Wise Men Say…

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My childhood was dominated by memories of The King. Elvis Presley, Aaron to be more precise. My mother was in love. She was smitten with this hip-shaking, breath-taking, king of Rock and Roll. We were the family from The Commitments who could not conceive that there was anything better than the lip-curling kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, the voice of a generation before us and one that could not be beaten. Our commitment to The King was complete and it was cemented with our mother’s undying love.

At that point, we never realised that she had another love, one that could never be requited; Rock Hudson. 

I had a particularly bad singing voice. People would stop me in the street just to complain to me about it. You see I loved singing, but singing didn’t love me. Unless I did Elvis Presley songs. Elvis and I, I like to think, were joined at the spiritual hip. We were both working class lads whose middle name began with A (mine was for Andrew not Aaron). For some reason, and this may have been only me who heard this, we both sounded like each other. I would practice at night upon going to bed. It would start with something rocky like King Creole and then move into a couple of love songs, Love me Tender and Only Fools Rush In. that helped to set the scene. With each hip-rolling lyric I was being transformed into The King. I even learned to roll my lip the way he did.

In the sixties, Elvis started to become a little uncool. He started making excrutiatinlgy unbearable films (movies to my American cousins) such as Kissin’ Cousins and Clambake. Regardless of being an Elvis Presley devotee, I kept it quiet if I ever watched these on Saturday afternoons. I did like Flaming Star, a decent western in which he showed a little acting ability and obviously Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and…the list is not endless. Still, I believed that I was becoming Elvis.

My mother loved Elvis whilst my father mocked him a little. Dad was a Frank Sinatra fan and, possibly like me, saw much of himself in his idol. He would never admit that he followed Frank, it was not manly and was certainly not the done thing in working-class West Yorkshire. I tried to keep my Elvis to myself. My mother swooned when one of his songs would be aired on the radio. She positively melted when he was on TV.

“He can only sing certain songs,” my dad would goad.

“Shut up, you. you’re only jealous!” She would snap back.

On those bitterly cold winters nights, I would retreat to the relative comfort of my bedroom, pull an extra coat on the bed, leave my socks on, roll my head to accompany the rock that was to come, and then sing my heart out.

“Shut up!” The chorus would come, “Shut up and go to sleep before your father gets back from the club.”

My singing would then take a downturn into the hardly-audible. I was praying the words, offering up myself to a greater power, the living god of Rock n Roll.

Getting older meant that certain songs could not be sung. The seventies brought Glam Rock, Prog Rock and then Punk Rock. The King must have seen it coming and decided to make himself less and less visible. Ironically, during this time, he was becoming more and more visible through his love of all food bad. His weight shot up as his fame dropped   down. I still managed a neat impersonation of him singing, In The Ghetto. That was a rather socially aware number that I believed was socially acceptable, As The Snow Flies. I have never seen snow flies, but I think that they must be rather hardy little pests.

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On August 16, 1977, The King died.

I was in bed, drifting off to sleep. Too old to sing his songs without my parents considering the option of sectioning me in our local lunatic asylum. I could hear the TV from downstairs. Mum was watching it whilst my dad shared a few pints with his mates at the club.

I heard a long drawn-out, “Oh, no.” Quickly followed by, “No. Please, no.”

I knew he was dead. I went downstairs and found my mum in tears.

“He’s dead, Mike. Elvis is dead. It’s not fair.”

My sisters were both downstairs at this point and they joined he in the ritual shedding of tears. Even my father was sad when he returned. The King was dead.

That night, I tried to summon up his spirit and channel it within me. I could think of no better use for my defunct voice box than to become the conduit for King Creole’s magnificence. It didn’t happen.

My mum got over her infatuation and moved on. She was never the same with her affections and never openly declared her love for icons until later when her somewhat secret love was no secret any more. Rock Hudson, dashingly handsome and quirkily funny in his outings in Pillow Talk with Doris Day, died on October 2nd 1985. He died of Aids related illnesses after hiding his sexuality for al of his movie-star career. My mother sobbed. My father shrugged his shoulders.

“If only he had met me. I could have cured him,” she declared.

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In those days, they had no cure for homosexuality.

Nor for unrequited love. 

 

 

 

Win At All Costs! Or Not…

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Eugene Christophe Tour de France

I always associate the Tour de France with colour. Firstly, there are the colourful fields of sunflowers that have come to symbolise this yearly adventure and then there are the team kits. In 1919, just after the slaughter of the Great War, the Tour set about its pilgrimage around the departments of France. As money was in short supply and industry had not yet recovered from the black and white of conflict, dyes, ironically, were not in abundance. So, the decision was made to wear grey. The problem here was that if everyone looked the same, how could anybody identify the race leader as the peloton flashed past? The answer was to kit the leader out in a different coloured shirt, yellow.

It was the Frenchman, Eugene Christophe who was presented with the first ever maillot jaune after he had led the race for several stages with only five to go. Some in the watching crowd thought this rather amusing as the poor bicyclist looked like a canary so, they laughed. Christophe was non-too impressed. This, after all, was his renaissance as he had been denied victory in the 1913 race through an unfortunate series of events. Christophe had taken the lead from Odile Defraye of Belgium and was building a commanding overall lead when he was hit by a stray motorcar. Remember that this was 1913.

Anyway, the upshot of this was that Christophe was unhurt, but his front fork had been snapped in two. As many cyclists appreciate, bodies can heal themselves but bikes cannot. I’ve seen plenty of cyclists take a tumble, tear off skin, splinter bones, and bleed, but the first thing many of them do is to check that their bike is alright. Cyclists are a selfless sect.

Poor old Christophe’s race was run, but he was accepting non of it. Instead of throwing in the towel, he threw his injured bike onto his back and ran eight-and-a-half to the next village, where he found a forge. Like many of his ilk, he was a skilled mechanic and was able to forge a new fork. He ought to have received a jersey just for that! However, he made the mistake of asking a seven-year-old boy to work the bellows that fed the flames. Never play with flames in the Tour de France unless you wish to be caught and punished (eventually…ask Lance Armstrong).  As a result of his ingenuity, Christophe was penalised 10-minutes for using outside assistance.

You would think that this story deserved a happy ending, but it didn’t get one. In the 1919 race he broke his forks and came third. Again, in 1922, he was in the top three contending the race when…guess what? Yup, the bloody fork snapped again. It would appear that no matter how hard you try, no mater how good you are, or how unlucky you have been, sometimes destiny does not smile on you.

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Me, the Viking.

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The sixties was a time of discovery in British education. I didn’t know that because I was one of the lucky ones to be schooled through it. We had teachers who were new to the profession, teachers who had grown up through the war and grown some more in the fifties and then into sixties. They had seen the world change. And it had been for the better.

History had always been my favourite subject, well that and art. Art had been about creating, represtenting and shaping what I saw whilst history had been…well, it had been about the same stuff.

I was always aware of how important history was to our village. We had an ancient church there and a line of descent that demanded an annual recreation by The Sealed Knot Society. This was the civil war remembrance group who dressed up and fought out the Battle of Thornhill, a decisive play between the roundheads and the cavaliers.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was always a secret cavalier. They seemed romantic in comparision to the workaday Cromwelliams. Cromwell was about not singing, not having your hair cut on Sunday,  wearing black clothing. Perhaps that was why I never took to Goths during the eighties.  Anyway, I loved history.

One memory stood out amongst many other significant ones. It was the time that our teacher measured the circumferences of our heads to determine whether we were of Anglo-Saxon or of Viking descent. Post war meant that Anglo-Saxon was, ironically, the most patriotic as it was seen to be more aligned to the natural English bloodline; we still had maps with pink on them to show the extent of the empire.

As it turned out, in a massively Anglo-Saxon head measuring school, that was Church of England in denomination, I was a big headed Viking. Raider, reaper and raper, I ought to have hung my big scandinavian head in shame, but I didn’t.

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Evans, Evanson I was and that I have remained.

Dildos and Stockings To The Rescue!

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A ray of sunshine has fallen across our Saturday morning. Outside is dull and damp, but in doors there is a spot of hope.

Saturday morning started off as all Saturdays tend to do. Lucy, our cat, came gently meowing into our bedroom. The weather is grim out there, but that didn’t stop her from wanting, nay insisting, on going out. I crept out of bed, descended the stairs, opened the front door, and she was gone into the gloom. I went back to bed; it was five o’clock.

Later, we were awoken by the sound of our middle daughter moving around. We ignored this and feigned sleep. After about half an hour, my wife’s phone started to do the buzzing thing that has replaced the traditional ring. It could only be one person, our eldest daughter in France. I listened for a short time to the conversation and then went to make the mugs of tea that are so much a part of our awakenings.

Saturday mornings always follow their own traditions. Tea, talk, sample the news, and the porn; property-porn.

Property-porn has been part of our lives for over twenty years. In the early days it meant leafing through the Yorkshire Post property pages. Then it progressed to the internet where property porn is tailored for everyone’s predispositions and quirks. We originally went the French way as old houses and gardens were still the norm for most people’s tastes. After that, we went Spanish: new-builds, sea-views, and pools. Spanish properties are plentiful, although sometimes they tend to lack the aesthetic.

We can spend up to an hour luxuriating in this debauchery until the real world calls us back. The real world needs finances and I have managed to spend the main part of my life avoiding this hefty consideration. My pension-pot is puny as I thought that I would be a famous writer by now. I am not. And the wife is not overly impressed. Therefore the morning, that started off so well, the porn not the cat, started to slide downhill a little.

“Why can’t you write a bestseller?”

“I know. I wish I could.”

“But it would have to be something that people would want to read.”

“I know.”

It was still slipping downhill and towards a precipice when my wife suggested, sex.

“Sex sells.”

“Perhaps I could write some erotica?”

“I don’t really think it’s you.”

“Cheers.”

So, I am officially a sad old git who can’t get it up for a swift chase of chapters that would titivate the secretly saucy.

“Dildos and Stockings!”

The morning was starting to look up again.

“Why don’t I set up an internet shop and sell dildos and stockings? Buy a pair of stockings and get a dildo, of your choice, free.”

She had my attention.

” I think that you have something there.”

The idea had begun to harden in our minds.

Dildos and Stockings. It’s great name.It could just work.

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At last, things are looking up.

Property-porn, here we come.  

The Problem With Believing In Oneself

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I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

Tripping Over Milestones…

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Milestones. Coming back from mental illness has its milestones. I have met many of these along the way and have touched them as I have gone past. Most say that I’m pointing in the right direction. They pat me on the back as reassurance that I am on the right road and, indeed, I am on that right road.

I am becoming more and more normal everyday, in many ways.

And…I am scared.

 

I liked being ‘unnormal’. Although it was a desperate situation for a time, it freed me from false gods.

I stopped praying at their temples and took to wandering through the days on a quest to find the grails that I had left behind. I realised that I was not normal. My brain worked differently. My outlooks were different. My goals were not the same. And there I found myself, after a year-long odyssey, thinking that I had made it back, thinking that I had regained my sanity.

I was becoming normal once again.

One thing about having a breakdown is that you throw away the old. Not so much that you throw it away, rather that the old has been thrown for you. You wake up one morning and the world has turned without you onboard. You are floating somewhere in a drug-filled space; keeping quiet, watching, writing.

The writing keeps a record, the watching keeps one’s distance, the quiet gives you time to think. The thinking feeds one’s belief that the world is not a sane place and that everyone in it is normal; and the norm is madness.    

The problem with welcoming back normality is similar to the problem of welcoming displaced people into the security of western democracies. I am a liberal do-gooder and would welcome all and sundry, but I am now aware that amongst the sundries are unwanted agents. These agents have returned, not to ask for forgiveness but to help to create mayhem and chaos. My problem is that I am aware that some of the norms that are creeping back over the borders are non-friendlies. I want to keep myself safe and I can’t have radical agents sabotaging the infrastructure that I have built; or terrifying the crap out of those areas that I have only recently regained.

The other thing is that I cannot, simply cannot, give into the fear of ‘what might’, censor thoughts for the potentially harmful. Or build a bloody Great Wall.

It is the norm that is doing this to me. It is the acceptable face of everyday madness that almost all of us are being coaxed into accepting in exchange for normal life expectations. Most of us stop every now and again and see the madness for what it is. It’s a fairground wheel that everyone is queuing up to climb aboard. It takes its passengers above the ground level of life and shows them what they may be missing. It’s a huge panorama of the possible and it costs an arm and a leg, and a soul, to pay for the ride.

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So, we go on the ride. We hold hands with the one that we love and we marvel at the world that suddenly becomes smaller and less threatening. We are above it, like gods, and we can see it for what it is, a canvas of earth that is there for our conquest. 

Then there is a crunching noise. Metal on metal, in a squeal of dismay. The circle that we were travelling on screams to a stop. The Wheel of Fortune halts in its sky-stride and rattles its deception. The cold wind arises and worries the hands that are holding now more tightly. The earth is still below, but it is no longer smaller. It leers up at you and reasserts its dominance.

After an eternity, the ride begins again. This is the downward part of the cycle and it is welcome. Soon the ground will be there to greet you and you feel comforted. It will sit as sure as gravity and make a dull promise that this is it, no more fear, no more false fancies, no more madness.

“I will shackle your dreams to the earth and they will never tempt you again just as long as you follow me.”

And, for a while the reassurance of this promise is wonderful. No more dreams. No more seeing the world from different perspectives. No more rides towards heaven. The Wheel of Fortune has turned full circle and has brought you back to where you were, at the beginning of all that, before it happened.

No more will you venture out into places that belong to others. You will keep close to the ground and closer to the coastline. You will keep even closer to the little world that existed before the dawn of understanding. You will live a life more ordinary and die a normal death, having pledged yourself to the God of Norm.

Life will begin at the sound of the alarm clock. It will continue on its journey through a brief breakfast, the pinching of time over tea, and the goodbyes and the ‘have a good day’ until the blankness of the business day is bankrupt and the home waits for a few hours of respite.

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FIN DU TRAVAIL (THE END OF THE WORKING DAY)

JULES BRETON

Then, the next day, in all its lack of hope, will suffuse into the world and pretend it is new.  

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