Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Christmas TV Times

When I was a kid my family would buy the Christmas TV Times**. It was a bumper sized issue containing two whole weeks of televisual treats. From the Morecombe & Wise Christmas Show to the Top of the Pops Christmas Special, right through to the Bond movie about 3pm on Christmas Day***

As soon as I saw it advertised on TV my heart would flutter. After all this was the official announcement that Christmas was finally on its way. Some celebrity or other of the day would be on the cover in Christmassy garb, while the special treats we had to look forward to would be blared in large, colourful fonts on the cover.

I would fondle the magazine for a while before I opened it, marvelling at its freshness and lack of creases and that wonderful smell of new paper (a feeling only rivalled in later life when I began collecting Marvel comics). I would open it and my feelings were very specific to each day listed. It started for December 22nd and went up to January the 2nd. As I flicked through the pages to plan my viewing pleasure it kind of went like this.

Dec 22nd. A bit crap but hey, it's a day that's in the Christmas TV Times so it is to be respected. Nationwide would be only 5 minutes long, meaning we got past the boring news and went straight into the fun stuff.

Dec 23rd. Christmas Eve Eve. Starting to get fun and safe in the knowledge that we're not even there yet. So much fun is yet to be had. A decent movie and some Christmas comedy specials would set the optic nerves tingling with anticipation as Christmas hurtled ever closer.

Dec 24th. Oh my God! Day before Xmas and so much good stuff on the box. Maybe the Wizard of Oz again and movies and specials and comedy shows and ooohhhh, so much great stuff. The anticipation was killing me.

Dec 25th. Christmas Day. IT'S THE BIG ONE. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day at 6.30am and later on we had more than we could possibly handle. The requisite Bond movie would be on, The Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, a Disney cartoon or two....this would be heaven.

As I continued to peruse the portal to pleasure that was the Christmas TV Times I would mentally note that the build up was fun, that Boxing Day TV was still kind of cool and that the few days between Xmas and New Year were a buffer, to ease us in gently as the celebrations and all this awesome TV wound down. New Year's Eve TV was a consolation prize, to ease the pain and as for New Year's Day...well it and January 2nd could quite frankly fuck right off.

One year, on January 3rd I saw the Christmas TV Times in the kitchen bin, covered in tea stains, crumpled and useless. It was a bitter reminder that Christmas was now over for another year and the good times were so far away as to be almost unbearable in their unfathomable distance. What had I done to deserve to feel so joyous and yet to be confronted with the sight of the Christmas TV Times cowering in a bin covered in splodges of PG Tips?

The bottom line is that the build up that this magazine provided was half or more of the fun of Christmas for me, but also a good chunk of the depression that kicked in once it was all over. On January 3rd, school beckoned once more and normal bed times would be de rigueur. Presents would be rarer than seeing Brook Shields's tits and a life bereft of Christmas now had to be faced up to.

But I digress...

For the last two weeks, Diana Angustias, the co-author of my book THE COCKROACH EFFECT: Life in the Tampico Drug Wars, has been staying with me. I lived for 7 months in Tampico (a city in northern Mexico) where I taught Diana's 12 year old daughter English. The city, since 2009 or about then, has been torn apart by fueding drug cartels. Forget Sons of Anarchy or Breaking Bad. The people that are involved in this kind of thing are evil beyond belief and have virtually no ethics. Diana and me put the book together to tell people what life is like for Diana, and people like her, trying to raise a family in such a horrible environment, in a once peaceful and beautiful city.

                                                                   (Spanish Translation)

For months I knew she was coming and we counted down the days, from 30 to 20 to 9 to 3 and then she was here. I picked her up at Birmingham airport and we went to Stonehenge, Kenilworth Castle, Mary Arden's house in Stratford-upon-Avon, and London. We went to Krav Maga and she hung out with my club mates.

I got us a free meal for the launch night at a new sushi restaurant in town and we went out on my birthday with my mother and step father to a lovely pub where I enjoyed a 32oz steak (and had pudding as well).

We laughed and joked and enjoyed ourselves and Skyped with her family (5 people crammed in front of the webcam, funny as hell!) and she cooked me lunches and we drank wine and, like Christmas as a kid, the holiday seemed to go on forever. We attended the first ever Leamington Comic Convention where Diana sat next to me and we signed copies of THE COCKROACH EFFECT for people. 

Then it got to the day before she was to leave and we packed her suitcase and exchanged final gifts and went to sleep feeling sad. We got up at 5am feeling even sadder and I drove her to the airport where we hugged goodbye and I walked away without looking back so I wouldn't have to see her face.

I got home and her luggage tag from the flight over here, was on the floor in my lounge. Like the Christmas TV Times in the bin,  it was a reminder that the holiday was now finished and I had to go back to a routine. As I picked it up and threw it away, it reminded me that life is about the journey, or the "middle" and not the beginning or end.

I know I'll see her again, but like the Christmas TV Times, it will be a long wait.


** Back then you also had to buy the Christmas Radio Times to see what the BBC channels were showing as they wouldn't/ couldn't list each other's stuff. Go figure!

***Invariably Moonraker or The Spy Who Loved Me.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Average Protocol

There are a lot of things that I do to excess. There are also a lot of things that I don't do enough of. Like a lot of human beings I tend to get lazy around things that actually need to get done. For example I get slothful around polishing my shoes, indolent around reading the myriad books I still have to read and decidedly languid for updating my blogs.

I exercise but tend to cry off on doing the regimented stuff that will keep me supple such as yoga or even basic stretching. I tend to leave the washing up as long as I can and sometimes have to close the washing machine door with my foot as I have dawdled so long on actually doing the dirty laundry.

Life has been for me, for a very long time, a way of "trying not to do shit."

However, one thing I've realised is that many of the things I do are done to effectively dampen down any urges towards pleasure that I might have. Like cutting cocaine with Ajax and flour, if you dilute your pleasures then you crave them less in the times that you don't have them, meaning that when you finally do achieve them, they mean much less.


A habit I have is to read spoilers on the Internet for TV shows I find too gut wrenchingly awesome yet emotionally draining to sit through. Last time this happened was with the season 6 finale of SONS OF ANARCHY. I simply COULDN'T take the anticipation and the nail biting

Another is that if I buy 5 jelly bean cookies from Tesco (seriously addictive treat) I tend to wolf all of them in about 5 minutes or less, as I don't have the patience to take my time.

Last week I bought over 150 Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics for £15 from a charity shop in town. I spent an hour putting them in number order...and haven't read any yet.

I have the final book in Conn Iggulden's Genghis Khan series, a set of books that I think are wonderful...and I haven't read it in weeks.

I got Sky TV recently....and watch maybe 3 programmes a week on it.

Bottom line is that by subconsciously rationing my pleasure I was making certain that I couldn't be disappointed. If you constantly receive "average" then you are happy with "excellent" but not that bothered if it doesn't come because you are rarely getting "piss poor".

My latest book THE SUNDER OF THE OCTAGON has been well received by the people that have read it. I spent over 2 years putting it together, basically because I believed on a very instinctive level that if I blitzed writing it and people hated it (or were even indifferent), then I'd be crushed. By taking my time I was doing it gently, like a sports therapist with an athlete's stubborn limbs so the end result was neither good nor bad, but simply "there." It didn't disappoint, it didn't elate, it jsut existed in a nice state of mundanity.

Only reason any of this has become apparent is that I recently stopped wanking. I was a "one a day" man and without realising it, this habit effectively nulled any real desire to go out and actually find a sexual partner. By dampening down the urge to fuck someone, I wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't get any.

Emotions are coming to the fore that I wasnt' aware of that aren't simply connected to "Phwooar! Look at the tits on that!!!" but because, like a newly clean heroin addict, I have started to feel emotion for real and not some mundane half life based on accepting greyness and the mundane in order to avoid actually risking getting disappointed, hurt or lost.

But unlike a heroin addict, my addiction was for drugs that put cotton wool on my pleasure senses, not on those that heightened them.

Time to clean up.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Drunken Aunt

Yesterday I was booted out of a Facebook group dedicated to my old school. Well to be more accurate, I removed myself from the group after one of the moderators stated that he was "sick and tired" of my "foul language and aggressive behaviour" and "had no option" but to delete me.

You know what it's like, that moment of "I'll walk out, you ain't throwing me out!"

To be even more accurate, the page was dedicated to a previous incarnation of my school, specifically Kenilworth Grammar School, which existed from 1961 to about 1976 before becoming Kenilworth School (and is now Kenilworth School & Sports College). Originally there had been TWO schools. A High school where the plebs went and a Grammar school for swots who passed their 11+ exam. When Grammar schools were abolished in the mid 70s they pulled the fence down and made Kenilworth School composed of Abbey Hall (former High) and Priory Hall (former Grammar). One Principal, two Heads.

Photo by Tony Lamley

The issue for me was that it was still the same school when I got there as KGS. It had a lot of the same staff, the same buildings and the same godforsaken attitude to how to educate children. Best comparison was that the original had been William Hartnell's Doctor Who, while I had been there during Peter Davison's tenure in 1983. Same shit, different face.

Problem was that the period I went to school in was what could romantically be described as "the wilderness years". Corporal punishment was on the way out (abolished completely by about 1987) and the old ways were being swept aside to make room for new and innovative methods of teaching. The staff and teachers however were lost and confused. The "six of the best", "stiff upper lip", "don't answer back" attitude that had lasted for generations was gradually being chipped away to allow children more room to express an opinion. It encouraged debate and removed the automatic assumption that a teacher, or even a Dinner Lady, was in the right and in a case of "he said, she said" if the argument was with a pupil, then the adult was, by default, believed and not the kid.

Sticking to the Doctor Who analogy, this resulted in what could also romantically be described as a "stuck regeneration." The assumed omnipotence and faultless god-like aura that teachers had had for so long was slowly being eroded. Like a public sector pension plan under an unfriendly Tory government. The teachers found it hard to change. Most simply didn't want to and many would lash out at kids, up to and including the D-day when it became not only unethical but actually illegal. My Headmaster would automatically believe that a teacher was telling the truth and if a pupil accused a member of staff of unprofessional conduct, he would either ignore them or, if they pursued it, would wait for them to do something wrong and then call them into his office to bark "Complaining about members of staff?!! HA! Complain about yourself!"....and then use that as an excuse to bin their grievance.

In the 1950s and even the early 1970s fighting amongst boys wasn't officially condoned but teachers tended to look the other way provided it was done out of sight, was fair, and a handshake was offered after and the matter was considered done and dusted. One teacher in the 1970s was apparently notorious for talking to two boys who'd been caught fighting and, while talking, move his hand behind their necks. Without warning he would then bang their heads together as hard as he could (which is gonna hurt and then some!!). Bottom line. You weren't gonna fight again if you knew THIS was likely to happen. It also apparently led to a camaraderie between the two boys as their grievance paled into insignificance next to sudden and unexpected cranial trauma.

Looking back, a lot of what I posted on the KGS Facebook page was misplaced and, having slept on it, I now realise that the group was for former friends to get together and chat. It wasn't a sounding board for someone like me, with a very clear memory of just how bad my school years were and a desire to voice the opinions that I'd had quashed when things had happened...all those years ago. While some people supported my desire to be honest about what had gone on and not just reminisce about "the fluffy stuff" even these guys were apparently glad when I'd gone (judging by the comments I've read on the moderator's posting about me being removed). However, what is interesting is that at least two people have noted that certain staff were indeed abusive and should be told that...but my attitude was out of place for the group.

Best comparison I can think of is that I was, to them,  like the drunk aunt at the wedding/ Christening/ birthday party who had had one too many sherries and would loudly and aggressively remind everyone yet again about how badly uncle Tom had treated her and then left her for a younger woman. It's not the story or the feelings that are wrong. It's that aunty Edith is spouting them at an inappropriate time and basically getting on everyone's tits.

Kenilworth School was 90% staffed by morons who simply didn't care about the kids they taught and regarded their jobs with the same level of passion as factory workers. Rare exceptions were wonderful teachers like David"Jim" Hardy who taught English.

The spark that lit the fuse yesterday was when I was Skypeing with a friend of mine and he told me a story that I hadn't heard before. He went to Abbey Hall and had one day seen a notorious bully (who was also one of the genuinely hard kids and big as well). He apparently punched a younger kid to the ground outside the school canteen, kneed him a few times and then kicked him about 20 times when he was down. This wouldn't have struck so many chords within me were it not for the fact that it was apparently in front of both the male Deputy Head and one of the male PE teachers, who simply stood there looking visibly frightened and did nothing to intervene. The bully wasn't punished as they were both afraid of him and the whole incident was merely brushed aside.

Our Headmaster at Priory Hall had made at least two speeches about not having "gang warfare in the corridors" and that, if you were being "bullied" or "picked on" then you should go and see him and he would deal with it.

I vividly recall going with a black eye, to see him and he (with a fixed smile on his face) shooed me gently out the door and told me to go and see the Deputy Head. When I got to her office she said the following:

"Manley! It's you again. This isn't the first time and I'm really NOT interested. If you want to make this official then I'll be in my office at 3.30 but I'm really NOT interested!"

I didn't go to her office at 3.30.

When I went back to the school on official business in 2013 I was waiting to see an Assistant Head (a position invented since 1987, above a Senior Teacher and below a Deputy Head) who came out with a piece of paper and handed it to a rather morose looking 12 year old boy, sat slumped in a chair in the waiting area. He said to the kid:

"This is for you to take home. Another copy's in the mail in case you don't take it. Go and sit outside my office for the rest of the day!"

Curiosity got the better of me and I asked, "What did he do?"

The AH replied, "I'd like to say he was in a fight, but that would imply that the other boy had something to do with it."

"'re not automatically assuming 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other?"

The AH looked at me confused and went, "! Why would I?"

He then stood open mouthed when I told him the "black eye" story.

Kenilworth School in the 1980s was a festering shit hole that perpetuated and inadvertently encouraged a pecking order amongst the pupils. Staffed mainly by people who, at the lower end of the scale, simply didn't care and at the worst end of it, were physically abusive to the children.

Kenilworth School now appears to be striving to excel. It had a very good Ofsted report recently (for non UK readers, that's like the Special Forces of school governors) and the staff I met seem to genuinely care about the kids under their tutelage. 

However...there is indeed a time and a place to voice this kind of thing. People on the KGS group have said I have "deep seated issues" and I don't deny that and even embrace it. I will however be focussing my efforts and energy into writing a book about it all. I know a lot of people feel the same way as me, but are in the main confused as to why I feel so vitriolic and bitter about it all.

I'll end with this. On another official visit to the school I met a member of staff in her 50s who used to be a pupil at the Kenilworth School back in the day. She is very sweet natured, professional and courteous but, when I mentioned the name of one member of staff, her face paled and she told me this story.

"Oh my God!!! I remember him. He used to lash out all the time and hit boys in class. I remember one time he threw a wooden blackboard rubber at a boy who was talking. Luckily the boy turned his head at the last second so it hit the side of his face. He had a big bruise but it would have broken his nose if he hadn't turned away. I tell you what! About 3 years ago he came back with some boys from another school and as he walked down the drive I felt my blood run cold. I hadn't seen him in about 30 or 40 years and I felt my blood literally run cold. My heart stopped. He still had that effect on me after so long."