Oh sit down

The little bloke has just had his last free flight. He turns two very shortly, so he’ll be required to pay for his own seat as if he were a twenty-two stone Bookie, and as he’s between jobs, it looks like muggins here is going to have foot the bill. It’s worth noting that he’ll still have to sit on my or his mum’s lap during take-off, landing, and the intervening flight because if he were to sit on the actual seat we’re paying for he’d fall off/out it and break his bloody neck.

This is, of course, ridiculous; I mean we’re paying for a seat that he can’t actually use, so we have an additional, empty, seat that I can’t even sell on Ebay or tout in the airport lounge.

Yes, I can look out the window without having to lean over someone/don’t have to climb over some sap when I need to tinkle/change a nappy/walk up and down the aisle with the little bloke, but that’s small beer in comparison to the price of the seat.

I suppose the only victor in all of this is the person that would’ve been sitting next to us, they’ll never know how close they came, but that doesn’t help me does it? Reverting to my pre-dad, lone-flying self for a moment, I’m acutely aware of those two unoccupied seats beside you when you’re about to take off, those two still-unoccupied-seats as the last of the passengers’ dribble onto the plane and, suddenly, the dream of getting two whole seats to yourself becomes a reality.

Two empty seats offer business class potential for an economy fee. You might even be able to sleep all the way, almost lying down!

They’re closing the cabin doors!!

This is fantast…

…And then we appear.

Last, because we’ve maximised our time at the bar, last because I’ve left it until the final millisecond to take a leak because my middle-aged bladder is the size of a walnut and I don’t want to slosh during take-off. Last because we know how this shit works.

And we’ve a kid who doesn’t want to sit on a plane, he’s really pissed about this plane, about all sitting-down and about you staring at him in horror like he’s responsible for those Postcode Lottery adverts.

Once I knew how you felt and now I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss. My primary responsibility is to myself via the state of the little boy; if he’s okay, I’m okay, it’s as simple as that. And if his state of ‘okay’ means he’s reaching over you because he wants to flap your little table up and down for hours then that’s fine by me.

But those days are over. The speed in which he’s gone from small gurgling lump into a pushing, shouty boy with words and gestures flowing forth has alarmed me. A few weeks ago we walked to the park together, there he was holding my hand, tottering along, as I tried not to trip over my jaw. I mean I was, like, walking down the street with my son, man.

As discussed previously, it’s hardly a surprise that he’d get bigger and learn stuff but that wasn’t the aspect that unsettled me, there was something more than just his ‘growing-up,’ until one evening, just before bed, I asked him how he was and said he ‘good.’ That’s when it dawned on me; he’d become aware.

Rudimentary research confirmed this to be the case. In accordance to a 2003 paper by Dr. Philippe Rochat, round about the age of two kids enter the third phase (there are five, apparently) and most significant stage of self-awareness worryingly referred to as the ‘Me’ phase, which is what I’m guessing everyone else calls ‘the terrible twos.’

This phase amounts to a seismic shift in his development, an irreversible foray into a new stage of his being. He now has an opinion, his way of doing things and an ever-evolving ego feeding sophomoric confidence.

And to commemorate this milestone in evolution, we have to pay for an unused seat on a shitty plane.

Happy Birthday, son.


Melting Snow

In some respects, you don’t really notice changes for the first 18 months, instead you’re inclined to exist in the aftermath of progressive milestones: solid food, crawling, walking etc. But now the changes are rapid and, at times, startling. I mean he’s capable of rudimentary conversation, informing you of decisions and requirements, he actually tells you when he wants to go to bed. In two languages. I know it was inevitable he’d, like, grow, it’s just I didn’t anticipate this stage of it. It wasn’t on my mental deck, so now it’s like I’m back to the first few days of his birth, agog at everything, seeing the world differently again because he’s able to interact with it and the people around him outside of just crying or looking bemused.

This new-found confidence in communication isn’t always positive, mind you. Because he can tell you what he wants he also knows that you know what he wants too -the days of pointing at cupboard doors bleating helplessly are rapidly coming to an end. This means that if you deny him his heart’s desire he’ll plead until one of the affected party gives in. Most of the time this is biscuit-based trivia but every so often a whopper meltdown will completely bugger up your day.

A wave of obscenely cold weather has been hanging over London, so time spent in the park has been limited. This flat in which I write isn’t very big, the boy can run the length of the living room/kitchen in five seconds, which means the potential for steam-letting has been limited, so it was the perfect opportunity to take him to the cinema on Saturday morning for Toddler’s club, essentially, a bunch of under threes running amok under the cinematic glare of a kid’s movie. It starts at 11am and the cinema boasts a well-stocked bar. Isn’t 11am too early? Oh, come on, it’s the bloody weekend and no one needs know, it’s a cinema, like dark and… Oh, it’s sold out.

This was a blow, it was perishing outside, even the short walk there had rendered us blue. But we couldn’t go back home yet… Then one of us, I can’t remember who, remembered a conversation about a ‘soft play’ place about a 15-minute walk away.

This wasn’t ideal, I’d never visited a soft play space before but had already figured that hygiene may be an issue, all those kids, all that soft stuff? Then I concluded that I must be wrong, such a place would contravene basic health standards, it wouldn’t be allowed to operate and would‘ve already made the pages of The Guardian and/or The Daily Mail.

On entering I realised that I should always trust my instincts, but it was too late. The little boy had spied a toy car, big enough for him to physically climb in and was already determinedly making his way over, his eyes fixed on his prize. Around him all hell had broken loose, there were screaming kids everywhere, among them were adult people with t-shirts announcing that they were numerically ‘authentic’ or ‘original’, wading about in strategically torn jeans and shouting from mouths bracketed by rolled gold earrings. There was a fat bald man in the ball pool and an equally-proportion mother attempting to right herself on a tiny bouncy castle, everything was sullied by smeary little fingers and ground in dirt and in the midst of it was my beautiful little boy climbing into a toy car with an expression of rapturous glee.

Inevitably, of course, his presence attracted the attention of some little bugger who wanted to ride in his car, so I was forced to advise my little dude to ‘share’ when I really wanted to tell the snot-nosed little shit to fuck off… I actually came close but his handy ‘dad’ looked like he’d done time for aggravated sexual assault and was eying up my wife. Of course, my little boy let Snotto have a ride, but it was abundantly clear he wasn’t interested in the portion of the ball pool that wasn’t occupied by man-hippo or the floundering harridan on the bouncy castle, he just wanted the car so he waited patiently for the kid do one before climbing back in. Occasionally he’d let some of the other bastards have a turn but for the most part of an hour, he owned that vehicle.

Whilst its fairly obvious that I wasn’t having a killer day things were about to get a whole lot worse. I’d been quietly enjoying how clean and well behaved my little fella was, in contravention to the dirty chaos that surrounded me, until it was time to leave. I went to extract the boy from the car and he loudly informed me that he wasn’t going anywhere, when I insisted he went ape. What followed was an unprecedented meltdown, a full-on fit, which included kicking, punching, rolling on the floor and a piercing, shrieking scream that seemed like it couldn’t fit in his face. It took us almost five minutes of wrestling to get him out the door by which time we’d convinced all and sundry that long-haired men shouldn’t be allowed to breed.

The drama continued outside so bystanders could judge us too and a day later I had a stinking cold.


Jet Lag 3/3

The little boy seemed to positively thrive in his new home. Of course, he couldn’t care less if it was Christmas, Easter or National Arsehole Day, he was getting endless attention in an exciting new environment with his niece and nephew on hand to, er, to play with.

The nephew (six) pretty much gave up on his cousin from day one when he was on the receiving end of a slap in the eye socket followed by an arm-clawing, my son’s classic, opening. To his absolute credit, my nephew didn’t react to this assault with anything more than an expression of deep sorrow and spent the next nine days being careful to avoid a chuckling little boy determined to administer further abuse for his own gratuitous entertainment. My niece (eight) wasn’t exempt from the odd slap (or a bite for the ladies) but she countered his cheerful aggression with periods of intense affection, in which he’d be carried about like a Ken, before causing him unintended confusion by suddenly buggering off to do something else. This put the little fella on the back foot so for the most part his violence was replaced by curiosity.

While she may have got off lightly the two cats weren’t spared his devious attention. When he was very little, the sight of a cat would inspire him to go ape. He never minded dogs, he’s excited when he sees one even now, but cats have taken a while to come around to his style of thinking. For a while the cats were left to their own devices, a couple of days later he toddled over to where they were hanging to check them out. A few days before we left to go back to London he’d progressed to standing on their tails, dropping toys on their heads and attempting full-on body-contact wrestling moves that he never quite pulled off. Thankfully, in a fashion not dissimilar to my young nephew, the cats were more inclined to wearily move away rather than lash out, which could’ve had serious facial consequences.

It wasn’t just the people and cats he enjoyed hitting/interacting with. I’m loathed to admit that in spite of my previous imaginings that Bill Hicks’ negative opinion of the LA weather was on point (‘Only reptiles feel that way about this kind of weather. I’m a mammal, I can afford coats, scarves, cappuccino and rosy-cheeked women’) I think I’m happier in hot and sunny climes than a constant stream of pissing, cold rain. We were only a twenty-minute drive to Santa Monica (forty to Venice, hour to Malibu) and where lay endless, sandy beaches, caressed by a crystal-blue ocean that whispered under cerulean skies fading, it seemed, into the outer edges of fucking space. If we didn’t fancy driving to the ocean the apartment complex featured a private swimming pool which was far more decadent than it ought. The only downside to all this aqua-based entertainment was the ensuing tantrum when trying to remove the little fella from the ocean/pool; even when he’d turned into a shivering prune he insisted that he wanted to remain banging about in the water long after we’d all agreed to go for a much-needed drink.

On a couple evenings, when the missus was out with her sisters, my bro-in-law, bro and I had a chance to hang out as team, with the kids (when the bro-in-law and I experimented with a bit too much tequila in a Mexican place) and without at a Korean all-you-can-eat barbeque joint in which we, bros, stuffed ourselves rigid and drank ourselves silly. The better half and I got a precious night or two out, but mainly evenings were at home just talking, drinking.

These times were just as memorable as the drive through the Hollywood Hills or the rather profound visit to the Rainbow Bar and Grill on my 49th birthday where we drank in Lemmy’s bar as the little bloke ran in and out of his statue. Sitting here now, I’m missing that LA family stuff as much as I’m annoyed I can’t go downstairs right now and have a swim.

But the day that really sticks in my head was penultimate one when just DD and I decided to walk to Melrose Avenue and pay a visit to the LA branch of The Great Frog. The better half had ordered me a pair of cufflinks for Christmas from the London shop and I wanted to check ’em out, so while everyone was out doing other stuff, I figured a good walk would be of benefit, especially to my hangover from the bros big night out.

The boy and I set off, it was sunny and bloody hot, I decided en-route I’d get the boy a baseball hat because I could. I walked into a K Mart and spoke to a lady with way too much make-up.
‘Excuse me,’ I quothed, ‘do you have baseball hats for boys?’
‘Pardon, Honey… You wanna baseball hat for a bi-cycle?’
‘yes,’ I said ‘Yes. I want a baseball hat for a bi-cycle…’
‘I’m sorry, Honey, we don’t keep those here.’
‘Thank you,’ I said, and with that we left, unsure about everything.

The walk took us through a through a variety of neighbourhoods, all of which rung with that air of familiarity, now justifying itself from a first-hand perspective. One block was occupied by a gang of moody kids shrouded in a mist of weed. I continued through them with the pram, the little fella waved and they collectively softened and waved back, which was a good thing, really. A few streets later a couple of dudes on vintage Harleys (one definitely a Panhead) slowly turned right in front of us at an intersection. I could see the boy’s little legs rise up as he attempted to peer further into the shiny engine block. As they drifted past one of the guys called out to me, ‘hey dude, how you doing!’ I was just fine, thank you.

We left The Frog after checking the links and, after a quick chat with the shopkeep, headed back home, deviating slightly to see some different stuff. I took a dilatory pace, so I could drink in the sunshine and city sights, not taking a single step for granted. Tomorrow we’d be going home to London and the idea of leaving had begun to bite. As I walked the last few blocks back to the apartment I saw the better-half across the street as if it was the normal thing in the world. It didn’t feel like the end of a holiday, it felt like a chunk of my life was coming to a close; it was only a few days after we’d got home that I managed to figure out why.

That Christmas in LA had been unique, something that would be impossible to replicate on any basic level. More than simply the moment-in-time circumstances of our all being at an apartment in La Brea, it marked the passing of an age. The little bloke had noticeably entered into a new phase of his life. Whether this was on account of external factors, environment, family, circumstances, or just a coincidence wasn’t relevant, the little fella that left London wasn’t the same that returned home. The baby was gone, in its place was a little boy.

There was something else that had been bugging me too, I turned 49 in LA, my 50’s were less than a year away. LA wasn’t just about the sunshine, family stuff or even the little fella, a chunk of my life was quite literally coming to a close in a way that was neither profound or enchanting. And the jet lag was awful. Awful.


‘Sir!’ the security man at the airport boomed after me.

Fuck. What?

‘Sir!’ the man said again, I turned back to face a fat bloke stood next to the bag-scanner with a peaked-cap obscuring his eyes…

‘Yes?’ I said, very, very carefully, ensuring that it was a neutral ‘yes’ that erred towards the congenial and agreeable.

‘Did anyone ever tell you that you resemble one David Grohl?’

I tried to say something witty but conflated the one about not having his money and, actually, him looking like me, into a garbled mess that fell onto the floor and hid behind my dignity.

At least I was pissed.

Jet Lag, baby 2/3

On the evening before we departed for Los Angeles I’d packed everything save the actuality of my going. Even after we’d stuffed all of our possessions in the taxi that morning, picked up my bro on the way, I still wasn’t mentally en route. The traffic was slow and strained, the emerging stress of my not being able to spend enough time in the bar prior to flying began to take form. LA was still miles out of my reality but the ten-hour flight with a 20-month-old baby was coming rapidly into view.

I’ve flown long haul a few times, I don’t like flying so, obviously, I’m not in my happy place. The only possible way of dealing with ten hours plus in the sky is to factor in the ten hours plus of free booze. I vaguely recall the nice stewardess on the Virgin flight back from Tokyo a few years ago, she slipped me a full 75cl bottle of Shiraz after getting fed up with my constant pleas for a refill which took the edge off of proceedings to the point it was almost alright. Lately, the better half and I have gotten used to the short hop across North Europe to Italy: we know the ropes, we can drink a bit, the boy will sleep a bit before he’ll want to walk the aisle for a bit. It’s not pleasant but it’s never more than two and a half hours, it’s not four times that.

Trying to reconcile a dread for flying for ten hours is one thing, to do so with the prospect of not enough booze and a 20 month-old-baby was inconceivable. The airport drink at Heathrow was rushed and fraught, we said goodbye to my bro (due to meet us at the designated apartment in LA and sensibly taking an Air New Zealand flight) and walked the plank into United Airlines’ finest. At the end of this missive you’re free to read the letter I sent to them when we returned to London as I’m keen to avoid recalling a single second of the miserable experience as I did just then.

Arriving in LAX was weird, apart from the fact it was day again (when it should’ve been 2am) the airport itself was dark and sparse and the sudden reunion with the better half’s sis and respective siblings at the end of an endless corridor quietly freaked me out. We drove to La Brea as the sun set, that odd feeling of being somewhere at once familiar on account of TV/Films etc. and completely alien at the same time was aided and abetted by the fact I was with my wife and 20-month-old son. It’s worth noting that I regularly have these ‘I’m married?!’ ‘I have a son?!’ moments in direct contravention of those stoned days when I had neither: from the point of view of that sad, south London couch and a lump of squidgy black, the current and yes, cheery, position of being both a husband and dad are unimaginable. I digress as per.

This sense of weirdness was amplified further when we got back to the apartment where my younger sis in-law and wife’s bro-in-law were waiting to greet us, I hadn’t seen the latter since we went out in New York and got paralytic on red wine -I then recalled the first time I went to NYC noting the current LA paradox of ‘I’ve been here/I’ve not been here’, at the same moment my bro, fresh from LAX, walked into the room as if he’d just come back from a long piss at Heathrow. Can I have some more wine, please?

I’d always made it quite apparent to myself that I’d never visit LA unless invited to do so; it’s not like New York, say, a city begging to be visited on account of its museums, galleries, theatres, venues, restaurants and excellent, user-friendly transport system. No, LA is basically concrete lumps in a desert near the ocean. To my mind, one’s reasons for going needed to be put into a context of sorts, which also made LA a rather illusive and strangely unattainable place by my own conditioning system. I figured there were plenty more places to see with far greater cultural significance without definitely having to hire a car.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was how my perception of LA would change when family are factored in. We weren’t staying in a hotel, we were in a family apartment, my bro was with us, which had the unanticipated effect of making the city feel rather homely, and whilst we had that ‘holiday’ feeling it was more down to the fact that it was holiday- season rather than our being on a holiday, type thing.

Driving around the city from the get go helped with the process of settling in our new environment too: there’s no time for looking at chopped Shovelheads in their natural surroundings when you’re squished in between six angry lanes of traffic on the freeway. That shit is real, as was the close call we had on the first day when the lane I was driving in turned into an exit ramp and I took extreme measures to get us back on track. The subsequent bollocking from my co-pilot bro was the final check into reality. Hello LA.


Dear Sirs,

My family and I, two adults and a twenty-month boy, flew with you recently from LHR to LAX, and I’d like to talk to you about it.

First, the logic of placing a 20-month old child by the entrance to business class. That flimsy little curtain, the one that’s just about translucent enough for the clowns in coach to get a coquettish glimpse at how the other half lives, isn’t going to inspire hearing loss when, inevitably in the course of a ten-hour flight, he kicks off a hollering and a whooping.

Secondly, when he does start screaming the place down, because we’re expected to have him sit on our laps (for ten hours) it might be a good idea if the stewardess doesn’t refuse to get him some milk because, and I quote ‘…doing something else’, which was preceded with a charming ‘can’t you see…’ She was picking up litter, by the way, not resuscitating the pilot.

She refused to move out of the way, note ‘refused’, so I had to walk back up the aisle and shuffle up behind another stewardess on the adjacent aisle who was also picking up litter and wouldn’t move either. After ten minutes and much screaming (not me, the kid. I don’t fancy being beaten up by your cabin crew, something you have a reputation for. In fact, the reason we chose you over other equally competitive operators was that we’d figured you’d be bending over backwards to make amends for half killing a Korean Doctor. We’ll get back on to that shortly) one of your team handed over half a cup of milk which the boy devoured in seconds forcing me to repeat the same procedure as previously cited.

Back to the logic of placing a twenty-month child on a ten-hour flight in discomfort by the entrance to business class, I’d have thought you’d be doing all you could to prevent a small child for disrupting your premium paying passengers in case they, like me, decided to never, ever fly with you again. It’s not as if you can afford to lose passengers, is it? Before I booked with you I read that in the few months after you half-killed Dr Doa your passenger rates were at their lowest since 1995, specifically, down from 0.62 per 10,000 passengers to 0.44 per 10,000. Now I’m no businessman, but, well, why would you not want to give a crying child sat by business class some milk to shut him up? Even on the most basic of levels, in four months’ time, the boy in question would have been a paying customer as well. Goodbye, another passenger.

And finally, one of your crew in particular, a waspish looking individual with a small amount of hair on his head, took it upon himself to fire me the most unpleasant of glances throughout the whole miserable journey. I hadn’t spoken to this character, I’d not impersonated his gait or done that bald slappy-head thing, but for whatever reason, this guy seriously didn’t like me. Now I’m not saying I’m everyone’s cup of tea, heaven forfend, but on a professional level, keep your prejudices to yourself, no?

Just before I say cheerio, your food was appalling as well, actually inedible, and you’re stingy with the wine on top of it.


Yours Faithfully

Jamie Dwelly

Jet Lag, Baby

Part One.

The run-up to Christmas had been intense to the point that the trip to L.A. had been mentally engulfed by preceding events. The little fellow had been ill enough to keep him out of nursery adding additional pressure to some late work-related deadlines. Then there were the seasonally-themed social appointments, a few gigs, a sort-of pre-Christmas day with the folks and family and, last but by no means least, the band; furiously rehearsing in order to make good an appearance at a (dear friends’) wedding a mere two days before we were due to set off.

We’re a competent covers outfit that takes well-known ditties and sort-of fondles them into another shape. This is all well and good (and when we’re on form it is actually jolly good) so long as you remain aware that the whole point of a song cover is that it must have a semblance of the original then all is well. No problem for my skilled bandmates (two of whom are professional musicians, one in a well-regarded pop band) but a major issue when the singer can’t remember lyrics, song lyrics known for decades, lyrics from songs performed live a number of times, rehearsed one hundred times or more, melting into nothing at the very moment they’re supposed to be launched into the faces of our confused looking audience.

The gig had been playing heavily on my mind for weeks. Aware that I may be rendered speechless by my own brain in front of a hundred-plus wedding crowd isn’t the sort of thing one can psychologically brush off, especially as it’s not just oneself one is letting down if it all goes tits-up. I found myself awake in the small hours trying to establish codes and triggers in order to ensure I’d get from verse A to chorus B without incident. When I typically failed a wave of panic would hold open my already boggling eyes and I’d be forced to reach for the words printed on greasy foolscap that lay atop the pile of unread books on the bedside table.

The other small element of concern was that we weren’t due on stage until after 7 pm and the shenanigans kicked off at 2.30pm. I’d vowed not to drink more than a couple of glasses before we played but I already knew this was going to require an inner strength of its own accord. The solution for the reparation of my fraying nerves had now, ironically, become an issue, this took on a life of its own two days before the gig when one of our bandmates, the pop-pro, our glue and, frankly, reason we get away with our rather grimy set, was rushed to hospital. Mercifully his condition wasn’t life-threatening, if a tad painful, and he’d be as right as rain after a course of antibiotics. In a couple of weeks.

Having rehearsed extensively without our hospitalised pal it was possible we could do the set without him. But did we actually want to do it? After a little back and forth we decided to give it a shot, both the groom and his lovely wife-to-be were warned in advance that the set might be a little more chaotic/blue than usual and we were given the ‘up to and not including GG Allin’ green light.

On the day itself, I was both excited to be performing and terrified to be doing so; it’s the awful paradox in which the thought of not doing the show outweighs the projected nightmare of actually doing it. I hung out with the guys and their respective others and begun to loosen up a bit, the celebratory atmosphere re-assured me that this would be a forgiving crowd even if I cocked up. We ate, drank and cheered our way on to the moment we’d be on stage. Late afternoon the PA showed up and I helped lug some gear about which calmed me down and sobered my thoughts. Then all of a sudden, we were on.

I remember watching Mark Manning transform into Zodiac Mindwarp at an Idler party in the 90’s in front of a relatively small crowd. He went from writer to rock overlord in the space of seconds. At the time it looked faintly absurd (despite being a fan of ZM&TLR) when, all of a sudden, this articulate middle-aged man was ripping his shirt off, waggling his tongue off and grinding himself against a mic stand. Now I understand what was happening. When performing a person not dissimilar to yourself arrives into your being and fiddles with your controls, and there isn’t a huge amount you can do about it. Or maybe there is, perhaps that’s what determines whether you’re looking from the stage or at it… Not that there was a stage I hasten to add. We were on the ground level with the now rather sloshed audience who were dancing about and giving the impression they were having fun. That man off of The Kaiser Chiefs and X Factor was watching us play as well -I think he must have lost our contact deets because we’ve heard nout from him since- either way, he, or the wider audience, didn’t seem too fussed when, inevitably, I fluffed the odd word and made a pig’s ear of a Doors song (we all make mistakes, Mr. Wilson. You know).

All told, it all seemed to go rather well despite my aggressive and shouty self. Most importantly the bride and groom were happy so we’d done our job in that respect at least, and the better half wasn’t trying to crawl out the door with a bag on her head.

Soon after we said our fond farewells and departed, the better half and I stopping for one on the way home so I could mentally climb down and start to focus on the perils of a long-haul flight with a very little boy.

Never mind L.A., we had to get there first.

It’s not my place

It’s gone nine a.m. and I’m in my dressing gown; I’m sort-of fixing breakfast for myself in the kitchen, behind me, sat on his high-chair, is the little fella. He’s worked out that the spoon is good for getting oat-based cereal out the bowl but hasn’t quite figured out the correct angle for the food to remain on the spoon as it approaches his gaping mouth. I discreetly watch him for a while, if I get busted the likelihood is that spoon and the bowl will wind up on the floor earlier than usual. The spoon and bowl always land on the floor. It’s the law.

I’m having another one of those ‘the fuck?’ moments. I get between ten and twenty a day when I suddenly see myself remotely doing stuff with my boy and wondering if it’s actually he and I: in nanoseconds, I’ll find my current predicament wholly unimaginable so my mind will attempt to imagine reality before actual reality returns with a ‘the fuck?’. It’s a wonderful feeling, sort-of like when you wake up thinking it’s a grey Monday when it’s actually a beautiful Saturday, sort of.

These moments aren’t just the product of my having a son, that I’m a dad, let me just write that again, I’m a dad (the fuck?) it’s also to do with the non-effective pressure of a nine to five world.

Thanks to technology most of us (note ‘most’, not ‘all’, so don’t write in) don’t need to be in an office anymore, most still get the job done despite spending the best part of their working lives dicking about with their mates on social media. When I was working the nine to five game I reckon I could’ve done my whole weeks’ work in a day and a half at most, so why was I wasting my time for the remaining three and a half?

From a very young age, our lives are structured around the nine-five-monday-friday model. Of course, there is nothing wrong in this per se but in the last twenty years or so it could be argued that this structure isn’t beneficial to an unspecified number of industries and could even be detrimental to them. I’d argue that being fresh and vital is of far greater benefit that winding up jaded and angry because you’re having to spend precious, spirit-sapping time with people whose lives are wrecked as much as yours… allow me to quantify that if you will, if you don’t like your job it’s not over the hill and far away to assume your colleagues aren’t exactly enamoured either. And if they are (i.e. do like crying in the loo) it’s fair to assume that, as far as you should be concerned, you’re spending valuable time with morons doing a job you despise. At some point I concluded that this wasn’t conducive to self-betterment, irrespective of the cheery salary, so I got out of the office game and began a working-from-home-job with a U.S. Employer.

I thought working from home as an employee would be a happy compromise but it’s almost worse. You may be working from home but that nine to five sod knows no bounds. Robert Frost said that, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in” but if you’re working from it (home) that simply reads ‘your home is a place where they can spy on you, you can no longer shut the door and leave’.

A few months after my son was born my U.S. employers gave me the boot. They’d started to monitor my work with such intensity it became effectively impossible to work for reasons cited aloft, but because I’d not breached any code of practice (and made them a considerable amount of money, I hasten to add) they had to pay me off. On the one hand, you could see this as a quite appalling act of barbarity bearing in mind my son was brand new, or an opportunity to take the writing work to the next level.

I don’t get paid for writing this, I do it because something within compels me to do so, but I do get paid writing XYZ for others, and it’s something I thoroughly enjoy. Better still, I just have to work off a deadline so I can manage my time as I want so, most importantly, I can manage time around the boy so we get plenty of time to hang out.

The fuck?

Pain Gain

I got my nipple pierced in the final year of my twenties, stood-up in a makeshift tent with a smiley long-haired man who declared that I had nothing to fear with regard to the impending pain as he was ‘very fast’. On the word ‘fast’ he hastily passed a needle through my nip; a creaking-popping noise, a lightning bolt of searing agony then a wobbly rush of endorphins. Done. Gary next.

Gary and I spent the day walking about the Milton Keynes bowl with our right hands suspended over our smarting teats for fear of physical contact with a fellow reveller, there were dozens of other people striking a similar pose on account of their recent surgery, eye-contact would solicit a nod, a cheer, even a beer from one especially lubricated out-patient.

We’d made the trip from London with a few mates to see Black Sabbath, I’d never seen them live despite being a fan from a very early age, nine to be exact, after my friend Gavin* gave me a tape that he’d borrowed from his sister. I remember he was very amused by one song called ‘embryo’ so I’m guessing it was Master of Reality.

It was a big deal they were performing, I don’t think any of us thought we’d ever catch them live, so we’d brought along plenty of provisions to ensure we’d be suitably annihilated when they came on stage. Apart from flashes of us all laughing our heads off and one of us throwing up on the train journey home (it may have been me) I can barely recall the day, save noticing that I wasn’t the only one having a little cry when they opened with War Pigs, and my being pierced, of course. I still have the piercing, unlike Gary who, after jumping in a swimming pool in Turkey, learnt that the valve from some inflatable animal had arrived in between his jewellery and chest as he descended into the water. The ring was ripped clean out of his flesh and the pool had to be evacuated.

Until relatively recently I’ve never really analysed this desire to look a certain way, especially when it’s physically painful, and I suppose by looking a ‘certain way’ I (somewhat ironically) conform to a stereotype of what people expect a ‘headbanger’ or ‘biker’ to look like. On the one hand, it’s probably a sign of something insecure (of course, you don’t need to look like a rocker or a punk to be one) but it could just as easily be the reverse. Back in the 80’s, before Nirvana and Guns and Roses taught the prols to rock, people that looked like me weren’t just targets for the media, we had a more tangible threat: groups of young white men that liked to drink pissy lager and listen to jazz-funk. I was beaten unconscious on a night out with my girlfriend in a pub close to my parents by three bastards who starting smashing me in the face before I’d had a chance to pint my pint down, they pulled out chunks of my hair after I’d passed out for good measure.

I didn’t go out for a year after that, because it’d been an unprovoked assault my brain couldn’t process the right way to deal with why what had happened and I became really paranoid. But despite the huge toll it’d taken on me psychologically it had an uncanny effect of reinforcing my identity, it was almost as if I felt I’d earned the right to my long hair and black leather because someone had beaten me up, not for something I’d said but for the way I looked. If anyone was going to inflict pain on me, it was me.

A tattoo was somewhat inevitable. I waited until I was thirty before committing the design I’d been working on for five years to flesh. I guess that’s the difference between now and two decades ago. Tattoos are passé these days, people get ink for the sake of itself, some (but certainly not all, so don’t write in) want to be associated with the having of tattoos to the extent that the aesthetics are secondary; take the faux-tribal craze that took place relatively recently where you could have miles of ink slapped on in a couple of hours, right out the book. Once upon a time tattoos used to be the preserve of sailors, criminals and outlaw bikers, ink, by association, was with loaded with unsavoury connotations -not millionaire football player or that nice Ed Sheeran. Tattoos found their way onto rockers and punks and, as far as I’m concerned, legitimised them for the likes of me. The fact that I’m a devotee of all things ‘motorcycle’ it’d almost be rude if I didn’t have tattoos, mum.

I can no longer contain the ingredients of the stuff that makes up the self so the excess pours out leaving traces of ink and hair in its wake. And it’s not just ink, it’s the rest of the garb, the leather, chains, skull-rings, studs… And a pram with a beautiful little boy sitting there, watching the world go by with his proud dad pushing him along.

*Gavin died of a brain tumour when we were in our early twenties, around the time I got that kicking. A week after he passed, his mum came around to my parents’ house and wordlessly dropped off two dozen heavy metal tee-shirts for me, many from shows we’d seen together. It blew me to pieces.