Friday, 29 May 2009

Aaaah, Sicily...

I've just discovered, I am going to be without internet probably until Wednesday. This is something of a blow. But I have my laptop with me and will be writing stuff all the while, so I'll be back with a vengeance just as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I don't know, tell me something about yourself. Sometimes it feels like we don't talk anymore. What are you up to? What's going on?

Dimmi tutto.

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Feedback Friday :: Hecticity

bulk :: I reckon I've put on a stone since I arrived in Italy
cigarettes :: some, and I'm really pissed off about it - it really stinks up the breath
postcards bought :: 10
postcards sent :: 0
Italian women I have fallen in love with :: all of them

So I had planned to spend the 12 hours or so it was going to take to get to Palermo on the train writing up all that has happened in Rome, but because I left everything till the last minute, I have only just discovered that the train to Palermo is, for various reasons, no good. So I just booked a flight, leaving at noon tomorrow, which will mean leaving here around 8 to be absolutely sure of getting to the airport on time. It's all very hectic.

I'm going to a wedding by the way. An old friend is marrying a Sicilian lady. I haven't seen him for years and was very surprised to get an invite. Probably not as surprised as he was that I accepted. The invite came about a week before Morag moved out, so I thought, fuck it. Let's go somewhere I've never been.

There's an awful lot that can go wrong tomorrow though, and I'm slightly nervous. Especially as I've been told that no one in Sicily speaks English. In fact, I've been told that they barely speak Italian.

Rome is spectacular though, and I will get round to writing about it soon. I hope. But the next few days are going to be incredibly hectic.

In the meantime, here are some more pictures from Publication Day. I am very silly.

That last one's my favourite. They barely understood a word of what I was saying but they entered into the task with alacrity and aplomb. Bless them.

Now I should sleep, as at best I'll have six hours, but you know what I'm going to do instead? I'm going to watch the last episode of season four of The Wire. Get myself in a gangster frame of mind in preparation for Sicily.

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Thursday, 28 May 2009

My Fourth Is In Hope (Again)

You can't buy publicity like this.

Although I had to.

Nice one, centurion.

So. Where am I?

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

My Third Is In Promise...

As I write this, at 1.30, without internet access, I'm sitting on a train which is about to take me from one city to another city. This second city is a very famous city which has been in films and everything. And I love trains. It's all very exciting.

Something else which is very exciting is the effect the news of the imminent release of a book has on people. I say people. I mean women. I say women. I mean woman. One woman.

So I mentioned yesterday that my friend was trying to set me up with a lady. With this in mind, he arranged a gathering last night - a bunch of his friends, all of whom were extraordinarily friendly and foreign and consequently rather difficult to understand. A few of them spoke English though, with varying degrees of success, so we managed to muddle through somehow.

Now, the lady in question is way out of my league. Obviously. Plus, a fact my friend forgot to mention until the last minute, she is engaged to be married. However, my friend doesn't have a great deal of faith in the union. For one thing, the lady - oh, alright, let's give her a name, let's give her a good nation-neutral name, let's call her Pea. For one thing, Pea is planning to move to London for a year in September, and is planning to do so without her betrothed. Which doesn't sound enormously promising for him, I must agree.

So. Pea. The exciting news is, we clicked. Pea works in PR for a company which provides sports equipment to the richest people in the world. But, thankfully, she also writes, and reads, and understands acutely that the essential thrill of human existence resides in getting to know oneself through the experience of getting to know other people. And she has dark brown eyes, which are my favourite kind of eyes. And she was very excited that I have a book coming out tomorrow. And she didn't mention her fiancé once. And - and this is the real zinger - I'm going to see her again next week when I return to her city before coming back to England.

I'm trying not to get too excited though, because that's what I tend to do, and it's terribly counter-productive. Plus, there's every chance that she's reading this. So maybe I shouldn't have written all of the above.

Oh, well. It's too late now.

Now, I have two and a half hours of this train journey left. I think it's time to see how Omar's getting on.

Until soon!

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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

My Second in Hope...

Just a quick one before I have to vacate this hotel room. I’ve got less than an hour.

This morning I find myself wondering what England would be like if it ever got really hot for more than a couple of days at a time. I wonder if it would change our national personality at all. I wonder if we’d be a little more laid back, a little less miserable. You know, on the whole. Also, I wonder whether we’d be better off if we had a more relaxed attitude towards prostitution. I suspect we would.

Last night I had a little wander and ended up in a section of town where prostitutes hang around in small perfumed gangs. I’m afraid I rather fell in love with at least two of them. But I didn’t rent one. As well as the personal fear factor, there’s also the moral thing. I mean, I’ve seen Lilya 4-Ever, and the last thing I want is to be part of the sex slave trade. That’s the last thing I want. But couldn’t I pay one or two a bunch of money to just kiss me for an hour or two? Would that be so bad? And maybe a little nuzzling.

God, I’m frustrated.

Anyhow, once I check out of this hotel, I’m going to find some green space if I can and see what the sun can do to me. I’m sick of foreigners telling me how white I am. Racists.

Then tonight I’m being set up. My friend here has a friend whom he thinks might be right up my alley. That’s not a particularly exclusive place to be though, it has to be said. The hope is therefore, that by the end of the evening I might be right up her alley. Otherwise I really might have to pay for a nuzzle.

Wish me luck.

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Monday, 25 May 2009

My First Is In Scrotum...

Last night I slept with a man. It was really, really hot. I woke up alone, covered in dry sweat and he'd already gone to work, having had only a few hours sleep. I stayed in his bed till noon, sleeping off the booze from the birthday party where we met.

I've made it sound like we made love, haven't I? That's because I'm a playful little sprite. We didn't make love. No. We fucked. We fucked like men! With our hats off!

Nah, not really. I'm just being playful again.

No, nothing like that happened. I just happened to end up at someone's house and there wasn't enough bedspace, so I shared a large bed with a thoroughly pleasant, very friendly, wilfully heterosexual chap. We were both naked but for our pants and a sheen of sweat from this ridiculous heat, but nothing remotely carnal happened. No one crossed The Gay Line down the middle of the bed. Which was good, because frankly, this chap wasn't my type.

I'll be honest with you though, the older I get, the more I think that one day, given the opportunity, I might do something just a little bit gay. I mean, wouldn't it be a shame to go through life without ever having sucked another man's penis? I think it would. I can't imagine how it might possibly come about, as it were, but theoretically, I think I'd definitely like to do it at some stage. It must just be such a different experience to having sex with a woman. All that hardness, inside you, throbbing. Erm... anyway, this chap last night had dodgy teeth, so I wouldn't have sucked his penis even if he'd wanted me to.

So. I am having fun. On the whole, I'm finding that this is a very friendly country, although - obviously, I guess - not without its fair share of dipshits. Last night, for example, I encountered a dipshit who insisted on telling me a joke in English and then got all huffy when I didn't laugh. It was a joke which relied heavily on the wickedly humorous similarity between a man's testicles and a bunch of grapes. When I didn't laugh, I was told it was because I had 'an English sense of humour'. I countered that it was merely because I had 'a sense of humour' and that there is nothing inherently amusing in the human scrotum. And for a moment it all looked as though it might kick off. But it didn't. I made nice. I told the joke about clowns tasting funny and suddenly it was dipshit's turn not to laugh. Pffft. No sense of humour, these foreigners.

Now, today, like the unseasoned traveller I am, I find that all of my electrical items (specifically, toothbrush, telephone, laptop and camera) are in need of recharging, and I don't even have an adaptor for my plugs, so that is what I must concentrate on this afternoon. Then once I've done that, I can post a few photographs. That will be fun!

Now I must detatch myself from this primitive machine and go tackle the blazing sun. Wish me luck.

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Friday, 22 May 2009

Feedback Friday :: Thank You, Ione

Here I am, in an internet café just off Russell Square. I’m drunk, frankly, and I’ve been smoking cigarettes. I know, I know, but you know, fuck it. You only die once. And they were only rollies. Get off my back.

The good news is, the book – my book, that is – is absolutely marvellous. And I’m talking here about the physical reality of it, rather than the content, which is obviously way beyond marvellous. In fact, the more I look at it, the more I feel that I’ve died and gone to the great book shop in the sky. Really. I keep having to pinch myself to make sure it’s true. And when I say pinch myself, what I actually mean is grab hold of my groin like Michael Jackson with scabies and let rip with a barbaric whoop of joy. It really is a thing of enormous beauty. And I think I say that with complete objectivity.

Which reminds me, I forgot to thank the wonderful, the delectable Ione in the last page of the book – the acknowledgments page. Aaaah, Ione. Please forgive me. I’m a little drunk at the moment, as I’ve mentioned, and I can’t remember exactly what it is you did, but I do know that it was enormously important and that you did it not only with élan, but also with gobsmacking charm. And I’d also like to thank Stina. And Jonathan Ross.

Now, I have exactly one hour to get to the airport, so I must away. I shall be popping back regularly though, with short but sweet, mysterious but exhilarating posts from wherever it is I’m going.

Clue :: it isn't here...

In the meantime, if you’ll excuse the rather unpleasant nature of what I’m about to do, please buy my book. I hate whoring myself, I really do, but, you know, I have to. And it is a great book – physically, and spiritually. It has a tiny cat in the corner of every page, and the hardback has a secret code embedded in its spine which, if correctly deciphered, could result in eternal life for you and a loved one of your choice. Or something. And I really will sign it for you. In blood if you like. Not mine, obviously.

Right, gotta go.

Have a wonderful weekend whatever it is you’re doing. What are you doing by the way? Anything nice?

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

First Born

I'm 15 minutes from London. I'm having dinner with Paddy and some friends of his this evening. But before that, as soon as I get off this train, I'm heading west to meet Publisher Lady. She has something for me. It's a book.

It's not just any old book though.

Oh, no.

I'm rather excited. I feel like an expectant father...

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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Calm

Well, after the excitement of yesterday’s review, Wednesday crept by like a lame thing, old before its time and too tired and listless to make much of an impression.

After very little sleep (thanks to my late-night Wire addiction), I got up early in order to accompany Alma to the hospital to have the cast removed from her foot. Then, to celebrate her newfound freedom and excellent scar, we went and had lunch at an Italian restaurant where the manager derided his staff for never having read The Three Musketeers.

Then I sought out a new medic. I’ve just done a little check and I realise I have been complaining about a dull grumbling pain in my stomach since last July. It comes and goes. Still. After the last lot of tests proved inconclusive, I decided to put it down to stress, but I don’t think I’m particularly stressed at the moment, and yet it’s back with a vengeance. So this afternoon I took a fresh step towards fixing it. Sadly, because it’s a new doctor in a new town, I have to fill in forms and wait a couple of weeks for an appointment. Happily, I’m going away tomorrow for a couple of weeks, so it doesn't really matter. I am slightly concerned, however, that my appendix will explode like an angry haggis when I’m away. Or in the air on Friday. Like a terrorist atrocity. But it’s not my appendix. It’s on the wrong side and the symptoms are all wrong. But it’s something. And it’s scary. Like this is scary. But you know, fuck it, I’m doing something about it. Fingers crossed that merciful God in all his greatness and wisdom will not let me down and leave me to die a premature, poorly-sexed death on foreign soil.

Would you like to know where I’m going? Well, I’m not going to tell you. I thought I might make a game out of it. I’ll post images and tweets and tales of exotic travel and you will guess the location and I will say you are wrong and snigger at you from behind warped and stained fists. I will say you are wrong even if you are right because I am properly mental.

I will tell you, however, that I’m travelling to a foreign land to spend a couple of weeks with a total stranger, and this is quite exciting because, if I’m not sorely mistaken, it’s what life’s all about. And let this be a warning to the rest of you who have invited me to your respective necks of the woods: I will come, in time.

What’s particularly exciting about this trip is that I have no idea what will happen.

I might crash a quad bike or fall down a mountain. I might deliver a baby or save a child from a burning building. I might drown in someone else’s blood or throw a porcelain dog at a charging midget. I might ride a horse, or eat a horse, or break a leg, or inadvertently offend an impulsive man prone to breathtaking retributive violence. I might read The Three Musketeers. I might fall in love. I might be totally transformed.

I hope I fucking am. In fact, if at least one of those things doesn’t happen, I will be horribly disappointed.

But whatever happens, I hope I don’t fall in love with a dusky princess with pungent skin and bright flashing eyes. I hope she doesn't chew me up with her body and break my heart. I hope she doesn't poison me with promise.

Just kidding. Wish me luck.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

What the Papers Say :: First Review

This afternoon my book received its first ever review. Thankfully, it was favourable.

What was especially thrilling was that the review appeared in London Lite, which is definitely my favourite free newspaper after The Onion and ShortList and thelondonpaper. And Metro of course. And The Cork Independent. And the Chorley Citizen. And the NY Times (North Yorkshire). Oh, and City AM. No, OK, OK, I’m only joking. I actually don’t like any free newspapers. As a rule. Or at least I didn’t. Until today.

I particularly like the line ‘Cattermole has been called one of the most exciting new literary talents of 2009’. Unfortunately the reviewer doesn’t say who by, and I have a terrible feeling it might have been me. Of course, the fear now is that some slack bugger is going to pull out that quote, without the ‘has been called’ bit and start bandying it around like it’s a fact. And of course, as we know, it only takes one person to write it down and another to read it and it becomes history.

Oh, well. So be it.

Now, publicist lady, if you’re listening, please send a copy to the Chorley Citizen at once.

Everybody else, if you haven’t already, order your copy NOW! Oh, go on. If you get a copy in hardback, I’ll sign it for you. And I’ll sleep with you. If you want. Or I won’t. If you’d prefer.

Um… Thanks.

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Monday, 18 May 2009

Scanmongering Monday :: Titter Ye Not

I thought it might be difficult to keep this Bookscan thing going, what with selling all my books and everything, but then, teased and titillated by the fickle fingers of fate, I found myself in another place with another (albeit much smaller) selection of odd tomes. So fear not, scanfans… the fun continues.

Last week’s Bookscan was, as I suspected it might be, the first to be successfully identified. The winner, Litha, has elected to share her controversial prize of an old lady’s porcelain dog with Dermot, who recognised the book but was too lazy to ascertain the correct title. The dog therefore will be smashed, and the pieces mailed just as soon as the winners send me their addresses.

And so, without further ado, to this week’s Bookscan. Put a title to the book from which the following illustrations are taken and win this week's prize: a dead man’s wheelchair. (Or maybe something else.)

I say.

Ooh, how annoying. I got all excited a moment ago when I received this month’s Book Slam mailout and saw that David Simon will be appearing. My mind was already reaching for my credit card to book myself a ticket, before I realised that I don’t live in London anymore.

Oh, well. I’m sure he’ll come to Grimstone one day.

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Friday, 15 May 2009

Feedback Friday :: Northern Exposure

bulk :: I’ve no idea – I gave my scales to Oxfam in London! I’m free! Free, I tell ya!
exercise :: I bought a Wii Fit! Couldn’t get one in London. Got one here immediately. Have done a couple of sessions on that and am aching admirably. Intend to buy a bike in a week or two and ride down to the beach a couple of times a week.
booze :: Alma likes a drink and is keen for me to keep her company. So I do.
romance :: none. And something must be done about this soon. I'm beginning to wither.
feeling about the North :: very positive

So I’ve now been in the North East of England for one whole week, and apart from the fact that it’s turned awfully grim, weather-wise, I have to say it’s going rather well. It’s not as bad as I was expecting at all.

This weekend I’m going to venture out into town of an evening and just wander about amongst the natives. See how that goes. See how friendly they are then. Only if it stops raining though.

And this afternoon, as soon as I’ve posted this, I’m going to watch Benjamin Button with Alma. I’ve been meaning to watch it for a while, and I reckon it’s a film an old lady might appreciate. We’ll see.

So I leave you with a new Bookscan challenge. Quite an easy one this, I think. One of you must have a copy of this book. So, the first person to tell me the correct title wins a porcelain dog. And if you don’t know, you’re duty-bound to guess.

And if you can't be bothered to have a guess, at least tell me what you're up to this weekend. Come on, I miss you. Anything nice? I do hope so.

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In the early hours of yesterday morning I watched the last couple of episodes of the third season of The Wire. The climax, thoroughly splendid though it was, felt oddly anti-climactic, but in a clever way, reflecting the ceaseless frustration at the heart of the day-to-day life of a Baltimore Poe-lease. Ending aside, the season as a whole was one of the most excitingly subversive things I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, you must, for it depicts what might happen in a drug-fucked inner-city ghetto if drugs were effectively legalised. It’s very powerful and in my most ‘orribly ‘umble, very important telly. And you know, it goes all the way to the President. He loves The Wire.

So anyway, the other day I found out something which surprised the bejeesus out of me. It concerns Michael K Williams, the actor who plays everybody’s favourite character, gay gangster Omar Little with such ferocious charisma that Barack Obama, officially the world’s most charismatic man, was like, totally blown away. He’s also soon to be seen in an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I really must read, apparently. And this is the thing: midway through filming The Wire, Williams took time out to dress up as a cop and mouth the words of one of history’s most misunderestimated artists, Our Kelly.

Unfortunately, it’s unembeddable, but please, particularly if you’ve never seen it, do enjoy the scarred master in this, my favourite chapter from Our Kelly’s masterwork, Trapped in the Closet. I insist.

And when you’ve watched that – and only then - you must watch or rewatch this. Then you must sit back smugly, full of good humour and fine wine and you must marvel at the beautiful brilliance of the modern world. And then you must mutter the word ‘intertextuality’, softly, under your breath, and then laugh it off, embarrassed, slightly theatrical. Then you must storm out of the room pretending to have left a pan of shrimps boiling.

This is the last of the grass I smuggled North from Londonshire. By this I mean this, this fingerbread guffstuff. Then I’m clean, man. And that peeves me, because a joint in the evening is good for me. It’s great brain-oil. And it peeves me because drugs will never go away. Whether we’re talking about my harmless drugs or other people’s nasty drugs, they’re all here to stay. We really should start working with them. And my hope is that if President Obama can unflinchingly appreciate the emotional intelligence and brutal morality of Omar Little, then maybe he’s the man to move the west a little closer to a properly regulated approximation of Hamsterdam. That, for me, would be an evolutionary coup. Not Needle Park madness, but something that actually addresses the problem. I like for example the sound of the heroin maintenance programme described in this eminently readable article right here, and I propose that we do something similar in this country, specifically tailored to my desire for the ‘erb. Until then, there’s a place up the coast from here called Blyth that I every much like the sounds of. It sounds blithe. I might go there this weekend.

Now, seconds out. Season Four. Actually, fuck it - let the seconds stay. We're all family here.

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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Sad Man, Happy Meal, Corduroy Pants

Earlier this evening I cooked a pasta meal with sausagemeat and cream and garlic and onions and nutmeg and white wine and pepper and chilli. It was fucking amazing. It made the best meal that Jamie Oliver has ever cooked taste like colonic irrigation.

But before serving it, I had to go out into Grimstone to find more wine. Alma said I would be lucky, meaning she didn’t think I’d find anything open. The fact is, just about everything closes at 5.30 here. In London, most wine and chocolate shops don't close till 9 or 10 at the earliest. Some of them even stay open all night! Here: no. So I ventured out, on foot – Heathcote is off-road and broken in London – and eventually I found a dingy little general store with a few bottles of wine and spirits behind the till. Also behind the till was a lugubrious Sikh who answered my breezy queries with a monosyllabic grunt. At first I was slightly miffed by his lack of appreciation for my breeziness, but by the end of our brief transaction, I started to feel quite concerned. He was barely there.

‘Are you OK?’ I asked, my wine in my hand, my body on its way to the exit.

‘Hmm?’ he asked.

‘Are you alright?’ I repeated, standing still. ‘You seem a little... sad.’

‘I’m just feeling a little – ’ He shrugged. ‘ – low,’ he said.

‘Oh, no!’ I replied. ‘I’m sorry to hear that. Well....’ There was nothing else to say. ‘Good luck,’ I said. ‘Take care.’

And as I made my way back home, I felt sad and I wondered what might have been wrong. Of course, it might have been anything. Someone close to him might be sick or dying. He might be homesick. He might feel guilty because he accidentally poisoned some children, and they died. Or he might just be depressed at the quotidian thanklessness of eking out a living on the outskirts of one of the most racist conurbations this side of the next place.

As for myself, I'm feeling surprisingly chipper. I'm getting properly settled in, in the spare room. I'm helping Alma wade through the death administration - the finance, the codicils, the personal effects. And I'm having lots of smashing ideas. Oh, and I'm getting excited about the book. It's getting properly close now, and some people have said very nice things. Unfortunately I am predisposed to disdain all compliments and despise all flattery. Nor, nor, nor, Arnie Kiddenman. Gannon an flatterers.

Yes. I am finding the accent up here absolutely delicious. They have their own words and everything! I met one of Alma’s neighbours last night – let’s call him Wilbur – and he referred to me as ‘a corduroy’. Apparently it means ‘a young ‘un’. See also ‘whippersnapper’. A corduroy! I’m a corduroy! When I quizzed him on the etymology, he pleaded ignorance. Later, after he’d gone and Alma let it slip that she’d never heard the word before, I began to think it might not be a Grimstone or Northern word at all. It might just be a Wilbur word. Still, fuck it. A word’s a word. I’ll take it.

And the sausagemeat, as I say, was a treat.

Thank you, come again.

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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Passport Office...

Today, on my way to Durham (where I met with the Identity and Passport people and fast-tracked myself a replacement passport), I encountered my first overtly grumpy bastard. Not ever, but since I've been up North. He was the driver of the bus I boarded. I think I may have aggravated him somewhat by asking for a single ticket, then, on finding out that a return was cheaper, asking for a return, by which time he'd already punched through a single. (I know, I know, this is scintiallating stuff. But give it time, give it time.) Then, I think I may have aggravated him further by making a rather sarcastic awwww sound when he complained about the paperwork. He gave me a terrible glare. ‘Oh, come on,’ I said. ‘It’s not that bad.’ Apparently it was.

Durham, meanwhile, is really quite lovely. Very pretty and – especially after the earthquake-style rivers of garbage of inner-city London – astonishingly clean and tidy. Also, it has a distinctly village-like atmosphere, and lots of quaint old buildings. It reminds me of York. Maybe a tad funkier. Maybe not.

One thing that surprised me about it was that I saw three homeless guys in about half an hour, each of them selling the Big Issue. This seems like a lot for such a small city. On the upside, however, two of them were in the process of actually selling a copy of the magazine as I passed. I took this to be a very good, and telling, sign. The North is Good, I decided. The people are friendly and generous.

Then on the way back to the bus station after a wander around, I spied an elderly gentleman, probably in his seventies, handing out flyers on a bridge. He had something written on his jumper which I couldn’t make out. Generally, when I see someone handing something out, as long as it’s not outside a tube station, I will take it. So I made my way in the direction of this guy, assuming he was probably publicising something to do with war veterans or a charity for the elderly. Which was rather presumptuous of me really. As I got closer to the old guy, a hairy man passed me and shouted ‘You’re a fascist!’ over his shoulder. I looked back at him, alarmed. He carried on walking, then he shouted something else over his shoulder. Again, I could only make out the word ‘fascist’. Then I heard the silver-haired veteran, to whom I was instinctively predisposed to take kindly, mumbling, petulantly, ‘I don’t think so.’

I was just a couple of feet away from him by now and I managed to catch sight of one of the flyers he was distributing. It was this:

[Now, just in case you're unfamiliar with the BNP (you may be mentally lazy, wilfully ignorant or merely American), let me just explain what they are. They are - to a man - a dangerous collection of racist thugs and racist idiots. Nick Griffin, their leader for the last ten years, is on record as saying this: '...we affirm that non-Whites have no place [in Britain] at all and will not rest until every last one has left our land.' So there you go. There's lots more information, should you require it, here.]

So, on seeing the flyer, I walked straight past, feeling oddly scandalised and betrayed. This was the last thing I expected to happen. It was kind of doubly annoying because I was just thinking how I’d seen quite a few different coloured skins in Durham – more than I’d seen thus far in the North East. I guessed this was because of the university, and I felt buoyed by it. I felt buoyed because one of the things I'd not enjoyed about the North, particularly when I'd visited for the first time last year, was the astonishing homogeneity of the people. I swear, I’ve never seen so many white people. It’s like living in the 1930s. Or in some giant ethnically cleansed meringue.

So, after realising what was afoot, I lingered on the bridge a while, to observe. What I observed was that when people bother to take a flyer from someone in the street, a great many of them do so instinctively, and don’t necessarily even look at that flyer until they’ve walked on a few paces and turned the thing around in their hands. Thus I observed one middle-aged woman do just that, followed by a delicious cartoon double-take when she realised she was handling extreme right-wing propaganda. It was like she’d accepted a free balloon with a dancing childlike ebullience and then the balloon had suddenly twisted in the wind to reveal Adolf Hitler’s face on the other side. Or Peter Sutcliffe's.

Other people variously fell into head-shaking, surprised backward-glancing or mocking conversation. Another one shouted ‘fascist’, at which the old Nazi mumbled, petulantly, ‘I don’t think so.’ It wasn’t a very good comeback. I don’t know why he kept repeating it.

In the five minutes I stood there observing, I only saw one potential sympathiser - one too many obviously, but it could have been worse. She was an elderly woman, I would say in her sixties, with a mouth so egregiously pinched that it brought to mind images of a thin slice of lemon, pickled and pushed - like a vinegar firework - deep inside the puckered bum of a supercilious cat. Chewing a wasp. This lady took her fascist flyer proudly, knowing perfectly well what it was; she thanked the doddering jingoist warmly and walked off brisk and businesslike; she perused her flyer unflinchingly before folding it reverentially and filing it in the inside pocket of her stiff, mannish jacket. She scared me. Actually, it occurs to me now that she may have been a fascist stooge. I do hope so.

Finally, as I’m a firm believer in opening myself up to that with which I vehemently disagree, if only just to check that I am right to disagree quite so vehemently, I decided I had to get hold a copy of that flyer. I felt embarrassed, however, about taking one from Herr Goebbels himself, so instead I scoured the streets in the vicinity for a tossed copy. Surprisingly, there wasn’t one to be found. I decided to deduce from this that the inhabitants of Durham are all litter-loathing tidy-freaks, rather than closet Nazis.

Eventually I returned to the bridge, marched up to the misguided old fool and took a flyer from him. As I did so, I read the slogan on his chest. It said: ‘THE END OF ENGLAND IS NIGH’. I then gave the man such an intensely withering look – filled with disdain and bewilderment and not a little antagonism – that I think for a brief second he actually feared violent reprisal. Then I turned wordlessly on my heel and surprised myself by feeling a momentary pang of sorrow – he was just a confused, frightened old man really, not someone I should be scowling at. Then I looked at the flyer in my hands and quickly fell back into easy, natural outrage.

Oh, life is so sad.

After Durham I made a trip into Sunderland, which is the nearest big town to Grimstone, and I saw a man outside the train station selling homemade sandwiches from a plastic carrier bag. He’d written a bill of fare on a little piece of cardboard, which he held up with his free hand. ‘Baggets,’ the sign offered. 'One pound each.'

I’ve really got to start taking my camera out with me.

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Monday, 11 May 2009

Make A New Plan, Stan

So. Here I am. In the North. To be more precise, I’m in a small town in the North-East of England called Winnet Bay. Or does that sound ridiculous? OK then, what about Cackpool? No? Shingle? Poocastle? Doleford? Sullywell? Glumley? Grimsdale? Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘Why have a made-up name at all, you big faker? And why does it have to have such negative associations?’ Well, you make good points. You shit. Allow me to address them.

It has to have a fictional name because that’s the way things are around here. I’ve got a fictional name. Melanie’s got a fictional name. You’ve probably got a fictional name yourself. So why not Grimsdale? Besides which, I like fictional places. I like Coketown and Ulverton and Gotham City. I like Ambridge and Amity Island and Notting Hill, in the film, Notting Hill. I’d like to make one of them. And also, I don’t want any of you crazies coming after me. I know what you’re like.

As for the negative connotations, that’s all based on my one and only previous foray into the North, last April, when everything seemed sour and hypocritical. But maybe it was just me.

So, for now at least, I’m sticking with Grimsdale, but I reserve the right to change the name to Blissford or Idyllsex whenever I damn well feel like it. And I hope with all of my heart that I shall.

So. What the hell am I doing here? In the heart of Grimsdale. Well, I’ll tell you.

Last year, after a great many years of estrangement, my father and I became reacquainted. One of the many consequences of our reunion - one which was remarkable and completely unforeseen - was meeting my grandparents for the first time. As a child, I never knew them. They were never mentioned. As far as I was aware, they didn’t exist.

My awareness however, was skewed. Turns out they did exist. They were just hidden away, deep in the arse-crack of England. Sadly, the distance from Grimsdale to London meant that when I finally did get to meet them, I only got to enjoy a couple of brief visits before one of them went and died.

Alma and Ray Kingfisher were not, strictly speaking, my grandparents. Alma is my grandmother, but Ray was her second husband, so no blood relation – not that it matters. They met and married when they both in their sixties, a fact which fills me with utter joy. Imagine falling in love in your sixties! Life is amazing. Keep hope alive! It’s never too late! All that.

So they had sixteen years together, which is no small achievement.

In the end, Ray Kingfisher died from renal complications, but there was lots of stuff not right in his insides and he’d been ill for a couple of years.

To make matters much worse for Alma, the day after Ray’s funeral, she had to go into hospital to have an operation on her left foot. Apparently she had the equivalent of limescale on her bones so she had to be cut open and scraped. Human bodies are cruel. And when she returned home, she found herself quite suddenly all alone, shambling round her empty flat with no one to talk to. So, as there was no one else available to look after her, I volunteered. I asked Alma if she would like some company for a few months while she picks herself up and dusts herself off, and so on, and she said that she would.

Now before you toss yourself on the ground before me and start grovelling, insisting that you’re not fit to kiss my hairy hem, don’t do it. It wasn’t altruism which motivated me. Well, not chiefly. I also saw it as an opportunity to get out of London.

The house I lived in didn’t feel right. It was too sad. It was The House Where Things Went Wrong. It was haunted by memories of what might have been. Also, I’m skint and for the moment at least, can't afford London anymore. I haven’t worked for months. Rather I’ve been living off the modest advance I got for the book, the last half of which I spunked on rent for that damned house of broken dreams. And you know, it’s funny how the kitten never worked out. I got close a couple of times, but things never quite went according to plan. The garden never worked out either. Nothing about that place worked out in the end.

So I’ve come to Grimsdale, to spend some time with the grandmother I nearly never had, to properly explore this thing they call The North, to fight with the gargantuan incompetents at BT, and, very importantly, to write some stuff.

So. I'd better get on with it.

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Friday, 1 May 2009

Feedback Friday :: The Proofs of the Pudding

Last night I finished going through the proofs of my book. And you know what? I really enjoyed it. It made me weep. Three times! Maybe it’s because I’m so close to it all. Other people might not weep so readily. I also loved the fact that there was lots of stuff that I couldn’t remember writing, so I kept surprising myself. Also, I wasn’t embarrassed by it. I have a mortal fear of embarrassment, so I was very pleased not to feel any.

I did get my first piece of totally objective feedback recently though, from a man called BP Perry. It went like this:

'Books made off of internet blogs are SHIT. Welcome to the bargain bucket, Stan.'

The good thing about this feedback is that it’s based on nothing more than one grim old turd’s gleeful cynicism - without having read the book - and therefore it’s completely worthless. The worrying thing about it, however, is that I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t read the book myself, I would almost certainly agree with him. Off the top of my head, I can think of six books based on blogs which I’ve attempted and in each case failed to get into. Because they weren’t very good. However, not all of them ended up in the bargain bucket. The two sexy ones, for example, which bored me non-stiff, did – I believe – do very well indeed.

Anyway, fuck it. All I wanted to say is that I’m happy with the book, and rather proud of myself. And in these dark, Satanic times, it’s just about the only thing that’s giving me hope.

But now the auto-fellatio must end and I must continue packing up my London life for the impending move north. Fucking hell, I hate the north. But needs must. I’ll explain the whys and wherefores next week when I’ve got a little more time. Now is rather hectic.

In a couple of hours, a bookshop owner is coming round with a van to take away the books I’ve been collecting for the last 15 years or so. There are about 700 of them, and he’s giving me £150 for them. I’m quite pleased because a) I would’ve accepted £50, and b) I have a feeling I’m going to feel much, much lighter when they’re all gone. It feels like losing weight.

My plan is to be out of here by Monday, sleep on couches for a few days and this time next Friday be on a train heading north.

So that’s that. A new era beckons. Fingers crossed it’s not a massive fucking mistake.

Bookscan answer below. Have a great weekend.

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