Sunday 8 November 2015

A totally unnecessary love-letter to books

Don't judge me for this, but I spent the last hour sitting in my summer house reading W.B. Yeats' Wanderings of Oisin. Okay, have you got all the shouts of 'posh twat!' out of your system yet? Good, then lets carry on. While I was happily glugging cider and wondering what the fuck Yeats was on about, I realised that it didn't matter, because I could flip back and forth at my leisure, without pressing rewind buttons, and having people look at me like some kind of cretin who doesn't understand that Oisin spends three hundred years dicking about in Faerie because he saw a pretty girl, while Ireland converts to Christianity behind his back and then instantly feels his age and falls off his horse on his return (saved you a read there, thank me later).

My cat, Kahlo thinks that the wheel of time was way too long, and
 hopes that a song of ice and fire gets to the point soon before it goes the same way. 
She quite likes Ian Fleming though, these are her books obviously, 
mine are all far more worthy.

I know it's obvious, but I really like books. They are the best of all the entertainment media available. I always used to think I liked books best because they were convenient, because I couldn't watch telly or listen to records when I was stoned off my tits in the middle of the woods. But then walkmans (walkmen? I don't know) did exist back then, and I still preferred to read a book (at the same time as listening to records is best if you can though). Nowadays, you can watch telly right off your phone, so I could sit in the middle of nowhere and watch anything I like. However, I like books, so I do that instead, if I'm not staring vacantly at the view, wondering where the dog's gone and if there's another can of cider hidden in my coat.

I like the medium of reading much more than watching stuff, largely because I get easily distracted by my own brain. One stray thought and I'm off thinking down a rabbit hole of something else, and by the time I get back I have no idea what's going on. This has become a much bigger problem with age, as a kid I could be riveted to any movie easily, never once thinking 'I wonder what it would be like if you actually were a baby deer being raised by a street-wise rabbit' and coming up with a gritty alternative version that focuses on Thumper's troubled past as a child prostitute. Decent, plot-driven TV and film of the kind I like, will slap you for not paying attention. You will have to rewind, or just look bemused for an hour or so while you figure out what has happened. Luckily, there is plenty of TV that you can just watch and not need to know what's happening, or two minute videos of people falling over on youtube. I'm not a fan of those though.

The book allows you to look up, and think about what you have just read, look at the view, and contemplate things a bit before diving back in to the story. Theoretically, these days you can pause TV and movies to do the same thing, but when did you last do that? Never, obviously, nobody does that. In the same way as nobody rewinds back to the start because they've forgotten the hero's sister's name, or where the whole thing is supposed to be set. Although this could also be because we are usually watching in company, who will shout at you for pausing it and staring wistfully out of the window with thoughts of wonder over Ross Poldark's terrible scything technique. Also, if you are a mum it is perfectly acceptable to keep bombarding the rest of your family with questions about the bits you have missed/slept through/didn't understand. However we all riffle back through the pages to remind ourselves of what we supposedly already know (which is the one thing I really hate about my kindle, flicking backwards and forwards is damn near impossible). Particularly if we have made the mistake of reading half a book while utterly shitfaced, and discover we can't remember a word of it the next night, resulting in having to riffle back through half the book before finding anything recognisable (or is that just me?)

It could just be because my parents had cases and cases full of books, all pretty good ones as well, next to their utterly forgettable record collection, in an age where nobody really had video collections, and there were only 4 channels of TV that stopped at night-time. So books were the only things I could grab in my lengthy insomniac nights, and certainly the only entertainment-on-demand in existence when I was a kid. Okay, sometimes the insomnia was caused by the fact that the Secret Seven were engaged in some particularly difficult case, or that I was worried what would happen to Moley in the wild wood (are you calling me a posh twat again?) but with a torch, and some very quiet page turning, I could get back into that other world easily. Right up until my mum caught me.

There's also the joy of the stolen 5 minutes, quickly reading a chapter with a cup of tea. You can't do that with a film or a TV show, well you could, but do you know anyone who does? The fact that you commence on a book, safe in the knowledge that it will take you a lot longer than an hour or two to get through is comforting. The surprise you get when you reach the end in the first session will always lead you to believe it was a good book. Although in many cases it isn't, as a second reading will confirm. Phantom Menace syndrome* applies to books as well.

I know people that don't read for pleasure. I don't understand them at all, but I know them, they don't seem happy. I know people who can spend over a month reading one relatively slim book. I don't understand them either, but they seem a little happier, although they do watch a lot of telly. It took me two months to get through Les Miserables, but Les Miserables is enormously long, wildly tangential, and requires a good deal of backward page riffling to remember properly. Worse than that, it inspires a lot of those staring off contemplating what you've just read moments. It's hard going, but by golly it's worth it. Unlike the musical, which reduces it to a bunch of catchy songs and two-dimensional characters. That's a couple of hours of my life I'm not getting back any time soon.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not one of those awful twats who don't own a TV (how do you possibly find out who these people are? Don't worry, they'll tell you) I have several, I spend a great deal of my life lying on sofas and watching movies. TV is great, movies are great, I can lose days just listening to records and looking at the ceiling. I'm not even arguing that books are more improving than TV is, breaking bad was a TV show, and Dan Brown is still writing very popular novels, case closed. There's a lot of shit out there in every media.

I made these for books, they got a bit filled with my records, so I built more, 
they don't look as good as these though.

We bought a bigger house so it would fit all of our books in, we don't regret it. I spend a lot of my time building new shelves to fit all our books on. My wife and I buy enormous amounts of books, she prefers huge weighty non-fiction books on art and photography, which take up an entire wall of our living room, while I have filled the rest of the house with sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks, classic literature, and stuff that just looked like it might be interesting from the cover, along with the poetry collection begun by my Grandfather, that I promised I'd increase and pass on to another generation, I'm doing okay with the first bit of that, and have tremendous optimism over the second. Of course I throw a lot of them back into the world via charity shops, and occasionally leaving them on buses, but the piles get bigger, never smaller, which is great, because books are great, even the ones you never get round to reading.

I have devoted most of my life to pure escapism, sometimes via transcendental music, sometimes via hallucinogens and narcotics, sometimes via the cinema screen, sometimes via the simple, beautiful method of cider. But the only one that works best, and can take me to where I want to be, be it Ankh-Morpork, 19th century Paris, the Shire or Toad Hall, is just some bits of paper with ink on. I would not want it any other way.
George Orwell also likes books

*as an impressionable 22 year old, I left Barnstaple Cinema having seen the Phantom Menace, a film I had waited more than half my life to see, convinced that it was the best film of the entire Star Wars saga.

After seeing it again, I quickly realised how wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

Sunday 18 October 2015

My dog is sad because she is facing her own mortality

My dog is sad because she is facing her own mortality (cue a bunch of @mysadcat parody photos later) which makes me sad as well, I read this in the Guardian the other morning and it made me even sadder. Once again I discovered that my traditional testosterone-fuelled manliness (already pretty low anyway) is disappearing as I get older, and very nearly cried openly at my desk. It was lucky nobody came into my print room as I read it, for it is difficult to explain why you are upset by the news that a dog you had not even previously heard of has died, especially when the act of speaking about it would almost certainly ensure you burst into real tears. Having realised my own sad dog is old, I am already not sure if I want another one afterwards, I have never actually decided to get a dog myself, despite having always had a dog since I was 20 years old (see here for details). She has told me she is sad through the medium of emptying my kitchen bin all over the living room floor and chewing up the contents. At least I assume that's the message.

When my first dog Rambo died 11 years ago, I spent so long dithering about whether or not I wanted to get another dog that when my friends phoned up asking if we wanted one of the puppies they were having, my wife said yes, despite only having met them once, briefly, at a wedding. Even as we stood, looking at the pen full of puppies, and I dithered about which one I might like, she picked up the dopey looking one with poo on her back and said that that was the one for us. We called her Rizla, because she was always rolling in shit.

Of course Rizla might just be sad because I constantly compare her to Rambo, who, I like to tell her, was the best dog ever, and that she cannot possibly live up to the standards that he set. But then, I have been doing that for the last ten and a half years, and she hasn't ever minded before. And she knows that he was a proper tosser really, and that if there is another dog after her, then it will be told the same things about her. And again, she is a dog, her deepest thoughts are generally concerned with whether I am holding chicken, and if she can have some.

Rizla is ten years old now, and her heart problems (she has an enlarged heart, and will be on medication for the rest of her life, this was revealed when her occasionally fluttery heart beat got properly murmury) mean that we can no longer go for endlessly long yomps over the moor. This is why we are sad, because that is our raison d'etre. That is why I have a dog, I like long walks, and I am inherently suspicious of anybody who goes for long walks without a dog, it seems weird. How will I be able to wander all over the moors next to my house without a dog, I'll look like one of those fucking ramblers.

Just like Rambo did, she has rapidly gone from wonderfully healthy, happy brilliant dog to doddery old twat almost overnight once she turned ten years old. The joy being that no insurance company will insure a pet over ten years old, and your existing policy will triple its premiums when your dog turns ten, safe in the knowledge that you can't move it to one of their competitors. Rambo made it to fourteen with a lot of medication, so there's plenty of hope for the bear yet (Rizla has been known as the bear since we got her, as she looked like a teddy bear, and Rizla Bear sounds a bit like Grizzly bear, in fact my niece still thinks she's called Grizzler, which might have been a better name. I am currently calling her Wheezler, because of her breathing problems, which require more medication). Just before we got the heart diagnosis, we managed to confirm that she is also going blind in one eye, so that's her three things all completed. Heart, lungs and eyes, so I should probably call her sausage now.

Of course, when I got Rizla, I was very much a dog person who just happened to have cats that he put up with. Since then however, I have become more and more fond of my cats, and might be becoming a cat person who also has a dog. Although it is perfectly normal to be both a cat and a dog person, so I am probably now bi-petual (which is definitely a word).

But you can't yomp far with a cat can you? Which is yet another reason for Rizla's current melon collie (I thank you). One of my cats, Kahlo (also known as Bitey) insists on coming for walks with us. This means that the one bit of the day that was just for me and her has now been hijacked by the cats that have overrun every other aspect of her life. We can't go any further than round in a circle on the bit of moor right behind the house, as we can't take the cat on the road, and if we lose her any further away than that first field she can't find her way home (we found that out the hard way, and had to go and pick her up the next day, where she was waiting in exactly the same place we had last seen her).

The other cats are normal, they stay at home, and do cat things. But Kahlo thinks I'm her mum, really, I've done the research, it might be a problem. But this doesn't help my dog, who is now stuck with a life where she does the same, mildly disappointing walk every day, with a cat who doesn't know how to walk properly, and is slowly trying to steal her person away from her. All the cats seem to be trying to make her life more and more difficult, I have stopped her stealing their food and they stretch out to make sure that there is no space on the sofa for her either.

None of them are quite as bad as Moses, the big black cat we nearly adopted earlier this year. He was a very affectionate, very large cat, who loved all of us. But not the dog, or the other cats, he would lie in wait on the edge of the sofa by the door and ambush them. Rizla would not walk past him, and the other cats hid, shivering in the garden refusing to come inside. It is not often we admit defeat with a rescue animal, but with a heavy heart we sent him back (he was enormous and huggy and purry and lovely to people). It turns out he might not have been as homeless as we thought anyway, and there is a small chance we very nearly stole somebody's cat, though that's another story, and not relevant, but it was another reason why Rizla was once sad about cats.

She is very different from the tiny, sad, lonely puppy who I found, crying so quietly I couldn't hear her from upstairs, in the opposite corner of the kitchen from where I had put her bed on her first night with us. After cleaning up the ocean of wee she had left on the floor, and rearranging the whole kitchen so she could sleep in the corner that she had chosen, I then stayed up with her for three hours sharing the cold chicken that I had come down for, and playing monkey boxing with her (she inherited a squeaky monkey toy from Rambo that he was scared of, we played boxing with it, she eventually ripped it to pieces as she is much braver than Rambo, which considering she is scared of sheep, mirrors, hoovers, thunder, slightly crackly pieces of paper and cows, among myriad other things, is impressive. You could add squeaky toys, cats, fruit and Joni Mitchell's voice for Rambo's list).

I remember stepping on her almost constantly wherever we went, as she had to be as close to my feet as possible, and was slightly smaller than my boots back then. I remember how she used to tear into the room and run around in circles as fast as she could until she either fell over or ran into something. She has to stay calm now, and not get over excited, which is difficult, as she is excited by so many things. If I am cleaning out the wood burner she is excited to help me, running around in circles, if I am chopping wood she has to bark loudly at me and run around in circles (possibly because she is a dreadful hippy and doesn't like me hurting the wood) if the phone rings, or if anybody is using a phone to talk to somebody else, she must be involved, barking and running around in circles, despite her fear of lawnmowers, she will run after ours (in circles obviously) and bark at it to protect me from it (as well as any other power-tools I own) if there are people visiting, she must give them tennis balls to throw, and bark at them to remind them that that is why they are there, she once destroyed a catflap trying to get into the garden to save me and my friends Sam and James from a chainsaw we were using, if one of the cats is doing something they shouldn't she must be the police dog and intervene, if... oh you get the gist. This is not a calm dog, and yet to keep her alive, I must keep her calm.

We seem to have come full circle, once again I am finding myself sitting up at night, comforting my beloved dog in a kitchen that once again smells faintly of dog wee and bleach (her medication makes it difficult for her to control her bladder) and it is heartbreaking. Me and my dog are sad because we both know how quickly the last ten years have flown by, and that she cannot possibly last another ten, and while she will not have to consider what to do afterwards, I am so overly bloody practical that I am already trying to figure out what to do, rather than enjoying the time the two of us have left together. Of course, being a dog, the only things that genuinely make Rizla sad are not getting any of my toast, my occasional failure to throw balls I have been given, bad weather, or any of the myriad things on that list of things she is scared of (which now includes Freddie Mercury's microphone feedback solo on Queen's Sheer Heart Attack).

Sunday 4 October 2015

Did My Home Taping Actually Kill Music?

When I was a kid, getting hold of interesting new music was hard. Not least because I lived in what I believed to be the middle of nowhere (I have since moved to the actual middle of nowhere through choice, and have reappraised my youthful moaning as innate twattiness) and had no access to proper gigs. We went to see Wishbone Ash in Barnstaple in 1990, it was the first band that anyone had heard of to play there since Dumpys Rusty Nuts some time in the 80s. Admittedly, I had never heard of Wishbone Ash either, but my friend Ian had, so they must be good, right? (Spoiler, they were, but the support band who's name I have forgotten were much better).

Getting hold of any music was hard in fact, I read about bands in magazines like Raw, Kerrang and Metal Hammer (because I was cool, not like those weirdos reading the NME and Melody Maker) but did not have the funds to go and buy records by them. I read about the bands that influenced awesome bands like Skid Row, Motley Crue and Poison, exotic, ancient bands like Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Black Sabbath and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and wondered what they sounded like, there was no radio station playing them, and the old grey whistle test had long gone. You now read about how people are influenced by their parents record collections, but the only worthwhile things in amongst all my parents Gilbert and Sullivan cast recordings were two Beatles records (not even the good later stuff) and a best of the Rolling Stones, and by the time I was thirteen I was sick of them.

None cooler than this - ever

Which brings me back to my friend Ian, the first in a long line of friends who had better record collections than I did (honorable later mentions go to Jim (lofty), Kev, and Top Hat Matt). He knew about Free and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Fleetwood Mac (the early good Peter Green stuff, not Tango in the bloody night) and I kept badgering him to sing their stuff to me on the school bus so I could decide whether or not to part with some of my hard earned pocket money to buy their tapes (or more often than not, to buy some TDK C-90 blank tapes and copy them from Ian). He wisely brought his walkman in and played them to me with one earphone each, rather then singing them, and so I spent all my pocket money on blank tapes.

I have not been good at supporting artists (though this argument didn't used to come up quite so much about taping as it does now about downloading, probably because somebody had to pay for it at least once before anyone could copy it back then) over the years. If I wasn't taping stuff (many a happy hour was spent wearing headphones and sitting in front of my Dad's record player, which even now is more of a plant stand than a device for listening to music, praying that the needle wouldn't skip and make me have to start again) then I was at Bideford Pannier market in the 50p boxes buying records that had pretty covers. This meant that I could get ten albums for the price of one new one, and also that I spent my teenage years listening to Roy Harper, Lindisfarne and Procul Harum rather than New Kids on the Block and Two Unlimited like the cool kids did. It also meant that not one penny of it went to the artist or the record company.

I have not changed one bit, most of my music collection still comes from second hand shops and car boot sales. And the same goes for books, which I buy in massive stacks from charity shops on my rare excursions into places that have actual shops, and then take them back the next time. Authors, song writers and creative types receive not one penny from me usually (unlike the charities which appease my occasionally guilty conscience). As somebody who still strives to try and make money from these kind of pursuits, irony is my constant mocking companion, laughing over my shoulder as I painstakingly craft amusing folk songs and agonise over plot twists that nobody will ever read. If I won't pay for it, why the hell should anybody else right?

All this came to a head recently when I decided I wanted to read some books by Tom Cox (the man behind @mysadcat on twitter) and saw the heady price of six pounds for his first cat-related tome and balked at it, hoping to find it at a boot sale. This is a man verging on middle age, who lives on the edge of dartmoor, has a fondness for eccentric clothes and 70s prog rock and owns more cats than is good for him. We are essentially the same person, and I am begrudging him his means of making a living (possibly out of jealousy, or a strange manifestation of a sub-conscious self loathing I was unaware of) for the sake of less money than I spent on cider yesterday lunchtime when I took Rizla to the pub.

I am sad to say that when he announced it was on special offer at amazon for 1.99 on a kindle edition, I bought it. Despite amazon being the devil, and this meaning I only saved the price of a posh pint of cider on it. I began to re-evaluate my priorities as a consumer of culture and notorious skinflint. While I have always tried to save money by not buying thousands of records (unless they are Grateful Dead albums I do not yet own) or books, I have never not had the price of a pint in my pocket (excuse the double negative, it just sounds nicer). I have walked away from mint condition copies of Eskimo by the Residents for only ten pounds because I wouldn't have had enough money for a drink afterwards (I do still regret that one) which implies that I am some kind of alcoholic. I'm not, true I do enjoy a drink, possibly more than most, but I proved last year that it is not a problem. I just prioritise things badly.

Since I gave up smoking two years ago, technically I have about thirty quid a month going begging. It seems to have been taken up by my Cider/Strange Food/Awesome hat budget, but theoretically it exists. I may be spending it on posh cat food for my elderly and notoriously fussy cat Duchamp, but he will learn to like the cheap stuff. I resolved this week to start buying books properly to support authors, and buy music from bandcamp and other artist owned places. I will then make myself slightly happier by spending a couple of afternoons a month reading and listening to my new-found spoils in my summerhouse, which is probably my favourite thing in the world to do (there I admitted it, I feel better now).

I have begun well, this month I ordered another Tom Cox book from the utterly brilliant Hive (perfect if you like local bookshops, but not going into towns) and something else by somebody I've never heard of that looked good, but then rather than support new artists and emerging talent I bought a wildly over-priced copy of Penguin Eggs by Nic Jones which I've been meaning to buy for years. I regret nothing, it is a great album, and Nic Jones deserves all the help he can get, I am a bit sad that I have been able to listen to it as many times as I like online now, rather than it being a hazy memory from a smoke filled room in the 90s, so it is unlikely to surprise me, but these are the times we live in. It did blow the budget somewhat though, so next month I will hit bandcamp, and probably buy some Gaz Brookfield stuff as I have been enjoying his work since he was on the same bill as Maz Totterdell a few years ago when I was still playing bass in her backing group.

With the amazing availability of music, books, art and whatever your heart desires on the internet these days, it is all too easy to overlook the fact that somebody had to pay for it in the first place. Not to mention the fact that the sheer amount of choice often leaves me just not bothering to buy anything and going back to things I already own (I wrote a thing about modern record collecting here on my old blog). I know from first hand experience that trying to write books and songs and be in bands while holding down a job that pays enough to fund all of this for free is exhausting, and takes its toll on my mental and physical health. While I say, along with many others, that I would continue to do it no matter what, I suspect that at the back of my mind, if I truly felt that there would never be any income derived from it I would give up and just sit in my summerhouse listening to other people's music and reading their books.

Today we are on the verge of going back to throwing some money in the hat of the wandering story-tellers and minstrels. And this is actually no bad thing, as the digital hat provided now is infinitely big, while the group gathered round the metaphorical fire to listen can access any minstrel they like, and throw as much money in as they want without looking like showoffs. Now if I can only get some of them to throw a bit my way.

Thursday 24 September 2015

I Think Awful Things All The Time, And So Do You

I am neither racist, misogynist nor homophobe. But (and I am aware that a but after any of those statements, let alone all three never portends well) like a lot of people (though we never admit it to ourselves) I have to work at it. We need the so-called 'PC brigade' to keep us all in check, as we are still occasionally surprised by what is offensive to others. A little more than we would like to admit.

Let me clarify slightly, I am not saying we are all inherently awful, or that I secretly want to put on a bedsheet and burn crosses. But, I am a product of a very different Great Britain than the one we live in now. I was born in the 70s, and was brought up in an era (and in the westcountry, before you london types tell me I'm wrong) when it was perfectly ordinary to nip into the paki-shop to buy some beers on your way to pick up a chinky for dinner. I apologise unreservedly for using those terms, but back then nobody ever batted an eyelid, except for the 'right-on' trendy comedians, who I eventually learned were right. At primary school all the best jokes were about Ethiopians, Jews and the N-word (even I'm not typing that one now, but it was thrown around everywhere back in the 80s, and even the early 90s, and right up until Hip Hop records decided to claim it back, so maybe that worked, however distasteful I still find it). And we all collected Robinsons Golliwogs, which are a fond memory, but really shouldn't be, even the Golly my grandmother knitted for me leaves something of a bad taste now.

And it wasn't just the casual racism that was rife, we still all tell people they throw like a girl, or say a throwaway 'gaaaay' at them if they do something we consider feminine. I would like to say that I didn't do this, but it is such ingrained behaviour that it is difficult to stop, however much I hate myself whenever I catch me doing it. I even find myself using the 'some of my best friends are gay' line to defend it, but it is no defence. Even though those aforementioned friends also do it, one of them once told me 'I may be gay Dave, but you're a raving poof in that hat.' That's how ingrained it is, and it was an awesome hat, so perhaps he was referring to the stereotype of the homosexual as snappy dresser.

Women are still getting the rough end of the stick as well (ooer missus, etc. etc.) The 'gaaaaay' insult is not used merely as a distaste for homosexuality, it is aimed at men who act in a feminine manner. You can tell, because nobody ever said it to a tomboy did they? Feminine behaviour in men is deemed bad, and denigrated by using homosexuality as an insult (to fall back on a lazy stereotype, often by young men who use a great deal of hair product) I fail to see how either of those things can be acceptable in an equal, caring society like the one we supposedly live in.

Then there's the language we use for women. Upon seeing an attractive girl, the first thing many of us think (and say in a lot of cases) is something along the lines of 'I would ruin that', or 'I would do awful things to her,' which at least removes the indefinite article from the equation. I know 'I would very much like to enjoy some consensual acts of mutual affection with that strong, confident woman', doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but it would definitely be better, wouldn't it? Objectifying women is never a good thing, and describing the sexual act as a bad thing is even worse.
When we see a new female musical act or comedian, or even a newsreader, our first reaction is to judge their appearance (read this excellent piece by Public Service Broadcasting's J. Willgoose if you don't believe me). Not a single online conversation about any female in the public eye goes without somebody saying something along the lines of 'and she's not bad to look at either,' or 'yeah but you wouldn't would you?' This simply does not happen when discussing men. The recent Diane Abbott/Jeremy Corbyn scandal evoked this reaction, thousands of blokes expressing how unattractive they found Diane Abbott (a plus sized black lady) and yet no women screaming about the very idea of having sex with a skinny old pensioner (yes I know it was back in the 70s when they were both young and thus conventionally and acceptably attractive, and don't even get me started on the idea that two single people having a consensual relationship is meant to be a scandal). It got even worse when #piggate broke (if you don't know what I mean then I don't know how you are reading this online, I don't think the pig consented though). With inevitable comparisons between Diane Abbott and a dead pig. Well done internet.

The Charlotte Proudman incident brought even more weirdness to light. Both women and men weighing in on the wrong side and saying 'it was just a compliment, why can't she take a compliment?' which sounds fine. But if every other message from a phone number on the side of a plumbers van was to tell him how attractive they thought the photo of his arse crack on the back was, he'd get pretty tired of it quite soon. And then he might get it.

I know words are just words, and sticks and stones and all that, but no. Even the ironic, post-modern use of old tired stereotypes now seems to just be a way of allowing people to say dreadful things, and possibly still mean them. It is, as always, not what we say, but the way that we say it. Often, the 'can't you take a joke?' attitude, is hiding a more prevailing one of 'I am much better than you simply because I am a straight white man.' I know that saying all this makes me sound like a whiny little bitch (spot the irony) but I have to point this stuff out to myself all the time, I am saying, and thinking, and doing awful things every day because I cannot be bothered to fight the status quo. So are you, we all need to pick ourselves up a bit, and change the prevailing attitude so that the next generation look back on us with the same distaste we have for our slave owning, genocidal forebears (yes, I do enjoy hyperbole).

What is excellent in this brave new world we live in, is that we now find the paki shop and the chinky unacceptable. Maybe not all of us, but most, and making holocaust jokes is no longer all the rage. We look back at things from 20 or 30 years ago in shock at the dreadful attitudes on show. Sadly, rape humour is still rife, and using gay as an insult is still perfectly normal. To take offence at such is just 'PC gone mad' or suchlike. People said the same thing about wilful Racism back when I was a kid, and that has changed now (when did somebody last call you jewish for being a bit tight with your cash?) I hope that misogyny and homophobia go the same way in the next generation, but we need to work at it. These things have been hardwired into us by our parents' generation, and we need to kick against it. The same as we did thirty years ago as we realised that people of different ethnic origins were really no different to us (I have both black and asian friends who are far more stereotypically english middle class than I am, and white friends who are now so entrenched in black culture that they may as well go full minstrel, can I say full minstrel still? Well, I've done it now) and began the long road to accepting homosexuals. It's a shame that women seem to be the last bit of the jigsaw to be genuinely allowed equal respect, even from each other in a lot of cases.

 I am a product of my upbringing, we all are. I don't say we should use this as an excuse, I say we should recognise it, realise our faults because of it, and work as hard as we can to overcome them, and create a better world, however unpopular it makes us.

Friday 11 September 2015

Hooray for Wasps, our tiny yellow protectors

Wasps are bastards aren't they? Or so legend would have it, I disagree, and since reading this in the paper yesterday even more so. It is difficult to avoid them at this time of year since they are everywhere you go. Especially if, like me, you live with people who like to spread jam all over the kitchen in the morning, before leaving the lid balanced jauntily on top of the jar in an amusing trap for unwary jam jar picker-uppers later on. As I write this, my resident wasp, Edgar, is buzzing cheerily round my head while George Orwell (the kitten) bats at him playfully. We are all ok, we are in an harmonious existence, Edgar is enjoying his jam and not even George Orwell has been stung (although he would deserve it).

At this point I probably need to point out that we are pretty sure I am allergic to wasps and might die a bit if I get stung. We found this out back when I was 18, and after quite a lot of Special Brew in the park (I know, classy) I leaned on a wasp. I did not notice for a while but eventually looked at my hand and saw a big yellow stripey arse (only its arse, the rest of the wasp had snapped off) sticking out of my finger. I did nothing about it, and went on to the pub, having just enough presence of mind to take off my rings so I didn't lose a finger.

The next day my hand had swollen up like a blown up rubber glove, and looked hysterical. I went to the doctor, who suggested I was allergic to the sting, and next time it would be more serious, and eventually I might end up slightly dead. But then I might not be at all (I miss my 90s Doctor, she always had a fag on the go, and enjoyed ambiguity in her diagnoses) either way, I had to put my arm in a sling for two weeks while the swelling went down. Imagine that, an 18 year old lad, out looking for ladies, and explaining that he has been put in a sling by a wasp. Not until I had my arm broken by a puppy ten years later did I feel more inadequate explaining my injuries.

This still did not make me do the scary wasp dance when one came close by. If anything, it reminded me of my mother's advice, 'stay still and it will go away,' which after years of being a little fat kid who ran around a lot and got stung (without a hint of an allergic reaction I might add) I eventually took and it worked. Sadly like most mums, mine does not follow her own advice and does a little shimmy if one comes near her. Even though she likes wine, and there is research to show that without wasps, we would not have wine.

However, I don't know anybody who has been stung as an adult who doesn't tell the story of the sting without adding the caveat, 'of course it was entirely my own fault'. Except for those people for whom nothing will ever be their fault, and believe the wasps should have made their home somewhere where they wouldn't be poked with a stick. I include absent minded swatting at your head and accidentally grabbing the wee yellow chap as being your own fault here. Wasps are not as aggressive as they are made out to be. They do pollinate flowers, and without them we would not have thought of paper.

A year after the wasp sting incident, I discovered a wasp nest in the eaves of the verandah outside my window. At this point I feel compelled to explain that in a rookie mistake, my parents had allowed me to move in to the second reception room of their sizeable Victorian residence for a bit, after I had once again run out of money, broken some furniture and been evicted from my crappy bedsit, hence the verandah.

Away from the sidetrack though, I showed my father the wasp nest, and in his characteristic way, he said we should probably keep an eye on that, never thought of it again, and left it in the hands of his wildly irresponsible son, who as we now know, is probably allergic to wasps. It turned out that my father's laissez-faire, cavalier attitude to house maintenance and parenting was for the best though. That summer I saw less wasps around than ever before. Barring their first week or so when they were just saying hello, they went to other places, and didn't bother me in the least. I am certain that they were off exploring, and defending their territory (me) from any other wasps. The lovely little yellow guards (don't forget they also make wine taste nice, yay wasps).

Wasps no longer scare me in the least. Very little does. I'm not just trying to sound a bit hard there, there are plenty of things I don't like, and so don't do, but I'm not technically scared of them. It's surprising, since as a child I was terrified of pretty much everything. I was famously carried out of Raiders of the Lost Ark by my mum because of the melting Nazis, and again in Superman 3 when that woman gets turned into a robot.

I had to sleep in my sister's bedroom after watching the Omen, though, again some blame has to be attached to my father there for thinking it was a good idea for an 8 year old to watch the Omen. Still, it was thanks to Dad that I came up with beer and zombie nights for my step-kids back when they were small, and I think some of the scars I bear from seeing a man impaled by a church steeple have been passed on to another generation, through the medium of cheap lager and Hellraiser 2. They say they enjoyed it though.

I don't like flying and I have an irrational fear of fish I can't see, but I go on planes, and I wade through rivers regardless. I talk amiably to wasps when they hang around me, and I've started sharing my lunch with them by leaving them their own bit of chutney on the table in the garden. We have come to an understanding, they can probably kill me if they fancy it, and I can definitely kill them if I want to. So we have gone for an uneasy peace of mutually assured destruction. It was briefly broken last weekend when my friend Phoebe killed a wasp for me in the pub, but me and Edgar have talked it through, and in return for some extra chutney, they're going to let me live. Phoebe needs to watch her back though, apparently.

Monday 7 September 2015

Nobody Likes Your Facebook Posts Either, Stop Moaning.

Do you, like me, occasionally find yourself scrolling down your facebook feed and getting thoroughly annoyed at pictures of babies, legs on beaches, gurning selfies with cocktails, inspirational phrases on pretty backgrounds, check-ins at every pub on the pub crawl or whatever it is that grinds your particular gears? Of course you do, we all do. However, do you ever take the time to think about the effect your own posts are having on other people? Of course you don't, nobody does.

As a pet owner, writer and musician, I am constantly bombarding people with pleas to read my crap, or listen to my songs, or just look at cute pictures of my Cats. In the same way as my eyebrows go up and I moan “oh for fuck's sake not another picture of a baby” I suspect the people posting the baby pictures think the same thing about these blog posts, and endless rewordings of the phrase 'please just listen to my song, it will only take you three minutes, you bastard'. I can't really blame them, especially since just today I was enough of a twat to post a picture of me in my new hat because I am so pleased with my new hat. I mean how self-absorbed do you have to be to think other people are going to give a shit that you got a new hat (5 likes and rising so far).

A lot has been said over the last year about the echo-chambers of social media. But mostly to do with politics, and the left in particular. There's also a baby echo-chamber, a pet echo-chamber, a pictures of your dinner echo-chamber and so on and so on. Luckily for you, there will always be people who like different things, and so your marathon posting of every song the new kids on the block ever did from youtube will find enough likes to convince you that people are enjoying it. I am not. I don't even enjoy people posting songs I do like from youtube in massive blocks of 5 or more. Other people seem to though, here's a really great song by the Trees, post this, and I might click like on it.

I know a lot of people are fond of the unfollow button to stop seeing all the baby pictures/right wing propaganda/keep calm and do something asinine pictures (seriously, if you don't know about the unfollow button, google it, you will be much happier). I'm not one of them, I like to see all of it, otherwise I will end up in an echo chamber of people who talk boring crap about guitars, comic books and save the whales left wing hippy shite. I like to see the right-wing propaganda, so I can challenge it a bit. I like to see the baby pictures (well, I don't, but it means I know who not to invite round for the next 18 years) and even the game invites let me know another thing about somebody (that they have nothing better to do with their time than keep a pretend farm, or throw birds at pigs, get a proper hobby). And surely the whole point of facebook is to know things about people so that we don't have to have conversations with them anymore?

Facebook are not making it easy for me these days, since they now seem to insist on showing me every picture that my friends have liked from their other friends, with not one toss given as to whether I know these other friends or not. This week is always a difficult one for those of us who aren't fans of gurning children in front of doors wearing freshly labelled school uniforms, as yet unripped or stained with the heady mix of grass, chocolate and other children's blood/snot/faeces that they inevitably will be. Especially when now we get to see the children of people we have never even met. Although I have to accept that my niece looked wonderfully psychotic in her first day at school photo this morning, so I am glad I don't have a children in school uniform filter fitted yet.

 (Thanks to my Sister for letting me post that picture)

Strangely eloquent minions will always annoy me though, and you may get unfollowed for posting them. Possibly unfriended, I may even come to your house and slap you. I have never heard a minion utter a coherent phrase other than one of their own names, banana, or bottom, so the minions who are currently telling me that they are strong women who will cut me up like a muppet if I say anything mean about their friends/children/hamsters/bananas are a total mystery to me. I am occasionally tempted to start my own minion quotes account that just says 'bammely boonage, bap mee barappta binkydoo woonits, bottom' next to a picture of a grinning twinky wearing goggles.

I mean, seriously? I've seen everything the minions have done, I like them a lot, I even sing like them when I am drunk, but this is worse than bitstrips were.

I know that most of my friends list is a little lefty bubble of do-gooding-hippies, and that's good. But luckily it also has a smattering of casual racists, gun fanatics, smug capitalist fatcats and people I have never met and have no idea why they sent me a friend request (but you all seem lovely). This is even better, as it gives me a wider perspective on the human condition, and I don't even have to leave the house, or get into arguments in pubs anymore, I have not been punched in the face in over a decade for laughing at somebody's genuinely held beliefs now, which is lovely.

Next time you are wanting to strangle somebody who believes that the only way they can truly express themselves is by sharing a picture which is just some white writing on a black background that tells you how how crazy they are (I know how crazy you guys are already, you're crazy enough to express yourself through a black and white gif somebody else made in ten seconds, you mad fuckers you) remember that they think your kitten is a wanker, your band are shit and the pictures of you and your wife on the beach make you look fat.

By the way, listen to my new song, it's about my cat, it's quite funny, and it's only three minutes long.

Thursday 20 August 2015

A (Not So) Brief History Of Pets I Did Not Want

I never really wanted pets, let me make that clear from the start, I had rodents as a kid, all of them met unpleasant ends, one rabbit fell from the roof of its hutch and broke its back, two of them got set free by a stoned fourteen year old (might have been me) and were shot by the neighbour, and the guinea pig committed suicide by throwing itself from a chair. Unperturbed, I went on to have two gerbils I quite liked. Despite my accidentally cutting one of their fingers off, we had a nice couple of years and then they died. My then girlfriend bought me two more to cheer me up. This set a pattern for my life, they were not nice, and they had sixteen babies. They ate eight of them.

I always say we had dogs as kids, but the truth is that our first dog ran away when I was three so I barely remember her, and my parents gave the second one to my grandparents when I was about six, as they had no time to look after him. So I did not really want a Dog when I was 21. My then girlfriend (different one to the gerbil one) and I lived in a third floor flat above the pub we ran with no garden, it was not a sensible place to have a dog. She really wanted one though, and when he sauntered over and gave a half-hearted woof in the middle of all the other leaping, barking, attention-seeking dogs before buggering off back to his bed, I realised that Rambo was probably my real soul-mate, rather than the girl.

Truthfully it took longer than that. When we broke up and I asked the 'who gets the dog?' question, I was half-hoping that she would say 'you can't take my dog!' as it would make flat hunting much easier, and I could be mobile again, rather than dog-bound. Sadly, she said 'I don't have time for him, you'll have to take him' and it was lying in my parents spare room, listening to his plaintive howls from downstairs as he spent his first night sleeping away from me (no dogs upstairs at Mum's house) that I realised he was the one for me, not her.

Rambo was the first animal to properly break my heart when he got old and died (in my arms, at the vets) probably because it was just me and him for quite such a long time. I could probably write a book about him and all the stuff we did, my old house mates will fondly remember the time we thought he'd eaten the stash. He hadn't, he was just tired, it was down the back of the sofa. The old neighbours will remember wanting to phone the police over a domestic row that turned out to be me and Rambo having a bit of an argument after I got drunk, and so on and so on. But this is not just about him.

Me and Rambo moved in with the current Mrs Doesn't-Write-Anything-Ever and the kids, and discovered we now had three cats to put up with as well. We didn't like cats, the local cats in Bideford used to bully Rambo when I wasn't watching as they knew he was scared of them. Duchamp, Dali and McCartney were no nicer to him. He bore it well, as did I. It took Rambo dying for me to develop a bit of a fondness for cats, and McCartney (hereafter known as Carty, cos that's what we called him) in particular. He was also old, black (well going brown round the edges) and a bit grumpy, just as Rambo had been. He refused my constant invitations to him to sit somewhere other than under my coffee cup, and we bonded.

Duchamp and Dali (that's them in the boxes up there) couldn't have been more different, despite being from the same litter. Dali was a tortoise-shell who was allergic to her own spit. Whereas Duchy is a beautiful tabby cat and always spotlessly clean, Dali was usually scarred, ridgy, losing bits of fur, and relentlessly skinny. She would not leave anybody alone, and would generally push at you furiously with her head while miaowing as if you were pulling her head off. We often described her as having no redeeming features but meaning well. Duchamp on the other hand, doesn't really like anybody. He had a couple of bad experiences with a hot sausage and a skipping rope when he was little, picking up a few trust issues, but he does tolerate me, and almost nobody else. So much so that he tends to hide if anybody comes round, and people think I have imagined him and only own two cats.

Apparently I didn't get used to cats enough, as after a year of no dog, Netty decided I had to have one or I would drive her nuts, so she made me get Rizla. She is a collie, she is now 10 years old, and she was proper crazy. I had never had a puppy before, she was the first animal I had to train, it was hard. She got stood on a lot as she ran around my feet, I tried to squeeze the wee out of her at night so she wouldn't wee on the floor (almost literally), I once spent 3 hours in the middle of the night sitting on the kitchen floor with her, a toy monkey and some leftover chicken because she looked sad, and when she had to wear the cone of shame after being neutered I spent a week sleeping on the sofa with her so she wouldn't be alone. I am clearly a dog person right?

Then came Schrodinger, a waste of a good name (that's him with Rizla above). He was a wedding gift I didn't ask for from my mate Gez, Netty was pleased as she wanted another black cat. Carty was very upset to see that we had got a little black kitten, he thought we were replacing him. The kitten thought it was a dog, he played fetch and did massive shits in the middle of the lawn. And then he got run over. I was not terribly bothered, as at this point, I was still not fully cat converted, we didn't even have him for 5 months, and I was in London at the time and missed the initial unpleasantness. I did have to bury him twice though, due to a new fence post having to go in the same place as him.

We lost Carty eventually, he got a brain tumour, it was terribly sad, as we always had to stop the car on the road and put him in the house before parking on the drive, as he used to walk round in circles there, unable to stop. He also looked like he was wearing a funny hat, but I stopped making jokes eventually. I had to go into the vets with him, and he died in my arms. He didn't break my heart like Rambo had, but then he was Netty's cat, not mine.

Apologies to Rudi, but this is the only photo of Carty I've got.

Bam Bam's family were moving to Saudi Arabia, so Netty adopted him. He was so very surly, and arrogant, and gave not one fuck about anything. It did not take long for him to worm his catty way into my heart. Every time he bit me for stroking him, every time he nicked bits out of my sandwich, every time he clung resolutely to the window sill refusing to go outside, I liked him more. Eventually Dali and Duchamp grudgingly accepted him. They had to, the pair of them were always natural followers, whenever there has just been the two of them they have had no idea what to do, a bit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to various Hamlets.

We moved from the housing estate to the moor, and Bam Bam was in heaven, he brought me dead mice every day, disguised as bunches of flowers. Then he suddenly developed a terribly rare cat disease and died the next day, once again, in my arms at the vet. It had finally happened, a fucking cat broke my heart. I decided that Duchamp and Dali were in fact devious murderers, and had probably pushed Schrodinger under that moped as well as poisoning Bam Bam. They were nothing of the kind, they were homely cats without a leader again, they had looked at the moor from the window and decided it was nicer on the radiator.

This is Bammy, caught looking at himself in the mirror again.

Last year we decided that since Dali and Duchamp were getting on a bit, we needed to get kittens. This is the only time in recorded history that it has been my idea to get an animal, rather than having it forced upon me. So we got Heisenberg (not Breaking Bad, he was named for the Schrodinger reference) and Kahlo. Duchamp and Dali were grateful not to be in charge of themselves any more, and immediately acquiesced to Heisenberg as the kingpin he was (I think he thought he was named for Walter White). And then they destroyed everything, they got everywhere, they left live rabbits in the living room when they were bored, and they once managed to push my telecaster into their litter tray.

I began to give all the animals Indian names as well, Rizla has been known as ‘The Bear’ since the day we got her, so she became Running Bear, Duchamp is Crying Owl, Dali - Crazy Tortoise, Heisenberg – Tiny Air Raid Siren, and Kahlo – Startled Batman Face. Though Kahlo is still called Bitey more than anything else, while Heisenberg was mostly known as Twatface until he decided that me putting magnetic locks on the food cupboard to keep him out was a step too far, and got himself run over in protest. I am not naming any more cats after physicists, finding his sad little corpse outside the house on a damp monday morning confirmed my newfound cat person status.


This was when we found out that it was Heisenberg that did all the bad stuff, Kahlo is pretty good really. She does bring in a lot of dead stuff (but where are the heads Bitey?) she costs me a fortune in all the collars she loses on the moors and she comes for walks with me and Rizla all the time, miaowing at us constantly as if she is hating every minute (Heisenberg used to come with us too, I think she is just doing it in memory of her brother). She goes out in the rain and the mud, and then comes in and jumps on me for a cuddle, and runs off again once she's dried out.

After Dali died of kidney failure (I was again, overwhelmed, I was beginning to think she was some kind of immortal demon, but I do miss her) Kahlo and Duchamp really bonded, they spent all their time curled up together on the sofa. Mostly because Kahlo likes to lick everything she can get her paws on, and Duchamp likes to be clean. He used her like a hotel shoe polishing machine. But then we got George Orwell, and it all changed again.

Whenever there is some kind of calm and equilibrium among our pets, we like to chuck a new one in to make it crazy again. So Netty got me George Orwell, another little tabby cat, for my birthday (briefly known as Hugging Leopard, now Screeching Pterodactyl). Duchamp is annoyed at being replaced, Kahlo is sulking about not being the littlest kitten anymore, and Rizla's pleading eyes are begging me to stop forcing animals on her. She has an enlarged heart now, and is supposed to avoid stress, is only allowed short walks, and is on medication for the rest of her life, so she felt that making her put up with another kitten might be a step too far. But I still catch the two of them cuddled up together all the time. Rizla loves everyone, because she is a doggy slut.

George Orwell does not come for walks with us, he is scared of everything, which is good. As if me, Rizla and Kahlo were inclined to play at being the three musketeers on the moor (we would naturally all want to be Aramis, but they would make me be boring Athos, and Kahlo would have to be Porthos as she is the most murdery) we would be glad not to have an over-enthusiastic D'Artagnan running around after us. Not that we would do such a thing.

And that's my many pets, none of which I asked for (except for Bitey). Apart from the chickens and the ducks, and the guinea pigs, and the rabbit, and the fish, and all the hamsters, mice, stick insects and various other things I have probably forgotten. All the furry people who I share my life with, and probably talk to more than the real people in my life. It's been a bad couple of years, we've planted 3 cats in this garden and we've only been here for two years. I'm preparing myself for the worst with Duchamp and Rizla, while simultaneously planning what to get to replace them. I realise it won't be my decision, but I long ago stopped planning what I might do if I had no animals getting in the way.

My advice, get pets, or at least, get people who force them on you, they will drive you mad, and make things difficult, but even when you're wading through a kitchen full of dog piss with a kitten leaping through it to take a crap off the side of the litter tray into your flip flops it is possible to see the funny side, and enjoy it for what it is. Honestly.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Feel free to tax me a little more, I think I can take it

I found a blog hiding on my hard drive that I felt was the most important thing in the world when I wrote it. I came in drunk one Saturday night, and decided that the reason everything is wrong is that we have been conned by the ruling classes into believing it is crass to talk about money. I decided that I had to write a blog detailing the financial ins and outs of myself and my family (to the best of my knowledge) thus setting the snowball rolling so that we can all understand each other better.

I wrote it, it was very sweary (and written a few nights before the recent budget, out of annoyance about inheritance tax cuts) and then decided I should at least hold off and edit it a bit before publishing. When I read it in the cold light of day I decided it is crass to talk about money, my family would be very unhappy with me for broadcasting their finances to anyone who wants to read it, and left it on the hard drive.

I have changed my mind about it again now.

There follows a heavily edited version, in which I wimp out, and miss my own point entirely.

Dear Messrs Cameron and Osborne, please take back your tax break, I don't need it, or even qualify for it, and if I don't need it I suspect nobody really does.For clarification, I have been very lucky, along with the rest of my family. My grandmother died a year ago, and left us a fuck ton of money, hoorah! I miss my grandmother every day, like all grandsons do, but the xxxxxx quid she left me makes it a bit easier. Not all of us can say that right? (I really do miss her by the way, she never meant to get all that money, and while she was alive she gave everything she could to anyone she felt needed it, and was the kindest human being I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, but a house in walking distance of Guildford Station, is a house in walking distance of Guildford Station, and this is a different world to the 1950s).I know it isn't very British to talk about money, but that might be what got us into all this shit in the first place. To me, xxxxxx quid is genuinely, a fuck ton of money. I put it into a deposit on a house I really liked. I live in it now, it is brilliant. I am still the same sad, miserable son of a bitch I was when I lived in a council house on the other side of town. But I have a nice house now. I also feel horribly guilty for all the people still living on the estate we used to who can't afford their rent, let alone the price of getting out of there.The point is, I would have been more than happy to pay tax on that money, and have a smaller deposit. It would not bother me at all, and that is on a mere xxxxxx pounds. Take 40 percent of that, I am poor(ish) and don't understand numbers that big anyway.My Dad is an accountant, he dealt with my grandmothers estate, he might well think differently, since I only got a certain percentage (which I am still doing little happy dances about). He might not, because he can do maths, and knows that under Mr Cameron's new inheritance tax laws, we might not be paying tax on it. I think that we did at the time, but we were fine with that, because it is, as I said, a fuck ton of money that we didn't have before. And unexpected, unearned fuck tons of money are exactly the sort of things that should be taxed.I bought a house, my sister did some things, my brother did some things, my mum and dad did some things. None of the things we did were life-saving, and we would all be fine without it. (Apologies, a lot of the important stuff is being edited out for the sake of family harmony, this is ensuring none of this makes sense anymore, I could have spoken to everyone individually and asked if they minded me spewing their intimate details over the internet to make some useless socialist point, but I thought it might create the very problem I was trying to avoid, so I didn't).

Seriously, this is what happens to fuck tons of money.And they want to move the inheritance tax threshold up.Really.I would not benefit from it,I would happily pay tax on what I have already inherited.Inherited wealth is not earned wealth.Fuck you, pay some tax on your mum's house, you are not entitled to anything.Yes I am a socialist, and possibly worse (no, I don't know what I meant by that either) and I know that owning my own home from inherited wealth is probably against everything I believe in , but I live in a capitalist society and can't change that, so I decided not to suffer on principles (Dad taught me that too).Apologies to my entire family, I hope you don't think too badly of me for actually using numbers for once (I haven't, I edited it out, I am a total wimp, sorry to everyone else).Power to the people (not a joke, apparently)

And there you have it, a genuine drunken rant, edited for Britishness. Maybe one day we won't find it crass to talk about money, and people will openly discuss their salaries by the water cooler, and realise that that is why the 'crass to talk about money' thing came about. So that employers can pay some people much less than others, safe in the knowledge that they will never find out. I once worked somewhere where it was written into my contract that I could not discuss my salary with any other employee. Nice trick, didn't work, most of us were on less than the original minimum wage (this was before it came in) a lot were proper Essex council estate boys, and they just can't help themselves but tell everyone what they earn (can I still stereotype Essex council estate boys? Well I'm going to anyway). So we all knew, and we all used it in wage reviews to make sure we didn't get skinned any worse than anybody else.

I talk to plenty of people who say 'oh I'm not really that well off' when I know that their household income is at least four times larger than ours. I claim to not be that well off myself, when compared to my former neighbours, I am pretty damn good thanks. Relativity is everything, and the more we have, the more expensive our lives become, bringing the illusion of poverty. It is just an illusion, trust me, I did the real thing for long enough.

I may be sober now, but I still say you can stick your inheritance tax break. Take the lot, I don't need my parents stuff, and the illusion of a meritocracy is a little shakier than it was before the breaks.