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. 🙂
A few days after the debacle with Amphelia Strange, I was messaging my friend Charlotte. She knew how low I felt 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 Amphelia, 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 Amphelia, 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 Amphelia 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.
“Let’s start at the very beginning,” sang Julie Andrews once upon a time as she sat by a lonely goatherd.
Well, sometimes beginnings are boring. Sometimes it’s fun to start in the middle and then work backwards (or forwards) as your whim dictates.
So this is just another memory snapshot. In the course of writing my memoirs, I can refer back to these posts and reproduce them and expand on them as I write about my life. I feel a bit like Marcel Proust! If I can replicate just some of his success, I would die happy! Instead of the six volumes of his In Search Of Lost Time, I would run to seven volumes. Just to, er, show my competitive spirit!
So this is just a little reflection of my brief but happy friendship with Amphelia Strange, with me wrestling with my thoughts, making sense of what happened and just pondering over something that was loved and lost.
On the Saturday morning we weren’t sure what to do or where to go. Leicestershire is a gorgeous county but without transport – and neither of us drove – then our choices needed some forethought and planning. We both liked castles and stately homes and so initially I did a little research into nearby attractions such as Belvoir Castle and Rockingham Castle.
“Rockingham!” Amphelia smiled. “Just the sound of that one makes me think…of rocks!”
I nodded. “Right.”
To get to Rockingham was tricky but doable. It involved a bus to Leicester, then a train to Corby followed by a taxi to Rockingham itself. Sorted. We could do it. Amphelia was still pottering around upstairs and so I was doing my usual thing of pacing up and down her living room, going over the plans in my head and the timing of it all. Then, something made me think of actually ringing them. I don’t know why. I think just to confirm the opening times. So I tapped in the number and waited.
An answering machine and a recorded message began.
“Thank you for ringing Rockingham Castle,” the female voice began. “We are open Sundays, Tuesdays and Bank Holiday Monday’s…”
What? Hang on a minute. This was Saturday! I listened to the message again and, with a frustrated air, passed on the information to Amphelia, who was now in the kitchen, making wooden spoons dance on the worktop.
“Oh well,” she said. “Market Harborough it is then!”
We had spoken of Market Harborough a few times and I was certainly open to the idea as I love small rural towns rather than large cities. Then again, Leicester city centre was quite nice, full of nooks and crannies and wonderful shops. Basically, what I’m saying is, I’m easy going and love everything!
So we got a bus to Leicester and then a train to Market Harborough. Amphelia had been there before but briefly, so I understood, and she did not really recall much of it. We arrived and started walking towards the centre of town. It was one of those sunny showery mornings – bursts of hot sunshine followed by brief smatterings of rain. Oh and wind! Quite a breeze was blowing and it was something else I discovered about Amphelia – she wasn’t too keen on the wind, bless her!
We then passed a shop. Not an antiques shop. It was a sort of emporium – a mix of the arcane, the modern and the archaic. A strange collection of cuddly, fluffy toys and these, wot we spotted in the window.
The one on the right she fell in love with. It was £135. We went in, had a look at it, got into a good rapport with the shopkeeper and then continued on with our day. She said it would be perfect for her online shop. She could dress its antlers with her homemade jewelry, bracelets, beads and earrings, photograph it and then those images would make great pictures on her online shop.
She loved it.
So I bought it for her.
I used my haggling skills with the lovely shopkeeper of course, and managed to get it down to £110. Er…okay, so maybe my haggling skills aren’t the best as some of you lot, but I thought a £25 reduction wasn’t to be sniffed at!
So I bought it for her.
I am unemployed, scrimp away every month, but I had fortunately come into a £500 windfall, by way of a tax rebate, and it was that amount I took with me to Leicester.
She is constantly in dire straits financially as she has no job either, for various and genuine reasons, and relies on benefits like myself. So I left her £20 for taxi fare too, to take her cat to the vet, as he is poorly and her only constant companion and she loves him to bits. So I left her taxi money to take him to the PDSA.
And I left her another £20 which I hid in a book in her living room, just for food.
And I bought her £60 worth of shopping from Tesco – cat litter, toilet rolls, food – some food and alcohol for both of us too, during my stay.
I bought us breakfast, dinner, lunch. Paid for all her train fares.
So I spent just under £300 on her, at a guess.
And you know, I think many people would be swearing at this point. Cursing and berating themselves for being so silly in spending so much on someone they hardly knew. But she was vulnerable and had led such a troubled life. I thought I could just sprinkle a little sunshine upon her, for those couple of days.
And I can’t even bring myself to be annoyed at giving so much. I feel I’m *supposed* to be. That money could have been for my own bills, my own cat. I could have given it to a friend I have known longer, and has been there more for me, whose washing machine broke down recently so I could have helped her instead. But I spent it all on someone who, within 72 hours, decided they never wanted to be in my life again.
So how come I can’t feel angry? I only feel love. I only have tears in my eyes now, wanting to give her a hug and tell her that things don’t have to be so heavy. That these differences, these misunderstandings, aren’t as serious as she thinks. They could, if she allowed, just drift away on the summer breeze and be forgotten about. Everything could be so light and easy and we could just laugh again. I guess some people find that so hard to do, for many different reasons.
I miss my friend, but life goes on. And when people say ‘life goes on’ it gives an impression of a strong, stoic stance and a hardening of the heart. ‘Oh yes!’ you cry. ‘Life goes on!’
But I think what people mean is that you can’t do anything about the hurt. You can’t make things better. For now, at least. In time? Who knows. But for now, you just have to miss the person you cared for and try your best to carry on.
TO BE CONTINUED…
The Little Plastic Tub
I have a little plastic tub. It contained her cake. Cake that she had baked especially for my visit. It was a huge cake, coconut and lime, and was delicious. She told me to bring the whole cake back with me but it would have been too big and awkward to carry, so I cut a few big wedges off it and she gave me this little plastic tub so that I could safely bring them home.
But I want to send the container back to her as I know she needs it. It’s not a frivolous decision, when you are on a low income as we are, to just ‘buy another little plastic tub’. It takes some thought and forward planning. These tubs are like gold to her.
And I can imagine myself at the Post Office. When the clerk asks “What is in the package please?” and I reply “A little plastic tub” then I know I might burst into tears. Which of course is the wrong thing to do these days as they might think it’s a bomb.
“No,” I’ll say. “It’s a little plastic tub. It held her cake.”
And the clerk will give me an odd look and I’ll walk away, hopelessly sad, and yet happy that she is getting back her little plastic tub.
But when two friends fall out, things that were once so innocent and easy, become huge and complicated, particularly to someone like me who has little confidence anyway. I stare at the little plastic tub and it suddenly becomes full of memories and meanings.
‘What if she sees it as stalkerish again? That would destroy me.’
‘But it’s her little plastic tub. She needs it.’
‘Maybe it’s too soon for me to send this little plastic tub.’
‘And anyway, if she receives a parcel from me, and recognises my handwriting, she may just throw it away without opening it.’
‘She just might not care at all.’
And a tear edges out of the corner of my eye and stays there.
And I worry that the little plastic tub may just end up in a bin, lost, broken and unloved. Because it would be wrapped well, in brown paper, tape and a padded bag. It would keep it safe and protected and it would be a bit tricky to open. But if she doesn’t even attempt to remove the packaging, she will never realise the truth of what lies inside. So it might just be discarded, thrown away without her discovering what it really is.
Sometimes it’s worth peeling off the packaging, just to see what’s inside.
So I sit here, staring at this little plastic tub, wondering what to do.
Maybe she will have one of those days where she is randomly curious and wanders over here, and she will read about how much thought I gave to the little plastic tub. Maybe she will help me out with what I’m supposed to do.
For now, I’ll hold on to this little plastic tub just a little longer, before letting it go…
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.