I’ve always liked the phrase ‘top hole’ for reasons I cannot explain in a family oriented blog. I digress – which for me is not unusual but digressing with the opening sentence is something of a first for me. Allegedly.
Sooooo Mr. Smith before you die you should know how I am going to bring down western civilization and take over the world…oops sorry, that’s the wrong line, taken in error from my ‘Megalomaniac’s Monthly’ blog. I’ll try again;
Sooooo…living abroad hey? Well the first thing to say is that as a younger man it was something I never, ever thought I would do. As a very young man I’d fleetingly mulled it over mainly because I used to have an Uncle who lived out here in Canada (a long way away from where I am now), but it had become a non-issue for me as I really couldn’t imagine beginning from scratch in a new country. The idea of being brand new and clueless wasn’t a very attractive one – I knew how things worked in the UK and was comfortable with that knowledge. I was, in fact, part of the establishment – which made being in the UK very safe indeed.
Nevertheless, here I am. In May of this year I passed the ten year mark of living here in British Columbia. The very short version of my reflections on this landmark is that I am not planning to return to my home country anytime soon. I’ve been back several times since 2008 and for a variety of reasons, but having been away for six years before visiting ‘home’ again and becoming immersed in the western Canadian culture made a difference to how I experience the UK.
Being in another country allows me to look back at the old country with a more objective eye than I perhaps had prior to moving. Having said that, I was moved by the Olympic opening ceremony this past week ; Britain for once celebrating itself on the international stage, rather than the compulsive and apologetic hand – wringing that seems to have been the case ever since the empire fell apart. Britain was great – very great indeed, and without the British Empire the world would have been a very different place. The Olympic ceremony was a wonderful chance to see Brits displaying their pride, and rightly so. But the old giant is getting on now, and from the outside looking in, is showing its age.
Britain still produces excellence in many fields – entertainment, engineering, diplomacy and I still believe, a sense of fair play(something I mention because I’m probably more passionate about fairness than anything else). British TV programs broadcast over here (usually on public-funded TV channels with small audiences) are light years ahead of anything the North Americans can produce, and we hungrily hunt down detective and other dramas for our weekend evenings.
There are occasions when, watching one of those UK TV programs, I will hanker for the scenery of Scotland or Cornwall, or Wales perhaps (if you’ve never been to The Gower peninsula I recommend it – the best beaches I ever saw in the UK) and it’s true that Britain has some stunningly beautiful scenery. But – and here’s the main problem which infests everything about Britain – the country is FULL.
I know, for example, that a peaceful canal barge holiday will be far from peaceful – adjacent road noise and lots of other holidaymakers will see to that. I know that every beach will fill up on a sunny day, usually with annoyingly inconsiderate people who litter and intrude on everyone’s privacy and relaxation. I know that every town and city centre is a smelly, noisy and frankly grubby hotch-potch of humanity and all the unpleasant sights and smells which accompany such crowds. I know that finding a silent mountain top is a wondrous thing in the UK (I first experienced that at the age of 15 and was amazed that I found REAL silence), but also that a group of hikers or scouts or ramblers is just a few minutes around the next knoll or crag, or that within a very short time, the sound of an airliner will break through any fleeting sense of being on my own. Yes, that beautiful, diverse, wonderful island nation is full. And the old girl is showing the strain.
My last two visits were depressing on that note. I found the places I visited were dirty, scruffy and had a look of neglect. Even the airports, as I disembarked from several flights, frankly were smelly – that horrible rank smell of old damp mops left out too long. Too many people = too much to do = too little time to care.
Where I live, a good hour from Vancouver, we have no such problems. Our small(ish) town has a big, underused leisure centre (pronounced ‘leezyurr’ centre), beautiful parks coming out of every orifice, fantastic sports facilities, scenery to make your jaw drop and space like we can only dream about in England. I can go ten or fifteen minutes up the road and find silence and solitude if I wish – and I do so almost every day when I walk our dogs. Restaurants (with the qualification mentioned below) are hardly ever full around here, simply because there are so many of them and relatively few people to fill them. Cinemas are the same – you can get into a first showing of the latest blockbuster without even trying or booking in advance. Shopping is equally stress-free, lots of shops and not many people means no queues (and I mean NO queues) at Christmas, even in the last couple of days, and even in the supermarkets.
The pace of life here is slower than Britain, and there are places to go where it is slower still. Weekends feel like mini holidays even if you don’t go anywhere. The roads are quieter (which is a good job because they are awful drivers here) and HUGE in comparison. The road I lived on until three years ago was a quiet suburban street, but would be a four lane -wide road in the UK. In essence, life here is more relaxed and that’s what I want: time to enjoy what’s going on around me. It’s different here, yes, but different in ways which are far more positive than negative. Oh and we have summers every year!
The niggles I have are minor and they have never affected my opinion that I am fortunate to have found such a great environment to live in and raise my kids within. Yes I miss proper ‘chippy’ chips and other foods which understandably are not the same here, but on balance that’s not much to trade for the lifestyle I’ve found here. Anyway we have ‘drive-thru’ ATMs, coffee shops and burger places in every town (no matter how tiny) so that evens things out a bit. Fast food over here is terminally monotonous – consisting almost entirely of ground beef in all its forms. Burgers are on every restaurant’s menu – and most ‘restaurants’ here would be considered fast food joints in the UK – fine dining is a rare and beautiful thing outside of the major cities, and even a decent curry has to be searched for very carefully. Pubs in the main are crap and the beer is crap but if you look hard enough you’ll find what you want, and of course, like anywhere in the world, life is what you make of it.
I think that’s the main point; it’s not WHERE we live that’s the main issue – it’s what we make of things where we are. I think that living here has allowed me to live my life differently from the way I could live in Britain. There is so much to say but the distilled version of it all is that I have no desire to up-sticks and return to live in any part of Britain, not even the beautiful islands or highlands. Britain is a beautiful, wonderful country and I will always love it and be proud of its achievements. It is, however, overwhelmingly – and to my way of thinking; depressingly – full of people. By comparison British Columbia on its own is about three times the size of the UK mainland. Four million people live here. Four million, that’s all. In all of Canada (the world’s second largest country) there are only approximately 36 million people. I live in the South Western corner of BC and this is the most densely populated part of the province (about half the population in about 3% of the land mass), yet the available space here is still overwhelming. I’ve travelled widely and been to many other parts of BC with former jobs, and believe me, it is wonderfully EMPTY!
So understandably we pay more (lots more) for food, less understandably a lot less for petrol (I almost said ‘gas’), less for electricity (all hydro electric in BC) and more for natural gas. We don’t pay water rates and there are no water meters. We pay house tax each year and we pay more for car insurance (until you get to be an old git like me and then the costs starts to tumble). Houses are MUCH bigger here and living spaces are very comfortable. Did I mention proper summers? Oh yes – I did.
You asked for pros and cons – I’ve pointed out a few and I could find as many of each in either country I’m sure. It’s about personal preferences though – perhaps you’d find the space and peace and quiet a little too boring? I know that you’ve seen some of the Eastern side of N.America (USA I believe?) but Canada IS different in important ways from the USA (for a start we have very few gun – toting crazy people). Western Canada is different again from Eastern and central Canada – if you ever go (or have been) to Toronto it is about as representative of Western Canada as London is of Cornwall or Scotland. The best testimonial I can offer is that everyone I know who has come out here has fallen in love with the place, and either wants to come back, is/are coming back, or has come here for good. I’m not sure if it has quite worked the same way in the opposite direction (although of course few Canadian tourists make it to West Kirby or Hoylake…)?
Come and dip your toe in the (crystal clear lake) water, why dontcha?
So, changing the subject completely, as I am wont to do… The pros and cons of living abroad. I’m presently sitting on a sunlounger on the rooftop terrace of the little holiday apartment we’re renting in the south of France. I often talk about moving down here, but now I am here, what are my reasons for wanting to do so?
The most obvious reason is the climate, isn’t it? We’ve had a lousy summer at home so far (preceded by a fairly rubbish spring), whereas down here, it’s blue skies and sun for 90-odd% of the time. Okay, maybe the summer temperatures are a little too much for the average Englishman, but it’s bearable at the mo (early thirties). One can always wear a hat, or stay indoors.
What else? The food used to be a factor, but now we can easily get most of this mediterranean stuff at home. We can’t quite do the bread – there’s something about their baguettes – but the cheeses and meats are all readily available. Wine and beer always seems to taste better in their country of origin, and of course the wine is a hell of a lot cheaper than at home.
What else? Well, they have a lot more space here don’t they? The country is twice the size of the UK, and the population half as much – and most of them live in Paris. So the countryside is pretty, and pretty unspoilt.
So what would I miss about the UK? I used to say the pub culture, but alas, that seems to be dying, at least where we come from. There are lots of small, continental style bars at home now, and pubs are now the reserve (once again) of old blokes talking too loudly, farting uninhibitedly, and drinking pints of real ale. I used to think I’d miss real ale, and I still enjoy a proper pint, but I guess I’m just as happy now (almost) with a nice cold pint of Kronenbourg.
Proper English curry (!) I would miss, if it weren’t for the fact that I can make a pretty authentic one myself. Smoked bacon and proper English sausages I definitely would miss. Cheddar cheese.
Anything else? Hmmm… Nothing springs readily to mind.
So, when you add it all up, it’s warm weather, baguettes and a feeling of space versus Cumberland sausages and Cheddar cheese. The jury is out on this one.
So, Mr Simmons, pros and cons of emigrating to British Columbia?
That thing you mentioned about not remembering early school/life? You have a point there – I took this photo with the old box brownie on the grassy bit just next to door ‘H’ on the first day of Grammar School. As you can see, a young Pedro is taking delivery of another First Year. Oh by the way ignore the silly label on the photo – I was just messing around. No offence.
I always remembered you as someone I had a good laugh with – although the snap below (I had a colour film camera by that stage) does remind me that things started to fall apart in the sixth form;
Funny things, memories – so much missing but then some days my head is full of them…
This is a belated response, Leo, to your earlier post Ordinarily advanced and unclassifiable (and yes, I see what you did there. Though only UK schoolgoers of a certain age will get it).
“Schooldays: best days of your life” was something always thrown at us by grown-ups when we were kids. I used to think: “holy crap! Is this the best it gets?” No wonder I was depressed as a kid. Did adults really believe these words themselves? What were they trying to achieve by worrying me like that? Were they trying to get me to go to school on a daily basis? (As you may recall, if this was their aim, the ploy went spectacularly wrong.)
I don’t think I ever liked going to school. Unlike you, Leo, I don’t have fond memories of Black Horse Hill Infant School (aged 5 to 7) or Junior School (7 to 11). To be honest, I don’t really have any memories of that period of time. Perhaps I started my life at 11 years old? Maybe I’m a robot, and my makers couldn’t be arsed* programming in any early childhood memories. Or an alien being, masquerading as human… well, it’s a possibility I guess.
I have a handful of photos and some school class photos from that period, and I can name most of the names. I’m still in touch with a number of my old classmates, via Facebook in the main (though my next door neighbour is Sue Slade, who was one of the girls in the other class – we only had two – throughout infants and juniors). These might remind me of people and events, but I’m not sure if they are real memories or just artificial ones implanted by my creators…
But I don’t really have memories of special times: I remember I fancied a little Welsh girl called Rebecca Henderson, who fancied a tall boy from Newton called Max Lintott (I remember me and him had a bit of a punch-up over her – I lost). I remember I had to sit next to a girl called Amanda Nelson for an entire school year, as a punishment for talking in class (a harsh punishment, though apparently she was a real babe in her teenage years). I remember playing football in the playground with Andy McCready (we won 27-23, I think my own personal tally reached double figures). I remember getting in a fight with John Knowles coz I pinched his bum (don’t ask why, he was nowhere near as cute as Amanda Nelson). But I don’t look back on those years fondly. Or at all, in fact.
I have a lot more memories of my time in big boys school – Calday Grange Grammar. I might be able to dredge up a few “happy” ones if I racked my brain. Though none spring immediately to mind. I was a bright boy, so I’m told. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe school didn’t challenge me. Maybe my teachers didn’t inspire. Or maybe I just couldn’t be arsed.
It was a bit of a shock moving to the big boys school: for starters, in the junior school we played football, nothing else; Calday being a grammar school, you played rugby, cricket, hockey – if you didn’t like those sports, it was the choice between cross country running or ritual flogging. I chose the ritual flogging every time. Didn’t do me any harm. Well, not as much harm as the big bruisers that were playing rugby would’ve done to me.
To be continued… because I still can’t be arsed.
* note: for those of you not brought up on Merseyside, “can’t be arsed” is a quaint but local colloquialism, which the Urban Dictionary translates as to be seriously demotivated or unwilling to do something.
For some time now, mostly at the behest of my lovely wife who opened my eyes on the subject, I have subscribed to the idea of food security and food sovereignty. I’m no expert – just a normal person living in a normal neighbourhood who has observed the rather alarming demise of the small farmer in North America in particular, and noticed the even more alarming increase of influence over our food supplies by massive corporations. I’m not a nut (not even an organically grown nut) – I’d describe myself as a concerned observer. The main result of my/our observations is that each year we try to grow more of our own vegetables and fruit (on an average sized and steeply-sloped plot) and hope to one day have the facility to effectively store our crops so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. To me – to us – it makes a lot of sense, and while we watch the growth of companies like Monsanto with trepidation, we are not fortifying our house or digging a bunker. Which brings me to my issue.
Using social media on a daily basis, I frequently receive posts from websites and facebook pages which reflect my own ideas about the development (or decline) of our culture in the west, many of which refer to the global issues rather than taking a parochial view from my own back yard. Many posts are accompanied by images of breathtaking ingenuity on the themes of recycling or sensible and sustainable consumption. I like the idea of sustainable consumption in particular – it’s as common sense as it gets, and for me reflects the fundamental idea of nature always seeking balance – if a species of animal eats too much of their preferred food (through population explosion) for example, through starvation their numbers will wither until the food supply and their numbers once again reach sustainable balance. But there is a problem with ideas such as this. The principles are being hijacked by those with extreme views.
In a world (wide web) where the most aggressive “be like me or f*ck off” approach seems to be growing in popularity among the bullied-at-school-and really-pathetic-socially-inadequate keyboard warriors of the world, simple, balanced ways of living seem to be increasingly the domain of extremist ‘preppers’ – people for whom the end of the world is nigh (AGAIN) and ‘survival’ seems to involve shooting everyone else first and asking questions afterwards. It seems like I can’t receive a post about roof gardens or interesting garden innovations without comments containing a heavy sprinkling of dark warnings of doom and advice to own as many and as large calibre weapons as I can lay my hands on. And there always seems to be someone with the North American obsession with ‘The Apocalypse’ on their mind. I’m beginning to think that ‘the rapture’ (and what a mind-bendingly ridiculous notion THAT is!) actually refers to people pleasuring themselves at the thought of the world ending.
Here’s an interesting clip I found on the BBC which reflects some of what I have noticed; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18877449
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard of the world being about to end during my lifetime. The only thing I AM sure of is that whenever I die, my personal world will end, and that will be that. In the meantime I’d like to live a balanced life as far as possible, as an example removing corn products (not corn on the cob – just processed corn products) from my diet as far as possible – it’s in almost everything – and live as long as I can, enjoying as much as I can. Let’s be blunt; there is no 2012 apocalypse, there is no global disaster on the horizon (unless Jupiter hurls an errant asteroid at us of course but I’ll accept the scientific odds that it isn’t actually very likely at all), and I don’t need to build a bunker to survive a three year nuclear winter.
What I DO need to do is live a sustainable life so that I leave behind as little mess as possible and rely on ultra capitalist corporations as little as possible. So for example we grow food, even in our front yard (gasp! maybe I AM a revolutionary extremist?), we’ll be getting some (illegal – oh boy I’m living life on the edge!) chickens one day in the near future, and tomorrow I’m taking my son fishing – which I love – for trout the right size for one fish per person each meal. Not really radical stuff is it – perhaps instead a few things that would have been recognised as sensible a hundred years ago?
Unfortunately, however, the ideas of balance with which I agree are increasingly being taken hold of and bastardized and distorted into extreme notions of impending danger, and it’s getting tiring listening to such rubbish shouted at us across the airwaves. Over here in North America the TV has apocalyptic ‘documentaries’ available for viewing several times every single day. It is, in itself, almost a religion – and that’s without the evangelists preaching the same stuff on a number of their own goofy TV channels! And by the way, how do you get away with making a career out of preaching imminent doom? Doesn’t anyone ever notice that it never seems to happen?
I wish the extremist survivalists in particular would bugger off to their own camouflaged gun – totin’ websites where they can show photos of their gun collections and videos of their whole family shooting water barrels to pieces with assault rifles, to their hearts’ content. It’s all utter bollocks and evidence of how screwed up America really is. I recently heard that there is something like three million of these nut cases out in the woods in the United States (i.e. not in institutions for the permanently paranoid) – three million scared people and their guns can do an awful lot of damage if they get scared enough.
The real fight is, for me, not one of weapons and blood – it’s the fight against buying all our food in one place – buying food we are convinced is easy to find and cheap to pay for. Real food rarely comes in cubed packaging or out of a squeezable tube. Real food is the stuff you DON’T see advertised on TV these days – perhaps something to think about and, dare I say it – digest?
I love gadgets and I have a passing but not very deep interest in technology – some modern technology is patently favouring balance. Solar and wind power are two accessible technologies which I can see myself embracing in the not too distant future – I only have a couple of small portable battery charging solar panels and I’d love to have some for the house one day soon. So I am not an extremist – I’m trying to get there in a way which is itself supportable and sustainable, and I understand that many folks are much further down the road than I. I just happen to believe in finite resources – hence I believe that peak oil is a reality, but because we have the technology to create and exploit cleaner alternatives (Hydrogen anyone?) I don’t believe we will fall into a cataclysmic post-oil kind of hell. The technology will follow the money, and vice-versa. A kind of balance in its own right, I suppose?
In the meantime I’d like to live that balanced lifestyle, moving closer to sustainability and staying away from the bunker life which so many fantasists seem to embrace, and which is so consistently supported by the Hollywood film industry in particular. Because I live in an active volcanic/earthquake zone I have stores of drinking water and shelter and non-perishable food available in the case of a local emergency – I think that’s sensible, and I will take measures to protect the family and our stores in the event of a week – long (or more) regional crisis, but – the world ending? Nope.
I’ll leave that kind of hysterical planning (to kill anyone who sets foot on my property) for people who are off their medication, or who have yet to be diagnosed and prescribed their anti – psychotics. Three million (with lots of guns) and counting.
Well met good fellow! I typed up a searingly funny and topical response to your last post but I am missing a vital element which makes sense of much of what I was rambling about – namely an old photograph. I thought I could lay my hands on it but the little rascal has hidden itself – i.e. I have forgotten into which remote and dusty corner of the Simmons Mansion I have at an earlier date (mis)placed it. I must confess to an unreasonable level of frustration when I do stuff such as that…anyway I saved it as a draft and as soon as I can find the venerable photo folder I will scan in the image and post it on here. I know – it’ll be a huge relief for you…sarcy git.
The subject of today’s tirade is something which happened last week on the old news website and which figuratively brought tears to my eyes. “What was it Leo?” I hear you ask (I have VERY good hearing in at least one ear) – famine in Tottenham? A pandemic of ingrown toenails in the premiership league? An outbreak of foreigners in Alabama? Perhaps the Phantom Flan Flinger has finally been unmasked? No, none of these (although each would of course be a disaster of some import) – the issue of which I speak is – cue Roy Castle singing this at the start of ‘Record Breakers’ – “Circumcision – Circumcision – Circumcision, that’s what ya need!” Apparently for some people anyway.
The German supreme court has controversially ruled that the act of chopping off a baby boy’s foreskin with a KNIFE (not a scalpel) constitutes an act of bodily harm. Gasp! Outrage! Howls of protest from at least two faith groups, each citing racism and anti – them-ism. Apparently the argument goes that cutting off a piece of a boy’s anatomy on religious grounds is a human right. OK, let’s see that argument applied to say – oh I don’t know, removing a piece of a baby’s ear, or maybe a fingernail. Why not cut them on the eyebrow and create a visible scar?
Why don’t the parents of babies within these faith groups get their child tattooed to identify them instead? Oh that’s right – God didn’t mention tattoos to Abraham or his descendants. And besides, tattooing a baby is barbaric.
I’m chuffed to bits that the German court has had the courage to come out and effectively call this horrific act what it is – the needless mutilation of an infant child.
Let’s think this through world; if there really were a supreme being, would it really want us to mutilate its own creation – ourselves – well I suppose it’s not self mutilation is it? No these people believe that the supreme being wants them to actually forcefully mutilate their tiny, helpless offspring! Outside of a religious context, a court would send such people to prison. But believing in a god that wants them to do that makes it alright. Unless your god is called – oh I don’t know, Chipolata. It has to be a recognized god, you see. That makes it OK.
Of course if it was a sadistic, nasty, malevolent deity it probably would want us to do this to our vulnerable children who look to us to protect them from harm… Hmmm…sorry, not going to worship that god then!
I can’t conceive of ever having the notion to circumcise a child of mine (male or female) – the idea of deliberately hurting a child is just alien and very, very wrong.
If (I nearly started a sentence with “and” then – old ‘Raspy’ Ball would have tugged the hair at the side of my head for that) circumcising babies/girls and women is – correctly in my opinion- considered abhorrent, why is a similar mutilation considered OK for male babies and boys? I understand that the act is performed upon females for a variety of reasons, most of them linked to religious belief (and all of them horrible), and that it is often a more severe mutilation than the removal of a foreskin, but the principle of harming the vulnerable is for me the same issue. It’s horrible, shameful behaviour, and these injuries are lawfully inflicted upon millions of babies each year in the name of religion.
Disgusting. Another example of the absolutely ridiculous things we humans do in the name of appeasing non-existent deities. Well done Germany – now let’s see how long it is before the politicians force a change in the ruling (Angela merkel wasted no time jumping on that bandwagon).
Mutilation of babies for votes anybody?
This is the video that Leo is referring to: Rose-tinted Glasses by Kings of Inertia. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. But that is indeed me in the wig and sunglasses and apparently not much else.
Yes, I admit, I am getting older. There are more grey bits in my beard than there are ginger. Not that I’m ginger: good God no! I’m mousy brown. No: salt and pepper! Only brown pepper rather than black. Do they do brown pepper?
Yes, I am aging. But, I feel, aging gracefully. Well, okay: disgracefully. But I honestly do think I’m keeping pretty well. Most people, when asked by other people who know my age to guess my age, normally put me in my thirties. And to be honest, I see people in their thirties that do look a bit more ravaged by the passage of time than I. I put it down to moderation in all things, a healthy amount of booze, no fags, regular sport, and no kids.
The “no kids” bit is a bit of a shame, as me and the wife would have been great parents and brought them up well. But alas, The Lord in his infinite wisdom decided to have a bit of a laugh and give the over-active fertility gene to all the people who need lots of kids for the state benefits that the UK Government reward them with (note: I don’t really believe in The Lord, but it’s handy to have some omnipotent being to blame).
I’ve still got almost as much hair as last time you saw me. Considering my dad had the typical male pattern baldness thing going on in his early thirties, I’m doing good. Touch wood.
Weight-wise, I’ve been heavier – I think when I worked full-time in the White Lion, the seven nights of boozing took its toll, and I got up to over 11 stone. Up until then, I’d been your typical nine and a half stone weakling. People would kick sand in my face – even when I was miles away from the nearest beach. But then all of a sudden: 11 stone weakling! I seem to have settled around the 10 and a half stone mark.
Five foot nine, with a 32 inch waist, that’s pretty good for our advanced age, don’t you think? If I cut down on the booze, the occasional cream doughnut/cornish pasty/sausage sandwich, and the weekend fast food treats (peperoni pizza/chicken tikka jalfrezi and nan) and did a little bit more upper body exercise, I’d be in pretty good shape. Giving myself options there, you see?
I think it helps that I have a beautiful wife who insists on maintaining her seven and a half stone fighting weight. If I’d married a fat bird? Well, I shudder to think!
Eh up matey. I have just watched your youtube video for your song ‘Rose – Tinted Testicles’. Apart from sounding like a nasty rash (there must be an over-the-counter ointment for that), I found it rather entertaining.
I was rather distracted, however by one aspect of your appearance which was most evident and somewhat in my face – almost as much as it was ON your face – namely the onset of grey hair. Now don’t be jumping to a ninja-esque defensive posture Mr. Smith, this is neither a criticism of your facial features (words such as glass houses, stones, throw, don’t – all leap unbidden to my mind) nor an indictment of your video – which, by the way, was very successful at inducing motion sickness in this creaky old geezer…
Nay sir, the subject of today’s ramble is the surprising (to me) evidence of greying hair in your beard – which by the way was thrust towards the camera with so much gusto during the video…I mean, surely you’re still only 18, with brown hair, perfect skin and a pert ass? Actually forget that last bit. Completely. Please.
But really – I mean are we BOTH going grey? Gasp! I had come to terms with the growing levels of white hair in my goatee, but to find evidence of ageing in my friends (who are, after all, ageless and forever 18) is always a little startling. It rather abruptly reminds me of the passage of time and how many years have quietly slipped by – although if I think a little harder it becomes apparent that a lot has happened in my life. I’m by no means the adventurer or explorer who has packed a phenomenal amount of glamorous stuff into my time on the planet – but life has not been boring.
Actually when I hear about people such as Chris Bonnington (blast from the past) or more recently Bear Grylls, I have two main responses – firstly that they have done/are doing exciting things ( jolly good show!) and secondly that in order to do such exciting and famously dangerous stuff, they must be spending an awful lot of their time away from the people they love (bad form!). I’m not sure that I’d want to swap my grey hairs for theirs – my life has been, on the whole, pretty good so far, and I have deliberately tried to stay close to the people I hold dearest. In comparison to the famous adventurers, sports personalities and high achievers of other kinds, I have no doubt that the record of my life would seem dull and even banal – but I would rather be surrounded by people I like and love and have memories of those moments to look back upon, than adrenaline rushes which despite their intensity, are all fleeting and transitory experiences.
I suppose I’ve had a fair amount of excitement through my years in the police – high speed chases, being shot at, being threatened with various weapons, being assaulted, lots of physical confrontations, etc. etc. – but it’s the realtively quiet and small stuff that sticks most enduringly in my memory – saving a life, having a life end in my arms, being able to help when it was needed. Yes there have been a few close calls, but perhaps not enough to give me as many grey hairs as some of my peers. Not that it’s anything to brag about – it’s just nature taking its course as far as I’m concerned.
Despite not being particularly grey, I have in the last ten years put on a lot of weight (not in itself a bona fide symptom of ageing but it’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), developed seriously creaky knees and ankles, lost a lot of hair and the old sunroof is slowly spreading across the back of my head, but so what? These are some signs of ageing and I cannot deny that it’s happening. I’m 47 years old, and trying or wishing to be or look any younger would be strange. On balance I would much rather grow older than not!
It’s something of a whimsical turnaround – as a younger man I was always told that I looked older than my years (that didn’t stop me from growing a classic 70s porn film moustache though) and now I find that my hair is only slowly acknowledging the passage of time and occasionally (on a good day, with a following wind and excellent lighting) I meet a person myopic enough to say that I don’t look my age – I think it’s usually expressed as a compliment but if I’m honest I find that kind of thing rather pointless. Why would I want to not look my age?
Anyway, ultimately it doesn’t matter because I expect to age. YOU sir, however – how DARE you show any signs of growing older?!
Here’s a thought – how school has changed in the almost thirty years! My stepson – stout fellow that he is – has just graduated from High School over here, and it set me thinking about the school system in general – not usually a good sign.
It’s probably best to restrain myself at this point and talk about the system we grew up within. I remember infant school with an overall feeling of discomfort – probably an echo of the earliest days when I was away from home for the first time, and was sadly and quite horribly singled out for humiliation by one of my teachers (the dreaded Mrs. McM……) because I was crying. Just like my first day in the police then!
I had a few REALLY lovely teachers though – Mrs. Steadman and Newcombe respectively, who guided me towards the Junior years with a lot of care and nurturing. Mrs Cliff was my Junior school teacher and she was fantastic – in fact we exchanged letters only a year or two ago. Junior school (Our Lady of Pity, Greasby) remains a time of wonderful memories, a time to which the term ‘golden years’ really does fit. Friendship, fun, academic achievement – I had it all in spades in those days, and looking back I have decided that those were indeed the best years of my childhood.
The difference in secondary school (Calday of course) was the workload, which scared the brown stuff out of me. Clearly I was not designed for those kind of expectations, however nobody listened! Of course I had no more pressure than the next kid, but perhaps I didn’t handle it as well as most because with hindsight I know that I could have worked harder and better and achieved more in the academic field. As it was I probably did some of my best work on the rugby field – not very useful really, as it turned out.
Without wishing to sound too sycophantic, some of my strongest memories of Calday are of the art class, when I think we were most free to be ourselves, and I think that was probably where our friendship began – me worshipping at your feet and you gracefully accepting my weekly homage to your artistic talents. Very nice of you, that was. Bastard. I can – very unusually for me – recall the smell of the paints and oil pastels we were allowed to use, and the slightly chaotic atmosphere of the art room when Mr B. let us loose on whatever projects we had on the go. I can’t remember the details of any of mine but I do remember thinking that you were in another league (The Human League?).
Other fleeting memories of those days include being absolutely totally disinterested in chemistry lessons because nobody ever answered my ‘why?’ questions and so I gave up; hating and struggling with maths – which I had genuinely excelled in at Junior school; making and losing a few friends along the way, and being absolutely bloody terrified of the ‘O’ levels – but too late. The simple truth was that I had never got out of third gear in school, and my ‘O’s reflected that. I did however meet everyone’s expectations – including my own – by achieving an ‘Unclassified’ in chemistry. If only they gave out a certificate for it, but apparently not.
‘A’ levels – ah yes, I learned my lesson…not. If anything I did even less work in the sixth form and my results again reflected that stellar lack of effort. Which brings me to the comparison.
The school system these days (and over here) is so EASY to negotiate! There are no ‘all or nothing’ examinations which test your effort and retention over the last few years, and so the mediocre students can be almost as successful (or as near as makes little difference in the job market anyway) as the genuinely gifted. Students can avoid doing their work but then get second and third chances to catch up at the last minute. Tests can even be re-taken in an effort to get a higher mark, the three worst marks of the year can be dropped and students get preferential marking priveleges just for showing up – the list of concessionary nurturing of young adult students is a very long one.
In the final year of school the students struggle to fill their days! They even get academic credits for planning future activities such as buying a car etc., and volunteering. Basically the student who applies his or her self to their studies throughout the years can finish up with nothing like the proportional rewards they deserve compared to say, the indolent youth who plays the system wisely. The system is geared to removing ‘failure’ and finding success everywhere it can unreasonably do so. This means that students rarely face the consequences of inaction or laziness and are rewarded disproportionately for average effort. If I were in the school system today and applied myself as much as I did back in the 1970s and 80s, I’d be a relative superstar! Damn it, I missed my time!
I do worry that the current system (at least as it it here) prepares the majority of students to expect to be given what they want – as one young man said in his speech at my stepson’s graduation; “…we have earned the right to make the future our own!”
No you haven’t sonny, you just finished school…
Now, my razor sharp intellect (Old William of Ockham had nothing on me, let me tell ya) has me spiralling around the fact that you have told me that you updated this blog BEFORE you posted the blog to tell me you had updated it – yet the update IS the post in which you tell me you have updated it! AAArrrgggHHH! *sound of me disappearing up me own orifice*… My apologies if the rest of this is a little muffled.
It does indeed sound like you are living a rock ‘n roll lifestyle. Right, that’s got the sarcasm out of my system – better strike while the iron is cold, so to speak;
This morning I’m trying to be very professional/clinical and work myself up to writing something to sell. That’s not very artistic of me is it? I’d prefer to be able to write whatever I want and then see who picks it up but that will probably be a long wait – in fact a cold day in hell kind of wait. But then again…oh well, perhaps this is one of the trials of trying to be creative, but I do have to try to make some money. Stupid system of exchange…
So, in the spirit of being a bit of a lazy arse yet wanting to keep the blog going, I thought I’d present an exerpt of something I am in the middle of writing – I hope it is at least mildly entertaining. And it’s true!
“When did I see you last?” asked the distinguished consultant, glasses perched on the tip of his nose as he stood alongside the examination bed in his office. “About six weeks ago” I reminded him, nervously. “Ah yes, left testicle wasn’t it? Small lump, and I believe I suggested you return to check on any progress or lack thereof?”. He peered over the top edge of the docket containing my file as if to make sure I had been listening. “Yes, that’s about it”. “OK” he said, “Just remove your clothes below the waist and lie on the bed with your knees up. I’ll just be washing my hands.”, and left the room.
Silence descended while I removed my shoes, jeans, underwear and socks (for some reason, the prospect of being nude from the waist down apart from my socks seemed rather laughable) in the odd position of doing so in front of an eight feet wide window. I consoled myself with the idea that we were actually three storeys up in the hospital building’s oncology department, and that the nearest road was several hundred yards away across some empty parkland. Nevertheless, the sense of a huge telescopic lens somewhere amidst the dense undergrowth out there was hard to dispel from my hyper – alert mind.
Now dressed somewhat incongruously in only a rugby shirt and a wrist watch, I sat on the edge of the bed, at least confident that everything down there was freshly showered and smelling appropriately of manly bathroom fragrance. A voice from the ante room; “I see you’re wearing a ‘Barbarians shirt’ – are you a member?” “No, no, I wish I was that talented!” I replied with a shaky laugh.
Another silence. This time a much more medical one.
I decided that the time to face my indignity had arrived and hoisted my legs up onto the paper covering the examination table or bed. With gentle rustling noises I adjusted myself and arrived in the specified position. Flat on my back with my knees raised there I lay, for all the world about to deliver a baby. Except that wasn’t what I was there for. I was in fact about to have my private man parts, my meat and two veg, my ‘crown jewels’ or if you wish, my undercarriage, examined by a stranger – even worse, the stranger was a man! This was not a situation I had looked forward to, and now, in the final seconds, I was definitely feeling queasy.
The voice from the adjoining room shattered my spiralling thoughts; “Do you mind if…” – there came a snap of surgical gloves – “…my medical intern joins me for this examination?”. This latter part was delivered as he came through the door. I hardly had time to be alarmed before one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen floated, backlit, front-lit and with a fan blowing her blonde hair away from her perfectly formed features (I swear it’s true!), into the room. And there I lay like a dying fly. As she regarded me with her gorgeous blue eyes from behind the large clipboard she was rather defensively clutching to her chest, she sexily bit her heavily glossed lips. Or… that last part may just have been my imagination…