Monday, March 24, 2008


AIR: There’s something in the air. Selfishly, I’ve decided to present a summary of those blogs that I’ve read recently.

BREAK: Getting back to my blogging roots, my old friend Zinnia Cyclamen is taking a break from blogging – as peculiar timing would have it, so announced just before she received another mention by the internet reviewers at the Guardian. Her blog, Real E Fun (a deathly anagram) has undergone clear transitions – originally the accounts of a humanist funeral celebrant, this segued into part-fictionalising around a domestic set-up. Then, it shifted towards a more varied programme of posts about writing for publication, occasional rants and stuff that spoke of caring about the world and its inhabitants. Whilst commenters have begun to share a variety of electronic pats on the back, ‘missing you alreadies’ and general warmth, I sense it is the right time for ZC to take a blog break. Amen.

PILES: In his own phrasing, my old friend Genewill be reincarnating soon’. There’s a small army of mostly lady readers of his who will probably start some new religion when this happens. Gene sits comfortably, because he doesn’t have piles. Previously, he edited a newspaper and had a hobby of getting married. Nowadays, he’s an educator. We teach each other new words and develop one another’s understandings of each other’s alien culture. He’s wordy and witty. He once sent me a sweatshirt with a duck on it – one small fashion step for sports fans in Oregon, but one giant step for Shanekind.

FIGURE: Seven hours east of Gene, is Pi – not the mathematical kind, though her figure has been of interest to people. Actually, that sounds a bit tawdry, doesn’t it - ah well. Pi (Pat) lives in the south west of England. She used to be a model and an actress. Her’s is an interesting biography. Pat is an imperfect geneticist. She was convinced that I was related to Ghandi. Me, I didn’t like to argue – bit Ghandi-like, that.

PERIL: A little further east on the blog horizon, my fellow footballing anorak, LB, has been reflecting. Variously writing of travel and assorted oddments and sodments of pop culture, and as the father of a young daughter, I particularly liked his term ‘emotional compunction’, and the line ‘…I also don't feel the necessity to comment on everything I read just to leave a fingerprint at the scene to prove I was around’. As life reads as being calmer than it had been, say, six to twelve months ago, this seems to have spurred a series of posts declaiming the ‘Perils of the Middle Class’. Most recently, there was some fuss about economies of scale related to a 2-for-1 cocktail offer – ‘roughing it’, you might say.

CATTISH: Partly overlapping with LB, the Suburban Hen ploughs a posting furrow that is cattish, photo-savvy, travel-based in line with LB’s movements (and for good reason too), and occasionally marked by a sense of Other Side of the Worldness. She’s really not from round where she lives now. She also shared too much information regarding some medical procedure.

MAGNUM: South of most English places, Huw keeps a wordy, witty, and altogether smart blog. When he travels, he travelogues well. Ages ago – paleolithically – he did a series of walks with his camera. These were very good. Once, he raised his head above a parapet to help me out on a personal mission – it was a kindly thing to do. For a moment, he made me feel like I was Magnum P.I. and he was, well, I don’t know, the helicopter pilot?

UP: Up a bit and you’d find a couple of concise Midlands people persisting with a blog that was founded on an appreciation of creative thinking. Their mini-project is called A Post Box, though maybe they don’t realise that that concept or facility is like a well-worn trilby – old hat, like. We is all electronic nowadays, see. They try to seem like nice people who want to listen, but I do not trust them.

BECKHAM: In the north is Beth, a Girl on a Train. She is a stylish writer – cool, someone who refers to musicians that I’ve never heard of, a Leeds United fan. I think she’d not be a good person to cross or to be an idiot in front of. Her writing can be so concise that I think of her as the Victoria Beckham of blogging – too posh to gush.

TOURIST: Not unreasonably, that would make A Free Man in Preston the David Beckham of blogging – another of the witties… and so ended the credibility of the Beckham analogy. Tim’s office-based comic set-pieces and caricatures are rivalled only by those of Tired Dad (see below). He’s also an agent of LYTE - the Lancashire-Yorkshire Tourism Exponents. Do not mess.

DIALECT: Also in the Up North, there’s the Tired Dad. Brutally frank, brutally educational – though not without the help of the likes of Thug Colleague and Human Resources Lady. Wrote an achingly gorgeous post featuring his Grandfather (06.03.08) – a chink in the armour. In some ways, his writing can make me miss my roots - family and hometown. He writes roguish north east dialect as well as I could imagine it being done.

BEHIND: In the south west, bearing not much in common with the REM song of the same name, but baring quite a lot most Thursdays, is the sex blog, Bittersweet Me. As with most of the blogs above, I can’t remember how I found it. At first intrigued, I read all of its archives. Then, I asked loads of questions of its author, ‘Me’. We had a really interesting email exchange. Some stuff I understood, some stuff I didn’t. With that blog, the sex itself seems much less interesting than the person behind the writing. It’s a blog that tended to leave me shaking my head at many of its comment(er)s, which is partly why I’m a less frequent visitor than I used to be.

DEER: Someone, somewhere, wrote: ‘Often, when I am wandering lonely along the shore, mist brushing my nose and wind whipping my hair, I grow melancholy thinking about the time I tricked a baby deer into falling down a well’. For a long while, long ago, Esther Wilberforce-Packard was writing my favourite blog, Topic Drift – an absurd, playful adventure with a smart turn-of-phrase. Then it seemed to get a bit dark, a bit angry and infrequent. Then there were glimmers of light – but far too infrequently.

OUTLET: Cheer Up Alan Shearer was originally an enterprise of LB (above) and two of his sidekicks. One of them seemed drop out, but Swiss Toni still helps to maintain this good outlet for some of my useless ‘knowledge’. They run a football predictions league and provide a space for occasional football-related preaching and alphabetising.

SCRATCHY: Prospect is the only magazine that I subscribe to – it features political essays and some arts and cultural stuff that’s good for the brain. Their blog is a bit scratchy but I occasionally drop-in to see whether there’s any further depth to others’ coverage of current affairs.

And that's that. Bit of an abrupt end, but so what.

If you're really bored, there'll always be the weather*.

* Until the link breaks.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Even though it's the Easter holiday and we're meant to be remembering about how Jesus delivered eggs to the poor people and about how God determined that it would be the Easter period that settled who would get relegated from the Premier League, I've had to work. This began with Emma helping me to structure a piece of writing that I’ve been putting off for a while.

Emma: Grab your notes and the laptop and we’ll plan out what you’ve got to do.
Shane: But it’s late –
Emma: Shane! This is not the attitude. What was it that you said you were going to do this morning?!
Shane: Ohhhhhhhh, the Nike approach – ‘Just Do It’.
Emma: That’s right – you were going to just do it. So, just do it! Go and get your stuff.
Shane: I hate Nike.
Emma: Not relevant.
Shane: But –
Emma: But Nike don’t say ‘Just Put It Off For a Bit Longer’, so just do it.
Shane: (bravely thinks ‘Oh, just do one’)
Emma: Come on – just do it – like you did with cleaning the bathroom. Eh?
Shane: I just did it, didn’t I.
Emma: You just did it – you put on the latex gloves, you made cleanliness happen – you just did it.
Shane: I just did it.
Emma: Let’s do it!
Shane: Sex?
Emma: As if.
Shane: Ouch! That’s a bit fundamentalist.
Emma: If I get you some more latex gloves, do you think that would help?
Shane: Seedy-kinky-latex writing? No. I’ll get my notes and the laptop.
Emma: Good choice.

We are professionals.

Monday, March 17, 2008


The best laid plans of mice and, yeah, Saturday’s trip to the greyhound races didn’t go quite as planned.

Alex had had a late Friday night and a taxing Saturday, it was raining a lot and Emma was knackered before we set off.

So, all good so far.

On their arrival at our front door step, Roy seemed distracted - tense even, and Barb had a certain barbed edge to her (something was afoot, and it wasn’t any of their four feet). Anyway, to Monmore Green Stadium - we got there, five of us driving south in the Peugeot Enormobile.

As a kind of informal social marker for the evening, my taking a wrong turn into some industrial estate dead-end was immediately followed by our car being approached by a local prostitute – the kind who would, say, be so up to the eyeballs that the fact that our carriage contained a seven year old child (not to mention four adults) – seemed not to be a barrier to the thought of a possible economic (plus god knows what) exchange. We moved on, and got to the stadium just after the first of the evening race-card’s fourteen races.

Despite an initial buzz of excitement, by Race Seven, Emma had accurately gauged that Alex had absolutely nothing left in the tank and was not for being cajoled into lightening up.

So, things not looking too good so far.

Deciding to take a break with Alex back at the car, this left Shane looking and feeling the merry lemon – if not raspberry – as Roy and Barb seemed to be getting over their earlier frostiness towards one another.

So, increasingly awkward so far.

With my mind on the hour and half that lay ahead, Emma and Alex back (albeit possibly sleeping) at the car, Roy’s incontrovertible ‘Always number four’, and Barb’s recurrent ‘We should quit while we’re ahead’, I took her point literally and – after only Race Eight (of fourteen) – I suggested that it was a bit unsettling that Emma and Alex seemed done-in and that I’d be up for leaving whenever our guests were. And there, the trip to the dogs came to an early end.

Wonder loveliness and merciful merriment to the chap’ and his lady, they took it on the chin and variously amused Alex and me throughout the drive back. From the driving seat, I heard an amateur magic show unfold (Roy), along with a conversation about ‘favourite Harry Potter spells’ (Barb and Alex). It was impressive. To my left, Emma slept, but did not snore – ever the lady.

Looking back, there were learning points to be derived from the evening:-

1. It is important to not give children the impression that betting on dogs is just about going up to a counter and giving a middle-aged woman less coins than she gives you in later return. This is where unhealthy mis/understandings of gambling come from.

2. For youngsters (and partners), relatively late nights ought to be preceded by easy days and easy previous evenings, lest the late night may go tits-up before it’s got going. This is where avoiding frustration would come from.

3. Photographing dogs with a mobile phone is tricky – especially where one seeks to do this discreetly and in the pouring rain. This is where pneumonia and waterlogged phones come from.

4. As grim an experience as I fear it would be, the hospitality package (‘delicious three-course meal’) may be the best formula for visiting the greyhound races. This is where getting seats would come from.

5. Taking time to properly print out directions or get a SatNav might be a good idea. This is where not running in to wet prostitutes (rain) would come from.

6. Seeming to be terribly embarrassed and quietly frustrated by a plan that could have gone so much better can pay dividends. This is where the delivery of a Sunday afternoon rhubarb crumble from next door comes from, and so very much appreciated was it.

So, no real harm done so far. But heck, R&B are our still-new neighbours, I’m sure that some cack-handed DIY or gardening exploit will enable me to piss these people right off.

It’s late, and my week ahead looks horrible. If you will excuse me, I will fall asleep to thoughts of ‘What would I call my greyhound, were I a racing dog owner?’

‘Sleepy Gambler?... Patient Chaplain?... Crumble Queen?... Lordy It’s A Pro?...’

Good night.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


So our new neighbours moved in - they being the chaplain Roy and his writerly partner, Barbara. A good team effort saw many a trinket, not so much furniture, but a lot of techno-gadgetry hauled into their new home. And, in the short time that they have been here, they have struck rather a wonderful chord - to the extent that they’re coming greyhound racing with us on Saturday evening – Go God, Go!, says I.

Perhaps it’s just a fluke, but at the time of this forging of social relations (why can’t I just write ‘friendship’?) with the chap’ and his lady, I’m reading a novel about a member of the clergy who is seeking to ‘plant a church’ – to grow it from nothing but good will in a socially and economically barren part of the world – an estate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in pre-Blairite mid-90s Britain. This fictional member of the clergy is thus tasked with ingratiating himself into a community that is probably much grittier than our’s – though a recently formed residents' group (back in reality, now) has promised to ‘reclaim the streets’ from ‘nuisance youths’. Such is life. Anyway, in the novel – Crusaders, by Richard T. Kelly – the cleric is currently (I’m at page 299, out of 540) becoming a pal of a local gangland man who’s been tripping over himself to offer support to the churchly enterprise, whilst clergyman has also made time to bed a young single mum from the estate (she’d attended a community forum type of meeting that he'd hosted at the local primary school). Other than that, the central character is also being courted by the local MP – a former socialist who very much feels New Labour ideology. Somehow, these four diverse characters’ story arcs are to become enfolded – I’ve worked this out from having read the book's synopsis – ‘...Gore (the clergyman) finds he needs the help of all three (the gangland man, the single mum and the MP) to bring off his mission. But gradually these same relationships draw him into a moral crisis’, it says.

So you see, what I have is a degree of latent 'being prodded at', regarding notions of community and, well, people coming together generally - to try to make good feelings and other worthwhile stuff happen. Mm, that's where I'm at. As this is a blog, I shall simply leave my babbling at that. I shall brook no big claims-making re ‘making a difference’. For now, I feel that it is enough, simply, to feel.

And from this above post, I choose ‘enfolded’ as my favourite word.

And, as ever, I must beg of your forgiveness for my great love affair with the simple comma, and, indeed, God’s honest hyphen, all so very important for the gentlest pacing of a Thursday evening's blather.

Today I am 11 stones in old money. That's 70 kilograms in Euros - just on the limit of light welter-weight.

Good 'morrow one and all.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Oh, the weekend, the weekend.

Emma: Y' know, though I hate to say it, I'm really glad that Alex is with Ed this weekend.
Shane: You don't have to hate to say it - you deserve a break, and besides, it's good for Ed and Alex.
Emma: Mm. And thank god there's no Mother's Day this weekend either.
Shane: What d' y' mean?
Emma: Mm?
Shane: What was wrong with Mother's Day?
Emma: Oh, nothing, nothing at all. You did very well.
Shane: But...?
Emma: Whose idea was the treasure hunt?
Shane: Alex’s.
Emma: Mm. It was good… though it did feel a bit too much like work at times.
Shane: What d’ y’ mean?
Emma: Well, as other mums would have been lying in bed, having their breakfast and the paper brought to them, you both had me going outside to the car to retrieve ‘Clue Number One’, that led me into the shed, then back upstairs to the bathroom, rummaging through papers in the computer room, digging amongst the plant-pot stack, and then - as if it were some kind of statement of boyish pride and enterprise - up the tree! In my pyjamas! And before any breakfast or coffee or papers… impressive - but hardly relaxing.
Shane: We admired your spirit.
Emma: Indeed. Can I make a request that you focus on ‘relaxation’ when it comes to my birthday.
Shane: (thinks ‘Shit! Too late) Mm, of course.

Aston Villa Football Club's motto is 'Prepared'. I quite like that, it sort of... resonates.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


I’ve been working with a photographer-friend, Lily, on a project with ‘the bad lads’ – lads excluded from school, flirters with the criminal justice system, but far from lost causes. As an aid to improving their social skills, this project has seen us introducing the lads to people and places that they would be otherwise unfamiliar with, as the lads document – in words and images – experiences of change. Every now and again a lad will say something like ‘He’s changed his life, hasn’t he’, ‘Who’d have thought you’d get a place like that ‘round here’, ‘Can we go and see them again’, and so on. These comments please me. The other day, we were at a martial arts centre, whereupon we met Hughie – big, black, a very youthful mid-40s, and speaking the language of change - ‘Brought up in care, started training at a place like this, did well with it, got into training others – it saved me from prison really - that’s my story’. To the lads, Hughie was credible – they looked and they listened. Then Hughie got out his equipment:

Hughie: Shane, come here – hold this (proffers big rectangular pad).
Shane: Why?
Hughie: I need to demonstrate a good kick.
Shane: Why?
Hughie: Just to show the lads.
Shane: Hughie, what you need to recognise is that, well, you’re a proper man. See, I come into a place like this – and see you – and it reminds me that I’ve got string for arms.
Hughie: Y’ wha’?
Shane: (moving forward) See, look at you, (pointing) you’ve got proper man arms – whereas I have string for arms – (pointing) see!
Lads: (laughing)
Lily: (looking nervous for me)
Hughie: Come on, it’ll be fine – hold the pad close to your body – it won’t hurt.
Shane: You’re not gonna force me to take body-building drugs too, are you?
Lads: (laughing)
Hughie: No, we’re not into that sort of thing, ‘round here – that’s for the cowboys.
Shane: (takes pad, holds pad, adopts firm stance) Hughie. Let’s do this!
Hughie: (steps away, strangely twists back towards me – very graceful, foot comes out of nowhere – kicks pad)
Shane: (imperceptible squeal, rocks back, stands, frozen)
Lads: (collective intake of breath)
Lily: (jaw has dropped)
Hughie: Y’ alright?
Shane: (croaks) Fine.
Lads: Good one, Shane.
Shane: Yeah, good one. D’ y’ want a go?
Lad #1: No way – I’m not an idiot.
Lad #2: No thanks, Shane – you showed us how it’s done.
Shane: So I get to suffer for your art? How does that work?
Lad #1: Y’ wha’?
Shane: Never mind.

Later, Hughie quietly acknowledged that he’d kicked harder than he’d meant to. Obviously this gave me no end of pleasure in realising that it wasn’t just that I was being a weed.

Peace and safety be with you.

Monday, March 03, 2008


One week ago:

I visited the ‘Laughing in a Foreign Language’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London. The work of David Shrigley, I liked a lot. The work of Roi Vaara made me grin like an idiot (I couldn't find any good links, so this will have to do). The rest, well, they tried.



Emma: (sighs) I’m gonna have to call the boiler man (plumber) – there’s a small leak below the boiler, the pressure gauge has gone right down and there’s hardly any flow out of the hot tap.
Shane: Ok.


Boiler man comes, boiler man glues something that he should have glued previously, boiler man fiddles with knob, boiler man – appropriately - does not have audacity to charge, boiler man exits.


Alex: (singing) Boiler man, Boiler man, Does whatever a boiler man does, Can he swing from a… (breaks off from singing) What would a boiler man swing from?
Shane: A pipe?
Alex: (singing) …Can he swing from a pipe?, No he can’t, He’s a boiler man, Look ouuuuuuuuut - it’s boiler man!

Quietly, I pondered the absurd, effortless and really quite pleasing humour of young Alex.

And if you missed the pop’ cultural reference, this will make it clear.