Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Monday, 30 December 2013
I’ve had this argument a few times in the past month. In fact, it’s occurred so often that I’m now sitting here writing this when I should be building a website.
My observation is that ‘next Thursday’ means the coming Thursday except if today happens to be a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Then ‘next Thursday’ actually means a week on Thursday. Today, as I write this, it’s Monday, hence the reason for this blog post. Somebody just told me that our bins will be emptied ‘next Thursday’ and I launched into a rant about how we’ll be swamped with rubbish by then. Of course, they meant this Thursday, which proves my point that on a Monday, ‘next Thursday’ can mean ‘this Thursday’ or ‘a week on Thursday’. There is an ambiguity in our language that it’s hard to explain to non-native speakers. It feels like we should put yellow tape around Mondays and erect a warning sign that there's ambiguity ahead.
Yesterday was Sunday so there was no ambiguity. ‘Next Thursday’ would have meant this coming Thursday. Today, however, it’s all up in the air. I have no idea what people mean when they say ‘next Thursday’. But I sense this is too boring a subject to blog about. I’ll try harder when I write my next blog post, probably next Thursday, whenever the hell that is...
Sunday, 29 December 2013
In Noble’s show, he travels around the UK based on random suggestions made to him via Twitter. In one episode he even travelled as far as visiting St Helens, though I can’t say I recognised the parts he visited. Unlike his visits to other towns, Noble avoided the shopping district. St Helens was portrayed as an utter dump. Perhaps it is, though that will be particularly evident if you choose to look at one derelict shop in some backstreet away from the centre of town.
In a way, it was a bit of a disappointment but not unexpected. This region has a reputation and you don’t often hear people talk about the famous writer, wit, or intellectual from St Helens. In the national psyche, we’re the stuff of twisted rugby players, boxers with flattened senses, and the comedian Johnny Vegas.
Vegas made a welcome appearance in the St Helen’s episode, though I suspect that was down to his friendship with Noble rather than the producer trying to fill the show with celebrities. Unfortunately, they did that also, which was the series’ one failing. The format’s strength is that it actually involved real people in everyday situations which Noble warped with his brand of spontaneous comedy. It’s actually gave a little attention to parts of the county that rarely get included in the TV schedules. Yet I guess it’s unsurprising that even the best show should betrays its ethos by sadly conformed to the usual TV formula of replacing real people with celebrities. Does a tour of the UK always have to involve a stop off at Paul Daniel’s house? It’s as though a tour of the UK couldn’t be complete without involving some luvvie from that other world. I’ve said it before that celebrities ruined Twitter but must they also ruin a TV based around Twitter. It seems that they must.
The other thing I’ve found myself watching over Christmas are Dave’s repeats of Have I Got News For You. In many respects, I agree with people who say its lots its edge and it’s a show that desperately needs a revamp. If it does, I don’t think it need be a huge change. Simply getting rid of the guest presenters would be a step in the right direction. By its very nature, satire is the comedy of the outsider. It’s the stuff of the alternative point of view. It’s why HIGNFY rightly belongs on BBC2 and not on the nation’s main TV channel. Like the alternative Queen’s speech, it should be about standing apart from the herd, directing scorn where scorn will sting. Now on BBC1 and hosted by many of the people it should set out to mock, the show has been co-opted by the establishment and it now rarely bites. Although I don’t like the man’s comedy but perhaps ideal host would be Frankie Boyle simply because he might upset a few people in the process. An even better host would be Stewart Lee, though I doubt if it would be his thing and he probably wouldn’t do it anyway. The problem with so much satire in the UK is that it’s become safely contained within establishment rules, appropriated by the establishment as if to control disenchantment. Gone are the days when politicians would step in to try to stop the broadcast of an episode of Spitting Image. Indeed, it’s a sign of how bad satire has become that I actually miss Spitting Image, which in its later years was itself a twisted version of its former self.
It also reminds me that over Christmas, I watched a biography about David Frost. Among the few things I took away from the show was the degree to which Frost was himself always destined for an establishment role. Although he made his name in satire, he wasn’t by nature satirical or, for that matter, either a writer or performer. The great Peter Cook was said to have resented the way Frost took the Fringe out of theatres and put it on TV.
It’s why I hope Ross Noble remains on the outside of that world. I hope he manages to stay disconnected from the London establishment. I had worried that Johnny Vegas might have become ‘too London’. When Noble met him, he was in a London pub, hundreds of miles away from where his career began in the St Helens Citadel. Then I read about him laying into the establishment at the typically woeful British Comedy Awards. You need to skip to four minutes to get the meat of the business…
Of course, part of this might just have been his usual shtick and I worry that the London set laugh because of the way he says things rather than the things he says. But what he says has real significance to me given I spend most of my days lamenting about the state of comedy writing in the UK.
Is it any surprise that the elected king and queen of British comedy should be Jack Whitehall and Miranda Hart? It makes me even more jaded and I have even less desire to write comedy or drawn cartoons, hence the reason I've spent most of my time over Christmas drawing bad caricatures on my upgraded Note. I don’t think I’ve ever been this frustrated in my own work, when my writing, typified by my Stan book, gets nowhere but two extremely unfunny but establishment figures are lauded as comic geniuses. It sickens me to watch Miranda claim Eric Morecambe as her own, somehow associating her mediocre talent to his unequaled star. I suppose it frustrates me that Johnny Vegas is laughed off as if he’s the eccentric uncle spoiling the party when he’s actually speaking truths from the heart that should be acknowledged as wisdom. If I’ve been critical of Vegas in the past, I suppose it was out of my own sense of frustration that my local area should be associated with the Vegas character. It seemed to play into all the southern prejudices that people around here are uneducated, boorish, and borderline alcoholic. Yet Michael Pennington has more humour talent in his little finger than Whitehall has displayed in his entire career. Whitehall, however, is the son of Michael Whitehall and there you have the truth of the world. So, for that one moment of sublime genius, Vegas wins my vote for comedian of the year. Not that it matters.
Wednesday, 25 December 2013
In the past, I’ve always said I love to work over Christmas but by ‘work’, I roughly meant ‘doing the things I enjoy’, whether that was writing or drawing. I did neither this year, too eaten away by real work I don’t particularly enjoy and real life which has been difficult.
Perhaps it’s why I’ve had more time to notice Christmas this year. Perhaps my senses are just attuned to it more but I thought this Christmas more low key than Christmases past. The shops weren’t quite as explicit in their celebration of Christmas. TV didn’t seem quite as special. Even Sky News made a big deal about their not making a fuss about Christmas, telling us that it was business as usual over the festive break. Dare I hope that it’s a sign that Christmas is losing its significance in British culture?
I say ‘hope’ but I’m not entirely sure that I wish Christmas gone or to grow less significant. I just want rid of what Christmas has become: a guilt-driven retail obscenity disguised as something bright, warm, and worth cherishing. I travelled into Manchester on Christmas Eve to finish off what little shopping I did on the high street but partly just to enjoy the atmosphere. Yet the atmosphere was next to non-existent. The Christmas markets had already packed up and gone and many of the stores were in the early stages of emptying their shelves and preparing for the New Year sales. It demonstrated what Christmas really means to the high street. They don’t celebrate Christmas, merely what Christmas allows them to do. It’s naïve of me to expect different but I can’t help but reflect how Christmases were very different just a decade or two ago.
It’s not in such a distant past when times were harder and Christmas the one time of the year when we’d eat slightly better food and feel grateful for the few gifts we’d receive. Yet Britain has changed and Christmas has changed with it. Perhaps we’ve become more prosperous, when children routinely ask for iPads and expensive headphones. Maybe food has just got cheaper (despite what recent years otherwise suggest) so we enjoy luxuries all the year round. Yet it’s only very recently that Amazon have imported the Black Friday nonsense that other retailers have copied. I personally think they’re making one trip too many to the already dry well. Black Friday has made Christmas less special, just one of a number of retail ‘events’ crowded into two months at the end of the year.
Last night I watched the usual Christmas service on the BBC. I’m not religious, though I wish I were. I usually find myself watching the Christmas service. I wish I could believe in heavens, Gods, and the rest. I wish I were Catholic, so I could feel kinship with a Church that exists to laud something more significant than ourselves. I wish I were a believer just to show my appreciation for the artists who devoted their lives to devotional works. Sadly, for me, I don’t believe. I’m probably one of those atheists that the new Pope addressed when he asked atheists to stand with believers in working towards ‘a homemade peace’. I wish I could believe in God but I do believe in morality and living a moral life. I believe in the Christmas message, just not what Christmas has become. I always feel happy when Christmas is over. I feel happy that the feelings of great sadness might be past me. Christmas is when I miss people who were central to my life: my father and other relatives who made my Christmases fun. Yet it’s also that older sense of Christmas that I miss. I miss Christmas when we didn’t feel ashamed to talk about nativity or the church, even at the same time as we would also laugh about it and say how ridiculous it all was. I miss my Uncle Harry nearly setting fire to the church when he dropped his candle in an orange, which was part of the Christmas service. The thing is: I can now see that it never was that ridiculous because despite all the talk of myths, legends, and magic, it was based on something more real than Amazon Prime and having the latest smart phone. It was about people.
This was brought into focus watching the BBC yesterday. An ad came on which you might have seen. It had ordinary folk sitting looking bored on a train. It was meant to be the days before smart phones and the message of the ad was that we were bored back then. We look at the faces of the ordinary folk and they’re all sad.
Suddenly, we’re in the smart phone age and hands lift up screens so they cover the sad faces of the ordinary folk. Suddenly, their bodies sit beneath heads belonging to Bruce Forsyth and Miranda. They’re no longer dull ordinary folk but celebrities.
No add has ever made me feel so sad about what we’ve become, so preoccupied with selfies and celebrities. And that, I guess, is the problem with the modern Christmas, obsessed with brand and fashion. I’m just ordinary folk and I guess you are too, if, indeed, anybody is out there reading this. So, here at the other end of Christmas Day, I just wanted to say thank you for reading this blog. Thank you for understanding what I’m trying to say from the undernourished side of celebrity. I’d rather be with you on a train journey than Brucie or Miranda or any of those talentless bores. And let me just an ordinary shmo, wish you a very sincere Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Saturday, 21 December 2013
For months, I’ve been struggling to make space on my C drive. It’s a relatively small drive, 75Gb, I think, on account of it being an SSD, meaning it has no moving parts but is very very fast. I use it for my Windows install and a few applications I use regularly. When I set up this PC, I spent a lot of time redirecting most things such as ‘My Documents’ and memory swap files to other bigger drives. Despite this, my C drive has been getting increasingly full, causing me all manner of headache. I’ve even been thinking of replacing it, which would be a nightmare getting my PC back working as I like it. A new install is always a big event, at least a week of work and they usually mean that I lose some files I’ll never get back. Of course, the answer is: backup your work, David. Well, rich folk might be able to afford terabytes of backup drives but if I could afford backup drives, I wouldn’t be scrubbing around for space on my drive C.
Anyway, looking to solve this problem, I found a neat bit of free software called WinDirStat. I ran it on my troublesome drive and it produced the following graphic. It surprised the hell out of me, especially that big red block. That’s one file taking up over 12Gb of disc space.
A glance at the list of files at the top told me it that it was a file called hiberfil.sys, which I immediately suspected had something to do with Windows hibernation, which I never use. I have 16Gb in this machine so a snapshot of my memory at any one time would probably amount to a 12Gb file.
Anyway, a quick Google search told me that I could delete the file and easier than I thought.
Find your Command Prompt in the Accessories menu. Select it with a right mouse click and choose 'Open as Administrator’. Then type the following at the prompt.
powercfg -h off
And just like that, the file disappeared and I now have a glorious 12Gb free on my drive.
For months I’ve been working with a few hundred megabytes of free space so today feels like my birthday. 12Gb! I feel almost dizzy with excitement.
Friday, 20 December 2013
Return Authorization #: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Order #: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
What kind of operation are you lot running? I saw ‘Panorama’ and you might think it’s fine to make some poor shmuck heel his bones down dark corridors for dozens of miles a day but I’ll be damned if you’re having me do it too!
I asked to return an item and you sent me the label which I printed out in full. I then pedalled across town to the Post Office, stood 24 minutes in the long Christmas queue, only to discover that they don’t accept ‘Collect+’ parcels. They also seemed a bit shirty that I was dealing with their competition. So, I return home and discover that I have to leave this parcel miles away at a remote off license! So, off I go again, bike up one miserable hill after another, to find the little gin palace you call a collection point. I hand in my parcel to the woman behind the counter (she had been smoking a fag outside the front door, so she was already a cigarette down on the deal and wasn’t too happy to learn that I don’t drink so wouldn’t be making a purchase). She scanned the parcel only for the machine to tell her that ‘the barcode is too short’.
So, not only have I sullied my reputation by entering this dive, they wouldn’t accept my parcel!
So, I ask you: what am I to do with it now? And how do I reclaim the three hours I’ve spent trying to offload this bloody parcel? That’s three hours I could have been earning money. You might say this £10 tablet case has so far cost me about £40!
I don’t mind you introducing these new schemes but could you please ensure that these schemes actually work before sending me on a wild goose chase.
Sincerely, hot, sweaty, and very annoyed…
It sometimes feels like we live in a hyper-connected (and hyper-sensitive) age, where certain keywords muttered in one place trigger automated responses elsewhere designed to advance the cause of whichever group believes they have ownership of that particular word, phrase or concept. A high profile figure uses the word ‘rape’ in an offhand manner and it’s no longer surprising when an advocacy group takes the chance to highlight the evils of rape. Had Swann said ‘corn holed’, representatives of the corn industry might have taken offence...
But perhaps that’s a glib thing to say. I’m prone to say glib things that might offend, which is perhaps why this story attracts my attention. Thankfully, I’m not an oft-lauded English off-spin bowler so nobody will really care what I say, glib or otherwise. Before my meaning can be misconstrued, however, let me state here that I believe rape to be the most horrific violation of not just the body but the human spirit. In many ways, it is a crime worse than murder, so what follows is not a defence of rapists or an attempt to degrade the significance of their crime. What interests me is the degree to which we are allowed to use these words and concepts in our everyday language. At what point does a subject become too taboo for the idle quip?
You see, I feel a little sorry for Swann. Swann is an easy target and he’s in no position to defend his use of the phrase. He is speaking in a way that’s familiar in a certain context. It’s the kind of quip often exchanged between male friends, the sort of vulgar joke that might include some reference to the film ‘Deliverance’ and the phrase ‘squeal like a pig’. It’s not sophisticated humour. Nor is it humour that will appeal to everyone. Taken out of one context and placed into another, it will easily offend people who don’t share that sensibility. But it’s a type of humour that is out there and is so very recognisable.
Of course, Graeme Swann doesn’t say any of this. It’s easier for Swann to say ‘sorry’ and move on than it is for him to defend his right to use whatever language he feels appropriate when posting to his brother’s Facebook page. And, really, is there anything he can say that sounds as meaningful as the words of Yvonne Traynor, the chief executive of Rape Crisis, who told The Telegraph:
"We are appalled that Graeme Swann equates a cricket match with the devastatingly serious crime of rape. It is the duty of a people in the public eye to make sure that their own distorted views are kept to themselves and not shared with the general public. These comments lack compassion and intelligence and he should apologise to anyone who has suffered from this heinous crime."
The problem I have is the problem I have whenever an offhand remark is countered with a well-considered response. Anybody can make an offhand remark which can then be made to look foolish with an acutely reasoned reply. Somebody well practised at deconstructionism could take many a mild statement and expose some raw misogyny, fascist leaning or underlying assumption about other people and their cultures. We routinely use words to express ourselves which come laden with all kinds of prior meanings but that isn’t to say that we advocate the murder of the French whenever we say that somebody has ‘met their Waterloo’ any more than there’s an implied support of colonialism when we say ‘I could murder a curry’.
So if there has been no reasonable defence made for Graeme Swann, then I think there should be one. There should be a reasoned argument that says something like: ‘obviously, he didn’t mean to offend anybody who has suffered that most terrible crime of rape, but he used an example of extreme human barbarity to express the profound disappointment he’s feeling at the moment.’ It should go on as follows: ‘Rather than diminish the severity of rape, his comment acknowledges rape’s status as an ultimate taboo in our collective morality. Much of our humour comes from exploring these taboo concepts and his remarks belonged to a long tradition of using such terms for darkly comic effect (see Freud’s Totem and Taboo). Of course, rape exists and it will continue to exist as long as individuals seek to impose their will on other individuals. It is part of all human potential and, sadly, it will always be part of the sum total of what we call “the human condition”. Yet to hide it away and restrict our use of the word for only those moments when we’re talking seriously about something is wrong and denies us an important part of our language.’
But, of course, if that’s reasonably put, it’s also reasonable to say that there is a point at which such comparisons become unacceptable. Swann could have said ‘murdered’ by the Australians and it wouldn’t have raised any objection. Had he compared it with ethic cleaning or, even worse, been so specific as to compare it to the Holocaust, he would have been rightly vilified.
There might, then, be a matter of degree in this situation. ‘Bummed’, ‘buggered’ or even ‘butt fucked’ wouldn’t have raised such alarm. ‘Rape’, however, is such a sensitive subject and in some sense politicised, he should have known better than to walk down the middle of the wicket wearing his spikes and cutting up the rough.
Because, to some, making supposedly funny remarks about rape is tantamount to attempting to reduce the seriousness of the crime. They argue that we desensitise ourselves to the violence of rape by using the word in such a casual manner. And I suppose there might be that danger. The old saying that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ has established wisdom about it. We live in a world where it is increasingly difficult to be shocked. Films have developed such an elaborate language of horror that it’s hard to think of something that exceeds the imaginations of filmmakers. Saw was a shocking movie but tame compared to what came later. The ‘unimaginable’ horrors of films of the 1950s are laughable compared to today’s torture horror. In another fifty years, what might that generation think about today’s Human Centipede?
Yet whatever they think about our horror, I doubt if future generations will have any more developed response to rape. There is a difference between styles of horror and certain depictions of physical violence. Whilst the sight of Norman Bates’ mother, at the end of Psycho, has lost much of its shock value, the same can’t be said of rape scenes from films of the 1960s and 70s. A Clockwork Orange still makes for very uncomfortable viewing as does Straw Dogs. One of the most shocking and uncomfortable films I’ve seen which still shocks today is Hitchcock’s Frenzy.
There is something about the act of rape that isn’t lessened by familiarity or overuse of the word. It simply never fails to shock. I’ve laboured longest over the wording of this brief article than I’ve done over anything in a long time. The very fact that it makes for uncomfortable discussion and there’s been little or no debate about a cricketer’s use of the term would suggest that it retains its power. Horror has its basis in some part of the brain that’s unconnected with our moral actions. Rape remains the ultimate violation, utterly taboo, a place reserved for the worst things that humans can do to one another.
And in this respect, Swann’s remarks belong to that category of darkly humourous exaggeration we use as a way of commentating on something so out of the ordinary. Is it too much of a stretch to say that it was used in the same way that Alexander Pope meant it when he wrote ‘Rape of the Lock’? Well, perhaps it is. Times change and perhaps Swann was unwise to use the word in what might be thought of as a public forum. He might have used the word unthinkingly (but I don’t think it was as unthinking as some would wish). Yet if Swann’s choice of expression was shocking, some might say it was shockingly funny but shocking nevertheless. And that is how it should be and, in that sense, I don’t believe he has any reason to apologise. Just to suggest that he uses it in a way that’s disrespectful of all rape victims is to play unfair games with language. It plays politics with the issue by spinning the spinner’s words.
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
I can’t remember much of the show except it seemed to involve driving old 1930s cars through a corn field as a dwarf accompanied him on the sousaphone. After the performance, I had chance to meet Waits and I reached out to shake his hand. I thought his hand was small. Perhaps I’d shaken hands with the dwarf instead. I’ll never know. We got to talking about the topless brunette sitting in the Model T Ford and that’s when the telephone rang and I woke up.
Sleep, I think, is important to me. Or at least, dreaming seems to be key to the way my brain functions in the day. I’ve been struggling to come up with good cartoon ideas for the past week, which I think confirms my suspicions that my imagination is tied to getting a solid eight hours. Today I’m supposed to start work on one of the websites I’ll be building instead of enjoying Christmas this year but I also intend to make some room in my afternoon for some serious cartooning.
The lack of time and ideas to cartoon is particularly galling because on Saturday I took the bold step and upgraded my Samsung Note.
I’d found a buyer for my relatively new Samsung 10.1, meaning that I took next to no financial hit when it came to buying the newer 2014 edition I’ve been talking about for so long. I did the deed at the John Lewis store in Liverpool with a little of the money I’d made from my animation project.
The whole experience has been a bit unsettling, given that the first Note had quickly become as useful as my right arm. I’m still not completely at home with the new Note, though that’s partly down to my ordering a case from Amazon that is now going back. I originally ordered one of these, a beautiful case but with major flaws. The magnet in the lid is meant to wake the Note when you open it and shut it down when you close it. This it does but it also shuts down the Note when you fold the lid all the way back, as you do when holding it to draw. The same magnet (I suspect it’s just too powerful) also infers with the magnetic field that S Pen uses to locate its location on the screen, meaning that if you happen to draw in the same spot where the magnet’s located at the back, you have a dead spot on the screen.
I’ve now bought the same type of case as I had on my original Note and hope that things improve. The reason I wanted the newer Note was to draw on the 4k canvasses supported by Art Flow and the experience so far hasn’t made me regret my decision. I think my few scribbled test cartoons are already looking crisper and the whole drawing experience is much improved, with smoother operation and no lag between my hand and the screen. The only problem is a bug in Art Flow which means I can’t export the canvasses to Photoshop. I emailed the developer and apparently he’s working on a fix.
Tomorrow, I’ll post the results, if there are any results and my brain starts functioning again. I suppose the fear I always live with is that one day I’ll wake up and I’m no longer able to think of a funny joke or a funny cartoon. I fear that one day I might wake up to discover that I’ve grown up and become fascinated by tax and the brain rotting seriousness you find among the comment section of The Guardian. I worry that I’ll become one of those serious people when all I want is to be like Tom Waits, casting glitter over the heads of the midget tumblers and brunettes in classic cars.
Tuesday, 17 December 2013
I say ‘build’ but they’ll be Wordpress installs with themes I’ll customise. In a way, it’s a disgrace to even suggest that I’ll be building them. Over the last five or so years, website building has gone from being a form of virtual bricklaying to a highly refined form of interior design. Where once I would be found sitting on an old car seat beside a hot brazier, smoking a fag and tutting over my union sanctioned mug of tea as I contemplated the next line of HTML, I’m now usually found flouncing around and clapping my hands and demanding more aqua in the banners PEOPLE! I’m not sure which I prefer.
Talking about unions, I’m increasingly dismayed by the lengths some shops go to prove they’re fun and happy places to work.
At my local Tesco, I spoke to one of the women working the checkouts this morning. She was wearing sagging reindeer horns and a look of joyless intensity.
‘I hope they pay you extra to wear those horns,’ I quipped.
She looked at me blankly and said nothing as she slid me my seasonal jar of silverskins.
On Saturday, I was walking in Liverpool for reasons that will become apparent in coming days. The Clayton Square shopping centre is now almost dead upstairs when I remember it as quite a vibrant little arcade. The Clayton Square planners made a big mistake when they removed the pedestrian entrance, making this little corner of Liverpool a dead end. However, it’s still the easiest way to get up to the level of Lime Street Station (the entirety of Liverpool seems to be one long climb to the railway station) and I used the escalator to take me up to a level and I cut through Boots.
It was in Boots that I saw a woman dressed like a pixie or an elf, complete with mismatching leggings and a red nose. She might have had bells on her toes but I can’t recall, hence the confusion over pixie or elf.
It happens everywhere I suppose but this sight did make me wonder if the poor woman had a choice. What would happen if somebody like me was working for one of these companies and refused to wear something so ridiculous? At one time, the unions would have said something but union power seems to be at an all-time low. If I refused to dress as a pixie or elf, I’d be out on my not-so pointed ear.
I know a person in one of the great professions who is constantly forced to do things which, given any reasonable union power, they wouldn’t have to. Hmm… ‘Great professions’ makes it sound like they work in prostitution when I actually mean the old professions: the law, academia, medicine, TV weather…
Under a boss who micromanages his entire realm, demotivating every employee with his Sauron-like gaze, highly trained people are turned into performing chimps, never making a decision on their own or able to execute the skills they’ve mastered through years of daily grind. I’m being cautious about how I write this because I wouldn’t want my friend to get into trouble. The point is: in all businesses, employees have rights that they’re in no power to enforce. Unions stand by as rules are flouted. In the situation I’m describing, the union representative is as much under the thumb of the boss as anybody and routinely bend to his will.
That isn't to say that things were bad when unions had all the power but now I fear that things have gone too far the other way. ‘Oh, they can’t simply fire so long as you do your job well,’ was always something I believed but I believe it no longer. Companies, organisations, and faculties of the state can always find a way to force a person out if that person doesn’t agree to fiddle the figures, work unreasonable hours, or wear an elf costume.
And, yes, that’s right: two more years of blog posts like this. Won’t that be worth the hard earned £22 I blew this morning?
Monday, 16 December 2013
I’m still not finished and the work gets harder by the day. Take, for example, The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Despite the name, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary is not compact. It’s probably the biggest book I own. You might know the edition. It comes with a small box at the top to store the illuminated magnifying glass which you have to use to read the book’s miniscule font. I bought it cheap from a book club many moons ago, probably having only joined the book club to get my hands on a book that I couldn’t afford at full price. Currently, they’re probably going for about £20 on eBay, which says everything about dictionaries in the age of apps, websites, and illiteracy.
My problem now is: what the hell should I do with it? I bought it when I was in doing research in academia, when knowing the derivation of words was a significant part of my life. To throw it away would be amount to admitting that I’ll never again be that person. Not that I want to be that person. Calling myself an academic felt too narrow, too knowing, too definitive of who I was or what I might become. I’m not sure what I have become except deeply disenchanted about a great many things but disenchanted about dictionaries isn’t one of them. Throwing my dictionary away would amount to my admitting that writing no longer matters to me.
And that’s the point. Although I’ve not written a book in about a year (for me, a rare thing), it’s not that I care any less about writing. Yet reading just the other day about the Specsavers literary awards, I noticed the same sad spectacle (pun intended) of celebrities receiving plaudits and the book industry trying to ride out the hard times on the coat tails of TV fools. To be a writer these days is synonymous with a certain lifestyle or it is merely an adjunct to fame. If you didn’t lose your knickers in the jungle or are an ex-rower who climbed the north face of Brian Blessed, to be a writer means conforming to certain stereotypes in order to follow the money: to be the globetrotting internationalist lesbian writing for The Guardian from your solar powered wheel chair, to be the old school pipe smoking socialist in the New Statesmen, or to have the same John Bull beefy lips of the conservative meatheads writing their polemical nonsense elsewhere. At times I can find myself agreeing with all three but, as I found when I tried to be an academic, I don’t sit neatly inside one group meaning that I belong nowhere but this hinterland of blogging.
These thoughts pass through my mind as I start at the Compact Oxford English Dictionary sitting on my desk. Getting rid of it would be like giving up so I’ll keep it.
I might need it because as this post suggests, I’m also back blogging. I know it’s the week leading up to Christmas but, as I sit here, Monday lunchtime, I intend to be blogging regularly, perhaps even get some cartoons finished.
Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Anyway, whether it’s just a coincidence or the fact that the dentist opened up the root of this tooth and years of bad voodoo have come flooding out, but today I feel rotten. It feels like a lousy cold coming on mixed with the after effects of being hit by a bus. I also have the deadline for another cartoon strip today so perhaps that’s a good thing: I can go and hide in a warm corner and do some cartooning, which is when I’m at my happiest.
As a way of saying that I’m still here and that I hope to blog about as things more uplifting than my previous post, here’s the previous John W Henry strip, which appeared in last week's edition of Red All Over The Land. I enjoy drawing these. I enjoy drawing John W Henry like I enjoy what he's doing for Liverpool. Second in the table isn't a bad way to be heading into Christmas.
Saturday, 7 December 2013
My sister has been ill since her teenage years when she had her gall bladder removed. At the time, the surgeon said that my sister was the youngest person he’d known that needed to have their gall bladder removed. After the operation, he told us that he’d found so many thousands of tiny stones that he’d had difficulty getting them all out. He warned us that there was damage done that might cause problems for my sister in later years.
The surgeon was right. There have been brief periods of time when she has been well but ‘well’ is such a relative term. My sister has rarely been so well that she can do any amount of physical exercise or do the things that most people would call ‘living a full life’. Simply travelling on a bus can result in days of illness. Strangely, she can ride a bike which doesn’t bring on the symptoms but that is about the extent of her activity. Bending over, lifting things, or twisting motion around her upper body all seem to trigger flare-ups of the condition, which is symptomized by intense pain and a heaviness under her left side ribcage, nausea, fevers, and other things too unpleasant to describe. Two weeks ago she bent down and she’s now endured a fortnight of pain, sickness, and the rest...
Over the years, the NHS has tried vaguely to understand and treat her problem. It sometimes feels like I have lived my entire life against a background of her hospital visits and the usual disappointment of her returning home after another consultant has passed her over to another department. She once had a test to check how quickly food passes through her digestive system. Hours after she’d eaten the 'special sandwich', the doctor running the examination expressed his surprise that the food still hadn’t left her stomach. It was the slowest example of stomach emptying he’d ever seen. Yet doctors never put a name to it. Gastroparesis was something we only discovered recently but that was only through American websites. Nobody on the NHS has ever thought to refer her to a dietician to see if we can help her through better food. My father also had his gall bladder out but he was on medication to help digestion which doctors, for some reason, have not thought to give my sister.
Occasionally, we get a doctor who is caring and seems interested. One doctor thought she might have something called Sphincter of Oddi but when he left (he was a locum), his replacements didn’t recognise the term or want to follow it up. Another caring doctor (a wonderful young Scot) thought she had the classic symptoms of gall stones. He was fascinated when she told him that she hadn’t had a gall bladder for ten years. He wanted to refer her to a specialist but, being another locum, it never transpired.
Meanwhile, whilst many drugs have been administered, the true reason for her illness has never been explained. Nobody actually seems interested or concerned that a person’s entire life is being destroyed.
In the past two years, things have got worse. Our local NHS practice has changed and new doctors have arrived. One doctor doesn’t seem to believe that my sister has anything wrong with her and one day removed nearly all my sister’s medication. Within a fortnight she was extremely ill. The same doctor took her off tablets prescribed by a consultant for fibromyalgia, leaving my sister in constant pain. Another doctor reinstated the tablets saying she should never have come off them (the closest we’ve ever heard one doctor criticising another). A month ago, one doctor gave her something to help her. It did help her until last week a different doctor took her off the same medication.
This is happening week after week, month upon month, like the system has been failing my sister year upon year and even decade upon decade. One doctor contradicts another but all doctors smile behind their enigmatic silence but offer no help.
Why is that? How could that be allowed to continue?
The cruelty of the NHS is in its general indifference to the individual. The NHS is a faceless entity with no compassion. The systemic failure of the NHS to help my sister is partly down to her not having a regular doctor interested in her case or a consultant willing to investigate it properly. It is now a few years since a doctor properly examined her and, in recent months, doctors have preferred to ask about the state of her mental health. This, I suppose, is why I’m now writing, out of a sense of anger at their negligence and presumption.
The thing is: I’ve never met anybody so strong or psychologically well-adjusted as my sister. She is articulate and clever but damned by circumstance. Despite enduring things I can’t comprehend, she still refuses to allow it to get her down. She is no less intelligent than me except I had a chance to do a PhD whilst she has only ever had the chance to suffer. She is self-taught historian, fascinated by politics. She is a gifted writer but illness prevents her pursuing her love of journalism. Yet through it all she remains strong and cheerful. It’s her who cheers me up when I feel down because of her health and the fact that I feel so powerless to do anything about it.
Most days I sit here trying to draw funny cartoons or just to ‘be funny’ when a few rooms away, one of the people closest to me is suffering with intense pain, sickness, and fever. She can go days without eating, the pain under her rib cage only made tolerable by a Tens machine sometimes at full power. Today the pain is radiating up into her shoulder and I suspect it’s another attack of pancreatitis (one of the few words doctors do occasionally mention). Locally, the doctors don’t seem concerned. They don’t seem to even believe her. I think they have us marked down as problematic, worse than the drug addicts and benefits scroungers they normally see.
The saddest part is that we’re now considering paying for a private consultation but this is now a state of desperation. It’s £150 for 30 minutes and I don’t know if it would help given that she would then be left back in the NHS system for tests. We’ve paid before. Doctors took an interest until the money ran out. Then the general indifference of the NHS took over as it always does.
People often tell us to ring for an ambulance when the attacks are at their worst. We did that a few years ago. A doctor at the local hospital examined my sister and told her that he was amazed that nobody had felt the ‘something’ in her side which he suggested might be a cyst. He pushed it so hard he later suggest it burst or removed whatever blockage was causing her trouble. She was violently ill that night but so much better the next morning that they discharged her. She was well for a couple of months and it was as if the problem were solved. Except it wasn’t. It comes back every month or three and now doctors won’t even examine her. They just ask ridiculous questions as if suggesting that she’s making all this up. They even suggest she is imagining her problem when I’ve sat beside her mopping the sweat from her forehead. I’ve seen the readouts on the thermometers, the violent sickness, her terrible pallor, and even her fainting when the pain is at its worst. Sometimes even a cup of soup can make her violently ill. She hasn’t eaten a proper meal in months yet doctors have the temerity to suggest that gluttony might be her problem because she’s not stick thin. That’s not just insulting but it’s downright neglectful.
I suppose that’s why I’m writing this. I would like to think that somebody out there reading this has advice or medical experience to know what to do or where to turn. But perhaps that’s just a ridiculous hope and a sign of my frustration. At the very least, I just want to write this now to put it on the record to say that my sister is terribly ill and nobody on the NHS seems concerned or even gives a damn.
After decades of living with this, I’m beginning to feel at my wit’s end. My recent blog silence isn’t just down to working on other things but trying to look after somebody left stranded by the system. There is no pleasure in life when all you see on a daily basis is suffering and you are helpless because the system doesn’t care. I often joke that I should have trained to be a medical doctor than waste all those years becoming a useless Doctor of Philosophy. Then I could have helped her. As it is, I dream of a gastric consultant taking an interest in my sister’s unusual case but that’s fairy tale stuff. It’s the stuff of newspaper stories where something rare is finally diagnosed when the run-of-the-mill medical professionals don’t care to look. In the past, appointments with consultants end up with five minutes with junior registrars, passed back to the doctor, who simply say ‘keep drinking the morphine when the pain is at its worst and don’t bother us again’.
This is a slow burning tragedy of living with the NHS. It’s the tragedy of anybody stuck with complicated symptoms under a system made for the routine. The NHS works wonderfully for the average complaint: a sprained knee or a broken wrist. It appears unfit for purpose when somebody requires investigation and specialist knowledge. We’re so utterly lost in the system, passed from one faceless doctor to the next, that I even found myself suggesting we walk into a Chinese medical centre yesterday. That’s right. Me, a man who believes in neither Gods nor magic, has started to wonder if there’s something in the ancient medicine. Yet modern medicine is failing us. The medical service is failing us. The only chances that seem left for us are those offered by charlatans and mystics and that makes this feel like a very bad place to be.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
Before the programme, I’d expected to discover that the Amazon operation is dehumanising. Little did I expect it to be ripped from some dystopian novel in which human spirits are crushed with the very worst techniques taught in the gulag. Last year I wrote a book which required me to read up on brainwashing techniques. The Amazon operation reminded me of the techniques the Chinese invented to break a person’s spirit.
I don’t, from memory, recall the characteristic techniques of classic brainwashing but the list is up there on Wikipedia’s entry for Margaret Singer’s ‘Cults in our Midst’:
- "Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how attempts to psychologically condition him or her are directed in a step-by-step manner.
- Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time.
- Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.
- Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person's former social identity.
- The group manipulates a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors.
- Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order."
I think at least five out of the seven techniques might be recognisable in the Amazon routine: trapping a person in a maze, running them against a clock which is continually counting down and beeping warnings, in a closed warehouse environment where they are given punishments for infractions, imposed by colleagues working for a largely faceless corporate structure beyond the control of governments to control… If the average Amazon shelf picker were a chicken, there would probably be some European rule to cover their welfare or at least prevent them from wearing their beaks down on the bars of their cage.
I’d like to say that this morning I cancelled my Amazon order but I haven’t so I can't. The reality is, of course, that none of us are in a position to do very much about Amazon. I wish I had enough money to donate £10-20 a time to a company simply to encourage them to keep existing, even with their higher prices. We vote for governments to protect us from this kind of thing but, for our sins, we seem to have voted for a government who believe in that kind of thing. Would I have used Amazon yesterday if I’d known any this? To my shame, perhaps I would have. To my credit, I hope that I wouldn’t. I just don’t know.
The problem of Amazon is really a problem with the British high street. I only saw the documentary after a day when I’d travelled to Warrington and then Liverpool hoping to find a new Wacom graphic tablet. Late Tuesday, my Bamboo drew its last cartoon and I’ve had to bite the big bullet and upgrade. Because I foolishly still like to shop rather than use Amazon, I biked the long painfully rough cycle path St Helen’s council provide (loose limestone and mud) until I hit Warrington’s cycle paths (beautiful black tarmac) which led me to the big local PC World. It didn’t sell the Intuos model I wanted but they said they could order one in for me. I declined. Since Warrington no longer has any real technology stores, I spent a fruitless morning there and then took a train straight into Liverpool.
Perhaps I was already feeling particularly remote from the crowds by the time I arrived but I began reflecting on how we individually don’t seem to matter to retailers. Outside Primark, a blind guitarist was playing Shadows hits. A crowd had gathered and was cheering and laughing as I passed. They were cheering an old tramp dancing to the music. I wondered if the guitarist knew what was happening. I wondered about people laughing at a dancing hobo who they’d normally ignore or avoid. Are you mad simply by being different to the crowd, dancing to a different tune? I felt that way after going to one store to the next and being told the same thing: that I was asking for the impossible. Why did I want the professional tablet when I could buy the cheaper model right there?
On Paradise Street, the long new shopping avenue that cuts across Church Street, a huge queue had formed. As I walked its length, heading towards John Lewis, I grew increasingly eager to discover the attraction. It was possibly the longest queue I’ve ever seen. The goal of these people was surely something meaningful. Perhaps a particularly good Santa lay at the end. Perhaps some celebrity. Was I about to see Stephen Gerrard or Ken Dodd?
Sadly not. These hundreds of people weren’t queuing to see a person. They were queuing on a freezing cold November day to have their photographs taken standing next to the Coca Cola truck. I can’t say the truck impressed me that much. It was one of those American juggernauts, decked out in Cola red and satanic chrome, with a morbidly obese Santa painted on the side. People stood up by the cab and smiled so they could say ‘this is me standing next to the Coca Cola truck you see in their Christmas ad.’
Coca Cola’s very good at brainwashing and this, I think, was a show of their strength. This was their Red Square. This their Kim Il-sung Square...
At John Lewis, Wacom’s only local dealer, I was told they only stock the basic model. ‘We can order them in,’ they said with a smile. It had become the refrain of my day and my reply was always the same: ‘What’s the point of that? I can do that myself without leaving the house.’
When I heard the same from the helpful guy in Liverpool’s Apple store, I told him ‘it makes you wonder why you even bother go shopping on the high street.’
He smiled. ‘I know,’ he shrugged. ‘I’m afraid we only stock what sells.’
I felt like pointing out that if they don’t stock something then of course it won’t sell. It means that people like me won’t go and buy other things from them and soon those things will also become things that ‘doesn’t sell’, our choices get more narrow, and their opportunities to sell me things become more infrequent. The things that sell become fewer and fewer.
The high street is dying not just because of Amazon but because of the attitudes of retailers, constantly refining their product ranges to focus on only popular products and the biggest demographic. It means that all shops of the same type have the very same stock. And if every shop stocks the same things, then there really isn’t any need for all these shops.
One final note of optimism.
In Warrington, a new shop has opened, hidden in a side street near the bus station. It doesn’t take credit cards so all transactions are cash only. From the outside it looks like a temporary operation. It sells cases for phones and tablets but they’re products you don’t see in other shops. It’s not as cheap as you might think but sells quality and is a reminder of what shopping used to be like, when you came home with some surprising object you’d discovered in your hunt for bargains. I think these shops are a reminder of what we might find growing in the ashes of the high street. These are the shops ready to open once the big branches have cleared out and rents have come down. Perhaps we need to start again, rid ourselves of the huge national chain stores, with their computerised inventories and corporate look. We need individuality back on the high street, where every town looks different and no two stores are the same.
Tuesday, 26 November 2013
Everything I’m doing at the moment is towards getting my animated film finished. I’d vaguely promised that it would take me a couple of weeks. I’m a few days beyond that self-imposed deadline and probably need a couple of clear days run at it to get it completely/reasonably finished. Last night, I invested a heady £3.88 into an app for my Samsung Note which allows me to create hand animations, export them as video via Dropbox, and then load them into Photoshop where I actually produce the finished colour anumation. The result wasn’t too shabby, though it took about four hours hard work last night tracing the finished animation, colouring it, and then outputting it into After Effects where it came to life. This work makes me regret my lousy Wacom bamboo tablet. Every year I say that I’ll upgrade to the Wacom Intuos but I never do.
Sunday, 24 November 2013
I’ve decided that Sunday is going to be my day of rest so, naturally, I’ve found time to write this blog post. I’m not entirely sure what this post is going to be about beyond wanting to say: the problem of not working the usual working week is that there’s no point at which you can’t be asked to work. Except I’ve now decided that weekends are, generally, going to be my own.
I say ‘my own’ but my Saturday was entirely consumed with drawing a strip for the next issue of ‘Red All Over The Land’, the LFC fanzine. The deadline is Wednesday but I expect next week to be busy so I thought I better get it drawn. I enjoyed the drawing process and I am pleased with the result but by about 7pm last night I was beginning to question my sanity, not that I haven’t questioned it regularly over recent weeks.
The anxiety stems from my distrust of the arts. I was brought up not to believe in art. Not that my parents ever discouraged me from studying the arts but my entire schooling was always about the sciences. It meant that I pursued subjects towards which I felt a general indifference. I like science. Science fascinates me. However, science never excited my imagination. I found learning formula tedious. Wiring a plug didn’t excite me. I didn’t even really want to do a computer degree but I did one anyway. I’d got interested in computers because I was fascinated with computer graphics. I wanted to work for Industrial Light and Magic and I wanted beyond anything to do a Film degree and to make films. When the reality of my interest in computers turned into writing databases for a local telecommunications company, my unhappiness consumed me. A year after leaving polytechnic, I enrolled at the local college for their film course.
Of course, it never worked out like that. People might say we all have the same chances but we're bound by circumstance. So few people enrolled on the film course that it was dropped and the class merged with Media Studies. I spent the next year studying newspaper ownership whilst, ironically, the majority of people setting out to study media studies left the course. The few of us left had all originally enrolled form film studies. I was also doing English at the same time and my English teacher persuaded me to take my A level in a year instead of two. I loved writing so it felt natural to follow his suggestion that I should study literature at university. Eight months after setting out to study film, I was starting an English degree at a proper University. I suppose it was another compromise. I loved literature but my true love has always been film. Yet I have this strange neurosis that limits my actions. I think of it as a ‘working class’ neurosis in that it’s the same belief that study should have some chance of a job at the end of it. I don’t know why but studying literature seemed to fulfill that criteria more than studying film.
Even when I went on to do my degree and doctorate, I never entirely believed in the Arts. Or, at least, I recognised that there was a huge area of the arts devoted to things which defied logic. Modern poetry has become one of my pet hates. I needed to see the structure or design of a poem before I would accept it as poetry. Expression for the sake of expression was meaningless to me. I suppose that’s why I always wanted to study film. Films had evident structure and a clear language.
Although film was always my passion, I’ve always been interested in art and illustration. I remember watching a BBC documentary about Robert Crumb many years ago and I recall being utterly absorbed with him and his work. Yet I also knew that I couldn’t draw. I’d never been encouraged to draw at school. I didn’t even know how to use an eraser.
It laughable now, thinking back on my ignorance. I genuinely thought that to draw you needed to draw something first time as though the perfect artist was Picasso with his one line drawings. Learning to use an eraser was my Damascene moment; realising that drawing isn’t about mastery of the pencil but mastery of the eraser. It has more to do with what you choose to rub away than it has to do with what you draw. Looking at my work now, I can see that I’ve progressed a little but not enough, if you look at my earliest cartoons (below). I also see the gulf between what I can do and what I’d like to produce. I suppose this explains the problem I now face trying to be more casual as a cartoonist. I’ve had such a tortuous path to this point, I can’t simply pick up a pen and draw. I still need the safety net of the pencil line to guide me. When Ralph Steadman looked in my eyes and said ‘always work straight in ink’ I nodded but thought ‘ah, that’s true for real artists but not for me’. And I still believe that.
If you add up my life, place whatever small achievements I’ve made against the false turns, regrets, and many mistakes, I suppose the final sum would amount to not much more than zero. What I mean by that is that I feel like I’ve not really progressed much beyond where I started. I wish I’d started to draw much earlier in life and I wish I’d pursued my love of films. I wish I could grow a hipster beard and be one of those bohemian types. I wish I was the idealised artist I see in my mind who believes in his work so much that he isn’t racked by constant doubts and misgivings. I wish I didn’t feel like a fraud who he wakes in the middle of the night cursing his bad choices and swearing that come daylight he’ll march to the job centre and take the first packing job or postal round they offer him. I wish I had the confidence in my work that meant that I wouldn’t feel so happy about drawing for an entire Saturday and then giving the result away for nothing.
For anybody interested, here’s where I began my cartooning. The dates on these suggests it was about four years ago, though I can’t believe it's been that long. These were some of the first cartoons I ever drew, using a computer package and the same tiny entry-level Wacom tablet that I find myself still using. One day I might feel like I'm a real illustrator and buy myself a professional tablet. Perhaps one day when somebody actually buys one of my cartoons… Perhaps it will be another four years. Perhaps never.
Friday, 22 November 2013
I’m so weary of rejection that I’m finding it hard to write. I suppose the Michael Heath competition was one of the straws that finally broke this particular spine. I could say that I’ve not had time to blog but I would have made the time if I’d had the enthusiasm. It’s grim work, writing and drawing year after year for no reward. This week I feel a little more broken inside. It’s ironic but I was reading the new Private Eye cartoon book the other day where they complain that all their cartoonists are getting on in years. I’ve submitted material, mainly cartoons but also comic prose, on and off to Private Eye for nearly a decade and I have always been rejected. I can’t help but think that there’s a reason why they have a lack of younger cartoonists. They utterly destroy us before they give us a break.
I suppose all bloggers go through a process of falling out of love with blogging. We begin with renewed enthusiasm and eventually fall silent, reflecting the mood of the world. It’s the heat death of the blogosphere. It makes it particularly rewarding to discover that some old friends are still playing the game. I rediscovered Elberry a week or two ago. I once met Elberry in Manchester and I confess that he frightened me. That’s partly down to my own personality. I’m not good at meeting new people but that’s especially true when that person seems as mad as badger hair yet yet possibly the most intelligent person I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. It also took a while before I realised that he plays a fun game with exaggeration and is actually one of the kindest souls out there. I don’t say that trying to flatter him and I don’t exaggerate. I say that exactly as I mean it. He's really one of the good guys. Just don’t let him hear me say that.
Reading Elberry’s blog gives me renewed enthusiasm to work harder. He reminds me that we work not because of the money but because of the work. That’s why it feels so good to be doing work I enjoy for which I’ll get paid, even a nominal amount. My 90 second animated film improves with each day’s long toil. It’s still not animated enough and much work needs to be done. However, it has become something of a labour of love. I really want it to be the best I can make. I learn new things every day. I’m always moving outside my comfort zone. I want to be proud of it but I also want others to be proud of it. Perhaps in a few weeks, I’ll be able to post it here and say ‘this is what I did instead of blogging’ and people will say, ‘well done, great work, but there’s not enough foliage, the scale is off, and I’d have made his trousers brown instead of blue’.
Tuesday, 19 November 2013
‘Just a couple of small fillings and we’ll get them done today so you don’t need to come back.’
‘Hurrah!’ I thought, punching the metaphorical air from behind my yellow protective sunglasses which made me look like some 1970s disco crooner, a flesh and blood Disco Stu straight from The Simpsons’ waiting room.
‘Okay, I’ll just numb you and then we’ll do some x-rays to make sure that everything is okay.’
I nod with enthusiasm. I was only going to be in The Chair for half an hour and then I’d be skipping down the street looking for the first shop selling sherbet and boiled sweets.
The numbing happened painlessly and then there was a bit of drilling with wasn’t exactly pain free, despite so much of my face being numb that I couldn’t even feel my boots. I always mean to ask why hitting a nerve gets through the numbing agent but by the time I want to ask these things, I’m incapable of speech.
But questions are for another day. I’ve only got another twenty minutes and then I’ll be able to escape…
As the drill spun down, my dentist sat back and tapped my shoulder reassuringly.
‘Okay, that’s the drilling done. Let me just check the xrays…’
Off he goes. I’m sitting there, a couple of cavities in my dead mouth, anticipating getting out and getting back to work. The dentist takes his time looking over the x-rays before he comes back to me.
‘Okay, I think I’ll have to send you to the hospital,’ he says.
Holy shit! What is this?
‘You have some crud above a tooth that might require a minor surgical procedure to clean out…’
Double holy shit and triple what is this?
‘We might be able to save the tooth but you’ll need a new crown which will cost you everything you’ve earned in the last two months but if that doesn’t hold you’ll lose the tooth and need a bridge which will cost you everything you’ve earned in the last year and when we’re waiting to fit your bridge you might want to wear a palate so you don’t have a huge gap in the front of your smile which makes you look like an alligator farmer straight out of a Louisiana swamp… Oh, the palate will cost you everything you’ll be lucky to earn next year…’
This was explained more professionally than that but the meaning was the same.
The mild panic attack I then had in the dentist’s chair was only relieved by my dentist’s calm manner and a quick glimpse I had in a mirror that indeed confirmed that I looked damn cool in yellow sunglasses. Yet I think my eventual calm was mainly down to my dentist’s kindness. He has a gentility that’s unbelievable. It’s why I always go to him and why I trust him. It’s probably the reason why I’m not sobbing in a corner right now. He explained things. He makes the minor surgical procedure sound like a minor surgical procedure even to me, a man who can turn a pimple into an advanced case of gigantism with a side dose of botulism.
It has not always been the case. In the past, my dentists have been butchers. My first was even nicknamed ‘the butcher’ and as a child I remember visiting his surgery which was in the front room of an ordinary house taken straight from a Edward Gorey print. Every tool he used looked pre-War and seemed to have been licked clean by the dogs that sometimes came in from the living room. One of my earliest memories is having teeth removed under gas. I still recall the smell of the rubber cup they held over my nose. A day later, my tongue turned green and I was a pariah in school because I had the most unholy halitosis. I was like something from the Exorcist and like exorcisms, my green tongue was never explained.
Over the years, the surgery has changed immeasurably. It’s the same house but after numerous renovations it’s unrecognisable and contains a very modern dental surgery with an ultra-high tech computer system on which you can Tweet your x-rays only minutes after they’re taken. The staff have changed too. They’re now more professional yet also more personable and seem genuinely interested in making the whole thing less painful.
Long since gone are the two dentists who made such a mess of the tooth that will now force me to make a hospital visit. I’m hoping that this dentist might finally fix the problem either by giving me a crown that doesn’t fall out every five minutes or pull the tooth so I can be rid of the nuisance, even if that means wearing a bridge, though I’m not entirely sure what that means.
I still can’t get over the disappointment that my thirty minutes has probably turned into six months or more of work or how much of what little earnings I’m scraping together will go to pay for all of this. It’s now a few weeks before my next appointment, when I’ll get an appointment at a hospital, perhaps treatment at the hospital. Only after all that will treatment on the tooth begin.
I’m freaked out, of course. I hope the crud drains away, as the dentist thinks it might, but if the experts think I need the crud removing from above the tooth, then everything becomes a little more real. I recall phrases like ‘peel back the gum’, ‘incision’ and ‘bone’ but I’m telling myself that surely it can’t be as painful as drilling into a tooth, which is the bit that always makes me fret. It’s not the one that sounds like a high pitched drill that strikes fear but the one that sounds like a slow low grind that always gives me pain. That was enough for one day. I’d hoped it would be enough for the next six months but I see I’m going to be Dentistry’s plaything for a little while longer.
Sunday, 17 November 2013
Friday, 15 November 2013
Except there was a young woman in the queue ahead of me with just one guy ahead of her being served.
So I waited and in due course the man took his bag of medicine and left. The woman looked at me and nervously walked to the counter. I read the signs. I knew what to do.
I immediately took a couple of steps back and started to look vaguely at the nearest shelf so the woman could retain some degree of dignity in what was clearly a private moment. She clearly wanted to discuss something personal and those two steps back was the least I could do to make that possible. So, as the woman whispered with the pharmacist, I continued to stand there gazing through a display of something I only later realised was super lubricated and ribbed, as I scratched my nose and tried to look ignorant of the private medical drama playing out in front of me. After the whispered conversation was finished, a small bag was handed to the woman and money exchanged.
All was good. Here we go: nine little words…
In the gap I’d left in order for the woman to be discreet about her problems, another woman was now standing. She was a little old woman holding a box of Kalms. Because I’d done the decent thing, this woman had exploited what I now refer to as the 'they're-talking-about-itching gap' in order to jump the queue. I wanted to say something but the little old lady was only holding a box of Kalms, the natural remedy for nerves, and how on earth could you say anything about queue jumping to a nervous little old lady holding a box of Kalms?
So the pharmacist takes the box, rings it up, money is exchanged and the little old lady is about turn around and leave and I’m about to repeat my nine little words: ‘Do you sell replacement pads for a tens machine?’
But the pharmacist has second thoughts… She floats a question towards the nervous little old lady.
‘You’re not taking any medication are you?’
‘No,’ says the nervous little old lady.
‘Oh, that’s good. I just thought I better check.’
‘But I am diabetic…’
‘Oh,’ says the pharmacist.
‘Shit,’ I mutter, getting agitated. This queue jump was turning into serious downtime in Boots.
‘I better check,’ said the pharmacist, opening the box of Kalms.
A minute later she’s finished reading the leaflet/densely printed brochure. ‘I’ll just be a moment,’ she smiles.
Remember: nine words were all I wanted to ask and this little old lady had jumped into the queue because I was being a gentleman like I was also trying to be a gentleman by not mentioning queue jumping this in case the nervous queue jumping little old lady started to cry.
The pharmacist when to the back of the shop where she adopted the special pharmacist sorting hat or whatever it is that these people consult. About five minutes later, she’s back and my silent muttering is beginning to get audible.
‘Oh, the covering of Kalms is sucrose,’ she said.
‘I’ll give her bloody Kalms,’ I mutter.
‘You just need to be careful,’ explained the pharmacist but this has now triggered the nuclear response that’s always likely when dealing with nervous little old ladies in Boots. The little old lady starts to describe her entire medical history, complete with full list of prescription medicines, the opinion of consultants, and something interesting she once heard in a waiting room.
I’d had enough.
‘Bugger this,’ I said audibly and walked out.
But my point is: never again will I do the gentlemanly thing when a woman wants to talk privately in Boots. ‘You’ve got a rash,’ I’ll shout, hovering over her shoulder. ‘Deal with it!’ I won’t take prisoners. ‘You’re not the first person with a fungal infection,’ I’ll cry, defending my spot in the queue.
And this is why the world is cruel and savage and there’s so little kindness left to go around. It’s the fault of nervous little old ladies everywhere. You have been warned.
Thursday, 14 November 2013
Of course, ‘social mobility’ is a problem that goes to the very roots out of culture and, much as I hate to say this, I’m not sure that Russell Brand is entirely wrong in what he recently said about revolution. Just look at the Tory’s current motto: ‘For Hardworking People’. It’s code, of course, for ‘we’re no friend of scroungers’ but, as with all things, the reality on the ground doesn’t conform so neatly to their quasi-Thatcherite ideology. Are they for the disabled who might not be able to work? Are they for the old, the poor, or the underclass? Are they really for the person working every hour to live on something much less than the minimum wage? It’s easy to talk about social mobility from a position where social mobility is a given. It’s easy to be hardworking when there’s an abundance of work, especially though family connections, but are they also for people on zero hour contracts and writers who don’t get paid for their work?
In modern politics, the only game that matters is the game that brings in the most votes and the current Conservative plan is to cauterise the places where they traditionally don’t do well. That only increased the problem of social mobility in areas such as my hometown here in the North. After seeing investment under Labour, it’s places like this that are now taking the brunt of Tory cuts.
Of course, they try to argue differently. The whole thing has a bowel knot of familiarity about it and Cameron has already addressed social mobility by leaping to discuss the racial makeup of the Tory Party, as though social mobility is only synonymous with race. Indeed, this new awareness of social mobility will no doubt lead to the usual round of positive discrimination which pretty much ignores the majority of people suffering from the lack of social mobility. I sometimes think that the worst thing you could be in these enlightened days is a white, heterosexual male stuck in a no-name northern town and not suffering from any serious but TV-friendly disability. I’ve never been asked to stand behind any Prime Minister as he gives a speech. In fact, no Prime Minister ever visited this town. The closest we came was Michael Heseltine flying over in a helicopter and arbitrarily deciding where the local boundaries would be drawn, completely oblivious to the regional allegiances on the ground.
I don’t know any celebrities and I don’t know anybody who knows any celebrities, except perhaps for one person I’ve spoken to online who is from Oxford and whose children were friends with a star of the Harry Potter films. Look at the profile of the average celebrity and they will have been school friends with other celebrities or their families or connected through marriage or their parents would have been famous in their own right. Look at that Claudia Winklewoman and tell me that she deserved to host the BBC's premier film show.
The problem I’ve argued for a long time is simply that there are huge areas of the country where chances are few to none. The country is run from London, with nothing much of note happening outside the major cities. All the major newspapers no longer cover news outside London with much conviction. A year or so ago, we were ravaged by a huge storm which barely made the news. A similar storm hits London and it's 24 hour coverage. Entire regions of the country are now covered by (at best) a single reporter, a fact highlighted by the sadly unambitious plans mentioned in this article from earlier this year. Compare The Guardian’s push into North America with their plans for northern England and, indeed, the area where The Guardian originated as the Manchester Guardian.
And that's what all this hand wringing comes down to. If the most liberal media in our country can’t be trusted to care about social mobility, then is there really any hope?
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
It disappoints me when I don’t blog. I didn’t want to miss another day for precisely that reason. I had a hellish weekend and it annoys me that I’ve not drawn a gag cartoon in nearly two weeks. Monday and Tuesday, I was busy/distracted/worn out by a variety of jobs that needed doing. I had people to see, places to go, and blogs I didn’t have time to write. In my various travels, I did get to hold the new Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 edition) and it was a beautiful as I thought it would be. Somewhat annoyingly, had I waited, various offers might have made it less than the price of my current tablet.
In other news: lost a spoke on my bike and it’s next to impossible to find a place to replace it at a decent price. Can’t do it myself because spokes have to be right length, down the millimetre.
Still no word about cartoon competitions. I guess it has been announced. I’m not looking and I have to stop even mentioning them.
The only positive is that I’ve managed to make a little progress on my promotional video.
Okay, this was definitely my worst blog post ever. I’ll try to do better tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are some strange shots I took after I discovered the panoramic function of my phone. For some of these, I Just held the camera to the window as the train moved and the camera did its magic. I think they came out looking surprisingly reasonable.
Monday, 11 November 2013
This was the first email in my inbox this morning and it made from grim reading. Needless to say, I’m not in the market for cartons. I’ve never been in the market for cartons. For some inexplicable reason, cartons don’t excite me on a Monday morning. Oh, you could say that I’m just a carton denier or perhaps I’ve never been with the right carton. You could even argue that I must have some deep latent love for cartons that I’d want to blog about it. Perhaps this email exposes the great carton lie I tell myself every single day.
‘Damn it, man!’ you should cry, while grabbing my lapels and slapping me around my face. Yes, you would need at least three hands to do that but you’re gifted and you like to make your important points impressively. ‘There’s nothing wrong with a man expressing his love for cartons. Some of the greatest men in history have been secretly in the market for cartons. What about Gladstone, Ghandi, Ulysses S. Grant? Nobody looks on them differently because they enjoyed the company of slatternly cartons. There’s nothing wrong with expressing your love for a good carton once in while.’
And indeed there is not. And perhaps if the circumstances were right, I would be in the mood for cartons. Perhaps dressed seductively, their pouting cardboard lips irresistible, they would be irresistible and I would succumb, possibly up to three times a night and sometimes even rinsing them out. And frankly, given my recent luck, I might have a better chance if I was I’d gone in for some carton competitions, rather than cartoons.
But alas, for the carton producers of China's Hebei province, this will have to remain my secret. Perhaps one day the world will be ready for a man to express openly his love for a carton but until that happy day, these emails will have to be stored in a safe place, such as the trash folder.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
The alternative was my other work which preoccupied the rest of my day. I was like a caged beast grinding down my teeth on iron bars. I suppose more than anything I was struggling with myself. The problem comes down to this: I don’t want to install Skype on my PC.
It sounds such a dumb thing to get agitated about but I hate Skype. I hate the way it lurks, ready to spring into life. I hate the presumption that I want to be connected with hundreds of smiling people, all with great teeth and feeling so damn happy. I hate Messenger too, though I’ve very reluctantly installed it. I hate that it sits next to me when I’m working. I dislike the way it informs the world when I’m sitting at my desk and when I’m away. I can, of course, make myself ‘invisible’ but then why have the foul machinery installed in the first place? And what business is it of other people if I am sitting at my desk, if I’m working or idle? Yet if I accept that Messenger is a good way to communicate, then Skype is a step too far. I hate phones, generally dislike mobile phone culture which increasingly cuts us off from the people around us. Phones also break my concentration, allow devious bastards like marketing agencies to bother me. Generally I don’t have them in my room. I’m also not one of life’s great small talkers. I have too many interesting things I could be doing rather than discussing the weather.
Yet as much as I don’t want it, I’m told that I must have Skype. I thought I’d install it on my iPad so I can at least turn it off when I’m working… Except, it seems that’s not enough. I need Skype on my PC so I can be watched as I work. Skype will allow others to see my desktop and others want to instruct me, guide my hand so I’d just be a lump of unthinking meat responding to commands and moving a cursor around a screen. Yet I’m so damn truculent that I can’t accept that. I’m stubborn. This is beginning to feel intrusive. My PC sits in my office which is my studio, my work environment, my writing den, my home. In this space, I have peace and I can think and I can write. I’d want to install Skype on my PC in the same way that I’d want to install a karaoke machine in the corner of the room and purchase a series of sweat soaked drunken Japanese businessmen, one for each day of the week, to take turns singing Barry Manilow classics when I’m trying to write.
Yet I must be wrong. Doesn’t everybody use Skype? Why must I be so damn difficult? Why can’t I just say yes? Why must I stand by my principles?
Still agitated by all this, I then receive an email directing me to this video on the website www.addicted2success.com.
I’m told I must watch it. It will ‘help me’. I’m not entirely sure how it would help me or even if I need help. I appreciate that somebody wants to help me but I watched about a minute of this video and wanted to stick my fist through the computer screen. When I agreed to do this work, I didn’t agree to have my psychology tested and changed. I don’t want to be a different person. Other than wanting some success in my writing and cartooning, I’m actually quite happy being me.
But why don’t I just conform? Why do I want to scream at the top of my lungs: I fucking hate self-help gurus promising instant abs, popularity, and success with the ladies? Sending me a video of this kind is like hanging a red rag before a bull. They promise me money and fame and to change my life but I despise every smiling grifting one of them. They’re charlatans, they’re goons feeding on the vulnerable, offering instant fix solutions to age old existential problems that Sartre, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Socrates and Plato couldn’t solve. Yet Bob’s solved it and Bob’s bought himself a luxury house in Florida. And Bob’s success could be your success too…
The tradition of snake oil salesmen is as old as most countries, strongest in American folklore. The Magnificent Oz was the prime example but American culture is steeped in their tales popularized by writers such as Mark Twain. These days, it’s harder for these chancers to sell snake oil. They have to find other ways to promise rewards in exchange for magic. Many of them become SEO experts and the purveyors of that most miraculous magic of all: success at social networking. Others peddle business theory, advice on how to be a great manager. They always talk about teams and positivity, as though it were that easy to dismiss the essential individual yearnings of each of us. I’ve never believed in any of it and it saddens me that other people believe in it. Taking this kind of bad advice destroys many young companies. It’s the reason why group meetings usually involve people sitting around feeling uncomfortable and refusing to speak. Ask anybody in one of those meetings what they want to do and they’ll either say ‘go home’ or at least get on with their work. My last job was made difficult by the same kind of micromanagement that ultimately demoralized the staff. Always told to be a team and be motivated, nobody would actually pull their weight because they knew that anything they did would ultimately be criticized and changed. So they did nothing and eventually the business folded.
None of which solves my problem today except I’m going back to animating trees in my comfort zone.