Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Wing and a Prayer


America, what are you doing to us!?

I've just watched a re-run of the Clinton v Trump debate and I can't believe the choice on offer. Have you ever been late to a carvery and the steak, beef, lamb and pork are all off the menu and you're left with chicken? Not even chicken breast or a nice leg but chicken wings. Not much meat, full of bone and gristle and certainly not enough to satisfy your appetite.

Well, that's the debate. It's chicken wings all the way and we want steak.

It's easy to dislike Trump. I mean, he doesn't have to try too hard to be unlikable. Muslims, women, blacks, Mexicans, pregnant women, the disabled, women in business, minorities, women in the home, the Chinese, NATO and women in the media are all subjects I have seen him attack. Most people outside of the US are understandably concerned that this first-grader with the shiniest lunch box will soon have the only keys to the canteen.

Clinton is a different matter. I've tried to like her. I really have. I've tried to forget the thousands upon thousands of confidential emails that she had on her personal server rather than the federally protected ones. I've tried to forget Whitewater, I've tried to forget the FBI investigation and I've tried to forget that she has been in or close to power for the last 30 years and still has a vision for America that she has yet to see come to fruition.

And that's your choice, America. A multi-bankrupted billionaire who will probably not make the ordinary American richer, but will leave you with a better feeling about your country. That's quite the trick. Or you have crooked Hillary, wife of an ex-President, offering a vision for middle America that involves making middle Americans richer but probably not feeling better about their country.

I don't know. I thought Americans loved their food. I've visited many times and the choice is unbelievable. It's so sad, then, to realise that when Americans get to the polls on November 8th they will have nothing to choose from but chicken bones.

Kidcobbler-27/9/16

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Northampton Fair?

For the people of Northampton it seems that 2016 has had an eerily familiar and tragic beginning. Still reeling from the brutal and unsolved murder of pensioner David Brickwood in September of 2015 came the news that a man’s body had been found at the end of January off Billing Brook Road. Amazingly it appeared that the body may have lain undetected for up to two years, hidden yards from the busy junction with the A43. Whilst that information was still being processed it was revealed that missing 20 year old India Chipchase had been found murdered in a house in St.James.
The outpouring of grief, anger and confusion over these deaths is undeniably heartbreaking. Like most of you I have elderly relatives. I have friends I have not seen nor heard of in a while and I have a young daughter. Whether any of these crimes personally touched our lives we all feel some sort of loss at the news. But how do we react to such horror? Is it a sign of Northampton’s descent into lawlessness? Are we not safe to walk our own streets? Who is to blame? Why did they happen, who is there to stop it or are they just gruesome coincidences?
We are a very large and busy town and sometimes it seems that we are all just charging in different directions trying to get to wherever we need to be as fast as possible. Just drive into the St.Peter’s Way roundabout at evening rush hour and you’ll see car brake lights rushing off like Catherine Wheel sparks in every controlled direction. Brackmills chugs along like a cheap Roman Candle and releases in short sharp bursts onto the A45, which is to be avoided at all costs, though sadly cannot be avoided at any cost. The Bedford Road roundabout into Cliftonville seems to be a Wacky Races-style competition to ease into the correct lane before the car in front or behind of you tries to steal a couple of yards. If an alien were to land during Northampton’s rush hour they would be alarmed at the speed and pace of Earth life before invariably being ran off the road by a carpet salesman in a gold Mondeo indicating in the wrong direction.

Once we return from our rush-hour battles most of us will jump onto social media. Facebook and Twitter can also seem a lawless and dangerous place and its navigation equally perilous. What I have noticed since the tragic death of India Chipchase is the overwhelming sense of community displayed by Facebookers and the Twitterati. We are not the snarling, space-grabbing, horn-tooting, fist-waving cussers that accompanied our journey home. I don’t know if this is a temporary phenomenon but it does show that Northampton is still a community. It laughs, loves and grieves together. It sadly won’t bring these three people back but what a tribute to their memories if we could carry forward just some of this sense into our real lives outside of cyberspace.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Neurapathy

I haven't been blogging much recently. Laid up with a bad back I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself. The problem with not being able to move and feeling sorry for yourself is that you're confined to bed and endless news channels showing death and destruction and it forces you to realise how lucky you really are. I can't move to turn the TV over and then I feel sorry for myself again. It's a moral and physical dilemma I wasn't prepared for.

The drugs! Well what a disappointment they've turned out to be. Co codamol is supposed to make you feel like you've had five pints but I must have been prescribed the non alcoholic version though they have made my tongue swell so I cant talk, which is like I've had ten pints so I suppose I shouldn't complain. Tramadol next. Tramadol is an opiate and I was expecting hippy-dippy trips and no pain in my bed. Well I must have the constitution of Keith Richards because it isn't all over now and they did nothing and my bad back wouldn't fade away. 

A few trips to the doctors later has found me in the possession of a trapped femoral nerve. It's not as exciting as it sounds but a lot more painful. I can walk without pain for about a hundred yards but the moment I stop then the pain arrives, a deep throbbing neural nightmare of nagging nerves. Other alliteration is available. Am I to be confined to a life of non-stop movement? A sort of Forrest Gump, refugee existence that sees me hobbling across the world too frightened to stop? Well, no, I've been prescribed some physio and later a scan, but your mind wanders when you're laid up.

A mate contacted me and was sympathising with my plight. In fact we share similar conditions. He told me that they can operate, releasing the trapped nerve. Free The Femoral One! I'll get the placards made and join the waiting list.

My one year old dog has been my constant companion through this when the kids have been at school and my wife has been working. He can't fetch me a cuppa or even turn the TV over but he has a genuine affection for me that might actually turn out to be pity. He is quite clever. He sits besides me on my bed and knows my left leg is numb from the knee down so he gently licks it. This has its drawbacks as I awoke last Monday afternoon with Bobby humping the affected area and I didn't feel a thing. A trip to the snippy vets for Bob when I'm better!

I'm not complaining. As I said, plenty of people in this world are worse off, and most of them pop up on my TV in my bedroom as I try to convince myself I'm never going to not hobble again. Thanks for reading the ramblings of a sick man. If you enjoyed it then it's all down to my talent, if you hated it then I blame the drugs!
The start of a short story. Going to be about 4000 words long. Here's the first 1000.


Soothsayer


Peter limped breathless from the fight and slumped behind the burning remains of a blacksmith’s workshop. The blood of Pikemen covered his broadsword and the deep wound to his side meant that he would be dead within the hour if Linus didn’t come. He would not have time to savour the victory. He would not have time to fulfil the prophecy. Cattle and corpses lay dying and dead around him as the remnants of an army staggered to the beat of a full retreat. His chest armour battered, he dislodged the broken metal from around him and examined his injury against the flickering light of a dying village. The fading cries of vanquished horsemen were lost to the echoes of the victorious. Iron cannon creaked upon oak frames as the spoils of war were dragged uphill through mud and blood to be prepared for the final battle. Propped against a water barrel Peter realised that without the immediate attention of Linus then he would be no more. Coughing to clear the smoke and dust from his lungs he saw a shadow appear from behind the workshop. He wasn’t sure. Was it Linus? Was it a Pikeman? Was it Death? The figure slowly moved towards Peter holding something in its right hand. Peter steeled himself for one last battle as the smoke revealed the identity of his destiny.
            ‘Drink this, dickhead, I haven’t got all night. I’ve been upgrading my laptop with a new graphics card. Sorry, mate, should’ve texted ya but the iPhone is playing up, Jesus, your character’s beat up bad.’
Peter’s avatar drank the potion and its injury disappeared, though the scarring that was left impressed even Peter in his agitated state. He adjusted his headset and sat staring at his computer.
            ‘Eight months of planning, Linus. Eight months! Where were you? If you’re not taking this seriously, well, goodnight Linus. I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe.’
The screen in Peter’s bedroom went blank. The screen in Linus’s bedroom went blank. They sat there both staring at their monitors, Peter seething, Linus confused.
            ‘That’s the trouble with great leaders,’ Linus said to himself as the crumbs from a microwaved pasty fell across his keyboard, ‘prima bloody donnas the lot of them.’


The Newt and Cucumber was filled to the gills with Canary Wharf’s finest. Traders, brokers and financial analysts flooded to this waterfront bar every weekday lunchtime to catch their reflections in its chrome and be seen to order the most expensive basket of fish and chips in the City of London. Linus hated working there. From the tiny beer mats advertising supercars that he’d never even afford to rent to the professionally ‘distressed’ pub sign that creaked electronically in the breeze. Everything in the bar was unreal to Linus. The pub didn’t even open past seven in the evenings and was closed at weekends as the suits were hung up in the ‘shires as the clientele attended swimming galas, water-skied or yachted or whatever is was that Linus thought City folk did to wash the money from their hair. Linus had just one friend amongst the regulars of the Newt and Cucumber, though he couldn’t talk to him at work. Peter would arrive at just after midday and sit in an unlit corner of the pub. It afforded little view of the Dockland development and he would write. He would scribble on Post-It notes, torn beer mats and scraps of paper. Peter’s unlit position, off-the-peg suit and self-isolation meant that he was little troubled by regulars. Linus would collect Peter’s single bottle of beer at 12.55 which was the signal for Peter to return to his glass castle in the sky. Linus knew that Peter was a Financial Statistician but he had no idea what that was. He knew he had a nice office somewhere in the clouds but he would bet a month’s tips that it didn’t have a view of the Docklands.
            Linus had travelled to London from an obscure art school in an obscure northern town about six years ago to make his fortune. He had calculated that it would take him 87 years and 14 days to make this fortune working at the Newt and Cucumber, including tips, or rather Peter had told him this devastating fact the first time they had met. Linus had told Peter that of all the arseholes in the pub he was the most interesting, if the most depressing. Peter had agreed. And that’s how friendships start. Not with the growing admiration and respect between two people seeking self-fulfilment through shared experience but with the instant realisation that each hated their surroundings and their modern world as much as the other.

            Soothsayer cemented their uneasy alliance. It was billed as the ‘Largest Online Gaming Experience of All Time’. Linus had an interest in graphic novels and fantasy works that had drawn him into this quasi-medieval world and Peter just did not like and would not sanction losing to anyone, and he had the calculations made from Post-It notes and scraps of beer mats stuck to his bedroom wall to prove it. Soothsayer was a never-ending experience, played by millions across the globe. Peter had risen rapidly through the ranks and had pulled Linus up alongside him. They made a formidable team, controlling vast swathes of a fantasy world that apparently existed in a bank of computer servers somewhere south of Croydon. It wasn’t enough for Peter. Winning the wars was easy for him after years of gameplay. Holding onto the peace was where his interest lay. He wanted control through co-operation not coercion. Linus was happy to tag along for the ride and do Peter’s bidding. In Soothsayer some people did work behind the bars in taverns but Linus knew that as long as he was with Peter then he would enjoy all the trappings of success that real life hadn’t afforded him and he would be ordering the victory ale and not serving it.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Bookend

                 

Where's me library?
Fuck the Tories!
Party bribery,
Where's me stories?

Where's the books?
Where've they gone?
Corporate crooks
Have done me wrong.

Where's me Dickens?
Where's me Orwell?
Yellow chickens,
Cluck Cluck! Sell Sell!

 The dusty shelves
Will soon be gone.
The books themselves,
Their light not shone.

We can't complain,
We're told it's us
Who pays for pain
And all the fuss.

Who crashed the banks?
And sold the gold?
So some think tank
Says books are sold?

And then we're left
With nowt but space,
A sense of theft,
National disgrace.

But who to blame?
And how to cry?
Can't read the shame
Once libraries die.





Stephen Kerr – February 2015.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Not The Brightest

When do you become old? When do you stop being young and accept that your changing body is very slowly shutting down, like a laptop running Windows 95 or an ancient golf umbrella?

For me it was 20th December 2014, about 11am in the morning, in a wooded field in Grendon, Northamptonshire, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. I went Paintballing. Paintballing is fun, they say. I got to dress up like a camouflaged fat soldier and run around in ankle deep mud carrying a gas-powered pistol that fires paint pellets at the speed of light. They sting a bit if they hit you. They provided a ‘Darth Vader’ mask for protection that rendered peripheral vision obsolete and also meant that everyone looked the same. I went with my two sons. It was an end of year treat for the under 12 footy team. One plays for them and the other supports them. A real family effort.  ‘Don’t shoot me boys, I am your father’, I wheezed through the plastic vent. This had no effect on my little Skywalkers.

The pellets weren’t the problem. I’d cut myself shaving with a hangover and had had a playful puppy bite you where it shouldn’t play. They both sting more.  Dressed as a Death Star Dad’s Army Veteran I simply forgot that I was a 47 year man who does very little exercise. I threw myself into Paintballing with all the passion of a twenty-something, forgetting that I could be a twenty-something’s father. I am not, but we are all twenty-something’s in our head, whether we are older than that fabled age or younger, both wishing to be that age for entirely different reasons. If you are one of the twelve year olds I was with  then you would ache to be a twenty-something for the dynamism and thrill of being at the apex of your physical prowess. Being 47 I was aching to return to an age where you could sleep through the night without rising for a pee and wondering if you’d turned the boiler off. That said, I was like Sylvester Stallone, yesterday. Not Sly in ‘Rambo’, you understand, more like Sly in ‘Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot’. Nevertheless I was determined to give it my best shot. At £6 per game I could hardly afford otherwise.

Capture the Fort. My finest hour. Pinned down by a barrage of paint we adults sent the tiny ones scurrying towards the bridge. ‘We’ll cover you’, we lied, as they ran into a hail of paint. This gave just enough time for us Oldies to slide across the mud and onto the bridge ourselves. Truth is the first casualty of war. And then I became old. Screaming in my best Hamburger Hill accent I dived forward, upward and onward toward the fort, landing three metres from it with a loud thud that sounded like a sixteen stone man falling flat on his face, chest, ribs and chin. I heard a loud crack. It must’ve been a twig as I landed.

We caught the fort, won the war and were the victors. Afterwards, I ripped my visor from my face and flicked my hair back in a victory flick. It hurt my neck. My ribs started to ache and my left knee was throbbing. I’d spent £50 on paint and I couldn’t get my oversized camo’s off as I had lost the ability to bend. A bath and a nap would sort it out.

A bath and a nap made it worse. I fell asleep on my bruised ribs and woke up groaning and wheezing and scaring the dog and making my wife and children laugh. That’s pretty much the family dynamic right there.

Not all of us have such a clear demarcation to ageing. Many of us simply find that some of the things we used to do become slightly more difficult to achieve as the years progress. Lightbulbs become harder to change as we struggle to read the box, struggle to stretch to screw it in and struggle to remember why we put the broken ones back in a box.

The one thing that never changes, for me at least, is the determination to stay a twenty-something, in my head at least. My eldest son was enthused with adrenalin following the Paintballing and was talking me as I hobbled around the house clutching my ribs and rubbing my knee.

‘Dad, dad, it was great wasn’t it? Dad, I shot loads. Dad, dad, can I ask you something?’

‘You can ask me anything, mate, you know that’

‘Can we go Paintballing again for my birthday in February?’


‘Hell, yeah,’ I said, ‘I slid across the bridge and captured the fort and shot loads, too. Course we can. Do you know where we put the lightbulbs?’

Monday, 15 December 2014

Other Cargo



1
Sergeant Frank Johnson stared in silent defiance at the Union Flag, drawn to the red in the middle. The roar and rhythm of the turboprops from the Hercules transporter plane merely added to his hypnotised solemnity. Deep rumblings passed throughout the plane, through him and around him and went…God knows where. They were cruising at an altitude of 20,000 feet and had just been told by the pilot that they had begun their descent into R.A.F. Brize Norton and would land in exactly 15 minutes. 07.21 hours. So very precise. Must be over England now. The noise seemed to grow and throb in his head, unapologetic to the occasion. He glanced momentarily away from the flag and observed his five young sombre companions, each lost in their own private acts of remembrance. Military Bearer Party Number One. That was how they were described on the flight manifest. Sapper Davey Howells, 21, of Coatbridge from the arse-end of Glasgow, skinny for his age, cheeky little sod, but as determined an Engineer as Frank had seen in his 16 years of service, was simply described as ‘Other Cargo’.
            The plane banked sharply for its final descent of a familiar route, punching through the lowest of the cloud hanging over the Oxfordshire countryside to reveal a waking England scurrying over a duvet of green. Frank’s back stiffened against the red harnessed webbing of his seat. His bearer party were quick to copy. The flag had remained rigid throughout the flight, fixed firmly as it was to the coffin which itself was tethered to the floor of the plane by six military-precision clasps. Frank’s stomach dropped as he felt the plane touch down. The roar of the turboprops slowly faded from inside the plane as it taxied to a ceremonial halt. Frank unhooked himself from the harness, adjusted the red sash on his dress uniform and eyed the others who sharply followed suit. The cavernous cargo door slowly opened to reveal a solitary, empty black hearse, a slightly overweight army chaplain clasping the Good Book and the wailing sound of a lone piper. Howells was nearly home. Frank had never felt as lonely as he stared out of the pit of the plane and ordered the clasps to be released. The hardest part of his journey should have been over.

2  
The pub in Carterton was used to seeing its patrons in military uniform. The Americans had brought some small glamour to this market town in the 50’s and 60’s and subsequently the R.A.F. had been ever present at nearby Brize Norton. It was the closest watering-hole to the airfield and as ever it was the noisiest.
            ‘So where’s Davey gone now?’ Rob Atkins swallowed the last of his beer and looked around for a refill. The rest of the party shrugged their shoulders and looked to Sergeant Frank Johnson for an answer.
            ‘John Radcliffe.’ Frank saw them slowly raise their heads and realised they were just as confused as Rob.
            ‘John who…?’ The 20 year old Sapper continued to nudge and prod his empty glass towards the others as if it were a collection plate, eager to pass it on. Rob would never win any prizes for tact unless a girl was involved and yet Frank still trusted him with his life, if not his wallet.
            ‘Local hospital,’ Frank sighed, ‘their mortuary until Thursday then we travel up to Glasgow for the service on Saturday.’ Rob appeared to immediately take this information on board and then dismiss it.
            ‘Well Davey’s got a pretty decent excuse for not getting the next one in but it’s not my round and I can still taste desert. Who’s lining ‘em up?’ He slammed his empty glass down like a gavel and looked around for a reply. Frank waited all of three seconds before producing his wallet.
            ‘So what’s a Dragoon, then?’ Nipper Thomas had sidled up to the bar to collect the round with Frank.
            ‘Your mum, that’s who,’ quipped Rob, ‘she’s a right dragon so all the men in your valley tell me’
            ‘DRAGOON, not dragon, you prat.’ Nipper had ignored Rob’s barrack-room banter and looked to Frank for an answer. ‘Still, I’m very proud of the Welsh Dragon, me, very proud indeed. I’m proud of my mam too. Raised eight of us she did, all alone she was. Very proud indeed.’ The lyrical inanities of Nipper’s musings were interrupted by Rob.
            ‘Couldn't have been that alone if she had eight kids.’ Rob winked and smiled before snatching the beer from the bar and going outside for a smoke.
            ‘The Bold Dragoon. That’s the name of this pub, Sarge, isn't it? Why’s that?’
            ‘Why’s what Nipper?’ Frank had barely been listening to the boy from Bridgend and was watching Rob in the beer garden, who had moved seats to allow a delivery of beer into the rear cellar. Frank saw Rob’s eyes fixed on the dray men as they rolled their barrels down the ramp.
            ‘What’s a Dragoon? And why’s it Bold? Now a bold Dragon I could understand, red and fiery and the like, a bit like me on a Saturday ni…’
            ‘…Jesus, Nipper lad, give it a rest. What do I look like!? Google!!?’ Frank snapped at the small Welshman who shrunk at the rebuke. Nipper quickly grabbed two pints of lager and took them back to their table whilst Frank took the other three, his eyes still fixed on Rob in the garden, who had now finished his cigarette and remained seated outside with yet another empty glass still watching the delivery with detached intent.
            The table had fallen silent. Nipper had decided he didn’t need or want to know what a Dragoon was and Frank certainly wasn’t forthcoming with an answer. The other three Bearers in the party, Macintosh, Carter and Wilkie, had given up on their debate as to who had the best way to disrobe a young lady of a G-string on a dance floor.
            ‘I shared my birthday with him, did anyone know? Same year and everything,’ Nipper thought he was on safer ground here with Frank. ‘Though he was all of four hours older,’ he added.
            ‘Not anymore,’ was all that Frank replied, never taking his eyes off of Rob.
            ‘We were born in the same town,’ said Wilkie, who was interrupted by Macintosh.
            ‘Same town, my arse! You were born in Airdrie, Davey was from Coatbridge. Chalk and cheese pal.’ He may have lost the G-string battle but of this he was certain. Airdrie was three miles from Coatbridge.
            ‘We passed bricklaying together in Chatham,’ Carter added, ‘were gonna set up a nice little construction company when we got out. Had it all planned out apart from the name. Carter and Howells sounds so much better than Howells and Carter, doesn't it?’ He stopped and retraced the words in his head. ‘Er…didn’t it?’ Macintosh smiled as if a great revelation had passed over him and had to be shared with the world.
            ‘Not as good as Carter and Howells (deceased), might drum up a bit of sympathy trade.’ Frank was used to the sick and twisted humour of army life. It was one of the few things that seemed a constant. Whilst the boys were making jokes they were functioning and whilst they were functioning he could see them through the next few days. Frank’s mind jumped from Carterton to Kandahar. You never fully wash the taste of it from your mouth, no matter how many miles or how many pints you try to put in its way. The dust never really settles and it goes…God knows where.
            Rob Atkins was still sitting in silence in the pub garden, the sounds of the jukebox barely reaching his ears, his cigarette burned through to the filter and his beer glass empty. He watched as the first dray man roughly pushed the last of the barrels from the delivery truck and saw it roll down the ramp onto a dirty cushioned mat. It was then kicked nosily along the cobbled beer garden to the entrance to the rear cellar. A small vein throbbed in Rob’s temple, the grip on his empty glass tightening. The barrel disappeared from view but its dark rumblings could be heard from the cellar as it was placed into its final position. The second dray man, slightly overweight, emerged panting from the cellar clutching a clipboard as Rob raised himself from his seat.
            ‘This,’ he slowly said to the fat delivery man, ‘is my fucking beer.’
            ‘You what, mate, you signing for this?’ The dray man was confused as Rob stood in his way.
            ‘These barrels, this beer, it’s mine.’
            ‘If you say so, mate, can I have a signature then?’

            ‘No. NO! You take care of these barrels, you don’t throw them around, you don’t crash them into each other and you show them some RESPECT!’ With this Rob smashed his empty glass onto the table. The dray man backed nervously away as Rob stood silently in the garden with a smile on his face as the blood from his hand trickled into the cobbled stones and ran towards the cellar.