Friday, 31 May 2013

Blessay From America now available on Amazon!

Well I'm officially an author.  

Blessay From America, the ebook, is now available on and everywhere else with an Amazon.

It's a lot easier than going all the way back through the previous blog so save some time and get yourself one.

You're Welcome. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sun Days and Bizarre Love Quadrangles

It's an extended bank holiday weekend followed by half term week so it's an advantage to be off work so I can enjoy the sun and entertain Vince this week.

Starting as we mean to go on, Vince was invited to a classmates birthday party.  Like a lot of places on Teesside, I haven't been to Thornaby Pavilion in years and it's certainly smartened up since I used to play 5-a-side there.  As has Thornaby itself. 

There is a large silver golf ball on the roof, a kind of miniature Sunsphere which for the first time this year, was working.  The sun does funny things to Northern people. The first sniff of a rising temperature then off come the tops, out come the tatts and (muffin) tops and the trousers shrink faster than in a Jam video from the early 80s.  My unofficial 'worst bodyart in the north east' competition has now gone from the qualifying rounds at Splash baths to the first round proper.  Leader so far is an inept drawing of The Hulk on one guys calf who looks more like an annoyed Jolly Green Giant opposite an equally bad Iron Man but we've got plenty of time left.  Like a mate of mine commented 'I've never seen a butterfly with a middle aged woman wing design'.

The party was great fun. It's was a girls disco and Vince was one of the only boys but this didn't perturb him or me.  He's a good looking young chap so had better get used to being chased around by girls - literally.  The women spent most of their time dancing with each other and chatting while the dads were glued to the walls checking their phones and mumbling to each other. Exactly as I remembered school discos.

Today was more of the same weatherwise so I headed off to the coast with Lil man to meet one of his idols - Kwaazi Kitten from the Octonauts at Scarborough Sealife center. We went via Whitby so we could have a clifftop picnic in the Abbey grounds.  He's a little young to learn about Dracula and the fate of the Demeter in the rocks below but the sun and views of the town compensated enough. Plus it adds another cultural touchstone to his lexicon. He already looks for and is excited by the sight of the transporter bridge every time we go to Middlesbrough and recognises the pictures we have of it around the house.  We've got several more of Saltburn and Whitby too so these will be further mental connections waiting to be made.  I did miss the sea in Atlanta, must have been why I enjoyed our trips to Charleston and the Carolina coast so much.

We drove along Scarborough south bay seafront, Diet Blackpool if you will, and headed to the center. We had some time before our entry so we rode a narrow gauge railway to nearby Peasholme Park for a lolly and an ice cream and back.  Vince has been brought up on steam trains thanks to Thomas and the brick sculpture of the Mallard just outside of Darlington which he insists we stop at every time we can.  The journey is only 10 minutes but is one of the most picturesque you could enjoy. By the sea, beach and castle perched on the clifftop on one side to the park, bridge, tunnel and park lake on the other where miniature battleships used to reenact naval engagements hourly for the tourists. It reminded me of enjoyed another warm week in Scarborough back in the early 90s.

I was going out with a girl who was way more into me than I was her but it wasn't her fault. I was in love with her best friend who she was sharing a flat with at the time but was going out with a guy from Leeds, one of my least favourite cities. To add to my antipathy, I once spent 30 minutes inadvertently impersonating him on the phone with her mother when I finally plucked up enough courage to call. Her mother answered and assuming it was him, gave me the state of the nation address. Our Mike Leigh week passed off without any such incidents but definitely laid the myth that lots of women are mind readers.

The center isn't as large or expansive as the Georgia aquarium but more downhome and charming for it.  A black cat meandered lazily outside the penguin enclosure which closely resembled a cavernous bunker on a decent golf course. After leaving the penguins of the Sahara, we watched the lazy sunbathing seals living the life and then inside for the sharks, rays and eerie Alaskan Spider Crabs.

We watched a huge turtle sloping across the tank until Kwaazi the cat pirate appeared and enchanted the young audience. It's a measure of the Octonauts success that we were able to identify several fish and creatures from sight.   We had a quick round of crazy golf in the sun afterwards, only spoiled by a swarm of pasty skinned meerkats swearing loudly at each other while slurping Stella on the slipway while the tide came in. Sadly not swiftly enough.

We took a leisurely drive back over the moors counting horses, sheep and cows and knowing that an already sleepy vince would  have a solid nights sleep, I drifted back to the unrequited week.

I did eventually date the girl I had set my hat to. My genius idea of a movie followed by a night on the tiles was prematurely scuppered by the choice of Leaving Las Vegas where - Spoiler Alert - Nic Cage plays an alcoholic script writer who moves to Vegas to drink himself to death.  Not being able to so much as look a coke in the eye afterwards, the initial momentum stalled and she bombed me out soon after for a guy who removed barnacles from recreational boats on the Tees. I'd been winkled.

The great thing about the seaside is the constant renewal occurring in front of your eyes. The sand, waves and even rocks will be there again offering warm memories yet they are unique offering constant renewals and the promise and idea that you can begin again, anew, brighter and better than before. The best sand castles will be washed away but can always be rebuilt in the sunshine.

Monday, 13 May 2013

2003 called, It wants its shirt back

Last weekend was one I've been looking forward to since I arrived back in the UK. I headed off to Stratford Upon Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare for a golfing weekend and FA Cup Final cocktails with some very good friends of mine - Rich, Les, Tom and Paddy. Collectively we were known as the House of Kwong after a nameplate on the house we used to share in Oxfordshire after University. 

It's something of a tradition for us to take off for FA Cup Final weekend for golf and gottles of geer. All are memorable and fun, a chance to catch up with the guys, talk nonsense for a few hours and have some convivial drinks in great company. We've been to Nottingham, Norwich, Bath and several other places but one of the more outstanding adventures we had was 13 years ago on this very weekend in 1993, we had a similar weekend on the Isle of Man which we went to, to play in a Football tournament.  I chronicled the various events, and it was eventful, and let you download the full report 'Manx Tales' for your delectation.  

I've also got The Great Gatsby on my mind. Not so much the book as Baz Luhrman's new adaptation starring Leo DiCaprio as the eponymous Gatsby. I've been looking forward to it since it was announced several years ago and now it's here, accompanied by a blisteringly good soundtrack. the themes and ideas of the greatest American novel come flooding back. Particularly one - The idea that you can't repeat the past. Or can you?

We're all older, heavier, more weathered and experienced but have we fundamentally changed? If so, how? 

The golf itself was tremendous fun at a club outside of the main town. Rich, the most diligent golfer in our group and previous winner of the Kwong Championship came to the fore but the battle for second was tight between the rest of us. I was glad to get through 18 holes in one piece, not having played for at least two years but a glorious birdie followed by two pars set nervous pulses racing until normal service was resumed and the only participants worried about my form on the course were the ducks.

We went back into town on the evening, taking care to note all the various authentic Shakespeare tie-ins including his genuine boyhood coach terminal and gift shop and immediately sought to recapture the evenings of youth in the company of various cocktail pitchers, bottles of foreign lager and something of a Kwong trademark, a round of BMW's.  Rod Stewart's tipple of choice, a Bailey's, Malibu and Whisky, as lethal as it is luscious.  The night ended in a surprisingly sparse Chicago Rock Cafe before we sloped back to the hotel.

I first began to doubt the veracity of my theory on the past when I woke up to paraphrase The Blackadder - feeling as if my head had a Frenchman living in it.  Two schoolboy errors of not drinking sufficient water before turning in and not taking paracetamol to head off the runaway hangover express that was heading your way. 

We went back out at lunchtime to eat and take in the first football match of the day. I had conspicuously bought a new shirt for the event, specifically similar to a blue and white Hawaiian number I used to rock in the early 2000's, an effort to create a kind of like a sartorial time machine to see if the act of recapturing your dress could recapture your thoughts and feelings of a particular time and place.  This one was holed fatally when my good friend Paddy complimented me on my 'Alfie Moon' shirt.  

More football and frolics followed including a solid hour of power which involved drinking five bottles of blue WKD within the allotted time frame, another theme-drink of lost early middle-age. A great cup final followed by a really nice Indian meal before we made our way back to the hotel  definitely feeling older if not wiser.

So what did we discover in our 48 hours on the banks of the Avon?  That for all the silk shirts and pink suits on Long Island, the past is a feeling, not a place, and definitely not one that can be reached by conventional means. And would you want to repeat it at all? Notorious party animal Keith Richards thinks his own reputation is somewhat overblown and admits that he rarely drinks/smokes more than one accelerant as you cannot create the initial buzz and rush so it is a waste of time, money and energy doing what so many others do and trying. 

I did realise, surrounded by some of my closest friends and fellows I've shared many drinks, meals, nights, insults, ideas, heartbreaks, setbacks and victories with, that the past is not fixed, it's evolving and exists only to bring you to the most important time in your life. Right now.  Your ultimate duty is to make the most of this time and surround yourself with the very best and most important people, ideas, goals and dreams right now.  This time will be past soon enough, and while you might not remain Young and Beautiful for long, your memories and friendships will, if you give them half a chance. 

Friday, 3 May 2013

Unfinished Business

If you're looking for a word to describe my relationship with the great northern city of Manchester, it's unrequited.  True, I graduated from Manchester University (class of 96) but the three years I spent were mainly in Warrington, 12 miles to the west as this is where our faculty was based.  I visited on many occasions and had a great time in the early Britpop years, and made great plans for a triumphant return after graduation.

I was working at a shipyard in Middlesbrough (who's got blue collar credibility?) and was saving up for my return. Every day when we worked into town for lunch, I saw the Manchester Airport train idling at the station, seemingly letting me know it was ready whenever I was and in January 97, I made the move back.  I got a room in Didsbury, the leafy suburb of choice for the young professional, had friends in town, and even landed a job at a business ratings company in Old Trafford, a stones throw from the cricket and football grounds.  Life was going to be great.

And it was until I broke my leg playing football as a ringer on my cousin's team on a Friday night and spent the subsequent six months in plaster up to my thigh. I had to let the job and room go and convalesced at my parents.  During the intervening 16 years, I've had a couple of other close calls about going back, jobs that weren't right, or I wasn't right for then, ,as John Lennon sagely observed, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. 

This week however, saw an unexpected but welcome opportunity to revisit the old place for a job interview.  I took the train in from Darlington and was trying to conserve my battery as I thought I might need the map navigation when I got there. Ridiculous because as soon as I came out of Piccadilly Stations impressive glass fronted atrium, I could find my way around blindfolded through Picadilly Gardens and the new Arndale.  This is a city of warm memory for me - I had my stag do here, Stacey and I have had some great nights here going to the Lowry and cavorting round Deansgate.  It was here I met my old BBC pal and fellow Boro fan Paul for lunch at the Moon Under The Water, formerly my favourite pub in Manchester and scene of some delirious celebrations in 1998 when Middlesbrough contrived to win 3-2 against Manchester United.  In the days before mobile phones, my friends were worried they might not be able to find me in one of the biggest pubs in Europe.  They told me they could hear me singing as soon as they set foot in the door later. 

After a pleasant catch-up we parted and I made my way up Oxford Road to my Alma Mata, the University of Manchester, to the old Quad where we graduated on a rainy June day back in 1996.  It was having expensive refurbishment work done but it is always pleasing to read of the achievements of other notable alumni such as Anthony Burgress, writer of A Clockwork Orange, Alan Turing, father of modern computing and Ellen Wilkinson, first female Minister of Education and MP for Middlesbrough as well as being a great socialist.  My interview was here - at my old school.

It's a situation worthy of further consideration. I want to stay close to my friends and family in the North East but new media jobs are hard to come by in our enclave of The Far Corner, the title of Harry Pearsons' seminal 1994 book on North East Football, so I might find myself commuting farther afield.  Driving in Atlanta has given me an appreciation for the longer commute that most American workers take forgranted.  Manchester would previously have been off limits but there are some calls you really must take - and one from your old school, in the industry you love in your favourite city is one.  

Manchester and I have always had unfinished business and while I've been cautious about pulling on the loose ends of the tapestry of my life lest it begins to unravel, my link to Mancunia feels more tethered than most.  

For one reason or another, I may not end up back at the University but I at least have opened up another possible route back into employment and enjoyment and removed another self-imposed limit from my outlook and my life.  I've already done as Horace Greeley and the Pet Shop Boys once advised, 'Go West!', so maybe we'll end up doing it again and achieving a British manifest destiny of our own.