Appropriate Defence

From The Daily Telegraph – Lingerie-stealing postman caught wearing woman’s thong.

Matthew Furness, a Royal Mail postman who stole parcels containing women’s lingerie, was caught wearing a stolen red thong…
…He aroused suspicions after a string of packages of a “female nature” disappeared while he was on duty. His Royal Mail bosses launched a covert operation which involved planting a parcel containing a women’s bra and thong in his van…
…”My client has already suffered as a result of the publicity that surrounds this case,” said his defence lawyer, Ian Brazier.

Friday 17 October 2008

Throwing eggs at the global stocks

In bygone ages people used to throw eggs at the stocks, then at the end of the 20th century it progressed to stockholders.  Remember when the anti-globalization movement caused stirs and debate with finely orchestrated civil unrest at every meeting of the World Bank or the G8 Summits?

But now, with the disaster of a global economy crashing around our ears… where are they?  Just when we need them, just when people are ready to listen to a sensible alternative to the chaos theory – when a trader in Taiwan flaps his arms it causes an economic hurricane around the entire world – just now, when their moment has come, where are they?

The recent E7 and World Bank meetings were egg free – apart from the ones the harder-nosed bankers were breaking to make their metaphorical omelettes.  Has Jamie Oliver’s free-range, “Every Egg is Precious”, campaign got to the anti-globalisation protesters or, with inflation at an unprecedented high, can they simply not afford the eggs any more?

Maybe getting to these meetings and summits was causing too large a carbon footprint for the conscientious to have on their conscience.  Or maybe the egg throwers are there but, much like the blanket media blackout on “Harry does Afghanistan”, the media have signed an agreement to only do good financial news, so as not to panic the poor sensitive bankers and stockbrokers.  Who can we trust?

My favourite theory, is they’ve quietly moved to Lewes where the local printed Lewes pound is worth as much today as it did a month ago and are happily ignoring the world who tried to ignore them keeping their own back yard economy safe from global fickleness.

I just wonder how much, in Lewes Pounds, it costs to buy the latest version of Monopoly now being advertised by Parker Brothers. With barely more than a hundred days until Christmas they are almost presciently launching The Here & Now World Edition which involves taking over the entire world economy, or bankrupting it…

As the Duke of Westminster so often says, “I’ve got Mayfair and Park Lane, that’ll be five million pounds please”.

Why she smiled

from Making Love – A Conspiracy of the Heart – Chapter 4 In Which

She smiled because there wasn’t much else to do. She smiled because at least she knew where she was going in life. She was going down. She found some reassurance in the steadiness of her descent. Last night and the express elevator of her life had dropped down another few floors, it had found yet further unfathomable cellars to fall to. Bing Bong. Sub Basement 101, Lady’s Separates, Loneliness, Humiliations, Women’s Unwashables and other Feelings of Dirtiness. And the doors swish open and there is the cavernous despair department, with all the sad salesgirls, with mascara blotted tears, waiting to spray her with their latest perfumes.

‘This is ‘Grief’ by Tristesse. Can you smell the evocative pungence of rejection?’

‘Try ‘Neurosis’ by Chagrin the compulsive scent of anguish, each drop squeezed from an aching heart.’

‘This is our latest, the dolerous odour of ‘Lu’, an Eau de Toilette for the woman who knows just what her life is heading down. You will find it is at its most fragrant when you flush.’

New Art from China – Saatchi Gallery

Like most people my age I have the abiding memory of, whenever a toy broke in my hand, inspecting it more closely and through the mist of my tears discovering the words, “Made in China” embossed on what was, inevitably, an unbroken part.  It is no wonder then that one’s first reaction to the words “Made in China” is, well: shit.

What’s rather refreshing about this new exhibition in Saatchi’s crisp new Duke of York’s space in Chelsea is that, like the giant mound of excretia made from tarred and melted army toys in the second room, this reaction seems to have been anticipated.

Is it crap?  Well no.  It doesn’t smell, you don’t have the pleasure of making it and judging from the hoards of well heeled chelscensters at the public opening, it cannot really be indulged in private.

It is interesting and amusing and pretty much does what we tend to like “Art” to do nowadays; which is divert with facile allusion.  Rather like high end “Dancing on Ice“.  It comments but then excuses itself from comment when it gets it wrong by being “Art”.

The centrepiece of the show is the room full of aging world leaders wandering about in electric wheel chairs, half asleep, frighteningly real wax works, living out the random conflicts and bumps of their confinement.  At one level you can find the “comment”, though the leaders seem unidentifiable, in the obvious allusion to world conflict.  On the other hand, their journeys are so slow and their sensors so diplomatic that it becomes ludicrous and the satiric edge is dampened and… well never mind, it’s art.

The unstated comment that underlies this exhibition, though, is interesting.  So deeply ingrained is the propaganda of the Revolution, the theme of the glory of the common worker overcoming the decadent capitalism of the bestern wankers is apparently unintentionally evident in almost every work.  We have the real, stuffed, hard working donkey, pushing over the metal, industrial, artifical New York skyscraper; the apparently minimalist decadent blank canvas, which on closer inspection is being hurried over by worker ants; the iconic busts of western art are impaled by the fieldworkers pitchforks grown in to the shape by nature.  It’s not difficult to work out which end of the chippy spectrum these artists, and their country, are coming from.

Art and politics love flirting with each other, each thinking the other gives them some edge.  But they’ve never mixed well.  After all, if a week is a long time in politics, a decade is a blink of an eye for great art… so if you’re looking for that, you won’t find it here.

Saatchi’s advertiser’s eye for the catchy and current undermines his search for great art.  This, like so much “Sensation” brit art and too many ads, is amusing, interesting and instantly forgettable.  What was I talking about?

Don’t bank on it…

Of course banks have always encouraged the use of the word “bank” as a by-word for security, rather than something an aeroplane does suddenly when it loses a wing and is shortly about to crash to earth in a ball of flames.  Nor did the meaning of the word as the thing that you slip on as you tumble into a river have much relevence – until this week.

Of course some people always knew banks were dangerously insecure places; the residents of the West Bank, the sleepers of the South Bank and the poor women who work at Hoares.

Then to top it all you think you’ve got your money safe, invested in a bit of art, when suddenly not even a Banksy can be safely called a Banksy.  According to his official spokesman last week, announcing the shocking news, there are, other people also performing the exclusive and highly skilled art form known as grafitti.  In the time it takes to read a press release he wiped half the value off the Sotheby’s trading floor.

I had the awkward experience of accepting a cheque from someone yesterday only to find that, though the cheque was fine, the bank had bounced.

Safe as houses, safe as the Bank of England, not likely – the bums gone to Iceland.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

My phone starts vibrating in the middle of breakfast and manages to shimmy straight in to the butter dish before I can reach it.Wiping the screen I can just make out a smeared text message.

“Jst ws thnkng of U hope yr well! Missng U.”

My wife looks over and I know my ears are reddening under the scrutiny.The thoughtful, if vowel-lite, text message is from T. an old, once significant, girlfriend.We had lived on a boat together in the mad old days and when I sailed off into the uncharted waters of parenthood, with someone apparently more sorted.It was she who stood on the waterfront of my child-free life, shouting, “I coulda been a contender.” But if something coulda, you’ll always ask yourself whether it woulda.

I look at the text as casually as possible, as if it was just one of my twenty-a-day spam messages offering to upgrade my phone, but for a second, I feel the vigilantly repressed young buck inside me rearing triumphant.I pretend to delete the message whilst, at the same time, remind G. to eat with his mouth closed and I slip the phone, a little too easily, in to my jacket.

Of course, I know I should have just deleted it immediately but a voice from a rose-tinted past is a sirensong and the older I get, the significance of what an alternative life might have been, becomes ever more poignant.

“The past is a foreign country…,” said the writer L.P.Hartley, but it isn’t, or there’d be a budget airline offering 9p tickets there.“…they do things differently there.”Wrong again.In fact the whole problem with the past is it is so terribly unchangeable, however you look at it, whatever was done, it’s always exactly the same.I think if you’re going to be remembered in the Oxford Book of Quotations for just one line, you rather owe it to yourself to get it right.

Of course if the past was another country and you could get there on EasyTimemachine® then of course you’d do things differently.Wouldn’t you?

Later, in the loo, I examine the buttery grease stain in my jacket lining and toy with the idea of replying.Using the now well established excuse argument, the Clinton Literality Defence, I convince myself that texting, technically, is not like I’m making an actual call.But of course in some ways, like fellatio, it is much more intimate.And if I did, what would I say?

“Hey lng tm no hear, I’m good, U?” or

“Miss U 2. Stay hppy” or

“O Gd wht hve I dne, it shd hv bn U. Pls frgve me.I Lv U, cm bck nd tk me awy frm all ths.”?

Or, of course, I could just take the patently sensible option and delete it.

My thumb hovers over the delete option and I realise that that the one thing that defines this mid-life that I’ve blindly stumbled into is that the world is no longer just about possible futures and directions, most of my alternatives are just what coulda been.“What if,” has become, “if only”.That, and the fact that nowadays my back goes out more often than I do.

Sitting looking at the message I feel I am constantly frozen between the two diverging headlights of reigniting feelings that may damage my often troubled but known-quantity status quo, and the infinite delights of a fictional alternative life.

And, like so many resultant rabbit pies.I do nothing.The phone’s backlight turns off and I put it away again.

Of course it’s only a few days before the wheels of the reality lorry pound me into the road.

It’s after dinner, story time.I’m upstairs trying to make Count Olaf sound like Vincent Price.My phone, back on the kitchen table, starts vibrating.Before it can sidle into the unidentifiable gunge that eternally surrounds our youngest’s uncleared plate, my wife helpfully picks it up and reads the text.

“Upgrade your phone now and receive…”

She deletes it from the inbox and, without really thinking, glances at the screen.She says nothing until later.The kids are in bed, their lights are out and they are quivering beneath their duvets desperately trying to think of some ray of hope in a world darkened by the evil Count Olaf.We’re both reading at the table and without even looking up she says, “Do you ever hear from T.?”My stomach crashes and I know I’ve been rumbled.

“Yes,” I say, trying to breathe evenly and think of icebergs and penguins and cool, cool, desperate not to blush, “she sent me a text just the other day, out of the blue.”

“Oh, really?You didn’t mention it.”

“No.Well.Thought it best to ignore it.”I hold back from attempting anything that might appear affectionate, a dead giveaway that I might have something to compensate for.

“Do you ever think about her?” she says, “The past? You know, what might have happened if we hadn’t got together?”

“The past?” I laugh thinly, “oh no, you know me.Seize the day, stay focussed, look to the future, live in the now…”

“Yes,” she nods with her arch smile, “I do know you.”

And, I suppose, the contents of my outbox.


The Daddy as Baddie

“I’m going to count to five and if you haven’t said sorry by then you’re going straight to your room.”

I stand pointing upstairs looking as furious as possible as I try to remember where I’ve heard the phrase I’ve just used before. Oh yes. It was my father.


With the possible exception of being behind the wheel of a very large truck, you don’t want to turn in to your parents. However, the chances of avoiding it, when they’re the only consistent guide to parenting you’ve had, are slim.

For me this isn’t helped when each morning I look in the mirror and all I can see is my father staring back. Not only that, he hasn’t even bothered to shave. When my wife wakes up she doesn’t just look like her mother, she proceeds to tell me how she was always too good for me, I should get a proper job and that there were a lot less darkies around during the blitz.


My only consolation in my patermorphis is that I’m not turning into someone else’s father because, flawed as my one was, this week has proven there are far worse out there.

Take poor Ray Bond who failed to pick up the clues when he allowed Hannah, his 13 year old “emo” fixated, goth, daughter with a history of self harm, unmonitored internet access. Hannah “was always very protective of the screen whenever I came in to the room,” he told a Coroner after finding her lifeless body hanging from her bunk bed.

Of course he didn’t choke his daughter to death by stamping on her throat in an honour killing as Abdel-Quader Ali did after seeing her talking to a British soldier. “Death was the least she deserved,” he pronounced.

But even that pales when the kindly old father figure from Amstetten said, “It was a beautiful idea for me, to have a proper family also down in the cellar.”


Suddenly I’m wondering if I’m not being a little too authoritarian. I mean dads have hardly had a good press this week. It’s like someone’s been running a campaign for Fathers For Injustice. And here I am looking stern and maybe it’s scarier then I think.

I do realise that, like nipples and Calpol, terror has a key role in the psyche of the young, it trains caution before they’re old enough to understand danger. An ugly witch in a fairy tale used to do the job but since Shrek came along they’re all cute and rehabilitated; ogres no longer seem to eat children.

When R’s school project on Zeus revealed that his father ate most of his siblings as babies and Zeus ate his first wife with his unborn child inside her it was greeted with the same indifference as if that was just another option on a Happy Meal.

So now we have the news to broadcast our ogres and the terror is distributed indiscriminate of age. Madeline McCann is a cautionary tale, but mostly for grown ups, and where story monsters were always marked by their differences, now what makes them scarier is that they’re just like us.

“I wanted to have many children. Not children that would have to grow up alone… but children that would always have someone to play with.” It’s a simple caring notion, what parent hasn’t let it idle through their brain at some point? But, oh my god, I’ve just shared a thought with the mind of Joseph Fritzl – and here I am about to imprison a defenceless child in her room. What kind of father am I?


As I stand there praying I won’t have to mete out punishment, it dawns on me that I’m no longer one of the kids, I‘m not one of us, I’m one of them. I’m the brick wall my children will try to tear down. I’m the cause to be rebelled against. My love might be unconditional but any chance of friendship is overloaded with conditions. I’ll be your friend if you obey my rules: sit up, don’t slouch, speak up, get your feet off the chair, lean over your plate when you put food in your mouth, say sorry like you mean it…

“Four and a half”

She still hasn’t apologised. I look into J’s determined eyes, hero of her own adventure, facing down the punishment monster. I try to keep my angry dad face and not let on how much I admire her bravery. She’s only three and I know I’ve got to teach her how to respect people because it will keep her safe when she’s out in the big world. But I hate knowing that I’m reinforcing our differences and the memory of moments like this will eventually drive her away to the happier company of her un-judgemental, non-conditional, peers.

“Fi-i-i-i,” I say, menacingly, my arms reaching towards her, ready to snatch and whisk her screaming to her room.

“Sorry” she quickly whispers grabbing my hand and burying her face in my arms.

I kiss her tiny hot head, “No, I’m sorry,” I whisper back.

Got the MABS

I used to think that until I settled down and had a family I’d be incomplete. Of course as soon as I did, I realised I wasn’t complete, I was finished.

It’s something I’d rather forget, but every other week, another “life’s crap for the middle aged family man” ‘finding’ seems to come out forcing me, once again, to stare into the abyss.

Which is, partly, why I find myself sharing a table in a busy pub at lunchtime. The sun is hot and bright, making the darkness inside all the more black. A viscous smattering of partially dehydrated beer glistens on the table.

“You going to get that down you?” says the bloke next to me, nodding at the glass I’ve been staring at for the last half hour. It’s the very question I’ve been asking myself as I grip, the tiny pill in my hand: my first anti-depressant.

It’s Superman in reverse; there you are faster than a locomotive, more powerful than a tall building and so unfamiliar with your own underpants you’re not sure which way to put them on, then you pop into the phone booth of life to give someone a ring and when you come out you’re bespectacled, bumbling, mild mannered, Clark Kent, whose closest encounter with a speeding bullet is being stuck in traffic.

You spend the rest of your life looking for the damn phone booth, or somewhere to just change again, but it’s gone.

I look at the little pill with the big promise and try to remind myself that the disappointment of lost youth is so old as to be a cliché, prosaic rather than cause for Prozac, a trite of passage. But then why is everyone trying to remind me how miserable I’m supposed to be?

Hoards of academics, probably suffering from the Mabs (Middle Aged Bleakness Syndrome) themselves, seem determined to justify their misery.

Why am I not surprised that Professor Oswald, stuck in a midlands university with acres of research, describes life as a U-bend, “bottoming out in middle age”? What middle aged man doesn’t know he’s stuck between the first flush of youth and the blocked waste pipes of old age?

Last week, Relate counsellors revealed the shocking truth that middle aged men lose their libidos – as if the Bonapartes hadn’t already stuck that psychological post-it note on the pages of history – and if cancelling your bedroom activity wasn’t enough, Professor King of the Royal Free was quick to remind us “Men are most likely to suffer depression between the ages of 30 and 50”.

And now, when it’s far too late to do anything about my family, (short of the Austrian fine wine solution of laying them in the cellar for 24 years), Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert declared the happiest people were those married but without children.

But what do you know? All these weighty academics, leaders in their fields, top of their game; if they’re not between 30 and 50 then stick my hat in the oven and season to taste.

Perhaps then, it’s not that middle aged man’s melancholy is any more prevalent, but that he’s more likely to indulge this navel gazing with the time, resources, position and self absorption to explore it.

I just pity the poor research assistants and want to take them by the hand: yes middle aged men, just when then they should be feeling top of the pile, often feel shitty for a number of rather worn reasons. There, now they can use the time I saved them to get back to their all-lego re-make of Star Wars for YouTube.

Maybe depressed men seem more of a story because, unlike women, they’re less likely to admit it or go to a doctor for anti-depressants. The mid-life bloke stumbles through not daring, or conveniently forgetting, to tell his doctor or anybody else, that he no longer feels master of the universe.

I pick up my drink, “There we go”, I think, “bucked the trend and, like Moses, got my answer in a tablet.” I place the pill on my tongue, and lift my head, but looking up I get distracted.

She catches my eye for a hundredth of a second, a fraction of a girl, half my age, and an eighth my BMI. She sweeps past in a skirt which, from table height, appears to have risen above the bottom of a pair of piston driven impossibly firm, tanned, buttocks. I sit there staring and realise I have forgotten why I had put my head up in the first place.

So pity not the sad middle aged man, don’t tell him he’s repressing something, don’t advise him to “let the feelings out”. We come equipped with our very own inbuilt survival mechanism, a natural bad news cut out; the one that allows bills to lie unopened for a week, as if they had never arrived. Death, tax demands and an excess of nasal hair: all inevitable and all totally ignorable. We like to call it things like, “focus” but our one-track, multitasking-resistant, minds are also hard at work defending us from the credit crunch, the spreading gut and the interminable research: our all-natural anti-depressant.

Clutching my glass, I stare at the receding figure and realise I’m as happily capable of forgetting I’m never going back to Krypton as I am anniversaries, the names of in-law and children on buses.

I let out a low whistle and something I’d forgotten plops into my glass.

Who writes this stuff?

So… In brief… I began my career in journalism at The Evening Standard in 1985, becoming their first photo-journalist before going on to write for several national newspapers. Then, age 26, I went up to Oxford to read English. I continued working for the Sunday Times and for a while was the Sunday Express science editor. Other moments I might have capitalized on, but failed to, include: at 19 my first play ‘Frikzhan’, won the 1985 National Youth Theatre/Texaco Most Promising Playwright Award; my radio play ‘sLaughter In The Dark’ won the 1991 BBC Young Writers Festival and I wrote the subsequent popular comedy series for Radio 4 broadcast in 1995; the script for my short film, ‘Diary of a Surreal Killer’ starring Paula Hamilton and A.A.Gill was nominated for the 1997 BAFTA Carl Foreman Award. I’ve written a number of television documentaries – which have included the award winning BBC/A&E series ‘Prohibition’. Making Love was my first novel. How to Forget, now out in both hard cover and paperback, is my second. I’m on my third between chores.