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.

Nothing’s That Funny


…but this was.

A long long time ago, I can still remember…

I work, as I have mentioned, in a call centre providing customer service. Mine is a senior team, who deal with repeat faults, cases that have not been resolved in the first instance. This makes for a rather volatile team. Because of the number of us, we are divided into two teams, with separate managers.

At the moment, we have quite a churn. Several people have left and are leaving in the near future, most of them from my team. I don’t know what it is that I’ve said, and if I did there are another couple of people I would say it to.

As I have alluded, more than once, I’m not having a great time of it at present, and I’m finding working conditions difficult, even on the level of personal interactions. A lot of what would normally pass for everyday behaviour and high spirits is rubbing me up, sometimes quite seriously. I’m keeping it contained, for the most part, just letting out my frustrations in little outbursts, to other people, not to anyone who has got me worked up.

You may call this dishonest or cowardly, but the problem is me, not them, and I don’t think it’s fair to kick off at them when it is my increased thin-skinnedness that is the source of the irritation.

One of those shortly to leave is a female colleague who has herself been going through rough times: divorce, financial problems, health (she is another fibromyalgia sufferer). I like her, we get on well, she’s usually sympathetic and friendly towards me.

But. But my soon-to-be-ex-colleague has two substantial flaws. One is that she has a completely filthy mind. That, in itself, is nothing to be sniffy about: you don’t get to see that side of my mind on here. The problem is that hers operates non-stop, seizing on the double entendre in everything (and believe me, she can find double entendres where non-entendres exist).

It’s the relentlessness of this, the fact that no conversation takes place without it, that makes it wearing. Comedy, if it’s about anything, is all about timing, and the one vital aspect of timing that most people these days don’t seem to get is that you have to know when to just knock it off!

This is exacerbated by her other flaw: she giggles. And when I say giggles, I mean giggles. If we could weaponise that giggle, there would be no further worries about the rest of the globe, it would mow down armed forces everywhere.

So, put incessant innuendo together with the inevitable – and uncontrollable, unstoppable – giggle upon giggle upon giggle into infinity, and when I’m in my current frame of mind, it’s a fatal combination.

And this is going on – and on and on and on and on – yesterday afternoon, and I am gritting my teeth as forcefully as my slightly sore tooth will allow, and there is no end to this in sight or sound, and I grumble to myself, “Nothing’s that (****) funny.”

And the mists of time roll back, and I with them. And suddenly, I’m back in the guests’ living room at Low Bleansley farm, near Broughton in the Lake District, and I’m sat at the table. It’s the late mid-Sixties, it’s somewhere not long after eight in the evening, we are on holiday again. My sister has already gone to bed, and I will follow at 9.00pm, Mam and Dad and Dad’s elder brother are sat around talking, and no doubt smoking, and I’m reading.

I’m reading a library book, one I’ve just discovered thanks to School, or should I say Skool, because it’s either Down with Skool! or How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, and I am reading the thoughts of Nigel Molesworth, the Curse of St Custards, and I can even remember the exact line I am reading, which is set in a department store at Xmas, with Molesworth in line to sit on Father Christmas’s lap and being told to queue quietly and be nice to Santa Claus, and remarking what does she think we’re going to do, i.e. kick him in the shins and go roaring out, zoom zoom zoom.

And I am laughing my head off, which I have been doing for most of the book before now, because I have never read anything so anarchic, rebellious, fractured and absurd, and I am discovering that this is indeed very much my sense of humour, and this is all so ridiculous, yet so in tune with a mind that is only just pre-teen, this Willans guy knows how we think in a world we have absolutely no influence over.

And my Dad looks up and demands to know what’s so funny, and he say ‘Nothing’s that funny’, just like I did, only without any words that you may choose to represent by italics, because this is 1967 or something like that.

Nothing’s that funny. The years separating these moments close up. Circles are squared. I am my father’s son and to be linked with him, even in such frustration, is a comforting moment.

It’s good not to care


For quite some time now, I’ve been withdrawing into myself, moving further and further away from the world outside my own head. Increasingly, that world has been making itself inhospitable to someone with my hopes, opinions and thoughts, and since the reversal of massive political decisions within any kind of foreseeable future is not on the cards, that process is unlikely to stop.

But it’s not just rejection of a world that no longer reflects the fundamental values I have held all my life. There are personal issues that have accelerated the process of collapsing into myself, slowly increasing the distance between me and the people around me. More and more the past is coming to absorb my thoughts because of the absence of a future that involves more than repetitive actions, without prospect of change.

This is not without its blessings.

For over thirty years, month by month, I followed the comic book Cerebus written and drawn by Canadian Dave Sim, a man approximately six months younger than me. Artistically, Sim is a genius, a fantastically skilled creator, an inspiration. For over thirty years, Cerebus was a consistent in my life. Compare my interests when first I discovered it with those interests I had when its final issue appeared, take a cross-section of each and, unless you count Manchester United, it is the only thing to appear in both lists.

Sim has long been controversial for the anti-feminist opinions he espouses and which became an explicit part of Cerebus with issue 186. He has become widely regarded as a misogynist, an accusation he regards as being the worst possible aspersion that can be made about anyone in these Marxist-Feminist Times.

He has largely withdrawn from the world. He believes that he has been/is being persecuted because people have allowed him to be accused thus without defending him. He will not communicate with anyone unless they sign a letter he has drawn up stating that they do not regard him as a misogynist.

Sim has also had a petition put up on the internet asking people to sign to say that they do not believe he is a misogynist. He has refused to go out in public until that petition has reached 2000 signature. I have not signed that petition. I could not, in anything remotely resembling good conscience, sign it. But now 2000 people have.

This is Sim’s response: http://momentofcerebus.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/2001-signatures.html

I spent thirty years plus following Cerebus, absorbed in it. Disregarding its content, I would still rate Dave Sim as one of the most consistently inventive, thoughtful, insightful and original comic book creators. I just happen to disagree with his worldview, his opinions and his completely paranoid mindset, to the point where I am now beginning to get ever so slightly ashamed – to myself – of liking the series as much as I did (and, up to issue 268, do).

But, do you know, what? My current issues with the world around me are less concerning than they usually are when I read bullshit like the above link and realise: do you know what, Sim? I just don’t fucking care what ‘intellectual’ contortions you go through any more. They’re right: you’re batshit crazy.

And I don’t give a damn any more.

That’s your lot for this week…


The news of Brian Matthew’s passing comes as little surprise but with great sorrow. Those of us who followed Sounds of the Sixties on Saturday mornings for years and even decades have known for a long time that this day was drawing ever nearer, and it makes the loss of the programme, little more than a month ago, even more poignant. If only he could have been allowed to stay until the end.

Farewell, old mate. That’s our lot.

The Legendary Semi-Autobiographical First Novel: latest update


It’s some time since I last updated on progress on preparing my thirty year old first draft novel for publication in at least a  private form. Since I last mentioned it, things have gone on quite a way.

The transcription of the original manuscript has now been completed. It go quite intense over the last six chapters or so, as I became obsessed with copying up each chapter so that I could read the next part of the story, so much so that once I had allowed myself to read the end, its transcription took a lot longer to make than the previous three chapters put together.

This achieved, there were some loose sheets in the binder I had to review. These included some additional or alternate scenes and variant versions, and those which were worth copying up, with a view to being used in the second draft.

I then wanted to create as pure and clean a First Draft Copy as I could. The transcripts had been decorated with alternate versions in different font colours, not to mention copious alternate lines and leads that will pertain to a redraft. These had to be stripped out, the chapters proofread, inconsistencies tidied up, gaps filled in (I had not interrupted the flow of the first draft by checking details such as, if my characters went to the cinema, what films were about for them to watch, and of course more proofreading.

This achieved, I then built a template copy for uploading to Lulu.com, involving reformatting, selecting fonts, font-size and removing orphan and widow controls on paragraphs split across page bottoms. I’m currently building in headers and page number footers, which apparently have to be reinserted for each chapter, given that they’ve been cut-and-pasted individually. It’s all very time-consuming. And dull.

But I’ve uploaded a preliminary version of the document and had an initial look at a camera-ready version. Since the Lulu template is slightly different from the identical Lulu template I’ve used (!?), this is now going to be a slow and tedious thing involving resetting any orphan and widow issues that creep in, and multiple uploading and downloading until it’s right. I may even reduce the font-size by half a point to see how that looks.

Lucky it’s weekend, isn’t it?

Once that’s done, I’ll select and complete a cover and order a proof copy for myself.

And then the hard work begins. But I have four days off, the complete Easter weekend. That’s where the Second Draft begins. Almost thirty years to the day after the first draft ended.