Wednesday, 25 November 2015


Getting older means a certain curmudgeonliness creeps into my festive spirit. Gone are the halcyon days of my childhood where I'd anticipate Christmas in a state of fevered excitement. How much I loved kiddy Xmas. Waiting for Nanny and Grampee to arrive on the 24th of December. Not minding a jot that they got to have my bedroom and I had to bunk up with my brother in the spare room. For the first eight years of my life I believed in Santa Claus and vividly recall opening my pressies aged 4 at half past stupid in the morning. Every time the wrapping paper came off I would exclaim "Thank you Father Christmas!" in a tremor of little person gratitude for whatever Fisher Price toy had been bestowed on me by the fat bloke. My brother was still a baby at this point and this moment of joyful solitude was the only one I remember of opening gifts on my tod.

Christmas Eve was always loads and loads of F.U.N. (as this post illustrates) Making sure the tree hadn't been too badly vandalised by one of our cats, maybe playing with my toy soldiers amongst the fake pine leaves and even surreptitiously breaking one of the ornaments on purpose. After all, being naughty was something that I didn't do openly, so I could only be a little sod when it was a time where getting caught wouldn't result in the usual punishment. Oh, that childhood satisfaction of treading on a hanging tree ball in my slippers and feeling the muffled shattering beneath my feet.

But I digress...

Christmas Eve we'd watch The Wizard of Oz and in later years maybe something "epic" like Ghostbusters or Gremlins or The Empire Strikes Back. My family plus Nanny and Grampee, in the lounge with the gas fire on, the dog and cats asleep on the floor. The presents under the tree, bulging temptingly in their wrapping paper. A few Christmases in and it was possible to guess who had bought what just by looking at the style and quality of the wrapping. Gifts from my mother were heavy on the sellotape. Presents from me were wrapped with the pauper stuff from the newsagent I did a paper round at, double dosed to prevent those pesky edges from poking through. Stuff from other people always seemed to be wrapped properly mind you.

Me and my brother would go to bed as late as possible and, pumped full of adrenalin, be unable to sleep until VERY early in the morning. Long past the revelation that Santa was merely a lie, we'd still get our presents in pillow cases at the foot of our beds and there was something so very wonderful about waking up (after fighting sleep for hours and not even realising that you'd been asleep) to see your prezzies in the half light of the room. We'd always try not to flush the bog when we went for a wee, as the water tank was in the airing cupboard in the bedroom my Nanny and Grampee were in and Grampee got woken up by the sound of the tank refilling.

Xmas Day morning and we'd have a light breakfast, watch Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and then open some more presents. Lunch time would be the pork pie, cold meat and salad ritual that we all enjoyed, while trying to save room for the much longed for Christmas Roast Dinner. Turkey every year with veg and gravy. Followed by Christmas cake, maybe a chocolate Yule log and Xmas pudding (set on fire, of course). All the while sat in party hats and pulling crackers, squabbling over the toys that came out of them and trying to find a technique of cracker pulling that meant you got a better chance of getting whatever was inside (basic cheat = grab as much as you can before you pull it).

Then to play with our prezzies until bedtime. One year I got James Herbert's killer rats/ nuclear holocaust novel "Domain" as a side gift, and eagerly read at least half of it in front of the fire while everyone else watched The Great Escape. Another year I got my very own TV  and sat in our empty dining room watching The Spy Who Loved Me in black and white, thrilled that I finally had the ability to watch what I wanted to, when I wanted to.

My Christmas had a magical quality that a lot of people experience. It was mass marketed, materialistic and shallow BUT it was a special time where my family got together and rocked each other's worlds.

Then I got a bit older and the magic dried up like three day old snow on a pavement.

The last time my family Christmas resonated with the energy I've just described was 1984. Beyond that point things lost their glory and everything became strained. In 1985 me and my brother woke up to find no presents at 3am. None at 4am and none at 5am either. At 6.30am we went into my parents' room to enquire what was going on and the pillow cases stuffed full of gifts were at the foot of their bed. We then had to sit in front of them and open our gifts. This totally ruined the moment for me, a moment which had up to that point been a special and rarely intimate occasion between my and my bro. Without being consulted or even informed the ritual had been changed. Opening gifts under the watchful eye of your parents while they sit up in bed in their pyjamas IS NOT FUN AT ALL. When I later asked why this had happened my mother replied that "Part of the pleasure of giving presents is seeing other people's faces when they open them, so you're being selfish wanting to open your presents on your own and not letting us see you do it."

Seemed a reasonable argument, even though I didn't agree with it at all. Days later my mother had two glasses of wine and told her friends while I was listening, that the ONLY reason they'd done that was because she objected to being woken up at 3am every Christmas Day and was determined to get a full night's sleep this time.

Christmas dinners became boring. Turkey every year and the party hats were worn as some kind of perfunctory duty with no joy or celebration. Christmas 1986 and I had had a big present for my birthday in October which, as I'd been told at the time, was for "birthday AND Christmas." On the 25th everyone opened their presents and I had nothing from my parents except a book from my father. As soon as I opened it my mother said "That's not from me that's from your father. I told him not to get you anything as you've had quite enough this year but he did anyway so that's not from me it's from him."

The same year we didn't get any small presents like we always did because my mother said on the 23rd that she "Was going to go today but I haven't had time."

As my parents' marriage began to erode over the next few years Christmas became only a chore. My Grampee died in 1988 and every year my Nanny would come round to spend Christmas with us. We were her only immediate family and her surviving sisters were themselves very old. She had lost the will to live and spoke to my other grandmother on a rare meet up to say that she "wanted to die and be with Roland" (my awesome Grampee). Every Christmas she would arrive and be shephereded to the sofa while we took turns to "do our duty" and sit with her. She was helpless, depressed and no fun any more. My mother held her in so little regard that she would usually only communicate with her through me, my father or my brother. On Xmas day my parents would take her to the house of the woman from THIS story and after an hour of being sat in the corner, ignored by everyone I would come round and pick her up, so my parents could "relax" and have a glass of wine or three without having to worry. By this point my Nanny never got a present from my mother for Christmas. My dad got her something and said it was from both of them. He also got her a card and signed it on behalf of both of them. 

The final two Christmases we were together were some kind of situation black comedy. My mother drank to excess, bleating that she was unhappy in her marriage and resenting that she had to still make an effort. Swearing, crying and insulting everyone, while simultaneously regarding any and all retaliation as unprovoked attacks. I still can't watch the Kevin Costner movie "Field of Dreams" after hearing the woman who gave birth to me loudly shout that she "wouldn't mind a bit of his runt!" after my brother jokingly called Costner " a little runt". I was in bed by about 9pm but awake again at 4am, too many demons chasing away the last vestiges of my drunken slumber.

The last time we were all together was 1993 and it was beyond awful, only 9 years after we had our last perfect Christmas. On the Eve she asked me how much I wanted for my cheque, as she hadn't had time to go out and buy me anything. The conversation went like this:

Me: "How much can you give me?"
Her: "Well, how much do you want?"
Me: "Well how much can you give me?"
Her: "Well, how much do you want?!"
Me: "Errr...About fifty?"
Her (snorting derisively): "Huh! Can't afford that much!"
Me: "How much can you afford?"
Her: "About thirty."
Me: "That's fine."

Opening my presents less than 12 hours later and the cheque was for....£20.

Looking back I wish I'd told her to stick it up her arse but of course I didn't.

My grandmother was abandoned in hospital old, unwanted and alone. Me and my father went to visit her and the nurse looked at us with a smile and some relief as we walked in, saying "Are you here for Elsie? Oh, I'm so glad someone's come to see her. She was a bit upset earlier." Nanny held my hand , her voice a croak and her fingers bony and warm. Later my mother said "I bet she didn't ask where I was!" 

Later as we were setting the table for dinner I heard her drunkenly shout "Where's the fucking turkey?" My father replied that it was in the oven. She snapped "Well why isn't it on the fucking tray then?" When I then asked her to stop swearing in front of me she replied without even looking at me "Where am I supposed to do it Lance?" My response that I didn't care then led to 4 hours of sulking and silence that I got blamed for.

Later she was blubbing in the kitchen that she "should have left years ago" and blaming my father for every little bit of unhappiness in her life, even though she had ruined Christmas yet again for the rest of us. 

So now it's 2015 and I'm not married and don't have my own kids. My father lives in Greece and my brother in Asia. My mother remarried 8 years ago and has selective amnesia about EVERYTHING I've described here. Christmas with her and her new husband is superficially pleasant but I sit in front of the Doctor Who or Downton Abbey special, glass of beer in my hand, drunk and warm and remember those really fucking awful Christmases. We don't talk about them and my brother's absence from the table is never discussed. Christmas now is more or less what it should always have been but the Ghost of Selfish Tantrums Past still lingers in the hallway and on the stairs. Sometimes the ghost even makes its way to the garage where the cold beers are kept, or maybe even visits the bathroom when I nip for a slash.

I can't enjoy Christmas because I'm still haunted by just how fucking bad the Christmases from age 15 to 23 were. So this year, I'm gonna spend Xmas on my own. No pressure, no stress, no tantrums. And although I know it's gonna feel lonely and the triggers will activate to remind me that I'm missing "a good old English Christmas" I will be at peace because I'm not spending it doing something that makes me feel miserable.

The past shapes the future but also the present.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The No Ledge

Recently some rather effective yet wonderfully simple postings have appeared on social media demonstrating what sexual consent actually means. One or two go further still and demonstrate what rape actually is.

Twist is that they don't feature any mention of sex or violence but instead focus on everyday events that we might get involved with. The most popular involves offering someone a cup of tea and the various ways that scenario could end up, with a simple "yes", a definite "no" and people changing their minds once the tea has been made.

As effective as these ads actually are, one thing they don't address is the subject of common sense in the face of peril.

I went to sixth form college and later university in the late 80s and early 90s. In this era you had angry young men and wofems who wanted to put the world to rights. Armed with their A Level + educations, grasp of advanced vocabulary and size 6 Doctor Marten boots, they stormed the corridors of students' unions across the UK eradicating misogyny. Gone would be the concept of a woman "asking for it". Forever consigned to the patriarchal pile of garbage would be the idea that a woman who was raped or sexually attacked had somehow misled, enticed or seduced her rapist. A disgusting trait in previous decades was the ability of defence counsel in cases of both rape and child sexual abuse, to accuse a victim via cross examination of having somehow consented to what happened. Bad enough for a woman over 18. Horrendous for a child.

So...the laws adapted and changed, and the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer pushed forward ideas that were picked up on and had a huge effect on society. Two books popular in the 1970s were The Female Eunuch by Greer and The Women's Room by Marilyn French. My own mother read the Women's Room and didn't speak to my father for a week. Not that he was a bad husband, was sexist or mistreated her but because he was a man and this book had opened her eyes to the atrocities committed by menkind over endless aeons.

Kind of pathetic really.

Over years the rights of women slowly realigned to match those of men. From the suffragette movement to the rise of radical feminism all the way through to a woman trying to sue a pub for sexual discrimination because the barman said a Yorkie bar "isn't for girls"...everything tried to take on an even keel and become fairer.

Most important on this list of changes to the world of the communal sauna, was the concept of consent. When I was at Uni a lad I knew pulled and took home a female Physics student wearing a "No Means No" T-shirt. He was a hero for about a week for what we perceived was the equivalent of trying to shag a porcupine that had dipped its quills in cobra venom.

No most definitely did mean NO. None of that sexist "no means maybe" crap. No blaming of clothing (or lack of). Everything was now down to the man. He had to make certain that he received a "Yes", preferably in the presence of the woman's lawyer with the Pope and the Dalai Lama as witnesses. A "No" was to be obeyed and never ignored. The "No" was the 11th commandment that Moses had brought down from Mount Ararat and accidentally dropped before he got to the people. No meant not only "no" but also "I'll cut your fucking dick off".

This is in itself a great idea. However, it needs backing up with a little thing called Common Sense, a small portion of Awareness of Environment and last of all a helping of Perspective.

An example I can give from personal experience is the night on holiday in Greece when I got off with an attractive blonde French woman in a taverna. We were both drunk and snogging passionately at the bar. I also got my hand up her tight fitting, little black dress and had a good old fiddle (something I wouldn't have done sober and an event which apparently traumatised a friend of mine, who was there at the time, so much that he went home. (Quote: "Right in front everyone, she even had her leg up on the bar to make it easier for you!!!!") We walked home and had a repeat performance on the bridge near our respective hotels. She then decided she wanted to call it a night and go home...alone. I tried to persuade her but ultimately accepted that she'd changed her mind and mooched off back to my digs, with a huge erection and the utterance of "SHIT!!!" the only epitaph to my unrequited lust. Back of my mind for the next couple of days was the paranoia that I'd done something to piss her off, that I was too drunk and that maybe she thought I was a minger. I saw her again a week later and asked her why. She said that she'd taken it as far as she wanted to and that was enough.

Great. My adherence to my education in the rights of consent had meant that while I went home a little insecure and horny, she went home safely having decided where the line was drawn. We are still pals to this day and I saw her again this summer and we did a road trip with another friend (the guy who was traumatised by our performance in the taverna). We laugh and joke about the whole thing now and it's simply another story to tell when we get together.

However....both the witness who went home traumatised AND a couple of her female friends have told her that what she did that night was naive and somewhat stupid. Looking at it objectively she kissed a guy she'd only met an hour before and let him grope her in public. She then walked home alone with him down dark, badly paved lanes (the place we were in regards street lighting as an optional extra) where she repeated the kissing and groping. She THEN decided she'd had enough, turned her back on the guy and walked away.

Now I was simply disappointed and needed to go home and knock one out. However, while focussing on "what consent really is" the current system doesn't try to stress the importance of taking care of yourself. You will hear many tales from the police, warning people of going to certain areas or avoiding parks at night. But you WON'T hear stories of caution that advise against wearing a short skirt and no knickers while out clubbing and then getting off with someone who you decide you only want to kiss. This would send the Angry Young Wofems into paroxysms of rage, as it would appear to suggest that it was somehow the lady's fault if the bloke went too far.

I have every right to walk unmolested down any street or through any park in the UK at ANY time of night without being attacked or abused. Reality is that there are some places you simply don't go to as not even cops will attend calls there unless they are double crewed and at least one has a stun gun. A story that always makes me smile was of a black belt in Karate who walked through a notoriously violent park one night, believing that his badassery in martial arts would protect him like Captain America's shield. Within 5 minutes he got stabbed with a syringe full of blood by a mugger. His right to walk through that park and his right to feel safe. Common sense would be to walk the long way round and avoid the park completely. It wasn't his fault that the horrible cunt stabbed him, it was the horrible cunt's fault. But this could all have been avoided if he hadn't decided to do something he could have just avoided.

But I digress...

Not all people are "nice". Not all people have seen videos talking about how consent is like a cup of tea. Fewer still have had formal education in what amounts to withdrawal of consent. Focussing only on what consent is and isn't while removing all responsibility for placing yourself in potential danger in the first place is cretinous. Any man (or woman) determined to get what they want, will regard a partner crossing certain lines as consent in itself. Then through lust, malice, misinterpretation or simply not giving a shit, the situation gets bad. Fact the assailant may later face criminal sanctions won't help matters if a rape occurred

Something I saw recently that made me angry was "Rape Proof Underwear". This innovative breakthrough from a clueless bint across the pond, assures wearers that the knickers CANNOT be cut off or removed without the co-operation of the wearer. Line that had me spraying coffee and biscuits over the laptop monitor was "Ideal for a first date." Err...if you even THOUGHT about wearing that to a date, maybe the dude isn't boyfriend material?!! This ridiculous idea also fails to take into consideration that rapes are rarely due to sex alone. A woman wearing penis proof panties would be unlikely to put herself willingly in a situation where a bloke would get to see them. This suggests that they are great only for rohypnol or an unexpected assault. Doesn't take into account the violence that would possibly be inflicted by a). A would-be rapist who decided to just beat up the woman now he can't fuck her or b). The damage to flesh that would occur by someone trying to cut or even forcibly remove the Anne Summers equivalent of a panic room.

In the Israeli self defence system (NOT a martial art) of Krav Maga the instructors will ALWAYS tell you that the safest option in ANY confrontation is to either avoid it completely or walk/ run away. One thing that resonated was when my instructor said: "You can't win against a knife. If they want your money, your watch, your car keys then give them over. If they want more than that, then these skills may help you."

So Krav Maga doesn't say "Go out and kick some ass, you are now free to roam around doing knife, stick and gun disarms to your heart's content (and don't forget the groin strike)"...what Krav is is a pragmatic form of self defence that teaches common sense and leaving your ego by the door.

What I would like to see is both "This Is Consent" training and also a dosage of "This Is Potentially Unsafe" to back it up. A 15 year old making out with his or her boyfriend? You don't want to go all the way, then be aware of what situations may make it difficult for you to back up a "no" with something other than saying "no" again. A woman walking home alone with a guy she's just met, snogging passionately and a bit of downstairs insideys? Don't veer more than 20 yards off a populated area where there are people. Think a threesome is good fun? Great, make certain you absolutely trust the other two people involved.

A former girfriend got into bed with me after the second date and while "stuff happened" I didn't even attempt to have full sex with her as she'd already told me earlier that evening that she didn't want to go all the way. I thought nothing of this until days later when she said, "I don't think you know how much that meant to me. You didn't try just because I'd said no. Had you fucked me I wouldn't have regarded it as rape because I had put myself in that position with you." I replied that while I'd wanted to, her expressed intention to NOT fuck me meant that I felt obliged to respect what she'd said. I also added that it was fairly eye opening that she regarded it as 100% her own responsibility for being naked in bed with me while making out.

Bad people roam the Earth as do good people. The rules and lessons on consent apply the same way laws do. An armed robber doesn't think about getting caught as he or she is focussing solely on getting the job done. A distraction burglar targeting vulnerable, old people doesn't care that they are wrecking lives and stealing items of priceless sentimental value, they only think about the haul. Yet in these cases a bank will install security measures and train staff on how to react should such an event occur. Police constantly tell the elderly to secure their valuables and keep a chain on the door.

Now maybe we can see something along the lines of, "This is consent....but this, this and THIS are where it may be difficult for you to withdraw or deny consent."