Wednesday, December 17, 2003

My father died last November, although in this case it would be much more accurate to say, "I lost him." The feeling of loss seems to grow as time passes, hits me at the strangest moments and knocks all the breath out of me, leaving me for a few moments at least totally and absolutely bereft.

You didn't know my father. I'm not sure I did either. His was a world of actions not words. I only ever heard him tell my mother once that he loved her and he sure as hell never told me! And it's only now, looking back with a child of my own, that I can read his messages to me.

We never talked. Oh, we passed the time of day but we never had those father-son conversations you hear so much about or at which you suppress the urge to upchuck at the movies. But when I look back over my memories of him, I cannot think of one occasion where he failed to demonstrate how to 'do the right thing'.

We had absolutely nothing in common except our love of the Blades. He even christened my first Teddy Bear 'Jimmy Hagan' and never let the fact that I called it 'Fred' create any friction between us. He, with a stubborn streak I seem to have inherited, quite simply refused to acknowledge the fact. He, unlike me, left school at fourteen as his father could not afford the books necessary for him to go to the grammar school and needed the extra wage my father could earn. He started work as an apprentice pattern maker (and passed on to me his love and respect for a good tool and a sharp chisel) and eventually worked his way up to be the Managing Director of the specialist steels company he joined as a boy.

There are so many stories and there is so much to tell that I can't possibly include it all here but I would like to repeat the words I spoke at his funeral. More for my sake than yours...just so I have some record and reminder of what that stubborn old bugger meant to me.

"We never really know our parents, do we? Oh, we know them as Mum and Dad but never as Ivy and Ray, just two people finding their way through life as best they can...pretty much like their children.

I guess if we really want to know them, then we have to look at them through other people's eyes.

I remember when my parents came to visit me in Hungary for the first time and we took them to visit the family of a friend of mine at their small, family vineyard.

My friend's father was the same age as Dad, they were both born in 1920. He couldn't speak English and Dad couldn't speak Hungarian but after a few glasses of wine, it didn't seem to matter that much.

At the end of the evening, my friend's father came up to me and told me what a good man he thought my father was.

And I remember thinking that, despite the fact that they had no common language, despite the fact that my father was in a wheelchair and despite the fact that he had had several strokes and could not communicate very well, that part of my father was still visible...that basic, down to earth, honest goodness.

And I'd just like to repeat now what that old Hungarian said to me about my father that time...'Apa, te fasza gyerek vagy.' Thankyou."

So, what brought all this on? Well, I've just got off the phone to my mother. Up until about two years ago, she was doing everything for my wheelchair bound father. Then she fell and broke her hip while I was over in England for the summer and I had a strange reversal of roles, bathing and dressing my dad for a couple of months, doing everything for him in fact. It became apparent that mum couldn't continue taking care of dad even with health care workers three times a day at home and they had to go into a care home. I had no choice. I live and work in Hungary, I am under a contract I cannot break and I have a family to feed. And I think that was what finally did for my father. He loved his home and had worked so hard for it all his life and not being able to live there was too much. He just gave up. And now, I'm afraid that the same thing is going to happen to my mother. I wanted her to come over here and live with me but she needs care round the clock, cannot walk without assistance and both Zsuzsi and I work and cannot guarantee that at least one of us will be at home all the time.

She has just had a phone put in her room at the home and I was able to phone her today for the first time since I returned to Hungary at the end of August. Maybe it was the fact that she had been asleep for an hour when I phoned, maybe it was the sleeping pills but her already slightly slurred speech has become so bad that I could not understand a single word of what she was trying to tell me. I shall try again tomorrow morning and hopefully, she'll be less fuzzy.

So...back to the question, what is all this? Intimations of mortality? Maybe but not my own, that's for sure. I just do not know whether I'm up to facing this world without either of my parents there behind me. I'm 45 years old and yet I don't think I've ever really in the true sense of the word, grown up. I have always had somewhere to run to, a fixed point, an anchor. The thought of being cast adrift in such a hostile world is one I can well do without, thank you very much. Selfish bugger, aren't I?

Still, I don't remember this being on the curriculum at much information and so little about life.

I miss you, dad.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Well, strap me to a tree and call me Brenda! Has it really been a whole week? What can I say? I could plead pressure of work, but I'd be guilty of a little fabrication...I could tell you I spent more time with my family but that too would have the whiff of pork about it. I guess I'd better come clean, admit to a complete absence of anything worthwhile to say, prostrate myself before you all, beg forgiveness and throw myself upon your tender mercies. A thoroughly over the top grovel, in other words.

Mmmmm. "...anything worthwhile to say." I can see you all reaching for the green ink already, turning to the letter P in the dictionary and preparing to vent your spleens over this one and you would have a point. Since when do I ever have anything worthwhile to say? This blogging lark could quite easily be seen as the absolute peak of arrogance, couldn't it? Just imagine, some ex-pat wastrel possessant of enough self-delusion to convince himself that there are people out there who might just be interested in anything he has to say. I wonder if newspaper columnists ever feel the same way?

I guess it's the nature of writing. Essentially a masturbatory exercise, at its best whenever you've got a load on and just have to get it out but also pleasurable if it's just to while away the odd moment here and there. What I mean is that I write because I enjoy amuse and entertain myself but why I should then choose to publish the results is a question I have yet to really face. Yeah, I guess arrogance should just about cover it!

It's strange really, because in my other life as an amateur percussionist, I'm just the opposite. I don't mind people reading what I write but I hate them listening to the sounds I make when I hit things. Even though music is a shared experience, an interaction between the musicians themselves and also with their audience, I feel much more comfortable playing along to music in the comfort of my living room than I do playing live. My best gigs have been those which come closest to reproducing this experience in a live situation.

For instance, the owner of a disco here in town asked me if I would like to perform at his club and advertise it as a conga night. Maybe I was drunk but I agreed. On the night, I had a word with the DJ who reassured me that the only music he played was funky but who still looked a little doubtful that the experiment would work. We did a sound check...he played some choon and I played along. It was great to see the look of surprise on his face when he realised that this might just be successful!

Why it worked and why I enjoyed it so much was that it reproduced exactly what I do at home. Stick some music on and join in and drift out as the fancy takes me. If the rythmn is beyond my ken or inspiration fails to strike, there is no pressure on me whatsoever. I simply sit this one out and hope the next one resonates within me and inspires me to beat the skins as it were.

Now it so happened that last week a musician aquaintance of mine visited me and saw my congas for the first time. So taken was he by their vibrant colour and promise of latin rythmn that he asked me if I would like to sit in at a gig they had for the Saturday evening. I was not even the slightest bit inebriated but I consented immediately. I figured that his band plays traditional Irish music...okay, there'll be no samba rythmns but it should be straight 4/4, accent on the first so tone down the off-beats and everything'll be fine and dandy.

Was I ever wrong! It soon became apparent at the first rehearsal that they had become bored of playing 'Whiskey in the Jar" and other traditional ditties and reels of like ilk and had expanded their repertoire to include Iberian, arab influenced music as well. Now, I should make clear at this point that I am no professional musician, I have had no formal training whatsoever and my ability to read music is on a similar level to my competence in totally non-existent.

It was therefore with a feeling of doom and intense trepidation that I greeted his first words to me at the rehearsal. "Okay, this first one's in 7/8, switches to 6/8 for the middle eight and then goes back to 7/8 at the end." Yeah, right. " hum it, I'll play it." To make matters worse, as if counting bars and coming in and dropping out or changing the tempo on cue weren't catastrophic enough, their band consists of a cellist, a violinist, an acoustic guitarist, a flautist and two members whose versatility includes keyboards, banjo, bagpipes, penny whistles and recorders. The point being that there was no bassist nor drummer, the whole percussive input would have to come from yours truly. Blimey. Lawks oh Lordy.

Now any sensible person would of course at this point have requested a time out, headed for the bar and reconsidered the whole enterprise from a gently Stellad perspective. I just rolled a cigarette, told them to carry on as normal and I'd join in as and when I felt able.

I don't know if you know anything about playing congas so for the benefit of those amongst you who are in blissful ignorance I shall attempt to explain the unique problem they pose. With congas, rythmn is only a small part of the experience. Anyone can tap out a rythmn with a pen on a table. You can accent it every fourth beat or whatever but the point is that the sound of the pen hitting the table never varies. Hit a drum with a stick and you have the same basic sound every time. With congas, the rythmn comes from the wrists but the impact is through the hands and it is here that the unique character of congas shows itself. One conga can produce many sounds depending on both the point of impact and the shape of your hands at the time. The next time you hear someone play them, listen carefully and hear the tunes they play. The point is that even if you've got the rythmn down pat, the accents and the lilt are dependent on you knowing exactly what you are doing at all times with respect to hand shape and point of contact. That these patterns should follow and complement the music behind which they are playing goes without saying. My problem was not so much the strange rythmns, I soon picked those up but with finding the right patterns. Congas are Latin American and lend themselves to latin beats, samba, rumba, marenge and so on. Finding patterns to fit into Irish jigs is a horse of an entirely different colour.

Anyway, we had three rehearsals and out of the eight tunes they wanted me to play on, I had something down for about four of them in true conga style, another two just playing bodhran style on the biggest conga and nothing whatsoever for the other two, including the one in 7/8. Twas then I remembered I had two small North African clay drums and took them along to the pre-gig sound check. Just two sounds to bother about, just concentrate on the rythmn, job's a good 'un.

Onto the gig then...only about 100 people in a small intimate far so good...then I saw the TV cameras. At this juncture my mind clicked to blank. I'm looking at the set list, all those tunes I was to play on asterisked for my benefit and I can't remember any of 'em. Suffice it to say that during the very first number, I came in on the beat but played two bars of what should have been a straight 4/4 in something like 6/8 and had to bluff my way back into the groove as if I'd meant it all along. All week I'd been frantic about the 7/8 which proved a breeze and went down a storm and I cock up on the easiest one of the lot. Damn that Murphy! God knows when they're going to broadcast it but I sincerely hope no pirate videos find their way onto the'd cost me far too much to buy up all available copies.

The highlight of the evening? Well, apart from my solo in 12/8, the presentation afterwards to my good self of a bottle of Tullamore Dew as a reward for my endeavours. Nice work if you can get it.

So, hie all the equipment back home after the gig and log on to find United have only managed a 2-2 draw with 20th placed Watford despite their having their first choice goalkeeper sent off and being down to 10 men. Just what is it with the Blades these days? OK, we are still 3rd in the league but have yet to hit anything like form and that along with the injuries we have suffered seems to have affected the team's self belief. Think, "Oh, well. Bugger it!" call up a taxi and head back to town for alcoholic refreshment with the rest of the band. I enjoyed myself's always rewarding to make other people laugh in a language not your own and I was on good form! Added to that the fact that I managed to stay the right side of absolutely blattered made for a very good evening all in all.

And so on to Sunday and the capture of the 'Beast of Baghdad'. As good an excuse for a bit of statesmanship as any, I would have thought but the 'Ladies and Gentlemen.........we've got him!' soon put paid to any illusions I might have had on that subject. Still, I guess it's not too late to be able to make good use of this opportunity...if handled right, it could be the start of something good in Iraq but, if handled badly (and the first signs are not good), it could make a tricky situation even more insolubly messy.

Oh well. A one, a two, a one two three four five six seven...

Monday, December 08, 2003

Now regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the almost conversational nature of its relationship with the woman with one red shoe and how occasionally, Jess will let something slip which I fall upon like Tongey on a free pint.

Well, something she wrote the other day has had my mind all of a tizwas ever since. The mind mangling, brain boiling discovery that Maryland has criminalised the act of oyster abuse has since occupied me for most of my waking hours and become something of an idee fixe with me.

Yet, try as I might, I cannot order my thoughts on the matter under advisement into any logical sequence whatsoever and therefore I have no choice but to present them before you as they occur to me at this, the moment of typing.

Notwithstanding the fact that my alimentary canal is as far as oysters are concerned entirely virginal, I was of the impression that for the true connoisseur, oysters are best when freshly harvested, prised open with an instrument designed for the sole purpose and slipped over the enamel with little delay. Thuswise the oyster in question has been removed from its natural environment, exposed to a blinding light, set free from its moorings and sluiced into a melange of highly corrosive stomach acids in less time than it takes to describe the process. In which case, I wonder what constitutes abuse. Chewing?

Now it so happened that I was in my car the other day listening to Marianne Faithful's Broken English album, the track "Why d'ya do it?" and as the line 'betray my little oyster for such a low bitch' impinged itself upon my consciousness, my thoughts veered off in another direction entirely. And here's where it might get very random indeed.

I wonder what the female equivalent of phallic is?

Are oysters that prevalent in Maryland that they have become as a sheep to the Welsh, a goat to the arabs and a wife to the unhappily married?

And if they have, how many would one need? Is penetration involved or is it more a question of providing a lubricated sheath twixt hand and rampant flesh?

Are they eaten afterwards or simply discarded, left to float like used condoms or be picked up off the beach the following morning by the used oyster squad?

Do the endorphin junkies leave the shell on?

And by dint of what evidence are cases brought to trial? As the ersatz version shares several characteristics with the original, I would imagine olfactory evidence to be inadmissible. DNA may suffice but no doubt a clever lawyer would suggest that their slippery nature had led to their sliding off the shell and down the front of their client's trousers before he was even aware of it. So one rather tends towards the idea that photographic evidence may be the only conclusive variety obtainable. Granted that only the most inveterate and depraved oyster lover would fish one out of the ocean, drop his kecks and have his evil way with it there and then on the shoreline, one imagines that there would be little to be gained by having members of the vice squad hide amongst the sand dunes of Maryland armed with telephoto lenses in the hope of catching any perpetrators in flagrante as it were. Maybe information is passed on in seafood restaurants or tapas bars or wherever it is these people hang out to be amongst those of like persuasion.

Is there an oyster lovers anonymous?

It also set me to contemplating the various and wonderful euphemisms for the female sexual organ. To Richard Condon, we owe 'the vertical smile', to Tom Robbins, 'mama's Tibetan peach pie' and to Sheridan, a very fondly remembered university colleague of mine, 'cod mornay'. Almost always food related I note. Yum yum, slurp slurp. "Oh, Timmy, you're so licky!" Reference...10 points.

It reminded me of a case in England where some guy had broken into an aquarium and attempted carnal knowledge of a dolphin. I forget quite how it panned out but I would imagine a case could have been made for it being, unlike cases involving oysters, entirely consensual.

And quite how one guy could have been charged for doing to a single dolphin what the entire human race has been doing to the whole species for years is quite beyond my ability to fathom.

Anyway, if you have been, wash your hands afterwards.

Hey ho!

Thursday, December 04, 2003

I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm paranoid, maybe I think I'm too lucky, maybe I'm in some way aware of a debt incurred in a previous life and I'm waiting for it to be called in. Whatever it is, I suffer from imposter syndrome. The feeling that I'm somehow living somebody else's life and that one day the Truth will out. "I'm terribly sorry, sir but we meant Mr James...can't think how it could possibly have happened...heads will roll sir, I assure you but in the meantime, if you would be so kind as to assume your rightful place in the queue for the soup kitchen."

What I do know however, is that it has even invaded my dreams. The fear of being somehow 'found out' is the theme of the only recurring dream I have. Interesting how those dreams you would really love to re-occur, those involving several nubiles and various and sundry comestibles, never seem to fall into this category, do they?

So, to the dream. It always, unerringly, without fail involves my having killed someone and struggling to come to terms with the imminent discovery of the body. I never get to find out the who or the why but no matter how diligently I have disposed of the body, something will always happen to make its coming to light inevitable and my guilt all too apparent. So far, not so bad, I hear you considering. But wait, there's more.

You know how you can sometimes, when dreaming, convince yourself that it's only a dream and thus can your character in the dream start to enjoy himself a little? Well, in this sleepscape of mine, my character in the dream also has a recurring nightmare that he has killed someone and that...etc...etc...etc. This has the effect, on waking, of making me for a few moments at least, decidedly apprehensive about my immediate future.

Now what livened up last night's dream was the fact that in my fugitive scenario, my flight from justice as it were, I was accompanied by Mary and Joseph. By reason of the purest logic, these roles were played as an archetypical Jewish couple by Maureen Lipman and John Bluthal. Mary was your typical stoic yiddisher mama, bearing the weight of the whole world and its errant sons on her shoulders and Joseph a lightweight, ineffectual yet eternally optimistic dreamer.

Anyway, inbetween spoon feeding me chicken soup and reminding me that I should have gone to Med School, Mary was schlepping me around town from pillar to post in an orgasm of anxiety, Joseph all the while playing down the problem in hand. "The boy has chutzpah, he'll get over it." being the full extent of his advice to us both. Chutzpah? Well, if you define balls as pissing through the letterbox of your least favourite neighbour, chutzpah is then ringing the doorbell and enquiring how far it went. Quite how this scenario would have played out, I never got to find out as I was awakened at this point by a straining in the groin area informing me that that there was a load on its way that may best be shed in the bathroom.

So, what does it all mean? Bugger all I hope but it would appear that this fear of being found out goes deep in me. Have I some deep, dark secret in my past which, if revealed, would destroy my life? Well, maybe I have and maybe I haven't. I'm much more inclined to think it's a subconscious ploy to dodge responsibility or at least to aid in taking whatever responsibilities I do have in as light a fashion as is possible. After all, if it really is someone else's life I'm living, then how could it possibly be my fault if I fuck it up?

Oh well, and a "Hey nonny no" to all.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Just what I needed. Tripe in the papers to kick me off on one. Yes, I do get the English newspapers here, a bit late they may be but they can usually be relied upon to provide some kind of grist to my mill. Lately however, they have been rather devoid of any content that may, even in the slightest way, be termed contentious and it is this, alongside the fact that I have had a hair-tearingly boring and uneventful few days, that is responsible for my recent limited output.

Today though, The Independent has provided me with a couple of gems. The fact that the first was written by James Lawton, a journalist I admire enormously for his erudition, passion and common sense regarding the subject of sport, did cause me a little concern. That the second should have come from the mouth of Richard Caborn, our soi-disant Minister for Sport, should come as no surprise to anybody.

They both concern the recent Rugby Union World Cup in Australia. Lawton bestows his praise upon the team and recognises their accomplishment with genuine enjoyment. Caborn, I suspect, doesn't give a flying one either way but can spot an opportunity for reflected glory and making political capital from a great distance, even were he to be blindfolded in a dark cellar and outside the best part of half a bottle of Scotland's finest. It's a knack. All successful politicians have it. The others share the fate of Mr. Thing. Or that of William (14 pints, my arse) Hague although I must admit that he was at least successful enough to have left us his name behind.

Anyway, to the nub, grist or kernel of this little bloglet. Lawton also stated in his piece that the rugby players provided an example to their football counterparts regarding behaviour and accepting the decisions of the referee in good spirit and saw no reason why football players should not follow this. He talked about pressures being equal...blah...blah...blah.

Well, James. Sorry old chap but that is pure unadulterated bollocks. It's a class thing you see. While all those rugby wallahs were learning respect and bonding with their fellows at single sex public schools...which can roughly be translated as being thrashed by sadistic, latent homosexual masters and tossing each other off in the showers after games, most working class kids were already graduates of the 'twat him one' school of thought which pertains to this day wherever working class kids of a certain age (from two and a half upwards) congregate and socialise.

Now, rugby union was an amateur code until recently which meant that most players were university educated and members of the professions. In other words, middle class through and through. Arguing with the ref or otherwise making an exhibition of oneself had been drilled out of these guys by the time they left short trousers. It is just not part of their culture. It is alien to them. They ARE the establishment. Rugby was a hobby and an excuse for a bit of a jolly up from time to time. Hardly life or death.

And even now that higher echelon rugby has embraced the professional ethic, I would hazard a guess that, up until the World Cup victory, the earnings potential of those at the very top would possibly equate with that of a career in the, solicitor etc. Add to this the facts that they are largely left alone by the press and play in front of crowds of a few thousand week in week out for their clubs and we can see that the so called pressure doesn't add up to squat.

Now football, in Britain anyway, is a working class sport. Most professional footballers share the intellectual capacity of say, Ian Rush who, when asked for his observations on life in Italy after his transfer to Juventus, replied "It's just like being in a foreign country." Yes, quite. These lads had their backs to the wall from an early age and were more used to fighting the establishment than interested in becoming a part of it. Most left school at 16 with few, if any, qualifications. The only options for attaining the good life were crime, football or rock music. Really well prepared in fact, for earning over a million a year by their eighteenth birthday, wouldn't you say? Okay, so not all footballers have the talent or the application to reach such dizzying heights, but they all aspire to it and there is the key. To them, it's a whole lot more important than just a game or a hobby. Know any well balanced rock stars? Anyway, stick these uneducated, impressionable and mostly not very worldly wise guys in the first team on say, 10,000 quid a week, let them perform in front of crowds of up to 68,000, have their every move both professional and private followed by the press and then we can talk about pressure, James.

Caborn went even further to include the behaviour of the fans in his paean to the rugby code in that there were thousands of pissed Englishmen in Australia and nary a glass was broken. He has written to the Football Association pointing this out and he expects them to act on it. Just what the hell does he expect them to do? Fuckwit.

I guess if he were a director of SUFC he could simply re-open G and H blocks and wire their turnstiles to the National Grid. Job's a good 'un.

Oh well, yours as ever. If you have been, give him one from me.

Monday, December 01, 2003

So, it's December the 1st and already it's revving up. If you're already teed off by all the TV ads, fairy lights and forced jollity and feeling yourself rising on the curmudgenous scale, you could always take comfort here.

Or maybe you should take a moment to reflect on the fate of one guy who didn't believe in Santa Claus.

Perhaps you're of the volunteering kind. In which case you might like to be Santa's Little Helper to while away those empty hours and days pre - last minute shopping.

If you're waiting for divine instruction, then this may be what you've been waiting for.

And for you little pixies with a sense of's Adventure Elf. Enjoy!