Sunday 29 January 2017

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there

After umming and ahhing over a decent setting for my recent novel – Weekend Rockstars – I eventually settled on a fictionalised unnamed westcountry town that was unnervingly close to the Bideford I left over a decade ago. As I found myself lovingly describing pubs long gone and struggling to remember the names of streets I had walked down a thousand times I began to wonder why I ever left; and then I remembered, that Bideford only exists in my mind now.

To make it clear, I love Bideford, I moved there with my family at the age of five in 1983 and didn't leave until 2004 – my parents still live there so I still visit regularly. A lot of people I know left Bideford forever in their twenties because it was too small, rural and constrictive – and had I left five or six years earlier than I did it would almost certainly have been for the same reason.

But I didn't, and it wasn't. Eventually I realised I am a yokel and my life is an everyday tale of country folk. Despite my teenage swagger and insistence that I was going to get out of there and do something, I had always loved the small town life: I could walk into almost any pub and the staff would greet me by name and have my usual drink ready before I had even reached the bar (I don't know if that says more about me than Bideford in the 90s, but it feels relevant) and I was only ever a short walk from somewhere big and green, where the air didn't choke.

Some time at the beginning of the new millennium all that started to change, the pubs began to close in the wake of Bideford's first superpub – The Tavern In The Port, cheap prices, no soul and a disorientingly fast staff turnover rate (see any modern Wetherspoons for reference). I was having to walk farther and farther out of town to achieve solitude and my then-dog had developed arthritis in protest – restricting us to Victoria Park perambulations that had to be so early that they would encroach on the middle of the night if we wanted the quiet. The once recession-bitten streets of boarded-up shop fronts began to be tarted up, new shiny modern buildings began to replace the crumbling edifices I had romanticised beyond their almost-certainly-dangerously-rotten reality. I didn't like it, longing for the return of Scudder's Emporium.

The famous New Year's Eve celebrations had become massive, highly organised affairs, rather than the spontaneous outbreak of fancy dress and crazy it had always been before all the publicity. Plastic glasses everywhere and no space on the bridge at midnight (though the latter was always the case). While New Year's is now undoubtedly a lot safer than back when we used to do the 21 Newcastle Brown bottle salute at midnight – it's not for me anymore.

I have since realised that it wasn't Bideford's fault, it was me (it would have been a real cliché of a breakup letter I would have had to write were Bideford a lady). The ever-growing nature of all towns is perpetual, a middle-aged Bidefordian from the 1890s would undoubtedly have complained about all the horses on the Quay compared to when he was a lad. No town in the world is ever the same town it was ten years previously. I ignored London for ten years as well, and didn't recognise the city I eventually overcame my hatred of crowds to visit again (for clarification, it is a good deal nicer than it was back in the late 80s/early 90s).

I found another place (an undisclosed small town in the middle of Devon. I would tell you where it is, but if you all knew then you'd all come here, and I'd be back where I started). The barstaff know everybody's name and what they drink, if an event is put on, then the whole town turns up to see it (oh look! A thing! We must go, we must go...) though if there is nothing on, then the streets are curiously empty, and any person encountered therein will greet you as a long lost friend whether you have ever set eyes on them before or not – city-dwellers beware!

You are never more than five minutes walk from a completely empty, bleak, barren and utterly wonderful bit of moorland. Although at certain times of day it is full of fellow dog-walkers, unless you know the empty places and how to get to them (I do, it is glorious). At our annual Chilli festival last weekend, the entire town had turned up – along with a smattering of newcomers, all of whom were being interrogated with smiles and enthusiasm. I was in a happy chatting group ranging from 80 something to 2 years old. None of us were related to each other (alright, the two year old's Dad was with us).

When the Chilli chow-down (don't ask, it is hellish) began, several of the contestants were pretty new to the town, including the winner. They got as big a cheer as the local institutions who were sat, sweating and crying until they dropped out. One of the newcomers is a skinny, odd, twenty something musician with a funny haircut. Just like I was 12 years ago when I came here, escaping the sprawling metropolis of Bideford, that I had once found so small and constricting.

(Originally published in the Bideford Buzz newsletter - October 2016)

Sunday 1 January 2017

Farewell to a sadly misunderstood year – 2016 I shall miss you

2016 eh? Started really badly and got worse yeah? Bowie was the glue that held the universe together and all that shit?

No, not the case here I'm afraid – while 2016 did very much start with the worst thing ever, nothing worse happened after that. I speak not of Bowie, I speak of my beloved dog Rizla's untimely death from her dicky heart as I cried into her neck on the living room rug. Nothing has quite lived up to that utterly desperate moment on the first Sunday morning of the year, or the day that followed when – in an utter daze – I completely forgot that I had given up smoking 2 and a half years previously and turned my lungs into barbed wire and sandpaper.

My sadly missed and beautiful dog

Obviously, after that, everything was pretty much uphill. I accept that a lot of people I never actually met have died for perfectly reasonable reasons, and a lot of people have voted for things I did not agree with – often for less reasonable reasons, but given that nobody yet knows the real outcome of those events, we will have to wait and see. Either way, 2016 was not the year to lament the outcome of The United States of Trumperica and Brexit (which I do hope will be red, white and blue – like the french flag is) as those things have not yet actually happened.

All the many celebrity deaths led to me listening to a lot of records, watching a lot of movies, and reading a lot of books I had forgotten all about, so in a purely selfish sense, they were quite positive. I accept that in the middle of the year – around my 39th birthday in fact – not a friday went past that I didn't feel utterly overwhelmed and found myself crying at every song on the radio. Prince's death, though very sad – particularly since he was one of those rare artists that was still putting out new and exciting material right up to the end – did lead to my favourite moment of the entire year. One spontaneous decision to go to Brighton for May bank holiday weekend, and a text from a friend suggesting I visit the Fortune of War all coincided gloriously with them having a Prince tribute night there with some excellent DJs and my wife and I dancing all night long on Brighton beach dressed in full Pirate garb. That would not have happened had he still been alive.

This night will take a lot of beating

The other terrible beginning to the year was the announcement that I would be getting no pay rise or Christmas bonus from the real job (which was a bit awkward since I had already spent it on wine, woman – just the one: reader, I married her – and song over the preceding twelve months). This led to me abandoning my retirement from cover bands and quickly jumping back in – which in turn meant that I got to spend a lot of time with three of my oldest and best friends in Jealousy and the Cat (which has also helped to sharpen up my terribly lazy guitar playing skills) and met up with some new, exciting and different musicians in Super 8 while shredding my terribly-out-of-practice bass playing fingers (along with a joyous reunion with Pete, my former Spaced Invader bandmate). Dagobah continued to bound along nicely, I did quite a lot of dep gigs with some other old friends and new acquaintances, and, at the end of the year, three of the best musicians I know and I put together yet another new and awesome musical adventure which we might be able to show you in 2017 – if we pull our fingers out, since, like most musicians, we are terribly badly organised.

I even managed to squeeze in a couple of 'last ever' Rob and Dave gigs

Some projects that have been hanging around my neck for years and years like fat, knotty albatrosses (what is the plural of such a solitary bird as the albatross? Albatri? Albatross? Fuck knows, maybe I should google it?) were finally completed, despite all the other stuff going on. Having expected to just give my debut novel – Weekend Rockstars – a quick once over in January before chucking it out there to the public, I quickly realised it would need a bit of work first, and, 8 months of constant rewriting, name changes and punctuation decisions later, it was finally done. It has been received far better than I could ever have hoped for – do check the amazon reviews if you don't believe me – and been a marvellous ego boost.

In May, I finally stopped umming and ahhing about it and hired a man to rebuild my studio shed after it was flooded out and revealed as useless three years ago. This resulted in my finally finishing the first Dave Not The Cat EP which – while it shows up my mixing abilities as needing some work – is not too bad at all (expect yet another remix sometime this year). Finishing the studio, the book and the record topped off the summer, and left me feeling I'd actually achieved something for once.

The end of the summer also coincided with two marvellous events that reminded me I should be less of a miserable hermit-like git. We put on a huge party for our tenth wedding anniversary in August, and a field filled with almost all of my favourite people in the world (some couldn't make it, but we had such a good time we barely missed them – ha ha, your loss Steve) on a beautiful, sunny, cider-fuelled day was a gentle reminder that life needs to be shared and enjoyed a little more often – rather than locking myself in a succession of sheds to write and record stuff.

A very good time was had by all

The second reminder came at my cousin's wedding in Canterbury, where I caught up with a whole lot of family I have not seen in a very long time – though it didn't take very long for it not to feel like it as we spent a long day and night standing by the bins, smoking sneaky cigarettes and yapping endlessly about music, books, movies and good times. I do not catch up with my family enough (it's the mad hermit thing again) and am now trying to rectify that.

My beautiful wife with my beautiful cousin – in a car park

The menagerie has changed a bit as well this year, along with losing Rizla, we also lost Da Vinci the rabbit and one of Bitey Cat's legs. But we gained Richard Parker (kitten, possibly pregnant at the moment, bugger), Gaugin (Rabbit, has a knackered floppy ear at the moment), Sky (6 year old, rescue Alaskan Malamute, utterly unsociable and overly fond of excrement) and a credit account at the vet. We think the happy has managed to outweigh the sad on this side as well.

Of all the big events this year the only one that left me feeling utterly hopeless was the political assassination of a sitting MP for daring to suggest that we human beings are all generally quite similar and should maybe try being nicer to each other. Jo Cox, pretty much the same age as I am and paying a completely unnecessary price. I may fear that the worst is still yet to come, but this year, on a personal level, has been pretty good. I've been to some good places, got drunk with some good people – some new, some old, all excellent – created some good things and not sunk under the weight of the things that the media seem to insist we must all sink under.

So, hello 2017, I expect you to be much worse – through the media lens anyway – than 2016. However, the wife, the pets, the kids and I are going to continue to have a good time, all the time. You shall not break us.

Most of this year has felt like this - I expect more of it next year

I would like to apologise unreservedly for the overly personal nature of this blog, and the obvious advertising for my own products. Also, if it reads a bit like those bloody awful Christmas round-robin letters that people you have stopped seeing regularly (almost certainly for good reasons) insist on sending you every year, I am incredibly sorry and will never do it again.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

All I want for Christmas is an enormous amount of debt and some novelty tat - honest

Ho ho ho, tis the season to be stressed out, screaming and utterly devoid of ideas for exciting and thoughtful gifts. Why not buy your loved ones some completely useless shite that they will never use? It will keep me in a job, and the country will thank you for contributing to the economy. (I don't mention it much, but I do work in the useless-personalised-gift-that-your-uncle-who-you-hate-buys-you-for-christmas-and-that-you-immediately-throw-away industry. Sorry, please don't hate me.)

I have just finished getting myself into the festive spirit with an early Christmas movie, Jingle All The Way a masterwork of acting genius from a Terminator T-800 and a young Darth Vader. I don't know if such a plot will ever have relevance again, surely if it were made now, every parent would immediately have pre-ordered a Turbo Man doll on amazon, and Sinbad off of the Cosby Show would have probably nicked one for his kid while out on his post round, saving all that shopping hilarity from ever happening. A 2016 Jingle All The Way would probably feature those smug, laughing shop workers crying into their unemployment benefits as they are replaced by electronic drone delivery.

Actual Still from Jingle all the Way

The trouble is, that my personal favourite standby for last minute presents – DVD boxsets, CDs etc – are now being rendered completely obsolete by Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music, good-old-fashioned online piracy and a sea change in the way we consume media. I for one am quite happy to give up on the idea of gift-giving entirely and just have a nice day with my loved ones getting pissed and eating food. This is why I prefer New Year to Christmas.

Personalised tat is seriously big business now (for two months of the year) because the only way to show somebody you care in the 21st century is to spend all the money you earned having to work extra hours in the run up to Christmas (which seems like a lot, because you only get 2 hours a week on your zero hours minimum – not fucking living, calling it a living wage doesn't make it one you tory bastards – wage contract the rest of the year) on a Macaroni and lentil portrait of them from some smarmy fucking art student on Etsy.

 This one is ok actually

I fear for the future, I fear that soon my stepchildren will reproduce, and I will join the legions of people who receive a calendar of ugly baby pictures every year, and are forced to display it proudly in the house for all to see. I like to think that when that Christmas day comes I will either feel differently about shitty personalised calendars when they're my own grandkids, or have the kind of relationship with the kids that will enable me to say proudly, “Take this fucking crap back, and buy me some biscuits you ungrateful wankers.”

Of course, the genius of marketing personalised gifts to all and sundry ensures the survival of capitalism as a concept (It is often explained that without the yearly phenomenon of Christmas over-indulgence, the economy would collapse to nothing, the company I work for would certainly collapse without the boost we get in December from twats with too much money buying useless shit for other twats.) as you can't just re-wrap it and pass it on to some other poor sap a year later. Of course, I have never ever rewrapped a shit present from somebody and passed it on to somebody else. Honest, never, I certainly haven't ever been caught out by giving it back to the same person who gave it to me, ever, right? However, we anti-capitalist anarchist types could start bringing the state to its knees by not buying each other new shiny things (or experiences, hot air balloon rides and wine tasting are just as show off and wanky as a golden bog seat) once a year, and just passing the same crap round and round between us (bottles of Grappa and Olde Englishe Cyder are a good gift for this kind of game, nobody is ever brave enough to open it (apologies for throwing in a private joke there)).

So throw off your Grinchy Faces, buy everybody charitable donations to something you actually give a shit about (or a copy of my book – you didn't think I was going to write something about Christmas shopping without throwing a little plug in did you?) or go to local places and get people something they might actually enjoy – cheese, booze, stuff that won't clutter the place up and they won't have to dig out of the cupboard and proudly display as if they love it more than life itself every fucking time you go round to see them. Ask them if they're having trouble with anything, make your own vet vouchers for people with expensive pet problems*, garage vouchers for people with old cars that constantly break down (yeah, I know it's just cash, but people spend so much on other people at Christmas they screw their own finances up in a total reversal of sense) they will appreciate it more. I hope.

Of course, I'm probably wrong, and you actually do all want a 3 foot high bamboo cat that holds two non-standard sized bottles of wine while simultaneously removing the last few square feet of empty real estate from your dining room, so go ahead, do what you want.

Me and Bitey wish you a stress free shopping experience

*this is not a plea for money in any way, but in a follow up to my last blog about my cat, those of you who are interested might like to know that after a lot of vet visits we finally ascertained that her kneecap had become detached. There was an operation offered to us that would cost nearly £3000 and probably wouldn't work, we declined and have had her back leg amputated instead for a lot less. She is doing well, and might be allowed outside again soon, not soon enough in her opinion, which is how I know she's alright. The dog is ok again now as well after her utterly disgusting skin infection next to her ear, the fur is growing back on her face and everything. The vets (who I may have mentioned before are utterly brilliant) have sorted us out with an account to ensure we can pay for it all easily, and all is fine and dandy. Please ignore all of this if you don't give a flying fuck about my pets, like most people, especially the wanker that hit her with a car and detached her kneecap (incidentally, if you're reading this, please leave the vet expenses money in a brown envelope in the egg money box, thanks).

Sunday 2 October 2016

My Cat got hit by a car and I used it as advertising – don't judge me

It has been a much slower week than intended writing-wise. This is, as usual, largely due to me sharing my home with a host of furry dickheads. I realise that once again I am going to encroach on the kind of writing that Tom Cox will always do much better than I can (for some of my previous lengthy wittering about cats and dogs see here and here) but this week has been very trying, and so this might be the last piece I ever write about my animals.

Because I am going to get rid of the lot of them – the dozy little fuckwits*.

When my wife told me that she was going to be away for two nights on a school 'learning outside the classroom thingy', my immediate reaction was that I would be able to really get my head down and knock out a few thousand words on the book I am currently embroiled in writing. My second thoughts reminded me that the last time she had done this, it had resulted in the death of one of her rabbits – the vet assured me it would have happened even if I had remembered to feed him that morning, but I still think I might be a bit responsible. Sorry Vince (Da Vinci for long) I did like you a great deal, but you were a difficult rabbit at the best of times.

Obviously I had this in mind this week, and ensured that the rabbits and Guinea pigs were locked in at night, let out in the morning, and well fed. Nothing went wrong with them – although they did encroach on my morning pre-work writing time a bit, and the newest rabbit, Gaugin, doesn't seem to like me much.

Time stealing has long been the preserve of my canine companions, and my latest one, Sky is no exception. Having now re-energised her from the big, fat, tired lump I adopted 2 months ago she now insists on infeasibly long walks after work every day – despite the fact that my neighbour takes her out a couple of times a day while I am at work – since I am the only Skywalker (I thank you) brave/stupid enough to let her off of her lead anywhere. She also punishes me for any attempt to not let her do exactly what she wants. This morning, for example, when I called her back to get her back on her lead (there were some small dogs approaching, and there was an incident with a small dog being nearly eaten by her last week that is still in my mind – though that was entirely the small dog's fault, its owner assured me of this when I was pulling the wolf from on top of it) she deliberately lay down in a massive puddle of mud, and after trying to run at a lamb and being jerked back on her lead, she began to sniff for something vile and fox related to roll in.

I cannot show you what she looks like below the neck, it is stinky and brown though

Thursday evening was when everything came to a head. It had already managed to be the first day all week that we had been rained all over, and the only day on which I had not bothered with the coat and massive leather Tricorn hat that had been getting me overly hot and sweaty every day before – and indeed since. So I was already fairly pissed off. Sky had punished me greatly for calling her back to walk towards the house rather than further and further and further away by running a thousand miles from me, looking back with a grin, and then rolling on her back in a huge, fresh cowpat. It was everywhere, all over her back, her head, her ears, almost in her eyes, it was disgusting and dreadful and utterly vile. It took an age to wash it off, and I was glad Netty was not at home to tell me I shouldn't let her off of her lead anyway (update: today (sunday) she did her cowpat roll too early in the walk and spent the rest of the walk trying to clean herself off by rolling in the wet grass - karma). Later on, as I was remembering to put the rabbit and guinea pig back in for the night, I heard a jingle, a thud and a 'miaow' and thought no more of it. My cats are not graceful by nature, and often fall from the shed roofs onto rabbit hutches with a similar noise.

When I came back into the house, I saw Bitey (Kahlo to give her her proper name) lying on her back with her paws in the air while Sky sniffed her belly. Again, all normal behaviour, I went back to writing. She pulled herself up loudly and awkwardly onto the sofa, so far so normal. Then she looked round at me, unobscured by dog or furniture finally. Her face was covered in blood.
'What on earth have you killed this time you murdery twat!' I exclaimed, and got a cloth to wipe her face off. That was when I got my first surprise, it was her blood, not something else's for once. She had lost a few patches of fur from her nose, and had quite the nosebleed (which she insisted on blowing all over my arms, legs and any other bit of me she could cover in it). I assumed she had just come off worse in a fight for once, gave her a bit of a cuddle, told the dog and the other cats to look after her and pissed off to bed with a mediocre book.

On waking, I found her sitting by the cat flap – even louder than ever – until she tried to get up and walk over to the feeding area. Then she was bouncing, three-leggedly and awkwardly, with a pronounced limp, and no use of one of her back legs. At which point I quite naturally panicked like a hollywood homosexual stereotype and phoned the vet. We got an appointment almost immediately, my local vets are actually fucking brilliant and I can't recommend them highly enough. I joked to the vet that she had probably been in a fight with a fox – which I have seen her doing through the bedroom window on countless occasions – or fallen off the roof outside said window finally. The vet looked at her claws and informed me that she had definitely been hit by a car.

The luckiest cat you will ever meet – looking a bit sad

To say I felt a bit guilty at this point would make me the master of understatement.

Hit by a car – the same as had killed her brother Heisenberg just over a year ago.

I felt a bit guilty at this point.

He tried to weigh her, but ever the difficult pet, she miaowed and scratched and wriggled all over the scales and refused it. I wondered if perhaps my wife calling her a special-needs hippo all the time might have given her some body-image issues, hence the refusal to be weighed in public, but then remembered that she is a cat, and given the state she normally comes home in, gives not one single fuck about that kind of thing. Anyway, the vet decided she weighed about 5 kg and left it at that. He determined that the scrapy nose and a very badly bruised leg (no breaks – all good) were the worst of her injuries, declared her an incredibly lucky cat and shot her up with a massive dose of kitty heroin.

I took her home with her very own bottle of kitty heroin – slightly disappointed that she wouldn't be a three-legged cat, one of my favourite cats ever has three legs, I also quite fancy a cat on wheels, am I a bad person? – and made up a room for her so that my smallest cat Richard Parker wouldn't try to ride her about the house like a tiny horse for once. I put cushions in a little den under the bed for her to lie on, other ones in the nice sunny spot by the door, blankets, food, a litter tray, and some cat toys so she wouldn't be too miserable in her isolation from the other pets. Then I walked off merrily to work, a bit late, but with no intention of driving, as it was a nice day (I am nothing if not entirely irresponsible). Half-way there I remembered that the vet had told me to make sure she had water, as she would have a massive headache (along the lines of a scrumpy hangover, if that illustrates it enough for you) and would need water. I ran back up the hill, filled a bowl with water, gave it to her ( I know the pain of a scrumpy hangover, and fully sympathised with her) and was a lot later for work than I had meant to be.

What scared me the most, though, was my strong desire to post about what had happened on social media. I think it might have been because I couldn't tell Netty about it (she had enough to deal with coping with two tents full of hormonal teenagers on a jolly) until she came home, and needed to share it with somebody. However, I was very much aware that I was also cynically working out how to exploit the luckiest cat in the world in order to get more followers on twitter, (you know by maybe doing something like writing a blog post about the experience and spattering it with links to buy my book) and ultimately more book sales (please buy my book). 

I felt so bad about it that I posted this picture on all my social media accounts – with links to buy my book (please buy my book) and cynically exploited my Cat's tragedy for commercial gain – like an awful capitalist dick. There are days when I genuinely hate myself.

Once Netty was home, and I had, as just outlined, shared my tale of the world's luckiest cat online (the vet said she had only lost one of her nine lives, but I've seen her out on the moors, I'm amazed she's got any left) somebody pointed out that the real Frida Kahlo (who she is named after) also survived a traffic accident. I wondered if this made my cats' names into prophecies, will Duchamp die peacefully at home at a distinguished age (he's already reached that at 16)? Will George Orwell be struck down with a terminal lung disease in middle age? Will Richard Parker be lost at sea for nearly a year with a young Indian boy named after a swimming pool? Maybe...

This is the reality of trying to get social media marketing photos with your pets
a phone full of pictures like this

Anyway, as a result of having to cope with all this stress and worry single-handedly, I have done almost no writing this week, and now have to spend the weekend doing double. (Having watched Bitey desperately licking the kitty heroin syringe after having drunk its contents, I clearly also have a tiny junkie to deal with – if anyone has the number for narCATics anonymous I could really use it.) I realise that this blog is once again living up to its original purpose of procrastination, as this 2000 odd words would have been much better served being parts of my next book, and this last hour has been nearly wasted. It is because of this that I would like to offer to anyone who wants them, four cats (one slightly damaged - all fucking mental), one dog (slightly soiled), two rabbits and two guinea pigs (hopefully, haven't checked on them yet tonight) – I would offer you an everchanging number of ducks and chickens, but we share those with our neighbour, and he insists he wants to keep them. If you don't take them, I am off to the river with a sack and a pile of bricks*.

*obviously I am not really getting rid of my pets, please don't start with the hate messages it was a joke (albeit in very poor taste).

Saturday 10 September 2016

Summer in London – I Blame the Parents

I've been off on my travels again, and that can only mean one thing. More of me being surprisingly mean about people who are a little bit different to me (yay! Xenophobia). Regular readers will already have enjoyed me trashing my beloved Westcountry peninsula and being mean about London in January. However, the OAPs and students of January have metamorphosed into middle-class family holidays by August, which means I have to do another London blog.

It all began with the moral maze of 21st century train etiquette. Back when I was a kid, this stuff was easy, you got up and offered your seat to a lady or an elderly person if the train was full (and dear god are they full these days – I don't care if Jeremy Corbyn faked it or not that was a point that needed making). But nowadays there is the question of everyday sexism: assuming a lady needs my seat more than me when I am now a haggard old git could lose me twenty guardian reader points. This is compounded by just how grey you have to be to constitute being elderly now? If some cheeky youngster offered me their seat just because my beard is all grey now I would be highly offended (though I would still take the seat, I'm not stupid). What if I offer my seat to an 'elderly' person who is both younger and fitter than me? Will they be offended? I will admit I compromised, I budged my wife in a bit – some of you may be old enough to remember having to 'budge in' on the school bus – and we went three up on the seat with a 5 year old: who was watching netflix on his iPad despite his mother's insistence that it wouldn't work.

The problem now is that poor little 
Tarquin and Guinevere have children of their own

I love modern parents – I have found no better font of comedy fun than the middle class guilt inflicted on the poor little darlings of overworked professionals. You are not bad people, you are doing nothing wrong, and I understand that you want the small amount of time you manage to spend with them while you work all the hours the gods send just to put food on the table to be fun, but you cannot expect me to keep a straight face when I overhear you say 'finish your brioche and then you can have an avocado smoothie darling' (genuine quote from a train journey there). You really can't. Again, I accept that what you are doing is much better than the bag of haribo and bottle of coke that would not have had me blinking an eyeball, but I will defend my right to be an antiquated old dinosaur and laugh at you. The I-have-reproduced-and-am-therefore-better-than-you entitlement of all new parents is always a problem though. Whereas when I was a kid, had an old chap on the train told me to 'fuck off and stop kicking the back of my chair' my parents would have agreed whole-heartedly and clipped me round the ear for it, now though, I am worried that I will get shouted at and clipped round the ear for suggesting that these pampered little creatures could possibly be doing anything wrong. Particularly when even I can tell that the kid didn't really mean to kick me in the ankle – three times, the little wanker. This could just be me being paranoid though, I haven't been brave enough to test the theory.

London itself, once we arrived and started gobbling up its lovely culture, continued to pique my interest in my generation's irritating pride in their distinctly average offspring. The BP portrait award exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery seemed full to bursting with 'the portrait is of the artist's son/daughter' more than I have noticed before, though perhaps just because it was on my mind. Certain amusing parenting traits emerged in all the galleries though, from the 4-year-old art critic explaining the metaphors behind the pictures to her beaming (and clearly fucking mental) mother, to the baby (who almost certainly couldn't focus its eyes yet) being dangled for the longest time imaginable from its crocheted papoose in front of a Georgia O'Keeffe while its mother stared at its face attempting to translate the expressions therein. (Sorry for calling the baby an it, I didn't ask its gender, so I am using gender neutral pronouns, rather than being mean.)

My most terrifying parenting encounter of the trip was with a small boy who had obviously been told to wait in the toilets on the very top floor of the new bit of the Tate Modern. There was only me and him in there, he alternated between sitting on the floor behind me singing to himself like an 80s horror movie (sounded a lot like one, two, Freddie's coming for you), and rattling the handle on the door of the shitter his Dad was clearly trying to avail himself of. I must admit I had the worst case of performance anxiety I have ever had, and took the first opportunity that came my way to give a fake shake, wash my hands and get the hell out of there (it was only an attempted lucky wee anyway, at my age you can't afford to walk past a toilet before attempting 14 flights of stairs – I made it down unsoiled, you'll be pleased to hear).

After paying extortionate prices for an exclusive flat in the sky
those bastards at the Tate open up a viewing gallery that
lets anyone who wants to gawp in your windows

A Premier Inn breakfast is always a fine thing, and in the school holidays it is a showcase for the two extremes of modern parenting. On one side of us the table was set for ten – despite only technically seating a family of three. They were joined by a pony, an aristocratic looking bear, a flopsy bunny, a large frog, a doggy, a well-loved sheep and what was clearly the favourite: another bear, who had lost most of his fur and looked a bit chewed. The family were all happily including these interlopers in their breakfast conversation (which was about upgrading the pony to a real one). While on the other side, five tiny berserkers crashed into all and sundry while their completely-fucking-knackered-looking parents stared disinterestedly into their phone screens – it was the end of August, five weeks of 'fun' will take its toll on anyone, I did not judge. Of course, the over-enthusiastic and engaged parents with all the bears could have been grandparents (it would make sense, they get to give them back again after all), it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell which is which, and 'Parents or Grandparents?' is fast replacing 'Dad or Boyfriend?' as my favourite people-watching game ('Fat or Pregnant?' barely gets a look in these days).

The phone screens are starting to worry me now as well, and the ear phones. Every tiny bit of London is now full of people talking to themselves with a white cable hanging from their ears. I've always used my dog as an excuse to talk to myself in public, but am thinking I might just start wearing earphones instead. With the advent of Apple's new 'ez-lose' wireless earphones, I might not even need the cable, I can just cover my ears with my hair and hope nobody looks too hard. It is, however, surprisingly intimidating to see somebody doing the latest please-notice-that-I-have-clearly-just-been-to-the-gym walk (chest pushed out like a hooker outside a nightclub, arms held surprisingly high, still in a deliberately-one-size-too-small suit in a 30 degree London heatwave, could be sweat in his hair, may just be straight out of the shower) while shouting at nobody as he barges through all and sundry.

I can't tell any of you apart - sorry

That guy kept walking into the delightful pub attached to Paddington station as I waited for my train back to the land of the sane. Sometimes he was old and grey, and hugging a battered old briefcase, sometimes he was fresh from city-fuckwit school, all eager and manbagged. Sometimes he was in disguise, wearing a checked shirt and jeans but they're all the same guy to me. In the same way as so many people think all long haired beardy-weirdies in big hats look the same, I can't tell one spiffy short-haired commuting professional from another. A pigeon keeps flying into the pub and trying to nick chips, I can't tell if he's the same one, or a succession of different chancer pigeons either. London seems to homogenise you into a phone-staring, bullshit-shouting, work-hard, play-hard (die-really-young-and-stressed-out-but-with-a-catchy-slogan-for-it) largely unhappy suicide risk. Probably.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Looks like I picked the wrong week to publish a book

Clip for those who didn't get the reference
(Hooray! A joke I have to explain)

To clarify, I don't mean in terms of the response I have had – which has been overwhelmingly lovely, thank you all. But having randomly picked a day and decided to use it as my publishing date, I then discovered that it was in the midst of one of the busiest weeks I have had in absolutely ages. The plan was to do a massive build up (on my new website – which finally went live yesterday after a myriad of technical problems) with a whole load of blog posts like this one – on the subject of publishing, writing, and how utterly fucking exhausting the whole process is – culminating in a massive 'Hooray! I am proud to announce that you can now buy my book!' blog post.

Which should have been ready to go last Thursday (August the 11th , in case this takes me even longer to write than I am anticipating) when I officially published it.

But what with rehearsing with three different bands, doing a quick reunion gig with my old acoustic duo, getting a new dog, remembering that I like spending time with my wife, almost forgetting a dep gig I agreed to do months ago and still having to go to work for most of the day – absolutely none of this has happened. Sorry. Also, I have no idea how to do a delayed publication thing, and it was technically available last Sunday night, but these days you're meant to do a big build up thing, so I lied to try and make it look like I knew what I was doing (I do not know what I am doing).

Here's one of those gigs, where we finally managed to be Rob, Dave and Eddie
(Rubbish joke courtesy of Rob Love and 70s kids TV)
(photo courtesy of by Geoff Hodgkinson)

So it was in the final throes of exhaustion that I completed the final leg of this journey (please shoot me, I told you I was tired, I had no idea I was tired enough to call something a journey like I was on the X-Factor or something – what a twat) with nothing more than a quick link thrown up on Facebook as I stood – bleary eyed and knackered in my studio at quarter to seven in the morning before I went to work – desperately learning songs for that dep gig I'd forgotten about; because I had no free evenings to learn stuff in.

To return to the beginning, those of you with very long memories will recall that 2 and a half years ago I started this blog in order to shame myself into finishing the book I was writing. Some of you may even have been reading when I posted this a year and a bit ago – thinking I had finished. I had no idea of just how much work was going to go into editing, rewriting and just formatting the bloody thing to get it out there. My Auntie Jenny has been completely invaluable as she helped me through the whole thing, scribbling all over my first draft and answering all my very boring whiny emails, I am not sure how I am going to repay her kindness, nothing could match it.

Every time I have thought it is ready to go, something else has happened: first I re-read it at Christmas, with a view to January publication, but realised that the opening was duller than a pile of very dull stones that have had all the shine taken off of them with a special de-shiner (just like my friend Deb had told me after she didn't manage to read past chapter one – though being a stubborn twat it took me months to realise she was right), and had to rewrite and hack up a huge chunk of it. Then I decided to do a course in proof-reading and grammar that meant I spent the next three months dicking about with punctuation and stuff. In fact, every time I thought I was finally finished, I did another Unit on the course and discovered another, better way of doing things – or I thought of another thing I wanted to change, and then had to check all the way through for continuity again.

But finally, it was ready, I had no more excuses and so I went for it, and put it out there for the world – which brought out a whole new load of problems. For one thing, I will admit to not being entirely comfortable with self-publishing (not just because it feels like failure) I know next to nothing about marketing, and have never been very good at putting myself forward. I occasionally claim that I have chosen to self-publish in order to own all my own rights, retain control of my work, and all the usual flannelly bullshit, but the truth is that I got bored of getting my manuscript rejected left, right and centre by agents and publishers alike (that really does feel like failure, I don't recommend it). Self-publishing is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, gullible, vain and too stupid to admit their book is horse-shit; thanks to having sold my soul to Amazon – feel free to ask me how I justify that choice in the pub sometime – anyone (that's where the problem with it all lies of course) can get a book out there without having a garage filled with unsellable, poorly typeset, folded-in-half-and-stapled-together-in-the-wrong-place A4 printouts, masquerading as books.

Mark Corrigan – enjoying the good work of a traditional vanity press

I will admit to being wildly impressed by how good the proof copy I was sent looked. I have not seen the version that they are sending to customers, but nobody has laughed at it yet, so I am assuming that thanks to Createspace, I have published a book, with no outlay, and over which I have absolute creative control. True, I don't have the sense of validation that a genuine publishing deal would have given me, but as time moves on, I am caring less and less about that – and feeling less of a failure; my subject matter is a bit niche, and traditional publishers don't like uncertainties anymore.

Of course, in the days leading up to my release date, I discovered the problem with not having that sense of validation – crippling self-doubt in the face of overwhelming support. The curse of self-publishing appears to be that I only have the opinion of myself, and a few close friends, that what I have written is any good (and they may have been lying). I'm not sure which prospect was the most terrifying to me on the day people started buying it:

  • People I know reading it – what if they think it's shit and don't know how to tell me?
  • People I have never met reading it – what if they think it's shit and have endlessly inventive and hurtful ways of telling me?
  • Or people I used to know and haven't seen in decades reading it – what if I based something in the book on them and they can spot it a mile off and are highly upset about it, and then attack me over social media about it?

 Welcome to 21st century anxieties.

Everybody had told me they expected it to be great, I was terrified their expectations were too high and they would all be disappointed – after all, even I acknowledge that the whole thing was just to see if I could write my way through a whole book. It was a huge learning curve that turned out better than expected (in my opinion, I've been too close to George and the band for the last few years to view them objectively anymore). But, like Malcolm says in Chapter 15, 'bear in mind, this is a little piece of your soul that you've probably spent months, maybe even years struggling with until it's the best it can possibly be' what does happen if it's shit? I've spent years putting music on the internet that nobody listens to, and that takes minutes to listen to and costs nothing, this takes time to read and costs money, why on earth should anyone bother?

And then it happened, as I sat, trying not to continuously refresh the statistics page (I am limiting myself to checking it once a day, it is surprisingly difficult and I understand how people get addicted to 'likes' and retweets now), people started buying it, people I had never met told me they really enjoyed it, so far I have sold 10 times more than I ever expected to sell in its whole lifetime (I did have incredibly low expectations, so I am not retiring any time soon, but I might actually get my round in for once). The support I have had from both friends and strangers in the last week has had me wildly over emotional on too many occasions to remember. Did I mention I spend a lot of time crying these days? Well I do, and mostly because all you guys out there are just so bloomin' lovely. Thank you all so much, and if you haven't yet, then buy my fucking book – it is good, I have been validated without the corporate monoliths (alright, maybe one helped a bit) needing to step in – god bless you modern technology.

If you have read Weekend Rockstars and enjoyed it – please review it on goodreads or amazon, if you didn't enjoy it, then forget you ever saw this, thanks.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

We Don't Eat Family

This is not the blog I had intended to write. I assumed that the next blog I came out with would be a thinly disguised advert for my book (Weekend Rockstars by Dave Holwill – available from amazon  very soon indeed (and aren't you sad you're not about to read 1500 words of me justifying that decision), a must-read for anyone who has ever played in a covers/functions band, or likes jokes, or books, or is paranoid that I have written them into a book – ok, not that thinly disguised was it?)

Buy my book you bastards

Since I last posted, the entire fucking world has gone completely insane – but I'm ignoring that. I've been off work for a week and a half now, and thus I am ignoring the news and forgetting all the things that supposedly matter out in the real world. It's nice.

Anyway, I haven't written anything in a while, as I have been tickling my novel (you remember the novel right? The reason I started this blog?) into publishable shape at last (top writing tip this year, don't do a course in grammar and proof-reading at the same time as putting the finishing touches to a book that you think you've already finished – you will end up dicking around with commas, n-rules and semi-colons forever – and don't start me on oxford commas).

This is not even the blog about pets that I was expecting to write next, having not written any rib-ticklingly amusing tales from Hatherleigh zoo for a bit either, I assumed that the next tale of my accumulation of pets I did not ask for would be about Richard Parker, our most recent Kitten acquisition. But – the events of the last week have changed all that and turned our lives and house upside down.

Tiny Kitten doesn't get her own blog yet

A week ago, I was dancing around outside the Tempest on Brighton beach, having a lovely time and hoping the cats were ok at home. We saw a couple of dogs playing on the beach while we were there, and idly thought about having a look for one when we got back. I remembered my last attempt to get a rescue dog, when a very snotty woman told me that as we had full time jobs we could not look after a dog. Even though I came back every lunchtime anyway, and – at the time – the kids were back from school by 4 o'clock so the dog would never be on its own for longer than a couple of hours. Apparently, teenagers don't count as company for a dog. I must apologise to all the people whose dogs I looked after when I was fifteen your dogs had substandard (and clearly illegal) care.

So when we rang Dartmoor View Dog Rescue on Wednesday afternoon, I did not have particularly high hopes for getting a dog, and certainly not at any time soon. We had already rung the blue cross in Tiverton, who told us we had to look at the website – and that not all the dogs on the website were in Tiverton, or even the South-West – and that the adoption process was far too complicated – and they seemed surprised that we were using something as antiquated as a phone to ask about dogs. All we wanted to do was go to a kennels, look at the dogs and say 'oooh! I want that one!' but apparently you can't do that anymore you have to go on instead:-

Hi, my name is Rover, I like long walks, tennis balls, and having my nipples rubbed - click like on my profile to see my 'special' photos for 'special' friends.

Hi Rover, I'm Dave, I'm looking for a new best friend, do you moult much? Do you chase sheep? Can you put up with cats and heavy metal music?

I'm not sure Dave, can you put up with a wet nose shoved inappropriately up your dressing gown every morning, warm piss on your favourite cushion and the odd poo in your flip-flop?

*turns off laptop, walks away*

But ring Dartmoor View Dog Rescue we did (they also don't have a 'showroom' as such) and they told us they only had one dog at the moment. An Alaskan Malamute:

'What the hell is an Alaskan Malamute?' we said;

'It's like a Husky,' they said;

'Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, can I have it, can I have it, can I have it?' I said.

Luckily, Netty was on the phone, not me, so she enquired about it more sensibly. They told us that Sky (for that is the name of the Doggy in question) would come and visit us at the weekend. I may have become over-excited and passed out at that point.

So I spent Saturday rebuilding the fence that came down (it wasn't meant to, but my nephews came over, and we – ok, mostly me  all got a bit overexcited shaking it around) when I had my studio rebuilt at the end of the garden and then I even painted it (really badly, I call it post-apocalyptic grey/green). We got the call saying that she was coming at midday on Sunday. Given the way things seem to be going, we assumed that there would be a visit, and then they would take her away again (if she even came with them on the first house check) and do loads of checks and suchlike, and then a few more visits before we might, possibly, maybe get to keep her. I went to sleep on Saturday night filled with anticipation and worry – it was a bit like just after we had moved to Devon, and my mum kept arranging for me to meet new kids (I was only five, ok? It's normal). The feeling that you might meet your new best friend the next day was one I had forgotten entirely, and was not entirely welcome back. What if she didn't like me? What if I didn't like her? What if she voted tory? Or looked around to check there weren't any BAME people around before telling a joke?

Sunday morning began with a show of solidarity from the pets. Our most recent acquisition, Gauguin (a big wonky-eared Rabbit), had kicked his way out of the cage. We assumed that the Cats would have ripped him to shreds, but no, we found Richard Parker (a female cat, but I'd got used to calling her that by the time we figured it out, so she identifies as male, though likes female pronouns – it's complicated) playing under the outdoor tables with him. While George Orwell, Kahlo and Duchamp watched relatively disinterestedly from the benches. They had followed the cardinal house rule – we don't eat family. I didn't think the cats had ever listened to that, but apparently they have been paying attention.

Stupid Rabbit leads a charmed life it seems

And then the lovely man from Dartmoor View Dog Rescue turned up. He looked at the garden, went through a load of paperwork, talked to us about rehoming dogs – I began to worry that maybe my new best friend had decided to stand me up, and wasn't even coming today – and then he asked if we would like to meet her now. Of course we did, and out of the van she came, huge, fluffy and beautiful. She sat in the garden with us, and within minutes we had a carpet of white fur underfoot, this is a moulty dog. I didn't care about the fur. Richard Parker looked down at her from the shelf in the summerhouse and gave a hiss or two. Sky backed off. We took Sky inside, where Duchamp hissed at her from the sofa. Sky backed off. So far so good – we don't eat family. Though George Orwell and Kahlo had legged it in case nobody had told Sky that yet.

I think I managed to keep my cool when we met – she couldn't tell if I was happy or not

We talked some more, leaving Sky to obsessively watch the now-a-little-less-likely-to-kick-his-way-out-of-the-cage Gauguin and Picasso (Gauguin's Guinea Pig friend), and after an hour or so of Ian from Dartmoor View Dog Rescue listening to me go on about all the dogs I have had, and looking at pictures of Rizla, Rambo, Max, Bertie, Jess, Sandy and all the other dogs I have been lucky enough to be associated with over the years, he said she could stay. Just like that, no more visits, no trouble, just sign a bit of paper, donate some money to the Dog Rescue charity, and thank you very much.

I wasn't really expecting that, I had plans for this week, not just trying to tame a wolf that has never really been trained and barely knows her own name.

I can change my plans.

I would not give into any howling dogs in the middle of the night like I did with Rambo and Rizla.

Somehow I woke up on the sofa at 5am on monday morning with 4 cats using me as a barricade against the massive, snoring dog – who started howling again as soon as I snuck upstairs to bed.

Currently, Richard Parker spends her time trying to ride Sky like a horse (she copes with this very well) George Orwell is impressing upon her the importance of remembering that he is in charge (he is currently leaving a little poo in every spot in the garden that Sky has had a wee) while Kahlo is in shock that I can have done this to her, refusing to come in the house (she once did this for 2 weeks over a squeaky catflap, she'll be fine the fluffy diva) and Duchamp – in his new, badass top-cat role – is giving exactly no fucks, and hissing the dog out of his way whenever he needs to.

So far Sky is stubborn, unwieldy, a little out of shape and prone to outbursts of unexpected malice-free excitement, she'll fit in just fine round here and we don't eat family.

Too stupid to ever be allowed off the lead