The Dating Game

Manhattan

I’ve tasted love. I know what it’s like. At 42, if I never enter another relationship again and live the rest of my life as a bachelor, then that’s no bad thing. That’s not being a sad lonely man. If I end up reaching 80, sat on a park bench, throwing ducks at the bread (you do that, you know, when you reach 80, as you get all sorts of stuff confused) and I get passers-by gazing at me forlornly, then that sympathy will be misplaced, for it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, said someone once upon a time. It might have been John Major. But the point is, I have loved, lost and loved again. Then lost it all. Then loved once more, before finally making a nice cup of tea and writing about it all.

There is a whole separate section here on my website dealing with the breakup of my last relationship. When I split from Pami Gill in January 2012 I couldn’t be bothered with dating for a long while, not until a whole year went by. In January 2013 I dipped my toe into the waters of online dating. Well, not really. Who on earth is going to ‘dip a toe’ into anything. You either subscribe to a site, entering your details, credit card number and watch your life savings seep away, month by month, or you don’t. There’s no toe dipping to speak of. There is, however, a number of free sites that spare you your life savings, such as the imaginatively titled Freedating or the one I ended up spending most of my time on – Plenty Of Fish.

Plenty Of Fish in the sea, apparently, and quite a few that I found interesting on that site, in late January of 2013. So much so that by the second week of February I had had four dates. There was a sub-editor of the Daily Mail, a vet, a rock chic drummer and another bird in Cirencester whose job I can’t remember. It was quite easy to arrange meetings (let’s face it, can you really justifiably call them dates?). I would message them two or three times, telling them I was an angst-ridden poet, who romantacised death and lived a bohemian lifestyle, living in a tee-pee in a field by Stonehenge and they would become fascinated by this and agree to meet. The sub-editor of the Daily Mail, I’ll call her Lucy because that was her name, was attractive, had two children, and met me at Jolly’s, an Irish cafe in Chippenham. She told me she had been at a hen night the night before in Bath and so was feeling somewhat worse for wear. But it was a pleasant breakfast; we talked, I found her interesting and wanted to see her again, but when I got home I had a nice, polite message to say that she didn’t feel a spark between us. Spark my arse you narrow-sighted bitch! That’s what I thought initially as I’m not that good with rejection. However, after some months had passed I was able to accept her rebuttal of my amorous attention with equanimity. Gosh, that was a rather contrived sentence but I’ll leave it in just so I can poke fun at myself when I read it again in years to come.

The second date with the rock chic drummer, whom I will call Marion because that was her real name too, was another interesting encounter. We met firstly in a cafe in Calne. Anyone who knows Calne, a small town in North Wiltshire, will also know that its shopping centre comprises of about ten shops and the choice of cafes amounts to the grand figure of two. We met in the other one. Anyway, Marion was short, frumpy but quite attractive. There are people who will read this that will interpret my use of the word frumpy as a negative. It isn’t. Frumpiness is damn sexy and I only use the word ‘but’ because often it does go hand in hand with the sort of dole scum that gorge themselves senseless on processed ready meals bought at Iceland. However, Marion had a good job, a nice house, a son and daughter and invited me to watch a movie at hers the following weekend. So that Saturday I duly went around to hers, clutching about fifty dvd’s because I am a bit of a film buff and thought we could start at The Seventh Seal and end with National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Did I find her attractive, even though she was attractive? What I mean is, I can objectively judge someone as being atractive, even if I don’t personally find them attractive. Their attractiveness is a given, regardless of my feelings. So there we were, sat together on the sofa, Marion laughing at all the right places (I didn’t think The Seventh Seal was *that* funny but, hey ho) and me thinking “Is she attractive or not?”. Suddenly, she lifts my arm, tucks her head into my chest, lowers my arm so it is resting on her hip/upper thigh area, and carries on watching the film.
‘Gosh,’ I think. ‘This is terribly forward’
However, it means I got to grope a bit of hip and thigh. Well, not grope. I allowed my hand to rest gently on her hip, moving it occassionally on to her thigh. If only I could get to her breasts, but that was awkward because of the way she was leaning into me. I guess I could have pushed my chest out a bit to maximise the contact, but that would mean disturbing the tub of popcorn on my left and I didnt want to do that as it was toffee flavoured and there wasnt much left.
Well, the film ended, we had a bit of a snog and then I left. It was a good snog but…no fireworks for me. It was like kissing an old book, one that I hadn’t read and wasn’t particularly keen on reading, but I knew if I did I would get something out of it. That sort of book. The thing is, does one kiss mean you are committed to each other? Because the next day I was on the POF site again and, as other users will know, people you message and interact with can tell when you have last visited the site, as it is flagged up on their home page. So when Marion noticed I was still on POF she sent me a text asking me why. I replied “Why not?” which as we all know, is the only sensible reply to the question ‘Why?’. This, however, was not the sort of reply that Marion wanted and so she abruptly told me never to go around to her house again. Which was fine by me, as it was one less book to read.

And now we come to the vet. She messaged me because in the list of films I liked, I stated that The Breakfast Club was in my top five favourite fims of all time. This clearly resonated with Brenda as she told me she just had to meet me so we could chat about the film and exchange quotes. Her profile pic was quite nice. She wore a big flowery dress and was holding a massive syringe, as it turned out she was an equestrian vet so specialised in horses.
I was living with a female flat mate at the time, Charlie Pepper, which I thought would be slightly problematic for potential dates. A forty-one year old bloke living with a twenty-seven year old girl – just the two of them, as housemates, sharing a house, together, two of them, an older man and a younger woman. Yes, it happened and no, absolutely nothing ever happened between us. I didn’t even get to see Charlie floss. However, it didn’t phase any of the dates I brought back and so, one day, Brenda came to visit me in Calne. Charlie thoughtfully went out that night leaving Brenda and I alone. We ordered a pizza and watched The Breakfast Club. We kissed. She slept on the sofa and I went up to my room. In the morning, she ended up in my bed.
When Harry Met Sally

But again, things fizzled out there. I just couldn’t get certain images of her out of my head. Images of her with her arm stuck up a horse’s arse as she pumped semen into it. What got to me was that these were male horses too, which I found downright weird. So yes, that one fizzled out too. And that was that for over a year, until May 2014.

A few weeks ago I tried again. Just a whim it was. A whim. A whim that wandered in from the west, in a whisper. A whispering whim. I could go on with this alliteration for yonks but I shan’t. Just to spite you. So yes, I looked at POF again, on a whim, and stumbled across a lady called Victoria.

Victoria’s profile picture was of her holding a cat. It was a big cat. A very very big cat. This prompted me to initiate contact with the message “Your cat is huuuuge!”. Not the most romantic of messages but I was just following my gut instinct. I didn’t know if she was aware of the hugeness of her cat and I wanted to be the first one to tell her. Victoria replied, I replied back, we swapped numbers and in a very short space of time, agreed to meet. I drove to Cheltenham and we met at Waterstones where we had a coffee. Victoria was intelligent, quirky and beautiful. She had a great love of Victorian literature and that era in general, as well as the sixties and shows like The Prisoner. She had a rich, complicated past but that just drew me to her even more. I was attracted to her. After four dates the year before when my ambivalence was so extreme I didn’t even pay attention as to whether they wanted sugar in their coffee, with Victoria, my attraction to her demanded that I pay very careful attention to how many sugars she took in her coffee. The answer, however, eludes me at the moment but if you get back to me at a later date, I am sure that I will be able to tell you how many sugars she has in her coffee, because that’s the kind of attentive guy I am.
We went to lunch and it appeared to go swimmingly well. I even got her to take part in a selfie with me.Victoria & Riaz

But here lies the rub. The conversation *was* a little stilted. There *were* pauses. There *were* times when I felt anxious and desperately sought out things to say. Not because of a lack of shared interests, but because I have that writer’s temperament which causes me to think too much about what I am going to say. I think. Is that really the truth? I mean, I can talk to females. I have a female friend who I spoke to for a couple of hours on the phone the other night, but that was easy because I wasn’t looking to get anything.

Fuck it. There it is. I’ve hit the nail on the head. I wasn’t looking to get anything. That friend is beautiful and I love her, but I am not looking to get anything out of her. I am not looking to form a romantic relationship with her, bed her or steal her collection of 1970s Bunty comics. Whereas with Victoria, due to her beauty, my mind had already cast adrift from it’s normally sound and logical anchor. I wanted her to like me – a lot. A few days later I telephoned her and I sensed that lack of energy in her voice – that excitement, that intangible wavering in one’s intonation that betrays the fact that they lust for you. That they covet you and want to smear honey over your body and then sprinkle on a little bit of dried oats and milk and eat you all up. That was what was lacking in her voice when I telephoned her. So after the phone call I took the decision to text her.
“I like you, do you like me?” I text-ed, in my best handwriting.
“I like you but didn’t think there was an attraction,” came the reply.
And now came the funny thing. I was surprised how hurt and sad I felt because of this. I shouldn’t be. The logical, rational part of me reasoned that after just ten or so texts and six or seven emails plus one meeting in the flesh, you can’t really have strong feelings for someone can you?
But I had been posting on Facebook about Victoria and my friends were all liking and commenting on those posts and feeling happy for me. I even wanted to lose weight, tone up and eat more healthily because of her. I actually threw a 1kg bag of sugar in the bin. All that fucking sugar, now in the bin, and I did it for a woman. I’m never gonna get that sugar back.
So who was the first person I spoke to about this and shared my hurt with? Not a bloke. No. It was another female friend. The irony of it. And again, later that night, another different female friend. Both I felt comfortable enough talking to. To both I was able to rabbit on, yacking about this and that, talking about feelings and emotions and purpose and life, stuff that I hadn’t been able to talk to Victoria about. Not because I couldn’t, but because I just didnt know her in that relaxed familiar way – yet. YET! And that is a slight frustration – that judgements can be made so soon, after one date, as to whether a ‘spark’ is there. Some people can be friends for twenty years before they realise a spark was there all along. I know. It happened to me. It happened to Sally when she met Harry.

So what am I saying here? What clumsy half-thought out idiom can I conjure up to end this blog in a clever way that wraps up all these themes of love, loss, relationships and life? Well…I can’t. There is no answer. There is no convenient wrapping up of emotions. Mutual attraction is just a big mish-mash of a lot of contradicting and unexpected events that come together in a random potpourri of luck.

But the powerful play goes on and all we can hope to do is contribute our own unique verse.

Riaz Ali. 2:06am 6th June 2014.

Old Friends

The Lover Pleads With His Friend For Old Friends

Though you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes. 

William Butler Yeats (13.6.1865 – 28.1.1939)

I used to think it harder to make new friends as I got older. But what I really mean is that I don’t have the same energy that I once did. A commitment of time and an investment is needed to create a firm foundation for a friendship to be based on. You may ‘click’ initially, and become aware that you have common interests, share a sense of humour and are both secretly addicted to Eastenders. But  then you need to make time for that person. To maintain contact, take an interest in their life and to be there for them not just the times when they are blissfully joyous and dancing naked along the beach at Porthcawl, but also during those dark times of deep despair, when no matter how many packets of Panini football stickers they buy, they still can’t find the one of Kevin Keegan in the bath. Actually, I’ve never had a friend who has danced naked on the beach at Porthcawl. Some might say that isn’t symptomatic of a person’s blissful happiness, but a sign that they are, in fact, mad.

But, going back to the poem, beauty does not perish with time’s bitter flood, does it? At least, the beauty of youth might, but that is an ephemeral, transient beauty that we are all graced with, and although some of us decide to embark on a long, prolonged and often futile battle against it, most of us grow old gracefully, allowing the passage of time to cut its lines upon our face and blemish us. Our skin, once soft, supple and shimmering, becomes gray, wrinkled and worn. But there is no need for our minds to do the same. It’s fine to read Take A Break and Celebrity Hairstyles, but not from cover to cover. Just read the title. That’ll do. Then move on to Take A Longer Break and Celebrity Woodworking and before you know it, you’ll be reading Ulysses and Nietzsche’s The Critique Of Pure Reason. Although personally I find Ulysses a pile of pretentious codswallop and would prefer to read Watership Down. But the point is, there is no need for that thirst of knowledge we once had to diminish. We can remain young inside.

But of course, it is the last line of the poem that reveals the truth. For all eyes but these eyes. To be known when you are young and for those same eyes to look upon you when you are old is beautiful, because those eyes lack judgement. They knew you when you were young. It doesn’t matter that you are now an old, toothless, dribbling incontinent wreck. They knew you when you were young and still love you for that. And that’s how I see all my old friends. I think about them the most.

So in an extremely roundabout way and by critiquing a poem in a way any sixth-former would be proud of, what I am saying is that I am more comfortable when surrounding myself with the people I knew from my past. If anyone new comes along that wants to be my friend, then meet me in the park at seven for a game of marbles and we’ll see how it develops from there.

tumblr_m77xzycRkc1qz6gl2

So, Kate Bush is playing live again after 35 years…

Riaz Ali  1987

Me, 1987.

So, Kate Bush is playing live again. From 26th August to 1st October 2014 she is playing 22 dates at the Eventim Appollo in Hammersmith, London. Her last tour, the Tour Of Life, was in 1979. Since then she has played or sung live on just a handful of occasions – at the Prince’s Trust concert in 1986, at a surprise appearance during a Peter Gabriel concert in 1987, at the Comic Relief concert in 1988 – but it has been thirty-five years since she has performed a full show on her own.
On Friday 21st March I woke up in the early afternoon after working a night shift. I did my usual thing – reach over for my laptop and switch it on. Whilst still in bed, I booted up Outlook and Facebook, in that order. The Outlook emails began with the usual stuff. Offers from Hotel Chocolat (legitimate), World Of Books (legitimate) and an offer from a Saudi Prince to pay me £57,000 if I helped him to release funds from his personal bank account by paying him £2000 as his country was at war with Porthcawl and his account had been frozen (not so legitimate). Then I noticed an email from KateBush.com titled ‘Before The Dawn – Presale’. Due to me having signed up to the mailing list, I was offered a chance of buying tickets for her live shows 48 hours before they went on sale to the general public.
Hang on a minute. Live dates? Shows? What the…???
Kate Bush Ticket
I checked Facebook. Several of my friends had posted to my wall, informing me of the incredible news. It was so unexpected it had featured on the Guardian newspaper’s website, the BBC News website and the following day, would get full page spreads in many of the national papers.
I was dumbfounded.
Since roughly 1986, when I first considered myself a fan, the idea of her touring again was met with a sort of resigned sigh within the fan community. Each album since her last tour presented an opportunity for live shows, and each time Kate would be non-committal in interviews.
“I’m being non-committal,” she would say, evasively and, broadly speaking, without commitment.
Kate Bush
I was a fan then. At sixteen, I looked up to Kate Bush. Previous to her, I had looked up to John Noakes, Lesley Judd and the Green Cross Code man but now my allegiance would change. If I wanted to know how to make a tardis from an egg carton or know how to cross a road safely, I would listen to a Kate Bush song and derive the necessary lesson from her music and lyrics. I became a member of the official Kate Bush fan club, subscribed to a popular fanzine at the time called Homeground, and spent all of my unemployment benefit on attending record fairs and buying rare and not-so-rare Kate Bush merchandise. I had pen friends all around the UK that were fans and I attended many fan gatherings – a November 1988 meeting at Top Withens, Haworth, a 1989 meeting at Glastonbury Tor, another 1989 meeting at Birmingham and also, the official 1990 Kate Bush convention at the Hammersmith Palais, London. It is that convention that served as the perfect ending to my book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’. In that book I felt it was the first and last time I would ever see her in the flesh, let alone hear her sing (she did sing at the convention – to the tune of ‘My Lagan Love’ she sang lyrics she had written specifically for the fans on that day. When I left the venue late that afternoon, I thought that was it. It seemed an apt ending to a wonderful four years that I had spent as what I would call a ‘diehard’ fan, but now my life was changing and I felt that was the end of a chapter in my life.
Over the subsequent years, my interest on a fan level faded quickly. I remember taking a call from a friend one day. He was a major fan and was eager to tell me that one of her songs was being featured on some television show. That’s how it was back then. Fans networking with each other to keep each other up to date on the latest Kate Bush news.
“She’s on Top Of The Pops!” he said. I could hear his drool dripping on to his dog.
“That’s fantastic,” I replied, with what I thought was an appropriate amount of enthusiasm.
A pause.
“You’re not really a fan anymore are you?” he said with a sad note in his voice. No, I wasn’t and I murmured my agreement. Equally sadly, that was the last I ever heard from him. Strange how a friendship could hinge on a single mutual like and when that shared interest is shaken, the friendship dies.

From the early nineties, other interests became more important. Reading, writing and becoming a full time carer for my grandmother forced me to grow up very quickly and the idea of becoming a fan of anything seemed to be a luxury I couldn’t afford.

Years would pass without me playing any of her music and then, on some whim, I would play Hounds of Love or The Kick Inside, enjoy it for a fleeting moment, and then go back to my other two main musical loves – Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro.

In 2009, I entered a relationship with a Kate Bush fan that I had known for twenty years or so, which forced me to dip my toes in the waters of the fan scene again. Waters that I found tepid and stale and I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was too insular and obsessive for my tastes and attending gatherings with my then partner was a chore. As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t want to belong to any club, that would have someone like *me* as a member.”

So although today, at 41 years old, I am not a fan in the strict sense of the word, I still enjoy much of her music. Her last album, 50 Words For Snow is played constantly. To me, it is the best thing she has created since Hounds Of Love was released in 1985. Misty, in particular, is a song that I find incredibly touching and the soft jazz drum rhythms and haunting rhythmic melody recaptures everything that I loved about her music in the 80s.

But then, this announcement of live dates comes along, playing with my emotions again. On that morning, when I realised I had the chance to see her perform live, I also realised that I *wanted* to see her perform live. I dearly wanted to because…because maybe everything needs closure. I remember those summer days in 1987 when I would be sat on my bed, the sunlight pouring in like honey, as I pored over the Kate Bush Club magazines that were spread out before me. My Nan and Bamp would be downstairs, preparing dinner, and the smells would be wafting up into my room. My 16 year old body would be a well of energy and my mind constantly searching, inventing, wondering and dreaming. To the side, my large twin cassette deck ghetto-blaster would be playing Never Forever and the princely sum of £27, my unemployment benefit, would be burning a hole in my jeans pocket as I wondered whether to take the bus to town to buy a Kate Bush album on CD, even though I already had the album on vinyl and cassette. Then, Kate Bush was my world and I couldn’t imagine my life five years ahead, let alone twenty-five years ahead. And yet here I am, in a different bedroom, in a different county, living a life I never expected to live.

And the the past rears its beautiful head and beckons me in…

Kate Bush

Riaz Ali

Create Your Badge

The Pontypool College Years 1991-1992

“There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today.” – Joni Mitchell ‘Hejira’.

If old friends knew how much affection I hold for them, they would run a mile. There are some friends I made in college that I have not seen for twenty years or more. Others, from Brookfield School, I have not seen for more than thirty years. But there they are, in my heart, secure in their own little corner. I don’t care what they have grown up to be – whether they became successful or unsuccessful. Whether they became cruel or kind, good or bad. Because I knew them when they were 9 and they were part of my world. There they are now, with their grown up lives and grown up jobs. Some even have grown up kids and live grown up days, where they are sensible, responsible and serious. But I remember how we were, during those long summer days, as we sat on the grass and talked about our lives, wondering about our futures. I remember.

My first book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’ was a comedy memoir of my life between the ages of 5 and 19, taking in the years 1976 to 1990. Volume 2 ‘My Life With Joni Mitchell’ is currently being written. A substantial portion of the book, probably about half of the 80,000+ words, will be taken up by recalling, with warmth and humour, my time at Pontypool college between 1991 and 1992. I was there for about 9 months, leaving unceremoniously in May of 1992. I say unceremoniously only because I woke up one morning and decided I didn’t want to go anymore. I had dropped out of most lessons and academically had achieved very little. Socially though, my world had exploded and those 9 months were among the best 9 months I have ever lived. If ever I get anyone pregnant, then I expect those 9 months to be better, or at least more memorable, but for now, when it comes to enjoying the number 9 in conjunction with the same number of months, it is the 9 months at Pontypool college that were the best.

The main entrance to Pontypool College

The main entrance to Pontypool College

The subjects I took were English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre Studies. I have no idea why I took the latter two. I had never acted before, apart from the nativity play in Brookfield School during the christmas of 1979. I played one of the shepherds and Mr Baldwin had given me a little toy lamb to carry when I walked out on stage. Even at 8 years old I had this instinct that it wouldn’t be cool to be seen carrying a little toy lamb. In 1979 I was mesmerised by a new film out in the cinemas called Grease, which was full of teenagers wearing leather, smoking and singing about summer nights. None of them carried little toy lambs so why should I? In fact, why couldn’t I be a leather wearing, smoking shepherd with slicked back hair and a penchant for saying “Hey!”? So as I stepped out from behind the curtain, following the other three shepherds (yes, three. It’s a long story.) I deliberately dropped the lamb. After the nativity, Mr Baldwin took me aside and said, with a sad look in his eyes “Why did you drop the lamb?”
I shrugged and stared at the floor.
That was my only experience with acting.

But within three months I was rehearsing for the second play I would perform in during my life. It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. And in those three months I had become friends with a whole host of people – Scott Bailey, Martin Rowan, Lisa Osmond, Rhian Hutchings, Nigel Williams, Katherine Berriman, Catherine Slater, Catherine Stone, Kath Ayling (there were a hell of a lot of Cath’s back then. Sometimes I yearned to meet a Priscilla or Florentine, but it was never to be), Sarah Letton, Stephanie Virgin, Becci Senior, Trudi Jackson and several others, all of whom I took an instant liking to.

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Sarah Letton

My persona then was different to the way I am now. I was quite flamboyant, dressing in tie-dyed trousers, hand painted boots, waistcoats and having hair that went half way down my back. I loved it. I loved being that way and entering into a world where you weren’t judged for being that way, as all around me were punks, mods, goths, grungers and other teenagers, all looking to find their own identity too and expressing it in such wonderful ways. These days I just wear jeans and a t-shirt to work. Sometimes I wear a cravat and a monocle, but that’s only after midnight, when I am alone and drunk.

In the mid 90s I became the sole full time carer for my grandmother and lost touch with most of my friends. Some twenty years later, mainly through Facebook, I managed to track most of them down. Most recently, it was Katherine Berriman that I was finally able to track down and message. Katherine was a wonderful actress and had such a sense of fun. I remember once she came back to my house in Cwmbran on my 21st birthday and we spent an hour on my bed, keeping an inflatable birthday cake in the air with our feet, before going to the Fairwater House pub where a surprise gathering of college friends was waiting for me. On another occasion, Katherine was involved in some production that took place in the evening at college. It was a monologue, if I recall, and she was so excited about it and looked forward to it a great deal. I didn’t turn up to watch her.
The next day she berated me, with a smile, saying “Why didn’t you turn up?”
I laughed it off, as I did with a lot of things back then. In truth, I was worried about transport, my Nan being alone in the evening, and money. I was such a worrier and it got in the way of things. I even worried about worrying. Of course, now I look back and berate myself even more for being so stupidly caught up in the cares of life when I should have been more carefree.
But I wish I had supported my friend.

Pontypool College

Top row : Second from left – Nigel Williams, far right – Becci Senior
Bottom row (L to R) : Sarah Letton, Cath Ayling, Katherine Berriman.

A very good friendship evolved with Scott Bailey, another excellent actor. Scott had a very likeable, warm and friendly personality and an excellent inoffensive sense of humour. He was affable, personable and palatable. Back then, my sense of humour had an abrasive streak which sometimes bordered on the cruel. I mistook sarcasm for wit on many occasions. Scott was a good antidote for that, as I used to point out people on the street and highlight their inadequacies and Scott would ground me by saying “You’re wrong.” Now, with the luxury of hindsight, I know he was right and I wish I hadn’t been so John Lennon-esque with my attempts at making people laugh.

Lisa Osmond was another close friend and I have yet to track her down. She still eludes me and, like that line from Alanis Morrisette’s unsent, “I will always have your back and be curious about you – about your career, your whereabouts.” Lisa was a beautiful, short (although at 6’4, most people are short compared to me) girl with a kindness and generosity that stole my heart for a while. We became good friends and for a while after college ended, we would meet up on Tuesdays for a coffee and a chat. We even ended up going on an employment training scheme for a few months in 1993 – CTF Training, where we learned…actually, I can’t remember what we learned. I remember writing cartoons on bits of paper and sliding them across the table to Lisa. I also remember the tutor shouting at me at one point for sliding someone else a cartoon on a bit of paper. I even carried this through to the point I built a slide out of paper and turned it into a cartoon. But I digress. I love a good digression.
But Lisa…yes, I would love to contact her again and let her know how much I valued her friendship. She, along with others mentioned here, are never far from my thoughts. My life carries on, but I carry them all inside me where they are alive, vibrant and laughing. And I will always be with them, sitting on the grass outside the drama department, in the summer of 1992.

Lisa Osmond (left)

Lisa Osmond (left)

All these memories, and many, many others, will soon be available to read in –

life2

The Hobbit : Desolation of Smaug

I’ve often wanted to be a hobbit. I have big hairy feet, enjoy food and live in the country. Unfortunately I don’t smoke a pipe and I’m 6’4. If I wandered into Hobbiton I would probably be bullied for not smoking and being tall, such is the way of things.

But I have been a life long fan of Tolkien. Well, not for all my life obviously. Not when I was two years old, for instance. I was a fan of pooing and saying “Sma smee smoo sma” back then. No, I have been a fan roughly since the age of eleven in 1982, when my best friend at that time, Wayne Weston, was bought a sinclair ZX Spectrum, complete with a copy of The Hobbit.

The Hobbit - ZX Spectrum

It was one of the first graphical adventure games available on a UK home computer. What this meant was that instead of just reading bare text, you got to see a picture too. Adventure games were quite popular in 1982 although the parser was quite primitive and fitting in a large vocabulary into the program was nigh on impossible. You might be faced with the description “The cave is blocked by a large boulder. To your left is a lever and on the right wall is a strange hexagram. Strange wailing sounds can be heard behind you and the magical orb in your pocket begins to glow.”
But if you tried typing in “Pull out my orb and throw it hard at the boulder while I begin the third incantation from the book of Bangor” you would receive the response “I do not understand.”
Most often, all the program would accept would be “Pull lever.”

If you are under 30, you probably will not get the subtle, complicated, cultural and life changing humour that this picture represents.

If you are under 30, you probably will not get the subtle, complicated, cultural and life changing humour that this picture represents.

In my teenage years I finally got around to reading The Hobbit, swiftly followed by The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. By the time I was 16 in 1987, I had also read the wonderful biography of J.R.R.Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter, The Letters of Tolkien, The Silmarillion and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, which disappointingly had nothing to do with Middle-Earth.

Let’s fast forward twenty six years. I am now living in Avebury, on a large farm with horses, dogs, cats and enchiladas. It is Christmas and part two of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is out in the cinemas.
Trilogy.
Yep. I know.
The original book has just 255 pages and yet Peter Jackson has turned it into three films each lasting three hours. The reason he has done this is because he likes the number three. It isn’t because he thought the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films were so successful and spawned such a huge amount of lucrative merchandise that he wanted to repeat that to put more coffers in his pocket.
No, of course not. That would be obscene.

So on Christmas Eve I have a wonderful Christmas dinner with my landlady, landlord and landchildren.
“Hey, would anyone like to come and see The Hobbit on Boxing Day?” I ask, coyly.
Marcus and Theo were the first to respond.
Marcus and Theo
“Sure,” they said in unison (that’s as in ‘together’ and not as in ‘representatives of the trade union of nurses and teachers’)
Imogen, Tarquin, Orlando, Diana and Adam also professed extreme interest in this anarchic night out, so the following evening we set off for Greenbridge.

Greenbridge. Now there’s a name. If ever you go there you will notice a distinct lack of bridges. And of green. There are, in fact, no green bridges in Greenbridge. It’s a retail park that has a cinema and tons of eateries all positioned haphazardly on grey lifeless concrete. There’s nothing green about it at all, apart from the radiation left over from the experiments into superhuman strength that were conducted here back in the sixties.

So we all piled into the auditorium and the film began.
To sum it up simply, Peter Jackson has turned it into a chase movie. The threat of pursuit and capture is constantly reinforced with the audience, with shots of the ugly twat-faced orcs lumbering some miles behind the squat bearded topically plump dwarves. The book is not like that at all. The book, published in 1937, has a far more sedentary pace and the characters are fully formed and not painted with the broad brush strokes that Peter Jackson has painted them with in his bloated excuse for a film.
In the book, Radagast the Brown is just fleetingly mentioned. In the film he is given a huge amount of screen time. In the book, Gandalf’s involvement with the Necromancer in Mirkwood is explained with the line “I drove the Necromancer out of Mirkwood.” – and rightly so as it had nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with the plot in the original book. In the film, this story line is given just as much weight as the quest to kill the dragon.
As Inigo Montoya was so fond of saying, “Inconceivable!”

However, this brings me to the redeeming feature. The Dragon.
Smaug is rendered majestically and through the art of computer graphics, has been brought to life in a way that Tolkien himself would have been proud of. Smaug retains all the smugly smirkiness that was apparent in the books, and his interactions with Bilbo towards the end of the film make the wait worthwhile.

So to sum up, if you like chase films watch it. If you like fantasy films, watch it. If you like dragons, watch it.
If you like sensitively directed hardcore Japanese porn accompanied by a classical soundtrack, then this isn’t the film for you.

The Hobbit

All You Need Is Love

There is a lot of hate in the world. It’s very easy to do isn’t it? And the word just reels off the tongue.
“I hate you,” you say to your mum when she doesn’t let you watch porn on the internet.
“I hate you,” you say to the shopkeeper as he refuses to sell you the latest issue of ‘Classy Unshaven Matures Over 40′.
“I hate you,” you say to the driving instructor who has failed you.
“I hate you,” you say in your capacity as a driving instructor to the little spotty teenage nerd whose feet don’t even reach the clutch.
“I hate you,” you say to the little yellow goblin that is hanging from the nose of the pediatrician, as he cycles the wrong way down a one way street that leads to the Land of Topsy-Turvy.

Hate is a word that has a lot of meaning which is often diluted when we use that word in our day to day lives.

This is what real hate is – Hate

I mean, what a waste of a day. All that effort – making the banners, scribbling the messages on, wrapping up warm on what is clearly a cold Autumn day – what a waste. They could have used their time much more productively on staying indoors, making a hot cup of coffee and watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Atcually, that would be a great prank would it not? Get a bunch of Muslim extremists together on the pretence of showing them a video on how to wage war and mass destruction and eliminate the infidels and instead, start playing The Rocky Horror Picture Show to them. I wonder how far into the movie they would get before realising they had been stitched up? My money is on them reaching the ‘Sweet Transvestite’ song.

Anyhow, back to that picture. When I first came across it on google images – I typed ‘Muslim extremist pictures’ – I was shocked and appalled, in equal measures, at how negative the message was. “What can I do?” I thought to myself that night, as I was lying in bed, reading Stig Of The Dump on my all-new Kindle paper-white, “What can I do to show them that love is really the way to go?”
So I booted up photoshop and had a go and sending them a message.
Bring back Aztec bars!

Result! Damn, I miss those Aztec bars. Apparently they were re-released back in 2000 for a few months. I don’t remember that. They were probably released under the cover of darkness in a hush-hush operation no doubt.
I love Aztec bars though.
I love them.
Love.
Now isn’t that a lovely word? It is soft and sensual and rolls of the tongue like a beautiful song. The word ‘hate’ is abrupt, angular and sharp. The ‘t’ makes it so. ‘Love’ on the other hand has a softer middle consonant and it sounds like it is just the beginning. To say ‘love’ on its own makes you feel that it is missing something after it. It needs the addition of another word, or a few more letters.
Love you.
Loveliness.
Love. Love. Love. Loveability. That’s the beauty of love.

So I had a go at spreading the love a bit more by kindly altering another picture.
Angry Man
Became…
All you need is love

Our Children Will Never Know The Link Between The Two…

Our Children Will Never Know The Link Between The Two

The above picture was on Facebook this morning. It wasn’t new to me. I had seen it several months previously in a slightly different form. It’s a good example of how a picture can appear, do the rounds, evolve, appear again a few months later and so on. Ad Infinitum. The previous time I had seen the picture was like this – Our Children Will Never Know The Difference Between The Two
And this -

cassette-tape-pencil

And in another slightly different form, here we are again –

Our Children Will Never Know The Connection Between The Two

All quite witty, perceptive and funny. At least, they were the first time around. So It got me thinking. I love thinking, me. It’s my second favourite thing to do without the need for a lubricant. Though some people might argue that the mind needs lubrication as well as anything else. But I’ll keep that for another blog post. Maybe I will call it ‘Everything you always wanted to know about lubrication but were too afraid to ask’, a title in homage to that wonderful book by David Reuben published in 1969.
But yet again, I digress. I quite like a good digression, now and then. It’s healthy and keeps me from thinking about death and the futility of war.

So I got thinking – how far can something be stretched before it breaks? How far can a joke or idea be stretched, before it becomes less and less funny? How far? How? How far? Are you still with me? How far? How? How?
Or is there no such thing? Will an idea, if continually stretched, just become more and more absurd and yet still retain some comic value?
Let’s find out.

So the first thing we need to do is to create a rule. The rule is that the caption must remain *exactly* the same, no matter what the two pictured items are. If we start altering the words, then the whole thing evolves and nothing is being stretched.
So let’s try it now.

Our Children Will Never Know The Link Between The Two

Hmm. Doesn’t quite work does it? What I was implying was that taking a book and sitting under a tree to read it on a glorious summer’s day is lost to the kids of today. They’d rather take an X-box out under a tree, along with a 60″ plasma TV. Also, the picture might be suggesting that kids don’t realise that books are made from trees. That what you are holding when you read a book, is actually the remains of a tree, possibly an old oak tree a thousand years old that has been sat in the corner of a field, somewhere in the heart of England, watching the centuries turn and the world go by, before ending up as another copy of 50 Shades Of Grey. Gosh, I’d better stop there as I might start crying now.

Right. Let’s try another idea then.

Adolf Hitler and a Chicken

Right. Let me explain. This isn’t just a chicken and Hitler. It’s a WATERCOLOUR of a chicken. Because, you know, Hitler used to paint watercolours didn’t he? In 1920′s Vienna, before he got hold of this silly notion about taking over the world, he used to paint pictures of daisies, fields and unicorns. But the double whammy is this – all of his biographers clearly state he was partial to eggs. He used to enjoy a fried egg at breakfast and a boiled egg for lunch. So I was being extremely clever by not just using any old watercolour picture, but a watercolour of a CHICKEN! No kid of today would know the link between Hitler and a watercolour of a chicken!

No, they probably wouldn’t. On the other hand, it probably is a bit too obtuse. Let’s have another shot (excuse the bad Hitler pun) at this.

Now this is where I become a bit lazy. I just updated my Facebook status to read “Can somebody please list two unconnected items. Anything at all. First thing that comes into your head.”
Within a minute I had the following submissions -

Kate Jjm – Cheese philosophy.
Catherine Louise Cullen – Buzz shit (Buzz shit? BUZZ SHIT? Catherine, if I hadn’t gone to college with you in the early 90s, I’d think you were weird!)
Gareth Gruffy Evans – Squirrels Toe-nails.
Kathy Hales Owen – Sunglasses Custard
Jenny Brahma – Range cooker Text book
Eirwen Rogers – Flip flops & garden strimmer

Er…this is going to be a challenge. Let’s start with the first one then.

Cheese & Philosophy

Okay. It’s cheese and philosophy. The idea being the kids of today who eat cheese, will never realise that it was actually discovered by Immanuel Kant and was ate frequently by him when he wrote his bestseller Critique of Judgement in 1790.

Next one (boy this is going to be tricky) – Buzz shit. Thanks Catherine.

Toy Story is Shit

So the idea here is that kids will never know that Buzz Lightyear is shit.

Doesn’t work does it?
Next!

Our children will never know the link between the two

Toe nails. Squirrels. Our children will never know that squirrels have toe nails.

Right. Okay. I’m done. I’ve just proven, with the help of my Facebook friends, that you CAN stretch a joke to breaking point!

Until next time…

Riaz.

On Friendship

Stand By Me

Between my moments of lucid surreal stupidity and high octane frivolity I get periods of quiet reflectiveness. This is one of those times when, for no reason at all, I drift back to my childhood and memories of the friendships I forged.

They say we are social creatures, us humans. I think, to all intents and purposes, that is true for a great many of us. But I think it is also not true for far more of us than you might imagine. As we grow older, and the snow grows colder, my head grows bolder, like an old landrover. God knows where that last sentence came from but as it slowly appeared, my smile grew wider so I am going to leave it in, just sitting there, until it finds a better place in some book of mine years from now.

That’s the trouble with being a writer. Thoughts come and go and whizz around in the firmament of your head until they pop and beg to be given life on a page somewhere. In this case, on a blog that no bugger will ever read.

But, as usual, I digress. Let’s try and get back to the crux of the nib of the matter.

The first friend I ever remember having – apart from Benny Bunion who was a little lateral deviation of my big toe on my left foot that appeared when I was four – was Paul Barnes. I was five years old and had just started Brookfield Junior & Infant school in Cwmbran, Gwent and Paul, an irascible, mischevous and very naughty boy took a liking to me, and I a liking to him, and we became firm friends. Brookfield School was blessed with a huge playing field. I know everything seems bigger to you when you are a child anyway, but this field was massive.

Hang on a minute. Let me just check a thesaurus.

The field was a vast, gargantuan, monumental prairie at least three miles wide and the grass was forty fathoms deep. That’s how big it was. And if I want to measure grass by the fathom, I bloody will.

Paul and I would claim that field for our own, inventing games, mostly revolving around him being the leader of some gang and I was the follower. But that suited me. I was happy to follow.

“Riaz,” he said one day, looking up to me (at seven I was already well over five foot. Paul was about three foot two inches). “Have you seen Grease?”
“Grease?” I repeated blankly. I thought about the stuff that I saw my Bamp sometimes put on the tyre rims of his vauxhall viva. “A bit.”
“It’s a movie,” said Paul. There’s two gangs. The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. They’re mods. If you want to stay my friend, you have to become a mod.”
“Okay,” I said happily and I became a mod.
Now let me explain something – Paul didn’t fully understand what a mod meant and neither did I. To ‘become’ something at seven years old simply meant one person asking the other and the other person agreeing. So for a few weeks I was a mod and the only way I could let other people know this was by telling them, as they’d never be able to guess just from looking at me.
“Grease is the word!” said Paul.

My book ‘My Life With Kate Bush’ goes further into my friendship with Paul. Those of you who have read that will know that our friendship ended purely due to the intervention of my over-protective mother and her concern that I was mixing with the wrong crowd.

So at eight years old I then became friends with Andrew Moreton. Andrew was a completely different kettle of fish to Paul. Not that I have ever owned a kettle of fish, or even two kettle’s of fish, as if I only had one, I wouldn’t be able to compare it to another one. But Andrew loved football and unlike Paul or myself, didn’t come from a single parent family. Andrew was quieter in his own little way and we complemented each other. For a brief time in my life I actually really really enjoyed playing football and Andrew taught me a lot in that respect. Back in the classroom, Andrew was less studious and lacked my level of concentration, and I would only be too happy to help him out with sums and reading. Reading in particular was not one of his strong points and even today, at 42 years old, I can remember us sitting together when we were 9, him resting his chin on my arm as I read out to him a particularly difficult passage from one of the Ladybird Key Word Learning Scheme books featuring the perfect sister and brother – Peter and Jane.
Peter and Jane

Andrew and I were best friends for a while. Having a best friend was very very important at 9. It made me feel safe and secure to know that I could ring him any time of the day or night and say “Was Stig of the Dump real?” or “Can you bring me over some crack cocaine?”.
Andrew did seem more popular to me too and exuded confidence. He never seemed shy at organising an impromptu football match or talking openly and assuredly about, well, any topic really. Even Kerplunk. I always was, and still am, more of a listener than a talker. I feel I can talk and hold my own in a conversation, but it’s not my most favourite thing in life to do. I’d rather listen, absorb, and then create a humorous parody of the conversation days, weeks or years later in a book…

Our teacher in the fourth year of Brookfield was Mr Graham Baldwin and Andrew and I used to share a big wooden table with Marcus Griffiths and David Powell. For most lessons we would sit there, the four of us, whispering nonsense stuff to each other during Maths, flicking bits of Blu Tack at each other during English.

These are just memory fragments. Little splinters of time that are stuck inside my head. They are always there and when I sit in the quiet, late in the evening as I am now, I can make those memories real and I am transported back to my days in Brookfield School.

To the time when I had the best friends that I ever had in life.

 

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The Fantastically Amazing Library Inside A Telephone Box And Other Wiltshire Attractions (And A Bit About Charlie Pepper Too!)

Will I win any awards for having the longest title for a blog post in history?
No? Didn’t think so.
Anyway…

Telephon Box Library in Marden

Okay, so I was writing – honestly I was. But I check my phone and there’s a message off Charlie Pepper (Yeah – I know someone called Charlie Pepper and you don’t! Ha!)
“Riaz,” she texts, “are you free sometime this week? I’ve got something amazing to show you. And bring a book”.
So I ring her.
“That’s the most enigmatic text ever Charlie,” I say to her.
“What?”
“That text is enigmatic.”
“What does that mean?”
“Mysterious.”
“Oh right. Are you coming over now? Bring a book that you don’t want.”
So I pop over and she makes me a cup of tea and sits me down. She then rummages around for a map, finds it, and spreads it out on the floor between us.
She studies it for a while and says “Hmm. I’m not the best map reader.”
I point out that what she thinks is a map, is actually a blueprint of the Hoover Dam.
“Ah, that makes sense then. Anyway Riaz,” she says, “there’s a phone box in Marden, and it’s a library! It’s full of books! There’s a sign inside saying ‘bring one, take one’ so you just need to leave a book there to borrow one!”
“A telephone box? Turned into a library?” I repeat.
“Yes, I was out there walking Buster earlier today and passed it.”
I looked around at Charlie’s bungalow. Everything seemed quite normal in here. Outside though, was a world full of telephone-shaped libraries.
“Okay, I’ll go and explore. By the way, I’m looking for an antique wooden box. Any idea where I could get one from?”
“Try Woodborough garden centre,” suggested Charlie, giving me the directions. “And while you are there, there’s a crop circle information centre there which is worth investigating.”

So I hopped on my trusty scooter and rode to the nearby parish of Marden on the river Avon. And there it was.

Telephone Box Library

I had a browse of the books, took The Borrowers and replaced it with The Joy Of Sex and then left to find Woodborough Garden Centre.
As I rode through the juicy, leafy lanes of bulbous Wiltshire, I reflected on my friendship with Charlie Pepper. When I first arrived in Wiltshire from Wales during the winter of 2010, I ended up in a house share in Graham Street, just off Manchester Road in central Swindon.
I didn’t do my research first.
Manchester Road was often frequented by ‘Ladies of the Night’. These ladies of the night would often be about during the day too. They offered a range of services, from being your personal nanny for one hour – a snip at £375 – to whipping you senseless as they screwed the heel of their stiletto into your one-eyed trouser snake. That only cost £1,350. About the price of an imported Chinese 125cc scooter. I shared a house with a psychopathic paranoid actor. That in itself is deserving of a blog post of its own so I won’t dwell any longer on the five months I lived there. Interestingly though, since I have moved from that destitute hotspot of nefarious night time activities, I notice they are trying to cash in on me.
Riaz Ali - Famous Author

I left that home for another house share in Calne. I then rented a cottage in Calne for a year and after that moved into another house share with Charlie Pepper. She actually responded to an ad I had put on the internet as I needed to find a place quickly as my current landlady had chosen not to renew my lease as she wanted to sell the cottage. I mulled over whether I should do a ‘full rent’ again and look for a one or two bedroom place for myself. But financially, if you’re lucky enough to find the right person, a house share can be a perfect living arrangement.
So I telephoned Charlie, we met a few times, and I moved into her cottage in Quemerford.

Charlie Pepper

Again, Charlie definitely deserves a blog post all of her own, so I won’t dwell on the five months I shared a house with her either! But unlike the psychopathic paranoid actor, Charlie and I became friends and although in many ways we are very ‘chalk & cheese’, it’s sometimes the chalkiness and cheesyness that draws us to others.

I arrived at Woodborough garden centre. This was yet another undiscovered gem of the area in which I lived. Although I guess undiscovered gem is something of a misnomer as lots and lots of people had discovered it previous to me. It was in fact very busy on the day I arrived. So it wasn’t undiscovered at all by anyone but myself, and I discovered it within thirty seconds of parking. Following that logic, I guess there is absolutely nothing in the world that is undiscovered. There’s simply a lot of stuff waiting around to be found.

So Woodborough garden centre looks a little like this –

Part of Woodborough garden centre. Inside this thatched building are several rooms, all thatched, staffed by thatched people. When I was there I saw a thatched cat too and drank from thatched cups. Even the money was thatched.

Part of Woodborough garden centre. Inside this thatched building are several rooms, all thatched, staffed by thatched people. When I was there I saw a thatched cat too and drank from thatched cups. Even the money was thatched.

I wandered into the antiques shop there, which has the wonderful name of ‘The Antiques & Tat Shop’. It was the perfect shop for me – a mish mash of bric-a-brac, genuine antiques and ‘odds & sods’. I did find a beautiful old antique wooden ‘shoe box’ from the 1940s.
“This is just what I want!” I said to the extremely alluring lady stood behind the counter. “However, I have only driven here on a scooter and I am not sure if it will fit in my underseat storage. Can I try it and if it doesn’t fit, I’ll bring it back?”
“Of course you can,” said the raven-haired mistress of the night, tracing an imaginary line into the top of my box with a long red painted fingernail.
I raised my eyebrows and gulped. Discreetly, I hoped.
So I took the box out to my trusty steed and nope, it didn’t fit.
“Where do you live?” asked Guinevere, casting her myth-like eyes upon my factual face.
“Avebury,” I whispered.
“Oh I have to go to Devizes later so I don’t mind swinging by later to drop it off for you.”
Primeval lust urges aside, I have noticed that the majority of people in this neck of the woods are simply kind and generous. I never found that back in my home town of Cwmbran, where the six year olds used to go around with flick knives. But here, in the little parishes, hamlets and villages of North Wiltshire, people everywhere just seem so, well, nice.
Later that day she did bring it to my current home in Avebury. I know you all like to see pictures of nice boxes, so I won’t disappoint you. Here’s mine.
A box

So anyway, after arranging delivery of this, I then visited the Crop Circle Information Centre that Charlie had told me about. As a teenager back in the late 80s, I had an interest in all things supernatural and paranormal and back then, most people believed that crop circles were either created by aliens, natural weather phenomena or John Noakes. Or even a combination of all three. In recent years everyone has come to realise that they were all man made, and there has even been organised competitions in Wiltshire to see who can create the most impressive crop circle. But to find an actual Crop Circle Information Centre was quirky, odd, bizarre and right up my street. I love stuff like this – things a bit off-centre and away from the normal safe roads of everyday life! So I entered.

Inside the Crop Circle Information Centre at Woodborough Garden Centre. A few seconds after I took this photograph, Mulder & Scully walked in...

Inside the Crop Circle Information Centre at Woodborough Garden Centre. A few seconds after I took this photograph, Mulder & Scully walked in…

It was bigger than I thought. It was like a large open plan office but with alcoves dotted here and there dedicated to different aspects of crop circles. There was even a little room with a sofa in and a television where you could watch documentaries on crop circles. It was a crop circle conspiracy theorist’s heaven.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed reading about my latest adventures in Wiltshire. And remember folks, don’t spend too long wandering around the stones in Avebury, else your head will shrink due to the cosmic vibes.
Riaz Ali