Tag Archives: fear

Cumbernauld and Shipley

A couple of weeks ago I was on a British Airways flight to Italy. These days this involves a ‘short haul economy dining’ experience lovingly crafted by Marks & Spencer. Gone are the days of infinite free mini wines on the way to tipping a man in a gimp suit into a canal in some desolate European burgh. It’s now £2.30 for a ‘Twinings English Breakfast tea 12oz’ on the nation’s flagship carrier and oh how proud they make us all.

On this flight was a man with a desperate thirst for £1.80 worth of bottled water. You can only pay by card these days, ever since airlines realised that without the weight of a bag of pound coins you can fit an extra seat on each wing, so this man handed over his plastic.

“Would you like a receipt?”

“Yes please.”

Continue reading Cumbernauld and Shipley

Savouring a spree

On the face of it, 2016 is a great year to be peddling hate.

Ostensibly, the page you’re staring at now like a cow looking over a fence is intended to allow people to vent their spleen at everything from falafel to football via fatwas. Its purpose as I conceived it was to allow people to laugh or rage at life’s many stupidities. People hate a lot of things and there’s unlikely to be a giant jay cloth of joy passed among all 7.4 billion of us to wipe that all away any time soon. Might as well try to make light of it, accept the futility and anticipate the next disaster with a shrug, a pint and another pint.

This year above all should be a great year to write silly rants about what you loveable humans have been doing to each other. And yet here we stand, halfway through what seems to be the beginning of the end, and what I’d foolishly come to believe was my heightened ability to chuckle at even the most heinous event is cracking under the pressure. Civilisation is going stunningly wrong, and I can think of barely a goddamn thing to say about it.

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The coffin of politics

I never thought this would happen. When it came down to it, I was convinced that the UK is a small ‘c’ conservative country and would vote to preserve the status quo. We’d vote to Remain, Nigel Farage would continue to bleat on about rigged votes and everything would carry on as normal.

But, oh, for fuck’s sake. It depresses me so much that a horrible, divisive campaign – so much like the one London comprehensively sent packing with the mayoral election – won over nearly 17.5m people. A campaign filled with outright lies, padded out with straight-up racism. A campaign that saw a woman get killed (a woman Farage seemed to forget about in his victory speech, saying his little independence movement succeeded without a single shot being fired. Oh, apart from those ones in Birstall, but never mind).

This wasn’t about Europe. This was about giving a bloody nose to them government poshos who never listen. There are Leave voters on the BBC today saying they didn’t mean it, they didn’t think Leave would win. On Facebook, there’s someone I used to hang out with – and no longer do because of bellendry like this – saying ‘oh crap, it was only a protest vote’. Yeah, well your little protest just wiped £1.5 trillion off the value of the world’s economy.

Project Fear my arse.

Continue reading The coffin of politics

The tyranny of rope

Let me tell you a story. At about 11.15pm on Monday night, a very un-Monday number of Strongbows to the good, I skipped gleefully out of a kebab shop beside a tube station that’s closed for maintenance for months. With a 15-minute walk up the road to the next station it seemed wise to eat my spoils en route, and what should appear in front of me but a battered office chair. I’m almost certain it wasn’t an ABV-induced mirage; either I was sitting on an office chair or I’ve turned into a fakir.

This chair had been dumped in the small forecourt of a place called Maple House, the front of which is covered with metal bars, CCTV cameras and a distressing sign saying ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY: Circle Anglia Residents Only’. Nevertheless there were no lights on inside and there seemed to be no-one who might object to me giving this chair one final hurrah before its trip to the incinerator.

I hadn’t reckoned with the British people’s inherent need to be told what not to do.

Continue reading The tyranny of rope

The disease of modern living

Next month will commemorate my 24th revolution around the sun. Already my forehead resembles a weathered ball-bag and I find myself aimlessly sprawled in front of a screen more evenings than not. This never happened two years ago. Now, like some declawed beast sedated by glossy images rolling seamlessly over one another, I lounge and gape with numb abandon, occasionally flick through Facebook on my phone and wonder why exactly people from school feel the need to repopulate the Earth with smaller humans that look like them before McDonalds ravaged their bodies. This is adult life, so I’m told, and you too are welcome to the party, please make yourself comfortable and wait for the air to run out.

Everything you need to know about me is explained by the steaming pile of cat shit that has collected outside my bedroom window. This veritable Everest of faeces makes me feel at home, as does the decapitated pigeon with its guts strewn out like a meaty party popper that’s stuck outside my office, in a location that the cleaners can’t reach. It rots there, sun-baked and spoiled, festering in the British summer.

These features of my surroundings help me to keep my perspective, much in the way that drama teachers educate young minds on what shattered dreams look like. They symbolise perfectly how much we crave our precious distractions in order to ignore the grim brutalities of life: their continued existence is damning proof. Even as I write, the gangrenous disease of modern living cramps up my hand with premature rigor mortis and spreads through the veins, pumped ever closer to the brain by a palpitating aorta that struggles against the thickening walls of tar that I have cursed it with.

Gradually I too will be pacified by the epidemic that sweeps the nation. As the world hurtles down into the belly of the abyss, we will watch with apathetic disdain as the stomach acid swirls around our ankles, melding our shoes to our feet, kicking up a mighty stench in the process. By the time we’re half digested we might reach feebly for an app to save us, but it’ll be too late and when we reach the sphincter of the universe to get sprayed out into the cosmic toilet bowl, only then will we admit that perhaps, just maybe, mistakes were made. Such is the nature of this affliction.

The first symptom was an involuntary twitch of the hand, reaching ceaselessly for the mobile phone to save me from reality. My phone-orientated spasm is akin to a phantom limb, but the ever-loveable philanthropists of Microsoft recently conducted a social study on some screen-worshipping Canadians and established that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds down to just 8, so I doubt I’m alone in the quarantine zone.

This mutated strain of the 80’s TV-borne virus could be seen as the next step towards in our evolution where we transcend our physical forms to live entirely digitally, floating around the ether poking at one another’s faces with three and half inch floppies like cognitively impaired sea-monkeys in screen-saver form. Or maybe it just marks the next step towards a society of preening, gurning blobs of self-absorbed cellulose, hopeless invertebrate wads that could grow a spine if only they found use for one.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe our jobs really do have meaning in and of themselves. Maybe George Osborne isn’t fuelled by orphan tears and it’s even possible that Adrian Chiles and the rest of TV land aren’t just a collection of gelatinous guff-wagons constructed of meat. But don’t worry about it, just distract yourself with more words.

As the disease assaults your ability to think or even dribble coherently, the modern office does little to treat symptoms. Constant reminders from HR flow in via email reaffirming our enthusiasm for the casual business Friday dress-code and advising us not to jump from the east facing window because yesterday’s pile of mangled bodies hasn’t yet been cleaned up on account of the impossible-to-reach pigeon corpse. Whatever they bleat about it’s always in the distant language usually reserved for passive alarm voices who alert you to danger in an unnervingly calm tone. By specialising the function of the individual’s job we have become more and more divorced from the purpose of the work we do, so it’s no wonder we’re perpetually left unable to explain our jobs to relatives or friends.

Graduates are forced to fight to the death in gladiatorial combat for the chance to win an unpaid role as junior deputy assistant to the intern in some useless consultancy firm, or worse they become unthinking phone monkeys in firms with indoctrination programmes that would give the US Army a hard-on. Those without qualifications are converted into compost to grow, whilst those in jobs too long are quietly bumped off in the night by obtuse phrases such as “regrettably unforeseeable internal restructures” so they’re heaped on the cat-shit mountain as well. Our purpose in employment becomes harder to find, our days flow by in an uneasy wave of tedious confusion and we leave the office without a thought in our heads except for the rush of relief afforded by brief respite.

In a sleep-deprived stupor we’re driven to distraction, urgently seeking anything to ease our minds. It’s all there waiting for us, from kittens decorated by the mentally infirm to the online equivalent of the Dulux colour range told through pornography. And what’s more, the great benevolent dictator of the internet is only too willing to oblige us. With the frantic scurrying of a crack-addled banker trying to hide a hooker’s body we crave any blockade we can erect between the reality of the situation and the collective lie that we all buy into, known colloquially as ‘satisfaction’.

The disease of modern living is the catalysed onset of delusion, the belief that things actually aren’t that bad and that perhaps we ought to be thankful for what we have. This belief drags itself with us, a parasite on our bedraggled carcass shuffling from the tube to the bus to the sweat-stained pavements only to moor up in a desolate port with the TV on, our minds switched off and the glum cyclical nature of the horror pushed out of sight for another day as our eyes close and it’s all over.

In short, I’m becoming one of the idiots. Soon you’ll be like us, begging for distraction from the endless flurry of miseries and injustices that make up human existence. London has succeeded in dumbing me down with its isolating cost of living, alienating social conduct and the beckoning appeal to those who value money, prestige and job title über alles. We try to avoid how unfair it all seems with copies of Time Out and the latest in pop-up restaurants that only serve suffocated gelatine in plant pots and where all the cutlery is emblazoned with the face of Noel fucking Edmonds. Now I even have their haircut. It might get me a promotion.

At this rate I’ll max out a credit card on paper doilies this time next year, bragging to middle-management about the spacious depths of my new living room and how much light the bay window lets in whilst fiddling with a selfie-stick, all the time wondering why no-one can use a word of more than three syllables.

Unless we treat this disease swiftly, that is. Prognosis: amputate at the neck and leave my headless cadaver on the window ledge of a skyscraper where no-one can clean me up.

Hey sexy

Let me tell you what happened to me: I’m walking down my street after leaving my flat, dry cleaning in hand, bag and laptop slung over my shoulder. It’s a Friday afternoon in a busy and bustling area of east London. My neighborhood is half working class and half artsy-hipster crowd. Not that where you live should have any bearing on what happened. I have had equally humiliating experiences in neighborhoods of every socioeconomic stripe.

My neighborhood is a good neighborhood where I feel safe 99 percent of the time. But not today. As I walk down the street I notice I am coming up on a group of men standing around near the end of my apartment block. I don’t know them, have never seen them or spoken to them before.

Yet as I approach, they murmur to me, ‘Hey sister…hey baby…hey beautiful.” I knew this was coming – I have a sixth sense for these situations now – and tense up immediately, my eyes forward as I continue down the sidewalk.

I turn the corner. A drunk, homeless man mumbles something. I am polite, so I stop and say: “Excuse me?” He repeats what he said and I am immediately sorry when he asks me to perform an activity that starts with F and ends with me feeling a gross mixture of surprise and disgust.

I continue, stopping at the dry cleaner. On my way out I run into a group of teenage boys, who start making noises I’m already determined not to hear. As I rush past them, one of them tries to grab my hand crooning, “Hey sexy…where you going?” I shake him off and keep walking, the color rising in my cheeks.

I stop at the post office to mail my postcards and as I leave a delivery man on a scooter waiting for a traffic light shouts, “Sweetheart!” and gives me what could only be described as a lascivious gesture. I throw up a hand to signal to him to leave me alone and continue walking, now head down, determined to get to the library.

My heart is racing, my blood is pumping, shame and anger is rising within me alongside rage and frustration on a fundamental level. I get to the library and exchange my books without incident. My shoulders start to relax a little as I leave. Finally I see my destination. As I walk towards it, almost running, I don’t even have the thought, “This is London, wtf?” Because it doesn’t matter. It never matters. This is the world women live in. I am shaking when I reach my final destination. There are tears in my eyes.

Do men know? Do they know what this does to women? How it makes us feel? Even when we know we shouldn’t, even when we know it’s them that’s the problem and not us, do they know the shame, the degradation, the embarrassment it produces? How threatened we can feel? Do they know and just not care?

Or do they honestly not know? Can they not put themselves in our place and think, “She’s someone’s mother/wife/sister/daughter” and then not do that stuff? Do they realize how on edge we feel, never knowing how to respond? Whether we should or not? Whether it will lead to violence if we do? Or violence if we don’t?

Then there is always the fear, the apprehension that accompanies these interactions. What to do? If I purposely cross the street before I get to a large group of men who I am worried will harass me, will they come after me or catcall me anyway? Or should I just brave it out and walk through them hoping they’ll be kind? If they make a comment and I put my chin up and pretend I’m not fazed, will they do it again the next time they see me thinking I like that kind of thing?

Will it get worse in the moment as they try to get a reaction out of me? If I yell at a man who says rude or disgusting things to me, if I push a man who’s grabbed my hand as I walk past, will he call me a bitch? A cunt? A whore? Will he hit me? And if he did, would anyone step in and help me? Most men are bigger than I am. I take it for granted they are stronger.

If a man or a group of men whip out their camera phones and take pictures of me, what do I do? If a man or a group of men says horrible things to me or touches me, however slight, I can, technically, yell at him or fight back. Technically. But how likely is it that I would come out on top?

And what if it happens at night? Just me and him, or them, on a dark street? What might happen to me then? Might I get some ‘corrective’ treatment at the hands of men with hurt pride and damaged dignity? Would I be killed?

And even if I were rescued or I went to the police after, what are the odds of anything positive happening in my favor? There is a backlog of rape kits, verbal abuse against women is tolerated in broad daylight, and many cultures and places tolerate physical and emotional abuse of women, in private if not in public. There’s violence against women all over Facebook. Look it up sometime.

I can’t tell you how many ‘jokes’ I heard when I worked in the school system and how many parents, fathers and mothers, tried to excuse it with: “It’s just words….kids…you know…it was a joke…it’s nothing…”

Is it? Is it “nothing”? Would a “joke”, would “nothing”, provoke these kinds of reactions in women? How many women do these things happen to? Trust me, none of them are fucking laughing.

Pretensions of mulletry

On a mid-October morning in 1957, a murderous gangster named Albert Anastasia was assassinated in the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Two men, faces covered by scarves, rushed in and fired round after round into one of the mafia’s most feared killers, who thrashed about vainly clinging to life before expiring in an ever-expanding pool of blood and mess on the barber shop floor.

It was a lucky escape for Anastasia. Had he lived, he might have had to have his hair cut.

For some people it’s the dentist poking metal into holes that are best left unpoked, for others it’s the proctologist doing similar at the other and of the alimentary canal, but for me there is no experience on this Earth that horrifies me more than having to get my hair cut. It’s not fear in the traditional sense – there’s nothing inherently worrying about hair being shortened – but putting control over how stupid I look for the next few weeks into the hands of a random, frequently Italian man is an action I find intensely distressing.

My head looks fairly idiotic at the best of times as certain people close to me never cease to remind me. I still have the same barnet I settled on at about 16 years old, having realised attempting to emulate the extraordinary fringe of Jimbob from Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine left me with a pair of Olympic-sized ski jump ramps either side of a pasty yet spotty face.

But, stupid as it looks, I’m used to it. And a few weeks after getting my ears lowered it settles into the type of mop people expect to see on me, and looking in the mirror leaves me with a warm sense of apathy. All I ever want is to blend in, to go unnoticed.

But it never stops fucking growing does it? The front starts expanding in all directions like an ash cloud above Stromboli, the top and sides lift until I look like Bet from Coronation Street and the back adopts pretensions of mulletry. In no time at all I look like a bellend and I can hear the barber tapping comb against scissors in delighted anticipation of the battle to come.

Here’s how it plays out: he asks me what I want, and I say something like “Just a trim thanks”, possibly adding “it’s got a bit big” to make the point I don’t want him just waving the weaponry at it and demanding I line his palm. He sets about the back; fine, don’t care, can’t see it. Then he starts on the sides.

It’s at about this point the barber forgets what I asked him and skips off down a path of his own choosing. They always know best, what’ll look great on you, exactly where you’ve been going wrong all these years. He hacks too much off one side because he doesn’t want to do it gradually to see how it looks; time is money after all. He then has to do the same to the other side because, at least in the places I go, it’s tricky to glue or sew an inch and a half of hair back into place having just scythed it from the head of a terrified man.

The top then comes into play, and this is where he suddenly remembers what I asked for. Why remember that now for Christ’s sake? ‘Just a trim’, so he takes a tiny bit off the top and front and leaves me with some kind of tower effect on my head. Welcome to a period of cowering in front of the mirror attempting to rearrange what will, no matter what you do, look like two scoops of ice cream in a little cardboard tub.

The worst thing about all this is, by the time you realise he’s gone way too far, it’s far too bloody late to do anything about it. So nowadays I don’t even look in the mirror as he does it, I just sit there and take it, let him do as he pleases. He’s going to decide what’s best for me anyway – I might as well just experience the final horror without the preceding, increasing despair. Those creepy, longer scares in horror films are always more unnerving than “Oh look she’s opened the bathroom cabinet – I wonder if there’ll be a cleaver-wielding maniac behind her when she shuts it”.

Not that the ordeal is over when the scissors are put away, far from it. There’s still the hairdryer. You saw how I came in, didn’t you mate? And my ‘trim’ request suggests I just want a shorter version of what I came in with, right? Please don’t let that stop you blasting hot air upwards and to the side on the highest setting available to ensure I leave the place with a lopsided wall of hair that looks like I’ve been dragged sideways along an electric fence during a hurricane while channeling the spirit of Jedward.

A few years ago I decided, outrageous as it is, to do it myself. The benefit of this is you can just hack off a bit that looks stupid, roughly do the other side the same, and no-one really notices; no ‘hair cuuuut’ in a playground voice from anyone.

I didn’t tell anyone I was committing this fashion heresy, of course, but it became a little tricky to hide when overconfidence while drunk got the better of me and I left home one day with a small bald patch above an ear that not even Sweeney Todd would have allowed out the door. People noticed. I was rumbled.

So I started going to the barber’s again. And after the very next ‘proper’ haircut I heard “Have you been cutting your own hair again?” My triumph at declaring that no, it’s just that barbers are all bastards was rather tempered by the knowledge that I’m doomed to look like a tit no matter what I do.

Shave it all off is the answer, but if I was going to do that it would have happened by now. Fear of the unknown is worse than fear of the knowable piss-ripping I’ll endure after every visit to one of these arseholes with Edward Scissorhands on a loop in their heads. Instead I will continue to sit grimly in the big leathery chair, nodding at the mirror held behind my head as though there’s a single thing I can do to change what it shows me, while begging for masked gunmen to run in and put an end to the nightmare. And if they happen to take out the barber while they’re at it you can thank me in the afterlife.