Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Brighton and Hove We Nearly Lost

This is Regency Hove. Along with the whole seafront from Kemp Town to Hove, it was almost razed to the ground and replaced in the 1930s by 'New Brighton' (see bottom picture).

New Brighton was the brainchild of Alderman Sir Herbert Carden, a city councillor who also wanted to demolish this...

seeing the Royal Pavilion as a monstrosity and a decadent Royal folly which had had its day. Shockingly he was not alone among the councillors who willed two of Brighton's strongest USP's to oblivion, with not even the picturesque Town Hall safe from his sights.

Alderman Carden was greatly inspired by Embassy Court, the sole modernist building to sneak onto Brighton and Hove seafront in the early 1930s, a leading example of art deco in its own right, albeit 'in the wrong place' as so many have commented over the years.

Luckily before Alderman Carden's dastardly plans to make the whole of Brighton and Hove look like Embassy Court could bear fruit WWII broke out in 1939 and his master plan had to be shelved whilst the war was fought. As fortune would have it in 1941 he died. 

Shortly after the war ended, a group of Hove citizens, determined that the area should never come under such a threat again, formed The Regency Society, which is still going strong today, protecting the remaining Regency heritage of Brighton and Hove. 

In his love affair with 'progress'. Alderman Carden also wanted to extend Brighton and Hove as far as Worthing into one super city akin to London.

However Alderman Carden also had a surprising side, for he purchased the entire Downs around Brighton and Hove and later sold them back to the council at cost price to protect them and the water supply of Brighton. Had he not done so, there might be no Devils' Dyke today and the Downs may be considerably more spoiled than they have been. It seems an extraordinary contradiction that he cared so much for the preservation of the surrounding countryside, but sought to take a wrecking ball to the special character of Brighton and Hove, much though he instigated many good things in his forty years with the council, such as the city's municipal tram and telephone systems. But this wasn't the only surprising contradiction in Carden's character. He was an immensely wealthy solicitor and local dignitary born to an old Brightonian family yet was a staunch socialist all his life (which possibly explains his contempt for any building alluding to wealth or decadence). 

Less controversially, Carden campaigned for Brighton to found its own university nearly two decades before it did, though he may not have approved of this being plonked on his beloved Downs! 
Today he is largely commemorated in the long and winding road linking nondescript estates at the back of Brighton known as 'Carden Avenue.'

With thanks to Andy Garth, owner of that magical emporium of Brighton history known as  Brighton and Hove Stuff in Western Road, who inspired this posting with his prints and encyclopaedic knowledge of, and enthusiasm for. Brighton.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Save The King Alfred Leisure Centre!

This is the recently-refurbished 1930s Hove leisure centre that the council want to raze to the ground and redevelop into guess what? A £40m leisure centre, albeit incorporating 400 new houses. They claim this course of action would be 'cheaper' than making the existing leisure centre greener and more economical to run! Is it even theirs to sell to developers? It is a municipal facility which belongs to the tax payers of Brighton and Hove.

Aside from the sheer waste, this is not just any old leisure centre but a nationally important piece of maritime war history.

For this building, originally known as Hove Marina and completed just before the outbreak of WWII in September 1939 was requisitioned by the Admirably and re-christened HMS King Alfred to become a 'land ship' training centre for over 22,500 officers of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War II.

The RNV(S)R had been formed in 1936 for gentlemen who are interested in yachting or similar pursuits and aged between 18 and 39.

Once this intake had been mobilised, the role of HMS King Alfred changed to training new officers of the RNVR. This required a longer course as many members of the RNVR had no experience of either maritime pursuits or the "officer-like qualities" required. Longer courses needed more space so the Admiralty requisitioned two further premises: Mowden School also in Hove and Lancing College. 

Mowden School, taken over in 1940, became known as HMS King Alfred II or HMS King Alfred (M) while Lancing College, taken over in 1941 became HMS King Alfred III or HMS King Alfred (L). The Hove site continued to be referred to as HMS King Alfred or sometimes HMS King Alfred (H).

A training course consisted of ten weeks, the first two weeks at HMS King Alfred II, then six weeks at HMS King Alfred III and the final four weeks at Hove. Upon successful completion of the course, the men emerged as Temporary Acting Probationary Sub-Lieutenants and attended further training at the Royal Navy Training College before being posted operationally.

Training ended in December 1945 and the leisure centre was returned to civilian use in June 1946.

Among the many young officers to pass through its doors were Alec Guiness, Kenneth More, Norris McWhirter, Ludovic Kennedy and Dr Who's, Jon Pertwee, who detailed his wartime experiences in his engaging autobiography 'Moon Boots and Dinner Suits'. It is said the water training tanks are still below the present leisure centre.

I must confess I have a personal stake in this matter for I am a member of the King Alfred Gym and it really could not be better. It is an excellent gym and being council-owned, not as expensive as most, so one of the few affordable sports facilities in Brighton would be lost in addition to a respectable 1930s building and piece of wartime history.

Aside from the leisure centre there is also a privately owned bodybuilding gym and a large ballroom contained within the building, which would presumably be swept away.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope though. There have been many plans and schemes for the King Alfred 'site' over the years and all have come to nought for one reason or another. But there is still no room for complacency.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Reprogramming the Poverty Consciousness

I have been reading a lot of motivational books and books about setting up businesses lately with an eye to the future.

It seems completely obvious if you think about it but one particular book has hit me straight between the eyes with the truth that schools and universities are and always have been intended to prepare children to become employees, not bosses. There is also a social conditioning to fear money so that if you are poor, you fear you'll never have any money and if you somehow become comfortably middle class or even rich, you fear losing it. Money often controls its users, not the other way round as it should be with what is essentially just a tool to facilitate, not an end in itself. This is because there is no financial education to help youngsters overcome this fear and maybe societally, that suits.

Perhaps this explains why 70% of successful entrepreneurs have apparently not been to university. They've been prepared to take chances that more educated people might not.

However the traditional (and still standard) parental advice; 'Study hard, get good grades and you'll get a good job' is undoubtedly somewhat simplistic or even outmoded in today's society where there is no longer job security or company loyalty in the vast majority of jobs, so people may as well take their chances via other routes.

The book is called 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' and features the advice a young boy received from the two 'dads' in his life, his natural father who studied hard, got good grades and became a teacher, but never a well-off one as he paid so many taxes and the man who became a second father to him, his best mate's dad who taught him how to think differently if he wanted to be truly successful and rich just like him and how he followed that advice and found it worked.

Certainly my grandfather's world where his company looked after him and his family for over 30 years and even had its own theatre and sports centre are long gone for most people, though perhaps the loyalty of yesteryear just made employees less dissatisfied wage slaves than they are now, rather than happy per se, as the engineering work my grandfather did was undoubtedly boring and monotonous, but there was no expectation then that a job should do much more than put food on the table and pay the bills, never mind provide any kind of happiness or spiritual fulfilment. My grandad's generation were just grateful to have survived WWII.

To get back to the book, another eye-opener was the contrast of how an individual is taxed on everything before they know what they have left and then continues to be taxed on spendings,  savings, private pensions and even after death via death duties and benefactors through inheritance tax, whereas a corporation spends everything it wants as well as needs to, and then only pays tax on the rest!

In view of this, I think I'll register myself 'Laura King inc' at Companies House pronto!

I went to a school where there was an unspoken understanding that we were a school of shop assistants and farmer's wives, with perhaps a smattering of teachers. It took me a long time  as an adult to believe I could achieve so much more for myself, other than being able to write and facilitate. On the plus side, I haven't been over-educated, which I have observed in some, can be just as much of a handicap to realising one's true and full potential when it can also lead to false beliefs about oneself plus overconfidence in one's abilities and intellectual inflexibility.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

No Pain, No Gain...?

No Pain, No Gain...?

My stomach protests what it can't digest
My incisors hurt when I'm indecisive
My limbs stiffen when I'm inflexible
My blood goes anemic when I lack iron
My heart aches when it's broken
My voice is lost when things go unspoken 
My nose runs when I'm run down
I risk the big C if I let things eat away at me
Whenever I risk going off track
My body gives me a symptom
to nudge me back
But why, oh why, doesn't the bloody thing just send me an email?

                                                        ©LS King 2014

Service With A Surl

It never ceases to amaze my partner and I how with probably the greatest competition outside London, any Brighton cafe dares to provide poor customer service.

Last Saturday, exhausted by our efforts to find a suitable birthday present for my partner's father, who, with his Alzheimers, can no longer relate to most of the things he used to love, we flopped into the nearest cafe for a drink in the new Lanes.

From the outside it looked inviting with its colourful mosaic walls, but no sooner had we crossed the threshold of someone's romantic dream of a Greek Taverna than a guy barked at us, 'We're not doing hot food!'. No apology, no explanation, but we only wanted a drink anyway so made the mistake of going in. Our drinks then proceeded to take so long to arrive we would have walked out were it not for our large collection of shopping bags. We also had time to notice how shabby beyond chic the place was with its crude plaster cave-like coving, bad paintwork and half the chairs missing part of their backs. The brusque male server then jostled me out of the way, again with no apology, to open the ill-positioned cake cabinet for someone else's order. Just as well my partner's coffee arrived, served by a meek skinny eastern European girl who seemed somewhat cowed by her male colleague/boss, for about a moment later, the rude colleague shouted to the kitchen staff; 'That's it! We're out of coffee.' We nearly choked on our drinks. A cafe out of coffee...? And if so, why didn't he just go round the corner to the supermarket to purchase some more? It was only 3.30pm. How did he propose to carry on for the rest of the afternoon?

'Never again.' we vowed as we left the cafe, oddly branded 'Inside Out' when perhaps 'Upside Down' would have been more apt. In future we shall listen to any alarm bells going off in our heads when we enter a place which is meant to be an enjoyable experience.

It has been a tough time for my partner. He has been made redundant, his dad has been getting sicker with Alzheimers to the extent my partner has to keep reminding him who he and his brothers are and that they are his sons and he is their dad, and what their names are. My partner has also suffered health issues and to cap it all he had an unpleasant encounter with his ex the other week when she confronted him at the local tip where he was disposing of allotment waste and told him to 'F**k off or I'll call the Police!' He was shocked but admirably restrained in the face of such a ridiculous threat and did not retaliate. He always fears making things any worse re the children, whom he has now not seen for almost three years, so in a sense, how could things get any worse? He did not even sue his ex when she made false criminal allegations against him during his legal bid to win access, presumably in her efforts to turn the children against him, which I advised him he should as she shouldn't be allowed to get away with that (even though the Police and Social Services evidently didn't believe her and take things further or even tell my partner the allegations had been made! It is only in the courtroom they emerged). Again, he feared it would cause further upset to the children to sue their mother, though I pointed out that legally clearing his name might actually do some good in that regard. However ultimately it has been hard to know what to do for the best and so many things my partner tried seemed to just backfire on him or make things worse. Even presents and cards have been sent back immediately and if he dared to telephone the house (which my partner did about twice), a threat of Police Harassment would swiftly follow or a string of abusive or silent calls would be received by other members of his family.

But being so mad at him three years after they split? Well I suppose his ex has to maintain that level of anger towards him to justify some of the stuff that she's done by way of revenge. We do find it strange though, considering she had apparently wanted a divorce for years, so why isn't she now happy to have her wish and freedom at last? Why isn't she moving on with her life?  It can't be doing her any good to be eating herself up with so much bitterness, let alone their poor children, who might be young adults now, but who are surely still suffering. When will she finish punishing my partner/them? When will she feel that she has exacted her pound of revenge, all is now square and peace can break out between all parties? Even a prisoner knows when their sentence/punishment will end, but not my partner re this situation.

On the plus side she has released a lovely man back onto the market who is now with a partner who truly appreciates him. His parents are also seeing more of him than they have in more than 20 years (his ex never liked him seeing them for whatever reason, particularly in latter years), and at the point in their lives when they need him most.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Oh For The Wings Of A Gull

On a more cheerful note, latest poem...

Oh For The Wings of A Gull

Synonymous with the sea
You’ll find them in smart white, grey and yellow livery
Surfing the wind above the waves
Patrolling every seashore, cliff and cave
Counting the trawlers in
The ferries out
Combing the beaches
Before other scavengers are out
Then gliding inland to urban dominion
Ruling the rooftops over small town bird civilian
Fish and chip suppers on the fly
They sign summer across the sky
Wheeling and dealing
Squealing and reeling
Gulleted gulls so graceful in flight
But not above a squabble and fight
Over a split bin bag outside the takeaway
Beating the refuse collectors at the dawn of day
Then there’s the Waterloo Street gull who’s friends with a cat
Fancy that.
They emit their soundtrack to the sea
You can even buy it on CD
The council wants to cull the gull
But is happy to use their image to promote its city and CD, no royalties

©LK  King 2014

Monday, 25 August 2014

Robin Williams - a curious end

In the wake of the complete shock of Robin Williams' suicide being announced, part of me also felt anger. How could he? He who starred in just about every film about human triumph and redemption against the odds? It felt like a betrayal of his fans. It was only after watching his last interview that I saw for myself how genuinely ill and haunted he looked. Mind you, it was a bizarre interview with the interviewer seemingly firing random questions at him including ironically one about whether he thought communication with the dead was possible.

Nevertheless certain things have been haunting me about the manner of his death, despite his unquestionably depressed state;

Sleeping in separate bedrooms alone is of course no indication that his 3rd marriage had hit the rocks, but the fact that his wife Susan Schneider seemingly didn't even check on her severely depressed film star husband, having not seen him for over 12 hours, before going out the following morning is very odd. Had they had an argument the previous night which pushed him over the edge? 

Then there was her almost immediate statement on his death a few hours later: 'This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one if its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope that the focus will not be on Robin's death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.' 

Pretty slick for a woman so shockingly widowed only hours earlier but look again at the last line - she doesn't want us to 'focus' on Robin's death. 

The following day we now learn, she had somehow persuaded the coroner's office to release his body for a hasty cremation  only 24hrs after he had been discovered and before most of us had even had a chance to get our heads around the tragic death of a legend many of us grew up with (and before the toxicology results were through). How and why did she do this? While perhaps understandable to desire a private funeral, surely she would have struggled to get the whole family there in time, never mind if the coroner had wanted to conduct further tests on the body. And then there's how suspicious such a hasty fanfare-free funeral was going to look...

It would take days or even weeks for the body of a suicide or one deemed to have died of unnatural causes to be released  for funeral in Britain as foul play and other possibilities need to be ruled out. All this takes time. In addition sometimes the body is needed for further examination which obviously cannot happen if it has been cremated.

Not that I am suggesting foul play in this case. I completely believe Robin was severely depressed and  thus, emotionally vulnerable. However if Robin was his wife's 'best friend' as she stated in her tribute to him, where was she in his hour of need? How come his publicist was the one to find him some 12 hours after his death? I don't doubt it's no picnic being married to a severely depressed man, but if his wife couldn't cope alone, where were the hired psychiatric nurses to help her? Why didn't she get him sectioned if he was that depressed?

So what was Robin depressed about?
Well his comeback TV series 'The Crazy Ones' had been cancelled the previous year which he was known to be upset over.
He reportedly had financial issues, though the nature and scale of these have not yet been revealed. However if they were genuinely off the scale, did his insurance cover suicide? (some suicides have been known to take this course of action if their cover does and they are in dire financial straits and want to ensure their family is looked after.)
Robin was apparently in the early stages of Parkinsons (according to a statement released by his widow at roughly the same time she was getting him cremated, though at the time of writing we have yet to see medical corroboration of this).

Speculatively he could also have been depressed about the following:
Was he facing the end of his third marriage after only three years? This doesn't seem unlikely in view of his wife's odd behaviour and indecent haste to get his death and funeral over as quickly as possible.
Did he feel that his career was all washed up? (though even if he had Parkinsons, he could have continued to do lucrative voiceovers for some time to come, if not act as well).

Then there was the manner of his suicide. Here was a man who was a self-confessed ex junkie and ex alcoholic. Why then would he painfully saw away at his wrists with a knife before rather bizarrely managing to yank himself sideways from a chair to asphyxiate himself? Wouldn't anyone else just get the drugs and opt for a quick and painless overdose as their first choice? Ok so perhaps his dealer was no longer on speed dial in his attempts to get clean, but this highly intelligent man would have still known how to get hold of drugs and fast. In addition he surely had enough legitimate prescription anti-depressant drugs in the house to kill an elephant so why not use those?

For all his irreverent humour and zaniness Robin was a practising Christian or 'Catholic Lite' as he joked about Episcopalians. In fact one of his wry observations as a stand-up was; 'Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.'

As I said before I am not suggesting that it was not possible for Robin Williams to have taken his own life, just that there seem to be more unanswered questions than there are answered ones. It hasn't even been established if he left a note yet. Why?

Marilyn Monroe was known to have made several suicide attempts during her life, yet 51 years after her death, it is still being hotly debated whether she died accidentally, by her own hand or was helped along the way.

For all his flaws, Robin Williams was an admirably honest star. The least he deserves is the whole truth to come out. It can't possibly be more sad and sordid than it already appears. In fact his widow would be doing herself a public favour to share everything she knows as she hasn't exactly covered herself in glory as far as Robins' fans are concerned. And better if she turns out to have been on the verge of leaving him rather than suspected of worse. That said, some internet conspiracy theorists think his death is an Iluminati hit, though I don't see it myself.

Either way it's an ironic end for a man who brought hope and happiness to millions through his work. I am sure I am not the only one who grew up with him lighting up the screens. RIP Robin Williams. So long and thanks for all the laughter.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Strange Correspondents

It's some while since the tail lights of my twenties disappeared from view. Yet life is good at providing strange reminders of former times.

The other day I received an email out of the blue from a former (married) colleague who asked if I could possibly do him a little favour and send a message to his former married lover to say how much he missed her and ask if she was happy. Oh and by the way, she had a restraining order out against him. Naturally I declined. Most people would accept a restraining order as proof that an ex doesn't want to see them. Worse still, whilst I didn't know the lady in question, I had once known her husband quite well through my then-work and he was a really nice guy. S knew this, so how could he possibly think that I would have contributed to hurting the husband, let alone get myself into trouble on S's behalf by interfering with a restraining order? I was forced to conclude my former colleague S must be having some sort of breakdown. In fact I told him so and encouraged him to seek help. I haven't heard from him since. I did find myself quite shaken by how my former respect for him was eroded by this episode though. He was quite a formative figure in my twenties.

Another correspondent who puzzles me is the ex (think echoes of the late Mike Smith) who emails me every so often with 'How are you?' and then if I don't reply for a few hours sends quite a frantic 'How are you? Are you alright? Please email me back as soon as you can', yet when I reply he goes completely silent for another few months, with maybe one or two cryptic lines about how he is/how am I? at Christmas. I've even suggested we meet for a coffee, he with his partner, me with mine, since he lives almost in the next town and it's nigh on 20 years since we dated, but he seldom replies, except to agree, and then goes silent when I email date and venue suggestions. Yet when I moved to Brighton, I had this impassioned email about how he had struggled to make friends on the South Coast and couldn't wait until I was in the area. Whilst a highly intelligent chap with an engineering degree and law degree which he has now combined into his own business doing something rather worthwhile, I know he's always been insecure about his literary prowess. But it's not as if I ever asked for Shakespeare from him. Just a tad of consistency would be nice. I remember when he ended it, sobbing down the phone line to him in the public call box outside my grandmother's house; 'But I'm not ready for it to end!' (we had only dated for a couple of months). In retrospect I can see he did me a favour. I would have been a basket case by now to have ended up with someone so flaky and uncommunicative. Probably we didn't have that much in common either. Nevertheless, it's nice to know what became of him. We Brits are sentimental souls.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Pennies From Heaven

Either the angels love me or the denizens of Brighton are particularly careless with their small change. I currently have £2.13 of coins in my mid-purse compartment, or 'angel money' as its commonly known, despite raiding it for the odd penny of small change.

My partner often teases me about my ability to spot a glinting, or even slightly muddy, coin on the ground from at least ten paces in any light. People often give me funny looks when I pick it up as if I must be a particular tight wad. They just don't understand! It's ANGEL money, I tell you!

'See a penny. Pick it up. Then all day you'll have good luck.'

My partner's mother is an exceptional woman. She always leaves the coins for a child to find and delight in picking up. She is a much nicer person than me.

My partner often complains that he never finds money in the street. Then one day last week, walking along the seafront, he trumped me by finding a tenner! Let's hope that's the next 1000 days of good luck sorted for him.

I have often been tempted to pass on some angel coins to a street person down on their luck to give them luck. But I fear their disgusted expression too much. Most people just don't understand...

Thursday, 24 July 2014

No Ordinary Moggy...

He gallops like a foal, he climbs like a monkey, he sits on your shoulder like a parrot. He wrestles your slipper, he ambushes your ankles as you walk along and tries to climb your legs as you serve his dinner, when not weaving repeatedly through them, trying to trip you up. He tears along the corridors playing football like Suarez (he bites!) with a ping pong ball. He 'talks' incessantly. He eats like a wolf and still wants to try everything that we eat. He's fascinated by water and is constantly following us into the bathroom to watch taps flowing, tip-pawing perilously around the edge of the bath or basin and miaows and scratches loudly at the bathroom door if we beat him to it. He climbs into every cupboard. He can take off his own collar and open his own locked cat flap.

At night he trots up from the foot of the bed to sit on my chest, bunt me on the nose with his and settle his head under my chin until I am hot enough to melt. In the day he wants to play - most of the time. He makes short work of any inflatable toys we find left on the beach. He likes walking across computer keyboards and selecting records for the turntable. He has a decided preference for punk. He demands priority over anything else you may be doing, by pointedly lying across newspapers and poking his head over books. His purring is no more than heavy breathing, but his grin is constant. He does his own version of the 'Eric Morecambe' curtain routine by pretending he can't get through cat flaps or out of his box litter tray, pummelling at them like a mime artist, waiting for you to let him through. It is hard to know what manner of beast he is, but he doesn't seem like a cat. He doesn't even sit like a normal cat, but continually sprawls across sofas and beds, long and stretchy.

He is a demanding yet hilarious feline and we suppose that his previous owners must have abandoned him, finding him too much for them. My partner has even written a song about him to which Mr Cheeky listens dutifully.

After a lucky escape following an argument with a car weeks after we got him from Lost Cats Brighton, Mr Cheeky has made a full recovery and goes out in the day to hang out with his cat friends and visit the neighbours, who have found they have no choice but to like cats even if they were ambivalent before. At night it's curfew time, or should I say 'catfew' time and the cat flap is locked after dinner.

Mr Cheeky with a beach toy, shortly before its demise...

Amazing what you get free in the newspapers these days...

Mr Cheeky tries out a neighbour's scooter for size...

Look at me, look at me, look at me, dammit!....What could possibly be more interesting...?

Friday, 4 July 2014


In the (unisex) hairdressers the other day I decided to leaf through a cheesy men's magazine for a change. Among the usual motorbike and celebrity features was an interesting interview with 'diva's' - high maintenance young women who gleefully admitted driving their boyfriends crazy by taking half the night to get ready when going out, constantly changing their minds about things and ultimately demanding everything their own way and on their own terms or they would stomp and sulk until he gave in.

Some even admitted to being deliberately emotionally abusive by faking anger outbursts to frighten their partner and then sweetening him up by being nice to him or granting him favours in bed so he eventually assumed there was something wrong with HIM. Some didn't even stop at that, they physically threatened or slapped him, even over minor misdemeanours.

It was, essentially, a control thing, though one used PMT as an excuse.

They seemed to think that their over-processed looks and enhanced breasts commanded such entitlement and he should be grateful that he was with them.

'Girl power' to them clearly meant it was all about them. They seemed to have no concept of there being two people in the relationship and equality didn't come into it - they looked down on their men and criticised and belittled them on a regular basis which they saw as 'keeping him on his toes' and found highly amusing between themselves.

I was amazed by their candour, and how they thought they would ever keep a man with this attitude, but then I remembered how every pink and girly shop encourages girls to be 'divas' these days with Little Princess t-shirts available from baby grow size up, the cultural celebration of the 'Jewish Princess' and TV programme Bridezillas, to name a few. Perhaps the greatest influence has been the rise of a celebrity culture encouraging every young girl to think she can be a celebrity and 'high maintenance' is how their heroines behave. Be selfish. Take selfies. Celebrate yourself, 'cos you're worth it and get everyone else running around after you and treading on eggshells around you.

I recalled a trio of twentysomething former colleagues who each pined for a man, and then when they found one, quickly found fault with him, giving him nought but a hard time with their demands and insecurities until eventually they had driven him away, a factor which never seemed to cross their minds as they sifted through and analysed every word and gesture of his throughout the relationship for signs of a clue that he was going to be such a b***ard, in their post-work pub support group. Then there was the married colleague who insisted on taking her husband's entire salary for the family pot and leaving him with only £5 a week 'pocket money'. When she rang him on the phone as she did several times a day she sounded like she was instructing a servant, not her husband, to do this, do that and do the other, since he was on nightshift and could therefore do his share of the housework during the day. Admittedly she was a very good housekeeper and bargain spotter, but I still wondered how long he was going to put up with that situation before he called time on his emasculation, particularly since she never mentioned a gambling or alcohol problem on his part to justify such an iron fist on the family purse strings. She also didn't like his friends or let him see them more than once a year at Christmas, regarding them as 'a bad influence' as if he were some wayward teenager, rather than a 43 year old man with a mind of his own.

How many 'diva' women would see such behaviour as acceptable if applied in reverse though? I mean, wasn't that the whole point of feminism? To bring about equal power and opportunity in relationships where there was once a great imbalance generally (although that obviously sadly remains the case for some).

Now I note a new term has been coined for it; 'intimate terrorism', made famous by Nigella Lawson's quote regarding her former husband Charles Saatchi and how she believed he treated her during their marriage. It is therefore not a gender-exclusive term (men can be guilty too), but it seems that women are the growing majority according to a recent study from the University of Cumbria, who will employ verbal and physical aggression including shoving, hitting, threats and ultimatums and spying on their man with mobile phone or vehicle trackers.

But ultimately whichever gender is terrorising or attempting to control the other, that does not a happy relationship make.

I would go as far as to say that any relationship where there is a lack of mutual respect is almost certainly doomed, as without this essential element there can be no genuine friendship, trust and empathy, let alone equality and love.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Redundancy, the Rock Opera!

When I was unfairly made redundant some years ago, I started penning 'Redundancy, the Rock Opera', my attempt to salvage something positive out of the situation - namely a vehicle for individuals to learn about their employment rights in an infotaining way, since I had become a reluctant expert on the subject. My fantasy featured such immemorial hits as 'It's Nothing Personal, Just Personnel.' Then life changed and suddenly I was in a happy work situation again where my talents were appreciated and the 'opera' became impossible to finish because I was no longer in the right place emotionally and my brain wanted to forget all the pain and move on. Ok, and there was the minor detail of not being able to write music and the niggling worry of who could afford to buy tickets to come and see my rock opera anyway if they were all redundant.

These days there seems more need for an introduction to Sir Tim Rice than ever as I hear about increasing numbers of situations similar to mine. The recession it seems is still being used as an excuse for many employers to cull perfectly good staff, often using their HR (Human Reaper) bod, even though they may have no genuine financial or business reason to shed staff. They've merely decided that they no longer like the look of someone, they fancy a fresh face or whatever they have decided (often the employee is left none the wiser, bashed into submission by a sea of brain-baffling business bullsh*t.). Some employers too apparently find it easier to get rid of people than actually follow the procedures laid out in their own staff handbooks of raising any issue they have with them and giving the employee the opportunity of rectifying the matter or offering a compromise. Nor do they tend to bother with the verbal warning, written warning etc marlarky that they are supposed to, even when there is a performance issue. The concept of retraining or additional training if someone's performance isn't quite up to scratch are similarly anathama to such employers. And don't even mention 'redeployment' as an alternative! Like divorce, once the 'r' word is mentioned, there is seldom any going back. The general pattern is to put the employee in an impossible position and then try to tell them that they have made their position untenable - ie blame them for it! If of course the employee has not obediently cleared their desk and headed out the door within the hour as all employees are meant to do when informed they are 'at risk of redundancy'.

One former boss had the right idea. He would invite any member of staff he had concerns about out for a coffee in a neutral space away from the working environment and embark on a genuinely friendly chat about work and how the employee was finding it, giving them the opportunity to tell him about any issues or personal problems which may be affecting their work and asking how he could support them if so. And guess what? His yearly HR bill was generally the price of a few coffees and cakes, unless the employee themselves chose to move on or retire and he had to recruit someone new. But generally, it was a very happy and well-run ship under his watch, with no need for underhand tactics or nastiness. By promoting a positive environment, he also had a knack of getting the best out of his staff so that they looked forward to coming to work each day and worked hard.

Quite often you see highly qualified people who specialise in HR with far less idea of how to treat people and resolve issues than my said former boss with no paper credentials. As one genuinely-good employment law expert friend put it recently; 'I never cease to be shocked by how much bad HR there is out there, considering all these people are supposed to be trained in it and it's all they do all day every day.'

Perhaps the rise of corporatism has led to many companies forgetting the fundamental basics such as their humanity. 'I'm a human being, God damn it. My life has value!' as newscaster Howard Beale puts it so succinctly in the cult classic, Network

Ironically, workplace humanity seems to have been seeping away in inverse proportion to the rise of workplace legislation on equality and diversity, grateful as this employee is for any and all protection.

Human beings continue to be treated as if they are more and more disposable in virtually every area of life however and legislation does not stop some employers from running a coach and four horses through employment law and regarding losing a tribunal as an occupational hazard.

No one would deny that sometimes companies have a genuine need to make changes to their organisations. But it is not legitimate redundancies I am questioning but unfair redundancies.

A few European countries have a law whereby a company has to pay an employee a minimum of a year's salary in order to make them redundant for all reasons other than gross misconduct (though they can be more generous if they choose). This buys the employee time to mentally regroup, find another job, retrain or set up on their own and saves the state an awful lot of money in benefits, ill health bills and legal fees. It wouldn't be a bad idea if Britain followed suit as it seems to be one of the better ideas to come out of Europe.

Either that or employment tribunals need sharper teeth to penalise the cowboys and compensate their victims, thrown out of work through no fault of their own.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Brighton - new life

Life has changed a lot in the last six months. I have moved cities, moved jobs, acquired a furry son by the name of Mr Cheeky and most evenings end with a lovely walk on the beach with my partner Oliver before bedtime. If the sun hasn't gone down yet, we also like getting our beach tent out and waiting for the sunset, sometimes with picnic tea. Looking out from the tent in a quiet spot it looks like our own private beach in addition to protecting against the wind and sun.

For some reason, I always thought I'd have to be old to live by the sea and there are certainly an alarming number of funeral directors and crematoriums in the area but Brighton is no sleepy seaside town and not for nothing is it known as London-On-Sea.

Year round, there is always something going on, such as a skateboarding dog, a roller skating man in a tutu, stand-up poets on the beach. Or even a dog eating seaweed (pictured), never mind the second largest Fringe Festival next to Edinburgh and all the culture one could wish for including no shortage of poetry gigs, comedy gigs, art exhibitions and jazz nights the rest of the year. We have also joined The Regency Society which seeks to preserve the USP of Brighton, its regency spa heritage. In a funny sort of way my move has also been a homecoming as my mother grew up in Brighton so I have known the city and been part-Brightonion all my life. It is sheer co-incidence that my future partner turned out to live in the area and love it too, offering the perfect excuse to relocate.

This weekend we are on a stand-up comedy course, the finest in the country, and attended by participants far and wide. We are not expecting to become the next Jimmy Carr or anything, we just want to hone our performing skills generally. I will leave you with a few images of my new life...


Sunday, 8 June 2014

It's Never Too Late...

Some people worry that their best years have passed them by and perhaps they haven't achieved very much. Or perhaps they've known greatness, but feel their glory days are behind them.

Just to cite the music world for a moment, here are some examples of artists who recorded perhaps their finest work and/or greatest hit just before they died.

Louis Armstrong died three weeks after recording the song he is best remembered for, ironically titled; 'We Have All The Time In The World' which was also a Bond hit in the 1969 Bond film 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. Like most Bond films the music was written by John Barry. Lyrics were by Hal David.

Although he didn't write it himself, Johnny Cash recorded what came to be known as the definitive version of 'Hurt' in the last few weeks before he died. His wife, fellow country star June Carter Cash, had predeceased him several months earlier and all the pain of his loss, his own illness and all the hurt he was sorry for in his life seems to be condensed into this one haunting record with an equally haunting video reviewing scenes of his life.

Otis Redding was only 26 when he died in a plane crash in 1967, and did not even live to see his greatest hit 'The Dock of The Bay' released. Ironically, as with 'We Have All The Time In the World', this song also features a character who considers he has all the time in the world as he sits on the dock of bay 'wastin' time'.

These are just three, I am sure you can think of many more examples in every field of life of people who achieved their finest work later in life or just before they died. It is never too late to leave a legacy behind, even if you feel you missed the boat when young.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Boom and Bust of Business

It was a known brand opening on a prime city centre square and no expense had been spared in adorning the building with jolly cartoon balloons to entice the punters and refitting the inside in rustic fashion. It was a proven fact that people liked a pie. What could go wrong? Certainly it seemed to do a roaring trade for the first few weeks. Yet less than eighteen months after opening, my partner and I noticed Pie Society had closed and its catering equipment was for sale.

We ourselves had only visited Pie Society once, as a break from last Christmas's crowds, to find surly staff who took an age to serve, lukewarm, so what? pies and a drafty upstairs room furnished with uncomfortable metal stools. Our hot drinks were unappealingly contained in retro (none-too-hygienic) chipped enamel mugs, supposedly evocative of the past. The loos were also pretty grim. Great as the view from upstairs was, we didn't enjoy the experience, but assumed we were not the demographic the place was appealing to and the youth of the city probably loved it.

Apparently not. The franchise really had gone feral.

As an ardent fan of Channel 5's The Hotel Inspector and Channel 4's Country House Rescue, I take a keen interest in which businesses survive and thrive and which bite the dust. Western Road has a particularly high proliferation of eateries, takeaways and cafes with almost every second premises occupied by one. They can't possibly all make a living, even in high tourist season, and they don't. In fact the national success rate for food outlets is apparently 1 in 7 surviving for up to three years, so it is is a much riskier business than the wannabe eaterie owner seems to consider when they dream how nice it would be to run their own cafe, probably imagining it is almost a failsafe business as everyone needs to eat, much like an undertakers (of whom there are also a huge proliferation in Brighton and Hove), probably assume a high and continuous demand for their services.

The Just Eat campaign has undoubtedly given the eating out and takeaway industry a boost. However eateries still need to raise their game, particularly in an area of intense competition. And sometimes they provide great food, friendly staff and a unique identity and still fail, such as the lovely vegetarian cafe Aloka, which looked more like a high-class chemist from the outside, presumably trying to ape the Damian Hirst 'Pharmacy' look. Then there is a wonderful ice cream parlour which makes all its own ice cream and cakes and has a fantastic premises quite near the seafront with a funky upstairs, but which seems to be largely empty most of the time, apart from closing off the upstairs for the odd children's party. but what is the point of trying so hard with the food offer if it is signing its own death warrant with a dearth of marketing? Our favourite toasted sandwich cafe has been through hard times but has reinvented itself and seems to be doing a little better now, but again one senses that it suffers from little or no advertising budget, no matter that the product is good and it is one of the cheapest places to eat in the city centre.

I would love to go into business myself, so am noting everyone else's triumphs and tragedies with interest and taking lots of notes, but one thing is for sure, when I take the plunge, it will not be in the catering sector. I bet many of those who go into it don't expect it to be nearly as tough a business as it really is. And let's not forget 95% of pubs now offer food (of which there also many in Brighton), making the local market even tougher.

Meantime I am looking forward to starting a new day job next week, in my professional area of expertise, the housing sector.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Self-love and Self-hate

In Louise L. Hay's famous self-help book; 'You Can Heal Your Life' she describes how one of the most challenging exercises for her clients to perform is to take a hand mirror, look at their reflection in the glass and repeat aloud ten times 'I love and approve of myself.' Some can't do it or burst into tears. Still others get angry and fling the mirror across the room, so great is their self-dislike or inability to look themselves in the eye.

Ms Hay was among the first self-help gurus to point out that you had to love yourself in order to love anybody else, and she didn't mean in an egocentric way - which is purely front in any case -  but in a genuine sense. Which kind of parallels; if you value yourself, others will value you, or; you have to feel full as a person in order to have enough or extra to give to somebody else. If you are a yawning chasm psychologically, then your bleakness is what people will perceive when they look at you (though you might be able to fool them for a while if you are pretty) and your vibes are likely to send them running or making their excuses to depart pretty quickly.  I saw a neat example of this phenomenon in a church hall the other day when a disheveled woman in her late 50s went up for a cup of tea after the service, was asked how she was by the kindly server and replied 'Terrible! Things couldn't be worse. I wish I'd never moved to this godforsaken town!' Needless to say the tea server quickly moved on to the next parishioner. The woman then joined a communal table but it was noticeable how she quickly dismissed all polite interest in her and concern for her welfare with almost aggressive negativity about how bad her life was and how much she hated everything. They quickly drained their cups and made their excuses to leave. She ended up sitting on her own, glaring out of the window. Strangely she wore a riot of mismatched fabrics and colours but this had evidently not done its job in jollying her mood.

The good news is that reprogramming your mind from every negative or self-critical thought can apparently alter the vibes and energy you emit, attracting similarly positive vibes and energy to come back to you as you change the course of your life to a direction you really want, though it is equally vital to forgive yourself for everything you are beating yourself up about first, or it is impossible to silence the negative chatter and rebukes in your mind, holding you back.

The self-love that results is said to be the answer to a happier and more fulfilling life. Ever the one for the short cut, I have been experimenting with self-hypnosis lately (meditation takes far too long!), though can attest that positive affirmations can be also very powerful, Much more powerful than I used to give them credit for. Last night I hypnotised my partner into the first restful night's sleep he's had in a long time (long story) using a hypnotic script I had specifically tailored to his needs.

This makes me wonder when I read tragic cases in the newspapers of youngsters who kill themselves through cyber-bullying (but who then turn out to have sent the abusive messages to themselves), whether this warped means of attention seeking/crying for help actually results in young people hypnotising themselves into suicide by repeatedly subjecting themselves to a barrage of negative messages and mantras about what a worthless waste of space they are and worse even though, on the face of it, they are replying to their 'abuser' every few minutes defending themselves. Or could they be recreating online whatever conflict/confusion is going on in their young minds about who they are and what they are worth, with the dark side tragically winning sometimes...?

The human mind is a wondrous thing but perhaps it is a tool we can take more control of than we think. So much of our reaction to life is just a state of mind when it comes down to it. A state of mind which can be caused by so many things from wrong-headed, confused or substance-driven thinking to a hormone or other medical/mental imbalance which can potentially be corrected if correctly diagnosed. In some cases even hunger or lack of sleep can give someone a psychotic or depressive state of mind and influence them to behave in ways they might not if their basic needs had been met. I do believe both sides of our brain deserve to have their say as well in any judgement, decision or dilemma and not just the emotional. Therein balance lies, if not happiness as well.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Co-Operative. 1844 - (2014)...?

It all began with the Industrial Revolution. Vast swathes of subjects who had lived off the land for generations traded country life in for the attractions of the new cities and towns sprouting up, and more specifically for the less precarious and seasonal living offered by the new factories and mills. However living by the clock, rather than the season, had its own drawbacks. With only half a day off each week for most and crowded living conditions, there was neither time nor land to continue growing their own vegetables and raising their own animals. Some factories took advantage of this by paying their workers in tokens, redeemable only in exchange for provisions purchased in their own onsite 'truck shops' where workers were forced to pay over the odds, often for poor quality goods such as sugar adulterated with sand or flour adulterated with chalk. The fact that many mills and factories also built the housing for their workers enabled them to take advantage of another source of profit from and control over their employees - rent. If a worker became ill or disabled, he or she could then be evicted to make way for an able-bodied worker. Being a skilled weaver or tradesman offered no protection from this exploitation as living conditions were continually driven down for all in the name of profit maximisation.

Against this backdrop, the first trades unions were formed to campaign for basic rights and better conditions for workers and after a few attempts in various areas with mixed results, ten weavers and twenty others scraped together the equivalent of £1 each over the course of four months to form The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers the Co-Operative Society in Rochdale in 1844, the branch that was to become the bedrock of the whole modern Co-Operative Movement. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a scant selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they had managed to expand their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. A decade later, the British co-operative movement had grown to nearly 1,000 co-operatives.

Over the remainder of the 19th century and into the 20th century, the co-op provided more and more provisions and goods until whole Co-Op department stores selling everything under one roof began to spring up and additional services such as banking, insurance, funerals and even adult education evening classes were added for those who wanted to better themselves or had perhaps left school at 12 to go into pits, mills or domestic service and had had little formal education. The Co-Op even ran social activities and had dance halls. The Co-Op were also responsible for one of the first loyalty schemes known as the 'divvy'. Each time a customer shopped at the co-op they would receive divvy stamps which they accumulated into a book until they had enough to buy Christmas treats for the family or saved towards larger purchases such as furniture, though large items were also often available on hire purchase or for rent. Later still, came Co-Op travel and Co-Op development to provide more affordable homes. The people owned the Co-Op and one membership equaled one vote.

The Co-Op first began to suffer when Sainsburys began to expand and Tesco and Waitrose emerged, often selling greater variety of food at competitive prices and then diversifying into fancy goods and offering their own loyalty cards and services.  This process has continued with additional and cheaper supermarkets joining the market with 'metro' mini stores opening on many street corners in addition to hypermarkets and now the rise of online competition. Suddenly the Co-Op seems drab and old-fashioned, Co-Op department stores are closing and the divvy stamp has gone too, though a loyalty card scheme now exists in its place.

Its food often seems pricey for what it is and the food is either very basic and bland such as macaroni cheese or there are a few products in the extra-special range such as chocolate chip cookies or luxury ice cream which are, converersely, superb with little in the mid-range quality stakes. They do however distinguish themselves by being the only supermarket to continue offering cruelty free household products and cosmetics, albeit in limited range, though they are surprisingly quiet about this unique selling point. What there doesn't seem to be is consistency, and many stores Co-Op stores are also slow to replenish empty shelves or serve at the tills when there is a queue, which are essential basics to any supermarket thriving.

However the ethical side and refusal to invest in weapons manufacturers etc kept many of us loyal and for many years the Co-Op provided the first and best ethical online bank, Smile (offering a superb 4% on my current account when I opened it over a decade ago, though this has now eroded to nothing as with the other banks).

Then over the past decade the scandals started to hit after disastrous decisions to try and expand the Co-Op empire with the (failed) acquisition of Summerfield supermarkets, the take-over of Britannia Building Society and the (failed) takeover of part of Lloyds banks. At the helm of the Co-Op bank during the latter mistakes turned out to be an inept banker and drug-addled self-styled methodist minister. Simultaneously a scandal erupted in the Funeralcare side of the business when it was revealed that bodies were unceremoniously stored in vast central warehouses, having to be transported back to the relevant towns and villages as required for cremation and burial, rather than reposing in the local funeral homes prior to the funeral as their loved ones imagined they were and had paid for to be the case, carrying with it, considerable risk of mistaken identity in transit, aside from the indignity of such treatment of the dead.

So instead of pouring its resources into turning its own fortunes around by sorting its own house out first and making the best of its assets and unique selling points, the Co-Op, without any recourse to its members/owners by way of a ballot, or it now transpires, the advice or direction of top industry experts, decided to look outwards to a disastrous programme of expansion and behaved like a corporation instead of a co-operative.

Consequently its members are disgusted, its ethical principals are in tatters (and the Co-Operative organisation had previously received high praise in many quarters including from Kofi Annan) and parts of the business such as the bank are in financial crisis with a 'black hole' of £1.3bn, to the point the bank at least, is unlikely to survive.

The Rochdale Pioneers would be turning in their graves.

Friday, 25 April 2014

'Yours ever and getting worse...!'

Last week I spent a day going through a lifetime's correspondence as I needed to streamline my possessions following a recent house move (well at least get the lid to fit back on the box!) and was struck by how many letters I used to both write and receive.
Inevitably I found myself re-reading some of them.
Boys whose hearts I broke. Boys who broke my heart. Friends I have lost touch with. Friends and family who have died.

It was very poignant and at times I hardly recognised the 'Laura King' to whom they were all writing.
Curiously I came upon letters and cards from people I could have sworn never put pen to paper when I knew them, including my late ex Don, who had some hilarious sign-offs in true lovable rogue persona such as  'Yours ever and getting worse...!' But for all his bad boy ways, he was solicitor-strict about pagination and dating each page and card and roundly told me off in one missive for not always numbering and dating each page and making sure I had my address at the top (though his changed more frequently than mine). He had also sent me part of a novel he once started which I had duly edited and returned with some constructive comments. Then there were long email exchanges on philosophy and literature (remember the days when we all used to print our emails out as if we didn't trust them to still be sitting in our inbox when we opened it again...?) with a failed mature student I held a brief unrequited level of fondness for, but who fancied my uninterested feminist friend more (even reading 'The Woman's Room' to impress her), so that I found myself in a triangle unrequited romance. Eventually they allowed him no further extensions to turn in a non-rebellious thesis quoting Jonathan Swift at length and he left Oxford to be packed off overseas by his family where degree passes were less rated as a means of attaining a good career as long as you were well spoken. It worked and he is apparently now back in Blighty earning a decent living not compromising too many principles.

The letters from my late English teacher Mrs C were particularly hard to read as she took early retirement and then almost immediately found herself diagnosed with terminal cancer, just as she and her husband were building their dream home to enjoy in retirement. She died two days after her 53rd birthday. She was pretty well the only adult who could command my respect and really make me sit up and take notice growing up, aside from V, the wonderful woman and artist who was like a second mother to me, a large sheaf of whose letters and cards of distinctive 'dear heart' spiky handwriting I also tidied. Thankfully V is still very much around, albeit having had the most horrendous five years recently owing to a personal trauma.

I seemed to have the largest number of letters from my sister's best friend from school, a lovely girl called M who wrote incredibly long and newsy missives immaculately polite in asking just as many questions of and taking just as much interest in her correspondent as talking about herself and her own doings. Then there were witty postcards and notes from another M - a talented young writer I knew through a writer's group in Coventry whom I eventually fell out with when she started dating a guy who turned out to be a drug addict and I couldn't keep my judgmentalism to myself. Having won a place on the prestigious UEA literature course after Warwick Uni, she then worked for a charity and is now a teacher (and mother) up north, I believe.

One or two people I couldn't even place, so they were easy enough to dispose of. As for my ex-fiance, his cards were so obtuse I couldn't even understand most on re-reading them. But since I discerned an unhealthy pattern of complimenting me in one and putting me down in another and he had also rather insultingly put in the box all the cards I had ever given him, they too made themselves an easy decision to dispose of. Thank goodness we never got as far as marrying...
Christmas cards were filtered down to a favoured few and Good Luck leaving cards from various workplaces retained, if only to remind myself of all the names.

But oh, the thrill of all those letters and cards landing on the doormat - evidence that friends and loved ones had gone to real trouble to contact me. How can email, text and social media ever compete with that?
I am now making a concerted effort to use the postal service again - several times a week - before it disappears completely.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Spirits - a Short Story

And now for something completely different...
Fergus McCullen wended his uncertain way back to his bedsit illuminated by sulphur street lights forming orange pools on the pavement, the rain driving so hard it splashed back up off the slabs, but Fergus didn't mind. It was summer and the rain was almost warm for once, echoing his own warm and wet state of mind. He pished himself and the rain obligingly washed his trousers. He didn't have any underpants on. In each of his hands he held a flimsy loaded carrier bag, perilously close to disgorging its contents at any moment. He breathed a sign of relief at making it over the flyover, liquid sustenance intact. He should be home soon. Perhaps he would take that short cut across the wasteland. There shouldn't be anyone to give him gyp or rob his cannies at that time of night what with the rain pishing.
He trudged off the road just before a clump of trees and onto the unlit muddy path by the stream that led to the arse end of his estate. He felt weary and suddenly quite tired. These week long seshes were starting to catch up with him. He wasn't as young as he used to be.
Next thing he knew he had tripped over a tree root on the path and head first into the congealed stream, hitting his head on a half-submerged supermarket trolley on the way down. Somehow he managed to scrabble back onto the bank where he fruitlessly searched for his carrier bags, before realising to his dismay that they must have landed in the stream. 'Aye f***!' he exclaimed, sinking to his knees.
Fergus didn't remember how long he had been searching the stream using a large branch he had found nearby but he was sick of it. To make matters worse, some eejit was lying on the path getting in his way every time he tried to progress along it and giving the prostrate figure a kick didn't make the slightest difference.
The rain petered out and dawn slowly broke. A couple of drunken youths sauntered along. Fergus shouted out to them to help him find his cannies but they ignored him. They had however acknowledged the figure lying on the path and given it a testing kick. When the kick was answered with no response they searched the figure's pockets and relieved him of his loose change and a watch. Fergus watched them in disbelief as he recognised the watch. It was his pirate Rolex from his former landlord's trip to Spain. He looked at the figure on the ground. Same shirt as him, same trousers as him, same shoes as him, same face as him…? Fergus felt his face with his hands in growing alarm. 'Jeez, I am still me.' he thought with some relief. 'But who the f*** is that?' His relief quickly evaporated as a terrible realisation dawned upon him. 'Oh ma God! I'm deed and that's ma body o'er there!'
Fergus spent the next few hours rooted to the spot watching as a brown boxer dog eventually lolloped along the path and licked his body's face, shortly followed by its owner, a stout florid man with a shaven head and neck tattoos who, after prodding the figure with a Doc Martin, rang the Police on his mobile, his boxer dog still trying its best at resuscitation. Fergus watched as first the Police arrived, shortly followed by the Paramedics, and he was photographed, tagged and put in a body bag to be trolleyed into the ambulance. He snuck into the ambulance unchallenged and hitched a ride next to the CPR trolley to Glasgow Royal Infirmary where he was admitted to the Mortuary.
'Well that's a tenner you owe me Angus. Didn't I tell you we'd have the first one by 8am?'
'We don't know it's alcohol yet.'
'Ha! Smells like a brewery! Though it'll probably be the fall into the stream that killed him granted, but it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been drunk.'
'That's cheating.'
'No, just extenuating circumstances. Tenner please.'
Fergus watched in horror as, bet honoured, they cheerfully set about scissoring his clothes off and joking about his lack of underpants and the urine they found in his shoes.
'We've got a right one here Prof. Can't even be arsed to go in the bushes. Bet his flat's in a right state.'
'Well PC Kirsty will soon find out and give us the low-down. Here's his ID in his coat lining. An off licence loyalty card, surprise, surprise. Looks like someone's already helped themselves to a watch and any small change'
Fergus watched as they set about disembowelling him, de-braining him and putting various other bits of him in specimen jars. His liver was a particular cause of jocularity, being enlarged to over twice its normal size, though his shrunken 'pea' brain was also scorned. They then added insult to injury by speculating his age at 55.
'But I'm 43!' he wailed.
He thought about his bedsit and suddenly found himself there amidst a scene of domestic devastation, no sheets on the stained mattress, old newspapers and dirty food containers everywhere, health hazard kitchen and bathroom, cigarette butts and pennies strewn, threadbare curtains dotted with cigarette burns from hours standing at the window. An absurd thought about 'tidying up' before PC Kirsty arrived occurred, but when he tried to open the cupboard under the sink to locate a decade old bottle of bleach he dimly remembered, his hand went straight through the knob and nothing happened. PC Kirsty arrived with a female companion and they both changed into white protective suits and, much to Fergus's affront, face masks, before beginning to root through the pathetic remnants of his forty three years, taking photographs and bagging and tagging anything either suspicious or otherwise of interest. They were more respectful than the post-mortem surgeons, albeit repeatedly marvelling at how people could get themselves into this state and how sad it was they seemed to be seeing more of this sort of thing these days, if somewhat disparaging about Fergus's evident inability to pay for his own funeral, judging by what they found. 'Well how was I supposed to know I was going to die at 43?' he thought bitterly. 'I'd have tidied up, bleached the sh*te out the bath and left you some friggin' teacakes if I'd known!'
Fergus's funeral at the local crem two weeks later was no less a grim affair, only PC Kirsty, her companion and a locum vicar present as the service was mumbled with the greatest economy of tribute paid to a deceased known only in name and cause of death before the red velvet curtains finally closed on Fergus's life.
Having watched his bedsit being stripped into a skip, fumigated and redecorated ready for the next occupant and then the said new occupant whooping with glee at opening the door for the first time into their new bedsit before starting on the whiskey, Fergus found himself at a loose end. He was getting used to being dead now and rather bored. And god, did he need a drink, especially after all he'd just been through. He also found himself increasingly angry at being dead, and so prematurely, none of his childhood dreams of becoming a trucker realised. To the point he gave old Tam the hobo a good shove for outlasting him as he drifted towards his old haunts in the city centre. That man had hung about the precinct like the bad smell he was since Fergus was a nipper and must have sunk twice as much booze as Fergus including meths. How the f*** did HE get away with it?
Fergus finally entered the Mackintosh Arms, his favourite drinking den of old, until his friends de-friended him one by one forcing him to embark on a solo drinking career.
And blow me if that wasn't Bill Dunstan at the bar with a whiskey in his hand and wearing a pale blue suit. What was that b***ard doing in a suit? Bill had actually been that trucker that Fergus aspired to be. Before it led to an argument from which their lifelong friendship never recovered, that is. Fergus found himself salivating at the sight of Bill's whiskey. He could see it, he could smell it, he could almost taste it. It was within his grasp. He reached, but as usual his hand went straight through. 'Bill!' he shouted! 'Bill! Gi' us a drink, you tight b***ard!'
But Bill of course could not see Fergus, though he felt a shiver in the warm-bodied bar he couldn't explain as Fergus drew near.
'Bill!' Fergus struck him on the back, and again his hand went straight through. He thought he saw Bill's eyelids flicker involuntarily as he half turned. A thought occurred to him. 'Well ah'm no nancy boy, but ah ken what would happen if I walked into him.' Fergus tested out his theory and walked into the broad expanse of Bill's back.
Much to Fergus's amazement he could suddenly feel the glass as a real solid glass and pick it up with his hand. His hand??? He looked down and saw a far chubbier hand than his own and with cleaner nails lifting the glass to his lips. He drained the contents in one. Whiskey had never tasted so sweet. He ordered another and another, revelling in his new physicality. He ordered a home made lamb and ale pie. It was so long since Fergus had last tasted food, real food, even when alive. 'Steady on Bill. Dinnae forget that round of golf tomorrae' a face he did not recognise chided him. 'F*** off.' He replied cheerfully in Bill's voice then laughed manically at the sound of his new self. The strange face looked taken aback and then scared before hastily making its excuses and leaving. Wise man, thought Fergus. Then he went through Bill's pockets to find out how rich he was. He was gratified to find a roll of notes in his breast pocket. Several hundred.  And then another roll of notes in his trouser pocket. 
'Trucker, my arse!' he thought. 'But this one's for you Bill you old b***tard.' And with that, Fergus drained his sixth whiskey of the night, impressed that his new body was holding up so well. Several drinks later he treated himself to a local hotel and drank the mini bar dry, staying for weeks and taking full advantage of room service and satellite TV. A wife and some children he did not recognise eventually began visiting and repeatedly pleading with him to go home, telling him he wasn't well and that he'd had a breakdown. He laughed and eventually agreed to go home with them. He hadn't had sex for years after all and Bill's wife wasn't a bad looking hen. Let the revenge go on.
Fergus was impressed to find that he owned a fine 1950s art deco style home in the suburbs with a swimming pool, everything white and brand spanking new. His wife Kaitlin was pleasantly easy on the eye, her aquiline nose and short dark bobbed hair set off by designer suits which neatly encased her petite but bosomy figure. Way out of his league, he thought with satisfaction as she swept their people carrier into the driveway, he in the passenger seat. He could take or leave their two chubby couch potato boys whose only interest in life it seemed were x-boxes. 'They'll be boozers' he thought with satisfaction as he showered later in the en-suite, his unwitting wife waiting for him in the bedroom. He felt suddenly excited as he towelled himself dry. He had purposefully drank little this evening. It had been so long. At least five years. He cuddled up to Kaitlin in bed. 'I'm not sure about this Bill.' She whispered. 'You've been behaving so oddly lately and I still haven't forgiven you for abandoning us like that. You haven't even had that appointment with the shrink yet'
'Ssssshhh' he replied kissing her.
Suddenly there was a whoosh and before Fergus knew it he was ousted and standing outside the bed watching Bill whispering strangely emotional-sounding reassurances and promises into Kaitlin's ear as he slowly began to make love to her.
'You b***ard!' he screamed and launched himself onto the bed, but he fell right through it and the floor into the kitchen below. He was a mere spirit again.
He never saw Bill in the Mackintosh Arms again and eventually found through trial and error that the only drinkers whose bodies he could hi-jack for any length of time before eviction were those of truly hardened drinkers whose strength of character and personality were too compromised and weak to fend off or eject him. Fergus took maximum advantage of his next joy ride - Pete, an out-of-work postman - jumping off the top of his tower block once he had run through the man's redundancy payment. He had once raped a girl anyway Fergus realised with a jolt when he had taken him over body and mind, so he deserved everything he got.
A retired Judge who had once given Fergus Community Service for theft and a binge-drinking female student followed next, whom he forced to turn lesbian for his delectation, greatly surprising the male students in her circle whom she had previously been both generous and enthusiastic about bestowing her sexual favours upon. Both ended up felled by alcohol poisoning and Fergus took great delight in visiting the local Infirmary to find out what the post-mortem surgeons made of both of those. Quite a meal as far as the girl was concerned, her pretty face making the national papers as a tragedy, not to mention a disturbing comment on our times. Fergus chortled to himself and resolved to look out for similarly stunning female students to hi-jack and hit the headlines with.
If Fergus had been better educated he could have fantasised that he were Zeus assuming different bodies and shapes, except they weren't exclusively his and moulded for his express use, but other peoples' and taken without their permission, but either way he was having a ball! Who would have thought that death would turn out to be the best thing that had every happened to him? Sometimes he didn't even drive his hosts to an early grave, but merely traded them in when he grew bored or their health started breaking down and he just couldn't be arsed to put up with a failing body, too sick even to enjoy a jar.
Regrettably his own neglectful boozy parents were long dead as he'd have enjoyed taking his revenge on them too. All those hours locked in his room and days only fed when they sobered up enough to remember. That was the thing about booze or even drugs. Children only get fed when their boozy or trippy parents are hungry and remember, and since they seldom are, going without becomes an occupational hazard. Eating out of neighbours' dustbins, or better still, from the bins behind cafes and restaurants almost became a way of life for Fergus.
But the Head Teacher who didn't believe him when Fergus tried to tell him what his home life was like was probably the next best thing. Thus was Mr Trevor Pangbourne's fate sealed. Luckily he turned out to be all too ready to have his retired body hi-jacked, having retired to the South of France for the sole purpose of drinking himself to death at a leisurely rate amid convivial ambiance and within sight of a mediaeval castle. The worst of it was, no ex-pat pal even raised an eyebrow as they toasted their late friend, which irked Fergus no end as he left the provincial graveside.
But his spell in the South of France gave Fergus an appetite for the travel he'd never experienced in life and he found that just by imagining a place he could be there, an advantage he didn't have when inhabiting an earthly body.
He was shocked to see how narrow his life had been in his filthy Glasgow bedsit on the dole and on his tod. Now he felt even more angry and cheated. The only certificate he had ever attained was his birth certificate. Ok, and death certificate. But what had his life amounted to? What had it all been about?
He felt an urge to return to the city of his birth. He felt sure that's where the answers lay. Invariably he ended up in the Mackintosh Arms eyeing up a brash shiny-suited young prospect who was regaling the saloon with his mobile phone Salesman of the Month coup, but whom Fergus sensed was already out of control. Multiple jars later and after a thrilling high-speed Police chase weaving dangerously around the ring road in the young salesman's Fifth Series convertible (Fergus had never learned to drive), he rounded the evening off in a head-on collision with a bus, hardly a dent incurred by the bus, but the poor salesman's bragging silenced forever in the concertina'd car, Fergus felt slightly guilty as he regarded the smoking wreck. How could he continue doing this having met the Pope on his astral air travels?
He shrugged. The salesman had annoyed him, rubbing his failure's red nose in the salesman's precocious success. He deserved it.
He wandered the streets and entered a hotel, peeking into various rooms for vicarious thrills. Then he came across an empty one and decided to treat himself. He had no physical need to lie on a bed but it was kind of nice anyway, so he did. Suddenly he noticed arms and legs emerging from the walls and as their faces appeared he recognised the victims he had joy-ridden into the ground, including the salesman from earlier that evening. They crowded in on him until their faces seemed only inches away from his. He felt suddenly fearful, then laughed. What were they going to do to him? He was already dead. Play their cards right and he might even show them how to enjoy themselves and dispel their bitterness towards him.
'McCullen!' exclaimed Mr Pangbourne, his face looming the largest. 'I think you'd better come with me young man. The headmaster wants to see you.'
'But you are the Head Teacher.'
'I refer to a headmaster of far greater authority than myself McCullen, for it is St Peter himself who wishes to see you.'
'And what if I refuse?'
'You'll be incarnated as an amoeba and have to start your chain of personal evolution all over again. An average of 10,000 lifetimes until you graduate to even the most primitive human life form again. And you know how you always hated doing homework.'
'Oh.' Fergus replied and, meek as a lamb, rose from the bed to follow Mr Pangbourne into the tunnel of light which now emanated from the hotel room's flat screen TV, his other victims forming a human cortege behind.
©Laura King