Second Draft – and still no title


We’re still a week away from the end of June, which was the target I originally set myself for completing the transcription of the novel I wrote thirty years ago this year that I’ve long since referred to as The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel.

Well, not only did that transcription get transcribed a good long way ahead of schedule, and not only does a published paperback of that version of the story sit on my desk now, but I am still six days up and I have today completed a completely unanticipated Second Draft. And I still haven’t thought of a title for it.

The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical Second Draft is not the end of it, however. I have accomplished the most part of the things I set out to do, though there is one loose end the tying off of which I have managed to overlook, which I will rectify in due course. I know where it needs to be inserted, but it is probably not going to be enough to simply write a new section and plug in, as that chapter is already a bit top-heavy, so I’m going to have to juggle a few more things around.

For those of you interested in the process of writing itself, I have to say it’s once again been a fascinating experience. In some respects, this has been less a Second Draft than a collaborative re-write. ‘He’, being the younger me, has set the terms of the book. He has adapted the events of real life, to which he was a lot closer in time, into this fictional framework of people, place and event. Large tracts of his work needed no more than some minor neatening, a slightly smoother flow, changes in punctuation, removing redundancies: he was a lot less certain of what he had to tell the audience and this version has a lot more confidence in them.

Other sections have had to be drastically trimmed, or deleted entirely, not merely to create space for new scenes, other characters, the whole process of Second Draft rewriting where you can implant subtle references to things that will appear later. Some scenes have been rewritten entirely, sometimes to refresh them, or find a better way of expressing them, sometimes to change entirely what happens. Some things have been brought closer to the surface, so that the audience can see them where the characters can’t.

I’ve had to be careful about style. How I write has changed considerably since 1987, and I should bloody well hope so too! That has had to be dialled back upon, in order to blend more harmoniously with my collaborator. I was a lot plainer in style then, though “he” has surprised me many times with things he’s written that I could now conceive (I am yet further convinced that this is coming from somewhere in the subconscious, not from me), and whilst I’ve loosened some things up, I’ve had to stay within certain limits.

I’ve changed less than I expected to, after all this length of time, and so, after a suitable break for mental recoupment, during which time I may tinker a bit with at least one of the other half-stories that I have been unable to develop as I wished this past half-decade, we shall resume ere long for a Third Draft.

I just wish I could come up with a remotely decent title.

My Day as a Ghost


Yesterday wasn’t a good day. Last week wasn’t a good week, but yesterday I was a ghost.

I feel perpetually exhausted, both mentally and physically, these days. Even a four day break from work, up to and including last Sunday, did nothing to change that. I had a rush of blood with the Second Draft and did five chapters in those four days, leaving me only the final two to deal with, and as this is the Third Act, and the emotional crux, it’s pretty draining work to begin with.

Nor did the high temperatures and hot sun of the first three days help me. I don’t do this kind of weather well in any event, only really managing it when I can either sprawl out on the benches at Old Trafford and watch cricket, or wander beaches and beachfronts in Mallorca: zuma naranja, agua sin gas and Coca-Cola Lite. It didn’t help that for at least the first half of Tuesday, I was in serious pain with my right knee. It’s been increasingly sore for years and I’m pretty much doomed to arthritis in it, if it hasn’t already developed, but this was throbbing mercilessly at regular intervals, no matter what I did to ease it, until it just went away, like that.

But on Thursday, after lunch, I developed toothache. I don’t have a dentist, I haven’t been to one in nearly a decade. I hate them. My ex-wife used to have to go with me, and sometimes hold my hand, and she said I didn’t so much shake as vibrate. It wasn’t a particularly jabbing pain, but it was a persistent one, and I didn’t sleep on Thursday night.

I think I got some rest in, maybe ninety minutes at the back end of darkness, but I was awake the rest of the time, in that intermediate state somewhere between wakefulness and conscious dreaming, my mind drifting under only partial direction. Friday morning, I was wierded out. My tooth was easing, but I was still very aware of it, and I couldn’t have gone best-out-of-three with a wet dishrag.

I shouldn’t have gone in to work but my absence record couldn’t afford it. I was limp, mentally as well as physically, and I was doing everything so slowly, snails were backed up behind me and tooting their horns.

As you know, I work in a call centre, as part of an efficient, second-tier customer support team dealing with technical faults ad customers of all attitudes. Fridays we’re relatively thin in numbers and I took my seat in my usual spot. Almost immediately, it got impossible to bear.

One of my team-mates, with whom I get along well, is irascible at the best of times. He’s undergoing stress himself, with a succession of headaches, and the number of things that irritate him seems to be growing, but his big bugbear is whistling. He cannot stand it, it is his nails-on-a-blackboard. Of course, another of our team-mates, who is big and booming and eccentric to begin with, starts whistling, and doesn’t take kindly to attempts to check him, making this almost a freedom-of-speech thing. It’s doing my head in and I haven’t even logged on.

My team leader is already aware I feel lousy. I tell him that as soon as I’ve done this urgent callback I’ve promised for one o’clock, I’m moving workstations, somewhere further away.

It takes three attempts to find one where I can work. It’s of only minimal effect: this is a call centre, we are a team of talkers, we have plenty of people who live to talk and who can charitably be described as distinctive, also as loud. Two get into an argument that results in one storming out briefly. I am as far away as it’s physically possible to be and still be on our team, and I have become a ghost.

When customers come on the line, I can summon the energy to deal with them, albeit in a calm, subdued manner. I’m laidback in my approach anyway: my schtick is empathy, calmness, confidence: let’s see what I need to do to fix it for you. This doesn’t help me with the guy who phones up early on to complain that his Broadband – which he took out only a month ago – may be fixed now but it’s too slow. He’s one of those who treat it as a personal insult that we’ve given him Broadband this useless, as if we’ve selected him for unfair treatment instead of it being the inevitable, and unalterable consequence of the distance between his house and the Exchange. He wants to upgrade to Fibre, and he wants a good deal out of us.

He says it as if we owe it to him. Now we continually have differing offers for new and upgrading customers but it so happens that there are currently none except if the customer simultaneously takes out one of our television packages. That offer is good: it’s a lot of product for a little outlay and it’s locked in for eighteen months, but I don’t know from TV. I don’t know the prices, I don’t know the packages, my head cannot cope with all the various alternatives and a customer who’s being as much of an arsehole as this one. Whilst I’ve got him on hold, and a colleague is blithely drowning me in details I’d struggle to understand in a normal state, he hangs up on me, which is best for both of us.

From then on, it’s nothing but technical stuff of varying complexity. Come six o’clock, three of my louder colleagues reach the end of their shifts and leave, but the two who started things off with the argument over the whistling are, like me, on till nine o’clock. I am miles away, miserly conserving what little energy I’ve got, combating the headache that hasn’t shifted all day. I don’t want to talk to anyone, though conversation would help eat up the looming time, but I am not noticed recognised, spoken to. I am a ghost, not even sure of my own corporeality. The new t-shirt I am wearing today, which would ordinarily have been remarked upon approvingly by several people (Fools! I Will Destroy You All! (ask me how)) isn’t even noticed.

Probably they’re being sensitive to my silence and my distance, but it’s Friday evening, six till nine, the last and worst hours and my eight pm I am done. I don’t have anything left, except guilt that they’re taking calls and I’m staring at old matters, checking details, filling in time because I am a deadweight.

And the irony is that when it officially reaches 9.00pm and I log off, they’re both out of the building before I’ve even returned my gear to my locker.

I slept better last night, but I don’t foresee me doing much this weekend. There are few necessary chores: food shopping later today is the only compulsory one. Having allowed myself to get a full five episodes behind on iZombie, I plan to continue my one-a-day catch-up. And having taken in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 last Sunday, I hope to feel up to Wonder Woman tomorrow, and if so write an Uncollected Thoughts about it.

And there is one scene, and one short coda left to revise and the Second Draft will be complete, though that doesn’t mean the book will be complete as there is still more to do before I consider it publishable. I shalln’t be going in for much human contact this weekend. But I shall be real both Saturday and Sunday. Yesterday, I was a Ghost.

Crap journalism: Best Batman?


It’s been a while since I’ve felt sufficiently irritated by the Guardian‘s patented brand of garbage that I indulge myself myself in one of these kickings, but here we are again, with another piece of egregious stupidity.

The recent death of Adam West has brought forth an outpouring of nostalgia and genuine affection for a man who, by all accounts, was an intelligent, thoughtful and genuinely nice person, whose career was effectively blighted by the one role for which he was known. Most people who worked with him have made it clear that he was a talented actor, capable of much more subtle work than was required by his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne, but which was denied him because of his indelible association with the ‘Biff! Bam! Pow!’ TV series.

People have been falling over themselves to praise West’s portrayal of Batman, and to contrast it with the modern day interpretations that take the character seriously. Naturally, I disagree. But that doesn’t make these people wrong. Nor does it make their affection solely justifiable by nostalgia. I say again, they like that Batman, I don’t, and there is nothing more to be said.

However, a guy named Jack Bernhardt clearly thinks there is much more to be said, and he says it here. Please go read: I’ll still be hear when you return.

At base, it’s the same old story that has inspired many previous ‘Crap Journalism’ posts. Person has Opinion. Person mistakes Opinion for Universal Truth incorporating bitchy put-downs of everyone – usually the overwhelming majority – that disagrees with him or her. Advancement of human knowledge: zero, even if the opinion being offered is of some kind of merit.

In a way, Bernhardt’s contempt for anyone who regards not merely Batman but any superhero in any way remotely seriously is apt for someone defending the 1960’s series, because it exactly mirrors the attitude of the people making Batman for the character, the concept and, most appalling, the audience who bought the comics and wanted to see a decent treatment of the character onscreen.

This is not to say that a less-than-wholly-reverent approach to a character is an abomination before God, or at least that part of the audience that represents the concept. I have seen hundreds of spoofs and parodies and send-ups and absurdist deconstructions and I have seen plenty that I found hilarious. Without exception, the ones that have worked best, for example, The Princess Bride, are done by people who know and understand the subject matter, who can be completely aware of its inherent flaws, weaknesses, absurdities yet still share some level of enjoyment of the original. This gives them the insight to accurately, vividly and perceptively take the piss, without ever extending that disdain to the audience, because they know why people love these stupid, silly and flawed things in the first place.

Producer William Dozier and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., thought Batman’s fans were morons. They despised them for the crime of liking the character, of seeing something of worth in it, and they set out to effectively fart in that audience’s face. Batman runs unconvincingly around a pier, carrying a bomb so cartoonish it only lacks the word bomb in big white letters painted on it. People get in his way, nuns, a woman with a baby carriage. They are ridiculously oblivious to a man waving a cartoon bomb around. Even a gaggle of fiendishly cute ducklings frustrate Batman’s attempts to dispose of this bomb before it goes off and, guess what, kills everybody horribly.

Bernhardt thinks this makes Batman a likeable, punning character and, get this, genuinely anti-authoritarian. He seems not to notice that by creating this scenario, the people involved are pissing all over a character they cannot sustain belief in for a moment, and which they cannot understand anyone with their level of sophistication, intelligence and taste holding any belief whatsoever. So does Bernhardt, whose piece reeks of superiority.

If he likes this version of Batman, let him. The series was made, it cannot be undone or changed, and I’d be very wary of it if it were. It was a comedy, but there is no real humour, or point, in any comedy that exists simply to say, “You’re all so fucking dumb for liking this.” There is no purpose or comedy to be made from ripping into something you can’t understand because by definition, you’re not so much going to miss the point as going to miss that there ever was a point to begin with.

And as with Dozier and Semple, so too with Berhardt, the only thing remaining from your supposed enthusiasm for your opinion is your overriding smugness at having one.

May the cheese always be cracking


The announcement today that Peter Sallis has died at the age of 96 finally rings down the curtain on the Last of the Summer Wine era. None are left now of that immortal trio of Foggy, Cleggy and Compo (with respect to the late gone Michael Bates as unforgotten Cyril Blamire).

And there can never be any Wallace and Grommit again, for no-one else could voice that sterling little inventor.

That we had such marvels for so long should be what we marvel at.  So long, and thanks for all the joy.

A Win for Manchester


I watched the Europe League Cup Final last night in a rather different frame of mind than I’d expected. The greyness of the season disappeared in the circumstances of what happened on Monday night, which still fills me with pain. I have learned this morning that the missing 14 year old girl from the Hebrides has now been confirmed to be among the dead, I learned yesterday that the bomber, may he be resurrected to die and be resurrected to die again again until he has suffered as many deaths as he caused, this bastard went to my old school.

So last night couldn’t be normal if it tried from here until eternity, and winning was both irrelevant and essential, and it wasn’t about United winning for me and my all the other Reds and our club, it was about our own and how we will never give in and we will not be stopped, no matter what you do, and instead of elation and excitement, I greeted the final whistle with sobbing, the release of tension.

It keeps welling up. I contain it at work, which consists of listening to people tell me that their broadband or their telephone isn’t working and it’s not good enough, and yesterday afternoon I came closer than I have done in over twenty years to losing my rag with a customer/client over the phone. I was shaking, physically, by the end.

Because I can’t let go at work. I’m not like that in real life either. I may rant and rave here but I don’t do it in person, I sit, I absorb, I am cool, laid-back, professional, so all the rawness has to happen once I’m back here and alone. And there’s stuff going on all over Manchester at the moment, in places and streets I know.

I have banned myself for a short time from a group of friends, a private political forum, that is discussing the implications of all this on the Election that takes place two weeks from today, who see conspiracy theories in how the Tories are reacting to this. In other circumstances, I would see exactly the same things as them, if this had happened/was happening in Leeds, or Newcastle, or Bristol or Nottingham, but it isn’t. I’m the only one from Manchester and I’m too near it.

Yesterday began early, with another Counselling session: good and helpful in many ways but it started with both of us, the Counsellor and I, in tears again about what had been done.

So winning last night was unimportant and important both. It was about standing up and not being phased by it. Had the finalists been our hated rivals Manchester City, I would have supported them to win, would have applauded their victory, would have still sobbed with relief.

I’m sorry. Allow me this self-indulgence. These are hard days to get through. I’ll try not to let this happen again.

Manchester


The guiding principle about blogging anything on this site is the belief – however misguided – that I have something to say about it that’s worth reading. Over twenty years ago, I didn’t learn about the IRA Bomb in Manchester until hours later, because I was in the Lakes, enjoying a brilliant day of fellwalking.

Because I didn’t read any news-sites last night, and because I’m not on any social media, I didn’t know about the Bomb at the Manchester Arena last night until I logged on this morning and found that one of my forums had titled today’s thread ‘Manchester’.

I don’t really have anything worthwhile to say. No insights or explanations, and this is not a day for smartarse remarks. We have been attacked, our kids and their families have attacked, and children have died and been seriously wounded. This is personal to all of us who live in Manchester. It is raw and hurtful.

But my fellow Mancunians have shown, in their responses, why these bastards will never win. People have come together, shown humanity, generosity and grace, to help those in need.

The bastards who can only hate and destroy, in the name of a God who, if he sanctions this, is unworthy of a second’s respect, cannot beat this, cannot beat us.

That is all I have to say.

Our Local Horror


I can’t remember when I first became aware of the Moors Murders. My first conscious recollection of it comes in the early Seventies, via the New Musical Express of all places, commenting on Lord Longford’s attempts to get Myra Hindley released on parole. I think I probably had absorbed some idea about this horror by osmosis: I am a born and bred Mancunian, and this is our City’s tragedy. It is lodged in our collective psyche and it will remain so until it achieves final resolution, which with Ian Brady’s death, it may never do. There is still a boy’s body out there on the Moor, awaiting discovery, awaiting burial, needing the gift to his family of a place to go where they can feel connected to him, and can mourn as we all mourn the people we have lost.

It was there. It kept coming up, as the years passed, as Longford continued his stupid campaign. I remember a comment, from, I think, the NME, about the different kind of tragedy it would have been if Longford was right, if Hindley really had undergone a change of heart, and was no longer a danger who needed to be kept in prison. I wondered about that, acknowledging it in the abstract.

I could do things like that then, regard the Moors Murders in the abstract, without connection to the reality of things, because I was ignorant, because when the tragedy had happened, when the trial took place, I was only 11. Then things changed.

It was 1987, late summer, Friday afternoon. I came home from work, picked up the Evening News. The headline story was that Myra Hindley had been back to Saddleworth Moor with the Police, in secret, and that she had assisted them to locate the grave and remains of Pauline Reade who, like Keith Bennett, had not been part of the trial because it was not then known that there were more than the official three bodies.

Perhaps it was only me, though I doubt it. It was as if a psychic pall descended across the city. I had no idea what it felt like to be in Manchester when the story broke, when the trial was being conducted, but it felt as if we had been carried back to those days, as if a cloud had descended over all of us, and it lasted throughout the weekend. There was nothing else to think about, no avenue of escape, nothing that wasn’t affected by the still very fresh wound that had been done to all of us.

It felt like everything was alive again.

I don’t remember talking about it to my mother. She, after all, had not only lived through the original stories, but was the mother of two young children when they were current. I can only imagine, because I never asked, what fears she might have had for the chance that her own children, or either of them, might have been victims.

I didn’t know then that that risk had a degree of reality to it.

For the first time, I understood my ignorance. I knew buzzwords, Moors Murders, Hindley, Brady. But I didn’t know what had happened, and when, and where. And I suddenly needed to know, to understand what was being talked about when those references came up.

Today, I’d have turned to the Internet, to Wikipedia. These things did not exist then. Instead, I bought a book, the controversial book, Emlyn Williams’ Beyond Belief, a comprehensive detailed account of crime and trial.

It demanded my attention as soon as I started it. It was a workday, but I found myself hiding the book in a drawer, diving in to devour paragraph after paragraph whenever I could steal time. Once I had begun, I needed to proceed in the most straight of lines, until I had absorbed everything. This had happened to Manchester, it was part of our history, part of me in some weird and inexplicable sense I couldn’t properly understand and certainly couldn’t control. I just had to know.

So I found everything out, except for Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett, who were not part of things when the book was written.

The funny thing was, a few months later, when I tried to re-read the book, I found it impossible. It couldn’t hold me, and I lasted no more than about seventy pages, at most, before giving up. I had just needed to know once. I didn’t need to revisit it, indeed I was incapable of revisiting it. But I knew. I was inside the circle. I knew what this was, and what it meant.

I still didn’t discuss it with my mother, even after realising that when Brady and Hindley were preying on young children, like Keith Bennett, I was almost of the age they were looking for, and we visited Ashton-under-Lyne market, where they hunted. I can’t, and don’t even begin to think of myself as a potential victim, but in other circumstances, a year or two later if they’d not been caught, I was in what you might call the event space for targets.

When stories about them returned to the papers, as they did from time to time, I read them as I would any story affecting Manchester. I had internalised the horror. I knew what it meant. There was no longer any of this foolishness of considering whether Myra Hindley could ever be released: given the stated intention of members of the victims families to hunt her down and kill her if ever that happened, she could never be released. My every instinct is, and always has been, towards redemption, to reformation, but what I had read and what I had understood made me more conscious of retribution. What she had done, what he had done, rendered them unfit ever to be allowed back into human society. It is Old Testament, it is simple vengeance, or rather complex vengeance because I have no personal stake in this except an accident of geography, but why should such as they have a life, even a belated and shrunken one, when John Kilbride, Pauline Reade, Lesley Ann Downey, Keith Bennett and Edward Evans had none?

And why should the entirely human need for vengeance hang over the survivors, the ones who had to deal with the loss, the absence, the theft of life that shuld have come to fruition, why should these people be put at risk of trial and punishment, of their own imprisoment for the likes of her? It would have been the ultimate insult.

As for Brady, he has shown himself up in the colours we have always known he wore. He is an evil, twisted, manipulative little sicko. I really do not know whether he could genuinely have relocated Keith Bennet’s grave, or whether the passage of fifty years on Saddleworth Moor had rendered the landmarks unreliable. For the purpose of giving himself one tiny corner that he could claim to control, it doesn’t matter. As long as people believed he might be able to provide that answer, he had a hold on something.

Now he’s taken whatever it was to the grave, smug to the last that we didn’t know, that he was smarter than us, that he was superior in this one degree. His ego fed by others’ pain, as it always has been, evil little shite. If Time Travel were possible, someone should go back to when the little bastard was 10 and beat his brains in with a brick.

He’s gone, and good riddance. You can say so many things – currently, I’m thinking that we shouldn’t bury his body, we should feed it to the pigs, but then there are the pigs to consider and what is done with their bodies afterwards: would you want to eat their bacon?

And it’s not over. It’ll never be over until that grave is found, until those remains are removed to a place of haven, with whatever ceremony that most comforts the Bennett family. Until then there’s a hole in Manchester’s soul, and it will be there forever.