Monday, 29 December 2014

Taking A Look At The Internet

Error message from early internet

It was the mid-90s and although I worked at a computer every day and had heard 
of the internet. I had never actually seen it and had only the haziest idea of how 
it might be more useful than my local library.

As was standard practice in 1990s workplaces, internet access had been cut off
lest we employees be tempted to “abuse it for personal use” during work hours.
As for my home computer, this was a lumbering ton of yellow-grey plastic circa 1988,
purchased for £200 from a pensioner in Southampton who was updating to
a wondrous new-fangled PC, half the size.
It could just about handle early Word and the odd game of Solitaire,
but probably would have taken half an hour to connect to a home dial-up,
even if I could have afforded one.
Then one day in the Coventry Evening Telegraph –
I lived in Coventry at the time – I read that a new “internet café” was to
open on Foleshill Road.
Excitedly a student friend from the local Writers’ Group, Miranda,
and I arranged to meet on Saturday morning to “go and have a look at the Internet”.
We fair skipped to the café in our enthusiasm.
It turned out to be a disappointingly run-down converted newsagents.
We were grunted at by the equally scruffy owner who relieved us of our
£2.50’s and indicated some tatty chairs in front of screens.
We found ourselves sitting at the screens staring uncomprehendingly,
having no idea how to “log in”. Eventually we had to plead for help.
The cafe owner duly logged us in. A screen appeared with a
white space at the top. We thought of things we would like to look up,
the BBC perhaps, and typed them in. Error messages came up.
Again and again.
The internet café owner looked at us like we were mad.
“It won’t work,” I complained. “I can’t find the internet.”
“What addresses you got?” asked the owner.
“What addresses? You need addresses.”
I typed in my home address and another error message binged.
“Not that kind of address, you need URL address.”
“Uniform Resource Locator address.”
“I don’t know what that is. We just want to look up the BBC.”
“Give me address. I find it for you.”
At that point I recall we legged it from Coventry’s first internet café,
half embarrassed by our ignorance, half wondering what all the fuss was about.
Surely this internet lark was never going to take off. Evidently
it was for computer programmers only.
It would be two years before I was re-introduced to the internet by a
sympathetic I.T. Officer at my next workplace.
He talked me through it and allowed me to open my first email account
as well as navigate the world wide web.
To my astonishment, he did not see it as an abuse of work time at all,
but as an aide to work, sparsely populated by useful websites as the
internet was in those days, and requiring knowledge of the full
URL before anything other than an Error 404 page appeared.
Little did I know that more intrepid internet explorers were
exchanging emails with celebrities like Stephen Fry who
made no attempt to hide their contact details in those heady
days and were seemingly thrilled by any fan who sought them out online.
Then again we were all thrilled to receive every email, impossible
as that seems to believe these days!
Much though the internet has transformed our lives out of 
all recognition since then, those early days will always hold 
a touch of nostalgia for me. I am also glad I knew
life pre-internet. In many ways there is much about it that
is to be missed, not least thriving High Streets.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Confessions re Modern Poetry

In some quarters I could be shot for writing this but maybe it's about time I started living dangerously considering I'm never going to die young of the usual artistic mores...

Confessions of a Reader Who Doesn’t ‘Get’ Modern Poetry

Everyone except me seems to be in the know
About why poems often interrupt themselves mid-flow
Or end a sentence in mid-air
Leaving me to divine some hidden meaning there
They focus in such detail on achieving the abstract
Won’t be pinned down by anything so mundane as a fact
An opinion, a meaning or some thing to get a grip on
It’s like having a mountain to climb without a clampon
Tantalizing and elusive they allude to realms beyond my ken
One day I’ll wake up and understand every word, but when?
Modern poets often claim they don’t know what it’s about themselves
So what chance do I, the reader, have? And do I have room on my shelves?
For all these tomes of complexity, the odd shimmering line here and there
That save them from consignment to Oxfam (and my innermost despair)
Seems to me modern poets delight in making readers like me feel idiotic
Readers who are otherwise quite intelligent, or at worst, quixotic
Of course I can choose the easy life, I can pretend to comprehend
Refuse to invite doubt and speculation as to the vim and vigour
Of my intellectual rigour.
Or share any suspicion that imbibing the clutter of another’s head
Hoarded thoughts seemingly randomly disgorged like a Jackson Pollock said
Am I a whistleblower on the emperor’s new clothes? Should I eat my words?
Should I start a picket for the return of rhythm and rhyme?
Or invent a new sub-genre with sub-titles for each line?
I suppose time will tell which way poetry goes
And which way next the wind blows

                                                                ©LS King 2014

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Writing Cheques Like They're Going Out of Fashion

My smartphone is often to be found surfing the internet without my knowledge or taking photographs of the inside of my bag or pocket.

Why on earth would I trust it to make payments on my behalf?

It would probably go on a wild spending spree and develop an online gambling addiction or connect to my email and respond to the dodgy African scam emails with all my savings.

Mind you I do seem to have bought a dumb phone by mistake!  

I find it extraordinary how today's youth have no such qualms and seem to entirely trust their smart phones to manage their finances and come up with their electronic app bus passes on demand.

While I have possessed an online bank account for over a decade I find the idea of my bank account becoming unaccountable to me or the prospect of having to entrust my life to a clearly untrustworthy gizmo a terrifying proposition. That is why I am truly writing cheques and spending cash like it is going out of fashion. I am the backlash as they try and restrict our choices by banishing both these and cash, ironically in the name of greater convenience and freedom, but in reality I suspect, in the name of greater control over us and our spending habits and bank accounts.

I am already disgusted that the car tax disc has been scrapped but NOT the car tax and insisted on paying at the Post Office and obtaining a receipt (should I now display this in my windscreen?) Not only is it appalling to have to pay £145 for a tax disc and not even receive a circular piece of paper to show for it, there is no instant proof of payment if I am challenged by a Traffic Enforcement Officer whose hand-held scanner is faulty. Furthermore at the same time as this was brought in, the DVLA also hit us with a sneaky measure to prevent anyone selling unused car tax as part of a second hand car deal. If you buy a second hand car now, you cannot merely finish the existing (non-existent) tax disc - you have to shell out for an entirely new non-existent tax disc from scratch!

HMRC Tax Office has not yet succeeded in obtaining their mooted control of our bank accounts, ostensibly in the name of pursuing tax dodgers, but in reality, if HMRC Tax win this power they will be able scoop cash out of anyone's account and they have a horrendous track record of making mistakes and not always being quick to rectify them. Plus HMRC Tax Office as we all know targets the easy targets rather than pursuing the elusive bigger fish who can afford to hide their assets offshore or behind a corporation.

I am writing this on my sinister new laptop which only allows me to use it by signing into my Microsoft account. It is virtually impossible to use offline, which makes it entirely probable that my every keystroke is being monitored by somebody somewhere for nebulous reasons unknown to me. I then had to purchase a sinister version of Microsoft Home Office to install which is no longer a product which is mine for life for the princely sum of £75, but a yearly 'subscription' which presumably locks me out of my own Word documents if I don't permit Microsoft to mug me of £75 from my account on a yearly basis.

This insidious new trend of once-occasional products and services turning into 'subscriptions' which need to be renewed on a yearly basis (or which are automatically renewed if they already have your bank details) for continued use is truly chilling to me, not to mention a rip-off on epic scale even once multiplied in all our lives. I don't even want all the stupid downloads which more often than not tend to impair product function rather than enhance it. 

If I want an upload or enhancement I will search it and then be willing to pay if I do not have it already.

Please government, make auto-renew illegal at least. I may need car insurance and rescue cover every year but I want the freedom to shop around for the best deal, and as we all know no one gets the best deal through loyalty any more.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Not Listening

I like to think I speak clearly but increasingly often I notice that when I say 'no ice' in a pub, my drink will be half-filled with ice cubes. The bar staff have only heard the word 'ice'. Similarly if I am in a cafe ordering a hot chocolate and I specify 'no cream', I will often end up with a third of a cup full of disgusting squirty cream with that slight industrial tang. Again the serving staff have only heard the word 'cream'. It is only when establishments don't pollute hot beverages with cream in the first place that I am safe. But it's not just the food industry. Twice recently I have been sold the wrong rail tickets and found that they had either the date or destination wrong on them, despite telling the clerk more than once what the date and destination was. Today I even had a machine sell me a 'single' rail ticket when I wanted a day card to London, so machines are now joining in the non-listening, with the added bonus that machines cannot rectify a mistake!

Of course none of us are infallible and I make my fair share of mistakes. But what I don't do is plug myself into electronic devices 24/7 and ignore real life and real people. This I suspect is at the heart of setting oneself to 'world wash' and only registering the odd word of everything said to one. Information overload and constant multi-tasking between applications, particularly since one device can now perform a multitude of functions simultaneously has got to have an impact. I also don't dare to work in either a bar or a cafe without a natural talent for being able to memorise a dozen orders at once and get them right.

Ideally I would love to be able to boast total recall and am exploring basic meditation techniques to at least improve my retention. I particularly want to be able to remember books in their entirety when I read them. The late comedian Bob Monkhouse had an extraordinary memory. He would remember everyone, their names, where they lived, what they did, what their spouse was called, what the children were called, what the family dog was called and be fit to ask about the whole family and their lives by name even if two or three years had passed since he had last set eyes on that person (and he obviously encountered many thousands of people in his television and public speaking career.)

My partner is currently having a website built where the guy designing it either doesn't read his emails properly or the information about what his clients want just doesn't sink in owing to symptoms of electronic overload. He is undoubtedly a talented web designer who has produced good sites for other people, but the fact he comes back with something even less like what was requested each time is delaying the launch of the website and thus impacting on other things. It better not affect the final cost though, when he could easily have done this fairly straightforward site (graphics provided) in half the time for a client who actually knows his own mind and could have offered a 5-star review to boot. However the stars are diminishing by the delayed week. And this is the second designer. The first company seemed even more unreliable and unaccountable.

Ultimately listening is respect though, People don't respect the person they are talking to if they don't listen to them, let alone if they surf the net, check their texts or emails or phone another friend in their presence - all pretty crass behaviours. It is disturbing how quickly society has forgotten its manners since the advent of the smart phone or claims never to have known about human etiquette in the first place. If I meet or talk to someone. I expect their undivided attention and I give them mine. It is no surprise to me that loneliness and mental health issues have gone up in commensurate measure to the rise of electronic and social media. At the end of the day people need real human contact and to feel loved and valued by real people, people who listen to them and care about understanding them. Electronica can never replace real life, real time, warm human interaction. And it is only with good mental health that people have enough mental resources to care about those other than themselves, electronica aside.

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 today. A number of regency buildings are now listed and there are 34 conservation areas within Brighton and Hove though there is still a long way to go to protect all buildings of historical interest.

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 1939 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 Admiralty 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...