4

Latest watercolours

Proving, yet again, that I have zero life, here are my latest daubings in watercolour.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m posting but I sort of enjoy the occasional ‘like’.  Would be even nicer if the ‘likes’ were accompanied by some form of monetary compensation

here goes:

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
0

Ash – a male survivor’s perspective

The following is an excerpt from my most recent book ‘Dangerous’ https://goo.gl/iIB7Bb.

It’s been out for over a year and I thought, in this current climate of sexual abuse revelations, it might be appropriate to provide a male perspective on this issue.

 

Ash

So I do what I have to do. I do what spending all that time with a sick Herol Graham in that hospital and listening to Mark Prince and Leon McKenzie pour out their hearts to me has inevitably compelled me to do. What arguing with Tyson Fury’s dad in that press conference was always destined to culminate in. What meeting one of my boyhood heroes Alan Minter and his son was somehow always going to lead me towards even if I didn’t know it: I go and see my mother.

I’ve seen her only once since my father’s funeral almost two years ago. On that occasion I travelled to Weston-Super-Mare to attend a barbecue that was being held in my honour. It was my birthday. The first time that my birthday had been celebrated by my family since I was in my teens. Naturally, it very nearly ended in tears. The bickering began almost straight away as the secrets clawed away at us all, desperate to be released into the wild.

I turn up unannounced on a warm Saturday morning which obviously shocks her. It’s not the sort of thing I usually do. Well actually I’ve never done this before. There is no sign of a friendly greeting coming from me when our eyes lock like strangers meeting for the first time. My gaze is icy cold. I’m spoiling for a fight. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asks in her still heavy northern accent, not aggressively. It’s clear that she understands I have something important to say.

I lower myself into an easy chair close to the one in which he used to sit. Light streams in from the window behind me. On the window ledge is an emerald glass ashtray that casts a translucent green shadow. I remember it from the old house in Bristol. It’s the one in which he used to stub out his Players No. 6. When I was a youngster I used to fish out those stubs and relight them when he wasn’t around. Like all little boys, I so much wanted to be like my father. Like Leon and Ross and Tyson and Conor and Chris Jr. and Eddie Hearn I wanted to do the things that he did. I run my fingers over it one more time, letting the memories soak into me.

I ask for silence. I demand it. I tell her to lock her dogs away in the kitchen, two tiny yapping terriers of indeterminate description that he used to treat like babies, almost as if he was trying to make up for treating his own babies like dogs. And then I blurt it out: the whole sorry story. For the first time ever I tell my mother everything.

I’m not going to go into detail here. Even though damaged people are eventually supposed to tell everybody there are still those around who would be hurt by specifics. Suffice to say he was a monster. A monster when I was child, who ruled by fear: psychological and physical. And still more of a monster when I became a teenager, who did things to me when we were alone that a father should never do to a son. A demon who stole my childhood from me in a manner that I’ve never really been able to get over.

And yet in spite of all this I still wanted him to be proud of me, to love me no less. It’s absurd the lengths to which one will go to earn a father’s approval. Even one who brutalised you. In retrospect it’s certainly no accident that I ended up jettisoning the career in the arts that I’d always coveted and became a sportswriter, more specifically a boxing writer. You don’t need to visit a Chinese therapist to work out why I might have done this. Even though I could never admit it to myself it’s clear that I did it for him. I did it because a part of me wanted him to be impressed by something that I had achieved. And I was prepared to mould my entire life around this silly little objective. Pathetic really, because he was never that impressed; or at least he didn’t appear to be. And now that he’s gone here I am doing it one more time: I’m a boxing writer again. Sort of. Except this time it’s for me.

I spill out all the lurid details and her face remains expressionless as she listens. I explain that it’s a secret that’s been withheld from her for over forty years because the worry was that the truth would be too much for her to take. But things are seldom as straightforward as they might appear: in the months since he died she has slowly turned from grieving widow to somebody who has difficulty hiding her resentment towards the man she was with for over half a century. What I have to tell her only adds to her loathing of him.

She calls him a bastard. She says that she hates him. She says it like he’s still alive. She asks me why I never told her it was happening. I tell her that I tried to, at least I think I tried to. The memory plays tricks on you over the years so that you can never be completely sure of anything. ‘Well you should have tried harder,’ she says, too coldly, too callously. I remind her I was only 12-years-old when it was happening, a year younger than Sofia is now. What did she expect me to do? Put in a formal complaint to HR?

On the journey down I had been telling myself that whatever happened this morning it was not going to be what I expected. Although, in truth I had no idea what to expect. Even so, I’m shocked and angry when she spots a neighbour walking past the window and cheerfully exclaims: Oh, look there’s Peter, or whatever his name is, he’s a really nice man.

It’s an astonishing thing to say. Further exacerbated by her suggestion that we go for a walk on the pier, have a spot of lunch. Try to make the best of a bad day.

My voice is shaking. ‘I’m not buying it,’ I tell her. ‘I just don’t believe that you didn’t know!’

Of course, later, when I think about it I will understand that I was being unfair. Here was a woman who had just been told a secret that no mother should ever have to hear. Frankly, no rule book has been written to outline the appropriate reaction in a situation such as this. You do what you can do. And clearly my mother is a woman in denial. Perhaps she always has been.

I get up and walk out. I don’t say goodbye. I go back to London. Back to my real family. Back to Sofia, thankfully on the mend again after her recent relapse. Back from the past and into the present.

2

Missing George

B88338957Z.1_20161226143611_000+GHUQLM2C.2-1

Why do I miss George Michael so much? This in various forms is a question that I’ve been asking myself for most of 2017. I never met him in person (although his house in Highgate is a 15-minute walk from my own and over the years my wife and I have often walked by and taken a sneaky peek), I never saw him perform live, I owned most of his albums but not all. And I never bought a single record by his former band Wham!. Yet still I miss him. Deeply. Painfully. Mournfully. And since his death I’ve been to the modest shrine erected in a small park outside his house – which mourners have still not completely abandoned – and planted the odd flower or two.
Moreover, of all the many people – ‘stars’ if you will – who died during the cruel, relentlessly unforgiving days of 2016, the Bowies and Princes of this world to name but two of so very many, more than anybody else it is the music of George Michael that has been on my turntable most of the year. By turntable, of course, I mean the music that I have asked Alexa to play for me.

In many ways I’ve found myself missing George Michael more than I’ve missed real, flesh and blood people whom I’ve known that have died; some of whom, I’ve been present at funerals dedicated to.

It’s not even as if I can claim that George Michael was even loosely linked in any way to my own life in the way that someone like David Bowie was. Bowie, who I again never met personally, I could claim formed some sort of backdrop to my own personal journey through life. Bowie was ever-present during my youth; his music provided some sort of soundtrack as I shed my teenage pimples, began going to clubs, discovered girls and hair gel, dallied with punk and New Wave, became a ‘serious’ muso, drawn in by the music of Kraftwerk, Eno and other so-called ‘intellectual’ musical artists. Bowie was in the foreground when I went to art college and put on make-up to try and look a little like him.

Yes, George was there while all this was happening but I bore no allegiance to him. I liked his music but wasn’t mad about it. I recognised that he was a good looking boy but never felt any desire to dress like him or rearrange my dwindling barnet to resemble his own. He was just there. It was quite obvious to me that he had talent, that his vocal chords were clearly impressive, that his songs were pretty good, some very good. But he wasn’t part of me in the way that plenty of bands and performers were.

A little background: it was probably in a club in Bristol in the early-1980s that I would first of heard George Michael during his Wham! incarnation. I can’t, of course, remember my precise reaction to what must have been something like ‘Bad Boys’ or ‘Wham! Rap’, but I can tell you that I definitely wasn’t impressed. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that at one point I totally despised it. I despised it so much that wouldn’t even have spoken about his music to my own friends. It was as relevant to me as the Bay City Rollers or The Wurzels.

This opinion changed slightly, albeit grudgingly, when I first heard ‘Everything She Wants’ by Wham!. This, I immediately recognised, was something different, a mature piece of work that had style and even gravitas. I wouldn’t have admitted this to anyone at the time but I found myself sort of liking what could only have been a freak aberration. This seed change was, however, further exacerbated when I heard ‘Careless Whisper’. Again. It wasn’t really my ‘kind’ of music but no one could argue that it was a particularly brilliant piece of pure pop music; it had an instant hook that reflected the work of a mature artist. Not some good looking blonde idiot in a suit with rolled up sleeves.

By the time that I had heard ‘A Different Corner’, however, there was no denying that I had become an admirer of George Michael. Here was another special song, mournful, yearning and beautiful, sung in a voice that sent a shiver down the spine.

But there was a little respite: when I heard ‘Faith’ the first single from George Michael’s upcoming solo album my admiration began to dissipate somewhat. I saw the song as a pretty weak copy of something throwaway such as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen; derivative in a bad way, a sure sign that the George Michael bubble had burst.

Not so, of course, because its entirety the album ‘Faith’ was/is close to perfection. Songs such as ‘Father Figure’ ‘Kissing A Fool’, ‘One More Try’ and ‘Last Request’ were/are simply sublime; strong enough to project George Michael to a level of superstardom that rivalled and even surpassed contemporaries such Michael Jackson and Madonna. The kid from the kebab shop sure had talent.

By the time that ‘Listen Without Prejudice’ came out in 1990 I was by then doing a bit of music writing for cash and was actually commission by one mag to review the album. With very few reservations I enjoyed it immensely, giving it four out of five and advising George to quit looking for respect and just stick to making great dance tunes.

Evidently this was advice that George chose to ignore because it was a whole five years before the appearance of ‘Older’. Yes he’d filled in a little time with singles with Elton John and that appearance at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert (in which he proved to be the only performer capable of matching Freddie’s range – I, for one, will never forget the ‘will-he-won’t-he’ moment that preceded him not only hitting but totally obliterating that positively inhuman high Ab5 at the end of the song) but he’d kept well away from dance songs.

George was the first to admit that ‘Older’ – his next album five years later – was his best work and it’s difficult to argue with him. I could wax lyrical, or try to, for a long time regarding the qualities of this incredible album; suffice to say that it’s brilliant from start to finish. The jewel in the crown in most people’s opinion being the sublime ‘Jesus To A Child’, surely one of the most powerful songs about loss that has ever been written or performed.

After this there was the court case, the disappointing cover album and the underwhelming Patience, which came out in 2004, comprising already released singles and a disparate collection of new material (or so I thought at the time, however, recent plays have compelled me to change my opinion.)

Back to my original question: why, then, am I missing him so much?

It has, I suppose, to be down to a combination of factors: first of all it’s the inherent vulnerability of the man and his music that seems to strike such a chord. Like many of us, George was a flawed human being: despite clearly being handsome he was unhappy with his appearance (indeed, having gained weight in his middle years he refused to be seen in public during the last few months of his life); he was unbelievably successful and had far too many friends to count yet still considered himself alone. And his music came without embellishment – always stylish and produced to perfection. Some might say overproduced but I tend to disagree.

My feelings may also have something to do with his relatively close geographical location to my own. For a while I lived in South End Green and can remember laughing with my wife whenever we walked past the public toilets that he once got caught doing something in. Likewise, we were often on Hampstead High Street and were able to witness first hands the marks that were left when he crashed his Range Rover into Snappy Snaps.

More than anything, of course, it’s the music: the songs and the voice that leaves the world a sadder place. Over the past year I’ve played all of his solo albums almost relentlessly; to a degree in which I’ve come to believe that I almost know him personally. A big part of me wishes that he was still alive so there would be a chance I might bump into him in Highgate Village and I could throw my arms around him and give him a hug, tell him that he was someone special. One suspects that despite the worldwide acclaim that surrounded him for most of his life, there is a fair chance that he didn’t know this.

I miss George Michael. If you’d have told me thirty years ago that I’d be writing this down in public I’d most certainly have laughed in your face. But I’m not laughing now. I miss him.

1

Opinions appreciated please

I know what a cup is.

I know that it’s cylindrical in shape (It follows, therefore, that I know what a cylinder is (also a cube, a sphere, a torus, a tetrahedron, etc.)). I know that a cup is made from kiln-fired clay and usually has a ceramic glaze. With effort I can even remember some of the chemical constituents of the glaze from my college days, although I can’t actually remember the name or location of the college I attended. I know that a cup has a handle. One is able to drink from a cup. Obviously one is.

I know that Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated JKF in 1963, who was then murdered by Jack Ruby, who, himself, then died – I believe – of lung cancer.

If I concentrate I can name all of the planets: the two gas giants, the inferno that is Venus. I am also aware that Earth has an atmosphere composed of oxygen, nitrogen and argon. The boiling point of argon is -185.8˚C. I know these facts and lots of others. They are ingrained in my mind. Less esoterically, I know what a toothbrush is, which means, therefore, that I haven’t forgotten what teeth are. A comb. A car. I know what trousers are. I’m not a complete idiot.

What I don’t know, however, is who I am. How old I am. Whether I am married. If I have children. If I have brothers and sisters. Whether my parents are alive or dead. Whether I have a job (although I have an inkling that I must have, and that it is some way concerned with the creation of some kind of object. My mind is, therefore, not completely anaesthetised.

My senses are mainly intact, I think. With some effort I can smell: although the odours that surround me are unfamiliar. I can see: not completely see, just lights and pixilated shapes. Sometimes these shapes are moving; ghostly figures of indeterminate composition. I can also hear: muffled, indistinct sounds, like someone has hung a wet towel over a speaker, but sounds nevertheless. And I can feel pain. I can certainly feel pain.

If I try to move my head, for example – even the slightest of movement – I feel pain; pain that would force me to scream if only I were able to scream. Pain unimaginable in its scope, its magnitude. I experience similar pain when I try to move my arms, my legs, my shoulders, my hips; if I try to move anything. I am immersed in pain. Suffocating in pain. Trussed and bound like an animal in pain. The pain overwhelms me; it transports me to another place, another universe, another dimension.

***

I am lying in bed. I know what a bed is. Most of the time I am on my back. Less frequently I am lying on my side. Above me is a row of soft lights: four in total. A constellation of circular lights. Never moving, never changing. Sometimes there are voices.

Most of the time the voices are female in nature: whispering female voices, soft, gentle, unintelligible, comprised not of words but of muffled arpeggios. Occasionally I hear a man’s voice: deep and unconcerned.

This my life: no day and no night. No weeks. No months. No years. Just pain and more pain.

0

Latest watercolours

Haven’t posted in a while – been getting back to the writing. In the evenings I’ve been painting.

For what it’s worth, here they are:

1

New watercolour

Got a little distracted by the election and didn’t paint anything at all. Finally got back into it on Friday night. This took 6 ½ hours from start to finish. It’s Harry, my former clarinet teacher. 


Meanwhile, here’s a piece I wrote on the same day for the British Boxers website.  It’s about the upcoming Mayweather-McGregor fiasco. 

I’m not buying it and nor should you

1

I see you Theresa May


I see you Theresa May. I see your cold dead eyes, those prematurely aged windows to your bloodless soul. I see the way you stand, your body language, your awkward gait. Your back hunched over with the weight of the lies that you carry.

I hear you Theresa May. I hear the words that leave your lips but tell us nothing. The barely concealed tremble, the disdain in your voice when you lecture one of the desperate about the missing ‘money tree’; the money tree that isn’t there for the nurses forced to feed from food banks. The money tree that mysteriously reappears when it comes to you and your own. They get one percent of nothing. You get ten percent of everything.I watch you Theresa May. I watch as you hold the hand of a monster and a monster holds the hand of you. Two monsters together. A match made in hell. I watch you say nothing as he sets the world on fire and condemns our children and their children to eternal misery. But then that wouldn’t concern you would it? Your frozen soul has no idea of what it is like to bring a child into the world; of the love that is sure to overwhelm you. Nothing so prosaic as children to suck on your withered teats, Theresa May, not when the intoxicating scent of power fills your head.

I grimace. I groan. I hold my head in my hands and want to cry. I see you sitting together on that couch. You and him. Fake smiles painted on your fake lips. ‘I thought: ‘what a lovely girl’,’ he tells us of your first meeting. ‘I fancied her straight away!’ Even when you try to stage manage you cannot hide the lies. You cheerlessly tell us about your ‘boys and girls jobs’. He takes out the bins and rakes in millions from the global investment company that he works for (never once getting any insider information from his wife). You refuse to put his dinner on the table because you’re too busy selling guns to terrorists.

Ah yes, those guns. Those guns. You little gun runner, you. ‘It keeps people on the streets of Britain safe,’ you tell us. Yes of course it does Theresa May. Of course I made sense in Manchester and fortnight ago and in London last weekend. Of course it makes perfect sense to sell guns to Saudi Arabia. Of course it makes sense to make money from the misery of others. The atrocities in Yemen, the dead mothers, the dead children. Do you smell their blood Theresa May? Do you hear their screams? And do you hear the cries of your own people as your actions are paid for in horror and tragedy? Are the billions that you make from your evil trade really worth the thousands of lives that will never be lived?

I see you Theresa May. I see the corporate Britain that you try to engineer. Not so much a country as a company. GB PLC. A Britain bereft of love and compassion, in which people are relegated to mere workers overseen by a rich elite masquerading as their bosses. A Britain in which the working classes are a disposable commodity like chickens in a battery farm. In which the old are tossed aside, their possessions stolen from them and their children left with no hope. A Britain in which the poor are left to starve on the streets; in which the weak and disabled are stubbed out like spent cigarette butts. A Britain that belongs to everybody but Britain: electricity sold to the Chinese to sell back to your minions at a vast profit; gas, water, trains, schools and finally the welfare state, the eternal gift that Bevan bestowed upon us, dismantled and sold to the highest bigger. A Britain bled dry for the privileged few.

I hear your lies Theresa May. I hear them every time you open your dry lips. You want to stay because ‘it’s the best for our country’. Then you want to go because ‘it’s the best for our country.’ But it benefits nobody but you Theresa May. Nobody but you and your insatiable pursuit of power. Didn’t hubby helpfully tell us about how you had plotted and schemed for years to achieve your ugly ambitions? (Didn’t hubby suffer for his loose mouth when he got home :))

You’re a coward Theresa May. I smell your cowardice. You’re a coward because even you cannot defend the indefensible. You refuse to meet your main rival face to face and instead send an underling. An underling whose father died only three days earlier. An underling on whose shoulders you lay the blame after she takes the blows that were meant for you. A coward Theresa May: if this is how you treat a friend and colleague what chance the rest of us?

You see yourself as Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher. And that, Theresa May, is the biggest crime of all. You’re the new Iron Lady ready to take your revenge on everybody who is not you. You see yourself as Margaret Thatcher but I see you for what you are.

I see you Theresa May. And others will too. I pray it is not too late before they do.