Monday, May 28, 2007


There are many paths that lead to well-balanced minds and bodies.

Shane: How was Lou?
Emma: She’s fine, though mum’s a bit concerned by her getting all ‘alternative’.
Shane: What does that mean?
Emma: Well, when we got to the house, she was still in her tie-dye pyjamas – fine, had just prepared juice and toast – fine, and then she performed reiki on the toast – bit odd.
Shane: Ah.
Emma: Mm, though she did share it.
Shane: Well that’s good.
Emma: Mm.
Shane: And how did it - the toast - taste, or… feel?
Emma: (ponders) Her home-made marmalade was good.
Shane: Good.
Emma: Mm. She also persuaded me that I was probably due for another massage.
Shane: Right.
Emma: Yeah – so I’ve booked us in for next Saturday.
Shane: Oh right – not so alternative that she can’t return to blighty then.
Emma: Eh? No you fool – I’ve booked us in for next Saturday.
Shane: Mm?
Emma: You’ll enjoy it.
Shane: B-
Emma: Shush. You will.
Shane: (pause) Oh god.
Emma: (amused) Trust me, you’ll be in safe hands, you’ll enjoy it. (pause) Have you ever heard of cupping?
Shane: Spooning?
Emma: No! Cupping is like what that artist woman used to do.
Shane: Which artist woman?
Emma: That one you told me about – the one who got into pigs.
Shane: Uh?
Emma: Anyway, I might have that done instead.
Shane: You appear to be talking… foreign.

All I’d asked was ‘How was Lou’.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Felt tip pens and bath-time invite a six year old’s take on ‘body art’.

Alex: Shane, look – I’ve got a Harry Potter tattoo!
Shane: Ah yes – though I think Harry Potter’s lightning strike is a scar, and it’s on his forehead – not his arm.
Alex: No – this is still Harry Potter.
Shane: Really? I’d have said that your lightning strike is a bit more felt tip pen than scar, and a bit more Barry Potter than Harry Potter.
Alex: (pause) (insulted) Well Shane, you look like Barry from the Chuckle Brothers.

Though my familiarity with the Chuckle Brothers was slim, I sensed that this was a most impressive put-down. (the one on the left)

Monday, May 21, 2007


When I’m working at the prison, I get home late - such was the case on Friday.

On parking the car, I noticed that Alex’ curtains were open – that meant that he was having a sleep-over at Emma’s parents. Earlier in the day, Emma had set off to help her Mum clear the home of Ruby, her Mum’s deceased aunt. Now back at home, as I entered the living room I noticed that Emma looked like she’d been crying.

Shane: What’s wrong?
Emma: We went to Ruby’s.
Shane: Yeah?
Emma: I’m just being silly.

I sat down.

Shane: Talk to me.

Interspersed with snivels, she did:

Emma: You know how I said I didn’t really know her?
Shane: Yeah.
Emma: Well I didn’t – and neither did Lou (Emma’s sister) – all we knew of her was that she used to send us presents when we were kids… and we would write to her saying thank you. I know it sounds horrible, but she was just a name really… Then when she got ill, Mum used to go over and see her every so often – she had neighbours and carers who helped her with a lot of stuff, and two sons – neither of them married - who saw her most weeks – I just learned most of this stuff today - I only went cos I didn’t think it would be good for Mum to go on her own.
Shane: Mm-hm.
Emma: The sons had sorted stuff out to an extent – the financial stuff – not cynically, but they asked Mum to sort the personal stuff out when they saw her at the funeral… As soon as we walked into the house, you could feel that it hadn’t been touched for a while – the air was so still, there was a thin layer of dust across everything - and the way the light came in – it was all tidy, but a bit eerie… We had a look in all of the rooms then Mum started going through some cupboards in the hall and in the front room as I just rootled about… just looking at bits and pieces and photographs of people who I didn’t know… and then… there was this photo of me and Lou that my Mum has, the same photo - it must have been taken in about 1982 – it was on the mantelpiece amongst all the pictures of her close family… but, I didn’t know her, it felt like we didn’t belong there – like we didn’t really deserve to be there, so central.

I squeezed Emma’s shoulder.

Emma: …And then… when I went into the bedroom, there was this gorgeous music box in front of her mirror, so I lifted the lid and it played and I opened its drawer and there was a bundle of papers tied really neatly with a pink ribbon.

Emma was now into a full-blown sob.

Emma: …I untied the papers – half-expecting to find them to be love letters or something like that, but… they were all the letters that Lou and me had sent when we were kids – they went from when we were about five right up to when we were teenagers – she’d kept them all. They’d been treasured. It felt so… I felt so bad. It was like we really mattered, and yet I never gave her a thought! It felt awful, it felt wrong.

I couldn't find anything meaningful to say, so we hugged.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


It’s a relief that most cats don’t speak English.

Alex has a pet cat – it’s male, four years old, black and white, a bit overweight and is called Jim. As Alex has had Jim since kittenhood, the cat is at ease with the boy's rough-and-tumble treat-cat-like-a-piece-of-furniture manner.

Yesterday morning:

Jim is restful, curled up on a chair in the living room. Looking tired, Alex aimlessly wanders into the room. He approaches Jim, drops to his knees and lays his head on the cat. Jim is unfazed by this. They remain like this for about 30 seconds, then Alex lifts his head, looks at Jim, then turns to me.

Alex: Shane, you know when Jim dies?
Shane: Mm?
Alex: Well, what we could do is cut him down the middle and take out all of his guts and stuff, then, put all soft stuff – like cushions – inside of him, and then put a zip up the middle, and he can be my pillow.
Shane: (frozen by this image)
Alex: What do you think?
Shane: Well, I think it’ll be a long time before he dies, cos he’s quite young isn’t he?
Alex: Mm, but he might get hit by a car or something.
Shane: Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Alex: Mm (laughs), a pillow with a Jim-face – cute!

Last night, I did not relax until the pillows had been removed from the bed.

Monday, May 14, 2007


On the one occasion that I met Ken's Aunt Janice, we spoke of her writing articles for the local parish newsletter.

Shane: So what happened?
Ken: My mum and Aunt Janice were in the kitchen. I was sitting at the breakfast bar, checking emails. Janice was trying to persuade mum to go with her to buy a new carpet.
Shane: Is this one of your more dramatic stories?
Ken: It's 'particular' - just listen. Mum wanted to stay at home.
Shane: Ah - conflict, tension - very dramatic.
Ken: Stop being tedious.
Shane: Caaaaalm - deep breaths dear.
Ken: Well, far from it actually.
Shane: Mm?
Ken: One of Janice's female dogs - a 'popular pedigree' - had pissed on her carpet and made the house smell... like concentrated dog piss.
Shane: Not good.
Ken: Not good. Mum wanted to look into whether further pissing might occur -
Shane: I imagine it usually would.
Ken: - or whether there might be a cheaper way of removing the smell. Apparently, when a bitch is on heat it makes for noxious piss.
Shane: This is not an appetising story.
Ken: I left them with the laptop to search for advice. A few minutes later there was a shriek. I ran down to find mum looking rattled and panic-closing lots of pop-up adverts!
Shane: (silent pause) Am I being slow?
Ken: You are. Let's put it this way - there are some search engines for which veterinary and cleaning advice are not high on the hit-list for 'bitches on heat'.
Shane: Eh?... Oh. Ohhhhhhhhh!
Ken: Mm. Janice squeaked 'Did you see what they were doing? Did you see what they were doing?' as mum muttered swear words.
Shane: Triple-embarrassing.
Ken: And I can't be sure that my sainted aunt understood that what she'd come across was not down to the very particular orientation of my laptop. She later told me that I ought to 'get that thing fixed'.
Shane: Technology, eh?
Ken: (sigh) Mm.

I wondered whether Janice still wrote for the newsletter.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Alex is getting to know football. I try to handle this with a laissez faire air. I fail miserably. I can stomach his wearing a Manchester United shirt (with ‘Rooney 8’ on the back), as he remains young enough to claim occasional allegiance to other teams and players and so I tell myself that the boy could be for turning. There is, for example, frequent mention of ‘Peter Crouch’ (Liverpool), who in our household has a mythological status akin to that of the giant of ‘top of beanstalk’ fame.

Every second weekend, Alex spends time with his Dad.

Shane: I hear you went to the football with your Dad and Uncle John and Al.
Alex: Yeah – we went to Stoke City.
Shane: Oh right – excellent. Were there many people there?
Alex: Twenty! Thousand!
Shane: Twenty thousand?!
Alex: Yeah.
Shane: Amazing. Wow. (pause) What was the score?
Alex: Stoke won 3-1.
Shane: Excellent. Who were they playing?
Alex: Er-, (thinking: ‘Oh, I know this – it was… it was… it was… ah yes!’) Milan!
Shane: Mm. I thought… wasn’t it a… I thought it was a team that began with ‘C’… was it... Colchester?
Alex: Oh yeah – Colchester – it was.
Shane: Yeah – cos er-, wasn’t it Milan who Man' United have got to play again?
Alex: Yeah.
Shane: Yeah. I often get Milan and Colchester mixed up.
Alex: Yeah, so do I (laughs).
Shane: Yeah. Man' United will beat Milan.
Alex: Yeah.

Ah well.

Stuff Milan, we don’t care, Peter Crouch will be there.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Tuesday, 8am

Alex: Some people in my class got a sticker off the teacher.
Emma: Mm-hm, did you?
Alex: No.
Emma: Why did some people get a sticker?
Alex: They did extra homework – Edward did six pages.
Emma: That’s a lot.
Alex: Yeah. (momentary pause for thought) I’m gonna do extra homework.
Emma: Oh, right. Good.


I collect Alex from school. The layout of the school and his new classroom requires those collecting their (and others’) children to wait on a small part-paved part-grassy embankment – something of a natural gallery – as the teacher walks the children down a short corridor and into hazy 3:15 freedom. The children can leave as their parent or guardian steps forward to catch the eye of the teacher, Miss Singh.

Alex is near the back of the queue, so he is one of the last to leave. He greets me with a smile, I ruffle his hair. I remind him about his ‘extra homework’ pledge. This calls for him to return to the classroom to fetch his homework book. Wearily, Miss Singh sees off the final child - Charlie the Chatter (he’s always chatting), and Alex and I return to the doorway.

Alex: Miss Singh, can I go back to get my homework book to do extra homework?
Miss Singh: Yes, of course you can. (Alex runs ahead) Come on in.
Shane: Thanks.
Miss Singh: (sighs) Oh, I tell y’, (referring to the tricky logistics of seeing the children safely on their way) home-time for me is… (scrabbling for the right word - I sense it’s been a long day)… it's er-...
Shane: A pain in the arse?
Miss Singh: (amused) Yes, but I’m not allowed to put it like that.
Shane: No, no, of course not.
Miss Singh: You’re Alex’s…?
Shane: I’m Alex’s Shane.
Miss Singh: Ah, so you’re Shane -
Shane: (intrigued, querisome raising of eyebrow)
Miss Singh: You get quite a few mentions in his stories.
Shane: Mm. We like stories.
Miss Singh: Ye-es, in fact - if I’m not mistaken, in his last one you were a pink Power Ranger (smiling, returns a raised eyebrow).
Shane: (blushing) Fiction – it’s all fiction.
Miss Singh: Mm.
Shane: I’m actually the red ‘Ranger.

Alex returns from the classroom, breezily swinging his homework book.

Alex: (holding out a hand) Come on, Shane – home-time.
Miss Singh: (amused) Bye, Alex.
Alex: Bye, Miss.
Shane: Bye, Miss.
Miss Singh: Bye.

I think it was my ‘arse’ wot lifted her spirits.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


They all wore grey jogging trousers and plain grey sweaters.

Working with the Bad Lads, my task was to encourage writing from which we could begin to explore pasts, presents and futures. And, what with a snort of professional artists aiding and abetting us, surely, we could not fail:

Shane: So, BadLad, how are you?
BadLad: Good, good, yeah.
Shane: Good. And you’re having a go at the lyric-writing?
BadLad.: Yeah, yeah.
Shane: Good. I see you’ve got some notes there –
BadLad.: Mm.
Shane: Does that mean that you’re ok to be getting on?
BadLad: Yeah, I know wha’ I’m doin’.
Shane: What are you writing about?
BadLad: Family an’ dat.
Shane: Ah, right! (thinking: ‘Family! Brilliant! Nice bit of reflection on core values and home and so on – marvellous!’) I’ll leave you with that then.

Twenty minutes later, BadLad is sitting back with a ‘job done’ look on his face and a lot of handwritten notes in front of him. He agrees to my reading his lyrics, so I do. There are many abbreviations, there is writing in text-message-speak, there is street-slang terminology. I need help to understand this:

Shane: Ok, good. So er-, what does ‘endz’ mean?
BadLad: (baffled by such ignorance) It’s like endz innit - like your digs an’ your bro’s an’ dat.
Shane: Like… where you’re from?
BadLad: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Shane: Right, ok. And, er, ‘NSM’ – what’s that?
BadLad: North Side Mafia.
Shane: (thinking: ‘North Side Mafia? Eh? What’s that got to do with… ‘family’?... Oh godly god no’) So, NSM are- your family?
BadLad: Yeah.
Shane: (thinking: ‘Of course they are, my dear – which probably means that I just encouraged you to get on with writing about shootings and robbing and all kinds of misdemeanour – how very on-the-ball of me’)

I ask BadLad more questions and he becomes amused at my open ignorance of all matters ‘Real shit – how it is out dare’. I ask about what he gets from his family, the North Side Mafia.

BadLad: It’s jus’ like security innit – we look after each other an’… we jus’ dare, y’ know’ – keep’ an eye on da bro’s and dat. We' tight.

At this point, he looks at me with a bemused expression, as if to say ‘Well what do you think ‘family’ is for - fool’. His expression has a fair point.


I called Ken, in search of information.

Shane: I hear that you had a visit from the police.
Ken: Yeah - very strange - they thought I was a dog kidnapper. Dognapper? Is that a word?
Shane: Emma said you did kidnap a dog.
Ken: No I didn’t. That’s not what I said! Is that what she said?
Shane: That’s what she said.
Ken: She said that?
Shane: She said that.
Ken: Just, no! I took Caroline’s aunt’s dog for a walk – I was pissed off and… my former Belgian friend thought that I’d taken the mutt as some act of aggression.
Shane: Mm.
Ken: What do you mean, ‘Mm’?
Shane: Dog-walk to dognap – something of a dramatic twist there, perhaps.
Ken: I know! What kind of nutcase do you have to be to imagine that someone like me would do something like that? I mean, what?
Shane: So why did you take it?
Ken: I took it back! I just took it for a walk!
Shane: Yeah, sure, but why?
Ken: We were in some horrible leafy estate in a strange city, I thought I’d look less conspicuous walking the dog.
Shane: (restrained) Why would you have looked conspicuous?
Ken: There are some places where you just know you’re gonna stand out.
Shane: Ye-es, still, bit of a leap between dog-walk and police whatever.
Ken: Tell me about it - fuck knows what the Belgian bitch – forgive my French - had told them, but they sent some bloke down to ask me questions about ‘a string of animal thefts in the north Norfolk region’. I think he was from the Department of Clutching at Straws - it was ridiculous.
Shane: Yeah, sounds it. He came to the flat?
Ken: Yeah, landed at 9:30am last Friday. I was in my dressing gown –
Shane: Not the –
Ken: Yeah – the zebra print one.
Shane: An offence itself.
Ken: Jealous.
Shane: Or, in fact, not jealous at all.
Ken: Mm, anyway, it was all a bit novel.
Shane: No doubt about it. What, er, had you been arguing about?
Ken: (sighs dramatically)
Shane: You’re sighing dramatically.
Ken: Ye-es. Turns out she’s had an ‘on-off’ boyfriend since before I met her.
Shane: Ah, right. (Pause) And they, er -
Ken: They’d been ‘on’ the previous evening.
Shane: Oh dear.
Ken: Mm.
Shane: How was the dog?
Ken: Not well – it had diarrhoea – and there are some places where you just know you’re gonna stand out, if you’re a pissed-off bloke with a load of piercings and a dog that’s shitting for England - or Belgium.

It felt like an answer, of sorts.