Monday, 23 November 2020
Sunday, 22 November 2020
Saturday, 21 November 2020
I think I was around 15. School for me at that time had become more bearable. I had worked out after a few years, how to avoid people who were, when I look back, troubled, unpredictable. Their hangouts were predictable … Where they sat in the morning before school started, where they went at lunchtime, where they played /hung out during down time.
I'd worked out routes between classes that took me away from them… Sometimes longer routes that meant I arrived out of breath, late, to the safe anger of a teacher. And my friends and I had drummed up the courage to go to teachers and the school management team to ask for help from the constant fear. I don't recall what was done by them in reaction, though.
I compartmentalised my life. School was where bad things happened, randomly. Home and my after school, weekend and holiday time was a different life, where I had predictable, fun, friends and a really wonderful, loving family. Sometimes when I suffered abuse in school, when I was reduced to tears, the tears were about this division. If only these people could see how great my family were, and how cool my friends were, they wouldn't want to do these things to me. Eventually this was to become me finding ways to be, safely, as random as them. A rebellion that took me to the same dives and gable end cans of beer, boozing where they were. And I developed a stinging, judgemental wit, that although funny, ironic, mocking when in a crowd, made me feel bad. I still sometimes get memory flashes of this past behaviour and cringe.
I also took my frustrations out on someone, beating him up, when I was about 12 years old. It led to me being thrown down concrete stairs in school,as he was a friend of one of the most unpredictable of the people who, for what ever reason, hated me. I met the victim at a festival once, while watching a band. We stood for ages talking about what we were doing- I was working in a factory office, he was an accountant in Dublin. He introduced his girlfriend, I introduced mine, and then I shouted an apology over the noise of the band, because I had hated myself for seven years for the eruption of fury I had directed at him. He told me not to worry, and at nineteen, I had to hold back tears. To this day I don't know why I went for him. It really was no fault of his. But I think the rage of being absolutely stressed was channelled at him that rainy day. My powerlessness was vented in power over this boy.
And that has been a huge factor in my life ever since. If I am consistently attacked, verbally (adults don't tend to push people they don't like through windows, or pick a fight after school for the fun of it), my feelings sit bubbling behind a smile, and then eventually erupt. I try hard nowadays to let people know how I feel, and unions over the years have been this amazing thing that either can step in, or the use of which can be waved in front of the power abuse. Anyway, I haven't seen him since that mid eighties late night summer, less than sober meeting, and I wish I could. I'm not wanting forgiveness. I'm wanting to apologise for something that was not his fault at all. Have a real discussion about it and how my random shittiness impacted on his life at that time.
Having to pull your trousers down in front of a teacher is deeply disturbing. I was pushed through a window as I tried to dodge one of the unpredictable group's game outside the Art room. He wasn't a huge tormentor, his brother however, was. At the beginning of this year, after my dad died, during the week leading up to his funeral, my mum and I were in a shop, when the brother walked in. As an adult, I've always confronted this guy, not with the torture he put me through, but with a kind of change of heart on my side. For a few years after we left school I dreamed of kicking him senseless. On two occasions, I came close to going for him. But I have sat and had a pint with him (in my late twenties) and exchanged pleasantries. He's obviously damaged. I know some of his childhood story, and it wasn't pleasant. But his lashing out from pressures he felt as a child led him to do horrendous things on people, including beating up a guy because his family were well off; and riding over his head with his motorbike. The guy survived, and his family pressed charges. I am not sure what happened in court. This behavior among a large group of young people, was justified, and he was heroised. Abuse and violence really was seen as heroic, and funny, in my school. That was my impression as people cheered on beatings and abuse. It's no wonder really that some members of these groups went on to take part in horrendous sectarian torture and kilings; their miserable, disgusting actions heroised on gable walls.
He stood in the queue in front of me. I've met him a lot, especially when I lived in Ireland (I lived in the same town for the first 27 years of my life). I never confront him when he's drunk. Well, I did once and tied him in knots with sarcasm, irony etc, as we stood in a park drinking as teenagers before going to clubs or pubs. The last time I'd seen him was in a chippy, late at night circa, 2011,and he was pissed out of his skull and was abusing young guys in the queue for being, well, happier and healthier and more balanced than he was. None of them crumpled like I had in school. He didn't physically lash out. He just drunkenly abused them, laughing at his own insults. Sounding every bit like the right wing, violent shit I'd known at school, but now in a middle aged body. This guy who proudly wore nazi badges and UVF badges as a young teenager, flashing them at us with pride. And the young guys, tall, athletic, laughed at him and dismissed him as the old, drunken loud mouth he was. He didn't recognise me that night, in the queue, and I remember hoping he wouldn't, because I may not have been as understanding as the young guys who treated him as the idiot he was. And I didnt have to say anything in the shop earlier this year. But I really never want to back down from confronting him. Smiling at him. Showing him, I'm OK. So I said hello, and he looked surprised as he stood there in the queue. Seemingly genuinely happy to see me. My mother said, loudly, "what are you speaking to him for?" knowing some of the hell this guy put me through. We went back to the car, and my wife was sitting in the passenger seat, and I pointed him out to her… and he waved , smiling at me again. And I felt sorry for him, and at the same time, I loathed him for what he had done to me. And I knew, looking at him, he was still the same mentally tortured, unpredictable person he was. Yet, he had welcomed the fact I said hello.
The game in the corridor, as I remember it, seemed to be chasing each other, but pushing as many people to the ground or to the floor as they could as they went. I pushed myself against the wall, and seeing that that would not be enough as I was me, the guy with the big target on my clothing, on my face, hovering above me. I sat up on the windowsill, which was about waist high for me. And as I shuffled up, out of the way, he ran towards me and gave me an almighty shove and I went arse first through the window. I pushed myself forwards so I didn't fall right through, and I lay face down on the corridor. I don't remember the sequence of events, but I was questioned, driven to hospital, where I was examined (I had cut the top of my leg) and a nurse invited my teacher to inspect the cut as i stood bare arsed behind the curtain. The next time I was shoved at a window, in a door in the school, I made sure noone told on the person who did it, and I wasn't taken to hospital. The breakage was put down to someone accidentally hitting it with a school bag on the way past.
I could go on about different incidents. Like someone I counted as a friend telling me he had to beat me up after school because the shits in the class were goading him that he wouldn't beat me in a fight; he gave an apology before he basically nearly strangled me and buried my face in dirt; or the amount of times I had to fend off another of their targets for the same thing, or the time when I was placed at a table in French with a group of them and girls they hung around with and became a target for an hour, regarding their perception of my sexuality, looks, my family etc, basically verbally tortured for an hour solid at eleven or twelve years old, to the point of tears. Or the many times I was left in the street outside the school knackered after trying to fend off a beating. Or the time one of them nearly broke my leg on a sponsored walk. I limped in pain for days. As I sit here, lots of awful memories come back to me. Worse ones. Lesser ones.
I dredge up suppressed memories of incidents a lot now. I suppressed a lot of this over the years, knowing only I hated school. I hated certain people. And coming to the realisation a lot of who I became after the relief of that last day in Banbridge High School in 1982, was because of the fact I had to spend my days surviving. I left with virtually no qualifications… I had went from being top in the class in the early years, to failure, because I excelled at survival by the time I reached fourth year.
What did the adults do? This was in the seventies and early eighties… Attitudes were different. I don't remember teachers doing a lot. Though perhaps inviting me and my friend to do things like the lights for the school plays, building scenery etc, might have been attempts to take me out of these classes and give me a more positive feeling about school. I have good memories… I forced myself to remember, because when I left that last day, it became a closed box of negativity for years. I loved art, writing stories, the school plays and learning how to develop photos. And, I loved the trip to London, and the trip to Wales. And some teachers felt like allies. Most didn't though. And when my parents found out things (I didn't tell them) they acted. Dad took me in the car to find someone who tormented me. Actually he wasn't the worst, but he was the one from that day. And dad knew his dad, shouted at him, and told his dad. The guy met me years later and told me that that had changed his life. He became a teacher and, I hope, recognises bullying and deals, with it. I used the same tactic on a guy who had bullied my son over a period of years. We had tried everything, from talking to the parents, to going to the schools. But it didn't seem to make any difference. I rolled the car window down and told him if he touched my son again I'd rip his f***ing head off. His family phoned the police who came to our door and told me to phone them if it ever happened again. I would not advise that approach at all. But my response really was one driven by the awful feelings anyone being bullied dredge up.
I had set out to write about the alleyway in the photo above.
I was, as I say, fifteen. And it was a Saturday. A beautiful, bright summer, teeshirt weather day. I remember cycling the mile through the town, down the hill through the worlds oldest underpass, freewheeling to my friend's house. I met him at the bottom of the steep hill to where he lived. I'm not sure what our plan was, but I was just glad to be out and about. As we spoke, three guys came over to us. Two were brothers I recognised from school, the other guy, i didn't. But I recognised his manner, his tone, his threat. He grabbed the handlebars of my bike.
"Give us a go on your bike"
That's what I remember. I think there may have been the pretence at conversation before that. I wasn't from this part of town, and I recognised my friends tone. One of conciliation. One of, "joke, but not too far," with these guys.
He wouldn't let the handlebars go. I remember thinking, 'this isn't fair. I go through this torture in that place. This is my time away from this. I don't even know you.'
The guy kept going on at me for a go on the bike.
I was shaking. Fear, anger, built up frustration at the target floating above my head.
"F*** off," I said. It felt good telling someone I didn't know, to get back. To reclaim my space. My mate looked at me in horror. He whispered , "you've picked the wrong guy to say that to, you better go."
So I sprinted as fast as I could up the hill, and they sprinted after me. I remember cycling through some of the grammar school grounds and then eventually to this alleyway which is opposite my friends house. A blind alleyway. And just as I was about to go around the corner, they appeared. I remember one of them saying, "Aha! Look who it is!" I had no way out. And the guy I didn't know, grabbed my handlebars.
All I remember was a feeling of the inevitable. Surrender. Powerlessness. Of my safe space- after school, the weekend, crumbling. Its safety a lie. The compartment, the shield crashing to the floor. I don't remember the beating I took, and, I have no idea how long I lay in the alleyway. I have a vague recollection of an old bloke helping me to my feet. And me wheeling my bike over to my mates house, me having no recollection as to why I was there. My friends mum standing in her garden looking concerned as fifteen year old me burst in to tears, not because of the beating, because I couldn't remember it, but because I had no idea how I got there.
Eventually after about an hour, things started coming back to me. And for about a year, I had three more people to avoid.
This alley. One I have often thought of. One that appears in nightmares. And one I visited this time last year, and one that after nearly forty years looked exactly the same. One alleyway I confronted when I went over to Ireland to look after my ill dad for a weekend.
Friday, 20 November 2020
I woke up this morning, around 6am, with a dry mouth, sore head and confused about much of my world. I staggered downstairs, poured a glass of water, and downed another hit, just to get me to the time I could phone in sick to work. I underestimated my ability to stay awake having taken the opioid , and woke again at 8.30am, after odd dreams of fences, and people who spoke freedom while keeping us in a maze of confusion. I grabbed my phone and phoned my boss, who was understanding, and I hung up and drifted into a half sleep, in which I actually thought I was planning my day.
Mornings akin to this were familiar to me many years ago. The dry mouth, ill feeling and needing to escape the world were introduced to me on the first night I went out drinking with my mates. We stood in a circle, behind the local grammar school and I drank a few cans of lager, hid the rest in a bush for another night and was introduced to The First and Last bar, the first of many boozers I called "mine."
The hit of the booze… How I felt … How I was received (or how I felt I was received), the confidence I felt… Was incredible. I really did think, "the power this gives- no wonder adults don't want us to have it. Teenagers with power… Teenagers who can look at people in the eye, and talk on the same level are dangerous!" Of course, this power was me drugging the fearful child, the one who had been kicked unconscious outside the school gates, pushed through school windows, insulted, assaulted and who buried everything they hated under fear, silence , and the ability to compartmentalise "life," and that place. We all cope in different ways. My Jekyll and Hyde, my Nutty Professor elixir was a few beers. A few shorts, a few glasses of wine.
Alcohol made and defined me in those days. After a pint, or a few shorts (in early days, pernod and black currant), I was confident , funny, unpredictable, happy, free. I managed to pull together enough of a persona, a lie, to have relationships some of which I had to end as the pretence of the confident, constantly witty guy at the pub, club, gig etc was just that. The sober guy was trying to work out how the world worked. In work, at home, I was morose, unhappy, quiet and tried to be invisible. When the Nutty Professor tried to bring the alter ego to the office, he fell flat, a bit of a laugh. So it was best to restrict that unsustainable figure to the pubs and clubs in Banbridge and student unions and nightlife in Belfast, which is what I did.
Don't get me wrong . There were a few times I could be me. I was me for a couple of years from 1989. And I stayed off the booze for the most part. But I started to miss that cool, confident part time me, and when I went to University, he tried to re-emerge, but being older, or being in a completely different environment, aye, he was wild, drinking when he could, but messing up more. I remember by the end of my first year, when I was 27, I first encountered a new feeling of being exhausted with booze. I stopped drinking for a while, got fit again, but discovered, or rediscovered a drug I had first tried in my late teens but didnt "get." Hash. Mary Jane. Weed.
And for a full, hazey year I hardly drank. Just now and again when I cut through the smoke and the political, cultural and downright mad stuff me, Kev, Sarah, and others talked. Then came the mixture. Red wine, smoke, and bang… Life changed again. Calimotxo, caffeine, wine smoke. And I grew tired of the long haired, at times manic hippy creature that had emerged. After Uni, I set aside the extra curricular activity of drugs, and concentrated on when, through parenthood, I could get drunk. When could I fit in talking shit, confidently at friends, strangers and bar tenders alike?
But that dry mouth, sick feeling; that need to knock back something to be that guy really was annoying real, submerged me.
Scotland, like Ireland, has a drink culture. Drink is acceptable, excused, as is being a loud, confident drunk. You can have regrets, and people will tell you not to worry, "as you were just drunk." Alcoholism is encouraged on our media and by friends who like a swally. But I was realising that the me I was suppressing was not being allowed to grow. And I was beginning to loathe Mr Confident, and the awful effects of the drug that produced him, on my body.
So here I sit, in a coffee shop, in the last few hours running up to the latest covid lockdown , fuelling my only addiction, a little bit high on codeine because of the awful discoveries the dentist made in my mouth and for over an hour tried to put right yesterday.
I understand how and why codeine is addictive, but the reminder this morning of Mr Confident's mornings after the wild night (or day, or weekend, or week, or in the case of one particular summer, two months) before, is a sobering one.
I used to say for years after quitting alcohol (eight years ago) that I have never said never again. I'm not sure if there are circumstances that would bring me back to that warm, but destructive, glow of the first few sips, when Mr Uncertain, Mr Uncool, Mr Unconfident, The Nutty Professor, Dr Julius Kelp became Buddy Love, Mr Confident, The Irish Hippy, Mr Unafraid.
Im addicted to being afraid, or hiding, but pushing myself to emerge now and again. To grow in a way those first few sips of lager stopped me from going beyond the fearful 17 year old who wanted a potion to help him shout back at the world. And I find myself at times , unfolding and meeting the world as me.
Thursday, 19 November 2020
Sunday, 15 November 2020
There is a very interesting (really!) thread on Scottish Left Forum at the moment, in which members are saying what they see themselves as. What labels they slap on their various experiential , educational, moral and political person.
I've said, "I'm a revolutionary socialist." I do so with caveats … I'm not about a singular philosophical divergent branch of anything.
I see truths, in many philosophical branches that diverge towards platonic thought, I suppose, like most. I ask "why?" when others say something I at first glance disagree with, and I reset if I'm persuaded that a particular analysis has been wrong. This happens on occasions.
If I feel, or can see evidence for abysmal analysis that seems to be being carried without thought, I challenge it. I loathe many of those who seek power, or get in to politics just to seek power or have a career- they really do warp, slither and slide and Teflon shoulder and wreck lives to reach their goals. Most of these people are narcissists.
I'm not part of any sectarian group or thought (never have been) . I feel the left groups have disintegrated into dogma built by some of the post 1968 "new left" heroes (and coat-tail followers) , and 1980's/'90's groupings that are reluctant to give up power and have ensured new thinking and analysis is squashed, or derided.
It really isn't just a linguistic wrongness- ie. using old slogans and 19th century words to describe complex and modern systems (which, along with using terms that were sloganised in the nineties that have been usurped by the right, do not help). Its the whole root and branch of how policy etc is built. The groups and prominent people (mostly men, but not exclusively), find it impossible to say, "we got that previous 'scientific marxist dialectical analysis' wrong, lets take another look," and instead they warp their wrongheadedness into why they were right, and build on that. Its a problem that all political entities have from right to left. But the organised left are drowning in it at present.
My absolute hope is for a programme that is centred on the conditions we find ourselves in NOW and is flexible enough to be steered as those conditions change that socialists can get on board with in order to come together and debate other issues that really do divide us (eg internationally like the strange allegiances of some with the ultra capitalist Russia, the totalitarian capitalist, China and the genocidal Assad). A proper analysis would see a clear out at The Morning Star, Jacobin and others (who in these times see the enemy through a 1850's, 1910's, 1930's, and a 1990's to 2008 lense- subsequent conditions are analysed through wrong turns, at those times) as centrist rather than fascist, right wing and right wing populist. At this moment of time, some organised groups on the left seem to think centrism is society's enemy and that it is out to get 'US' in particular. This in the face of a defeated Trump, reportedly planning a media organisation to tge right of Fox, driving through a crowd he has rallied of racist, far right and fascist fans and giving the thumbs up. And a fascist President, urging on attacks of antifa and incredibly a few days after remembrance days, condemning anti fascists in no uncertain terms.
You'd think, though, that the left could aspire to be different . Centrists at present, like Ahern in New Zealand and Sturgeon here in Scotland, are attempting to show how decisions are made and that aye, we can be wrong and change course. This is creating trust. Holding on to wrongness and denying wrongness and building on wrongness is really helping destroy the left from within. It makes the left easy to attack from the right who now use the same slogans (neo liberalism, elites, 1% and other meaningless stuff we really should eject).
There is a fear in new young people on the left to be "wrong," as anything said outside dogma is crushed and derided. The left really us an awful cul de sac to be in at the moment that needs a huge overhaul.
Saturday, 14 November 2020
Friday, 13 November 2020
Friday, 30 October 2020
Tuesday, 27 October 2020
Sunday, 25 October 2020
Friday, 23 October 2020
Thursday, 15 October 2020
Friday, 25 September 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 2020
Saturday, 19 September 2020
Saturday, 22 August 2020
"I grew up with it (the Troubles)," he says. "I followed it and was always trying to understand what was going on as a young man. It wasn't called the Troubles for nothing, it did trouble people. I suppose I had sympathy for those who seemed more oppressed than the other. I didn't always like what the British state did. I was understanding of Protestants and Catholics and why they did what they did.
Each time I'd come back and see the change, how different it was," he adds. "Protestants and Catholics have been to the forefront of bringing kids up sharing (their future) and not living in a bubble. That is powerful motivation for not going back in the wrong direction and creating a divide between people."]
Saturday, 15 August 2020
2000AD in School
Dear Tharg the Inquisitor of Thales 1,2 and 3, Master of the Timelines,
Back in '77 I saw the adverts on terrestrial TV, for your mighty organ. In fact, if I remember the adverts correctly, your mighty organ was erected in central London after an intergalactic journey to seed the world with pan-galactic thrills to blow our minds.
I was a late comer, though was filled in by my best mate, who supplied me with the sensual experiences I needed to become whole. He gave me his first few Progs, and that was me hooked. Until I read Halo Jones, after which I found it difficult, at the time to rise to any subsequent attempted thrills as her escape from the drudge of working class life, came to an end. As a working class boy, wanting to escape, I was desperately disappointed not to know if she had totally escaped that GenX like humdrum existence. Nowadays I see it as a reflection of inequality that plagues working class existence. Struggle, mental illness, addiction, used, abused, forgotten. You never totally escape the Hoop, the housing scheme, the projects, the estate. A classic that should be in every high school library.
I went into the world without the Prog, for many years … weaving an unsteady path through life, low paid jobs, addictions and then eventually throwing myself into debt to educate myself, becoming a teacher. My venturing out, led me to a kind of escape, but one I hoped would help other young people escape. I think the unfinished Jones should perhaps remain unfinished … Escape is never total.
In early 2015, I found myself off work on a long term sickness. Stuck at home, with only daytime TV and a bit of beard trimming, I decided to take a stroll through Glasgow, and stumbled upon Forbidden Planet (other great comic outlets are available, though I've yet to find a more friendly, knowledgeable and interesting staff). And there, I came across a whole section dedicated to 2000AD and its past, and of course, The Meg. And there, during that illness, I reintroduced myself to the world's greatest comic. I've almost caught up on all of the stories that have become mainstays, and on some Dredd stories etc. And it has been a brilliant five years doing so. I've also delved into other brilliant stories created by some of those who made their initial career inroads on your pages. Comics are well and truly embedded back into my life, the bedrock of which is 2000AD and the Meg.
I now run a Comic Club in my school - using some old 2000AD stories, and the Regened issues as the start off point for many of our sessions. One of your brilliant Art Droids, Rufus Dayglo, sent us books for our graphic novel collection, as did the brilliant people of Rebellion (I am @clydewon on Twitter). So I want to thank you all for that.
I was a "late reader," who only gained the skills to read when my mum introduced me to comics in desperation. Comics were my reading rescue. And 2000AD was a huge part of that, leading me to seek out Harry Harrison, and many other SciFi writers as a young teenager. And Comic Club has already given an outlet to both reluctant readers and children who love imaginative drawing and story creation.
I'm hoping to try to do something re Comic Club in the coming weeks again, but covid-19 is getting in the way, even though here in Scotland, we are back to school. I'm going to try a work around and create videos teachers can use in their classrooms (I think that is something Rebellion and your good self should consider during these times- videos for kids re skills, story's, story creation, art etc, and with nods to comic activities of the past).
The Prog at the moment is absolutely amazing. I am, like many, totally engrossed by The Out. Everything Abnett and Harrison do is just so interesting, exciting and beautifully done. Sinister Dexter really never, ever should be retired - their strips, are fun and clever. And Dredd, and the Dredd universe is just brilliant. I don't think that universe can ever be fully explored.
I am so glad I rediscovered the Prog. I really hope, Rebellion continue from strength to strength … The release of so much back catalogue and reworking of superb British comic stories has been amazing.
And thankyou Tharg, for being present in my life on and off and on again, since I was 11. I hope in another forty years, a pupil of mine will send a letter to you, telling you how you had an influence in their lives since their old teacher introduced comics, 2000AD and you to them.
Forever in your debt,