Sunday, 26 January 2014

Fuck Me In The Ass Cos I Love Jesus

Two young women of today give us here the profoundly moving lyric, 'Fuck Me in The Ass 'Cos I Love Jesus'. Listen to it prayerfully. As one You Tuber points out, 'not funny, not clever, just disrespectful'. Well spotted, Sparky!!!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Not a lot of work for the time being, so not a lot of money. Still, as a good Buddhist, one should rejoice at the success and happiness of others, even as one accepts one’s own lack of either. It was heartwarming, therefore, to receive this communication from the union the other day, which I now share with you:

Whilst [Name of University] through their agent [Name of Agent], continue to plead poverty, now that the 2012-2013 [Name of University] Annual Accounts have been published, [the union] can inform our members that our VC, Professor [Mighty Bull, Lofty of Plumes; Favorite of the Two Goddesses; Great in Kingship in Karnak; Golden Hawk, Wearer of Diadems in the Southern Heliopolis; Great in Duration, Living-for-Ever-and-Ever; Beloved of Amon-Ra, Lord of Heaven.] took a rise of a massive 11.6% last year (a clear 3.5% above the 8% pay rise average for the Russell Group VCs). According to the annual accounts the VC's pay package rose by £26,000 to a headline figure just short of a £1/4 of a million.

While ordinary staff are being offered a miserly 1% and have experienced a real terms pay cut of 13% over the past 4 years, in the last year alone, the VC's pay package has risen by nearly 12%!

You gotta admire that sort of brass neck.

Arseholes to the lot of 'em.

Friday, 17 January 2014


The crematorium doesn't look like this, but it sure as hell feels like this.

On Wednesday I went to the funeral of my uncle Ken, my mum’s brother-in-law. He was 82. I was a funeral virgin, as my grandparents all died while I was living abroad, and my parents decided - sensibly, I think - that they would donate their remains to medicine rather than shell out three thousand quid to have them elaborately packaged, then incinerated. So there was no funeral for my dad, and there won’t be one for mum. There is another reason why my mum doesn’t want any ceremony: she has a horror of being overwhelmed by emotion, especially in public. I suppose this is the one streak of Britishry in her personality. There’s no lack of powerful emotion in there, but it is only given expression when she’s alone. On the eve of the do, my sister and I drove up to my mother’s from Suffolk and Lincolnshire respectively, and my niece and nephew came up by train from London and Southampton. We invited a friend round, cooked a nice dinner, and had a pleasant evening with no mention made of the obsequies to come. 

The following morning. 

We drive to the crematorium where people are gathering, some of whom I have not seen in forty-odd years and would have walked past in the street, but recognise because I knew they’d be here. Someone tells me I haven’t changed much, although I’m pretty sure I look older than eleven. Others I see occasionally. Lesley, my mum’s younger sister, mutters to me ‘I hate this bloody place!’ and reminds me of a story about my grandad, a stone mason who’d worked on the crematorium building. It seems that he’d been asked if he wanted to witness the burning of a corpse, and on the grounds that this was not an offer you got every day, accepted. He watched through a spy-hole as the stiff unstiffened and writhed in the flames like the damned in the Lake of Fire. I’m not sure if all the details of the tale would stand up in court, but whatever it was that grandad saw that day made him a vegetarian for at least a week. He declared that he never wanted to go there again - a vain hope if you’re going to live in the same town into your eighties, for the crematorium just sits here, waiting patiently. We also remember Auntie Cilla, our family’s medium manquée, who also hated the crematorium because she always heard voices calling her by name as she walked through the grounds, a phenomenon readily explicable in a place as thick with archetypes as this. Lesley herself came to sign the book of remembrance a year after grandad had undergone the same process as the corpses he had watched combust all those years before. She had walked down the long winding drive to the crem as daylight was fading, and found the place closed and the air as always heavy with loss, misery and dead meat. She turned and fled. This reminded me of a monochrome dream I had in the eighties. I was in a crematorium building alone at night. There was a horror movie feeling of don’t-look-now as I tried to escape, for then I was always creeped out by the sight of coffins, hearses, wreaths and shrouds, all the trappings of death.        
Now the hearse arrives, with the coffin and the flowers, the trappings of death. We troop into the chapel and take our seats. I have not been in a British church since my sister’s wedding thirty two years ago. Greek churches have seats only for the elderly and the service goes ahead whether anyone’s listening or not – people walk around, talk, go out into the square, come back for a bit, go out again. Here, we are seated as at a cinema, and we’re expected to listen. Looking at the coffin, I see Ken standing beside it. He’s laughing and pointing at the box as if it and the whole pricey, poker-faced rigmarole we are engaged in were one huge practical joke, and we had yet to see the funny side. Back in my woo-woo days, I’d have taken this ‘vision’ very seriously. Now I just dismiss it as a brain-fart.

A bloke in a suit closes the doors, another comes up to the mike, and we’re off. It’s a relief that Ken was not a believer, and we will not be required to pray or sing hymns. The second suited bloke reads the eulogy: ‘In life, we encounter our death only once…’ No shit, Sherlock! Well, there’s a profound observation for you! I’m tempted to whisper this to my nephew but forbear, correctly anticipating that there’s a fair bit more such stilted deepity to come and we can’t spend the next forty minutes stifling our clever-clever snickers. Actually, the whole thing is just boring. I sit counting the breaths and giving myself Alexander technique instructions: ‘neck free, head forward and up, shoulders out and down…’ obviously to prevent myself from getting in any way emotionally involved – I have a lot in common with my mother. At length, we’re informed that Ken, like pretty much everybody else who's gone on ahead, has chosen to be played out to Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way’. The ‘final curtain’ closes off the alcove where the coffin lies, and it’s extraordinary how poignant this song, which I’ve always loathed, has suddenly become.

We file out into a pleasant conservatory-like place behind the crematorium building. My mum is in tears and apologising for it: ‘I do wish I could do better than this!’ 

We reassure her that tears are perfectly OK at a funeral, and that she’s far from the only one weeping, but she’s not having it. ‘You feel such a chump when everybody else is handling it so much better.’ 

A friend of my auntie's says to her gently, 'come on, Shirley, you need to be strong for Joan.' 

'I can't help it,' mum sniffs. 'Some are just better at handling tears than others.' 

This buttoned-up attitude would be inexplicable to the Greeks, who don't think you have emotions at all unless you're playing to the gallery. Auntie Joan, in British terms at least, is doing remarkably well, accepting consoling hugs with smiles, dignity and composure. In contrast, after my dad died my mum wouldn't answer the phone for three weeks in case it was someone offering condolences, which would result in instant meltdown.  

We're a bloody odd bunch.

Along the path up to the car park there’s a wall where you can leave flowers under a plaque with the name of the person whose funeral you have attended. Ours was not the first today and it isn’t the last. There are a few hundred more people today who’ll be feeling the same heaviness on entering and relief on leaving.

There’s a reception at a nearby pub which restores some normality, but not entirely for me. I haven’t fully digested my first funeral yet. I keep going over it in my mind, and thinking how not so long ago, I was so sure that death was the start of a big adventure, and now this belief seems absurd – it’s simply illness, death, a box, a curtained-off alcove and then the flames. I know I will not have one of those dos for myself. For me as for my mum, a funeral brings no sense of closure, only a sense of brooding darkness. They can dump my corpse in an old pram and shove me over a cliff.                  

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Going for a Walk

I'm up north in Huddersfield for a few days. To bring some Mediterranean colour to grey West Yorkshire winter, I've been cooking bulgur wheat pilafis, vegetables à la grecque, fried halloumi and penne alla putanesca. This evening I'm going to make fried rice to use up some left-over ham and mushrooms, and I needed a red pepper. These are freely available here even on New Year's Day, but t'was not ever thus. I went out to get one and walk around a bit for some much needed exercise and a memory trip. I won't call it nostalgia. 

Ours is a rather run-down suburb of large industrial town. Ten minutes' drive from here there's beautiful countryside, picturesque farms, stone villages, weavers' cottages and cosy traditional pubs, a rarity in England now. However, you can't help feeling that the fact that you can get out of here easily is hardly a recommendation. In winter, it's bleak. Right now the sky's like a pile of wet floor cloths, and it seems as if water is oozing out of the garden walls and flagstones. Naked black trees line streets that are soggy with leaves and litter. Crows and pigeons skulk on television aerials and chimney pots, sodden and silent. I pass a row of shops that has been here as long as I can remember. Up to thirty-odd years ago there was a grocer's, a fish and chip shop, a cobbler's and a butcher's. At the grocer's, housewives queued for ages on Saturday mornings for spuds, sprouts, onions and carrots, and the fags that nobody then knew were threatening to kill them. Large numbers of Asian immigrants were starting to fill up the area, and some of the terrace houses were serving as madrassahs. Locals were hazy about the customs of the new immigrant population.

'Well shooley,' said Mrs Grocer to a Mrs Customer, 'a church is more holy than a house?'

'They dote worship God,' said Mrs Customer authoritatively. 'I know. They worship a prophet.'


Initially, the immigrants were reluctant to integrate, knowing how widely they were mistrusted, resented and misrepresented. To many of us, their otherness was total. 

'I saw a Pakistani ont bus!' one of my mum's friends told her in a year when this was obviously a novelty and a threat.

'What's a Pakistani?' I asked.

'Ont bus, love,' she replied, mishearing.

So for a while I thought a 'Pakistani' was a species of bus, like a trolley or a coach.

The one time as a kid I had occasion to go into a Pakistani family's house, I was suffocated by a smell so powerful and so alien it felt almost like a physical barrier. I now know it was the smell of ghee, but then it was nasty and dirty: lurid fantasies about what these people ate were rife, and at school kids delighted in trying to put one another off their puddings by whispering 'thar in't chocolate sauce, it's Pakis' diarrhea!' The headmaster would periodically try to persuade the little girls to wear skirts instead of shalwaar kameez, and the dinner ladies expressed impatience at their refusal to eat meat, but how these kids were actually coping with the strangeness, rejection and prejudice was hardly ever considered.  Still, curiosity made me want to build bridges. At the age of about twelve I took it into my head to learn Punjabi. I got a book from the library and tried to enlist some of the Pakistani kids who lived nearby to help. Initially they were very willing, but after a talking-to in Punjabi from a white-robed matriarch, they wouldn't come near me. 

I walk past a small grassy hill known as the Banking where one sunny day decades ago some of us were playing when one of our party, Carl, decided it would be a good idea to belt another kid over the head with a plank of wood. So he did. She summoned her father, who came storming up to us and bellowed ' just oo der you think you are?' 

Shocked and blinking, Carl took the question wholly literally: 'LuigiCarlGerrardToffolo,' he recited in the name-rank-and-serial-number way he always adopted when asked his name. He was about seven then. He died last year of the drink. Funny how things turn out, innit? 

There's a big grocery store here on this corner.  When I was a kid, it was an off-license run by a grumpy bachelor who bore a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler, if somewhat more stout. He sold Vesta beef curries, which came dehydrated in a sachet: this was as culinarily adventurous as most people got around here at the time. On the shelf behind the counter there was a bottle of wine labelled 'Tiger Milk of Ranina', and it must have stood there for well over a decade, as nobody had a clue what it was. The shop later changed hands and was extended. As a teenager I was a regular customer for Carlsberg Special Brew, which the owner would sell me, no questions asked. Indeed it could be said that it was his enthusiastic commendation of this hooligan-strength lager that got me hooked in the first place, when I was about fifteen. Nowadays no doubt he'd be subject to the inquiries of assorted committees, so it's just as well he's dead. Today the place is owned by a group of hard-working Pakistani men. Under an awning, a display of oranges, lemons, peppers, ginger, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes and bunches of green herbs offers a striking contrast to the surrounding grey, and inside there's every spice you'll ever need for Indian cooking, so I'm a big fan. It's open fourteen hours a day. Strictly no booze. I buy my red pepper and a lump of ginger root. I remember my grandma suspiciously sniffing a lump of ginger I had just cut in half. The smell was obviously as powerful and alien to her as ghee had been to me. 'It smells like bleach!' she said, horrified that I was about to put it into our lunch.

Just past the shops on our right is the house where a kid I knew from infant school spent his first decade or so. Ivan had been a transvestite probably from the time he was a foetus. He was extravagantly camp at the age of six, and when not at school would be clattering along the streets, powdered and rouged, in a frilly frock and a pair of his mother's high heels which fitted his feet as turds fit piss-pots, as they say up here. He had a friend called Jaqueline whom he had determined to marry, and gender roles be damned. Ivan went to the shop across the road from school and along with a Club chocolate orange biscuit for playtime, purchased a tasteful ring in thick black plastic with a bright green skull on it. I was the officiating priest at their wedding in the school playground. Other boys as always were tearing around pretending to be fighter jets. (Yawn) Some time ago I read a review of Billy Elliot by Roger Ebert. He says: 'The character of the transvestite Michael in particular seems based more on wishful thinking than on plausible reality: would a gay boy of his age in this neighbourhood of this town in 1984 be quite so sure of himself?' I thought immediately of Ivan, who at half Michael's age in a similar neighbourhood twenty years earlier never had a daunt.

I doubt if I will ever come back to live here permanently. To be fair, it's almost always in grey, wet, windy winter when I visit. On the rare occasions that I'm here in summer I'm struck by the greenness of the streets and hill sides, and it must be admitted that the view across the Colne Valley from my bedroom window is pretty impressive at anytime of the year. 

Not my photo or the present season, but pretty much what I'm looking at now.


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