Tuesday, May 25, 2010


We have become friends with a really rather cool mother and son, plus grandparents, who live in a massive, rambling, tree-lined property that's close to us. Having done a lot of running about last week and over the weekend, by Sunday afternoon I felt the need to unwind. So we took up an invite to join said mother and son, at their place - for drinks in the shade.

As I looked over some outbuildings, Emma was given the formal tour of the gardens, and Alex took a turn towards the vast hen enclosure (later showing off at being able to gently gather up the more dull-witted of hens). Later, as we exited Rambling Manor, I mentioned that I'd needed that break. The Lady of the Manor seemed glad for the remark.

Then. Yesterday evening. Just before bed-time.

Alex: (casually having a wee) Shane.

Shane: (pasteing up the toothbrushes) Mm?

Alex: Y' know when I was with the hens yesterday?

Shane: Mm.

Alex: Well, now don't tell me off for this cos it wasn't my fault -

Shane: (not impressed) What did you do?

Alex: I didn't do anything, it was the hen.

Shane: (oh Lord) What?

Alex: Well I needed a wee, so I went down to the bottom - behind the shed, near the weeds. I weed in the weeds.

Shane: Did a hen peck your pecker?

Alex: (amused) No. It tried to peck my wee.

Shane: What?

Alex: The hen tried to peck my wee! And I ended up weeing on its head.

Shane: (he weed on the hen's head!) A tiny bit funny, but really not very cool.

Alex: It wasn't my fault! It was too lazy to go up to the water buckets, so it tried to drink my wee.

Shane: That's foul. And that was it, was it?

Alex: I turned the tap on for it, but it ran back up to near the gate, so I turned it off.

Shane: Hmm.

It is with the 'Hmm' expression that I convey the moral significance of non-human animals. This, I imagine, is what The Boy reads from the Hmm, too.

If you were out, I hope you wore sun-block.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Emma and I take our seats in the theatre, for illusionist and mentalist Derren Brown's 'Enigma' show. All about us, there is an adrenal air of anticipation. Behind us, a young couple take their seats. With thoughts towards the seeds of likely tricks, the young man speculates to his irony-free companion.

Man: Back there, in the foyer - I bet there were loads o' subliminal messages an' that.

Woman: I didn't see any.

I smile to myself.

The show turns out to be excellent - as much for Brown's mastery of the stage, as for the mental mechanics of the acts that we witness. We were sworn to secrecy, so I'll say no more than that.

Friday, May 07, 2010


I'm taking a measure of the atmosphere, and the result demands a light note on which to end the week.

We are to move house, to not very far from where we are now. Until a week or so ago, I'd asked both Emma and Alex to not go broadcasting this information - keen as I was for the move to seem more definite before any public notice - as I say, that was until a week ago.

About a fortnight ago, collecting Alex from school, a rush of his classmates spill out into the area where their parents and so on gather to collect them. Immediately, a huddle of boys gather about me.

Boy1: Hi Shane.

Shane: Hello Boy1.

Boy2: Can Alex come round mine on Thursday?

Shane: Thursday, Boy2? Hmmm, I don't know about Thursday - I'll have to check whether we've got anything else on. He'll be able to let you know himself tomorrow.

Boy2: Okay.

Boy3: Thursday - Alex can't on Thursday - he's going to an estate agents'.

Shane: Is he? (There was never a plan to go to any estate agent on Thursday.)

Boy3: Yeah. He told us.

Shane: Who's us?

Boy3: The class. You're moving to Canal Road.

Shane: Oh, right. So it's sorted then?

Boy3: Yeah.

As per usual, Alex is one of the last to leave the building - quite unwilling to be hurried. He passes his bag to me.

Alex: I made everyone laugh today.

Shane: How did you do that?

Alex: I told them that we won't even need to get a lorry when we move house - we can just carry our stuff to Canal Road. I said, 'We'll be like an army of ants - ants carrying pants'. They all laughed.

Shane: Mm. Didn't we say that we'd not tell people about this for a little while?

Alex: Did we?

Shane: Mm.

Alex: I wasn't listening.

Shane: Ah. That'll be it.

Alex: Mm.

We walk home, glancing left down Canal Road as we pass it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


There is a definite buzz about Thursday's general election, the suggestion - a whiff in the air - that something quite unusual - historic, even - might be about to unfold. With the many and varied social media platforms awash with soundbite proclamations of political support (and apathy) and the mainstream media peddling slightly fattened versions of much the same, I will add a side note to the political aligning that is quite reasonably au fait.

On the back of the expenses scandal (in my view, the scandal being the light touch with which party leader/s were handled, and the throw-away 'we've all had our problems over expenses' euphemism), I remember raising an eyebrow at talk of one or two famous folk lining up to contest parliamentary seats. In particular, Esther Rantzen standing in Luton South seemed to get a lot of coverage. A radio programme (possibly BBC Radio 4's PM, or BBC Five Live's Drive-Time) invited discussion of the pros and cons of this kind of independents-in move. Clare Short MP, whilst acknowledging the well-meaningness of many likely candidates and the understandable public anger at the expenses furore, was not supportive of the independents' rising star/s. In short, her challenge was that independents - whilst not being aligned to any major party - could not be readily associated with a set of core principles and values, beliefs or policy intentions. On the surface, a fair criticism, it seemed - so the public would have to ask questions, or read a little deeper into independents. A problem? I didn't think so. But Clare Short's comments stayed with me, they seemed to be premised on a flawed set of assumptions.

When it comes to distinguishing between the mainstream parties we can refer to history (recent and not so recent), we can look out for specific policy pledges, and we might ask what is the fuel (political, economic, moral) that drives Party X's agenda. All sound so far. But where does this take us? We are still resting on the hopes and assumptions of candidates sticking to what they've promised, to understanding what they've promised, and to 'filling in the gaps' positively for us. I don't believe that there are many voters who would deeply believe their election choices to amount to a 'Me versus Society' play-off, even though part of my occasionally reactionary way of thinking would tell me that that is how I hear some politicians. My point - getting back to Clare Short's assumptions regarding the oblique presentation of independent candidates: the biggest variable upon which people will make their voting decisions is trust. Plain and simple. And what this does, is it somewhat undermines the need for detailed policy presentation and party affiliation. It is for this reason that we have would-be prime ministers being analysed (by 'serious political commentators') for whether they looked into a television camera, or whether they made reference to the names of people who've asked questions. It's light, it's superficial, it's ephemeral. It seems that we are next door to - if not entirely in the land of - talk of 'gameplans', and mass readings of body language. And on these terms - the terms with which ordinary punters, such as we are, come to distinguish between political leaders - independent candidates are no different from those who carry higher profiles. We will analyse them - should they get as far as the starting line - in terms of how far we might trust them to do the right thing, whilst in office.

I do not need to know what every policy initiative would look like - that would be an unreasonable ask. What I want to believe, is that under whichever administration is formed over the coming days, that those who are most vulnerable in society will be best looked after. I want government to be big enough to be paternalistic, to be strong enough to be interventionist, and to be responsible enough to not simply allow the 'natural forces of the market' to steer us to wherever. At the level of the individual candidate, there are individuals from all major parties, and several minor parties, who convince me of their goodness of thought and spirit, that would inspire my trust in them. And sadly, there are individuals who might be aligned to broad political churches with which I am comfortable, who fail to inspire such feelings.

At risk of completely losing my thread, I will round off. On Thursday, I will vote. I won't feel any strong sense of what the next four or five years might have in store for any of us, but I will vote. And the thing that will determine who gets my 'X', will simply be that bloke (for they are all blokes) who I most believe could be relied upon to approach problems from a sound social and moral standpoint. It's not religious, it's not borne of any profound economic or even political ideology, it's just simple, human and humane.

I hope that anyone who glances over this missive will be voting too, regardless of where their X may land.

See you on the other side, perhaps for a collective sigh. Perhaps.