(Awkward) Moment at (Almost) Voluntary Work

Wordpretzels, at the moment I spend my Wednesday evenings delivering at a college. Not any college, but one for people with physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and associated learning difficulties.

As usual, I breezed through the double automatic doors, trolley in tow, and made my way to the reception desk, where Ruth sat.


“Hello,” she said, smiling at me, “please sign in.”

As I was filling in all the boxes on my DIY visitors badge, Ruth asked me what was the purpose of my visit. I was slightly bewildered. I’d been turning up every Wednesday for the past 8 weeks, seeing the cheerful and friendly face of Ruth on every occasion. I started to remember that article, stating that men in their 50s become invisible. It had finally happened, with Ruth, no more than 25, failing to recognise or even remember me.

“Erm – I’m here for the Wednesday maths class?” I replied.

Her face broke into a wide smile of recognition.

“Oh, of course, hello Rob, I’m so sorry” she said.

I smiled back, feeling slightly better about myself and less concerned for her lack of recognition. Also, it was early evening on a clear day. The last bright rays of the sun, lowering in the sky, streamed directly through the windows into Ruth’s face.

“It’s OK,” I said magnanimously, “it must be difficult to see who’s coming in with the sun in your eyes.”

“I’m blind,” she said, nonchalantly.


“I’m blind,” she repeated, “didn’t you notice the sign on the counter?” she explained, pointing exactly to where a notice in a Perspex frame stated:


I swallowed hard. The driver of my butterfly brain struggled with the gears responsible for reversing out of a ‘faux pas cul-de-sac’. I could hear the grinding.

“Oh, gosh, yes I didn’t notice your, erm – anybody would think I was – well – erm – unobservant.”

The gears continued to grind. My butterfly brain controller was gurning like a village show champion gurner with the effort of it all.

Ruth continued to smile at me. My butterfly brain stalled. Ruth read it.

“Couldn’t you see I was blind?” she asked.

“No,” I answered honestly, “I didn’t.”

Looking at Ruth, at worse she had what my mother would have called ‘a cast in her eye”, meaning one eye was slightly misaligned. People of my mum’s generation never had a lot of time for politically correct terms.

She seemed pleased.

“Thanks,” she beamed.

There was a moment’s pause, a chance to make my way through the automatic doors. But no.

“So are you completely blind?”

The butterfly brain operator collapsed on the dashboard, weeping.

“Well – yes,” she stated simply.

“Oh! There’s your dog!” I blurted, noticing the big black Labrador dog in a harness looking at me as if I was a fucking idiot.

Ruth, to her credit, continued to smile wanly.

“Well,” I concluded, “have a lovely evening,” I said, collecting my ID badge.

“You obviously do an amazing job,” I complimented her as I headed through the waiting set of double doors.

For a second, I considered trying to make light of the situation by saying “ Well, if it’s worth anything, I’m extremely handsome”.

Somehow, whatever was piloting my butterfly brain lifted its sweaty, tear stained head from the controls and stopped me.

Let’s never speak of this again.






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Great to see you, whoever you are.

I was just making my way into the shop to pay for my fuel as she was coming out.

“Hello!” she cried, throwing her arms around me. She held me by the biceps, with a beaming smile on her face. She asked me how Lady Barton St Mary was. Fine, I replied. Then she continued, asking after Master Johnny and Miss Katherine.

“They must be grown up now,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, a fixed smile on my face, “they are. And – how are you and your family?”

“Oh you know,” she said, touching my arm once more, “same as ever – you know what we’re like!”

“Excellent. Well, it’s lovely to see you,” I said, taking a couple of steps toward the counter.

“Oh yes. You too!” she trilled, leaning forward and kissing me on the cheek before heading for the door, giving me a little wave with the tips of her fingers. What a lovely lady.

I just wished I knew who the devil she was.

It all started years ago when Lady Barton St Mary and I had our first house. I was approached by a young, attractive girl in town.

“You’re Rob, aren’t you?” she said, her eyes sparkling.

“Erm. Yes, I am,” I stuttered.

“I saw a photo of you in your house last weekend,” she explained.

“Oh. Did you?” I responded, obviously still processing this information without trying to look too disarmed.

“We had a fantastic party there,” she said, winking, before moving on.

One of the advantages/disadvantages of Lady Barton St Mary having younger brothers who were willing to house sit when we had one of our (frequent) weekends away.

Because of the nature of my (almost) voluntary work, I meet lots of people, usually in groups, usually for a couple of hours a week for several months, eventually moving on and not seeing them regularly again, if ever. People compliment me on my ability to learn the names of 10 or more complete strangers within a few minutes. Obviously this is a skill that is learnt with experience. Rarely do I forget a name. Very often, I can meet people from years back and remember their names, their children’s names and what they did for a living after only knowing them for a short time.

I did forget the name of one woman in a class earlier last year, but I coped with it in the only way I knew how.

“How did you get the nickname Fred?” a new member of the group asked her a few weeks later.

She pointed at me.

“He couldn’t remember my name, so he just called me Fred,” she explained, “and it stuck. Even my husband’s started calling me Fred.”

So, I’m not perfect. But it’s so disarming when somebody you don’t know from Adam greets you with your own life history.

There was the time when I finished a half marathon and a couple shouted over to me, waving. They asked after my children. The woman explained that Maisie would be so excited to see me now, since it had been nearly 8 years since she’d seen me. She told me to stay where I was and disappeared, leaving me with her husband to make small talk, of which I had none, only trying to give a long, drawn out account of my run, hoping he wouldn’t test me on my knowledge of his family.

His wife returned with her daughter Maisie in tow, a rather bewildered teenager.

“Look! Remember that song that we used to sing!?” her mum prompted her. Maisie nodded and looked at the sweaty, tired old man standing in front of her. I asked her how she was, how was school, so glad to see her again. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she knew I had no idea who she was, but fortunately she wasn’t going to tell her over-excited mum and dad. Well, at least not until I was in my car and several miles out of range.

In the supermarket one day, I was accosted by an entire family as I negotiated my shopping trolley around the canned vegetables aisle.

“We’re back!” the man sang, arms wide, “fantastic to see you!”

“Oh. Yes!” I said.

His wife explained that Australia hadn’t worked out. It was Daniel’s allergies that prevented them staying. Mum is always talking about you– have you seen mum recently? She always liked you…

Then the questions about Lady Barton St Mary, her work, Miss Katherine, Master Johnny.

I was completely lost, trying not to make my eyes dart this way and that for an escape route. They continued to bombard me with information about the life they were now living, how good it was to see me and catch up and – hey – you’ve got our number – give us a call!

“I certainly will!” I trilled, scurrying around the corner, abandoning my trolley and running for the car park.

Then there was the pasty shop incident.

As you probably know, I like to follow a low carbohydrate diet in order to maintain a reasonable weight. That means no potatoes, bread, rice, pastry or sugar. Most of the time, I can keep this regime up, but there are rare times when my body just needs hard core carbs and I have to live with the guilt of eating them.

This particular day, I’d convinced myself to throw caution to the wind and visit the pasty shop for the first time in two years. I felt a slight trepidation as I viewed the array of greasy pastry envelopes in the heated cabinet as I queued to purchase one.

“Can I help you?” the shop assistant enquired.

“Yes, I’d like a small traditional …”

“Oh my God! It’s you!” she said, putting her latex gloved hands to her mouth. I panicked.

“It’s not for me, it’s for my friend Little Andrew,” I blurted, “ I don’t eat them…”

Her brow furrowed momentarily, before the smile returned.

“I can’t believe it. You look just the same! Wait until I tell Olivia!”

I nodded.

“Yes. Olivia,” I repeated.

She wrapped my small traditional pasty and took my money, still chuckling and shaking her head.

“I used to love you doing those summer shows, playing the music and making funny comments and announcements,” she giggled. Well, at least I know where she’d seen me before, hosting a school summer fete on the P.A. with music and general piss taking of the teaching staff.

“I can’t believe it,” she said again. Neither did I.

I smiled and turned to leave the shop.

“Enjoy your pasty! Come back soon!”

“Yes. No. It’s not for me. Little Andrew. I’m on a diet,” I explained as I scuttled out, weighed down by the huge weight of my dieting brain.

Well, at least it meant I would definitely resist the urge to have a pasty in future, rather than spend agonising moments trying to work out who she was.

Then the other day, I greeted a former member of a group I had.

“Hello Sam! Great to see you! How’s John? What did he do after the army? I know he was after that finance job…”

She was looking at me blankly.

“Who the bloody hell are you?”


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Risky Business

Wordpretzels, many of you, no doubt, just like me, have to face the regular dangers of health and safety at work. Not  real risk of course, that’s  rare. Of course, making sure that people are safe in the workplace is an important thing. Indeed, advances in health and safety throughout history have led to major improvements; employers were encouraged to fit guards and procedures to ensure their workforce didn’t fall into huge vats of boiling liquid or be torn limb from limb by massive, carnivorous machines. Par boiled and diced employees tend to be less productive.

Of course, these days few of us have to stir molten metal or operate a steaming, screaming, ear splitting piece of machinery. In fact, most of us spend our time in offices behind computer monitors like human battery hens. This doesn’t stop us being subject to health and safety rules, of course. Everybody has to be shown how to leave a building, how to sit in a chair and how to type on a keyboard without perishing. All designed by those rather earnest people who were bullied at school and who then grew up to take middle management positions in H&S in order to wreak revenge on the masses who mocked them. In fact, at (almost) voluntary work today, there was a special one hour session, including an information film, on how to act during a fire drill. I would like to have told you about it, but I was out of the office. However, Nelly Dean was happy to tell me all about it.

“Well, it was set in a Threshers’ off licence, where some young people lit a fire in order to steal some sweets,” she explained. “The shop assistant didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, a lady brought her toddler children into the shop so they could watch the pretty flames. At this point, the shop assistant found a fire extinguisher, which she emptied onto the inferno. But it was the wrong kind of fire extinguisher.”

I looked at Nelly for a moment. She shrugged.

“Then a man came into the shop and suggested that the shop assistant looked out the back for another extinguisher,” she continued.

“Didn’t they just all get out?” I suggested.

“No. She decided to take his advice. Then, while she was looking out back for the other extinguisher, he went behind the counter and nicked 4 bottles of Scotch.”

“Are you sure you weren’t watching a sit com?” I asked.

“Well, the film ended and we had a discussion for half an hour to see what we’d learned,” said Nelly.

“What did you learn then?”

She thought for a moment, looking up at the ceiling. “That if you want some Mars Bars and a few bottles of booze, light a fire in an off licence,” she replied.

Our work requires us to write risk assessments, even those set in classrooms with parents and children who could be writing, drawing, colouring in or (steady!) cutting things out.

Which reminded me of the comprehensive risk assessment I wrote a few years ago and occasionally share with new (almost) voluntary workers during their induction process:

  Risk Assessment for Activities

We are aware that many of you find the procedure of risk assessment an odious and rather tiresome task. Remember, the elimination of risk is of paramount importance if people are able to live, learn and work in a safe environment. If you can follow the procedures outlined below, nobody should come to any harm and we will all be happy. You know it makes sense.

Hazard Potential Risk Action
Scissors Cuts, abrasions, stabbings, gouging and lacerations. Risk level: tiny graze to death. Advise learners not to use scissors. If necessary, remove sharp blades and issue scissor handles.
Pens May be danger of  poking, insertion into mouth ear or other orifice resulting in injury. Pens should not be used under any circumstances.
Pencils See pens. Pencils may be permitted provided they are new and unsharpened.
Paper Slight or severe paper cuts can lead to discomfort or if septicaemia results, hospitalisation and the risk of a fatality. Learners may use paper but only after being issued with heavy duty gardening gloves.
Furniture Robust contact with chairs and tables can lead to light to severe bruising, abrasions with the additional risk of back injury or hernias when carrying. Remove all furniture from the proposed  activity area.
Carpets Can cause trips, falls and concussion which may result in paralysis or death. All carpets and floor coverings must be removed by a qualified carpet fitter wearing a fine particle face mask and NBC suit before sessions.
Children Statistically, children carry more bacterial and viral diseases known to humankind than any other animal (with the exception of the brown rat (Rattus Norvegicus) . May lead to debilitating illness and death. Under no circumstance should schoolchildren under the age of 23yrs take part in sessions, unless all adult learners can be supplied with suits and outfits similar to the carpet fitter.
Clothing Clothing is known to carry many germs, causing illness. Snagging clothing on doors or windows may lead to serious injury. Learners must be instructed to remove clothing before attending sessions. They may wear thongs which are protected under European law (Hazardous underwear in Work and Education Act 2000) provided they are not yellow in colour.
Home Research has shown that most serious injuries and accidental deaths occur in the home. When learners have finished the session, it is recommended that you instruct them not to return to their homes.
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War Songs 19:14-19:18

A few weeks back, our friend Leo Saunders sent me a message asking if we would like to come and see him perform at The Guild Hall in Gloucester. Leo was part of the 90’s indie scene, so I was expecting something along those lines. Because of his looks and style, he could very easily pass himself off as Paul Weller’s younger brother, so initially I imagined an evening of floppy hair and ironic songs sung in an estuary accent. But I was mistaken.


Leo, along with another muso called George Moorey, had decided to take on the task of rifling through the poems and letters of the renowned Gloucester poet and composer Ivor Gurney and set them to music. Now, Ivor Gurney was born in 1890 and a twist of fate at his christening resulted in him having the Reverend Alfred Cheeseman as his Godfather, a man who took his duties very seriously and was a great influence on the young Ivor. Gurney won scholarships to Kings School and The Royal College of Music. He was described as a genius but almost unteachable due to his personality. An image of an early 20th century version of Johnny Rotten or Noel Gallagher springs to mind.

In 1915, Ivor Gurney went off to the war, being invalided out for the second time in 1917 after being gassed. During his time in the trenches, Ivor continued to write every day – letters, poems, songs, a prolific amount of material.

Leo and George’s project involved writing two pieces of music – one 19 minutes and 14 seconds long, the other 19 minutes and 18 seconds long, for the obvious reasons. If it isn’t obvious, you may have trouble answering those quiz questions on Deal or No Deal or a four year old who’s brilliant at reading but crap at history.

So, quite a task, you may think. But wait. There’s more. Not only would they be composing the music, they would also be involving other musicians and schools in the city. The idea of all those highly strung creative types combined with school kids and their teachers was enough to make me feel faint, and I wasn’t even doing it.

So, in an effort to support Leo and curious to see how much the whole process had aged him in the last few months, we went along to last night’s ‘one-off’ performance.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some sort of school play/concert on a grand scale? An indie band playing in front of surly school kids holding brass instruments?

Well, it all started with a bit of a warm up from two musicians, Dan Vickers and Adam King. Dan sang three songs, with a breathless, husky style which reminded me of Passenger. Lady Barton and I decided that this style of music could be described as progressive folk and Dan didn’t let me down; for his last song, Overboard, Dan played his guitar keyboard style, the instrument in his lap. The last time I’d seen guitar played like that was in a folk pub in Brighton, by a gnome like man in full Morris Man regalia. However, the sound that Dan made was magnificent. Not for the last time that evening, I felt enormous respect for musicians who are able to make such amazing sounds.

Adam King had just the one song, explaining that it was about The Great War and the ANZACs and the British Forces and their Gallipoli campaign, a song well known in Australia and the most requested when he toured the country. The great thing about Adam was that he sang with what appeared to be a West Country accent with a clear, note perfect vocal rendition.

So, that completed, a few words from George Moorey, who somehow looked like Leo’s nerdy brother, followed by a little potted history of Ivor Gurney from Sebastian Field (more of him later). Leo took to the stage to explain the whole process, which obviously took a great deal of effort. No signs of a nervous breakdown at this juncture.

So it began, 19:14 – we knew we were about to watch an epic progressive folk track. We were wrong, as the musical styles changed effortlessly. My eyes kept being drawn to The Crypt School Orchestra and the violin section, providing a beautiful accompaniment. This was a school orchestra, where you expect the violin players to make a noise that sounds like a cat being scalded, but instead they combined to make a magnificent wave of music they ebbed and flowed.

Leo changed from a rather solemn demeanour to a briefly surreal and comical one, picking up a ukulele and joining in with a reggae inspired section, followed by some powerful rap provided by Shaquille Douglas.

Sebastian Field was suddenly given the stage, his counter tenor voice reaching such high notes I was left open mouthed and I wasn’t the only one. Somebody in the audience let out a short burst of laughter, not knowing how to react to this amazing voice: think Joe Newman from Alt J or Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe.

leo saunders

After a brief interlude, 19:18 again showed more musical genres, Leo smoothly changing from intense balladeer to laid back soul singer. The school choirs complemented the whole thing.

So, it turned out not to be an ego infested, stressful school production, but something worthy of a bigger stage (no offence, Guild Hall). In fact, if this had been Paul Weller or Noel Gallagher or even Sir Paul McCartney himself, it would have been lauded as a great work of art and featured on BBC3 or BBC4.

And it was a one off, never to be performed again – like taking months to build something wonderful and then knocking it down. I’m sure it will return somewhere.

Lady BSM and I discussed whether displaying the words being sung would have enhanced the performance, but we agreed that this may have been distracting. In any case, it encourages you to go and find out more about Ivor Gurney. Furthermore, having read the words to some of these poems, the audience would have been reduced to emotional sobbing wrecks, never mind Leo.

Leo’s speech included a part about how we rarely celebrate ‘differentness’, how talents like Gurney’s can be overlooked. Indeed, Darth Cowell and his X Factor machine would have dismissed Dan Vickers and Adam King without a second thought; Leo mentioned that the biggest talking point of The Brit Awards was Madonna falling down the stairs, with no mention of music whatsoever. Also, during Gurney’s time, he came from a modest home in Gloucester to take a place in King’s School and The Royal College – Leo pointed out that there was greater social mobility in the early 20th century than there ever is today, with our reliance on digital communication and reportage and the dominance of materialism and a ‘I win, you lose’ mentality.

These words echoed around my head during the concert, indeed after it when Lady BSM and I left The Guildhall onto the chilly streets of Gloucester, where inebriated people were already shouting and the philanthropists were at The Cross handing out food to the homeless, as they do every night of the week.

If you’d like to know more about War Songs, go to:



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2,4,6,8 Alleevio Knockout

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast of The Danny Baker Show, broadcast on BBC5Live every Saturday morning. Danny’s show is a phone in, where Danny gives a list of themes (have you ever been locked in? Mundane conversations with sports stars; ‘Don’t talk to me about umbrellas’) and the public phone in with their stories, very often nothing to do with Mr Baker’s agenda.

One particular call was from a man who was head teacher at a primary school, on the theme of the playground game ‘British Bulldog’, a particularly lively tag game where participants have to run from one place to another without being ‘tagged’. If they’re tagged, they become the tagger, until only one person remains to become, I suppose, ‘British Bulldog’. Wordpretzels from across the world may have their own version, although I’ve never heard of ‘New Zealand Kiwi’, ‘Australian Wallaby’ or ‘American Eagle’ (discounting the reasonably priced clothes shops).

Anyway, this head teacher explained that British Bulldog was banned in his school because of health and safety concerns. However, on a residential school trip, which involved lots of activities that require reams of health and safety forms, he decided to throw the rule book out of the window and organise a massive game of ‘British Bulldog’. After explaining the rules to a whole generation of children who had never experienced the exhilarating violence of a playground tag game, battle commenced.

Within ten minutes, the game was abandoned when ‘Sir’ broke his arm in two places and had to be taken to hospital, proving that ‘British Bulldog’ is indeed a dangerous game and no laughing matter. Except for the kids, who must have been in hysterics.

alleevio knockout

Obviously the start of a game. No bloodstains on the floor, no small children being dragged away.

I suppose this was a tremendous indictment to health and safety, but reminded me of a playground game that involved a large number of junior school boys when I was at school, in the days before health and safety and allergies were invented.

Firstly, you had to recruit participants. This involved two boys linking arms and chanting, “We won the war, in 1964”. Other boys would then link arms and chant along, until there were a collection of boys in a long line, staggering around the playground.

I’m not sure where this chant originated, but I’m sure that the Sunday Times would have leapt on the opportunity to show how appalling the teaching of history was in our state schools. This was the 1960s, when Great Britain, as we were called then, still thought it ran the world. We lived with people who fought in the war and subliminally convinced us that the Germans were still the enemy. We read Combat magazines. We cossetted toy machine guns with grenade launchers and a tripod to stand it on so you could evenly spray the advancing imaginary Hun with imaginary bullets.

Also, you may notice that I refer to boys, not girls. In the 1960s, girls didn’t run about. They played hopscotch and a mysterious game with metal objects and a bouncy ball. They did not go near boys, unless they were made to do so (country dancing on a Thursday after lunch).

Once enough boys were collected, the game could commence. One boy would be picked to go in the middle, usually one of the more athletic ones. The rest of us would gather at one end of the playground, against the wall. The object of the game was to run as fast as possible to the other end of the playground and the safety of another wall.

The people in the middle had to tag you. Sounds easy? Well not in this game. It wasn’t a simple case of touching the runner and shouting tag, oh no. The tagger had to hold onto you long enough to say:

“Two, Four, Six, Eight, Alleevio Knockout!

The essential tactic was to be able to say this as fast as possible. You didn’t want to hold on for too long.

After which the runner was ‘it’ and joined the middle.

Can you imagine a game where you have to hold a muscular school bully for longer than a couple of seconds? The arguments over whether you had finished saying ‘Alleevio Knockout’?

Very often, these games would look like a cross between rugby, Aussie rules and cage fighting. Lots of small children left bleeding in the council bushes; staggering across the tarmac, trying desperately to fix their spectacles or find their missing teeth. Although, in the 1960s, very few children wore glasses and teeth were a luxury. Ergo fat boys – in the 1960s, government education guidelines allocated only one fat boy per class, preferably with ginger hair to concentrate the bullying factor and hence save other children. These boys would often be found during our Alleevio Knockout sessions vainly grasping at fresh air in the middle of the playground, wheezing and purple from their exertions. Upon reflection, obese people in the 1960s had a lot more resilience.

Most of the time, I was fast enough to evade capture well into the game. Graham McGifford, the fastest boy in the school who modelled himself on Billy Whiz from the Beano comic, usually won. However, during one particular round of 2,4,6,8 Alleevio Knockout, I found myself in the middle early on, with a ripped shirt sleeve and scuffed shoes. Running towards me was Ray Reynolds.

Now, Ray ‘Razor’ Reynolds was a trainee secondary school bully. He’d mastered Chinese burns and menacing looks and was half way through his investigations into farting on people’s heads and obtaining dinner money with the minimum of beating before graduating with the module ‘using a weaker boy’s head to clean a lavatory bowl’.

I braced myself. Ray was bulky, but not particularly fast. Due to his 5 a day smoking habit, his fitness also left a lot to be desired.

At the last moment, he veered to my left, but I was on my toes and took off, knowing I had the speed to cut off his escape. I took a hold of his shirt, just above the elbow.

“Twofoursixeightalleeviokn…” I started, before all the breath left my body.

Ray had deftly lifted the arm I was holding and driven his elbow into my advancing sternum. However, the pain in my chest didn’t last long, because Ray followed up with a second swing of his left arm, landing neatly across the bridge of my nose. The world disappeared in a cloud of sparkling stars as I sank to the inky blackness of the playing arena.

‘Razor’ continued his run to the other wall without interruption. He was caught two runs later by four kids jumping on him at once. I believe two of them survived to tell the tale.

I doubt very much whether the kids are allowed to play ‘2,4,6,8 Alleevio Knockout’ at Saffron Green Junior School any more. In fact, I should imagine that the head teacher is probably young enough to have been banned from playing it at school as a child as well.

The one puzzling thing I haven’t addressed is the name of the game. I have no idea of its origins. I can’t find anybody outside of my home town who played it. What’s an Alleevio? Why 2, 4, 6, 8? Yes, it’s a good way to learn your times tables. When concussed.

Wordpretzels, if anybody has the answers to my questions or has actually played ‘2,4,6,8’, please let me know.



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Do You Suffer From ICH ?

Hello, Wordpretzels, I’m here today to talk about an affliction that affects millions of people, maybe even you. You may not even realise you have it, but once I’ve described the symptoms, I’m sure you’ll be able to self-diagnose or, at least, recognise the condition in a loved one. It’s called ICH – Irrational Celebrity Hatred.

This may happen whilst watching TV. Suddenly, a celebrity face pops up on the screen that makes you feel slightly irritated. For whatever reason, without being able to put your finger on it, you find them completely annoying and talentless; how on earth did they end up on TV, being paid lots of money, being feted by others?

Elvis Presley was a victim of ICH, but found a great way to deal with his condition. He kept a revolver by his side when watching television. If something particularly annoyed him, he would shoot out the screen. Rather extreme, using a TV remote made by Heckler and Koch, but very effective and satisfying, I should imagine.

My dad had it quite badly. Whenever David Essex (1970s pop ‘heart throb) appeared on TV – whether it was Top of the Pops or Seaside Special, my dad would make a very low growling noise. The rest of us would meekly glance in his direction without moving our heads, like human pigeons. Upon catching your eye, he would mutter ‘fucking layabout’.

I’m not sure if it was David Essex’s hair. Or the ear ring. Maybe it was the way he dressed or his smug, casual air when being interviewed. Whatever it was, my dad couldn’t stand him.

Then there were the TV interviewers. For some reason, Michael Parkinson was fine. Perhaps it was because he appeared on a Saturday night when dad and his mate Reg returned from the pub in a jovial mood.

Terry Wogan was another kettle of fish. As Wogan used his Irish charm to introduce a guest, my dad would fidget in his armchair.

Wogan. Be-wigged no-gooder.

Wogan. Be-wigged no-gooder.

“Wassee good at then?” he would demand. The family were sensible enough to know this was a rhetorical question.

“He’s useless, bloody hopeless,” he would explain, jutting his jaw out to emphasise the fact.

Other chat show hosts were similarly lambasted. The late Russell Harty was ‘as silly as arseholes’. The veteran broadcaster Jimmy Young ‘an arselicker’. Bruce Forsyth, however, somebody I thought would be a prime candidate for dad’s ICH, was tolerated, seeing as he had once asked my dad for directions to Tottenham Court Road when my dad was working in the West End in the sixties and seemed to be ‘alright’.

Famous footballers, revered by others, were not held in such high esteem. Woes betide anybody who told my dad that Pele was the best player in the world. This would initiate a long list of players that were much better than Pele. Similarly, the World Cup winning midfield supremo Bobby Charlton.

“They only show those shots he hit that screamed into the net from 30 yards,” he would explain, “they never showed the other shots he had that went out for a throw in.”

So as you can see, my own father had a bad case of ICH. Unfortunately, I have a feeling it’s hereditary. I have my own list of ICH catalysts.

A particularly virulent one is the comedian Patrick Kielty, or, ‘so-called’ comedian as my mum would have said. He’s not funny, even though he thinks he is. He mixes with lots of celebrity royalty to ensure a high profile. He’s married to Cat Deeley, damn him. Ok, I realise that he rather tragically lost his father during the troubles in Northern Ireland, but does that entitle him to torment me on the TV with his smug face?

Then there’s Phill Jupitus. For a start, he spells Phil with a double l. If he was as funny as he thinks he is, he’d be Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and Woody Allen combined in one body. He makes appearances on smug panel shows

Phill Jupitus. Can I borrow your gun, Elvis?

Phill Jupitus. Can I borrow your gun, Elvis?

where he’s under the impression that he’s making ‘jokes’. He’s very bitter about the BBC ditching him from their 6Music breakfast show more than 7 years ago, which I was delighted about. He just makes me very irritated, the big useless lump.

Don’t even talk to me about Will. i. am. Phil with a double l is bad enough, but punctuating your name with a full stop should be a criminal offence. He makes awful music. He can’t sing. Even so, somebody in their wisdom has decided to make him a judge on a TV singing competition. Will. I . Aren’t, more like.

Likewise Russell Brand.

Russell Brand. Long words. Long faces. He's unmitigatedly disenchanted at my disconbobulation of his tracchididectic liasons into politically orientated humour based ethical revolution. Park Life.

Russell Brand. Long words. Long faces. He’s unmitigatedly disenchanted at my disconbobulation of his tracchididectic liasons into politically orientated humour based ethical revolution. Park Life.

He’s turned from a comedian to an actor to a political activist. He stinks at all of them. The thing about Russell Brand is that I want to like him. He stands up for the underprivileged, the poor, he rallies against greedy bankers and the super-rich, the tax avoiders and the terrible economic inequalities supported by our current coalition government. But I still think he’s a tit. From the first time I clapped eyes on him presenting a ‘Big Brother’ chat show I found him annoying. I initially thought some member of the audience had won a raffle to present the programme.

I asked Lady Barton St Mary if she suffered from ICH. She thought for a moment.

“I can’t think of anybody. Then again, I’m not as judgemental as you,” she said, judgementally.

“What about Steve Wright, the DJ?”  I enquired.

“Oh that doesn’t count. He really is irritating. He makes up stupid words and talks over records that he doesn’t identify and thinks he’s really funny, just because his sycophantic entourage, there to support his ridiculous ego, laugh at everything that comes out of his mouth.”

Steve Wright. No further questions, your honour.

Steve Wright. No further questions, your honour.

I rest my case. By the way, she’s right about Steve Wright, but then I do have a serious case of ICH, remember.

I don’t know if there is any way to get help or support for my complaint. Perhaps aversion therapy or a ‘Clockwork Orange’ style treatment, where my eyes are forced open and I have to watch every episode of Piers Morgan’s TV show whilst listening to ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ though headphones gaffer taped to my head.

Either way, if you are a sufferer, let me know, I know it’s not just me and my family – is it?



Posted in blog, blogging, blogs, david essex, fathers, freshly pressed, humor, humour, Irrational Celebrity Hatred, irritating Celebrities, Lady Barton St Mary, mums, patrick kielty, phill jupitus, relationships, soccer, steve wright, terry wogan, will.i.am, wordpress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Sweeney 2 is one of The Greatest Films Ever Made

A few years ago, I was involved in a conversation with my niece Suzanne, her husband Young Mr Raggett and Lady Barton St Mary, involving our favourite films of all time. The usual suspects were being mentioned. Not just The Usual Suspects, also The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, etc, etc.

“I think The Sweeney 2 was one of the greatest films ever made,” I blurted out in the middle of this cultural consideration. Young Mr Raggett looked at me, astounded. Lady Barton St Mary arched an eyebrow.

“You do talk utter nonsense sometimes,” she sighed, as the others laughed.

You see, The Sweeney was a 1970s cop show about The Metropolitan Police’s specialist unit known as ‘The Flying Squad’, affectionately known in cockney rhyming slang as ‘The Sweeney Todd’. Cockney rhyming slang will also make an appearance later on in my tale.

For years I’ve been reminded of this impulsive statement, opining that a movie spin off of a TV show, nay, the second movie spin off, could possibly rank shoulder to shoulder with Vertigo, Apocalypse Now or Taxi Driver. In fact, a few months ago, Suzanne sent me a photograph of the old cinema in my home town of Borehamwood, known as Studio 70.

The legendary theatre.

The legendary theatre. Can you make out the cinema name above the title board, conveniently camouflaged by the concrete tiles?

Studio 70 was where Nanny Janet took me to see my first feature film, Mary Poppins. In those days, there were stalls and a circle, like a theatre. There was also smoking and non-smoking areas. If you wanted a puff, you sat in the stalls on the right hand side of the aisle. Special measures were made to ensure that no smoke ever drifted over to the left hand side of the cinema. No, actually, that’s just nonsense; in defence of the old days, passive smoking, like allergies, weren’t invented until the early 1980s.

As you can see, it wasn’t the most salubrious of cinemas. Some of the charming concrete tiles have taken a wander and the front entrance looks like it could do with a good clean. As you can see, the photo was taken when the main feature was Sweeney 2 – They’re Back! Tougher Than Ever! John Thaw and Dennis Waterman!

So, here’s why I think that Sweeney 2 is one of the greatest films of all time. It wasn’t the fact that John Thaw and Dennis Waterman as Regan and Carter got to curse properly and that the fights were more violent than normal. It was the people I went with and the supporting film which I think Americans call a ‘B’ Movie.

It was a proper lads’ night out: Eggy Howe, my brother in law Laurie and my dad. Now, my dad rarely made it to the cinema, but was a big fan of The Sweeney, so decided to join us.

The supporting film was called Tiffany Jones, based on the comic strip from the Daily Mail about a model who moonlights as a secret agent, starring a rather attractive lady called Anouska Hempel and a man called Ray Brooks, who went on to play a gambler called Robbie Box in a BBC series called Big Deal. But the instantly recognisable actor who surprisingly appeared was Geoffrey Hughes, better known as Eddie Yates in the long running soap opera Coronation Street. I say surprisingly, because this particular supporting feature was nothing more than a soft porn film.

Now, I already had experience in seeing such films, having seen Emmanuelle with Debbie Seabrook the year before (see blog https://ruralspaceman.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/when-it-comes-to-love-mummy-knows-best/ ). Eggie Howe had also seen Emmanuelle. Laurie, a self-appointed man of the world, had obviously seen more than his fair share of smutty films, nonchalantly telling us he’d seen a lot more than what we had, inadvertently proving he was the biggest wanker, as Eggy helpfully pointed out later.

My dad, on the other hand, had only seen films with actors like John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy. Nothing had prepared him for full frontal nudity, bare breasted massage and simulated sex on the big screen.

Within five minutes, two women had completely disrobed.

“Cor! What!”

Eggy and I turned to look at my dad.

My dad sat up straight in his sticky red flock cinema seat and blinked rapidly.

“They’ve taken all their kit off!” he explained unnecessarily. We chuckled. Laurie gave a worldly wise grunt. At least I hope that’s what it was.

The film continued, my dad chuckling and shaking his head in disbelief, repeating the phrase, “Bli-“ over and over again, a shortening of the vernacular ‘blimey’.

Tiffany Jones appeared next to a swimming pool with Eddie Yates/Geoffrey Hughes. He was on the telephone, observed by the camera from the other side of the pool. Suddenly, a female figure obscured Eddie by standing up in the shallow water, the shot at waist level. She was completely naked. Being the 1978, she had a full head of hair on her front bits. It was like looking at a 20ft image of Abe Lincoln’s chin. We were in the second row.

My dad dropped his fruit gums. In fact, he nearly dropped his teeth.

“Fuckinell you can see her Jack n Danny!” he shouted, eyes wide, pointing at the screen. For the uninitiated, my dad, a true cockney, had used rhyming slang to describe a lady’s fanny. By the way, American readers, ‘fanny’ in English doesn’t mean bottom it means ‘ladies front bottom’.

There was a momentary silence before Eggy and I, along with the rest of the audience, collapsed in laughter. My dad, composing himself, joined in.

He spent the rest of this skin flick shaking his head and saying ‘Cor blimey,’ and ‘I don’t believe it.’

By the time Sweeney 2 started, my ribs were hurting from all the hilarity. I vaguely remember Dennis Waterman and John Thaw punching thugs and ne’er do wells as well as chatting up ‘birds’ and shooting guns. I really enjoyed it, but maybe it was the whole experience of watching my dad watch Tiffany Jones that made it so memorable.

Studio 70 was knocked down in the 1980s, but that’s a tale for another day. More importantly, I think it’s time that I watched Sweeney 2 again, just to convince myself it is the fantastic action thriller comparable to Mean Streets or Carlito’s Way.

Tiffany Jones? I think I’ll give that a miss. Now my dad’s no longer with us, I’d miss all the tutting and giggling as much as I miss him.


Posted in blog, blogging, blogs, comedy, comic characters, dads, fathers, humor, humour, Lady Barton St Mary, life observations, linguistics, nostalgia, relationships, soap opera, Sweeney 2, Tiffany Jones, wordpress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments