BOYS DON’T CRY

 

 

 

The following event occurred in a primary school in Somerset in 1979.

The girl involved had suffered brain-damage a few years prior to this as a result of swallowing a marble which had blocked her trachea. She was removed from conventional education for a number of years to be given specialist help but then returned to her original school.  Despite her reduced mental capacity she was as much a part of our class as anyone else and she and her family were close friends of my own.

We are talking to our teacher I am in trouble for some mildly attention-seeking disruptive behaviour a few moments earlier while Karen is excited beyond words because her daddy is waiting for her downstairs.

“Miss.. Miss…my dad’s here, my dad’s here..”

“Karen, I’m talking to Simon, please don’t interrupt, just wait a minute!”

I look at Karen to pull a ‘just wait a minute face’, Karen smiles back at me, she spent a lot of her time smiling at people, I guess she enjoyed seeing them smile back.

I’m now smiling at her, she’s smiling at me and neither of us is paying the teacher any attention, kids eh?

And then that childhood innocence is lost forever.

My friend’s eyes roll upwards, the pupils disappear, there is just the milky white sclera remaining as she, like a puppet released from its strings, crumples to the floor and starts to shake, twitch and then, becomes motionless.

There’s a momentary silence that would shame the most remote celestial star

“Simon, quick, fetch the headmaster….run..NOW, run, run run!”

The teacher gives unrehearsed instructions to the rest of the children now all standing in silence in the classroom as I barrel down the stairs and sprint toward the headmaster’s office. As I depart, I hear a girl scream, a boy starts sobbing uncontrollably as they begin to file out of the classroom towards the assembly hall.

Karen’s dad had arrived minutes earlier to collect her and take her to get her hair done, we attend a Catholic school and she was due to be confirmed the following day. As I stagger along the suddenly, seemingly endless main corridor I see him waiting in reception.

“Uncle Dick….it’s Karen, she’s….she’s…dead”.

I shout that at him, I don’t mean to shout, I don’t mean to say the word dead either, but the world has just changed forever, which is a long time when you’re a kid.  Until that morning, life is mostly about playground games of kick the can and kiss-chase, Airfix models, jumpers for goalposts and the utter conviction that girls are to be avoided at all costs out of school hours. Life is a childhood with the safety of a stable home complete with mum, dad and big sister.

Life is now something else altogether, on some level, I’ve been dragged towards unwelcome adulthood. I don’t realise this of course, any more than I actually know for certain that someone has just died or understand why I’ve just bellowed this awful news to her father.

The headmaster hears my shout and comes stampeding from his office to find me and Karen’s dad standing in a momentary, uncomprehending silence, staring at each other.

I unintentionally shout again.

“She’s just…. died upstairs in our classroom…I, I, I…”

‘Uncle’ Dick sprints towards the stairs that lead to the classroom, the headmaster showing him the way, two grown men, suddenly, both looking as frightened as children themselves.

The kids in my class are 10/11 years old, this is our final year of catholic primary school, first Holy Communion, Confirmation, kick the can and not being chased at kiss chase are part of this life, like it or not. The death of a child, a close family friend to boot, should not be, but now it is and of course, there is no ‘like it or not’ option.

The assembly hall fills up with bewildered uncomprehending children as an ambulance crew wheels a gurney past us towards the classroom. We are all told to not look, we all look. Those kids not already crying now do so. Almost all of them anyway, even the class bully from the Oldmixon Estate begins to sob helplessly.

I don’t, I can’t, all I can hear is a cold, unknown voice from somewhere I know not where.

“Don’t cry Simon, don’t cry”

Maybe it’s the newly-arrived ‘adult’ in me, the ‘man’ that if at all possible I would never want to be, but suddenly seem to have no choice but to be?

“Don’t cry Simon, be a man.”

Maybe in Weston-Super-Mare in 1979, expressing ‘feelings’ was still not on the ‘menu’, unlike the then, seemingly ubiquitous Findus frozen savoury pancakes and Breville toasted sandwich makers that had clearly been invented to incinerate our taste-buds and tongues? I don’t recall ‘doing’ feelings in my house; my taste-buds however, have sadly never recovered.

I don’t know why ‘we’ didn’t ‘do’ feelings in public or private; both my parents had experienced the horrors of WW2 in their formative years. Maybe they’d had enough of outward displays of emotion, or perhaps, possibly even more commonplace, the opposite by 1945? Maybe the war had somehow entrenched the British ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude so deeply as to negate the whole concept of ‘feelings’ entirely?

Either way…

“Don’t cry Simon, just don’t.”

So I didn’t.

I am not huddled with the rest of my friends as they cling to each other sobbing, I am standing by the door to the hall, leaving me in some sort of physical and emotional no-man’s land because the headmaster needs me to explain what has occurred upstairs to one of the ambulance crew prior to them driving to the hospital. In essence, I’m required to be a ‘grown-up’, as I try to tell the medic what I’ve witnessed.  In reality I am a ten year old boy who has absolutely no idea what to do say or feel because all I can hear is the collective sobbing of a room full of children being drowned out by the voice in my head that belongs to nobody I know, getting louder and louder.

“Don’t cry Simon, be a man, don’t cry Simon, be a man.”

The ambulance crew ghost past us with a sheet covering Karen’s body, her father is clinging onto the gurney. He is not crying, he looks way beyond that particular demonstration of grief already as he momentarily stares at me and I see the eyes of adulthood attempting to hold back an ocean of tears.

“Don’t cry Simon…it’s going to be ok.”

He was a squadron-leader in the RAF, a hero, just like my dad, so if he’s not crying, I shan’t either.

I’m a 10 year old man now; people need me to not cry right?

The ambulance departs, teachers console children, phone calls have been made to parents as those who live close are already arriving to collect their own kids and intuitively hug them that little bit closer as they escort them to the safety of their own homes.

I don’t know why, but it’s not until almost the entire hall has emptied of distraught children that it occurs to me that I am free to collect my bike from the playground and ride the short distance along Walliscote Road to my home.

Nobody asks me to stay, nobody tells me to leave I just stand at the doorway to the hall saying “It’s going to be alright” to my classmates as they are scooped up by their respective parents and removed from the scene of that afternoons tragic events.

“I’m going home now Mr Dempsey, it’s going to be alright isn’t it?”

The headmaster pats me on the head,

“Go home Simon, well done on being so helpful.”

I done nothing, other than not cry, how that has been helpful to anyone I will never know?  But as I clamber onto my Raleigh Chopper and begin to pedal like a maniac along Walliscote Road, it seems that I’ve somehow, done the ‘right thing’, at least as far as the headmaster is concerned.

I throw my bike into the back door of our house to be greeted by my mum asking why I am home early, as I look up at her, finally and without any restraint, the tears come.

“Mum, mum, it’s Karen, she’s died, Uncle Dick was there, I tried to help, but I couldn’t do anything mum, she’s died.”

I have no real recollection of the rest of that awful day, I know my mum and dad made a call to Karen’s house, but my ‘inner’ man has clearly now deserted me and made way for the unbridled tears of a distraught little boy who lies on his bed sobbing hysterically as his mum tried her best to console him.

“Don’t cry Simon, it will be alright.”

“OK mum, I’ll try not to, I promise I’ll try.”

It was soon explained to all concerned, that Karen had experienced some kind of fatal seizure and had passed away, probably instantly, but no amount of consolatory sermons over the next few days from the school or local priest, that she was now ‘in heaven’, seemed to make that days tragic events any less devastating, at least not to me. Surely nobody wanted her to be in ‘heaven’? We wanted her in our classroom.

At this particular juncture in my childhood, I was already showing an early tendency to pass on the ‘religious stuff’ and devote more time to the ‘kiss chase’ way of life, regardless of what the school or indeed anyone thought best. I’d already figured out that life was not fair.

By 1979,( I was 11) 3 of my 4 grandparents were dead, I had no recollection of either of my father’s parents, nor my mums mother, her father, was the only grandparent I knew as he’d come to live with us a few years previously. My mum’s mother had committed suicide with sleeping tablets and alcohol in the early 70’s, a fate that also took my dad’s sister, my auntie Betty from us a few years afterwards. My sister and I had been very close to her, she had no children of her own, so she doted on us and spoiled us rotten. I wasn’t told she took her own life until years after the event, not indeed did I know my mother’s mum had ended her own life in a similar fashion.

May 1979; Mrs Thatcher arrives at Downing Street for the first time, quoting St Francis of Assisi,

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony, where there is error, may we bring truth, where there is doubt, may we bring faith and where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

My dad died in November of that year, so neither Mrs Thatcher, nor the man from Assisi, were going to be able to deliver on that promise as far as I or indeed, (for completely different reasons), huge sections of the British public were concerned.

November 11th 1979.

My daddy, a pilot during WW2, my hero, (your hero too) died from a heart-attack aged 57.

I cried, I cried until there were no more tears to cry then I became hysterical and somehow found more tears as our family home, once again was cloaked with loss. I only stopped crying when the family doctor decided I’d become hysterical to the point I needed sedation and prescribed a tablet of some kind.

Tablet administered, tears stop as sedation arrives and yeah, I have a ‘theory’ about that which may go so way to explain a little about what remains in this piece, but we’ll get to that shortly.

I don’t know why, but now there was no more ‘voice’ saying ‘don’t cry’ as my mum, sister and I shed our tears collectively, without restraint, until the next tablet was administered to me that is. Mum took me to see my dad, I remember holding on to her hand as we both kissed him goodbye as he lay in his coffin in the chapel of rest. My mum became hysterical as she kissed his pallid face, so i thought best not cry to show her I was a ‘man’ and could look after her, the notion of which had been given to me by a male family friend earlier that day.

“Your dad’s gone now Simon, you’re going to have to be the man of the house”

Right you are then.

The voice was back.

I didn’t attend his funeral, but instead was returned to my boarding school within a week of his passing and trust me, crying or any other display of emotion was definitely not a wise move, so the tears and hurt were hidden. There was no ‘counselling’ on offer from the Catholic Church who presided over my boarding school, quite the opposite in fact. Within a week of being returned to their ‘care’, I found myself being whipped with 6 strokes of a riding crop for having the audacity to leave supper before prayers had been said.  I was also subjected to regular sexual abuse from the headmaster of the school until he was ‘removed’ by his seniors, only to be sent to another of their ‘institutions’ I might add, where he was eventually arrested for the serious sexual assault of a 14yr old boy. I digress…

Less than two years after my dad’s death, my grandfather also died. I have no idea why or even how I found myself alone with his body in the care-home he’d been living in prior to his death, but again, a dead person and me, no mum this time. I kissed him goodbye too crying as I did so, until a nurse entered the room, then I stopped.

As for my theory about ‘medication and ‘feelings’?

I started using Heroin in 1989 and didn’t manage to shake off the shackles of addiction until 2006. People died, lots of people died, some I was close to, others I only vaguely knew from hours spent shooting up in crack-houses or standing with them in a collective ,

“Where the fuck is this cunt?”

outside a phone-box waiting for a dealer to turn up at some point between that start of that ill-fated opiated romance and the brutal wreckage that soon ensured and continued for so many years. I attended funerals, way too many funerals, the only ones I have managed to cry at, came after I got clean, make of that what you will.

 

Getting clean and remaining part of a ‘recovery’ community brings with it the joy of seeing people turn their lives from utter despair to the possibilities that abound when that negative junkie energy is coerced into a more positive way of life. It also brings with it the regular news that another of our number hasn’t survived. I’d guess that if pushed I could name over 40 people, mostly younger than 50 years of age who have succumbed to alcohol and drug addiction. Our joy and our grief is often what bind our ‘recovery’ communities together, we know death, we know about cheating death too.

Maybe with the advent of social-media, we in the ‘recovery’ world hear about the passing of our fellows, perhaps more readily than we might previously. Of course we don’t have the monopoly on grief, tragedy and loss, but where most people might afford themselves the filter of alcohol, or indeed other mood-altering substances to help ‘cope’ with their emotions when there is a death, this is not a choice, or not a choice we wish to take up, in such situations.

I guess it’s fair to say that for someone who, for whatever reason didn’t/couldn’t allow himself the luxury of tears for such a long time, I now have nearly 12 years of unbroken ‘sobriety’ during which time, sleeping aside, I’ve chosen to experience and demonstrate the whole range of human emotions that come with experiencing death on a regular basis. I’ve cried way too much for others, perhaps, not enough for myself just yet, but I’m getting there.

Boys don’t cry?

This one does and happily so.

And so, wherever possible, after all this death, it is crucial we try and celebrate life too, at 11 years clean, I wrote this song for my daughter, because after, just like they say in the film,

“You either get busy living, or you get busy dying”

I’ve seen enough of the latter, to last me a lifetime, so here’s to the future eh?

And greetings of the season to you all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Tzhtfd0ow

 

Simon Mason is the author of the acclaimed memoir,

Too High, Too Far, Too Soon (Mainstream 2013).

He also regularly appears in a one-man theatrical adaptation of the book and is currently the songwriter for his new band, Hightown Pirates, who have just released their critically acclaimed debut album, Dry and High (4*s Q magazine)

@simonmasonsays.

https://www.facebook.com/TheHightownPirates/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Listen Up.

Dry and High. Hightown Pirates

Listen up?

It would appear that there are a few people who are interested in my thoughts on the recent musical exertions of the ‘Chief’ and his clearly, restless and somewhat agitated younger brother as their ongoing sibling rivalry is taken to a new level by the release of 2 ‘solo’ albums within the space of a few weeks.

Let’s get  a few things out of the way first before I evoke the gnashing of teeth from the legions of the faithful and quite possibly end whatever minuscule chance my band may have had of basking in their reflected glory and attendant exposure afforded by a highly sought-after support slot in the future.

(Good luck to my mate Jack Jones and his band, Trampoline) Continue reading

Hightown Pirates studio Diary. July 22-29th 2016, Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake, England.

Hightown Pirates….Dry and High.

Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake;

Oxfordshire England July 2016.

 

Day One; Wake 6am!

Still got bad throat; Yogi tea lemon honey.

Walk to the river listening to The Jams tales from the riverbank.

Stevie G impressions on the 5 a side pitch.

The sound of laughter

Continue reading

Life imitating art, or art imitating Life?

A man walks into a bar..

I say man, I mean deluded, fantasist with too many drugs in his bloodstream and even more in his pocket. There is a reason he is here tonight, but, as is often the case, he cannot see further than the next crumpled-up bunch of notes being shoved in his direction in exchange for the opportunity to talk shit and sweat profusely for £50 a gram.

It’s a ‘sliding doors’ moment, he gets in the right carriage this time and the supersonic train leaves Kings Cross (Water Rats) with him on-board, for the time being at least.

27th January 1994, was there then.

27th/28th April 2016…you coming?FullSizeRender (1)Tickets available here

http://www.wegottickets.com/too-high-too-far-too-soon

Never trust a man in sandals.

 

The following is not intended to change anyone’s mind about anything; sometimes you just gotta speak your truth.

The horror of the Paris slaughter, not to mention other equally despicable acts in Africa have rightly caused yet more outrage. It now appears the UK’s response to this is to drop more bombs, to “Take the fight to the enemy” because, obviously, attack is the best form of defence? Would I have any compunction about putting a bullet in the head of those that carried out that despicable slaughter at The Bataclan? Nope not if the opportunity arose at the time and it meant preventing the death of others. But here’s the thing, the question I struggle to find an answer to. Would I be prepared to execute them if they had been captured? Would I? Would you?

I’m not a politician, I’d like to think I’m higher up the evolutionary scale than that, for sure there’s a new/old kid on the block in Westminster, I like him, but he doesn’t need me to speak for him.  Nor am I a clever man, a Christopher Hitchens with a better haircut. I am not a theologian and you may be surprised to find, I’m only an atheist when I’m in a really bad mood. I’m a parent, occasional writer, part-time show-off, but mostly, I’m a parent.  That means I have by far, the greatest responsibility it is possible to have.  Why? Because it is and also because, sadly I believe it is our children who will bear the brunt of ideological extremism as the harbingers of destruction reach further into the society our parents/grandparents fought and died to protect. Those at the helm may well have blood on their hands and deep pockets filled with the profits of division and greed. I don’t though, neither does my daughter and I suspect neither do most of you who may read this. I’m not part of the problem; I’m not an avaricious politician and I’m not ‘god.’

 

 

I don’t believe in ‘god’, by which I mean the ‘god(s)’ that have been created by, written about for centuries by, appropriated into the same gender as and forced upon everybody else by, man. You know the ones I’m talking about, the badly dressed bloke(s) with the beard, prone to doing the ‘impossible’. If he was really god, he’d have shaved more often, enjoyed a decent pint and asked more women for their opinion before opening his mouth in his testosterone-fuelled revelations. That’s assuming he would have been a bloke at all of course. If ‘he’ was a ‘she’, I’m guessing we’d be looking at a completely different world. No women I know would be prepared to dress as badly as the pope or blow themselves up on the dubious promise of spending eternity in the company of 72 sexually inept virginal men. There would also have been equality in wages and working conditions probably about the same time as the first of our ancestors said,

“Fuck looking after this baby all day darling, it’s your turn, I’m off to hunt a mammoth with the girls, we might go out for a few celebratory ‘bevvies after too.”

What do I know about ‘god’ anyway? Oh yeah, I was made to read the bible at school.  Of course that’s not even half the story though is it? Some estimates put the number of religions currently being ‘practiced’ in the world at over 400.  My entire ‘education’ was conducted within a catholic school system, at no point were we afforded an insight into other belief systems. I’m guessing my religious teachers realised that the somewhat nonsensical curriculum they espoused, would, in-fact be made to look as utterly bonkers as the ‘other’ faith systems the minute any comparison was made. Even my tiny brain can join the theological dots and conclude that, they can’t all be right, so they are surely all wrong?

 

 

As for creationism? When a classmate of mine suggested that if ‘we’ were to believe in Adam and Eve,

 

“Then that means we are all descended from an incestuous relationship then sir?”

He was theoretically-silenced by 6 strokes of a riding-crop, his flippant but astute comment punished by the headmaster later that day. The same headmaster, who years later, was arrested, tried, defrocked and sentenced to a lengthy spell in jail for sexually abusing young boys, his evil practices going completely unchecked by the church for years. This is not the reason I don’t believe in god though, but it was the starting point of my own thinking on the subject, not that this was encouraged of course. ‘god’ knows what I’m thinking right? His intrusion into my ‘thought-crime’ does nothing to persuade me he’s someone worth getting to know. I hate nosey bastards like that, mid your own fucking business eh god?

So yeah, me and ‘religion’ nah, not having it at all.  We didn’t get off to a very good start and I’m still waiting to be shown some proof?

Oh yeah, the ‘proof’ it’s in a book(s) apparently.

So ok, maybe give me just the slightest reason to accept that people who propagate nonsense like this should be in any position to tell me how to live my life.

 

 

1 Samuel 18:25-27

David wanted to wed Michal, Saul’s daughter. He offered Saul anything in order to be able to marry Michal. For whatever reason, Saul wanted 100 foreskins. He told David he needed to deliver that number of foreskins by the next day. David went out and killed 200 men and collected that many foreskins. It was after the fact that he realized he had double the number he needed. Saul was impressed and he gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to David.

 

 

 

That’s about as ridiculous as the time the prophet Mohammed apparently decided to make a few structural changes to the moon by chopping it in half. (Maybe there was no footie on that day?) Said task undertaken on a winged horse obviously so he got home in time for tea and a cuddle with his 9 year old wife too.

The splitting of the moon is confirmed through eye-witness testimony transmitted through an unbroken chain of reliable scholars so many that it is impossible that it could be false (hadith mutawatir).[2]

 

OK, so that’s the slightly low-brow kinda cheap justification for my lack of faith in ‘god’, however if he/she can manage to keep Danny Sturridge Liverpool’s best striker, fit for an entire season, I’ll have a rethink.

If religion was put on trial, I’d like to think no judge and jury, in possession of the ‘facts’, would sentence the world to another second of it, yet alone a few thousand years. It’s a bit like smoking; before we knew how bad it was for us, everybody was at it.

Is it really bad for us though?

I’d say yes for no other reason than it’s got nothing to do with truth and everything to do with the opposite. At what point are we required to separate metaphor from fact? Apparently not until scientific evidence leaves the custodians of religion, no choice but to admit they’ve got it wrong. Then and only after all other ‘escape routes have gone, are we told,

“Ah, ok, the story of Noah is not meant to be taken literally.”

And it’s probably unlikely David collected all those foreskins and Leviticus was just in a really bad mood when he called for the murder of gay people etc etc.

I wonder if made up a few hundred t-shirts with

‘Leviticus can suck my dick’ on them, I’d make a few quid at the next gay pride?

As ‘real’ science advances, religious explanations back-peddle, although it often seems like trying to prise a confession out of a villain whose deeds have been caught on c.c.t.v.

“But it helps me make sense of the world and we need redemption”

Ah, I see, so we’re not capable of doing that anyway?

Oh yeah, the ‘concept of original sin’

Surely we innately know the difference between right and wrong, surely we can figure that out for ourselves?

“No”

“Why not?”

‘”Because it says so in the bible/Torah/front page of the Daily (hate) Mail.

Ah, so we need to follow the instructions, without which, at the very least, an unenviable ‘end’ lies in store for those who don’t.

So live in fear or..?

You get my point right? You can rebrand it anyway you like, but I don’t think it’s good for us, except in tiny weeny moderation, like at a gig or football or… something.

 

So yeah, it’s just like smoking. (Actually, smoking is never ‘good’ for you; it’s just less harmful the less you do it.)

These days, even though it can be a struggle, most people have chosen to confine the fags to the ashtray of history.  It has to be said though, that generally speaking, where people are less able to make informed choices i.e.; ‘developing’ nations, countries crippled by poverty etc. the big tobacco companies continue to expand their empires. It would appear that the masters of religion and tobacco both do well in such places.

(For the record, I’m still sucking on an E-cig, very much a case of progress not perfection.)

I’m convinced that the weather was shite for pretty much the entire duration as religion made its be-sandaled way from the warmer, but almost entirely illiterate Middle East into Europe.

“Do you believe in god mate?”

“Umm, which one? We’ve got a few”

“This god, he’s much better than yours and if you don’t believe me, I’ll fucking kill you ok?”

It’s like playground bullying on an industrial scale..in sandals.

The inclement medieval weather continued as did the need for distraction.

Anyone who has kids will tell you you’ve gotta be ‘creative’ when it’s cold and wet outside. Obviously you couldn’t amuse the barbaric population with an Alvin and the chipmunk’s box set, so Pope Pious and the psycho-monks saw their opportunity and grabbed it.

“Do you want a smoothie and some crisps with your eternal damnation, fear-driven servitude and other assorted fairy-tales children?”

“Can’t we just go to the park and play on the swings daddy?”

“No, it’s raining.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt –on men and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24Hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.25Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields –both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

 

 

“We live in Stamford Hill daddy, are we Israelites?”

“No!”

 

Back to being a parent, which is primarily why I’m trying to waste my time and hopefully yours, with this badly written god-bashing piece?

Tabitha asks me lots of questions about religion because we live amongst an ultra-orthodox religious community here in Hackney. My Hasidic neighbours seem nice enough, until they get behind the wheel of a car that is. To be honest, other than their insistence on driving like demented Egyptian chariot drivers pursuing the Israelites into the Red Sea; I don’t know much about them. They do what they do, Tabitha and I do what we do, it’s cool, it’s safe round here and also very quiet on Saturdays. It’s a ‘bit’ weird though, but not weird in a strap a bomb to yourself and blow people up kinda way, certainly not on the Sabbath anyway.

The dark and (bloody) middle-ages were a time when we knew little and killed a lot, in the name of what we knew little about of course. Not much has changed really, back then, ‘We’ just trusted that those people afforded an education in exchange for a life of piety and sacrifice (If you don’t include much of the Catholic Church) as they delivered us from eternal damnation  would not lie to us? Time moved on, the weapons got deadlier as the science got smarter. The better the science, the bigger the death-toll, as previously unassailable ‘truths’ were forced to back-peddle and become ‘metaphors’ rather than facts, at least where those of a progressive mind-set were concerned. Religious literature is not lies; it’s just people trying to make sense of things without recourse to facts. People believed because to not do so was unthinkable, they just didn’t know any better, but we do now. Except of course, for those of ‘us’ who apparently don’t want to accept fact over fairy-tale.

Ah, yes, the thorny subject of facts. We have a timeline these days, a way of framing and making sense of ‘stuff’. Put it this way, if despite everything we know about the age of the earth, fossils, DNA and the last time Liverpool won the league; if after all this you still want to say the world is only a few thousand years old..in my opinion, you’re a fucking lunatic. We have empirical proof, you have David and his 200 foreskins.

Does that offend you?

You can’t criticize any religion for fear of offence.

Ah yes, fear of offence! I’m fairly sure if you are of the easily offended persuasion, you’re unlikely to still be reading this? I happen to think, it’s entirely possible for people to hold religious beliefs and retain a sense of humour. Get over yourselves a bit eh? Surely god would want you to do that?  My friend Niall the Vicar is one such example, although as I’ve told him on numerous occasions, he’s better suited to caring for the spiritual well being of his flock than tickling their (spare) ribs.

I’m a libertarian, which is a posh word for minding my own fucking business and expecting others to do the same. I might not be overly happy about it, but people are and hopefully, will always be entitled to believe in whatever they wish, surely that’s a freedom we have make huge sacrifices for as a country over the years? The theological ‘fly’ in this secular ointment though is this, religion is inherently divisive. Yes you may well find quotes in the texts of the world’s major faiths that urge ‘tolerance’ of other people’s fairy-tales of choice, but here’s the thing; For the most part, when our most basic needs are met, we humans are decent and caring beings. When we stumble across something that makes us feel ‘better’ we like to shout about it. I’d go as far as to say, most of us would want others to experience it too. The theocratic ‘chemistry’ that elicits ‘well-being’ is potent, but it’s really only a placebo. Humans are pack-animals, faith makes us feel ‘part-of’, ‘connected’, and it allows us to belong, which is one of our species most rudimentary needs. We inherently ‘fear’ death because of course that is the ultimate separation. It’s easy to see how the promise of being re-united with those we have loved and lost is such an attractive proposition and a ‘promise’ made even more appealing when our mortal life is so short. Once people are scared, they are likely to believe almost anything. We all love a good horror story don’t we?

There’s no fear like the fear of god is there? Some of the stories contained within religious literature are quite good, although not many of them would get commissioned for a TV series ahead of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones methinks. I obviously cannot tell someone that their ‘personal’ experience of jesus is not real to them anymore than I could convince a Manchester Utd fan that watching Stevie Gerrard score against Everton is more fulfilling than seeing Wayne Rooney bicycle-kick the winner against City.

Is there a solution to all this, will we ever ‘learn’ to stop bothering a god that doesn’t exist and spend more time getting to know each other?

I sometimes wonder if, perhaps, with some gentle persuasion, those of a more moderate devotion to religion, akin to the ‘social-smoker’ on weekends, might begin to consider stubbing out their habit altogether one day. Of course, those who hold moderate religious beliefs are not the problem are they? Such believers are unlikely to be offended, or to cause outrage over their faith. I’m in no doubt I could attend a concert with my daughter without risking assassination by the alcohol drinking, chain-smoking Muslim shop-keeper at the end of my road. Yeah he believes in ‘god’, but he’s clearly discovered that being human and getting pissed every now and then is equally as satisfying as Friday prayers.  Wherever religion has been handed down as part of a cultural package, delivered by family and community for generations, when it comes under scrutiny, of any kind, it is seen as an attack. Its difficult engaging in meaningful conversation with creationists whose response to unequivocal evidence as to the age of the earth and the rational explanations we have now have for our evolution is a collective “I can’t hear you”.

Why can’t you hear us though? Because to do so would be seen as an attack on your culture? Then maybe the way forward is to begin to try and separate the two? If I had even the slightest idea how that may come about, I’d tell you, sadly I can only hope that people with far bigger brains than mine, try to do so and soon. At seven years old, Tabitha is as full of questions, as any parent would wish of their own kids. She told me there had been some ‘talk’ in the playground about the awful events in Paris last week, but she didn’t get involved because some of her friends are Muslims and she didn’t want to upset them. She told me that B***** one of her closest friends was really upset because a boy had said it was ‘her people’ who had done bad things in France.

“I told her, that what that boy had said, was part of the problem daddy, not her or her family.”

She’s never prayed in her life, she doesn’t need to because she understands ignorance as well as any 7 year old needs to. She finds the world an exciting place dulled only by certain homework she feels does not challenge her and her daddy’s attempts to convert her musical tastes to his own.

I want her to grow up in a world, where she can think, say, dress and ultimately believe what she likes without fear or feeling the need to justify herself.  Oh wait! She already does! Now THAT’S worth fighting for eh?

I remain convinced that she does not ‘need’ religious dogma to be able to experience this in the life she has ahead of her. Her ‘god’ will never be better than anyone else’s because she doesn’t believe in god. She may well change her mind at some point and that’ll be entirely up to her. As a parent, I’d like to think that if I refrain from the implementation of religion ‘belief’ and it’s myopic, primitive thinking, by the time she is old enough to ask the question pertaining to ‘why’ we are here, her mind will be open enough to see the answer. Religion is heavily dependent on answering that question, it dismisses the most horrific human tragedies as a ‘test of faith’, it holds up nonsense as ‘fact’.  History is stained with the blood of the innocent while people kill in the name of god, in the absurd hope of ensuring a place in the ’afterlife’. I hope she concludes that it doesn’t matter why we are here; all that matters is what we do while we are.

I think it was Gandhi, who said,

“If you think you understand ‘god’ you’re probably wrong.”

Which is quite possibly the wisest thing anyone in sandals ever said.

Actually I don’t know if he did because I wasn’t there, either way, it’s a good quote. If he’d been shuffling about being a cool dude 2000 years ago, he’d definitely be called god wouldn’t he?

 

 

 

Peace, love and The Magical World of The Strands.

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m a minor player in my own life story.”

3 nights 4 days of full-English breakfasts and cheap accommodation in the North-West.2015-11-11 16.35.50-1 2015-11-11 18.16.16-1 2015-11-11 22.02.48 2015-11-11 23.36.55 2015-11-11 23.37.50 2015-11-12 08.50.11 2015-11-12 09.21.59-1 2015-11-12 12.05.06-1 2015-11-13 10.21.20 2015-11-13 14.04.27 2015-11-13 19.33.18 2015-11-14 13.42.37 2015-11-14 19.20.54-1 2015-11-15 22.31.49 12193452_10153176473358016_6490668533818053804_n 2015-11-04 19.32.14 2015-11-12 13.38.15

First thing, it’s not the Y.M.C.A, it’s the Youth Hostel Association ok?  I thought it important to mention that before you get a vision of Andrew Winters and I, gyrating to some 70’s disco anthem dressed up as a cowboy or a traffic cop.  However, if you DO want to see what that looks like, we lost a ton of money taking this brief story-telling adventure between these (tale of) two cities, so send me some cash and I’ll see if it can be arranged.

The Kings Arms, Salford Manchester, 11th November.

I feel tired already having expended way too much mental energy worrying during the drive north. This is not due to any potential navigational errors, (Andrew has PRINTED a map!) but more so, the perceived difficulties I may have explaining away the contents of the boot of my car, should we come under the scrutiny of the motorway police at any point. I should point out that I have not been subject to any sort of police attention for a very long time and therefore my anxieties, as is usually the case, are perceived, not real. Truth is, I think I’d actually enjoy attempting to explain to any over-zealous ‘plod that the £1000 of fake money, 200 pills and packets of white and brown powder are just props for the show. Were they to check my criminal record though, I’m guessing we’d have a problem, anyways it’s all good and we arrive safe and sound.

The first thing I see as we pull up outside tonight’s venue is an Orthodox Jew strolling along Bloom Street;  Seeing as I currently reside in Stamford Hill, it momentarily feels like I’m on home turf, an illusion quickly dispelled by a furtive glance at the bar pricelist, we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore Toto.  Back in my drinking/drugging days, I once spent a weekend  getting trolleyed in Wigan, concluding it was cheaper to buy a first-class train ticket and a night in a decent hotel up North and get ‘on it’ all weekend than it was to remain in the capital and do the same thing in my, then, local pub. I once paid £35 for a quick pint in The Westbourne in Ladbroke Grove, although that had more to do with me not noticing they’d covered the cistern of the toilet with Vaseline to prevent idiots like me from chopping out a few lines in bog, than the actual price of the larger. I digress…

We unload the car then retire to the comfort of our YHA accommodation for a few hours before we’re required back at the venue for a brief tech run-through prior to the show. Andrew tells me he’s gonna pop out to drop some flyers off at a local recovery café,

“Don’t get lost” says I as he departs, walking into the backstage toilets rather than the exit.

“I already am.” He replies, we laugh, my nerves retreat, all will be well.

Ah, the show! My show! It’s all about me, of course it’s all about me, except it isn’t is it? For those of you who have already seen it, you’ll understand that it’s more;

‘This is me, but it could have been/ may yet still be about, you too. Or someone you actually do know, once knew, or may yet still get to know.

For those of you who were busy washing your hair/watching X-factor for all of the 35 performances so far, well, you’ll have to take my word for it won’t you?

That last sentence was written by my ego, while I briefly left my laptop unattended and left the room to make a cup of tea.

Was the theatre full? Nope! Half full? Nope! Did those who were there come and tell me afterwards that they found the show, moving, shocking, funny, informative and ultimately inspiring? YES!  Job’s a good ‘un then right?

Let’s tick a few more boxes too shall we?

Do I love what I’m trying to do with the life I’m fortunate to have?

Tick.

Was performing the scene where I describe the events on the night of my dad’s death 36 years ago, on the anniversary of that saddest of days, difficult?

BIG Tick.

While performing the show, does confronting the effect my behaviour as a junkie had on those that loved me, help those who’s loved ones are still lost in that awful existence?

So I am told…Tick.

Did wearing a T-shirt displaying Liverpool FC’s 5 European Cups for the entire 2nd half of the show in Manchester make me giggle?

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. (5)

So the first night was a success, I’d go as far as to say, every night we do the show is a success, whether it’s in front of a sell-out crowd, or on a night where people are busy washing their hair or watching X-factor.

Day two.

We are out and about in Salford, first stop obviously the pilgrimage (If you’re a Smiths fan) to the lads club for quick photo opportunity. Andrew had printed off another map which is both thoughtful and useful, were it not for the fact it has become apparent that neither of us can read maps. We find Salford lads club, I pretend to be in The Smiths (not for the first or last time) then we head over to the University to try and persuade some students that they might enjoy a night at the theatre later on. We walk past a sign outside the Old Pint-pot pub which declares,

“According to chemistry, alcohol is a SOLUTION’’

It neglects to say what alcohol is a solution for though, so I attempt to ask a couple of passing students their thoughts on that statement. Sadly, me, handing out flyers of, ‘er.. me, is not sufficient to convince many of them to remove their headphones and make conversation. Those who do stop seem completely incapable of assisting us locate the university’s media faculty, let alone consider what alcohol may, or may not be a solution too. Maybe they’re just too hungover/stoned to care?

We learn, much to our dismay, that despite having one the of most modern studio facilities in the country, Salford University radio station has nobody to run it this year due to a complete lack of interest amongst the student body. Perhaps this is a result of the use of other social media platforms, rather than the fact there are no decent underground/warehouse/free parties requiring radio promotion essential to their existence, like back in the day? It’s a moot point although I suspect it’s the former, at least I hope so, remember Frontline FM or Sunset (808 state) anyone?

Andrew and I find the media/performing arts building, storm the canteen, (in a middle–aged bloke kinda way) deposit flyers and leave in the hope we’ve convinced a few kids to come to the show later. We then head over to the Creation café on Chapel Street, a ‘recovery’ hub of sorts, similar to the marvellous Brink on Parr St Liverpool.

Showtime sees a bigger audience than Wednesday, there are tears, much laughter and a standing ovation as tonight’s show is dedicated to the memory of the Busby Babes as well as the 96, after all, football is never really more important than life or death is it? Post show drinks downstairs in the pub with friends old and new where My Bill Shankly t-shirt comes under a bit of light-hearted scrutiny, then back to the hostel, our work here is done.

Liverpool Bridewell, Friday 13th.

Martin Johnston and I discuss the theme, ‘Can music save your life?’ in front of a few close friends in Paul Fitzgerald’s fantastic bar. The horrific events unfolding in Paris which I only become aware of afterwards, make writing anything about our cosy discussion; seem ridiculous, so I won’t.

Andrew and I return to our third and final night at a YHA, where the mood amongst the guests is, as it must surely have been elsewhere, one of incomprehension, sadness and anger. I’m a proud atheist; I find the whole notion of god, ridiculous, so killing in the name of god? Just fuck off you despicable, cowardly bastards and take your twisted medieval lunacy with you ok?

Saturday 14th November, Palace Hotel Manchester.

Martin Johnston and I have been invited to bring our discussion to the Louder than Words music literary festival, curated by John Robb and Jill Adam. There are some pretty heavyweight writers and guest speakers here and I’d be lying if I said that, by comparison, I don’t feel a bit of a fraud.

I’m far better at ‘avoidance’ than I am at writing. I need to distract myself from the mental cavalry-charge in my head, whose bugles play a medley of ‘Loser’ by Beck and a terrace-style chant of “You’re shit and you know you are”.

An impromptu selfie with the drummer from The Jam and Paolo Hewitt cheers me up and bizarrely gives me the bottle to engage in a discussion arguing the various merits of the Liverpool/Manchester music/club scene with Dave Haslam, Richard Boon and CP Lee. Jayne Casey was supposed to be fighting the corner for Merseyside but sadly is a no-show, so Martin and I, take it upon ourselves to bring some sort of balance to the discussion. The Manc mafia (Haslam is actually from the midlands so my own woolyback credentials seem irrelevant too) clearly want to uphold their end of the East-Lancs rd as the epicentre of all that has ever been good in the North West. MJ rightly feels that their mention of the refusal of Mancunian mill-workers to handle confederate cotton, unloaded on Merseyside during the American civil war, alludes to some sort of ‘scouse racism and a purer ‘Manc socialist ideal. Martin’s brain is much bigger than mine, due to the fact that while I was battering my brain cells with drugs, he was assaulting his own with literature. He points out that in Friedrich Engels book, The Condition of the English Working classes, Manchester comes in for a bit of a kicking too if we’re talking the treatment of disenfranchised people and perceived socialist one-upmanship. I am reminded as to why he was my hero at school. Martin Johnston that is, not Engels, we’re not that old! I somehow manage to make a comment that seems to perhaps win the day when I quote from Paul Du Noyer’s (fab) book on the Liverpool music/club scene.

“Um, yeah, so in his book, Liverpool, Wondrous Place, Du Noyer says that Scouse bands have always had the ability to ‘turn rage into beauty’…what is Manchester’s riposte to this?”

They don’t have a response, nor do they have 5 European cups..We win.

MJ and I do our gig later, it’s well received and with only a few less in attendance than were sitting listening to a bloke who was in The Jam. I have to pinch myself; I’m also getting paid to  talk about The Jam, as well as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Shack and a bit about drugs too.

Before Andrew and I head south down the M6, we get the absolute pleasure of sitting in on an interview with John McCullagh. I’ve spent much of the past few days discussing/performing themes from the past, McCullagh is very much an artist for the future, it seems the perfect way to end the trip.

I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the following..

The late Phil Fox, for his encouragement and ongoing ‘presence’ in my endeavours. The Outside Edge theatre company that he set up and with whom my show continues its journey at all times, Siva and Susie, I thank you.

Andrew Winters for taking on the role of manager in all this, Lindesay Irving for helping with the costs.

Martin Johnston, Paul Fitzgerald, and all the (double) good people of Manchester and Liverpool for their continued support.