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Thursday, 26 November 2020

My Heart and Soul

Before Joy Division, I had a few bands I liked. The Undertones, Blondie, The Pretenders, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts... others... But, they were other people's bands too. 

I first heard JD when my sister bought the seven inch single of Love Will Tear Us Apart. And that song and the B Side, These Days just blew me away. The song was definitely a pop/rock song, but the delivery was far from the other stuff that was  charting at the time. It was far from many of the groups who still wanted to keep the pub/punk rock money machine going, and it was far from other post punk, new wave stuff I was listening to. This was a song that was anything but nice, but not the spitting, "fuck you, this is me," brash finger to society or to someone. 

This was about failure. Raw. Honest. 

Failure to love and be loved. And during my discovery of this music, not long after, I read of 23 year old Ian Curtis's sad, desperate death. This song was about torment. And although I didn't understand a torment so cataclysmic that life could go over its precipice, I did understand torture. I understood that scream that led to art, writing, imaginary escapes and plans to bite back. I understood life really on hold because of unpredictable people. 

So,  I did a rare thing, I bought two albums at the same time. 

Affording an album as a young working class teenager, Investing in one, was a big thing that took a lot of reading Sounds or NME, and trying to hear some tracks. Some albums took long deliberation… I remember, for example, standing for hours in Newtownards shopping Centre pondering over Kate Bush's "The Dreaming," which I bought. That was an amazing investment of a fiver (a fiver, of course, being a large sum of investment in 1982). An investment that is still making returns. To go on and buy TWO albums, based on two songs, was a huge leap… and a very serious one. 

Unknown Pleasures and Closer were just monumental to me. An incredible sound. I remember the first time listening to both albums back to back. They were like nothing I had ever heard before,and really stand outside of anything I've heard since. I've heard other bands influenced by JD, and some have been great, producing a unique sound of their own (The Killers, for example, don't mimic, they reference, and their sound is unique in the pop/ rock world of more recent years). Lyrics that felt important, and marked a change in me. I'd found a sound that matched my inner teenaged, on the verge of new, unfettered life, as I was vomited from the awful school system that separated children between those whose families  could afford tutors for verbal reasoning tests, those whose families couldnt or wouldn't, and catholics and protestants. My High school was the one in which we failed in order to gain entry. I left a failure, battered blue and purple. And I was glad to meet the world. 

JD were not a band many knew of in Banbridge, County Down in the early days. My friends could draw the logo of the bands they loved on toilet doors, jotters and on the backs of their hands (this was the thing during 1983 when I enjoyed, learned to drink and at last find girls and wild friends, but totally wasted educationally in Banbridge Technical College). Madness, Two Tone, The Jam and various punk bands names were graffitied everywhere a teenager was, in cartoon and comic writing, easy to reproduce. JD remained inside. Impossible to share. A personal escape. Graffitiing the cover of Unknown Pleasures was almost an impossibility anyway. I recently found a jotter and I had doodled a Madness sign on it, to show someone else how to (Madness, nor much else other than bands that rarely hit the top ten, were my thing). I had a few waves drawn beside it. I was drawing other people's bands, but feeling Joy Division's hymns to my core. Joy Division were my personal soundscape, my internal image that few of my friends experienced, and one I never again shared with girlfriends after one  wrote "boring!!" and "depressing!" all over the tapes I'd made of my vinyl. 

I literally, religiously listened to both studio albums every day for well over a year after buying, and often for years after that. This was an obsession. A religious, transformative rite. Something extremely serious. Important. And every pore absorbed the sacred chords and words and beats and chimes and broken, shattered glass and life.  If I had a religion, its hymns were these songs. And really to begin with, it was the soundscape, the music, the effects I photosynthesised, or audiosynthesised, and slowly and especially after a visit to Virgin Records in London in 1982, when I bought Still and a book of cuttings that shakily told the story of Joy Division's gigs, members, and printed the lyrics , I tried to decipher this enigma of a man's last written testimonies. 

As someone who emerged from four years at a school in which violence for a lot of that time, was just an acceptable thing, normal, and during a time when life, friendships, and interests were changing along, with my body, mind, chemistry and in a place where destructive competition mattered to everyone but me and bombs boomed, people died, and the news worried us daily, these songs were my personal, strange, gelid friends. 

A few years back I watched a drama in which the main character, a lawyer played by Maxine Peake, danced to Joy Division. Her dancing was to a sound no-one else heard, a sound that for many was not a sound for a dancefloor awakened a beautiful, personal memory. This was my thing. My personal thing I did in my bedroom. Twisting and turning to Transmission, head banging to Disorder (a video of which I made, here… of a place that my town, Banbridge and I had a mixed, but very important relationship with). All the time knowing, this group, this singer, was the most important thing in the world of Music. And a beautiful, flawed, friend. 

Then came our mutual transformation… New Order. Ceremony, an incredible song, sad in that Curtis had written it, but a joyous transformational rock song. Movement, beautiful, bleak, heartbreaking in parts, but heralding a new start. And then Everything's Gone Green. An incredible, running, spinning, euphoric piece of music. Temptation - the sheer beauty, unusualness, effervescent energy of this song at that time, cannot be overstated; and the emotionless, timeless dance music of Blue Monday and the many textured, and hailing modernity at the time, Power Corruption and Lies, an LP that at last, others began to talk about.  

Transformations in sound, that matched me transforming, working, growing. Some friends began to discover this band, and Blue Monday became a track we heard in clubs. Emerging from Joy Division, that comfort, that assurance that I was right, that the world was far from perfect, had transformed into joy, fun, ecstasy, exuberance, meeting my new world with hope. 

In between, overlapping Joy Division and New Order, I had other musical loves, and religious experiences. But Joy Division was the bedrock. A band I never saw, but whose recordings helped me over that transformational, helpless time, to a time when I could try to reinvent me (a process I still struggling with). 

As time went by, I began to leave JD and NO in their sleeves, and life moved on. I hated taking tracks from Unknown Pleasures or Closer and playing them as individual tracks as my experience of them were as acts in an opera. I probably didn't do that dismantling individual songs from the whole, until the late nineties. 

My collection of vinyl diminished as I moved around, and record players fell silent, and CD's and then MP 3's and then streaming became the preferred delivery systems. I lent out albums and 12" Singles I never got back. Still, Closer, (Unknown Pleasures lent to a guy I worked with in a charity shop in Glasgow in the late nineties… A loss I still mourn), Atmosphere, The Peel Sessions, Movement , Ceremony, Everything's Gone Green, Power Corruption and Lies, Blue Monday, Temptation, and a few subsequent albums remain (Low Life being a massive favourite at the time as it coincided with a gorgeous summer, an Ibiza holiday that went wrong, and a girl). 

I now return, occasionally, to JD's two beautiful, stark, life changing albums, but still on my own. They are mine, not to share (it felt weird when my wife began to discover New Order, and she loves Love Will Tear Us Apart, but isn't interested in Unknown Pleasures or Closer, thank goodness). They are my temple music. My transformation music. My first real, deep and true private, selfish, secular religious experience. 

Music that always feels like tentative, nervous, needed change; one where I walk out of an old, torn, battered, skin. 

Monday, 23 November 2020

A Potted History of Coffee and Me

My coffee is always black. I grind the beans every morning, and have two large cups of whatever bean I have in the cupboard. I'm drinking an Italian blend at present, which is smokey, choclatey and with a superb balance of sweet and bitter tones . Occasionally I'll buy the already ground stuff. This is the result of, after being brought up on sixties and seventies cuisine, the cuisine that built the empire and then sunk it again,  finding out since the eighties that I have things called tastebuds.

And nowadays real coffee is as common as builders, tea (which I have also drank, stewed in a teapot on a gas ring, whilst shivering in a dusty, muddy, raucous temporary building on a few building sites in my life... After lifting flag stones, mixing cement or priming planks, those sandwiches washed down by strong tea really did always taste better than any three course meal).

At my current work, I drink black tea, or at lunchtime nip out to the local drive through Starbucks, which serves coffee that is head and shoulders above the odd brown, dishwater like stuff we used to get in cafés and kitchens in this country.

Except, of course, for the milky coffees Italian cafés used to serve. We had two of those in Banbridge, Fuscos's and Scappaticci's, who also served amazing Ice cream. Fusco's had incredible murals, on the walls - scenes of Mr Fusco's old country.
{Mrs Fusco and friend in front of some of tge Majestic Café murals} 

 Jovial, friendly, proud Mr Fusco, dressed in his white or grey cotton over coat, mixed the ice cream with ash precariously hanging off the end of the feyg balanced between his lips ... Smoking wasn't part of the rigourous health and safety regime he went through as he approached closing time. Cigarettes were part of being human. An appendage as important as a finger or a nose, or a good cup of frothy, milky coffee. If some of that ash ended up on your plate, you pushed it uncomplaining, to the side of your plate.
Some of my early memories are going in to Fusco's with mum, after shopping, having proper chips with vinegar and that chippy vinegary tomato sauce, and then an icecream float or knickerbocker glory while studying the scenes of Italy on the walls. I didnt know Fusco other than from the other side of his always friendly counter, but I went to his funeral with my dad, as he was part of my childhood and teenaged years. A decent, welcoming, friendly man who kept a great café. 

{Mr Angelo Fusco and Mrs Rosa Forte Fusco

Scappaticci's had great chips, icecream (though not just as good as Fusco, though close) and a juke box. These things mattered. Large coffee chains, play piped, coffee shop music, and all have a degree of interior design that reminds you you are in plastic Seattle, but have neither beautiful murals, or a jukebox that ranges from punk to Jim Reeves. We need another Italian invasion like the one that brought us Mr Fusco, and the Scappaticci's. 

I was thinking about the years I worked in  Down Shoes (Lotus Shoes, or as we referred to it, "The Shoe Factory). I used to drink this stuff out of a machine which was called "coffee" according to the button you pressed after inserting the proper change. Ten cups of it a day. Going to the machine, which was by a wall and two doors that intersected the Bottoms section, the Assembly, the Closing room, the offices and the Shoeroom, was an excuse to get away from the desk. And I suppose I was addicted to the stuff. It may not have tasted anything like the coffee I know of as coffee today, but they had, in the process of making the stuff that went in to the machine, managed to keep the caffiene in. Basically it was hot, brown and it had a taste that if someone had have said to me was essence of rotting wood, I would have had no good reason not to believe it. If someone, on their turn to go to the machine, bought you tea by mistake, it was difficult to taste the difference. Tea didn't taste like tea either. It was probably less rotten rotting wood. I remember the price rising to a round ten pence... We were outraged (remember those days when you'd have a ton of loose change in your pocket ?). Our water cooler moments were at this brown stuff dispenser, and I met at least three girls there I went on to have a fling with, once I knew what time their "line" had a break. And on Saturday morning overtime days, the morning after the Friday night before, it was a hangover cure. Not an amazingly brilliant one. Not one you'd swear by, but one into which you'd pump a good quid of that overtime. 

At home, when I lived with mum and dad, the coffee of choice was Maxwell House, or Douwe Egberts Gold. Those where the days when I drank milk. Drinking these odd almost inaccurate facsimiles of coffee black, really is not far from that strange brew back in the eighties and early nineties from that machine we slagged off, but really was a rotting pearl of joy in our long factory days.

Why don't we have taste museums? The development of what became coffee, really has happened in my lifetime, though before the invention of instant, surely people drank the real stuff? Its an extraordinary devolution of a beautifully rich, and luxurious drink (before my lifetime), and then its re-emergence (during my lifetime) is a history much more important than that of the much studied and discussed Classic Coke, New Coke thing. It really must have its origin in a consumer culture focused on price and speed rather than quality and factory, reconstituted, easy packed and stored mass production. Imagine classes of children tasting little thimbles of Shoe Factory caffienated  rotting wood, moving on to Mellow Birds or Camp and then an expresso from an amazing italian blender? Every morning I'm glad to be on the other side of the odd history of coffee in the industrial UK as I drink the best part of my breakfast.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

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Saturday, 21 November 2020


This damp, narrow alleyway has not changed one tiny iota since I was a child. It lies on the opposite side of Banbridge, from the streets I grew up in, safe, happy and surrounded by love. 

It lies opposite my friend's childhood house.

This alleyway has gone a long way in defining me as an adult and informing me as a teacher. 

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

The Morning after the Life Before...

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

Creeping Conspiracy: The Left and Antivaxxers

I'm finding it quite sad watching left comrades fall down holes of conspiracy theory. I do feel a lot of this has to do with simplifying complex issues for leaflets, slogans and tabloid like articles that delve no further than to try to create some sort of activity through anger and fear. There was a time I could, wrongly in retrospect, turn a blind eye to this stuff (ie when i was ensconced within a political entity that i was trying to help build... I did have doubts then, but like many, I got caught up in the building rather than the minutea of what was going on in order to build). 

The proliferation of vaccine doubters and antivaxx folk, from the left, is a case in hand. I remember the debates around the autism scare back in the noughties in the Scottish Socialist Party. They were often ill informed, and based on nothing but fear and decontextualised, isolated pieces of information, and at times, very skewed and misread data.
I do think this highlights the ongoing issues within the organised, small, left groups. Encouraging suspicion of systems and news sources , and academia, seems to have become a part of SOME peoples activism. These are traits of the far right. Socialism, really should be based on all data, and outliers should totally be dismissed as outliers when studying data. Beliefs and suspicions and conspiracy with NO BASIS really need to be discarded from our discourse.

2020 Gob.

What a selfish thing, intense pain is. I really have so much admiration who live with chronic pain daily.

I have an abcess. I've  had an abcess before, and abcesses are bloody painful. But, the pain I have had in my gob, for the past twelve or so hours, has been the most intense pain I think I've ever had. No pain relief has worked, - paracetamol 500, ibrobruphen 400, usually dulls this sort of pain for me... Not this time. Relating this pain to people, ie my wife, my work and my dentist, is, I find, pretty difficult. Describing pain as, "this is the most intense pain I've ever suffered," is on a scale of my pain.

Why haven't humans developed a way to pass on descriptions of pain through touch? "This is how I feel... "
"Ah. That is a very intense pain. Here are the exact drugs you need for that."
Even when I fell and broke three vertebrae, yes the pain was excruciating , but i was able to sleep that night after pain meds. Cracking my ribs, same. Broken fingers and toes; slept like a log. Previous abscess, same. This abcess, which is painful in itself, has spread from the upper  jaw to the bottom one... And that pain is really like no other I've ever had. This pain- no sleep last night. At least our wee, old, anxious dog benefitted from company as I lay on a seat beside him in the livingroom all night, unable to do anything but concentrate on the sword driven and twisted through my jaw and skull.

I will be at the dentist at two. I'm not sure why I'm looking forward to this so much, other than I hope she prescribes raw morphine, injected directly into my jaw, or something similar. I've never looked forward to a dental visit. When I arrive, I imagine I'll sing. I'll dance. I'll praise all of the pantheons on high or below. Inside my own selfishly sore head.

Edit: Well, I went to the dentist and after a lot of x-raying, testing, injecting, drilling, filling, etc, I found out it WASN'T an abcess, but nerve damage caused by an old old filling impacting on a nerve and also infection on said nerve. This pain then travelled around my jaw. I usually hate when they freeze your mouth, but the relief of it was incredible as it froze the nerve that was damaged and my whole jaw seemed to return to normal.

So, cautious hope that with the work that was done, painkillers and antibiotics, I'm going to get some sleep tonight.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Who is thine enemy?

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

On UBI and the "Left."

I've seen conversations on this topic across the left over the past couple of years, the most recent one had its own graphs that actually made no sense, but some "revolutionaries," were using them to "prove" that UBI would be a setback for "the class," and their "revolution." Complete pish, in other words .

The left I once hoped to be part of in a united front, really over the past decade from Syria, through Labour Party shenanigans, through Brexit and the American elections (and reaction to Biden's uniting campaign that took down a (at the very least proto) fascist, to name a *few* things, has been horrific. The now bouncing from, "Look at what Sawant did in Seattle; dont vote for Biden," to, "Look. AOC (who campaigned wholeheartedly for the Biden/Harris ticket) is also saying she's annoyed at moves to exclude the left from government positions ," shows

1 a disengenuousness borne on a contrarian analysis, rather than a socialist one and

2 the swinging weathervane approach Tony Benn used to speak about.

Its a left that now seems to just dip in to a dogma created through years if an inability to truly reflect on campaigns and policies and analysis and slogans that get it wrong... Each wrong turn building into worse and worse analysis.

Anyway, these revolutionaries are now turning their ire on UBI. There is tonnes of research being done on UBI across the world. REAL research that actual professionals working in the field can quote (Google is your friend). This is an answer i made on the conversation at present, floating around Facebook, which is as i said, illustrated by terrible graphs.

"UBI's most important plus point for socialists really is, in my opinion, what it SAYS to everyone. It tells us, "this place belongs to you, here is a payment from your country to you for being a valuable citizen [nb, the LEVEL of payment is what we should be fighting for]".

It treats everyone as equals. All equal citizens, equally valuable. And a good set level of ubi payment means people can, like we were able to in the past before the tories started dismantling the welfare system, THINK for a while about how we want to contribute to society.

UBI really is projected to increase social mobility, something that is virtually non existent in the uk - a place where it was quite high for the boomer generation. UBI could really stimulate social mobility.

There are some left voices who dont like it because it thwarts the revolution they have been planning in their branch meetings of five or six people in a few places across the country.

Reform that tells us we have a right to the country's wealth, really does, psychologically, go towards creating revolutionaries.

I urge you to seek out the research by the late Ailsa Mackay on this . And the more recent research by public health scotland and others."

{Ailsa Mackay

Friday, 13 November 2020

Dreaming about Blondie

It was a particular kind of contrarian who used to say they didn't like Blondie. It was like not liking salt and vinegar crisps. Or Galaxy chocolate. Or Bugsy Malone. Or Convoy. But some people hated. It was their job. 

 People in the late seventies loved to be contrary. Loved to think they were ahead of a curve they didn't, of course, give a fuck about. Blondie sold out, was the pish I heard from my The Exploited, Ramones, Crass, Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke loving friends and not so friends. They screamed left wing lyrics in the playground, but I bet all of the contrarians who screamed against the changing world, "Punks Not Dead!" all grew up and voted for the exploiting Brexit. 

 All of the above groups were great, I loved the punk finger held stiff in the direction of all that had come before... It cleared the way for beauty that came after and the thing was, I really couldn't be arsed fitting into some punk, post punk, new wave, indie box. I didnt fit, because as well as all of the above, I loved The Pretenders, Blondie, Abba, Charlie Pride, Toyah, Siouxsie, Glen Campbell, The Slits, The Dubliners, Johnny Cash, The Undertones (You could be contrary to the idiot contrarians and like "rival bands..." later, I got into SLF through their biggest fan in Banbridge, County Down, Roger Moorhead.). 

I loved a lot of New Wave stuff, at the time. I knew the singles, but Eat to the Beat and Parallel Lines were introduced to me by Alex Adamson. Amazing albums. And Debbie suddenly replaced the comic characters on my bedroom wall. 🖕