It’s Tuesday the sixth of December 2016. Yes, I know. The first five parts of this ’12 Blogs Of Christmas’ series was published in December of 2015. In the words of Patrick Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook, “I got stuck.”
But here I am, a year later. I could say ‘And what a year it’s been!’ for dramatic effect, but in fact, I don’t feel it has been that dramatic. January to late September had it’s fair share of fun moments and only one or two dramatic moments. My mood, despite being unemployed (broadly speaking), was fairly stable. I only had two blips, one in January if I recall, which is completely usual for me after the Christmas festivities, and one in May when a friendship I had broke down. The term ‘broke down’ is quite funny really isn’t it when describing the ending of any sort of relationship. It makes you think you’re supposed to call a plumber or an electrician or someone from the RAC to help put things right again. “Oh, my relationship broke down, so I called a flooring expert specialising in carpet underlay and now everything is fine again.”
Anyway, it’s nearly Christmas. I have a new job, am hoping to move in the next few months (to be closer to my new job) and have already eaten one Marks & Spencer’s chocolate log, all to myself. My Nan and I started buying them back in the early 90s I believe. They weren’t covered in ganache back then, but were incredibly delicious nonetheless. When they first introduced the chocolate ganache on the outside, which I think was sometime in the mid 90s, it was challenging initially, due to our belief that a proper chocolate log should have a thick layer of hard chocolate on the outside, not something that was the consistency of fudge. However, after a while, say fifteen of the new breed of logs, we got used to them.
That’s all for this blog. Just needed to say that.
THE SHORT VERSION
My friend Charlotte is experiencing a lot of difficulties at this particular time in life. Her car is on its last legs, as is her cat. I want to help this dear friend of mine and pour a little hope and sunshine upon her life.
THE LONG VERSION
“Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.” ― Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics
Not that I’ve read any Aristotle, though I’ve heard he was a cool dude.
WHO AM I ?
My name is Riaz Ali and I have a friend, Charlotte, that needs our help. Good friends don’t come by easily. Charlotte is my friend and I love her. This is my attempt to brighten up her life.
WHO AM I RAISING MONEY FOR?
Charlotte Castle. She is a single mother, living in Knaresborough, with two beautiful children, Arabella who is 9 and Alex, who is 5 and autistic.
Recently, through no fault of her own, she was served an eviction notice from the beautiful house she was renting in Harrogate. The private landlord refused to give a good reason why the notice was served. Charlotte kept her house in immaculate condition and took good care of the property. Charlotte has been placed in a temporary dwelling in Knaresborough while she waits for the council to find her a home.
Charlotte works hard, but is in a minimum wage job. She struggles to make ends meet and she messaged me this morning saying she was in tears all through the half hour journey back home, after dropping her children off from school, in constant worry about her situation. The details of which will be explained in the next section.
HOW WILL THE MONEY BE USED?
The money would be used for three things. To buy Charlotte a washing machine. To buy Charlotte a decent second-hand car and lastly, to pay vet fees for her cat to have treatment.
Arabella, Charlotte’s eleven-year-old daughter, loves the cat (comically known just as ‘Black Cat’) but recently, Black Cat has been displaying signs of hyperthyroidism and is poorly. There is no PDSA near Charlotte so she has to pay vets fees.
Also, Charlotte has no washing machine. Her son Alex wets the bed and so Charlotte has to wash the bed sheets, and all other clothes, in her bath, on a daily basis. Handwashing everything for hours to ensure her children – whom she is absolutely devoted too and thinks the world of – can have clean clothes.
Also, her car is displaying symptoms of major trouble. It is only a £200 banger that she picked up a week or so ago, using what was the last of her savings. A car is her life line. Without one, getting the children to school, as well as commuting to work, would put an even greater strain on her mental health.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO ME?
I don’t live near Charlotte. In fact, I live roughly 220 miles from her. We chat on the phone a lot and we are important to each other, but we have only met each other twice. However, I have known her for two years – we met in a writer’s group on Facebook (we both have books published but sadly, they bring a meagre trickle of income in, if any, these days – links are at the bottom). I wish I lived nearer to support her in a more practical sense but I can’t. Doing something like this is the next best thing.
I want to make a difference to someone’s life – HER life. A year ago, when I had a full time job, I may have had between £700 and £900 a month that I classed as ‘pocket money’. I would gladly have given all of that to Charlotte if I was still in that position. But I rely primarily on benefits these days, working on my novel and trying to improve my own situation, so I cannot help Charlotte financially in the way I would love to.
I don’t care about myself but I do care about my friend and her family. I want to to rescue her from her loneliness and depression and although what I am doing with this fund-raising campaign isn’t some miracle cure that would solve all problems, it WOULD be a huge stepping stone to her regaining some confidence, self-belief and hope to continue in this world.
KEEP THIS SECRET
I don’t want her to know about this fundraising campaign. I want to surprise her with however much is raised. Even if we don’t raise enough for a car, I am hoping that in a week, we might be able to raise enough for a washing machine and the vet’s fees. That alone would bring a huge huge smile to her face and give her something to focus on and hope for the future.
Can you imagine me messaging her and saying “I have X amount of money for you. I am sending it to you now. You don’t have to worry about handwashing your clothes again” or something similar. Imagine how that could make her feel? This is what I want. Just to give someone hope and make them feel valued, wanted and needed.
Thank you for reading this. 🙂
I was messaging my friend Charlotte. She knew how low I felt after my previous weekend and invited me up to see her. North Yorkshire is a long way away from Avebury and I knew that financially I had little hope of scraping together the train or coach fare.
“We can do the touristy thing,” she said happily (insofar as happiness can be ascertained via messaging through the strange digital world of social media).
“I’d love to visit, but…” and listed all the obstacles in my path, including lack of finances, a strange skin tag that had developed on my right cheek, and my concern about the fluoride content of toothpaste.
I had met Charlotte through Facebook a couple of years ago. It’s how I make most of my friends these days. I turn my nose up at actually chatting to strangers in pubs, gyms, clubs or Waitrose. That’s way is far too dodgy. It’s much safer to interact with someone on social media, hoping that they are who they say they are and not some forty stone bald-headed man in a string vest sat in front of a computer somewhere near Barry Island.
In a tent bought from Aldi’s.
Our friendship formed sometime in June 2014. She was a writer too – her book Simon’s Choice is still available on Amazon – and was and still is intelligent, beautiful and funny. She had visited me in November 2015, a rather spontaneous visit in which we had great fun and since then, had spoken several times of meeting again.
So here was an opportunity but I just could not afford it – until another friend intervened. She offered to send me money to go and visit Charlotte as she knew how much of a knock I had taken regarding my encounter with *name deleted*, and the money she offered was a lot – enough for me to get the train and to have a little spending money too. I ruminated over this for sometime, torn between accepting the offer and the weight it would bear upon my shoulders, knowing that I would not be able to repay it easily. But I also knew that visiting Charlotte would be good for me. A healing visit, where my mind would be able to repair itself a little. Because us sensitive folk have fragile minds. And it’s funny because Charlotte herself is very similar to me, her sensitivity creating conflicts in her mind, both of us fighting battles, some imaginary and some real, with our hopes and dreams.
So in the second week of July, six days after returning from Leicester, I set off on my travels again.
I love train journeys. Coach journeys aren’t bad either, but there’s something about being on a train. That huge feeling of throbbing electrically induced motion between your legs. There’s nothing in comparison. Except maybe Marmite on toast.
I changed trains at Bristol Parkway and then began the three hour journey to Leeds, where I would have to change once last time to reach Harrogate. On arrival at Leeds I took this photograph.
And then, shortly thereafter, I arrived at the beautiful town of Knaresborough. I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of the town as the train trundled across the viaduct, for the vast expanse below me not only revealed a green and lush valley, but also an undulating vista or roads and ancient houses, all rickety and twisted, that looked as if they had been drawn on to the landscape by an artist of prodigious imagination and an impressive cellar of wine.
Gosh, I’m quite pleased with that previous paragraph. I’ll be a writer yet. Just you see.
So the train arrived at Knaresborough and there was Charlotte, with her two children, waiting to meet me. I was expecting her to run towards me, maybe shouting “Daddy! My Daddy!” just as in the closing scenes of The Railway Children, which wouldn’t have made any sense but boy, it would have been a funny sight for the onlookers. We smiled, laughed, hugged and chatted amiably as we walked slowly into the town. After a brief stop for some provisions, we arrived at Charlotte’s house.
That afternoon and evening was wonderful. Relaxed, comfortable and serene. We watched a movie or two, chatted, drank wine, enjoyed a take away and laughed and chatted some more. It occurred to me that I felt comfortable with her, more so than I did with *name deleted*, and that all of us give a little and take a little something different from each friend we have. For each friend that has passed through our lives, we gain something and lose something.
The next day we visited York. Well, what can I say. York is truly beautiful and I absolutely loved our stroll around this ancient city. It was, apparently, founded in 71AD, making it nearly two thousand years old. Nearly as old as Swindon.
Barley Hall is just one of the many museums in York. It was originally a medieval house, the earliest parts dating from around 1360. They have turned it into a delightful exhibition of life in the 15th century, when it belonged to William Snawsell and his family. Like Avebury manor, visitors can interact with everything – from the fake food on the table to dressing up in replica costumes from that period, as this delightful photograph shows!
After leaving here, we strolled around some more, making our way merrily through the streets, becoming slightly lost, becoming slightly found and just having a swell day. I’ve always wanted to use the word swell like this, but without the ‘gee’.
We also visited a street called The Shambles. Surely this was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books!
And that was York. I had nowhere near the amount of time to see everything but I know there will be other opportunities in the future.
That evening, my last evening, we chatted some more. I sipped on a vodka and cola and Charlotte drank wine, and she listened patiently as I spoke about my fears and insecurities regarding my previous weekend with *name deleted* and how that had all gone terribly wrong. Sometimes, all you need is just to talk to someone and then the answers to your problems come from within. I had a few light-bulb moments (and I’m not talking about how my 6’4 frame occasionally collides with ceiling fittings) and realised that actually, I’m an alright person. Like anyone, I have my flaws, I struggle with my doubts and lack of confidence, but I’m pretty much okay and mean well. It made me realise that the loss of a friend that I felt so acutely just three or four days ago, didn’t matter as much as I thought it did. It made me realise, as corny and cliched as it sounds, who my real friends were.
Here’s to you Charlotte. Thank you so much for your kindness and hospitality. May we meet again soon X.
Hidden in shade
my dreams and desires
hanging in the cloying air of July
as the Earth, weighed by doubt,
lets out a sigh.
Soft river footsteps
linger, unhurried memories
I seek to understand.
The sun rises over a sweet
Her silhouette, slipping
free. A cherry blossom spring
and water, blue.
I sit upon a bank
beneath the willow and stars.
Small pockets of desire
swell in my guarded heart.
I stand on the shore, listening,
Sometimes, everything is just scary.
Talking to people.
Touching, glancing, eating.
The brood of summer souls
lying listlessly in the stalks of sunflowers.
All about me are lives.
I offer my words as clues
And I don’t know
how the story ends.
I’ll make that up if I ever get there.
And I think about you too much.
I’m not sure why.
Maybe it’s just that half-remembered touch
and the kindness in your eyes.
But I love too quick
and too soon
like the pale milk-white gaze
of the conquered moon.
I love movies. I’d like to think I love movies more than most people, because that makes me feel important and special and that I may have a crack at hosting a movie review show one day. But I guess the truth is I like movies just as much as the next person, only I enjoy writing about them. So I thought I would try and write about my earliest memories at the cinema because, well, it’s a Sunday and all the porn sites are down for some reason.
One of my earliest movie memories and possibly the first movie I was taken to the pictures to watch, was Kingdom of the Spiders, released in 1977. That would have made me six years old. Hmm. Would my parents have taken me to see this sort of film at that age? Well, the thing is this. The fairly small Welsh town I grew up in, Cwmbran, had just two tiny cinemas back then. One had a single auditorium that seemed to screen Ray Harryhausen movies and nothing else. The other, situated in the town centre, had three auditoriums, each sitting maybe a hundred people, and it seemed to be about six months or even a year behind when it came to showing the big movies like Star Wars or Emmanuelle.
Kingdom Of The Spiders starred William Shatner, of Star Trek fame, although again, at that age I didn’t know he was mostly famous for sitting in a chair on a spaceship looking awesome. I don’t recall him at all in the film actually. What I do recall is a scene in a barn and in the corner of the ceiling, between the wooden beams, was a big furry spider, its eyes all gleaming and glistening and saying “Hey look! I’m a spider! And this is my first movie!”
I’ll have to try and track that spider down one day, to see if he made anything of his life.
I also remember being taken to see Logan’s Run. This is another film released in 1977 and I’m now beginning to think I actually was six years old when my father took me to see all this depravity.
Because you see, Logan’s run had a fair bit of nakedness in it, and most of that nakedness came in the form of the delightful, delectable, delicious Jenny Agutter. I think she put the ‘x’ in ‘foxy’, because without it, then people would just be ‘foy’. Which is an interesting word but I don’t think it means anything. Logan’s Run was about this chap, Logan, who started running. He lived in a future where everyone had to die when they reached 30, and he sort of had this task to find out if that really had to happen or not, or whether it was just the governments method of crowd control. Anyway, he goes on the run with scantily clad Jenny Agutter and all in all, it’s not a terrible movie and worth a watch today. Mainly for…ahem…Jenny Agutter.
Then there was Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Another film featuring the stop-motion magic of Ray Harryhausen, released in 1977. Actually, 1977 seems to be a key year here. The other connection is that, being six years old, I was the same age as Damien, in the first The Omen movie, who was supposed to become self-aware of his destiny as the anti-christ at the age of six. I wonder, if by taking me to see all of these films, my parents were trying to show me that my destiny was as a spider killing, running away with Logan, saving the princess from a minotaur, kind of guy?
I went to see Sinbad in the old, dilapidated, dark, gloomy cinema in Old Cwmbran, with my mother, grandmother and sister. I have one clear memory of a group of kids in the front row, being rowdy and throwing sweets at the screen, particularly when Jane Seymour’s breasts floated into view. My grandmother, always quite stern and to the point, stood up and shouted “You kids shut the fuck up!”. Remember, this is 1977 and nobody ever said ‘fuck’. You’d actually have to go to the cinema to watch The Godfather or Pete’s Dragon to hear the word ‘fuck’. But it did the job as those kids actually did shut the fuck up.
“When I grow up I want to be able to do that,” I thought, gazing in love and admiration at the old lady sitting next to me. My nan was sitting on the other side and had to remind me that the lady I was looking at was a complete stranger, but hey ho.
Next on my list, in this whistle-stop tour of movie memories is
Yes. The first superhero film I was taken to see. I have no memory of being taken to see Superman, a couple of years previously. But this film I do remember. It was released in 1981 and so, being ten, I still wasn’t allowed to go to the cinema on my own, so begged my mum to take me to see this because the trailer on television looked so much fun. It was a superhero film where the superhero didn’t actually have any super powers. He relied on gadgets, such as a walking stick that could shoot bullets, and a speedboat that had guns and…and…I loved it! At that age, I didn’t really understand the convoluted plot about defecting spies. I didn’t know what defecting meant. I wondered if it was like defecating, but in a more refined way. Anyhow, the exciting bits for me, as I have already mentioned, was the walking stick scene and the speedboat chase. I’ve never watched the film since.
And so this brings to a close my brief first account of early cinematic experiences. In part two I will cover the years from 1982 to 1989, when I went to see films such as E.T, Spacehunter, Ghostbusters, Back To The Future and of course, Love in 3-D.
I had a message from a friend the other day. The tone was a little plaintive. Somewhat distressed, in fact.
“Why didn’t you respond to my post? About my problem?”
She had posted something on Facebook. A problem, in fact. I didn’t respond for a number of reasons –
1. I didn’t see it initially. Facebook keeps altering the algorithms of what you see in your news feed, we all know that. In fact, they came in for some criticism roughly a year ago for deliberately altering the algorithm so that people would only see sad and negative stories in their news feed. Of course, we all have the option of marking a person as a ‘close friend’ and so even if their post doesn’t appear in your news feed, a notification will appear to inform you they have posted *something*, regardless of what it is. Not a perfect work around but useful I guess. Maybe I should use that option more.
2. I regarded this person as a genuine friend, not as a “I’ve never spoken to them, never met them in real life, but boy, they’re my best friend on Facebook!” type friend. I had met the person, chatted to her a lot and felt I had a good, strong friendship with her. She has my mobile number, my home address, my email address. So if she genuinely wanted my input, my feedback, my thoughts on her pressing concern, she would have contacted me directly, by either of those three different methods. By posting the problem on Facebook, and so canvassing the opinion of her nearly one thousand Facebook ‘friends’ (the post setting was ‘public’) then to me, it wasn’t the sort of problem that required my personal intervention. She didn’t need me for support, in the context of the online virtual social media world of Facebook.
2.a (because it’s not quite a point 3, but is worthy of being separated slightly from 2. A bit like placing a block of butter on the shelf down from the margarine in your fridge. ). You know that oft quoted example of human nature regarding being the spectator to a car crash? That if you witness it and ten or twenty people reach the scene before you do, you are far less likely to offer to help or to become involved, as there is an assumption that those twenty people know what they are doing. So you become a bystander. Whereas if there is nobody else around then you are most likely to act on what you have witnessed – calling the police, going over to see if you can extract the occupants from the car if needed, and so on. So I find that it is the same on Facebook a lot of the time, that if someone posts something and you are a little behind on the replies, then you are far less likely to reply because “everyone’s said what I would have said anyway.”
3. I don’t really have a point three, but as the number three is seen as quite a spiritual and significant number to the followers of Alistair Crowley and The Golden Dawn, not to mention fans of the Back To The Future TRILOGY, then I thought I would make a third pointedly pointless point here.
But hey, back in the land of Seriousville, I just don’t know if I’m right or wrong. Was she justified to be hurt? Am I supposed to validate her feelings by way of being contrite and humble? We all have different internal rules for processing each different social interaction. What one person may term as etiquette (“You are a friend, you should have interacted with me”) another may term as impropriety.
But really, I would rather not have Facebook as my central hub, where all my Friends gather to post their problems, hoping that I (or another friend) will become involved and reply. It’s fine of course, for certain types of issues. But I’d like to think if someone actually needs me, then they would contact me personally, speak to me directly, add to the bond of friendship we already have by taking me into their confidence. Because we all like that feeling of being needed. That special feeling that we are trusted, away from the superficial world of social media sites.
Well, it’s a month now since I became a married man. If a year ago you would have told me that I would be married within the next twelve months, I would have laughed in your face. Then laughed again. And again. Finally, I would have recorded my laughter and paid for it to be scratched into a vinyl record and posted it to you, along with a record player of course. It just seemed inconceivable, as Inigo Montoya once said.
But around June of 2015, things began to pick up in my life. I had left my job in mental health and was unsure of what to do next. The idea of being a counsellor, drawing upon previous skills but also taking on courses that would hone and refine them, appealed to me. Attending Chippenham college to take those courses was a liberating experience, and finding the part time post as a relationship counsellor in Salisbury – even though it was a fair distance from Marlborough – was such a confidence building event that I embarked on the search for a soul mate again.
And then, in late July of 2015, along came Lisa. She blew into my life like a leaf on a breeze, making me laugh, tickling me with her fancies, her ideals, her beauty. She helped me to know myself more, to understand my feelings. All the corny stuff that you might have read in a Mills & Boon novel, but made real. I just didn’t think I had it in me to love again. After a failed marriage and a string of…well, not *quite* ‘one night stands’, more ‘three week stands’, I just thought the whole romance thing was never going to happen again. My heart wasn’t in it. But Lisa saw something in me that made her persist. She was patient, tolerant of my moods, and her being a successful painter helped, as she knew about the artist’s temperament and the dichotomy we all face regarding needing company and needing to be alone.
Our wedding, in late February, in Keswick, attended by a handful of close friends, was one of the happiest days of my life. That train journey (“We’re out of balloons!” – Martin, Jayne and Jezel!!) was like being in an episode of Friends due to the quick wit and banter that we had between us.
And the funny thing is, married life has mellowed me a lot. I have lost some of the drive I once had to write and be creative. I’ve neglected this blog, neglected many of my projects. I just enjoy coming home to Lisa, us chatting, sitting on the sofa holding hands, watching the telly or doing the normal things any couple does. We walk, hand in hand, through Savernake forest on the weekends, pointing out the variety of birds and the multitude of wildlife that scurry about our feet. It’s like a Disney cartoon but hey – it’s still the honeymoon period and I have a feeling this honeymoon period is going to last a long, long time.
I never feared dying alone. I never feared reaching old age and being alone. I just accepted my alone-ness matter-of-factly and that was that. But now I know, in my heart, I will never be alone. That well spring of love that sits within us all has been uncapped once more and I feel alive once again.
With love to you, Lisa.
“You complete me, I complete you.” – Joni Mitchell ‘Court And Spark’.
I have fond memories of the original three Star Wars films. When Star Wars came out in 1977 I was just six years old. I have no idea if I was taken to the cinema to watch it, though I doubt it. My strongest memory of the original three is Return Of The Jedi, as I was eleven years old when that was released in 1982. I can remember stopping at the small shop on Llantarnam Road, on my way to school, and spending my week’s dinner money on a book – The Making Of Return Of The Jedi – which I proudly showed to my friends that day. For its time, it simply was the best science fiction/fantasy film in terms of special effects, which was the main benchmark regarding the quality of a science fiction film in 1982. My friends and I enjoyed films such as Logan’s Run and Silent Running. Even Battlestar Galactica and Battle Beyond The Stars got a nod of approval. And of course, we all watched Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, mainly due to Erin Gray, who played Colonel Wilma Deering. She was the best Colonel ever, in the history of the universe. That’s what me and my friends thought each time our eyes were drawn to her credentials. Even robots weren’t immune…
But Star Wars was in a league of its own. It’s simple story line – farm boy goes on a mission to save a princess – was easily understood. And we could all relate to that, living in Wales. We were all, essentially, Welsh farmers, desperate to rescue a princess. Preferably one imprisoned in a huge metal ball in space guarded by white supremacists. My pocket money didn’t really stretch to being able to buy any of the Kenner toy figures of the late 70s and early 80s. If I had I’d be living in a mansion now, due to the resale potential of those toys. In fact, the only toys I had were two board games, both released in the late 70s. I think one was called Escape From The Death Star and the other one was an R2-D2 themed board game, the title of which alludes me. Seeing as none of my family were ever into board games, I just used to play them by myself many times, enjoying pretending to be a psychotic player two and a delusional player 3, switching between the personalities with a disturbing ease. I do remember the excitement when Star Wars premiered on UK television for the very first time, on ITV. It was an EVENT, in every sense of that word. The run up to the broadcast was excitedly talked about in the school playground, and on the night, I ‘borrowed’ my sister’s small 10″ black and white television and sat in bed, thrilled to be watching Star Wars for what I believe was my first time, Sunday October 24th 1982 (no, of course I don’t remember that date! I just looked it up!).
Like most movie geeks I was excited by the announcement of The Phantom Menace and enjoyed watching it and the following two ‘prequels’ in 2002 and 2005 but in the subsequent years, have thought less and less of them. In retrospect, they just didn’t create the same magic as the first three films did. However, The Force Awakens was a different story as the original three leads – Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford – would be reprising their roles, albeit in smaller parts. THAT is what got me excited.
Now, I didn’t plan on seeing it on its UK nationwide release date. Firstly, it was close to Christmas, and money is usually tight for people anyway. A tenner on a cinema ticket is a luxury for someone who brings in £10 a month as a writer. However, the kind and completely unexpected generosity of a friend allowed me to treat myself to a night out last nigh, December the 18th, to see the film. More on her generosity – and the kindness of certain other friends – in another blog, where I can do them justice. Living in Avebury sort of limits the choice of cinema I go to. I could go to Swindon to see the movie in a huge modern cinema, I guess. But I just have an aversion to Swindon. Travelling to Bath would have been another option, but I’m not keen on travelling long distances in the dark, particularly on a gusty evening when my scooter gets blown from side to side. So I chose the Angel, in Devizes, a lovely olde worlde cinema. I reserved a seat in the morning for the 5pm showing in 3D, and left Avebury at 4:15pm as I fancied a look around the town before going in to see the film.
I’m not a huge fan of 3D. During the initial rush of 3D films, I watched Toy Story 3, A Christmas Carol and Avatar in 3D and the effect was alright, but I noticed that after about 45 minutes, my eyes became so used to it it just seemed like a 2D film again. However, as I had deliberately not watched a film in 3D for some years, I thought I would chance it. I settled down in my seat in the quaint, relatively small auditorium, and waited for the movie to begin. The curious thing is, despite the incredible and overwhelming hype, the cinema was only a quarter full. I was quite surprised by that, but I guess most people would have opted to go to their nearest ultra-modern multi-plex cinema, which is a shame, as the old cinemas are the best.
So, the original Star Wars scroll up the screen, set against a backdrop of twinkling stars, looked very good and again, the 3D effect for the first hour was immersive.
So, on to the plot. Some of the same themes and motifs from the very first film became apparent. It starts with a character (Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac) hiding top secret information in a droid (BB8) and then setting the droid free. The droid is eventually discovered by scavenger Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), who is clearly the equivalent of farm boy Luke in the original film. Rey then comes across a stormtrooper ( Finn played by John Boyega) that has become disillusioned by the whole storm and trooping thing and together they try to return the droid back to General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). On the way they pinch the Millenium Falcon only to be subsequently boarded by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Now, I hadn’t seen or heard any spoilers about the film. I am not a ‘fan’ in the sense that I frequent Star Wars websites or go to conventions or anything like that. So I knew nothing about the plot except for what I had seen in the official trailers. Even so, the ‘twists’ weren’t really twists to me as I had speculated on the fact that Rey was probably going to display elements of ‘the force’ – though I thought the way this was done was well executed and there was certainly a dramatic, on-the-edge-of-your-seat quality about the climatic fight between Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), Finn and Rey, particularly when Rey has that meditation moment and harnesses the force in her mind, so she can kick the ass of Kylo. That Han Solo dies was something that I suspect Harrison Ford pitched for. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the ‘trump card’ that J.J.Abrams, the director, pulled in getting Ford on board with the project, as Harrison wanted the character killed off as far back as 1979, during the making of The Empire Strikes Back.
Kylo Ren is probably the most interesting character, as he clearly struggles with a ‘calling’ to the light side – initially at least. The fact that he kills his own father, Han Solo, sort of gives the viewer that in the act of doing so, his journey to the dark side is complete (in the same way that Yoda’s plea to Luke to ‘confront his father’ would of been Luke’s final step to becoming a ‘good’ jedi, maybe?) but as there are two films to go in this current trilogy, then I am sure Kylo’s story arc is going to develop in a very interesting way. Daisy Ridley gave a fine performance too. My hunch is that she is Luke’s daughter. Luke Skywalker only appears in the last two minutes of the film, as Rey has tracked him down to a cliff that looks like it’s somewhere in Ireland, and hands him his father’s (Darth vader) lightsaber. He doesn’t say a word. In fact, he doesn’t even take it off her. She holds it out to him, he gives her a lingering stare, and the film ends. I think the beginning of the next film will be him saying “Wassap!!” and doing a moonwalk or something, before telling her he’s her dad and to go and clean her room.
Score – 3.5/5
Verdict – Worth watching. A bit of fun and harmless escapism. An extended Blu-Ray edition would hopefully flesh out the characters and fill in the plot-holes to provide a more rounded experience.
Ernie Wise opened the Argos store in my hometown of Cwmbran. I think it was around 1981 although I’m not completely sure. What I am completely sure of, however, is that I was there. It was a Saturday morning and like most Saturday’s I was in town with my Nan and Banp as it was pocket money day and I often spent the weekends with them. The part of Cwmbran Town Centre that hosted the Argos shop was new. A large area, all sloping up to a huge Woolworths store, had brought new life to the shopping centre. The area had been under construction for a year or more. One by one the empty units had been leased to various retailers and the Argos store was one of the last to open. It was a sunny morning and I remember standing there, holding my Bamp’s hand, while Ernie Wise gave a little speech before cutting the blue ribbon to a round of applause.
I would have preferred to have seen Eric Morecambe of course – he was the funny one. I think if it had been him cutting the ribbon, he may have performed a prat fall and included other bits of comic business, but Ernie was a genial, unassuming chap and I gazed at him with my ten-year-old eyes, enjoying the fact that I was looking at a celebrity, in the flesh, for only the second time in my life. The first time was when Nicholas Parsons, presenter of Sale Of The Century, hosted a fashion show at Woolworths some months previously. But I’m not ready to talk about that yet.
Argos, of course, brought a new method of shopping to the masses. The public area of the store was relatively small, just a few tables and stools. On the tables were Argos catalogues. You would flick through the pages, choose what you wanted, write the code down on the pre=printed order forms that would be stacked neatly on the tables, and then take the slip of paper to the counter. They would ask you for money corresponding to the cost of the item (this was the worst bit) and then in five or ten minutes, sometimes longer, your order would roll down a little conveyor belt and would be given to you by a smiling, large-breasted, staff member. And that was just the men. But the Winter Argos catalogue became essential in our household – as traditional as our Christmas Day dinner. I would spend many happy hours pouring over its pages, scrutinising each picture, reading and re-reading the descriptions. It was like being on holiday, but inside a book. One of the first things my ten-year-old mind being preoccupied with were binoculars.
Yes. Binoculars. I’m not sure why. I guess I just wanted to make everything in life a bit bigger. It certainly wasn’t to spy through my neighbors windows. Of course not. At least, not for significant periods of time. And receive them I did, for my birthday in May 1982. I would sit on the windowsill in my bedroom, using the binoculars to look up and down the street. Often I would end up zooming in on the little red brick wall opposite me. I could see the cement between the bricks in details, all the little pock marks and dirt and grime. Binoculars were just amazing!
In October 1982 when the Winter catalogue mysteriously appeared in our house, I claimed it for many days. I was completely mesmerised, enraptured, bewildered and captivated by these new ‘electronic’ games that were appearing. My toy cupboard, that was full of board games such as Buckaroo, Mousetrap, Operation and Snakes & Ladders was suddenly looking very dated indeed. Electronic games and game consoles were starting to appear. I knew that there was never a chance of my owning a console. Most were close to a hundred pounds, some of them well over that, and I knew my mother, dogged with mental health problems and often having seizures due to her epilepsy, could never work, although she seemed to be doing alright for our family of three (my sister begrudgingly included). We never went hungry or cold. But I just knew that anything luxurious – like a game console – was out of the question. But it didn’t stop me looking at the pages, over and over and over again.
At the time, there was a toy shop in Cwmbran called Shorts. It was magical to me and all other ten-year-olds that lived in Cwmbran in 1981. It was a fairly large shop. Walking through the entrance, the first third of the shop, way before you came to the payment desk, was full of bicycles. There was a red carpet between the door and the cash desk and walking down it was a bit like that procession scene at the end of Star Wars, except that instant of rebel fighters either side of you, cheering you on, there were bicycles.
Cheering you on.
Once you reached the cash desk, usually manned by an elderly chap with glasses and white whiskers, the path split to the left and right and each path led to an aisle where on either side were shelves, ten foot high (at least, they seemed ten foot to my four foot self) and stacked with toys. There was a glass cabinet there which had all of these consoles on display – the Philips G7000, the Intellivision,the Aquarius, the Atari 2600 – all of them switched on and hooked up to their own television which would be playing a demo of one of the many games. I could stand there for ages. I did stand there for ages. I was hypnotised by all the colours and moving shapes on the screen. But as I say, they were way too expensive. I wondered if I could choose something a little less expensive for Christmas. What about a small tabletop arcade game? Like Astro Wars?
So my Christmas wish list of 1982 – which I handed to my mother and grandparents instead of Santa, as they assured me they would ‘forward it on’, looked something like this.
CHRISTMAS PRESENT WISH LIST 1982
- The Topper annual.
- The Beezer annual
- The Whizzer & Chips annual
- The Buster annual
- The Beano annual
- The Dandy annual
- The Whoopee annual
- The Cor! annual
- A selection box.
- An Intellivision games consoles but if it’s too expensive then Astro Wars.
Lists were always up to 10 of course. It’s just what boys do. Whatever the subject matter of the list, it has to go up to 10, else bad things might happen and the universe may crack.
School broke up sometime in early December, thank goodness. Since September I had started comprehensive school, which happened to be Llantarnam in Cwmbran. The school closed down in the summer of 2015 but since the 1950s it had been one of the biggest and best comprehensive schools in Cwmbran and I have many fond memories of my five years there. But in 1982, during my first few months, I was petrified by the hugeness of it. It was the sort of place which didn’t need binoculars as it was big enough already. So I was glad when the Christmas holidays commenced and I could while away the days at home, reading comics and keeping a careful eye on my mum in case she had another nervous breakdown.
On Christmas Day my sister and I rushed downstairs and tore open all our presents. I had my beloved comic annuals of course, and also Astro Wars! Gifted to me by my wonderful Nan & Bamp, who arrived shortly after and took the three of us to their house for Christmas dinner and a day of warmth and love. Or at least, they would have given me warmth and love if they had been able to tear me away from Astro Wars. For many months afterwards I would enjoy sitting in the dining room, with the lights off, my face illuminated by the blue, green and red of the LCD screen as I battled aliens and docked rockets using the little plastic control stick. My Nan & Bamp were never critical of my obsession. They would pass through the dining room to the kitchen and pause, a smile on their faces, as they watched me, completely engrossed in my game. I can still see them looking upon me with love. As adults we all miss that unconditional love that we once had. Love we never seemed to have to work at.
My Mum, Nan and Bamp have all since passed away, but these memories, as all my memories of them, I cherish.
The aim of this blog is to empower people who are unemployed. Not to ‘go out and get a job’ – that’s a different topic entirely. I mean empower them to realise there is nothing wrong with being unemployed. That you are doing all you can and don’t let others pressure you into doing anything you do not want to do. Their stigma is their stigma alone – it doesn’t have to be transferred into you. Their criticism is a reflection of themselves and the way they see the world, not a reflection of you or any perceived failings you might have in their eyes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let me backtrack, rewind, and begin again.
It’s 8:45 on 15th December 2015 – ten days to go until the big day!
Today’s blog is going to be about being unemployed. A contentious topic for some, but let’s see where we go with this.
Yesterday morning I had my fortnightly job search interview which went very well. No, there’s not a hint of sarcasm there – it did go well, as it always does. When they see that you are trying your best to obtain a job, and are also striving to better yourself in other ways (my writing aspirations and my Indian head massage business) then they treat you as you deserve to be treated – with respect, courtesy and decency. My ‘coaches’ (as they like to be called – the way that job titles have changed over the years could make for a funny blog in itself) have never put any pressure on me, never criticised my efforts and never have said a negative word to me. Neither have my friends – whether they have been the vague, half-known friends on social media, or proper friends that I have either met or built up a more meaningful relationship with me. Not one criticism. Not one word of advice to do this or do that or ‘step it up a gear’. But more about that later.
That said, I think there are a small minority of people who don’t try. I believe it’s one of those strange myths of British society that there are many people who enjoy being unemployed and make no effort to find work. It’s not as simple as that. I think some people lack the confidence and self-esteem to continue trying for employment. I think there are some people whose ‘life story’, to use a common phrase found in the psychology books of Eric Berne and others, who have fallen into their own ‘internal script’ (another Eric Berne phrase) of living in a certain defined way that they find it hard to break out of. But I’m going down the route of psychoanalysis now and I don’t claim to be an expert in that whatsoever. There are some who manipulate the system of course, and do their best to benefit from benefits.The con-artists and so forth. But generally, most decent people do enjoy making some sort of valued contribution to their ‘society’ and to the world at large.
Okay, let me reminisce, as you know I am good at that.
The last time I was unemployed was around 1988, if I recall. I left school in 1987 and I think, within two or three months, I was on a YTS scheme – that’s Youth Training Scheme for those whose memory don’t go that far back! My first one was with JHP Training Ltd, situated in the middle of Cwmbran town centre. The town was unusual in that above many of the shops was office space that was not connected to any storage areas that the shops might have. Along one arcade which had a Marks & Spencer’s, Timpson’s and River Island, was a little alcove with a small unassuming door that led into Powys House. Going through those doors was a bit like entering Doctor’s Who’s Tardis. “There are shops either side of this door,” I used to think, “so how come the inside is so incredibly big!” There was a lift that went up three floors where eventually you would step out into JHP Training, a training provider specialising in Information Technology. It’s where, in 1988, I learned out to use Wordstar (which was *the* word processor of the time, long before Microsoft Word took a stranglehold of the market) and spreadsheet and database programs. I think I was paid £27 a week for joining that scheme. These days, for mature adults, I don’t think there are any such schemes that give you a bonus for attending them. Their is a company called LearnDirect which are closely affiliated with the governments ‘Job Centre’, and they provide English and Maths classes, refunding your transport costs.But back to the 1980s Youth Training Schemes – the downside to spending a month at your ‘base camp’ learning these interesting modules, was that you were then sent out on placement. That’s when the resentment would arise, as for the same money of £27 a week, you were expected to do the same work as another staff member in that job, who might be getting £100 a week (or whatever the average wage was back then), which prompted a lot of protests. Particularly from these three lovely ladies. Bless ’em.
So, let me speed up this history of mine somewhat. A year or so later I started college – taking English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre at Pontypool college and then a year after that attended another training course, although this time it had nothing to do with going out on placements. It was an enjoyable three or four month course where I was learning more about Information Technology. I attended this one with a college friend, Lisa Osmond. Lisa, if you are reading this, I’ve thought about you a lot over the last twenty-five years and have tried to track you down but to no avail. Would love to hear from you again!
At the time I was living with my grandmother who was slowly becoming more invalid. By around 1992 it reached the stage where I officially became her sole, live-in carer. living with her and doing everything that she needed – cleaning her faeces from the landing carpet when she was incontinent, for example, during the many times she couldn’t make it to the toilet on time. That went on for years, with me having restless nights as the slightest sound from her room would make me wake up and remain on edge, thinking “Am I going to have to go and clean poo from the landing carpet?” at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was scared to leave the house in case she moved and fell. And then she passed away in 1998 and I worked in nursing homes, cleaning the faeces from elderly, dying, fellow human beings before I obtained a different job where I cared for adults with severe learning disabilities and then adults with acute mental health illnesses. So nobody can tell me that I haven’t earned a period on ‘benefits’, no matter how long it lasts for, because I’ve done a lot of good for other people and am just *needing* this little period of ‘time out’. Besides, as far as I was concerned, seven weeks ago I landed a new job and it was only because of a malicious bad reference that caused my new employer to retract the offer – but that’s for another blog post too. I am confident I will land another job early in the new year.
Okay, let’s get to the meat and two veg of this article. Some of the replies to the ‘worst things’ are going to replicate some of the points I have already raised above.
THREE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU CAN SAY TO THE UNEMPLOYED
1. “You need to get out more!” – Really? Why?Don’t you hate it when people tell you to ‘get out more’ ? And more so, to ‘meet new people’ ? Because I guess there perception is, if you are unemployed, your social circles suddenly (and inexplicably) shrinks! You are not at work and therefore you are not mixing with enough people anymore. Well firstly, I very rarely make friends at work. It often leads to trouble. Work is just work. I *have* made a few friends over the years but they are the rare ones, and I have been very selective. I have enjoyed working with many people over the years and many old colleagues I respect and hold in high regard, but being at work certainly never felt like a social event to me. Sitting in an office listening to a bunch of people criticise their partners or other staff members was always a pet hate of mine!
I like my own company, I like isolation, I like quietness and solitude. Leave me be to enjoy my cat and my writing. Each to their own. Why do some people find it hard to believe that a person can be happy spending long periods on their own at home? Is this another sad product of the current climate we live in, with these terrorist atrocities going on all over the world, and so people become more suspicious of ‘the quiet ones’? Maybe that is a factor too, though some would deny that. But as a child, although I did have a number of very close friends (Andrew, Martin, Royston, David, Paul, Wayne, Lisa, Eirwen, Janet – love you all!) I would equally love being in my room, aged ten, reading Enid Blyton, Michael Bond, E. Nesbitt and Lewis Caroll. I’ve always been comfortable with my own company. Plus, I’m sure I’ll be successful getting a job in the next few months so I’ll be meeting new people again that way anyhow.
I’ve spent fifteen years working on busy mental health wards, both acute wards and rehab wards, where day after day my mind has just been subjected to noise. Just noise from all directions and constantly being busy. I never enjoyed that side of things and I’ve loved the last five months where the majority of my time has been spent quietly, just listening to the wind through the trees, or the birdsong in the mornings. I needed that to heal anyway, and I know my mind is still a little fragile when it comes to stress and pressure.
2. “You need to step it up a gear!” – Well, personally, as I have mentioned above, my friends who know me and believe in me, know this is just ridiculous. They know I am doing everything, within my capabilities, to get a job. And most of all, those people who have the power to change my benefits and impose sanctions – my job coaches at the job centre – know I am doing everything in my power to get a job. They often commend me and are visibly impressed at the way I write and upload books to Amazon, at my Indian Head Massage business, and at my pursuit of a job in the care sector. They are lovely to me, supportive and encouraging, and not once have they put any pressure on me by saying “You need to step it up a gear.” And my friends are the same. Knowing what I have been through in life. They know we are all built differently and have different personalities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the *right* job, no matter how long it takes. There is absolutely no way I would take a job just for the sake of it as it would damage my mental health. If I was forced to work in, for example, a busy supermarket, with tons of bustling shoppers around me each day, stacking shelves and so on, I think my health, mentally and physically, would suffer a setback. As I say, we are all built differently and most of us reach an age where we are fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
3. “People may resent you being on benefits, while they are working hard.” – Oh hang on a minute. Hang on one cotton-picking minute. What right does someone have to make this sort of comparison? Why do people assume that because you are not employed, you are therefore not ‘working hard’? Do people equate ‘working hard’ with physical labour? Is that the only hard work around? If so, that is quite a naive criteria to base hard work on. I work damn hard – both in my writing aspirations and in my search for the right job. And again, it’s not to do with the *time* you put into it either. Whether I work two hours a day or ten hours a day on my writing, I may still only come up with one page of material, but both times I have worked equally as hard. As any creative person knows, creativity, inspiration and imagination is not something you can force and somedays I may struggle to compose a paragraph. I might spend a day on it, mostly thinking or pacing the room as I try and articulate my thoughts and transfer them to the page in the best way possible. So for that day, where I have produced one paragraph, I have worked damn fucking hard.
Now, on to the ‘resentment’ bit. In an article by Deborah Orr in The Guardian today, titled ‘The real benefit cheats are the employers who are milking the system’, she points out that ‘just £8bn on benefits goes to the unemployed, while an estimated £76bn, according to James Ferguson of Money Week, goes to people who are working.’ So you have the irony of a Labour government supporting employers with huge benefit handouts to help them pay for their employees. There is something intrinsically wrong with that. ‘Employing someone has come to be seen as such a noble pursuit that businesses are paid to do it.’ continues Deborah Orr. Yes. Well put indeed. The full link to her illuminating article is here – http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/26/benefits-cheats-employers-milk-system-in-work-benefit
Resentment from anyone about anything is more a reflection of them than you. Remember that. It is more a reflection of their perception of life, their own standards and their own internal script. Their standards aren’t your standards and they have no right to try and impose them upon you. Remain courageous in the face of criticism. And the people who say these sorts of things, I am sure that they mean well in their heart. I’m sure it isn’t out of malice. It is, however, out of a lack of understanding, empathy and compassion.I was a bit cross to be on the receiving end of such a comment recently and here is my reply, drawing upon my personal experience that I mentioned previously – from 1992 to 1998 I was the sole carer for my grandmother. For those six years or so that I was looking after my Nan, all I had was Invalid Care Allowance which basically was £10 a week on top of my dole money. So I think that weekly amount came to £60. For being on call 24/7 to my beloved Nan, attending to her personal hygiene, I was paid £60 a week as far as I can remember. For cooking all her meals each day, cleaning up after her, emptying the commode every few hours that she kept right by her chair in the living room, doing the weekly shopping for us, keeping her company, holding her hand and telling her I loved her as she lay dying in a hospital bed for three weeks at the end of her life, I got £60 a week.
So how can anyone resent me enjoying a government handout now, via an unemployment benefit, when I received such little financial help for those six years I worked in the 90s? And those years took their toll. On reflection, eighteen years after she passed away, I now know that those six years did affect me mentally. They were hard. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. Most of us, whether we deny it or not, are often trying to make sense of our past. Writing blogs like this, and even through my works of fiction, is a continual exploration of themes, ideas and problems I have personally encountered in the past.
So there it is. I hope anyone who reads this that are also unemplyed, are inspired. Inspired in the sense that you know if you draw upon your life experiences, knowing what you have done, then you can hold your head high. There is nothing wrong with being unemployed. Do things at your own pace as your health *must* come first.
And on that note, Merry Christmas!