Thursday, 23 February 2017

...and Ten Things Which America Does Just Fine


Art. Before anyone starts, I'm not referring to Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko - both of whom are probably more interesting in terms of art history than what they actually painted; and I'm definitely not talking about Andy bloody Warhol. After many years of study I've concluded that fine art should be divided into two main categories, specifically landscape art, and everything which isn't landscape art. Even a century later, the first and foremost of these two categories is still dominated by the work of Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, and others of the Hudson River School - if you ask me, which admittedly you didn't, which is why I'm telling you. José María Velasco should probably also be included here on the grounds of his having been the greatest landscape artist of all time. He was Mexican of course, but it's the same continental land mass. Landscape doesn't really get any better than the three aforementioned so far as I'm concerned. Some of that European stuff was okay, but hanging one next to a Bierstadt is like having the Venga Boys open for Led Zeppelin, quite frankly.

I've failed to take any non-landscape based art into account in this argument because it's mostly shite and doesn't matter.

Dangerous Arseholes. Sadly this isn't really a boast, but it cannot be denied that we lead the world in the field of dangerous arseholes, and despite stiff competition from the United Kingdom, Russia and the Islamic State, we've recently leapt ahead quite some way. Many of the world's leading trigger-happy fundamentalist shitheads now regard us with awe and envy, having found themselves suddenly seeming about as dangerous as characters from Harry Potter. I'm not sure why this should be, particularly as we have a constitution which is supposed to prevent the sort of situation in which we now find ourselves. Part of the problem may result from people who've never been under any pressure to grow up or to think adult thoughts. We seem to have a few of those, and once they get into any kind of position of authority, it's always trouble. Whilst I'm sure the Republican party was founded on at least some honourable principles - providing we don't look too hard at how capitalism actually works, and is actually shown to work by the last two centuries of history - it seems very difficult to find a Republican who appears significantly informed by those principles, whatever they are or were. Mostly Republicans just seem to be guys who like money and authority, because authority is the thing which means they get to keep their money. Online Republicans tend to spend a lot of time going on about freedom, freedom from government interference, freedom from taxation, being oneself, being an individual, being a rugged cowboy out on the lonesome trail answering to no man, no how, no siree; and yet in person, send a man in uniform into the room and they can't bend over backwards fast enough to kiss his ass, call him a real American hero, and loudly address him as Sir, Yes Sir! Also, for lovers of freedom, they sure have a lot to say about what the rest of us get up to in the privacy of our own homes. It wouldn't be so bad if there was some kind of organised opposition to this tendency, but instead there's the Democrat party which stands for the same thing whilst feeling a bit guilty about it. Almost all of our dangerous arseholes conform to some quality detailed here, with minor variations being in ratios of gun ownership and fear of anything different to oneself.

 
Healthy Geographical Distance from the Following: Timothy Griffiths, Shaun Robert, Theresa May, David Yeomans, Nigel Farage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Clarkson, James Delingpole, Razorlight, Boris Johnson, James Whitaker, Hugh Grant, Harry Potter, that pair of fucking twats who opened up a café specialising in cornflakes in Hackney or wherever it was, Hamilton Bohannon*, Tony Wakeford, Chris Evans, Steven Moffat, David Gibson, Bob of Bulkington near Coventry, anyone who ever won or was nominated for the Turner Prize, Radiohead, Paul Mercer, Miriam Rahim, Tunstall Asaf, Juliet Prouse, Dennis Landers, Franklin from The Sun, Jimmy Savile, Billie Piper, Richard Callaghan, Supergrass, The One Show, Margaret Thatcher, General Pinochet, Marcus Brigstocke, Dennis Cattell, Marian Galton, Ludwig the mechanical cartoon egg thing from the seventies, Jamie Oliver, James Nesbitt, Stephen Frost, Alexis Petridis, Alexander McCall Smith, Electric Light Orchestra, Hamilton Bohannon*, Hamilton Bohannon*, Hamilton Bohannon*, Matt Smith, Harley Richardson, The Archers, anyone who ever observed that the shipping forecast sounds a bit like poetry...

History. One of my favourite examples of online sneering is the Britsplanation of American history which runs that we don't have any because the country is only two-hundred years old, whilst simultaneously lambasting our supposed assumption of there having been nothing much to speak of before white people turned up. I've always found American history fascinating, particularly all the stuff predating Christopher Colombus colonising a completely different and much smaller landmass whilst simultaneously wiping out the sum total of its indigenous population; and while it would be an exaggeration to suggest that this interest is why I ended up in Texas, it is at least why my gaze was already trained upon this part of the globe. I never found English or European history particularly exciting, and most of it seems to have been heavy metal wrestling mascots fighting over different kinds of mud in the pissing rain, parallel to which Mexico was engaged in building an elegant, philosophically sophisticated, and criminally misunderstood civilisation; and the people here in the northern continental blob were no less worthy of note. The Tuzigoot ruins in Arizona, for example, are at least as impressive as anything built by the Normans, and they were at the northern end of a trade route stretching all the way down into South America without anyone having bothered to invent the wheel, but you know - wurgh wurgh wurgh two-hundred years old wurgh wurgh wurgh Egbert of Wessex Magna Carta boring churches blah blah blah...

Hope. My life in England was often about getting by, making do, holding out and hoping the check would come before the bailiffs as everything became steadily worse, wetter, harder, and an ever more steely shade of battleship grey. English society had become, in my experience, a treadmill designed to keep me alive and generating just enough money to pay for the things which it told me had to be paid. Under circumstances other than those in which I happily find myself, America would probably be the same, but it feels like a country which is at least trying. We have our problems, not least being dangerous arseholes, but it at least feels like this place has the potential for improvement, like it wants the best for its people on some level, even when the actions fail to match the words. It is a land in which we still have possibilities beyond the crushing promise of the future being the present but with more security checkpoints. I thought this was just me until a couple of similarly transplanted online individuals expressed more or less the same sentiment on facebook, and one of them was Wreckless Eric so fuck you.

Kiss. One thing about America is that we do big and stupid really well, as I'm sure even our harshest critics would agree. Of course, it's important to remember that sometimes big and stupid is good - great even, and for evidence of this one need listen no further than the recorded oeuvre of Kiss. Whatever argument you may wish to draw against the excellence of Kiss vanishes as unto dew upon a summer's morn once you actually listen to Kiss. No-one really understands how this works. It just does.

Mexican Food. You really need to be here to appreciate Mexican food, either in Mexico itself or a little way from the border. That stuff you eat in London in some overpriced glass box named Zapata and served by an eighteen-year old wearing luminous orange tights and with the beard of W.G. Grace - it isn't Mexican food. It's probably just salad with a shake of Tabasco sauce, which is something else, and will remain something else regardless of how many traditional Aztec rocker-stamp animals are printed down the margin on the menu. Mexican food isn't about slopping four gallons of sour cream and guacamole over a bag of Doritos. I've seen counter arguments amounting to huh - can't see what's so difficult about chopping up a few tomatoes, but you really have to eat the genuine article to appreciate the difference. I don't even know what informs this difference given that the ingredients are all fairly straightforward, and yet what you eat over here in the Mexican equivalent of a greasy spoon - formica tables, plastic forks, radio tuned to some horrible Tejano station - makes most allegedly Mexican food I've eaten in England seem fussy, ridiculous, overpriced, and most likely prepared by someone who never actually ate Mexican food. You'll just have to trust me on this one. I don't understand it either.

Nature. I grew up on a farm in Warwickshire, in the very bosom of nature, you might say, and I grew up as part of a generation which spent most of its time outside in wellies. I saw rabbits and foxes, but not very often. I don't recall seeing frogs until I moved to London in my late twenties. I never saw a snake, and the only badgers I have ever encountered have been the lifeless two-dimensional kind found at the side of major roads. I've had this sort of conversation with overly defensive English people on a number of occasions. I'll mention the millions of bats I watched swarming from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin at sunset, and Timothy will be reminded of the bat he once saw at a Happy Eater just outside Daventry and will thus dominate the rest of the conversation with discourse on the same. 'Of course, they're mostly pipistrelle bats around our way,' he'll inform me at pornographic length, apparently having forgotten that I lived in England up until five years ago. 'Pippies, we call them.'

Anyway, I now encounter snakes, turtles, lizards, deer, possums, vultures, wild turkeys, roadrunners, coyotes, stick insects, and raccoons, and half of those on a near daily basis. Some of the snakes are of a kind which could kill me should I be bitten and unable to reach a hospital. I've encountered at least one turtle which could have bitten off my fingers had I got too close; so these days I even know which turtles are safe to pick up and how to do so without having them piss all over me - which they tend to do. I have more nature than I know what to do with. I have nature coming out of my ass, if you'll pardon the expression.

Proximity to Mexico. We're right next to Mexico, and England really isn't. If you don't believe me you can look it up on a map. Here in Texas we're so right next to Mexico that we can drive for about an hour and then look directly at it from across the other side of the river. Of course, this might change if our new President gets to build his wall, despite that it won't make much difference to immigration - if we're going to keep on pretending that that's really a problem for the sake of argument. Personally I'm hoping he'll get confused and build the wall along the top of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, thus making our part of America Mexico again. He can keep California though. I'm not too bothered about that one.

Sunshine. When I say America, I suppose I actually mean Texas - or Mexico Norteño as I like to think of it; and Texas has a lot of sunshine. That half a week of the English August during which it only rains in the morning doesn't really compare.

*: Names withheld because I can't be bothered to argue with the fuckers should any of them ever resurface from the netherworld of perception.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Ten Things Which America Doesn't Really Get


Bacon. It's all streaky. I once encountered proper bacon in an establishment describing itself as an English style pub, and was so surprised I had to get the waitress to ask the chef where he bought it. Apparently he had it flown in from North Carolina.

On a similarly carnivorous theme, lamb isn't particularly popular over here either, meaning kebab shops are sadly few and far between. There are a couple of Mediterranean places which do a decent doner kebab, but they never quite get the pita bread right, or the chili sauce, or the fat, grumpy bloke who calls you my friend but otherwise refuses to speak English following a long, long evening of being addressed as Stavros by horizontally-inclined beer enthusiasts.

Beer. Sadly no-one in America ever just nipped down the road for a pint, so it has come to be regarded as an exotic practice. Beer tends to come in bottles, either your regular swill or artisan beverages with knowingly stupid names like Burst Radiator or Enraged Skinhead, most of which taste like what you get when touching the two terminals of a standard nine volt battery to your tongue. Bars - which are what we have instead of pubs - tend to serve either Miller Lite or Budweiser, neither of which really count as beer; excepting the fancier places serving Burst Radiator, Enraged Skinhead and others on tap to men who spend the evening talking about different kinds of shit beer. In England I generally encountered unorthodox beers in a pub, usually by means of a decision-making process concluding with the words, fuck it - I may as well have a pint of that, I suppose, whereas here the activity seems spiritually closer to stamp collecting. This is why I stick to Mexican beer, and because it actually is beer.

Civilisation. This entry was going to be Government, but then I'm not sure any country really has the hang of that one, and the broader heading allows for discussion of contributing factors. Colonial America was founded seemingly with the intention of getting around the problems of what happens when you have hereditary leadership, meaning no Kings or Queens and that the job of President should go to whoever the people generally feel is best suited. Unfortunately this now amounts to who can afford the most effective advertising campaign, meaning it's usually the upper classes, in turn meaning that we're slipping back towards a dynastic model of leadership. This is justified by the erroneous notion of how those with the most money must be really amazing to have earned their fortune and are therefore well-suited to telling the rest of us what to do. All sorts of factors have contributed to the evolution of the English upper classes, and not all of them necessarily meaning we get terrible people at the end of the process. Some may be arseholes, but I've met a fair few who aren't, and who are very much aware of the mechanism of their privilege and who tend to have genuinely benefited from an expensive education - as you would hope. Here, on the other hand, being upper class is just a case of having a shitload of money, regardless of how it was obtained, and the American upper classes are pretty much just Terry and June from the English sitcom of the same name but with a mammoth bank balance. I know this, having stood behind them in queues and listened to their gormless conversations about Bon Jovi and alt-country and the Obama dictatorship and a better standard of person in their shitty golfing slacks. This is why socialism has become a bad word amongst those who have no actual experience of it and don't really quite understand what it means, namely because our upper classes are people who genuinely believe that money makes everything right, and that the best deal is the most popular, simplest, and therefore the cheapest - which as anyone who ever shopped at the Dollar Store will tell you is not necessarily the case.

Here's the thing with socialism: if you want to be a part of civilisation, then you are obliged to pay taxes as a contribution to that civilisation, given that the civilisation in question is about more than just you. Taxes pay for roads, emergency services, and general infrastructure, and it really isn't down to you to decide who deserves what, and it is about the whole rather than what's directly in it for any one person. If you don't wish to pay taxes or be part of civilisation, that's fine. You have the option of fucking off to the forest or the mountains or else discovering your own country using a road you've laid yourself rather than one of the ones we paid to have built for you, and you should be ready to generate your own electricity when you get there.

Any civilisation worthy of the term tends to be comprised of people who make things and do stuff rather than spending their time asking what do I get out of this? or whining about how political correctness is destroying their lives.

Law Enforcement. My experience with the police force in England has generally been consistent with the idea that whilst there are doubtless a few bad 'uns, these are persons who have somehow eluded rigorous checks in what is otherwise a fairly extensive training program. I could be wrong about this, but I sometimes get the impression that the training procedure of our police force is a guy who asks would you like a gun? Hopefully I'm very much mistaken.

North-East. England has Newcastle-upon-Tyne, home of the greatest accent known to man, and we get fucking New York. You'll know if you've ever met someone from New York because they will have told you about a million times and will have pronounced it Noo Yawk Cidee in an attempt to be cute. Additionally they will probably have described the place as some sort of free-thinking utopia in a land otherwise dominated by record-burning Ku Klux Klansmen who hate black people, improvised jazz, and anything resembling Communism. The only New Yorkers I like tend to be rap artists, persons such as MOP, current title holders of the world's greatest improvised exhortation to party heard on a rap record, which was bang your head against the wall, come on! during some song on the Warriorz album. Those guys can do no wrong so far as I'm concerned.

Pork Pies. I only get the craving once a year, and I could possibly purchase one from a certain mail order outfit specialising in fancy foreign foods, but the $70 refrigerated shipping cost is prohibitive considering that I'd probably eat half of the thing and then go off the idea, as I have done in the past. My dad always used to have a pork pie for Christmas morning which was apparently part of some tradition, although I don't know if it was just him or whether it's some more widespread observance. Here in San Antonio we traditionally have pork tamales on Christmas morning. A tamale is made from maize flour - and pork in this case - steamed in a corn husk. They're from Mexico and of pre-Colombian origin; and they're okay, but it just isn't the same.

Come to think of it, the cakes are all a bit weird too - kind of dry and far too sweet and always with that cream from a fucking spray can. Greggs should seriously think about opening up over here. They'd make a killing.

Rebellion. This is something with which American teenagers - or sometimes older people - engage between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. The epitomy of American teenage revolution is Michael J. Fox dancing to Depeche Mode on the hood of a car stalled in gridlocked traffic and in doing so teaching the grown-ups a thing or two about what it means to be young. Rebellion generally occurs once you're done with the scouts and before you get a job selling car insurance to those seduced by advertising for Dodge vehicles. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that this is the same country which came up with Elvis, the Ramones, and MOP.

Ska. As Wikipedia is my witness, Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the late fifties and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae, combining elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat. It isn't, and nor will it ever be, twelve white dudes from Vermont in pork pie hats playing a song with a chorus sounding more like U2 than Prince Buster. Sorry. I don't make the rules.

Sweets. Candy always sounds like a euphemism for something illegal, and in a few cases it actually is. Our chocolate bars mostly taste like the supermarket's own brand products, and I'm talking Wavy Line or Happy Shopper rather than Waitrose. We have Cadbury's, but mostly sold only in stores frequented by a better standard of person and accessible only by means of vehicular transport.

Vehicular Transport. If you don't drive in America you're pretty much screwed unless you're conveniently married to someone who does, as I am. It's easy enough to walk around the centre of whichever town or city you may be in, but I would guess there are not many people living in the centre of their town or city. Most of us are in the suburbs where there's no nipping down to the shop on the corner for a can of pop and a pork pie, or even a tamale. Given this heavy emphasis on automotive travel, you might think this would be an area in which America excels, but sadly no. The extent and scale of our roads and highways combined with a population density much lower than that of the United Kingdom means that a traffic jam is something to be endured for slow moving minutes rather than stationary hours, but America has chosen to compensate for this relative freedom by having everyone drive trucks the size of your average fishing trawler. The fucking things are enormous, resembling giant Tonka toys, and whilst I can see one might justify such gargantuan vessels on a ranch, or if engaged in a business requiring that one travel with a fleet of lawnmowers in the back, otherwise there's really no excuse. Dental assistants are rarely required to convey injured bison back from the creek so far as I am aware, so they most likely choose enormous trucks as compensation for some deficiency, although obviously I have no idea what that could be.

A recent television commercial for the Dodge motor company shows actors portraying the Dodge brothers - Horace and John - magically transported from 1914, newsboy caps and all, leering with joy at their legacy of giant-sized Hot Wheels cars pulling wheelies and revving engines. Their joy is clear from lurid smiles comparable to those of fetishists who take sexual pleasure from pooing in their own pants and who have presently done just that. The commercial is hard to watch, and it's annoying, and I guess the assumption is that rest of us are expected to want to share in this sort of excitement.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Tits


I've had another sleepless night for no reason I can identify, except possibly that it's uncommonly fucking cold and Bess and I have let Kirby stay in our room. Usually the cats get either the rest of the house or outside when we retire depending on which they prefer, but Kirby often spends the night on the corner of our bed because she's generally well behaved. Last night was the exception to the rule and she spent the hours of darkness walking across my face or otherwise engaging in cat aerobics; although I have a feeling I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway. These days if I can't get to sleep - which admittedly isn't often - I get up and spend a couple of hours writing stuff no-one is ever going to read, then return to bed when I'm properly knackered; but on this occasion it hasn't worked.

So I have a slow day, forcing myself forward through the drudgery of my usual housewifely chores at quarter speed. I make the mistake of having the radio on and tuned to one of the stations which isn't wall to wall Tejano, but it's mostly news about how our President-elect is planning to outlaw rainbows believing they promote homosexuality, or he's appointed Dylann Roof to be the next Minister of Black People. A few weeks ago I made a mental note to avoid the news, but I keep forgetting. Later I go out on the bike, but it's still fucking cold. Frost is infrequent in Texas, but we compensate for the shortfall with icy wind of the kind Alex describes as a cold winter bastard in A Clockwork Orange. The Nahuatl speaking Mexica of Tenochtitlan - Mexico City as it has been since 1521 - associated their land of the dead with the north and divided the mythic realm into nine tiers, and one of these regions was called Itzehecayan roughly translating as Where the Wind Is Like Obsidian Knives, possibly deriving from some ancient fact-finding mission to San Antonio in the middle of January, or Izcalli as it would have been by their calendar.

It's been a long, slow day and by the time evening comes we decide to eat out seeing as the boy is staying with his father. We get in the car and Bess asks, 'Where do you want to eat?'

'Fuck it,' I say. 'Let's go to Hooters.'

Hooters is a sports-fixated restaurant chain seemingly sold on the idea of all the waitresses having great big tits. It was parodied as Bazooms in an episode of King of the Hill, and when I first moved here I was surprised to discover it was real. It seemed like an anachronism, something left over from Benny Hill's little known tenure as governor of Texas, but Bess had told me that despite any other concerns, the food was good, which primed me with the puzzling notion that people go to Hooters for the food.

Sure.

'Isn't it kind of er...'

I didn't need to finish the question for obvious reasons.

'Kind of,' she told me, 'but the food really is good.'

So along we went. The place is clean, bright, and cheery, but not quite with the depressing efficiency of McDonalds, and there are a million flat screen televisions attached to armatures all around the ceiling. There is a football game in progress, or handegg as it should probably be known. I don't know who is playing because it's not a game I understand - the Washington Racists versus the Fresno Basset Hounds or something. We are seated and tended by a waitress called Meghan who seems nice but is thankfully not my type. Being a happily married man, none of them are really quite my type even without taking the age gap into consideration. Having reached fifty it has come as a great relief to find that I'm not significantly attracted to younger women. I always feared becoming a dirty old man, but most women under thirty now seem physically peculiar to me, somehow nascent and unformed. I suppose the media has spent so much time presenting a certain female type as a physical ideal that I mistook it for how we actually work, and thankfully for the most part we don't. Although were I still in my twenties, I'm sure my nuts would have exploded before Meghan had even brought our drinks.

According to Wikipedia, an older version of the Hooters Employee Handbook reads:

Customers can go to many places for wings and beer, but it is our Hooters Girls who make our concept unique. Hooters offers its customers the look of the All American Cheerleader, Surfer, Girl Next Door.

So actually they're mostly just regular gals, admittedly very presentable regular gals, but far from the megatitted trainee strippers I'd been expecting. One of the team seems to be wearing a vest top which somehow has straps which, buckled tightly, make it appear as though she's transporting a couple of blancmanges - wibble wobble wibble wobble - but she's the only one. It comes as a bit of a relief. Despite the above protestations, and despite my inner Ben Elton, I am nevertheless a man who knows what he likes and who responds in certain ways to certain things even if I sometimes wish I didn't, and I'd probably find breasts above a certain volume something of a distraction whilst trying to navigate a menu, particularly with them hovering mere inches from my face.

Bess describes another branch of Hooters where most of the waitresses seemed to be moonlighting as strippers and had those weird fake boobs which appear solid and overinflated, more like what I expected; so either that's just a different place or Hooters has been reigning it in a bit, going for a more family friendly vibe. The sign outside displays the name Hooters written with the oo as the eyes of an owl, although the oo also resembles tits; and okay, so owls make a hooting noise but the chain knows it's not fooling anyone. I had assumed the owl allusion might be part of some recent self-conscious rebranding, but apparently it's been around more or less from the start. Nevertheless my inner Ben Elton still isn't having it.

Hooters is selling sex, isn't it? Its success is reliant on the objectification of women, on reducing women to objects set on parade for our pleasure. Well yes, and three men sued the company for sex discrimination back in 1997, specifically for denying them employment and presumably because being men, their knockers weren't much to look at; to which Wikipedia responds:

In employment discrimination law in the United States, employers are generally allowed to consider characteristics that would otherwise be discriminatory if they are bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ). For example, a manufacturer of men's clothing may lawfully advertise for male models. Hooters has argued a BFOQ defense, which applies when the essence of the business operation would be undermined if the business eliminated its discriminatory policy.

So it is what it is, as they say. It's a symptom of a condition of society, and if we need to get pissy and start shaking fists, there are probably a million more deserving targets. The waitresses here seem just like waitresses anywhere, only with slightly less clothing and it's hard not to feel a little sorry for them. Even if you're a complete idiot and all you have going for you in this world is breasts, waitress at Hooters was probably never anyone's dream job; and it really doesn't feel like a strip joint. The place is rammed, and about a third of the customers are women, and there are children running around. The men are mostly big, hairy trucker types, paunchy and balding, oily jeans and baseball caps featuring the logos of agricultural feed suppliers. I just hope none of them came in here expecting to score. Surely no-one is that delusional.

Meghan brings our drinks. I order smoked wings and my wife has a burger. When the food arrives it really is delicious, and so delicious that you actually would go out of your way to eat it; so it genuinely isn't just about the boobies, which is a nice surprise.

A place like Hooters will always have its knockers etc. etc.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

In the Days of the Form Destroyer


Having eyes, ears and a brain, its been hard for me to ignore what's been happening to this country over the last week or so, or - if you prefer - what looks one hell of a lot like it's happening. I'm no longer even going to concede his name, because as any ritually-inclined person will tell you, naming them gives them power. In this case it gives them the power by which I might be summoned against my will to the magic chalk pentagram of a search engine prior to being shot in the head, deported, or shipped off to a labour camp; and it will probably be somehow done in the name of protecting freedom of speech, because I guess that's how it works now.

I think of him as the Form Destroyer. The term comes from the theology of the Intercessor in Philip K. Dick's A Maze of Death, and it seems to fit. The Form Destroyer embodies the universal process of entropy and may just as well stand for evil if you prefer, or Satan in Christian terms. Philip K. Dick characterises evil as the absence of empathy in a number of his novels - which I'm sure was already knocking around as an idea when he came across it: broadly speaking it's a blind spot where one individual either lacks or is otherwise able to ignore intuitive understanding of what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes. In evolutionary terms, it has had its uses in so much as that predators who began to feel sorry for whatever they were about to eat probably didn't last very long, but despite what Ayn Rand and others might have had you believe, we are no longer under any obligation to play that game. As a species, we are mostly able to survive without it being at the expense of someone else, because we have these large brains by which we are able to reason and achieve things without acting like a total cunt. Further to this, back before Richard Dawkins turned into Bernard Manning, he presented a strong argument as to why altruism is a desirable quality in evolutionary terms, so it might even be argued that we, as a species, have evolved better natures and our ability to empathise with those we don't actually know.

At this point, I imagine the voice of toxic Christianity might like to interject with arguments amounting to don't you be trying to tell me about what's written in the bible, boy - although it's not actually an argument so much as the equivalent of the yelping noise made by a dog when you get too near the bone on which it's been working. This is because the voice of toxic Christianity - which is something quite different to that of actual Christianity - responds principally to the use of certain trigger words or ideas in a similarly canine fashion, and responds by puffing itself up and making territorial threats. It does not understand that bullying an argument into silence is different to invalidating that argument because, lacking sophistication, it is unable to empathise, to formulate a mental model in which it compares itself to its opponent so as to understand how a view in opposition to its own could work. It still lives in a world divided into self and non-self, much like an animal. This is additionally why it will tend to phrase its beliefs in terms of unshakable certainty, even if those beliefs are based on only the vaguest hunch of whatever just kinda feels right.

So the Form Destroyer is now in charge, and in only a week it has begun to feel like the end of days. Maybe this actually is the end of days as foretold in the Book of Revelation, and all those people who've been going on about it with such venom have had it all wrong; and before we get to don't you be trying to tell me about what's written in the Book of Revelation, boy, it's true that I haven't read the thing and that's because I don't live in a fundamentalist theocracy so I don't have to, or at least I didn't. Nevertheless, maybe we could have had heaven right here on Earth just as promised, but in invoking the name of the Form Destroyer with such passion over and over and over, they have brought him into being and now we must all suffer. He's here and he'll make everything worse because that's what he does. He will elevate hatred, intolerance and ignorance, and he will teach his throng to revel in these qualities and to take pride in them. There's surely little point in even regarding him as an individual for he is a focus of entropy, the universal force which returns everything to the dust from which it came. He is incapable of a genuinely creative act. It is not in his nature, and he's the guy who decides whether we live or die based on either profit margins or just kinda feels right.

Environmental science is now seemingly valued according to whether it gives the right answer, the one we want to hear, the one which won't interfere with our financial transactions. Last time I checked, we were already pretty much environmentally screwed, and so these times will be looked back upon as the point at which we had a chance to turn things around, or at least to slow the steady decline, but instead we elected to step on the gas and silence the voices of dissent; except who will there be left to even look back upon any of this given that we're turning the planet into Venus?

We really are screwed, but feel free to regard it as one opinion of many if it makes you feel better. I must admit, it would be pretty embarrassing if those science guys were wrong and we saved the planet for nothing.

Civil liberties seem to be vanishing, or at least experiencing significant shrinkage on a daily basis - or if you prefer, certain people seem to have picked up an idea of that being the case for some funny reason. I don't even know how wise it is that I'm writing this because the rules seem to have adapted to a more flexible form. I'm here on a green card. I would like to stay here if at all possible because I genuinely love this country, which is why I dislike what's happening to it in the name of making America great again. It was already great, or at least heading in roughly the right direction. Destroying and undermining everything which has made America great does not make America any more great than a diet of chips, jam and donuts constitutes a fitness regime. Making stupid people who don't understand things happy is not the same as making something great.

Yes, stupid people.

If you don't understand something, then whatever opinion you express in relation to that subject is worthless no matter how much it just kinda feels right. If your opinion in relation to that subject is derived exclusively from the opinions of others or just one side of an argument, then it is worthless. Unless your opinion is informed by some direct experience in relation to that subject, then it probably isn't worth very much; but your biggest mistake is assuming that your stupidity is as valid as another's knowledge. Just because you dislike something, or you have no understanding of it, or you don't even know what it is, that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad or should be subject to prohibitive measures or attitudes.

Nevertheless, I get it. No-one likes to be thought of as stupid, and we've apparently forgotten that actually it's okay to not know something, because if it matters that much, all you have to do is find out about it; and yet people don't, because finding out about things entails learning which can occasionally lead to a discomforting shift or revision of previously held beliefs and opinions, and no-one likes to think of themselves as having been wrong. It's possibly ironic that so many of the demographic of which I speak have spent so long telling the rest of us how political correctness is quite literally destroying their lives, and yet political correctness is really just basic decency, manners, and not being a dick, so it's also why we're apparently no longer allowed to say that people who don't understand things and who don't even want to understand things are fucking stupid; so everybody gets a go. Everybody gets to have their say, and possibly even a cookie and a pat on the head.

You say you hate faggots? Very good. Here you are. Don't forget to brush your teeth afterwards.

I love this country and I love the ideal of free speech by which I am allowed to write these words without fear of investigation by whatever revived House Un-American Activities Committee is doubtless about to spring back up from the underworld of no lesson having been learned. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution, arguably with a few minor exceptions, but then there's plenty of stuff guaranteed by the Constitution which seems to have gone out of the window lately, or at least that's how it's looking from here. I'm half inclined to just shut up and get on with it, fearing that agencies hostile to my continued liberty may be taking notes from my social media as they are already doing with others; but maybe all our grousing, whining, and just saying no is the one thing we have left. Maybe they've won when we shut up.

In the meantime I have to live my life without thinking too hard about other occasions when the Form Destroyer was at large upon the face of the Earth, and without thinking too hard about the parallels, because the parallels really are there, regardless of whether I like it or not. If I think about him as the Form Destroyer, the idea seems more abstract and therefore easier to stomach for the sake of my day to day sanity, although I'm not even sure that's a good thing. Above all, because I have the intellectual capacity for consideration of the possibility that I'm either wrong, or simply overthinking it all, or at least the possibility that I'm wrong about how it will all go, then I really hope that I am wrong, and that I'll still be here in a year's time to feel like a fucking idiot. After all, I was wrong about him even getting elected in the first place.

Friday, 27 January 2017

World of Leather


Just when you've acclimatised yourself to one workplace enemy, just when you've George Orwelled yourself into appreciating the finer side of the current witless goon without a volume control; because nature abhors a vacuum, she delivers another just to keep you on your toes. Whether it's some freshly imported complete wanker, or perhaps one newly formed from the being of a person with whom you previously had no problem - just like those Highlanders, there must always be one. My utter knobend of the time had punched me in the face in response to the admittedly unjustified torrent of scorn and sarcasm I'd been sending his way without realising he'd noticed, and the punching had caused me to re-evalute my position, and ultimately to accept that he was just some bloke with as much right to exist as anyone, wasn't particularly deserving of my sarcasm, and most of it had been down to my being an irritable, intolerant sort of person.

Once this had been settled, Graham and I got on just fine; so along came Ted.

He was in his fifties but looked older, skin turned to leather by too many fags smoked in pubs with yellowing walls. His face was wrinkled with laughter lines from the telling of his own jokes, and he wore the black greasy hair of a teddy boy somehow surviving into the twenty-first century like those dinosaurs in Conan Doyle's Lost World. He was from north Kent somewhere, some concrete hellhole of which the main exports were lung cancer and racism and with the accent to match, carking away like some Cockney seagull, charmless catchphrase after charmless catchphrase.

Most civilised people when entering the workplace will usually take a few months getting to know everyone and to assess the lay of the land so as to avoid ruffling feathers or making enemies. Ted on the other hand made the entrance of an inconvenienced spiv consigned to prison - big, brassy, and at a volume sufficient to scare the shit out of even the most hardened top dog. 'I'm gunna have My Way played at my funeral,' he told me without a trace of shame and despite that I hadn't asked, or even been engaged in conversation with him; but at least he hadn't tried to sell me a pair of tights or illicit tins of condensed milk.

His wife or his brother or some relative worked in a bakery, and so Ted struck a deal whereby the person would stop off at our sorting office every morning around half past six with a tray of free cakes. No-one knew how it worked, but we all presumed it to be still edible produce which would have been otherwise thrown away.

'Cakes up!' Ted bellowed like an angrier Norman Wisdom, every morning at the same time, establishing the sort of routine you would expect of someone who had been in the job fifty years; and this seemed to be the source of his neurosis. He resented being a new boy in his fifties. He seemed to regard himself as a bit of a character and was keen that the rest of us should see him the same way; but the only ones who bought it were the new recruits, kids who had been in the job ten weeks with whom he was happy to share his great wealth of experience. Stick with me, the King of Cakes seemed to be saying, I'll show you the ropes, my little son.

We would watch and snort with laughter and say to each other I bin doing this job free mumfs nah, man and boy.

We'd also run to grab a cake, but I still wasn't going to go out of my way to be his pal. I wasn't to be bought. If he wanted to give away free cakes that was up to him. For all any of us knew, he was probably paying for them as part of a desperate bid to appear magnanimous, and so to earn the kind of status he might have gained simply by being less of an arsehole.

Try as he might, Ted somehow just wasn't quite able to acquire the following he desired; because even working in a profession employing some of the coarsest, most disagreeable, foul-mouthed fuckers I've ever known, no-one could quite bring themselves to tell him to piss off. He was trouble, a nightmare even, although not in the Dickensian music hall sense to which he clearly aspired. No-one wanted the bother. They ignored him or just wouldn't respond, or would grunt something which sounded like conversation and walk away; but being his own biggest fan, Ted never noticed. He was enjoying himself too much.

I want some nookie tonight, he bellowed tunelessly to Jamesy P's dancehall smash of 2005 whenever it came on the radio, then changing the words to I want some pussy tonight, because he was a bit of a lad. Eyes rolled, shut the fuck up was muttered under breath and heads were shaken, but there was always some idiot who would laugh, and so he continued. Emboldened, he'd put on a show for the whole office, bellowed from his sorting frame, the sort of material Chubby Brown would have deemed crude and witless.

Pus-say pus-say pus-say...

 
The beginning of the end came when Karen noticed a terrible smell in the region of the packet sorting frames. 'What is that?' she asked, scandalised.

It must be your cunt, love. You must of forgot to wash it this mumf. It was something like that, an overbearing joke which wasn't particularly funny pushed several miles too far, and for the first time he realised it. He seemed to see himself as we saw him, and being Ted, his response was simply to go harder and louder.

'Here you go, Lol,' he barked, referring to me by a nickname I've always disliked - and two bundles of machine-sorted mail landed on my bay, knocking over my plastic cup of machine dispensed coffee to soak the mail I was already sorting.

'For fuck's sake,' I exclaimed. 'Stupid wanker!'

The machine-sorted mail came into the office just before six. Usually someone tossed it into the primary sorting frame, and we'd pick it up from there and bring it around to our own individual bays. Because Ted was everybody's mate, an old hand, and one of the boys, he'd empty the bundles of machine sorted mail into a trolley and push it around the office, delivering to each bay in person. It didn't actually help anyone, but I guess he felt it gave him leverage.

'Fuck you, you ungrateful cunt!'

I stood back, indicating my bay, now with letters swimming in coffee. 'What the hell is wrong with you?'

The rest of the morning I could hear him banging on about people wiv no fackin' gratitude and who don't appreciate nuffink.

Even Simon rolled his eyes and muttered stupid bleeder. Simon was Ted's brother-in-law, and we'd all been told he was Ted's best mate. Ted had pulled strings to get him the job. Ted had done fackin' everyfing for that geezer, but he don't appreciate nuffink.

Simon just laughed when we told him what we'd heard, but it wasn't a happy laugh. Simon was a ratty-looking skinhead with bad teeth, usually in tracky bottoms and a Burberry baseball cap. He had the look of a man who might have borrowed the occasional car stereo or two in his time, but was a nice guy once you got talking to him; and he was funny, and not at all stupid. The last quality was obvious from the fact that he didn't much like Ted either.

The other member of Ted's family which we all came to recognise was his wife. She dropped in from time to time, and was often to be found outside the sorting office, sitting in the loading bay with the vans usually smoking a fag.

'Your name's Lawrence, ain't it,' she said to me one morning - not a question but a statement. 'I've heard all about you.'

She was onto me. She knew my game was the implication. I had been the subject of discussion.

'That's me,' I said, walking right past.

Months later he was gone, sick leave extending past the customary period of full pay - a year, then another half, then two years of back trouble.

Medical science was baffled, just couldn't account for it.

Nobody was too upset.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Jersey Shore Eruditorum


It's February 9th, 2012 - Syrian Army troops continue to pour into Homs as part of the latest offensive, with scores of civilians and anti-government protesters reported as having been killed in the past day; Jessie J is feeling sexy and free at the top of the hit parade with Domino; and we have just forty-eight hours to go before my beloved Manchester United soccer group goal the Liverpools two to one at their iconic Old Trafford soccer stadium.

Meanwhile we've reached the sixth episode of the fifth season of MTV's iconic Jersey Shore, although before getting started on that, maybe we should brush up on a little game theory. Modern game theory began with the idea regarding the existence of mixed-strategy equilibria in two-person zero-sum games and its proof by John von Neumann. Von Neumann's original proof used Brouwer fixed-point theorem on continuous mappings into compact convex sets, which became a standard method in game theory and mathematical economics. His paper was followed by the 1944 book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, co-written with Oskar Morgenstern, which considered cooperative games of several players. The second edition of this book provided an axiomatic theory of expected utility, which allowed mathematical statisticians and economists to treat decision-making under uncertainty.

How does this figure in our review of Jersey Shore, I hear you ask. Of course, I should probably point out that this isn't so much a review as a little something of my own humble concoction which I like to call psychochronography, which is much like the psychogeography of the Situationists but instead examines a television show in context of its time by mentioning a few unrelated things which happened on the same date in the first paragraph, so let's leave the reviews to those who just want to talk about what happened and whether or not they liked it.

Anyway, game theory figures because today I'm discussing an iconic episode entitled The Follow Game, and I'll come to why it should be thus entitled in a moment.

As we renew our acquaintance with the residents of Ocean Terrace, we find that the Situation is on our familiar iconic duck-shaped novelty telephone to the Unit. As my many regular readers will already know, the Situation is the name by which housemate Mike Sorrentino designates himself as a sort of event in space-time, which seems a fair assessment given his serving as a kind of living axis around which drama occurs; and the Unit is simply the Unit - a man known to Mike, and I imagine that the name serves to imply that he has a large, possibly iconic penis. Anyway, Mike is naturally discussing a presumably drunken sexual liaison with Snooki, one which Snooki has repeatedly denied ever having occurred, and he's discussing it with the Unit because the Unit is supposedly a witness to the alleged penetrative event. It's clear that Mike intends to use this information to cause trouble, but as to when he's going to play his hand, we just don't know. He also tells Unit that he spoke to Deena's sister and asked what she would like for breakfast, therefore implying that he intended to have sexual intercourse with her at some point immediately prior to the preparation of said breakfast. This brings a wry smile to his face.

It probably wouldn't have brought a wry smile to Deena's face had she heard, but thankfully she is otherwise preoccupied with the fact that Vinny is using the shower. She wants to produce a stool so Vinny's hygienic considerations are quite an inconvenience, seemingly more so than would be the thought of Mike engaging in sexual congress with her sister, hypothetically speaking.

Next we learn that Jwoww is concerned with just how little she has seen of Roger lately. She feels that she is being sidelined.

'At least she got her hair done,' observes Deena, 'so that's good,' but this fact alone seems to bring little comfort. Later, regarding Mike, she sagely notes that a leopard never sheds its stripes. Were truer words ever uttered on this programme?

Jenni is still disgruntled when later they all go to the iconic Aztec bar in search of what Deena defines as a good time. As I've discussed in previous columns, the traditional duality of Jersey Shore divides equally into categories I have identified as real and fake, with the housemates gravitating towards the former but so often finding themselves having fallen into the trappings of becoming the latter. Mike represents the most extreme example of this duality in behaving patently fake specifically whilst aspirationally being real, yo. The model has further destabilised since Deena came in to replace the hapless Angelina at the beginning of series three, bringing with her an alternate duality founded in her conception of a good time contrasted with its unidentified thematic opposite. Snooki has a good time at Aztec in Deena's terms by engaging in robotic dancing. This Platonic good time ideal is essentially a monopole in relation to the already established real/fake duality, which is perhaps why these parallel thematic strands are able to co-exist.

Vinny meanwhile attempts to convert Nicky, who introduces herself as a lesbian, to heterosexuality - an endeavour he likens to the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Colombus, or for the sake of argument, the discovery of the same land mass.

Snooki burps repeatedly as they all walk back to the house, whilst Deena talks to another girl towards whom Vinny has expressed a pronounced sexual interest. Failing to convert Nicky to heterosexuality, he bids her an amicable good night and avails himself of his second choice with a thankful nod to Deena; although he later reports that the sexual intercourse was of only average standard.

Next morning we discover that the reason for Snooki's burping marathon was most likely due to how much she drank, and she now feels consequently unwell. We see this illustrated as she falls over and rhetorically asks, 'why am I alive?' A stint of sunbathing brings little comfort, and eventually she and Deena stagger to work at the iconic Shore Store in the company of Pauly.

The deal is that, as we all understand by now, the housemates work in the Shore Store, as run by Danny, in return for their being allowed to live in the iconic house on Ocean Terrace. The Shore Store specialises in novelty t-shirts and related apparel, so the work is essentially retail. We the viewers might assume the work to be fairly undemanding, but clearly it's more complicated than that and Snooki decides that it is unfair that she should be expected to work when she could be having a good time, as Deena might put it. Additionally she continues to feel unwell, and so devises what we now know as the Follow Game. The rules of the Follow Game are simple but effective, and Snooki illustrates by walking around the store between the racks of novelty t-shirts, followed closely by Deena, and then right out of the store and off for a drink. Danny is of course unable to appreciate the logic behind the Follow Game, instead focussing on Snooki and Deena's continued absenteeism despite repeat warnings.

Up to this point, Snooki and Deena have referred to themselves as the Meatballs, perhaps in reference to shared diminutive stature and Italian-American heritage; but now, as they run into Mike, they take on the new self-actualised mantel of Team Fun - a surprising development considering Mike's earlier discussion with the Unit regarding his having had alleged carnal knowledge of Snooki.

Snooki, much like Orpheus, therefore emerges from the underworld of her own personal journey through alcohol and robotic dancing to rebirth into the alchemical marriage of Team Fun. As we shall see in the next episode, the marriage is fruitful and the birth serves to unite disparate thematic currents - namely Snooki's reluctance to work within Danny's iconic terms of employment - in the form of the amateurish but nevertheless enthusiastically decorated cake which she and Deena prepare as an apology for taking the Follow Game through their own labyrinth of personal discovery, not to mention liberty.

Deena looks a bit like Grandpa Munster when you think about it, doesn't she?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Cold


I grew up on a farm - actually the farm where they filmed the Teletubbies some years after I left, by peculiar coincidence. Until the age of eleven we lived in a cottage which came with my dad's job. Heating was provided by a single fire place, warm clothing, and not knowing any better. Everything froze in winter, and when it wasn't frozen it was cold, grey, and damp, with some respite during summer if we were lucky. Eventually we moved to a place with heating, and then I left home for a succession of rural student dwellings warmed, if at all, by portable gas fires. Upon leaving studentry, I took a job with Royal Mail and spent the next twenty-one years walking around in freezing wind and rain, three or four hours a day, six days a week, forty-eight weeks a year. It wasn't all miserable, but a lot of it was. Worst of all would be the Christmas period during which I'd trudge to work before dawn, plod around in the cold and wet for most of the day freezing my bollocks off, sometimes with the snow soaking into my socks, only returning home as it was getting dark. That sort of cold gets right into your bones and not even a hot bath will shift it.

Consequently I grew to hate winter more and more with each passing year. Even towards the close of August I'd already be dreading the clocks changing, the six months of cold and wet beneath a sky of battleship grey, and the sun rising no higher than the roof of the house on the opposite side of the street before sinking towards an appointment with dusk at around 4.30 in the afternoon. I sometimes wondered if I had seasonal affective disorder given the timing, and each October specifically feeling like a rehearsal for the less buoyant chapters of Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea; and yet it isn't like I was deprived of natural daylight because the coldest parts of my job were outside. Just in case, I bought a light bulb advertised as simulating sunlight and recommended for those suffering with the condition, but it didn't seem to make any difference.

Therefore, even without any of the other considerations, when fate tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I thought about living in Texas, it wasn't something requiring much in the way of deliberation. I'd been to Mexico City a few times and it was hot, being some two-thousand miles nearer to the Equator. Further from the Equator but lacking the elevation of Mexico City, Texas turned out to be significantly hotter. In fact it was the hottest place I'd ever been, much hotter than anticipated. Some mornings the act of opening the front door upon a new day seemed much like opening the door to some kind of walk-in pizza oven. It felt as though I had landed on the planet Venus or the sunward side of Mercury. Yet weirdly, the heat seemed so extreme and so unlike anything I had experienced that it seemed endurable because I had no frame of reference. It was nothing like an unbearably hot day of English summer wacked up by a few more degrees. It felt different, and I knew I would get used to it because it was still better than freezing my bollocks off whilst sat on top of a portable gas fire wearing every item of clothing I owned.

Happily I did get used to it and I learned the rules fairly quickly. Outdoor work or travel is easiest early in the day, and definitely no gardening after two in the afternoon. I learned this through suffering heatstroke a couple of times. I felt as though I'd been microwaved, and each occasion knocked me out for a couple of days. Sometimes the heat can be restrictive and a pain in the arse, but that's why we have air conditioning; and even at its worst, when water catches fire as it leaves the tap - or faucet, I suppose - it's still better than being cold.

Of course, certain preconceptions have turned out to be untrue. Money spunked away on heating bills during the English winter don't represent a saving because it all goes on air conditioning during the long Texan summer. Also, I imagined my origin might endow me with certain superpowers under the circumstances in much the same way as Superman found himself at a significant advantage when he first came to Earth. Neighbours would shiver, so I believed, as I stomped down the street in just my t-shirt and pants in the middle of November. 'Haw haw,' I would roar like Brian Blessed, 'you call this winter? Why, in my country...'

Yet just as Texan summer was never anything so simple as the English equivalent notched up a little, neither is our winter simply a milder version of that which I shudder to recall. The days grow shorter, but nothing like so short as back in England, and some of them are at least as warm as an English summer; but then the temperature will fall ten degrees overnight and the next day will be cold, grey, wet, and miserable, and it still catches me out.

I thought I'd be Superman, or at least the one-eyed bloke in the country of the visually impaired, but instead I've acclimatised. The temperature falls to 10°C, a temperature I may once have considered mild, and it feels like I'm back in the land of numb fingers and soaking wet socks on the radiator; and it's somehow unexpected because I'm accustomed to scorching heat so I'm on edge, prone to panic, struggling as I force myself forward through the metaphorical snowdrifts of the day.

The week gets worse as the skies remain without colour. One evening I take the salmon I've just baked from the oven and it slides neatly from the foil to the floor which we share with eight cats. Bess and I eat just the cauliflower cheese I've made to go with the salmon, but deprived of context it seems tasteless.

Next day my bike falls over. I leave it on the kick stand so I can reset the combination on the lock of the gate at the side of the house, but the kickstand sinks into the mud and the bike falls somehow knackering both the rear-view mirror and one of the newly fitted grips on the handlebar. Like weather, Texas mud fails to be a variation on anything familiar. It's like modelling clay, but lighter - actually more like poo if I'm to be honest; and the poo from one of those days when you should never have got out of bed. You occupy the lavatory bowl, allowing the oval of toughened plastic to form an airtight seal around your buttocks, a little push and BRATTT!!!! Somehow it goes everywhere. It's on your socks. It's on the floor. There's a small splodge on the light fitting despite the established laws of physics. This is how mud in Texas behaves when deprived of the sun which would ordinarily bake it hard.

Not only do I knacker my bike but as I'm standing there at the side of the house I realise I'm staring at a backpack discarded amongst the leaves on the ground. I pick it up. It's wet and looks new and I've never seen it before. Someone has been here at the side of the house. Inside the backpack I find painkillers, energy bars, and a set of keys of an unfamiliar type.

I hear Donna, who lives next door, arriving home in her truck, so I go to see if she knows anything about the backpack. She doesn't, but guesses it might be some homeless guy who left it. She's seen a lot of them around the neighbourhood of late, and it rained for three days solid over the weekend. It seems likely that he might have been trying to get into our garage for the sake of shelter.

Now that she suggests this, I recall having seen the gate at the side of the house hanging a little way open. It doesn't close properly, so I customarily lodge a piece of wooden trellis between the side of the gate and the post so as to keep stray dogs from getting in through the gap, and around this I coil a bike lock; but I recall the gate being a little way open with the trellis fallen on the grass, still held mostly closed by the bike lock. Possibly some homeless guy tried to push it open without noticing the lock, then ran away without his backpack, having been startled by something or other. I don't know this for sure and it's a pain in the arse to have to think about it.

I head out on my bike but it's too fucking cold for exercise, so I just go directly to the supermarket and sit eating fried chicken in the caff, which is definitely exercise of a sort. I'm sitting freezing in a supermarket caff eating fried chicken under strip lighting. Across the aisle I can see Finding Dory play silently on a flat screen telly whilst on my headphones I have Happy Mondays singing about having sex on a beach in the Caribbean sun, and for a moment it's like I never left England; or maybe England has followed me.