a tremendous capacity to shout “Fuck You!!” across the room and just ignore the negativity. Some of those who knew me as a teenager will be astonished to hear this, but I don't and never really have. I'm quite a sensitive and almost fragile person. I care what others think of me, probably more than I should or is healthy.

Nastiness and negativity strike a nerve. Criticism chastens. Bitchiness bites. Actions aggravate. Words wound. Some of this shouldn't be the case, but hey, it is. I'm weak and deeply flawed – just like you...

Because of this character flaw, I've never been someone who's able to simply move on from something that does not have a logical ending or point of release. It's not like I haven't tried to, I'm simply hardwired a different way. Writing all of this down will provide a sense of catharsis, closure, an ending and an opportunity for anyone interested in a very, very real life to have a look and draw their own. Some will do so and conclude I'm an utter waste of time. Others will not bother having reached that that conclusion beforehand. Of course that's entirely their choice, but then I can move on and draw a line under some things, lose that baggage.

Historical inaccuracy is a pet hate of mine, 'the Vini Reilly factor' and what have you. Just as Vini should have been properly accredited with his role in the making of Viva Hate, I'm looking forward to a slice of wholly theraputic establishment of the facts, a bit of cathartic truth-telling. Labouring under a black cloud is difficult enough when it really belongs to you and has a sound basis in something that actually happened. When myth becomes enshrined in historical record, truth is the ultimate loser and bullshitter becomes King or Queen for a day. One more than he or she deserves, surely?

All of this is of course an opportunity to speak to and help anyone else who is going through some of the serious issues that will be addressed in the book – chronic depression, nervous illness, limerent episodes, parental neglect, self-destructive behaviour as a coping mechanism, and a few others. As they say at the end of television programmes “if you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this book”. Anyway, a generic e-mail address is at the top of the page and feel free to get in touch. I'll handle all contact quickly and as sensitively as I can.

At the very least, I'll try and be the person I never had...

It's past midnight so we're into Monday morning now. I was never the best sleeper and have always tended to need a drink to help me nod off, but this is shortly before the insomnia got really bad and the bags started to appear under the eyes. I remember a period of walking around like a zombie, looking like shit that hadn't slept in days. It was usually because I hadn't. So I'm wide awake when I hear the shout.

“All three of you – get your fucking arses down here, now”.

Genuinely perplexed as to what this is about, but frightened and fearing some sort of emergency, I scramble off the top bunk, down the ladder and make my way into what turns out to be the courtroom wearing nothing but my underwear (apologies for the haunting mental image). It becomes clear pretty much immediately that this is neither a fire nor a fire drill. Bob is even more pissed off than usual and he's about to tell us exactly why. Something about a cheque for three hundred and forty five pounds that he insists he left in his jacket, and therefore, since it is no longer with him, could only have been stolen.

Ok, I'm only thirteen here but I'm smart enough to understand that stealing a cheque payable to someone else is pretty fucking stupid. Shithead that he is, Bob rambles on about how he's “willing to let it go” if one of us thought we'd won the lottery and wanted to give the cheque back now. That he doesn't approach this angle, namely that there was no financial gain for any potential thief, indicates either monumental stupidity (of which he was capable with alarming frequency) or something altogether more sinister. Try paying a cheque made payable to a private company into your own bank account – I'm sure you get the point I'm making...

Two hours this goes on for, Bob playing judge jury and executioner, chain-smoking, blowing poisonous shit into our faces, wittering on about how 'whoever has done this' will be going to Lancaster Farms (like he gets to decide the sentence) and can expect to be arse-raped in the showers on a daily basis. There's bollocks about getting the filth involved and then, quite brilliantly, he announces that he's going to have us POLYGRAPHED. Now, I wasn't aware of the legal situation back in 1995, namely that the results of lie detector tests are inadmissable in a British court, but I knew this wasn't just something you could ring up and order over the phone like Chinese food.

“Hi, is this the poly bureau?”
“Hey Bob, usual is it – what have they done this time?”
“Not altogether sure, but I've got a strange feeling one of them is lying to me about, er, something”
“No problem sir – would you like prawn crackers with that?”

I'm in a difficult position here, wrestling between the utter ridiculousness of this man who (frighteningly) represents 49% of my genes, keeping a serious face due to the very real and lingering threat of violence and a tiny bit of my brain that is now playing tricks on me, telling me that I actually stole this thing and had just forgotten it. This will always stay in my mind when people defend and argue for the use of torture to interrogate people accused of crimes. A person under physical or psychological torture will admit to ANYTHING, just to make it fucking stop. Evidence gained by torture has been demonstrated time and again to be totally and utterly unreliable.

Anyway – the punchline is, the dozy fucker had left the cheque on the coach he was driving. It had never made its way into his jacket at all. For reasons unknown, we're not allowed to hit the hay until he gets back, at which point he tells us to fuck off upstairs. No apology, no sheepishness or embarrassed expression, nothing.

This was probably the point at which the unconditional love that a child has for his father disappeared from me forever. I recognised that I was living with a thoroughly nasty piece of work whose worldview ended at the tip of his own nose, a fucking idiot who I would have nothing to do with were we not (somehow) related. I mutter a few things to my kid brother about how I've just lost all respect for the guy. Then we're summoned downstairs the following morning and Irene is dishing it out this time. I'm struggling to get my head around how this works, but apparently, we were in the wrong.

Somehow, he has managed to play a trick in his head and convince himself that he is the victim in all this shit, and she's backing him up, trying to fuck with our heads and convince us that (somehow) this is our fault. He even announces that, unless we drop any sense of upset or grievance over the whole thing he will refuse to work ever again. Quite what the DSS would have made of that I have no idea, but the serious point is this manchild just needed to grow the fuck up, leave us all the fuck alone for a few days and let it blow over. Unfortunately, such an act of decency and humility was deemed to be somewhat beneath him.

Irene tried to contact me yesterday and, as far as I'm concerned, she can fuck off and go to hell. Whenever she had the chance to distance herself from Bob's lunacy, she made an active and conscious choice to prop it up instead. Though I kept giving her the benefit of the doubt for years afterwards, that morning should have been the telltale sign that, to paraphrase, they were 'in this together'. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, two cheeks of the same arse, so to speak. It's true that she was on the receiving end of his vicious streak herself, but when it was anyone else then she never had a problem with it. None whatsoever.

Despite interrogating three frightened, shivering kids for more than two hours over nothing, threatening them with gang-rape and lie detector tests amongst other mishaps, somehow, he came out of this as poor and hard done to and us kids as the villains. Only in the warped and fucked up minds of Bob and Irene could this happen, but when the content of those minds happens to be the law, that's the way you're forced to live.

I mean, the bastard probably knew all along where it was and did this whole thing just for kicks. That's the sort of person he was.

I'm just getting warmed up - take care and I'll catch you soon.