Winter has arrived. My bones ache and creak more than usual, I'm no fan of the cold either. Occasionally though we still get sunny days and although the greenery has abandoned us largely for now winter still has its own beauty. Here's a photo I took last week at a park a few miles away from where I live.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
Monday, September 30, 2013
So, here we have the fifth game (on main console format, not hand held) in the classic console series released last week and called Disgaea Dimension 2. It reunites you with the original characters in the first title Hour of Darkness and its great to see them return, though they do make cameos in the other titles of the series. I've been playing the Disgaea games for over ten years and I still think they are amazing. Graphically its similar to the other titles but more polished with larger sprites and the game play has lots more depth than previous offerings. I'm really pleased with it!
Listening to the Conservative party conference today made me realise just how out of touch they are with the real people of Britain. They have no concept of what real people are going through, their wants and needs and what its really like in the towns and on the streets of this country. They seem intent on social division like no party has before, they seem even more hell bent on it than Thatcher did.
I'm not sure where all this is going to end up but it's not going to be good, a Neo-Victorian era awaits as the middle class seems to be collapsing and the gap between rich and poor widens.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Everything has a beginning and in the story I am about to tell I know about the beginning because I was there, at the start of an unforgettable era.
It all began for me on a rainy autumn night, I was in my early twenties, down on my luck, unemployed, recently out of my first long term relationship and in all honesty feeling lost. As I sat with glazed eyes, motionless in front of the television my dad urged me to go and do something, to get out and get some air and then he suggested to go down to the local pub. It was a pub that I'd gone to in those long summers of the seventies with my parents, content to chase other kids around on the grass or play games of hide and seek. In later years I passed it daily walking to school and on a wet night back in the early 1990's or it may have even been the closing year of the 1980s I found myself walking through the door into this pub, into what was called the 'tap room' or games room as they were sometimes known. Tap rooms were usually sparsely furnished in any pub and usually contained the regular drinkers from the surrounding area. This pub wasn't any different, I opened the doors, was met by a sea of strange faces and blinking like a nervous owl made for the bar.
A strange guttural noise punctuated the noise of chatter and glasses clanking, I didn't realise it was aimed in my direction. I heard it again and a huge mountain of a man asked me if I 'was on of the 'black widows?'. Confused and nervous I wasn't sure what to do but was beckoned over by the grinning giant and asked if I'd seen the Clint Eastwood film 'Every which way but lose?'. Nodding hesitantly I wasn't sure what to expect and he added that because I had long hair I reminded him of one of the biker gang members from that film before making the strange noise again and breaking into laughter with the other patrons. He beckoned me to sit down and join them, gingerly I sat on the edge of their group and in no time I was chuckling with them and playing pool. I went home drunk at the end of the night but my spirits were lifted, the night had been the tonic I needed, laughter and some great company.
From then on I began to frequent the pub regularly, the company was infectious, the locals earthy and hard working and I guess for me that's how it all began. The pub was called the Ravensdale Hotel though it was no longer a hotel just a pub that sat on the edge of an estate that in the 1970's had something of a reputation.
The path to rebuilding myself after my first big relationship had somewhat unconsciously began. As the months dropped off the calendar I began to get to know other people in the pub, the hard core regulars were always there but new people began to appear around my age. I think Eddie, Steve and Bryan were probably some of the first, followed by Daz and then in the coming weeks a long list of others too numerous to mention followed. Friendships soon flourished, countless games of pool came and went and the juke box never seemed idle. The truth was I couldn't get enough of the place. The early 90s ushered in different sounds and fashions, we'd crowd around the small colour tv watching football world cups and laughter and nonsense was never more than a few seconds away. I knew everyone in that tap room, from young to old. You could go in at any time and there'd always been someone to talk to.
Friendships became deep rooted, sure we often had squabbles between ourselves but it was usually down to the drink rather than clash of personalities, a nights sleep and it was always forgotten. Many adventures were had both in the pub and other places. We went to Amsterdam, camping trips and in later years a group of us went off to Thailand. I'd literally be here all day typing if I tried to convey it all, and I don't think I could convey it all because I wasn't sober all of the time! I wasn't a alcoholic by any means, and sometimes I'd have to steer clear of the pub until the weekend if I was working shifts. It was however a second home. A place of refuge when my parents split up and I'd go there to avoid the rows. In truth I guess I had my moments of idiocy in there and so did others but it was always forgotten because people always knew the real you and stuck with each other through life's problems, such was the nature of friendship and camaraderie in there. It was a pub of character and indeed great characters, I'll never forget some of the antics we got up to and people like the late great Gerry Shannon who could make people laugh effortlessly.
I guess you could say we built our own little empire in there but it was very much an empire of the mind .... and of enduring friendships.
Yesterday I found myself driving to that very pub, by my side was Macca. He's a fine fella and great personality, I think he moved over to where I live now just before me, he's married with kids and a fireman. As we drove over we soon began to talk about the past and the characters and adventures. It dawned on me I'd not seen some of them in years. The occasion was Macca's 40th birthday that he celebrated recently and today many of those from that golden era were reuniting for it.
The Ravensdale has long changed, it got knocked through and refurbished in 2002. It's now a family orientated meal pub but still retains some locals and shows sport on flat screen tv's. Sadly it doesn't feel the same, the last night of the old Ravensdale was 11th of May 2002 and a few years after that I relocated to where I live now.
Memories and true friendships never fade, in fact they remain constant, even though I hadn't seen some of the guys for years when I arrived yesterday it actually felt like I'd not seen them in weeks. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside and I can't describe how good it felt to be around old friends again. Sadly with driving over there I wasn't drinking, and I've cut the beer for a while for health reasons and my recent fitness regime but that didn't change how fantastic it felt to see most of them again.
Mansfield may not be my home anymore, The Ravensdale is no longer my local pub but the friends and fellowships I made from that place endure, I feel proud to have all of them as my friend.
As I drove back home in the dark rain filled night after spending a good four hours or so with them I felt quite melancholy but then as memories of the good times filtered into my head from the nights conversations I was instantly lifted, and I also smiled knowing many of them would have hangovers from hell today!
I'll be back over that way to see some of them again soon, and I suspect that more adventures are yet to be had.
The Ravensdale as it was on its last night prior to closing in May 2002.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
It was the morning of the 18th of July and there I stood blinking in the 7am sunlight like some waking bird with my small suitcase. I'd deliberated with using a large rucksack but opted for small luggage as it keeps clothes neater and you don't have to empty the whole thing if you need something at the bottom. I was about to embark on a road trip for a few days with my friend Helen. Much of it was largely planned, as in hotel stops but the rest was left pretty open. The first leg of the journey was soon under way, the weather was perfect as we chatted merrily along driving the 200+ miles to our first stop of Glastonbury. The journey was uneventful apart from Helen stopping at some Travelodge that did breakfasts for a break. Service took ages, she complained (and rightly so) and voila, a free breakfast! The first place we were booked in at was the Covenstead bed & breakfast which we found without any problems, it's ideally situated almost in the town centre of Glastonbury. This was Helens choice as she has an interest in witchcraft and pagan related subjects. I must admit I was somewhat sceptical about it, not that I am against things like witchcraft or the occult, I'm just a pragmatic atheist/humanist so I honestly didn't see this place ringing my bells, however, I was to be pleasantly surprised.
We were greeted warmly by the owner of the Covenstead called 'Adele' who had long lustrous sable hair and a cheeky Yorkshire accent. It didn't take long to realise she was versed in the Yorkshire art of brevity accompanied by a ready wit. After a couple of formalities we were shown to our room, the 'hand-fasting suite' and left to unpack and refresh. I must add at this point that Helen and myself weren't in this room for romantic reasons, just the fact that Adele was booked up and we had a choice of two rooms, the hand-fasting room was the larger and cooler of the two on offer. The interior of the Covenstead really is amazing, from witchcraft related items, symbols, wall fresco like paintings to flora and fauna. Here's a few photos.
I really liked the Covenstead, sure it isn't your regular bed & breakfast, in fact many people may presume its aimed purely at a niche market but that really isn't the case. Whilst it may not be conventional you could say with a grin and slightly corrupted wording its 'Coven-tional'! If you expecting large tv's or lounges with reclining armchairs then it isn't the place for you but if you want something different with a great host and are open minded then the Covenstead is great value and perfectly located, and the breakfast is large and very tasty with plenty of choice. After freshening up we headed out to explore but didn't get very far. The problem being is that Glastonbury, though fairly small has a myriad of shops ranging from clothing, books, cd's to religious and pagan related paraphernalia. Helen was immediately bewitched by all of this so I braced myself for a hot afternoon of browsing shops. Prices seemed to range greatly but a persistent bargain hunter would be rewarded. We found a shop called the Psychic Piglet which sold gifts as well as having a music section in the back which even though was quite small had a great range of diverse cd's which I spent a good while perusing, sadly at £15 a cd I thought it was very over priced. Later, Helen found a health food supermarket (previously a Woolworths) and was in raptures about it, my feet were aching by this point but I did indulge in buying some specialist tea though I did ask myself why was I buying food whilst on holiday!?
Heading back to the Covenstead after a marathon of gift shops we showered, rested and then prepared to ascend Glastonbury Tor as evening was now encroaching and Adele had said it was best visited at this time adding "All the interesting people were up there in the evening". As I suffer with arthritis I wasn't exactly looking forward to the climb but on the advice of Adele we took rear approach with steps, yes it was steeper but was less long and arduous. Parking nearby we walked over a field and began to scale the Tor. Personally I was amazed that I wasn't reaching for my inhaler as I suffer with bouts of asthma at times but I really didn't feel the need to use it once. The climb was quite steep and a little uneven in parts but with a few rests we managed it in relatively little time, as I reached the top I thought to myself am I really in the mythical realm of King Arthur and Avalon? I caught my breath and looked around and for a few moments was bereft of words as I gazed in wonder at the surrounding beautiful landscape.
Initially there were few people at the Tor but as the sun began to slowly drift down in the west more arrived. Some danced, others stood in deep thought, some reclined on the slopes and a group of three guys played some simple tunes. As I settled nearby to listen it turned out one of the guys clutching a guitar had walked from London, his road trip it seemed was still under way but the Tor was a stop off he just had to make. The guitar guy conversed with two others, one clutching some kind of flute and the other a mouth organ and they made music. I rested against St Michael's Tower and soaked up the atmosphere. Later when the sun was almost dipping below the horizon and Helen was taking lots of photos I chatted to an American woman and an elderly guy from the north east of England, everybody seemed friendly and there was an air of peace. Out of nowhere a para-glider turned up and I looked skywards envying the view he had. As I lay on the slope of the Tor and watched the sun slowly sink from view I felt in awe of this beautiful place, I closed my eyes and imagined the time of Arthurian legend, it will certainly be a moment I will always reminisce fondly about.
With little prevailing light left we decided to descend. Halfway down I jolted my ankle, probably down to the fact I was wearing brothel creeper shoes and they are flat and sometimes flip over on uneven surfaces, though I didn't feel in much pain initially it was a sprain that would cause me some grief for the rest of the trip. Arriving back at the Covenstead we parked and headed off in search of food and drink, as it was late there wasn't too much on offer and I certainly didn't want to sit down for a heavy restaurant meal so late on but Helen was hungry. We stumbled upon the 'Becke's Inn' on the High Street which was very much a local's pub. The landlady (and cook) was happy to rustle up ham, egg and chips for Helen. She was a very jolly character with a lilting west country accent and served Helen with a very generous plate of food, I've not seen ham that thick for a very long time. Revived with food, and in my case beer, we headed to a pub Adele had recommended called The King Arthur on Benedict Street. I found it to be a really good pub and the locals were friendly, A Staffordshire bull terrier belonging to one of them curled up next to us as I drank a pint of Butcombe ale which is popular in that area. Tired but very happy with the day we headed back to the Covenstead and even though it was a really hot night as soon as I clambered upon the bed I closed my eyes without even getting in it and was soon soundly asleep.
Road Trip 2013 will be continued soon!
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Friday, May 31, 2013
In the 1994 movie The Crow, the main protagonist 'Top Dollar' says 'All the power in the world resides in the eyes'. He wasn't wrong, just recently I found out the very reality of those words.
Having had trouble with my eyes I ended up at the eye casualty at the local main hospital in Nottingham. A few days after I got to see a specialist. The news wasn't good, as I sat there he frankly told me the realities and that because having had so much eye surgery in the past they couldn't do any more. If they did they may be in danger of undoing all the surgery gone before and actually going into the eye to rectify the problem was unthinkable, in fact he refused to do it, adding 'if you gave offered me millions in cash - I'd refuse'. Part of me didn't want to hear what he was telling me, I'd read up on things, I thought it would be possible to remove the problem but no. I came out of the room feeling crushed, eyes dilated through drops the white lit corridors of the hospital seemed bright, almost dreamy, I had to wake up. Putting my sunglasses on the doctors words echoed in my mind, my problem would get worse, only if I had a detached retina could he go in and remove the vitreous gel floating around in my eye, but then the gel itself was causing problems already and could be the cause of future problems. There seemed no solution. If the gel didn't cause problems the retina would probably detach, blindness was very much a future possibility.
Vision blurred I made for the main exit, peoples voices seemed like echoes and I was consumed in thought, a stray tear escaped, my mouth quivered slightly and I bit down hard to bring myself under control. The gel in my eye swam around making my already distorted vision seem like I was underwater.
On the train home I felt empty, surely they could sort it out, medicine is so good these days right? No. Medicine can only do so much, it can't repair everything, the reality hit me like train colliding with the one I was on. The journey back seemed to take moments, I had music on my mp3 player but it was merely background noise, the exterior of the train seemed removed, it just felt like me sat on a seat traversing the local fields, alone.
I got home, stumbled through town on auto-pilot and immediately went to bed. I slept soundly, wanting the eye drops to fade in potency. I woke, lay there and suddenly tears coursed down my face.
And now, days after hearing this? I feel ok, still deflated but getting stronger daily. The mood of 'I can't do anything' has been replaced by 'I can do anything I want and why worry?'. As the legendary general Hannibal once said 'I will either find a way or make one'.
May hasn't been an easy month, I suspect harder months are to come but I'm not yet ready to yield to darkness.
Monday, April 08, 2013
Margaret Thatcher has died today. I grew up in the Thatcher years being then around 12 years old when she was elected, I was rapidly approaching my mid twenties when she was ousted ... by her own political party.
In my early childhood days I was probably a little bit oblivious to it all though it my early teens it was evident musicians at the time had a strong dislike for her (Billy Bragg, The Specials etc) as did many of the comedians on tv, Ben Elton immediately springs to mind. There is no denying Thatcher is a cultural icon of the 1980s but maybe not in a good way. I'll always recall Rik Mayall's anti Thatcher quips on The Young Ones.
My family were working class and had mixed fortunes during the Thatcher years, I'd say they steadily improved but that was through the hard work of my parents and not the successive Thatcher governments. I called in to see my dad today and asked him what he thought of the Thatcher years, he replied flatly 'Our mortgage doubled in cost'.
Reflecting back I can only convey here what I really remember and that was leaving school and going on the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) as my parents couldn't afford to finance me staying on at school or going to college. The YTS of course was very low paid labour but fortunately I managed to get on a scheme working with computers which was more training than work. It soon became evident that promises of a job through the scheme were merely transparent, I became restless, somewhat rebellious (I was still young and naive) and left the scheme to join another hopeless one. Fortunately during this time my parents didn't charge me board and lodgings, stating they wanted me to get used to having some money of my own and encouraged me to save and budget for my own clothing etc. The YTS scheme was in reality smoke and mirrors exercise, few gained jobs from it, though I do know people that did, however its main purpose was to lower unemployment figures.
Later of course, when I'd got a relatively low paid factory job the Poll Tax (also known as the community charge) came into effect and I saw my earnings plummet to pay some stupid tax even though I was still living with my parents. I refused to pay, as did hundreds of thousands of others and rioting occurred in some towns. I went to court and stood there with scores of others who'd refused. It was either pay or face the consequences so many of us agreed to pay the bare minimum. Soon after it was replaced and Thatchers reign ended.
Of course I recall other instances throughout her time as Prime Minister. The Falklands war in which a nation suddenly realised we had tiny islands thousands of miles away even though hardly anyone had heard of them beforehand. At the time I was probably patriotic and I remember the vivid images of sinking ships, burnt soldiers and the news reports on tv. I also recall riots in London and Bristol in deprived areas. I remember the miners strike and being spat at whilst leaving school and called a 'scab' by Yorkshire miners who had come to picket Crown Farm colliery mine and were encamped in a nearby pub before causing chaos. I wasn't the son of a miner but both my grandparents were miners so I have a mining background and I'm proud of it too. Thatcher divided Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire miners, a rift that is still apparent today. The epilogue to the strike was the unions were crushed (always a plan of Thatcher) and whole towns and communities were ruined. Nottinghamshire miners were favoured short term by the Thatcher government but in time their mines became no more and the local miners although receiving a period of prosperity followed by good pay off's found that getting work after was very difficult. The end of the mines saw the town where I used to live wither and slowly die, after the mines went other industries toppled and promises of cash injections never really appeared. A once thriving happy town seemingly capitulated, I witnessed its death, it affected me, I was there, it should have never have happened. Before the miners strike there always seemed to be work even low paid work, after it declined rapidly.
Can I say anything good about Thatcher? A strong leader or bully? All I can say is I liked the way she stood up to Europe and the then early makings of the European Union, that's about it really. Its fair to say life in the Thatcher years wasn't all bad, as a family we slowly prospered though I know my parents had periodic tough times. I recall the era well probably because as Thatcher came to power I was reaching that age where I took more notice, went to school, left school, struggled to find work and saw many social changes and influences. The Thatcher years will be always etched on my mind and shape how I think today.
In closing I don't think her legacy is a good one, though many will argue otherwise. She encouraged privatisation and private health. She divided communities and further widened the north-south divide. She crushed unions without mercy and destroyed what they'd spent years achieving. Manufacturing went to cheaper firms abroad. The coal mining industry was laid to waste. Deregulation of banks, social unrest, VAT from 8% to 17.5% etc etc, I could go on.
She died today in the Ritz Hotel where of course only the rich can afford to die in.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Dogs seem to be in the news again, and its not good news either. there was an incident last week in the town where I live in which one dog killed another in the town centre, today in the news its dogs killing a teenage girl.
I'm not going to lie here, I dislike dogs. This comes from having been once attacked by two large dogs whilst walking to work some years ago and being bitten once in the face by an Alsation breed of dog on another occasion. This has of course made me wary of dogs and with good reason.
I'm a libertarian in many ways when it comes to social freedoms but I really feel we need to start cracking down on dogs and seriously revising laws regarding them. It wasn't so long ago there was a call to clamp down and cull foxes for attacking a baby (lets remember they are wild animals) yet we remain complacent about dogs. I still recall watching a video last year of a dog attacking and seriously injuring police officers, it turned my stomach to watch.
We place too much emphasis and importance on 'pets' these days, especially dogs. People have dogs for many reasons but we have to admit many of these reasons are wrong. More often these days people have them for vanity, emotional needs, company, dog fighting, breeding for money or just to keep up with the neighbours. A person may have a dog for company, yet ironically be out at work all day leaving the dog alone. Many have dogs as family pets then realise they don't have time or inclination to look after them as burgeoning dog rescue centres can attest to. The sad fact is people take dogs for granted and thus over time we elevated them to be almost a fundamental part of our lives without even thinking about it.
Now, I understand reasons why people have dogs, unless it is for fighting or breeding even more fearsome ones, this though has become seemingly a core part of many of the underclass, a dog is more a status symbol than a pet. Though it may sound harsh I think from a practical perspective that dogs should be ideally used for airports, police, rescue and farms etc. Outside of that if people want dogs then they should be licensed, chipped and costly. I hear people gasp but surely if you genuinely want a dog then you'd be happy to pay for it? In the same sense as if people genuinely want a type of car or expensive piece of jewellery they'll pay for it. The problem these days is that dogs are readily available. This causes problems as its going to be almost impossible to police. Ok, so the government are bringing in new laws to chip dogs but will this seriously be enough? People always say 'Oh my dog never bites anyone its a softy!' until of course it does then it's 'well its not like my dog, its completely out of character'. Lets be clear, dogs are animals and thus (surprise surprise) on occasion act like animals, especially with others when a pack mentality sets in, where other dogs will blindly follow a pack leader no matter how much its owners have it down as domesticated.
We have a massive ignorance towards a growing dog problem in this country and until we get tough on dog owners then it won't subside. We take dogs for granted, as a given right. I know the majority of dog owners are responsible ones, we don't see as much dog faeces gracing the streets as we used but that said its still around.
What the government needs to do to avoid attacks, dog fighting, dangerous breeds and such is to begin clamping down and introduce harsh sentences. On top of that it needs to introduce dog licences, a national dog database, chipping and urge sellers and breeders to sell them at a premium preferably taxable. If people genuinely wanted dogs then they'd do the above.
In closing I'm sorry if my views sound harsh but I can't help the way I feel about it, and that's very strongly.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
This winter feels like it has lasted forever. Usually people say winter is never over until February is out of the way but this year February came and went, was very cold and now at the end of March we seem firmly entrenched in winter still. Suffering with a severe arthritic condition makes the cold no fun for me at all. I'm reluctant to put the heating on as its so expensive these days but sometimes I just think to hell with the bill and put it on, pain it seems tips the balance over cost when the cold is really biting. I dread to think what large fuel bills families have? In winter my bill usually comes in around £300 quarterly and I avoid using it as much as possible. I layer up clothing wise, even sometimes wear a hat, my apartment being on the top floor seemingly is colder in winter yet hot in summer, ideally I need to look at relocating.
I recall about a decade or so ago gas and electric seemed relatively cheap, stretching my mind back I think my bills came in around £80 for a quarter and it always seemed to be on in winter. How times change and how the fuel companies have been consumed with greed. of course the governments remarks about it yet nothing seems to be done, no surprises really.
These days the gap between rich and poor is becoming ever more apparent. The current government seems determined to purge the poor. Benefits are being slashed whilst living costs rise. It even seems that you see more poor people these days, its evident just by the way they are dressed, added to the fact we seem to have an increasing amount of lower class Eastern Europeans on the streets, if you haven't seen social changes then my guess is that your head must be buried in the sand, you're rich and oblivious to it, or you just choose to ignore it as it doesn't really concern you. The reality today is that the world is a changing place, in fact its been changing quite rapidly for a while now when you stop and take stock of things. I've taken to watching different news channels to get a broader picture of what's happening around the UK and around the world. As for the press? Well most of the British press is odious and predictable. Right wing tabloids often putting spin on stories to divide society even more.
Despondent? Not really, I just seem to have an increasing awareness to the reality of how things are changing and not for the better. Right now though I want winter to end, for the pain and stiffness in my joints to subside and for rays of sun to shine through. This winter has slowed me down. which of course has slowed my plans down, the claws of the cold weather seemingly place curses on my ambition.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
I'm not exactly sure how long I've loved the German band Kraftwerk. Having had a long search of my memory I suspect it was back around when I was 15, so around 1983 or possibly a bit later. Sitting in a small box room playing on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum I'd listen to music cassettes when games had loaded in. Though I was influenced by lots of different sorts of music electronic and synthesiser music were rapidly becoming favourites. On leaving school and getting a relatively low paid job I persuaded my mother to sign a credit agreement so I could get into debt buying a keyboard. I think it cost around £125 and in truth wasn't that good or professional added to the fact I was poor at playing it. In time the keyboard got sold but my love of electronic remained, it was the 1980s after all and such music was flourishing.
So to the present day. Kraftwerk are still touring and remain enigmatic and iconic in the music world. Only last week they played a series of concerts in the Tate Modern in London in which they played entire albums over several nights. I was caught napping regarding the announcement and was too late to get a ticket, so unfortunately I've missed them ... again. I still have some of their stuff on vinyl including a 12" luminescent version of 'Neon Lights' and many cd's.
Added to my woes there have been some amazing reviews, two of which are here and here. One day I may get to see them though it would have been fantastic to have seen them in their formative years with the original line up. Here's a video of one of my favourite tracks called 'Numbers' though live with the extra bass sounds even more awesome, I have it on a cd somewhere, sadly YouTube losses some of the sound (but is still good).