Friday, May 31, 2013


Ever had one of those days where you find yourself agreeing with both lauded philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and masked Iowan nu-metal band Slipknot?


You should try it, it’s quite good.

Nah, I’m lying, it sucks.

Sartre and Slipknot have, decades apart, come to pretty similar conclusions about something. The former said: “L’enfer c’est les autres” (hell is other people) while the latter made it a bit more blunt with their take: “People = Shit”.

On Wednesday evening, following a run in with someone at a basketball training session, I was inclined to concur with their point of view. I won’t go into the tiresome detail of how it was that this angry individual and I developed our relationship during the course of that hour, but I will tell you this: it is the only time I can ever remember someone calling me a fucking cunt. Which was nice.

I also came away with a bruised cheekbone courtesy of his elbow, a big toenail which I’m fairly sure won’t be part of my body for much longer, and a deep rooted sense of hollow despair. Those first two are okay, I’m big enough and ugly enough to take a few physical knocks. The last one though? I don’t like that.

I exaggerate, of course. It was actually a fleeting sense of hollow despair. I’m fine now. But I hate when someone manages to get under my skin like that, to make me feel bad about people. I rant and moan often enough about certain parts of the world which I don’t think much of; aggressive capitalism, far right politics, far left politics, other stuff. But, ultimately, despite a healthy dose of cynicism, I tend to think the people you meet on a day to day basis are generally “nice” people.

When I meet someone who calls me what that guy called me it throws all that off balance a little bit. If someone is that angry with me when I really hadn’t done anything which warranted it, what else might he get angry about? Or where? I’ve never been in a physical fight with someone. The idea of it terrifies me. People who want to fight are not people I want to be near, and I was VERY near to this guy, who clearly wanted to fight me.
Anyway, yeah, it all plays on my mind a bit when I start thinking about Cam growing up. He’s going to meet horrible people, isn’t he? There are horrible people in the world, and they’re not ALL on the executive board of Tesco. He’ll actually meet them when he’s walking down the road, being all nice.

It’s complicated, this parenthood thing. I spend a lot of time worrying that bringing a new life into the world was a stupid and irresponsible thing to do, but then it gets balanced against the fact that Cam is, by an enormous margin, the best thing I’ve ever had a hand in creating.

Cam is surrounded by love and friendly, caring people at the moment, I want it to stay that way. But I know I can’t protect him forever. Especially when I can’t walk properly because my toe’s trying to fall off.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sofa Cushions

Sofa cushions are pretty awesome. That’s just a fact. They support our bums in the evenings, when the ravages of the day have rendered our legs incapable of holding us up any more.

The undersides of sofa cushions are pretty marvellous too; when we’re hunting around for change, it is almost guaranteed that we’ll be able to find enough for a Cornetto beneath their foam filled form. We may also find pizza crusts, long lost toys, a map describing how to get to Middle Earth and SEVEN different kinds of fluff.

But the marvellous underside of sofa cushions are not so marvellous for everyone. First off, there’s people like me, whose sofa cushions are completely integrated. Fixed in place. Non removable. Sure, they’re comfy, but when I hear the tinkling melody of an ice cream van outside I know that I can’t rely on my sofa to yield sufficient change to make visiting it worthwhile.

What's under there? Fuck knows, but I can't get at it.

More seriously, there are many, many people whose sofa cushions are removable, but who know damn well that there’s no point looking underneath them for Cornetto funds. They know there’s no money there because they already looked. They looked down the back of the sofa when they were trying to find the money to buy a loaf of bread, or some milk, or a pair of shoes for their toddler.

Poor people. People living in poverty. People who the government don’t think exist. The sort of people who we’re currently seeing on a programme called Skint on Channel 4.

I’ve been told that Skint has given rise to some pretty unpleasant commentary on Twitter and other social media. You know the sort of thing: “get off your arse and get a job”, “these people just don’t try hard enough”, “my taxes are paying for their fags, booze and flat screen TV. Cunts.”

Sentiments which are such excellent examples of compassion for other human beings it can’t help but warm the coldest depths of my cynical soul.

To the people who say things like that, I have a question for you: do you feel lucky?

I ask this, not because I’m about to go all Clint Eastwood on people, but because I don’t understand how people can feel comfortable being so self righteous about someone they see on TV and know very little about.

Were you born in the UK? Yes? Then you’re lucky.

Born in the south of the UK? Lucky.

Born to parents who have had an education and gone to work? Lucky.

Had access to family and peers who, in times of desperate need, you could turn to and ask for help? Lucky.

Got an inheritance which acts as a safety net? Lucky.

Never fallen seriously ill or had a significant injury? Lucky.

Any or all of the above, as well as countless other possibilities, may put you in a far better position to succeed than the people who drive you to spout angry words on the internet.

How many months’ salary are you from needing to dip into your savings to pay the mortgage? How many additional months until your savings run out? How many failed job interviews away from needing to think about downsizing to a smaller car?

Unless you are extremely privileged it’s likely that your personal safety net is not as robust as you might like it to be. I know mine isn’t.

Are you really so sure that you’re far enough removed from poverty to be so superior about people who are actually dealing with it?

Many of us are only one big change away from delving into the marvellous underside of sofa cushions to scrape together the small change for life’s essentials, some of us should try a little harder to remember that.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I bloody love a good extract, me.

Specifically, Marmite. God damn. That shit (figuratively) is good. I mean, okay, “yeast extract” makes it sound a little like the byproduct of a medical condition, but it’s just so packed full of umami goodness that I can happily overlook that.


It wasn’t until my university days that I got on board the Marmite bandwagon. Previously I had fallen firmly into the “hate” camp. Then, one day I got really drunk. The post booze hunger hit hard and I needed savoury snackage. As it was toward the end of term, money was tight. So tight, in fact, that my own cupboard contained no food whatsoever. Not even biscuits. Not even cheese. Not even a lonely, mouldy crust of Tesco Value bread.

My flatmate, in a similarly foodless situation, sat in the corner watching as I scrimmaged for sustenance. Casually, cruelly, he suggested that perhaps I’d like some Marmite. Just a spoonful of that thick brown gloop would satiate my savoury hankerings for a week.

For the record, eating a spoonful of Marmite is not the most pleasant thing I’ve ever done. It burns a bit. But it was an epiphany. I LOVE Marmite!

Nearly a decade has passed since that watershed moment, and my relationship with Marmite has remained solid. Unwaveringly monogamous. Until six months ago.

A stay with a good friend in London saw temptation rear its head; she had no Marmite for our post-booze toast session. I queried how this could be so, and the answer shocked me:

“I prefer Bovril”

I was in no mood for experimentation, so I stuck with just butter.

All was well, I returned home and thought no more of this alternative extract. But my friend visited recently, bringing with her a small gift: a jar of Marmite’s beefy brother, Bovril.

Now the usurper was in my house it was only a matter of time until I would try it. I pre-empted the inevitable and cracked the seal on the jar later that day.

Bovril is a revelation. It is easier to spread. It has a slightly mellower taste, still able to scratch the umami itch, but less likely to strip a layer of flesh from the roof of your mouth. I am officially a two extract man now.


But, I wonder, where next? My appetite for toasted bread products is voracious. How long before I find myself Vegemite curious? What other, more obscure extracts are out there, just waiting to tantalise my taste buds?

*drools on keyboard*

Thursday, May 16, 2013


We are all sharing a bed while we’re in the forest, because one of us is not well. His body is stripped of all but a nappy, his fever is furious and hard to keep on top of. The drugs aren’t working like they usually do. He looks so much smaller, as if the illness has diminished his physical presence. In a foetal ball, perched atop a pillow, he occasionally jerks and shudders before resettling.

I wonder what goes through his head to make his body do that. Fearful, feverish dreams? He seems scared, and it hurts me to know that I can do nothing about it.

His sleep is snatched, sporadic, restless, and so is ours. It’s quiet here, the birds and animals are asleep, there are no roads nearby. A baby’s cry is far more piercing when it’s the only sound.

A poorly boy taking a nap. Aww.

We get up early and look outside at the trees, the water, the rocks and the morning light. I wonder aloud why people have chosen to live anywhere but here. I feel more at ease and at home here than I ever do in the tarmac coated sprawl of a city or town. I suppose there just aren’t many jobs in the forest.

I'm not feeling well, can you tell?

The arrival of morning signals the departure of the fever. The rash remains, to remind us we’re not done with the whining just yet, and woe betide should you run out of Calpol. Suitably dosed, we head out on the bikes, weaving between the other assorte

d short term forest dwellers, most of whom look like they haven’t seen a bike before, let alone ridden one. Crashes are narrowly avoided and the swimming pool is reached.

Cool water laps at our skin and rinses away memories of the unpleasant night time, replaced by chlorine’s gift: desiccated skin. But he loves it. He thinks he can swim, we do not. He wants no aid to buoyancy apart from one of us, so we scoot around the pool, pushing him ahead of us. He remains utterly calm while we change him back into dry land clothing and, though a part of me feels foolish, we believe that the worst of the illness, a reaction to the MMR vaccination, is over.

Bedtime proves my foolish part correct. The fever is back. At 3:30am I meander through the haze of sleep to give him Calpol. He sleeps next to us again.

In the morning I discover I’ve left the lid off the Calpol. An ant crawls near to the bottle. An urgent trip to the shop to buy more occurs. We swim again. He loves it again. I continue to love the forest, continue to love the time I am having with my family, continue to hope it will somehow not come to an end on Friday, when they let the cars back in and we have to leave.

Forest at dusk. Pretty.

Our first holiday as three hasn’t been the easiest four days, but I will always remember it and cherish it.