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Did I say it was a secret? Yeah, it’s always secrets in these ads. Ummm, so you’re not ever allowed to tell anyone. Which is fortunate, because I’m also offering a massive 973% discount on my Don’t Ever Tell Anyone Anything That’s A Secret masterclass starting on Monday. So, for just $257 you can sign up secretly for this masterclass too. [Registration for this one has been open for just 24 hours and over half the spots have been taken already. Quick! Your very life and happiness, and my luxury skiing holiday in St Moritz, could be at stake!]
Obviously, I can’t tell you too much about the latter class. It’s, uh, a secret. But it’s definitely a masterclass. It will have, erm, experts, masters, classes and everything. And it will ultimately enable you to discern the value of any future masterclass offers you might see, while also providing you with a full understanding of how to discount and add bonuses to all sorts of crap.
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Disclaimer: This is the small print. I’d make it much smaller, but this is the tiniest default font offered here. Ideally, I’d rather you could barely see it at all and just signed up for everything and regretted it later. Regret is fine, but you can’t get your money back. There will be a future secret masterclass course, highly discounted, entitled: No Refunds!
Note: It’s quite possible that I’ve seen too many sponsored ads on Instagram now. And I’ve gone quietly insane. If you’re reading this, please send help … uh, along with bonuses and sundry free stuff!
Since the end of summer, with increasing frequency – a tucked away rock overhang where I drop down into the woods to walk along the river with Willow – piles of litter. Not just any litter, of course, but a curious mix of hard drug remnants [blackened foil], wet wipes, empty crisp packets, sweet wrappers and lollipop sticks. Just how young are these users?
The rock overhang is only just out of view of a public footpath, before a steep tumble down into the valley, but would otherwise only be sparsely frequented by the intrepid dog-walker, or possibly kids looking for a den in the holidays. Suffice to say, without the occasional black sack intervention by myself and another regular dog-walker, it would otherwise be an indescribable shite heap by now.
As I say, the frequency had been exponential – in line with a growing addiction? – and the inevitable happened: I bumped into them. The penny dropped with an incredulous clang. A guy in his mid-20s preparing his next fix; a woman, of similar age; and four kids chomping on crisps and sweets, aged maybe 8, 5, 3 and a baby in a buggy. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I doubt I would’ve believed it.
The guy quickly scampered from view, leaving me to say to her, ‘Unusual place for a picnic?’ [It was close to freezing and light rain fell from impending twilight.] We had a brief conversation about ‘rubbish in the woods/kids’ laced with metaphor. I’m not sure she grasped the desired references. Then he returned, shielding his face with high collar and hat and they hurriedly left.
I wondered what might happen? If I should do something?
Throughout the following week, the ‘littering’ continued for a handful of almost consecutive days. The inevitable happened again. The eldest child’s rushed voice, ‘Someone’s coming!’ The man runs around the overhang from view. The mother is scrunching up tin foil into balls and the kids are ‘playing’Who can throw the rubbish down into the valley the furthest! There’s another fractured conversation – she glibly suggests the wind will deal with any of the litter.
It’s another cruel winter’s day. She breaks away from the awkwardness of our conversation and prepares to leave. I fix the eldest child with the softest expression I can muster and ask him what he thinks about coming into the woods to play such games. He shrugs his shoulders, but there’s far more than a child in those sad eyes.
The man returns again in a flustered rush, she says, ‘Let’s go kids, we’ve got to pick up Mary from school.’ Shoulders are nudged, a hand is grasped, and a flurry of muddied feet and the mud clogged wheels of buggy melt into the narrow path. The smallest boy turns in my direction, “I’m not your friend,” he says . The man briefly meets my eye from beneath his wintry disguise; a connection. I know him. He knows me.
We don’t know each other by name. But he’s grown up around here. I recall the teenage, slow-witted demeanour from years gone by; he’s cuts a desperately sad cliché.
So… What would you do?
A direct report to the police/authorities now, and the source is probably clear. He/they know where I live, and walk – often in isolated darkness. Ramifications are a distinct possibility – they’re certainly from the rougher side of the tracks. But I can’t ignore this completely, can I?
It’s now one week down the line since my intervention – and a number of days since this blog post. It’s been invaluable to gain other people’s thoughts [notable thanks to my Instagram followers], and it might have been considerably more helpful to have put it out there earlier[!], therefore saving a lot of personal soul searching and wandering of thoughts.
I discussed the scenario with a couple of colleagues in school [I work in a high school environment, in case any reader isn’t aware]. And it’s an important distinction to draw, simply for the reason that in my position as a teacher I have a responsibility for safeguarding and child protection. Effectively this means, had, say, a child come into our room and made reference to potentially going down into the woods with dad/a man while he does drugs, then it would be professionally incumbent on me to report this to the head of safeguarding. So, as you can see, there was always thinly-veiled semantics, as far as my experience and professional obligations were concerned.
In school, I spoke to both a support tutor/counsellor, the latter – known for quite strong opinions – suggested How would I feel if something happened to one/some of those children? [Something alluded to during the discussion on Instagram, too.] A slightly brutal analysis of the situation; at the end of the day, it’s not me who should be responsible for the welfare of those children; and my discovery was purely accidental. But it did make me feel less comfortable about doing nothing, or delaying any further.
In the end …
I came up with my own compromise solution. A compromise in the sense that I had, at least, done something, while also hopefully protecting myself against any potential repercussion.
I researched and located Bristol Drugs Project and Frank . “There is no easy way to pick up that phone or knock on that door but take that step and you’ll find knowledgeable, free and confidential help…” I photocopied their main website pages and inserted them into a couple of weatherproof sleeves. I then wrote a personal, handwritten message headed with a loud THINK! [Slightly annoyingly, I didn’t keep a copy of it, as it was simply a stream of conciousness – but it referred to BDP and Frank and assured the reader, if they were open and ready for help with their addiction, that they were great people; I also posed a question, referring to my own connection with safeguarding/child protection: If you were me, what would you do? I closed out with further encouragement to seek help, but at the very least, to take this habit away from the children and think what they might be doing to them.] I added the note to top of one of the clear sleeves, went down into the woods and cleared every scrap of ‘litter’ [again!], before placing them on the ledge, held in place by two large stones.
The following day [last Saturday], I returned to the spot. There was a single discarded cigarette paper on the floor and the remains of one of the man’s distinctive roll-ups on the ledge … the sleeves were gone. I had a good look around, they had seemingly been taken, rather than discarded in the immediate surroundings, at least.
The addiction-driven habit, since just before and across the Christmas period, had become almost daily – certainly every other day.
It’s now one week down the line … and absolutely no sign of any return. I can only hope there was an impact, on his/her conscience and awareness of the children, at the very least.
So, another Glastonbury Festival has slid into the muddy abyss; and all week regional hospitals have been reporting their usual increase of admissions with trench foot, dysentery, cholera and a pathological fear of public toilets. Climate change, meanwhile, rampages on unabated like an overwrought Coldplay set.
Glastonbury needs to move with the times; this is the modern world. The time has come to install artificial grass and drainage. And for the remaining 51 weeks of the year the landscape could be dotted with herds of plastic cows; people could be employed to move them around under cover of darkness to give the illusion of a working farm. Or, if the budget allows, they could even make them animatronic; preprogrammed to sit down at the first sign of rain.
And with no more real cows, not only is the threat of disease virtually wiped out at a stroke, excessive methane farts and slurry are also eradicated*, thus repairing the hole in the ozone layer.
Either that, or simply move the festival into the local village hall. Sorted.
* This might also require some tighter constraints on some of the food stalls at the festival itself.
Music is emotion. Music has often sustained me during my lowest ebbs, when a pulse of rhythm, anthemic soar or lyrical flourish can lift me up and even give me the belief I could build a ladder to the stars.
Music itself has suffered its own high profile tragedies in recent months. And although I knew this was coming, it’s been an extraordinary couple of days…
I first saw School of Seven Bells live on a boat permanently moored in the harbour of my home town during the summer of 2010. It wholly cemented my affection for the band. A couple of summers later and Benjamin Curtis, the multifaceted driving force behind the band, began writing their fourth album with Alejandra Deheza [and soul mate]. But as time ticked into 2013 Curtis was suddenly diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. In November, the usually private Curtis confirmed via an open message on the band’s Facebook page that the initial diagnosis had since progressed to leukemia. He signed off with a determined “In the meantime, please know that life is amazing, and I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”
Curtis remained resolutely creative throughout the intensive treatment, even in his hospital bed – a recording of Joey Ramone’s I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up) was made entirely on his laptop in the room with Deheza later recording her vocal in a nearby studio with him directing via Skype! – fighting the aggressive cancer with equally aggressive spirit until his untimely death four days after Christmas. Benjamin Curtis was 35-years-old.
Finally, early last year, Alejandra Deheza found her own resolve and reopened Curtis’s laptop of demos and archives. And with the help of M83 and Beck producer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, completed the love letter from start to finish that became SVIIB and finally released a couple of days ago.
With its release, alongside Bowie’s posthumous Blackstar, they share the passionate living embodiment of the emotive, lingering power of music. SVIIB is a joyously life affirming triumph over life’s innate and ultimate adversity.
I’ll leave you with the heartfelt words of Alejandra Deheza:
Friends, Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004, and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells. So much love to all of you. Thank you for being a constant light in our lives. This record is for you.
It’s Friday 8th January 2016. David Bowie is 69. Hylda Payne is 84. They share a birthday. A few days pass and other common threads reveal themselves.
I wrote this on my Instagram feed the morning I wake to the shock of David Bowie’s death: ‘I think many people believe I possess a questionable sense of humour, at the best of times. But, I don’t know, sometimes my humour can go where even angels fear to tread. And you can find laughter in darkness. I have a family friend who I’ve known for more than 30 years; she’s dying of cancer; initially liver but now significantly metastasized and told last week she might have weeks not months. She was finally at peace with the diagnosis, both relieved at having had a very good reason for feeling so lousy recently but also content that she’s had a good life.
It was her birthday on Friday [the same as David Bowie!]. There was much fun and laughter on the ward … and many tears; not from her, she kept up the laughter.
She’s still doing pretty well; the pain is being managed. I glance at my watch as my wife leaves for a visit “Tell her she might not want to hang about. She could be on the same coach as Bowie!”
I last saw Hylda on Friday [15th January] afternoon. She’d been granted her wish a couple of days earlier and been moved to an end-of-life bed in a beautiful care facility run by St Monica Trust.
It was just Hylda and I, revisiting old memories and laying down some new. Her infamous smile, laugh and notoriously expressive face were never more than a moment away. As I went to leave she puckered up. I don’t think I’ve ever kissed an 84-year-old woman on the lips before. “No tongues!” I said sternly. “And I don’t want to hear you’ve been running up and down the ward as soon as I’m gone either.” As last words go they’re not exactly up there with the most memorable, but I’ll cherish that final memory and that look upon her face.
Hylda went downhill surprisingly quickly the following day. And at about 12:40am on Monday 18th January she slipped quietly away surrounded by her daughter, two granddaughters and my wife, Sue. ‘Her skin went pale, like porcelain, and as her final breath rose to her mouth she opened her eyes briefly before gently closing them again … and was gone. It was so peaceful.’
A fittingly beautiful end for a beautiful soul. And typically of Hylda she had captured the hearts of the nursing and care staff at Garden House in just a few days, as she had done from her admission to the Bristol Royal Infirmary on New Years Day. It essentially speaks volumes for the cheeky, warm personality it’s been a pleasure to have known for 34 years.
Hylda Payne 1932-2016 RIP.
It’s been a curious symbiosis, of sorts, living through the infamous Hylda’s passing alongside that of the slightly more famous David Bowie. We are all so human, so fragile. The world keeps spinning and you’re left caught in this limbo state and the sense that our time here on earth is so relatively fleeting; specks of stardust, we come and we go.
I would never have classed myself as a huge Bowie fan – let’s say he didn’t always take me with him. [Although Heroes is one of my absolute favourite songs by anyone.] But as an artist and a creative he’s had nothing but my complete admiration. And witnessing the release of the Lazarus video early last week [and that extraordinarily apt opening line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven…”] … not only will it live in my memory forever as a testament to his genius right until the end, like Hylda, it serves as a reminder to not waste time: the end will come and there will never be enough.
In his passing the Lazarus video is as compelling as it is mesmerising in its potential symbolism. And there’s that moment at about 2’45” …
…where the pace has quickened and he grabs his pen. He begins to write animatedly. Ideas and thoughts begin to pour onto the page … I’ve so much more to say, so much more to do … until the moment is snatched from him by time; the pen trails off and down the face of the desk. And he’s gone. You’re gone.
Perhaps Bowie offered a final salutary warning, a potential gift to those of us left behind. There will never be enough time … get busy with living.
Where are we now? Where are we now? The moment you know You know, you know
As long as there’s sun As long as there’s sun As long as there’s rain As long as there’s rain As long as there’s fire As long as there’s fire As long as there’s me As long as there’s you