The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 8 – Alcohol

It’s Monday 4th December 2017. I am tipsy. Or drunk. I am never sure of the sliding scale of insobriety. We were never taught that in school. We were never given a little cardboard scale with an arrow that could be adjusted between sober and blotto. That lesson was sorely lacking in the curriculum. So as I was saying, it’s Monday, blah blah blah and here I am, drunk on a good quality spiced rum and listening to a compilation of Christmas music. It’s the sort of compilation where Enya’s Silent Night follows Slade’s Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. In other words, every three minutes the mood shifts and I don’t know whether to jump up and down in my luminescent pink 80s leggings or kneel and thank God for giving us The Krankies.

Right, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this blog. Alcohol. Growing up in the late 70s, my father, who called himself a Muslim but wasn’t, strictly observed a select few of the tenets of this faith that he arbitrarily believed in. One of the tenets he randomly observed without ever explaining, was abstaining from alcohol. Beating my mother and sexually abusing my sister was fine, but alcohol? No way. If the prophet Mohammed caught him drinking alcohol, all hell would break loose. He couldn’t even do it when Mohammed wasn’t looking, because Mohammed would know. This aspect of Mohammed was kind of cool when I was a kid, but I still preferred to read Whizzer & Chips and play Top Trumps. I did sometimes wonder if there could ever be a ‘God & Prophets’ themed Top Trumps set as it would be interesting to see if Jesus or Mohammed would win in the ‘omnipotence rating’ category.

So he never drank alcohol. I think he was so vigilant regarding not letting it into the house, he didn’t even allow luxury mince pies laced with alcohol to enter our home, or even chocolate liqueurs, which oh my god I loved. Because you see, visiting my white and Welsh grandparents every weekend, they would often let me eat both chocolate liqueurs AND bacon. I loved them for this. Being 8 or 9 years old and biting on a chocolate liqueur, enjoying the crisp crunchiness of the inner sugar coating that formed the container for the alcoholic liqueur, and then feeling the warmth of the liqueur wash around my mouth, was an important part of my pre-teen years, as was the eating of a bacon sandwich straight afterwards.Which reminds me – bacon flavoured alcohol. That’s a gap in the market I hope to exploit one day.

But thankfully my parents divorced in 1981 and so from that point on alcohol was on the menu. My mother, whom upon reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, probably had mild ‘learning difficulties’ which were either a product of or exacerbated by her severe epilepsy, took to alcohol like a leper to a skin graft. She ended up becoming a party-giving, alcohol-loving promiscuous reflection of her former self. My sister was a mirror of her, having numerous boyfriends of which my mother would suggest should live with us. Many of my sister’s boyfriends drank too and I remember one morning, having got dressed for school with my mother remaining in bed as usual, sleeping off last night’s antics, I opened the fridge and saw a four pack of Carling. I was about 11 years old and had decided last week that I was going to ignore the usual career paths and become an amateur anarchist instead. In the spirit of amateur anarchy, I tore one of the cans from the flimsy plastic holder and walked to school. I met my friend Wayne Weston on the top floor of Middle School and we stood outside our form class where I proudly retrieved the can from my bag and we drank half each. I’d like to say that the half can of 4% alcohol had a hilarious and memorable effect on my 11-year-old brain, causing much merriment and hi-jinks for the rest of the day. It didn’t. I think I burped twice and then sat through double Maths in my usual disinterested way, occasionally snorting up sachets of pepper stolen from the canteen through my empty Bic pen.

My next significant memory of alcohol happened when I was about fifteen or sixteen. A gang of us – myself, Gareth Davies, Marcus Stoole, Wayne Weston and Roger Boeing, went to the Rose & Crown in Old Cwmbran. I think I drank about ten cider’s, each with a squirt of blackcurrant to ‘take the edge off’. I am not sure what edge this was referring to and it didn’t seem to matter in the end. I was absolutely drunk and I remember being supported between two of my friends during the long walk home.

But really, this is a Christmas blog and is supposed to have a Christmas theme, so I shall dispense with these early and slightly chaotic memories and jump to my early 20s when I was living with my Nan, as it is the memories of drinking alcohol with her that prompted me to write this blog in the first place.

My Nan loved port. It’s fortified wine. Now, being a gamer from an early age and playing games such as Civilisation, ‘fortified’ to me means reinforcing a structure with a battalion of archers, a catapult and maybe a legion of artillerymen. Port had none of this and just came in a bottle marked Taylor’s or Cockburn’s. Incidentally, Cockburn’s is nothing to do with a slightly singed penis. It’s pronounced ‘koburns’ in the trade, which is a shame really as they are missing out on several witty marketing campaigns.

But I digress. My dear beloved Nan loved her port, and in the early 90s I have strong memories of us sitting there, drinking port from these very delicate but elegant small port glasses, so-called as they were actually intended for port, and laughing at this and that together. I used to have camcorder footage of us doing that very thing, drinking port in front of our six foot artificial Christmas tree sometime in the early 90s, but that footage disappeared when my hard drive fucked up ten years ago.

She liked her Stilton too of course, a classic accompaniment to port. Oh and Advocaat! Yes, that traditional Dutch beverage made from eggs, sugar and brandy and looks like custard and has the same consistency. Both my Nan and Bamp loved that. I do remember trying it in my late teens, when living with my Nan and Bamp, but never really took to it. I wonder if it still has a reputation as a pensioner’s drink? I’ve actually just read the Wikipedia entry on it that states in Holland and Belgium it’s traditionally served on waffles. I have no idea what my grandparents would have thought of that idea.

I started writing this blog about two hours ago and since then have got distracted by television and consumed a lot more spiced rum. So apologies if the rest of this is not as meanderingly concise and witty as the previous sections were.

Well, that’s it really. I could turn this into some deep, thoughtful dissertation about the effects of alcohol on society and how it will be used by the New World Order to control the populace, but I can’t be bothered.

Have a good Christmas everyone!

Next in this series is going to be my long overdue review of The Amazing Mr Blunden, which I think is the quintessential Christmas film, even though Christmas itself is barely referred to.



The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 6 – Dec 6th 2016

It’s Tuesday the sixth of December 2016. Yes, I know. The first five parts of this ’12 Blogs Of Christmas’ series was published in December of 2015. In the words of Patrick Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook, “I got stuck.”

But here I am, a year later. I could say ‘And what a year it’s been!’ for dramatic effect, but in fact, I don’t feel it has been that dramatic. January to late September had it’s fair share of fun moments and only one or two dramatic moments. My mood, despite being unemployed (broadly speaking), was fairly stable. I only had two blips, one in January if I recall, which is completely usual for me after the Christmas festivities, and one in May when a friendship I had broke down. The term ‘broke down’ is quite funny really isn’t it  when describing the ending of any sort of relationship. It makes you think you’re supposed to call a plumber or an electrician or someone from the RAC to help put things right again. “Oh, my relationship broke down, so I called a flooring expert specialising in carpet underlay and now everything is fine again.”

Anyway, it’s nearly Christmas. I have a new job, am hoping to move in the next few months (to be closer to my new job) and have already eaten one Marks & Spencer’s chocolate log, all to myself. My Nan and I started buying them back in the early 90s I believe. They weren’t covered in ganache back then, but were incredibly delicious nonetheless. When they first introduced the chocolate ganache on the outside, which I think was sometime in the mid 90s, it was challenging initially, due to our belief that a proper chocolate log should have a thick layer of hard chocolate on the outside, not something that was the consistency of fudge. However, after a while, say fifteen of the new breed of logs, we got used to them.

That’s all for this blog. Just needed to say that.

The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 5 – Star Wars : The Force Awakens

1982-1Star Wars - TV Times


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…


Erin Gray

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.

The Angel, Devizes


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.

The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 4 – The 1982 Winter Argos Catalogue

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 Catalogue 1982


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.

Binoculars - Argos Catalogue 1982

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.

Argos Catalogue 1982

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?

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.


  1. The Topper annual.
  2. The Beezer annual
  3. The Whizzer & Chips annual
  4. The Buster annual
  5. The Beano annual
  6. The Dandy annual
  7. The Whoopee annual
  8. The Cor! annual
  9. A selection box.
  10. An Intellivision games consoles but if it’s too expensive then Astro Wars.

Lists were always up to 10 of course. It’s just what boys do. Whatever the subject matter of the list, it has to go up to 10, else bad things might happen and the universe may crack.

School broke up sometime in early December, thank goodness. Since September I had started comprehensive school, which happened to be Llantarnam in Cwmbran. The school closed down in the summer of 2015 but since the 1950s it had been one of the biggest and best comprehensive schools in Cwmbran and I have many fond memories of my five years there. But in 1982, during my first few months, I was petrified by the hugeness of it. It was the sort of place which didn’t need binoculars as it was big enough already. So I was glad when the Christmas holidays commenced and I could while away the days at home, reading comics and keeping a careful eye on my mum in case she had another nervous breakdown.

On Christmas Day my sister and I rushed downstairs and tore open all our presents. I had my beloved comic annuals of course, and also Astro Wars! Gifted to me by my wonderful Nan & Bamp, who arrived shortly after and took the three of us to their house for Christmas dinner and a day of warmth and love. Or at least, they would have given me warmth and love if they had been able to tear me away from Astro Wars. For many months afterwards I would enjoy sitting in the dining room, with the lights off, my face illuminated by the blue, green and red of the LCD screen as I battled aliens and docked rockets using the little plastic control stick. My Nan & Bamp were never critical of my obsession. They would pass through the dining room to the kitchen and pause, a smile on their faces, as they watched me, completely engrossed in my game. I can still see them looking upon me with love. As adults we all miss that unconditional love that we once had. Love we never seemed to have to work at.

My Mum, Nan and Bamp have all since passed away, but these memories, as all my memories of them, I cherish.


The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 3 – Three Of The Worst Things To Say To The Unemployed.


The aim of this blog is to empower people who are unemployed. Not to ‘go out and get a job’ – that’s a different topic entirely. I mean empower them to realise there is nothing wrong with being unemployed. That you are doing all you can and don’t let others pressure you into doing anything you do not want to do. Their stigma is their stigma alone – it doesn’t have to be transferred into you. Their criticism is a reflection of themselves and the way they see the world, not a reflection of you or any perceived failings you might have in their eyes.

But I’m getting ahead of myself now. Let me backtrack, rewind, and begin again.

Good morning!

It’s 8:45 on 15th December 2015 – ten days to go until the big day!

Today’s blog is going to be about being unemployed. A contentious topic for some, but let’s see where we go with this.

Yesterday morning I had my fortnightly job search interview which went very well. No, there’s not a hint of sarcasm there – it did go well, as it always does. When they see that you are trying your best to obtain a job, and are also striving to better yourself in other ways (my writing aspirations and my Indian head massage business) then they treat you as you deserve to be treated – with respect, courtesy and decency. My ‘coaches’ (as they like to be called – the way that job titles have changed over the years could make for a funny blog in itself) have never put any pressure on me, never criticised my efforts and never have said a negative word to me. Neither have my friends – whether they have been the vague, half-known friends on social media, or proper friends that I have either met or built up a more meaningful relationship with me. Not one criticism. Not one word of advice to do this or do that or ‘step it up a gear’. But more about that later.

That said, I think there are a small minority of  people who don’t try. I believe it’s one of those strange myths of British society that there are many people who enjoy being unemployed and make no effort to find work. It’s not as simple as that. I think some people lack the confidence and self-esteem to continue trying for employment. I think there are some people whose ‘life story’, to use a common phrase found in the psychology books of Eric Berne and others, who have fallen into their own ‘internal script’ (another Eric Berne phrase) of living in a certain defined way that they find it hard to break out of. But I’m going down the route of psychoanalysis now and I don’t claim to be an expert in that whatsoever. There are some who manipulate the system of course, and do their best to benefit from benefits.The con-artists and so forth. But generally, most decent people do enjoy making some sort of valued contribution to their ‘society’ and to the world at large.

Okay, let me reminisce, as you know I am good at that.

The last time I was unemployed was around 1988, if I recall. I left school in 1987 and I think, within two or three months, I was on a YTS scheme – that’s Youth Training Scheme for those whose memory don’t go that far back! My first one was with JHP Training Ltd, situated in the middle of Cwmbran town centre. The town was unusual in that above many of the shops was office space that was not connected to any storage areas that the shops might have. Along one arcade which had a Marks & Spencer’s, Timpson’s and River Island, was a little alcove with a small unassuming door that led into Powys House. Going through those doors was a bit like entering Doctor’s Who’s Tardis. “There are shops either side of this door,” I used to think, “so how come the inside is so incredibly big!” There was a lift that went up three floors where eventually you would step out into JHP Training, a training provider specialising in Information Technology. It’s where, in 1988, I learned out to use Wordstar (which was *the* word processor of the time, long before Microsoft Word took a stranglehold of the market) and spreadsheet and database programs. I think I was paid £27 a week for joining that scheme. These days, for mature adults, I don’t think there are any such schemes that give you a bonus for attending them. Their is a company called LearnDirect which are closely affiliated with the governments ‘Job Centre’, and they provide English and Maths classes, refunding your transport costs.But back to the 1980s Youth Training Schemes – the downside to spending a month at your ‘base camp’ learning these interesting modules, was that you were then sent out on placement. That’s when the resentment would arise, as for the same money of £27 a week, you were expected to do the same work as another staff member in that job, who might be getting £100 a week (or whatever the average wage was back then), which prompted a lot of protests. Particularly from these three lovely ladies. Bless ’em.

Youth Training Scheme


So, let me speed up this history of mine somewhat. A year or so later I started college – taking English Literature, Music, Drama and Theatre at Pontypool college and then a year after that attended another training course, although this time it had nothing to do with going out on placements. It was an enjoyable three or four month course where I was learning more about Information Technology. I attended this one with a college friend, Lisa Osmond. Lisa, if you are reading this, I’ve thought about you a lot over the last twenty-five years and have tried to track you down but to no avail. Would love to hear from you again!

At the time I was living with my grandmother who was slowly becoming more invalid. By around 1992 it reached the stage where I officially became her sole, live-in carer.  living with her and doing everything that she needed – cleaning her faeces from the landing carpet when she was incontinent, for example, during the many times she couldn’t make it to the toilet on time. That went on for years, with me having restless nights as the slightest sound from her room would make me wake up and remain on edge, thinking “Am I going to have to go and clean poo from the landing carpet?” at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was scared to leave the house in case she moved and fell. And then she passed away in 1998 and I worked in nursing homes, cleaning the faeces from elderly, dying, fellow human beings before I obtained a different job where I cared  for adults with severe learning disabilities and then adults with acute mental health illnesses. So nobody can tell me that I haven’t earned a period on ‘benefits’, no matter how long it lasts for, because I’ve done a lot of good for other people and am just *needing* this little period of ‘time out’. Besides, as far as I was concerned, seven weeks ago I landed a new job and it was only because of a malicious bad reference that caused my new employer to retract the offer – but that’s for another blog post too. I am confident I will land another job early in the new year.

Okay, let’s get to the meat and two veg of this article. Some of the replies to the ‘worst things’ are going to replicate some of the points I have already raised above.


1. “You need to get out more!” – Really? Why?Don’t you hate it when people tell you to ‘get out more’ ? And more so, to ‘meet new people’ ? Because I guess there perception is, if you are unemployed, your social circles suddenly (and inexplicably) shrinks! You are not at work and therefore you are not mixing with enough people anymore. Well firstly, I very rarely make friends at work. It often leads to trouble. Work is just work. I *have* made a few friends over the years but they are the rare ones, and I have been very selective. I have enjoyed working with many people over the years and many old colleagues I respect and hold in high regard, but being at work certainly never felt like a social event to me. Sitting in an office listening to a bunch of people criticise their partners or other staff members was always a pet hate of mine!

I like my own company, I like isolation, I like quietness and solitude. Leave me be to enjoy my cat and my writing. Each to their own. Why do some people find it hard to believe that a person can be happy spending long periods on their own at home? Is this another sad product of the current climate we live in, with these terrorist atrocities going on all over the world, and so people become more suspicious of ‘the quiet ones’? Maybe that is a factor too, though some would deny that. But as a child, although I did have a number of very close friends (Andrew, Martin, Royston, David, Paul, Wayne, Lisa, Eirwen, Janet – love you all!) I would equally love being in my room, aged ten, reading Enid Blyton, Michael Bond, E. Nesbitt and Lewis Caroll. I’ve always been comfortable with my own company. Plus,  I’m sure I’ll be successful getting a job in the next few months so I’ll be meeting new people again that way anyhow.
I’ve spent fifteen years working on busy mental  health wards, both acute wards and rehab wards, where day after day my mind has just been subjected to noise. Just noise from all directions and constantly being busy. I never enjoyed that side of things and I’ve loved the last five months where the majority of my time has been spent quietly, just listening to the wind through the trees, or the birdsong in the mornings. I needed that to heal anyway, and I know my mind is still a little fragile when it comes to stress and pressure.

2. “You need to step it up a gear!” – Well, personally, as I have mentioned above, my friends who know me and believe in me, know this is just ridiculous. They know I am doing everything, within my capabilities, to get a job. And most of all, those people who have the power to change my benefits and impose sanctions – my job coaches at the job centre – know I am doing everything in my power to get a job. They often commend me and are visibly impressed at the way I write and upload books to Amazon, at my Indian Head Massage business, and at my pursuit of a job in the care sector. They are lovely to me, supportive and encouraging, and not once have they put any pressure on me by saying “You need to step it up a gear.” And my friends are the same. Knowing what I have been through in life. They know we are all built differently and have different personalities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the *right* job, no matter how long it takes. There is absolutely no way I would take a job just for the sake of it as it would damage my mental health. If I was forced to work in, for example, a busy supermarket, with tons of bustling shoppers around me each day, stacking shelves and so on, I think my health, mentally and physically, would suffer a setback. As I say, we are all built differently and most of us reach an age where we are fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses.

3. “People may resent you being on benefits, while they are working hard.” – Oh hang on a minute. Hang on one cotton-picking minute. What right does someone have to make this sort of comparison? Why do people assume that because you are not employed, you are therefore not ‘working hard’? Do people equate ‘working hard’ with physical labour? Is that the only hard work around? If so, that is quite a naive criteria to base hard work on. I work damn hard – both in my writing aspirations and in my search for the right job. And again, it’s not to do with the *time* you put into it either. Whether I work two hours a day or ten hours a day on my writing, I may still only come up with one page of material, but both times I have worked equally as hard. As any creative person knows, creativity, inspiration and imagination is not something you can force and somedays I may struggle to compose a paragraph. I might spend a day on it, mostly thinking or pacing the room as I try and articulate my thoughts and transfer them to the page in the best way possible. So for that day, where I have produced one paragraph, I have worked damn fucking hard.

Now, on to the ‘resentment’ bit. In an article by Deborah Orr in The Guardian today, titled ‘The real benefit cheats are the employers who are milking the system’, she points out that ‘just £8bn on benefits goes to the unemployed, while an estimated £76bn, according to James Ferguson of Money Week, goes to people who are working.’ So you have the irony of a Labour government supporting employers with huge benefit handouts to help them pay for their employees. There is something intrinsically wrong with that. ‘Employing someone has come to be seen as such a noble pursuit that businesses are paid to do it.’ continues Deborah Orr. Yes. Well put indeed. The full link to her illuminating article is here –

Resentment from anyone about anything is more a reflection of them than you. Remember that. It is more a reflection of their perception of life, their own standards and their own internal script. Their standards aren’t your standards and they have no right to try and impose them upon you. Remain courageous in the face of criticism. And the people who say these sorts of things, I am sure that they mean well in their heart. I’m sure it isn’t out of malice. It is, however, out of a lack of understanding, empathy and compassion.I was a bit cross to be on the receiving end of such a comment recently and here is my reply, drawing upon my personal experience that I mentioned previously – from 1992 to 1998 I was the sole carer for my grandmother. For those six years or so that I was looking after my Nan, all I had was Invalid Care Allowance which basically was £10 a week on top of my dole money. So I think that weekly amount came to £60. For being on call 24/7 to my beloved Nan, attending to her personal hygiene, I was paid £60 a week as far as I can remember. For cooking all her meals each day, cleaning up after her, emptying the commode every few hours that she kept right by her chair in the living room, doing the weekly shopping for us, keeping her company, holding her hand and telling her I loved her as she lay dying in a hospital bed for three weeks at the end of her life, I got £60 a week.

So how can anyone resent me enjoying a government handout now, via an unemployment benefit, when I received such little financial help for those six years I worked in the 90s? And those years took their toll. On reflection, eighteen years after she passed away, I now know that those six years did affect me mentally. They were hard. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. Most of us, whether we deny it or not, are often trying to make sense of our past. Writing blogs like this, and even through my works of fiction, is a continual exploration of themes, ideas and problems I have personally encountered in the past.

So there it is. I hope anyone who reads this that are also unemplyed, are inspired. Inspired in the sense that you know if you draw upon your life experiences, knowing what you have done, then you can hold your head high. There is nothing wrong with being unemployed. Do things at your own pace as your health *must* come first.

And on that note, Merry Christmas!

A Joyous Christmas


The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 2 – It’s Been A Funny Old Year


Through the years 
We all will be together,
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Yeah, right. It’s Saturday, 10.30pm on 12th December 2015 and it’s been a quiet day. I’ve done some writing, done some sleeping, done some eating. The world carries on.

In some ways I have nothing, but in other ways I have, well, nothing too. Maybe it’s the pre-Christmas blues I have. Once the Christmas blues and the post-Christmas blues are out of the way, I’m sure I’ll feel better.

Anyway, let’s crack on. I have a lot of thoughts to regurgitate in this blog. Things could get messy.

So, it’s been a funny old year. New Year’s Day 2015 I was here in Avebury, having shortly come back from spending nearly a week in Abergavenny over the Christmas period with my friend Sarah . Sarah had played an important part in my life throughout 2014 and the depth and complexities of our friendship is way beyond the scope of this little blog piece. Suffice to say that by the end of March our friendship was over and I had entered a dark period of depression.

Depression is a funny old thing and this blip was a combination of several factors.I hadn’t been happy in my job for a while. I had been working in mental health for over fifteen years and in the care setting in general for over twenty. It’s not something I aspired to do or necessarily wanted to do as a child. When I was seven I wanted to be an astronaut. This was in 1978 when being an astronaut was quite a cool thing to say to people, particularly when you are seven. By the time I was nine I wanted to be a writer. Maybe a writer based on some orbiting space station – that would have been really cool. But I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t realise at the time you could be a writer just by calling yourself a writer. It took me nearly thirty years to work that one out. I thought there was some sort of test you had to pass, or x amount of stories you had to have published. Then I discovered that when I started telling people I was a writer, they believed me. Not once did they say ‘show me the proof!’. They might say ‘what have you written?’ and that would open up a world of possibilities and the alarming prospect of thinking on my feet. But now, I tell others that I am a writer first and whatever day job I am in at the time, second.

I had had a long period of sickness that began, I think, in late February. I never went back to work after that. I can’t actually remember what triggered it. It may have been a cold, wet winter’s morning and I just might have thought ‘I’m staying in bed’. Now people who have never experienced depression or a significantly low mood, may think I am being flippant here. Those who have experienced depression know exactly what I am talking about. Everything seems overwhelming and the slightest obstacle in your path, be it the weather, or the coffee jar lid becoming stuck, becomes a catastrophe from which there is no way out. That stuck coffee lid could result in six months on an acute mental health ward. Luckily for me, it didn’t result in that. In April I had a sickness review meeting and it was agreed that I was burnt out. I acknowledged that. I think I had been in denial for a long time. Things at work bothered me, people irritated me. I even hated my shoes. I felt like Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ – initially I enjoyed the quiet monotony of the job but by the end I wanted to spread my wings and fly. So to cut a long story short, my job officially ended on the 7th July. I was free.

Meanwhile, I was also looking for love. I joined POF (Plenty Of Fish) again, which was a dating site. A free one too,which I had joined the previous year for a few months. I joined in February of 2015 and in a few weeks, a lady from Bournemouth became interested me and foolishly, I said yes to her request to come and stay with me in Avebury for a few nights. I hadn’t even spoken to her on the phone. In the middle of March, she came to stay. I met her at Swindon train station and a bright, bubbly, bouncy person met me. As we walked to the bus stop she kept touching me and saying “I can’t believe your real,” which was sort of sweet and endearing, but twenty minutes later I just wanted to say “How many touches left before you decide I’m real? Because frankly, your touches are becoming rather tiresome and I would like you to reflect on your tactile proclivity.”

That night, I turned over after sex and she blew her top. I would have turned back to her, but I was exhausted and just needed a minute or two to catch my breath, but the fact I hadn’t immediately cuddled her after I came, triggered a sort of King Kong/Godzilla/Megatron/Giant Mutant Fish response and she walked off into the other bedroom. The next morning she came back into the living room and spoke at length about how she believed I was on the autistic spectrum and possibly had a personality disorder. She then said “Well I think that’s cleared the air. Can I stay tonight?” It was a few seconds after I said “No.” that she banged her fists on the table, screamed a bit and banged her fists on the table a bit more. When she realised her banging and screaming wasn’t going to get her anywhere, she became quiet. She remained quiet all the way to the train station. As we stood on the platform I tried to give her a goodbye kiss and hug but she wouldn’t have it, so I left. Over the next few weeks I received many accusatory texts and emails and countless voice messages on Wattsapp, before she asked if she could visit me again so that we could enjoy the summer solstice together. I queried her use of ‘enjoy’ and told her it would be best if we never spoke to each other ever again. Unless it was an emergency and we were both desperately lonely.

Then, in May, I began a relationship with another lady. She was an alcoholic and, well,  I guess I am drawn to damaged people, and maybe they are to me too. There’s different levels of ‘damaged’ though and I think I’m a high functioning damaged person.

That relationship ended and in July I began another, this time with  a massage therapist. She also did reiki healing, hot stone massage therapy, reflexology and ear candle therapy. I just don’t see how lighting a candle and sticking it in your ear is going to help you heal. At worst, you’re just going to get hot wax in your ear. At best, your hair may catch fire. I just don’t buy it. The same goes for reflexology – how can areas of the feet correspond to your brain or heart or liver? I acted as a model several times for her reflexology students who practiced reflexology on me and while the actual foot massage was very nice, my liver, brain and heart remained completely unaffected by the experience. That relationship ended in November and I have come to the conclusion that I’m just not cut out for relationships. I don’t think I can love again and I am going to be celibate. Actually, does celibate mean refraining from wanking too? It does doesn’t it? What’s the word that means you don’t want to engage in sexual practices with another human being but you’re not opposed to a good old wank? But in all seriousness, I just don’t think I have it in me any more.

“All romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk
And boring someone in some dark cafe.”
Joni Mitchell – ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’

I also had a number of friends visit me this year. Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox, both friends from the early 1980s, came to visit me in Avebury in early April when I was at my lowest point. I hadn’t seen either of them for several years, both of them still living in Wales. I messaged them out of the blue, chatting in a quite pithy and glib way about ending my life as I felt everything was just hopeless, and before I could say “Terrahawks!” they had both arrived in Avebury and we spent a great weekend together, drinking, talking and laughing, just like old times. In November I had a friend and fellow writer, Charlotte, visit me all the way from York, and just a week later, out of the blue, Magdalene, a friend from London, came to visit too. Both visits were wonderful and I value their friendship immensely.

That more or less sums up my year. I guess the most significant one was the four month relationship I had. No matter if a relationship ends, no matter if you never loved that person in that romantic, passionate way that they may have hoped for, you can’t deny that it still has an effect on your life and they have made an impression upon you. As in the old Alanis Morrisette song ‘Unsent’, “I’ll always have your back and be wondering about you, about your career your whereabouts…”

Anyway, let’s end with a nice picture of good old affable James Stewart. Because actually, despite everything I have gone though over the years, it is a wonderful life.



The 12 Blogs Of Christmas Part 1- Christmas 1983

It’s the 7th December, 2015. I am 44 years old, writing this from my little flat in the village of Avebury. I am single, living with a cat, and currently unemployed. As Fat Boy Slim once said, “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.”

I was born in Wales, raised in Cwmbran, a small town in the south of that beautiful country. Small to me, of course, as during the thirty-odd years I lived there, I explored the vast majority of it. I know about the two small lime kilns on Garth Road that were restored in 1988, for example, that not many Cwmbran-ites know about. Though I only know because I lived around the corner and stood there as it happened, my 17-year-old eyes watching inquisitively as the workmen attached the round ‘kilns of historical interest’ plaque to the knotted stone wall. I’m not sure if knotted is the best adjective to describe a stone wall, but as I say, I’m 44 and I’ve got to that age when one’s adjectives slowly run out.

But this is a blog about my Christmas memories so I need to curb my digressions. You know I love a good digression, and this is one right here, but it’s going to hit a kerb right now, so to speak.

I never remember my father around much for Christmas. Probably because he buggered off when I was 9 years old. I have no memory of sitting at a table and eating a Christmas dinner with him, and that realisation just occurred to me, out of the blue. Where does the phrase ‘out of the blue’ come from? Why not ‘out of the green’ or ‘out of the that peculiar shade which is in-between orange and black’? Anyhow, I have no memory of enjoying that special Christmas moment with him. I have no memory of waking up, opening my presents, and then running into his arms to thank him. Because I don’t think he was ever there in the morning. He may have slouched downstairs, sometime in the early afternoon and then hogged the telly. Mostly – and this is an odd thing – he wouldn’t mind my mum, my sister and I going to my Nan & Bamp’s for Christmas day and enjoying dinner with them. That’s where the real magic happened.

One year I remember asking not only for a TomyTronic 3D Sky Attack game but also Demon Driver. Now I just did a little research on those two games on the internet, which leads me to believe this must have been the Christmas of 1983, when I was 12 years old. I loved being twelve. The last year before being a teenager. Once I was 13 I knew I would be expected to start smoking, drinking and having sex, and the thought of it petrified me, especially if I had to do it all at the same time. So being 12 was the last year in which I could still enjoy reading Whizzer & Chips without being ridiculed, or to hopefully play Demon Driver on the morning of Christmas Day without being scoffed at. I was sensitive to scoffing. A scornful scoff is just the worst thing. Nearly as bad as a laudable laugh.

Of course, the way I got to know about Demon Driver was through the Argos catalogue. These days, I guess kids know about the latest toys through adverts on social media, or just adverts in general, targeted at ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’ web sites that kids visit. Back in 1983, all that any kid needed was an Argos catalogue. I would spend the weeks, if not months, leading up to Christmas reading the Argos catalogue. While my mum and sister would be watching Rising Damp or The Six Million Dollar Man, I would be sat there, with the Argos catalogue open on my lap, scrutinising all of the toys. Demon Driver must have stood out at me that year due to the little wheel controller that it used, which was quite a novelty back then. Even if the size of the wheel was the size of a ten pence piece, it was still a wheel, and that’s what mattered. And the idea of racing formula one cars, with a wheel, was just too good to miss! Demon Driver was at the top of my Christmas wish list.

So on the morning of Christmas Day, 1983, I awoke. I’ve no idea what the time was. Probably 7am or so, and then I would just count down the minutes, one by one, waiting for my mother to stir. I would never, ever race into her bedroom, shouting “Merry Christmas” and all that jazz. I wasn’t an exuberant child. No. The way I would try to get attention would be with a cough. Just a small one to begin with. Just one cough, every five minutes or so, getting louder and louder until I actually started coughing for real and would end up convulsing on the floor, screaming “Water! Water!” between trying to gulp down mouthfuls of air.

Eventually my mother called out to me and my sister that we could get up and she followed us downstairs. I, of course, took four or five steps at a time, holding the banister with one hand and the wall with another as I took great bounds down that staircase that seemed so steep at the time. We would then race into the living room. My sister’s presents would be all piled up on one part of the sofa and all my presents would be piled up on the other. I tore open a few parcels at random – 1983 annuals of my favourite comics – Whizzer & Chips, Cor!, Buster, The Beezer and The Topper. All well and good.

I tore open another parcel.


There it was. Demon Driver. Demon fucking Driver. It was mine. It was mine and I had batteries for it too. I hurriedly opened the box, took out the little console, inserted the batteries. Demon Driver. I actually had it! Wait until all my friends in school heard about this. I owned Demon Driver! I flicked the on switch and raced my little 12 year-old guts out for five minutes.

Right. Got it. Next.

I began opening the other presents. This was turning into a great Christmas!