Jab Jab

So, Karen and I have both received our second doses of Oxford AstraZeneca and, weirdly, we haven’t turned into zombies or started worshipping Bill Gates or grown gills or whatever nonsense the self-serving, exploitative, fear-peddling snake oil salesmen are spouting (No, Mr. Conspiracy Man, I do not want to buy your cocktail of cheap bleach, and goodness knows what else, for £200). And, if the government are now tracking me there’s going to be some poor guy listening to me spout nonsense about art and faith and bacon (ooh, bacon, I must write a post about bacon) and watching the whole of Parks & Recreation for the 5th time (Sorry, Agent Anderson, I know this isn’t what you signed up for).

But back in reality, I want to say a massive, thank you, to those who developed this and the other vaccines in a very short time; to those who have been working ridiculously long hours to administer those vaccines; and to those who have volunteered to organise us, serve us and comfort us. You are all amazing.

And while I’m at it, thank you NHS, for putting up with Boris’s nonsense and getting the job done where his associates couldn’t. Thank you for risking your lives to save us when the government couldn’t provide adequate PPE. Thank you for remaining focussed through the politicking, mixed messages, scheming and cost cutting. And finally, thank you for providing health care for the entire nation, even those of us who couldn’t afford it otherwise. Thank you.

Captured Light

I love taking photos but I’m not very good at it. I tend to take a hundred shots and then hope one turns out OK. I have a friend in California who is brilliant at, not only taking photographs, but seeing the image in her mind before reaching for the camera. I guess that’s the essence of being good at photography – to be good at noticing the minutia in the riot of the visual world.

That gift of careful observation shows itself in her artwork and her care for those around her, which is part of why I value her friendship. She can reach into an complex subject or an awkward situation and pluck out the bloom that everyone else has missed. She’s an amazing human being.

That said, I’m afraid it’s my photos your going to see, so …

Celebrities

I’ve got to that point in life where, when the celebrities are revealed to great fanfare, I have no idea who they are. When I can be bothered, which isn’t very often, I ask who they are and the answer falls into several categories. Firstly, that guy in that thing that I’ve never seen and will never see. Secondly, that woman who was more outrageous than that other woman in that thing I’ve never seen and will never see. Thirdly, that person who used to be good at that thing for a while and can no longer do that thing but needs to make a living somehow.

But even I, who thinks there should be a thing where celebrities are dropped into the Amazon Rain Forest only to discover there are no cameras, even I, have had my share of celebrity encounters. And I must say they’re of a higher calibre than Brett/Brooke from The Only Big Bachelor Is Made In The Jungle.

There follows a list (with some explanations for my American friends).

Lenny Henry (Comedian, Presenter, Fundraiser) – Reading Town Centre. To be honest it was Karen that saw him and by the time she’d subtly tried to alert me, he was halfway down the street, so I only glimpsed the back of his head.

Tony Robinson (Actor/Baldrick from Blackadder) – A Primary School in Reading. He came to tell stories to the children at a school I was working at. Lovely man. I showed him to the toilet. He said thank you. I said, no, thank you.

Linda Robson (Actor/ the blonde one from Birds of a Feather) – Waterstones Bookshop in Reading. She was there to switch on the Christmas Lights and bumped into me on the stairs (she is now an entry in the Beal’s Book of Grudges, vol. 3)

Michael Parkinson (Broadcaster) and Tom Baker (Actor/4th Dr. Who) – back streets of London (separate occasions). We think they were going to their respective clubs. Michael looked grumpy. Tom had a very long scarf on, which pleased me.

Nigel Planer (Actor/ Neil from The Young Ones) – South Bank, London. He stared at me. I did look a bit like the character he played back then, so no hard feelings.

Howard Stern (Radio Personality/ Shock Jock) – Atlanta International Airport. I saw him crossing the concourse. I was tired. Not interested.

Jenna Elfman & Mimi Kennedy (Actors/ Dharma & Greg) – near Union Square, San Francisco. Dharma and her Mum were filming a scene. I was hungry. Not interested.

Robert Redford (Actor/ Butch Cassidy) – Streets of Vancouver. Shooting some film I’ll never see, but I swear our eyes met for a moment. Special.

Maxine Peake (Actor) – St. Anne’s Square, Manchester. I’m from Manchester, she’s from Manchester, what are the odds? Great actress though. Legend.

Peter Hook (Musician/ Joy Division/ New Order) – Starbucks in Manchester. I’m from Manchester, he’s from Manchester, what are the odds? Great musician though. Legend.

And my favourite celebrity encounter of all time…

Bamber Gascoigne (Television Presenter/ University Challenge) – Trafalgar Square, London. About to cross the road to go to the National Portrait Gallery. Hear the squeal of tires. Turn and lock eyes with Bamber, who is sitting in the smallest Fiat I’ve ever seen. His knees appear to be by his ears. He waves Apologetically. We smile and cross the road. Epic.

Skulls

I draw a lot of skulls. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s still something of the biker in me or maybe I’m secretly a pirate. On the subject of pirates – why are pirates called pirates? Because they arrrrr! (pause for groans and eye rolling). The skull is apparently the symbol of postmodernism which is a fairly cynical emblem for a new way of… oh, right. I see.

Anyway, I draw lots of skulls.

Not Really, but…

We celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, the birthday of the Church, the unleashing of the Holy Spirit, the empowering of the Gospel of love. So, I should post something about that. I’m not. Not really. Instead I’m going to share another piece from my Exiles collection which I wrote about the Resurrection. There’s just something about it that connects with Pentecost and I like the way it links the two. We often separate festivals but each is part of the whole so maybe we should do a big mash up occasionally. Happy Eastercost.

Boom

The death of everything, the mantle of darkness, the end of God.

And then.

The merest of firefly light, the tiniest ember of hope.

BOOM!

The Son of Big Bang begins in a hole in the ground,

Identity and belonging and purpose and peace and joy and love spiral and tumble outward and onward,

Unstoppable, an apocalyptic wave of the Divine,

It doesn’t disturb even one blade of grass in the garden but it melts hearts and changes souls wherever it can find purchase,

It jumps in front of darkness and evil, like a child playing hide and seek and shrieks with laughter,

And nothing can stop it.

It weaves through lives, it heals, it mends, it soothes,

And nothing can stop it.

It changes time and law and thought,

And nothing can stop it.

It forgives, it renews, it illuminates,

And nothing can stop it.

And nothing can stop it.

And nothing can stop it.

Grey (a story)

Once there was a town where everything was grey. The houses were grey, the gardens were grey, the people were grey and even their pets were grey. It wasn’t even a particularly interesting grey – it was the most tedious, uninspiring grey there ever was. It was hardly surprising then that the town was called Grey.

Nothing ever changed, every day was the same – even the weather was grey. 

Every morning, as the grey sun rose above the grey horizon, the people of Grey got out of their grey beds, they put on their grey clothes, ate their grey food and said grey things to one another. At a quarter past grey they passed through their grey front doors, walked down their grey streets and went to work at their grey jobs. In the evening, as the grey sun sank below the grey horizon, the people of Grey returned to their grey houses, ate more grey food, said more grey things and retired to their grey beds to dream grey dreams. So it was grey day after grey day, grey month after grey month, grey year after grey year.

Until.

One grey morning in the town of Grey a grey girl rose from her grey bed, put on her grey clothes and went out into her grey garden. She sat as she always did and did nothing as she always did. Then, all on its own, her grey hair moved and she felt something on her grey face. It was the wind. It blew her grey jacket, it blew the grey flowers and it blew the grey trees and then it was gone. The girl looked around to see where the wind had gone but she couldn’t see it. She started to search behind the grey bushes and around the grey tool shed but she could not find it. So she stopped and sat down as she always did and was about to nothing as she always did when she thought of a question.

“What if?” she whispered.

The whole grey world seemed to pause.

“What if there was something else? What if things were different? What if there was more than grey?”

She looked around.

“What if that flower was not grey?”

The flower turned yellow, white and green and the girl laughed. She had never laughed before but she liked it so she did it some more.

“What if that tree was not grey?”

The tree turned green, not one green, but a thousand greens and the girl danced. She had never danced before but she liked it so she did it some more.

“What if the sky was not grey?”

The sky turned a beautiful blue and the clouds became fluffy and white. The sun shone brightly on the yellow flower and the green tree and made them even more beautiful and the girl sang a song. She had never sang a song before but she liked it so she did it some more.

“What if?” she would ask and more and more shapes and colours entered her grey world.

“What if?” she sang and other grey people noticed things were changing.

“What if?” they whispered.

“What if?” they laughed.

“What if?” they danced.

“What if?” they sang.

And Grey was never the same again.

Exiles

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people on the edge of things recently; the lost, the hurt, the disillusioned, the broken. Admittedly it’s part of my job but I also like to look at stuff from different angles; to focus on the things in the background; to study the minor characters. I’m that annoying guy who always says, “Yes, but what if?”

So, I’ve started working on twelve pieces of writing that champion the misfits, of which I am one. This is the first.

Thief

I live the life of casual violence, disregard for others and light fingered discounts; don’t turn your back on me. Cut purse, cut throat, cut price items down a dark alley.

You can trust me, honest mate, they fell off the back of a donkey, totally legit and selling fast, going for a steal.

What yours is mine and what’s mine was someone else’s.

I’m an opportunist, a lucky dip, bump and run chancer, shadow dancer, window glancer, with a punctured grin and mirthless smile and the slightest flick of the wrist.

Then the inevitable day, the blind alley, the locked doors, the unscaleable wall, the heavy hand on the shoulder and it’s over.

The cheeky fantasy, the twinkling promise of riches, the fables of infamy – all gone.

And as quick as a flash, I’m on a cross, dancing my final jig, hung out to dry and die with another dipper by my side and some guy who doesn’t belong, who did no wrong.

And for the first time in my life, I see the difference between right and not, there beside me in his eternal eyes, and my heart melts, and my eyes blur, and I see this for what it is – injustice.

I hear the mocking, I see the sneers and I say something like, “No not him, me yes, but not him”, and I pull my most barefaced stunt, only it’s not a stunt, it’s the one true, the one pure, desire I’ve ever had and I ask, “Can I be with you? Can I go where you go?”

And through the pain, a whispered, an unbreakable promise,

“Today you will be where I AM.”

Ron

We’ve been re-watching Parks & Recreation which, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s quirky, warm and genuinely funny. It’s one of those shows which takes a few episodes to get to know the characters but then you really start to care about them. My favourite character is Ron Swanson.

The true Ron doesn’t really show himself until the second season and then he really gets into the flow. Ron is a no nonsense, conservative, patriot who likes breakfast food, outdoors, whiskey and carpentry. He has very strong opinions on what it is to be a man, an American and a meat eater. He also believes that government should be as unintrusive as possible.

These are some of my favourite Ron quotes…

“Any dog under 50lbs is a cat and cats are useless.”

“There’s only one thing I hate more than lying: skim milk. Which is water that’s lying about being milk.”

“Friends: one to three is sufficient.”

“There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.”

“You’ve accidently given me food that my food eats.”

I think Ron is the extreme of what men are expected to be – tough, self-sufficient, repressed, practical and always right, and I’m drawn to that. I grew up with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, last stands and lips that were upper and stiff. To show emotions or to be creative is soft and not for real men. Real men can drink a lot, know how to fight, and never, never show their emotions (unless they’re at a football match and there they can scream, shout, sing, dance, cry, and hug their friends).

Ron is a fun parody of masculinity but I don’t want to be like him (OK, I do sometimes but I’m a work in progress). I want to be able to explore everything about what it is to be a human being. I want to experience art and music, I want to be compassionate and gentle, I want to be empathetic and kind. I don’t want to be terrified of my own feelings and emotions or pretend I’m tough and uncompromising.

There’s another character that comes into Parks & Rec (as we fans/geeks call it) from season 3 onwards. Ben is a bit of a mess. He doesn’t really know what he wants most of the time, he gets it wrong frequently and, at times, can barely hold it together.

I love Ron but I’m a Ben and that’s OK.

Hair

So, I finally got into the Barber Shop for a haircut. Naively, I tried on Monday when restrictions were lifted but the queue went right down the street. I still had to wait an hour or so until it was my turn and then sat there as the barber hacked through at least 5 months of growth. I think they had to call in a bulldozer to clean up afterwards.

It felt so good.

I don’t even like going to the barber. I hate people messing with me so it isn’t a relaxing thing for me. Same with massages and manicures, I would pay people not to touch me, but this time I felt as if a weight was lifted off me.

At the beginning of Lockdown it was difficult but it was stimulating – what will I do with this time? what can I learn from this? I finished quiet a few projects I’d been working on for years; I learned how to slow down, and I started to take notice of the world around me again.

But, just like my hair, a heaviness started to grow. Mostly in went unnoticed, the growth was so slow. Until I was weighed down, less creative, unmotivated. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like that.

Hopefully we’ll all be able to cut away the heaviness as we come through this pandemic. Some of us will need more time and care. Some of us will need to be kinder than we were. Some of us will need to carry others for a while. But we’ll eventually walk out into the world and breathe and smile and feel the joy of life once more.

However

I’m not a royalist in any way. I don’t believe that a few privileged people are given the right by God to rule over everyone else. I definitely don’t believe that the right to lead is then passed down to the next generation. I think history can bear me out on that one. Not that the other systems seem much better as I look around the world leadership circus.

However.

I do respect the Queen. A person who had unexpected responsibility thrust upon her at an early age and didn’t run for the hills (although I suspect she may have wanted to on many occasions). She has continued to lead the country through unprecedented change; seen her share of heartbreak and celebration, and has continued to be an example of compassion, resilience and wisdom. She has taken her role seriously and has walked the walk with Christ.

However.

This is not a time for all that. I just wanted to stand with a woman who has lost her husband, her partner, her soulmate, and the person who has walked with her for a lifetime. I can’t imagine what she is going through right now but I pray that God is as close as he’s ever been and is holding her tightly.