First pigeon to deliver intelligence from an agent in enemy-occupied France in October 1940; served with the National Pigeon Service.
Getting married, having a baby, moving house… You write a lot of lists.
Things to sort, things you need, things that need to be done ASAP, people to invite, people not to invite, dos and don’ts, potential names for babies, things you can’t do without… Things you need to buy.
Many of you will already know this. Some of you are finding out exactly what these moments are like for the first time and such news has made us very happy: congratulations!
In our case, however… lots of less exciting, some much less enjoyable, events have been unfolding, and as a result, specific lists have been high on the agenda recently.
In particular: Lists of Jews across Europe, lists of items in cardboard boxes delivered by two likeable Spike Island extras too early on a wet Sunday morning, lists of unfortunate but apparently essential changes to be made which may or may not include myself, but mainly: lists of food items that need to be bought.
To more positive things, though: Much of my work over the years has been about collections, and that means, lists.
As Lisa Nola mentioned in her introduction to her beautifully illustrated 2007 book Listography (Your Life in Lists) “… I am nostalgic. I love the little details of life…” which I think, sums me up quite perfectly too.
From top tens to top fives, top 40s to top 100s, prioritised lists dominate our lives and the media especially over bank holidays but I’m thinking more of the mundane, the everyday, the flotsam and jetsam of normal life which so engrossed Joseph Cornell and manifested itself in other artists who have similarly heavily influenced my portfolio… the paintings of Lisa Milroy, the scrawlings of Jean Michel Basquiat, the dates and times of On Kawara, the names (sexual or otherwise) embroidered on Tracey Emin’s tent… I wonder if she still has the drawing I gave her, a pint glass featuring EVERYONE FAMOUS I’VE EVER MET WHILST DRUNK.
Collecting is said to be a habit formed during toilet training, another process which plays on the mind. Snowstorms, football stickers, autographs, lookalikes, fruit label stickers, Eddie Stobart truck names, damaged photos… All of these have grabbed my attention over time.
Meanwhile, much of my work has also been about keeping examples of found objects – periods of obsession with passport photos, matchboxes, a prostitute’s notes to her colleague, even bank cards with angry letter off parents and more. Not necessarily ticking off a list, rather investigating just how big the list was, and I sent many of them to the rather spectacular FOUND magazine movement, still going strong.
Sharing my life with two people over the last few years has meant reining things in a little, but I’ve still been indulged in my collections: no longer do I scrape around passport photo booths on my knees looking for scraps, or skulking around Cavern walks searching for fragments of dangerous liaisons… rather, I take joy from chance encounters, returning home a bit like a sad looking dog, bringing in its findings and then hiding them somewhere only to be discovered, with a sigh, and reluctantly allowed, despite the mess the bring and the space they take up.
(Especially the ones I find in supermarkets, but more about them coming up next time…)
Meanwhile, talking of mess, the most pressing issue on our minds recently has been not chocolate eggs nor Zayn’s misdirection, but the kitchen and its refurbishment.
They recently banned games of hide and seek apparently, however I must say that not only do they do a good meatball but they sort kitchens nicely, and IKEA is a wonderful place, just not on a Saturday afternoon. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be stuck inside there:
or more likely
I hated packing it up, but really enjoyed arranging and re-stocking ours, because it’s now properly ours, it’s nice and new and trendy and functional and space-saving and all those other things IKEA rightly claims to be, but mainly because of the wonderful job done planning it, by my wife of three years.
Yes, it has just been our wedding anniversary – leather, fact fans – and the overwhelming majority has been positive and enjoyable and as I get ready to attend another wedding for an old friend tomorrow, I’d like to re-iterate that married life is wonderful.
As with everyone, I’m sure, it’s not been three years of complete perfection. Married life changes things, yes (“some things change, but the majority stand still”) and occasionally you might wonder how life could otherwise be (“I’m still young, I need life more than I need a wife”) and as for domestic bliss (“Domestic bliss? Are you taking the p**s? I need a minute of my own, minute of my own” all of which sang the Courteeners and it’s all been occasionally true, let’s be honest) but overall, from the day itself in sunny Southport to the honeymoon period and every day since, it has been paradise, and I remain so thankful every single day of my stupid little life, that she said yes.
We married on a Thursday, at Easter, so this time of year as always special to us, not just because of the memories of our unforgettable day but also the themes of newness, rebirth, and Spring sunshine, as enjoyed during our Easter week trips to Barcelona the year before the wedding, Madrid as our mini moon, and the Cote d’Azur for our first anniversary, but also a Sefton Park picnic from a previous life when we first got together all those years ago…
Nowadays, B’s development is key to our own happiness and security and so yet another trip to the hospital brought with it fresh minor concerns about kidney trouble but also another chance encounter with a boy – well, teenager – hood hero, another ex international who now coaches but this time, partly due to our own concerns about our little girl but also because he was himself holding his little boy who must have been in for longer than the day that we were, I didn’t engage in conversation, just let it go and thought about when I used to cheer him on from the terraces even though since then I’ve stood in front of him at a cashpoint, read about his various nadirs, queued behind him in local shops wondering where it seemed to have all gone wrong… as I went home to happiness, where it had all gone right.
This is another collection, I suppose; meeting famous people in unusual places, but more importantly I think, a sign of how being married to Lise has made me grow up, before B even tottered along.
As have problems in school, problems with health, concerns over the immediate future of Marine FC; these things have all been on our mind, but with Spring comes hope and revitalisation and the optimism, well, mainly it’s all inspired by my wonderful other half to whom I devote this belated anniversary gift.
As my wedding speech (and tattoo) said…
You are the last of the ladies, you are the one who has saved me, you are: you are, you are.
You are the one to grow old with: to live, to laugh and to lie with, you are, you are you are.
Soppiness surrounds, health abounds: you can see all the lyrics and their meanings, here…
(It’s really not me)
And when you’re done doing that, please help by looking out for dead pigeons: the next instalment of which are coming up…
And if you think that’s weird… JUST WAIT FOR SOME OF THE SHOPPING LISTS!
A bundle of contradictions…. Can you please tell me exactly what ‘a bundle of contradictions’ is?
LOVE, LOVE WILL TEAR US APART – AGAIN
It was whilst dancing to that seminal song that the idea for this month’s offering – in which we discuss the Holocaust, depressing visits to the pub and a band whose frontman killed himself thirty five years ago – was formed.
Cheery stuff, then.
The theme of this half term in school being anti-semitism, I’ve been teaching a lot about the terrible persecution and have just started to read the Diary of a Young Girl for the very first time. And, twenty pages in, its eloquent beginning is already breaking my heart.
As a father it probably hits home even more: a journal written so honestly, so beautifully articulate and all the more powerful when one knows how the story will end.
I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.
We start at the beginning and four men sat motionless in the corner of a pub, quietly enduring a poor display at Stoke that could only be watched on the landlord’s laptop whilst every screen in the place showed a routine victory for the lovable to the delight of their loyal customers / fans as their impressive unbeaten run continued.
It’s been a funny old season where football – well, Everton – have been concerned, and only matters abroad and much closer to home, as I’ll discuss later, have brought some solace.
Actually, let’s go back a few days before the Stoke match: I couldn’t get to the pub the previous Sunday, I was at Farmer Ted’s for a third birthday party with my little girl. She marvelled at the animals on show, the tractor rides and slides, whilst I couldn’t believe some of the dads and granddads missing memorable moments because they were too busy checking the score in another game on their phones or in one case, actually watching the match on an i-Pad.
I know we all want to keep in touch and perhaps after a few more, the novelty of children’s parties might wear off but seriously, come on guys! Maybe I’m just being bitter because a) it’s THEM and b) Everton were not in my good books after the weeks before. Anyway, I managed to get back for the second half of our game, an entirely predictable hard luck story once again, and I think this match more than any other highlighted the difference between this season and last.
It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
Let’s just say that things were not looking promising at this point.
Around this time I had an interview to join a local gentlemen’s club, originally for ex-servicemen but now open to all (who can pay the annual membership fee) and they simply wanted to know a bit about me and make sure I wouldn’t cause trouble. It’s good to have somewhere to go for a quiet, cheap pint, there are some interesting characters to chew the fat with, and everyone is either a fervent Blue or Red, meaning there is constant debate or discussion.
It’s quite depressing though, to hear arguments over football, or other meaningless topics, when you think and read about some of the other stuff going on in the world.
Paper has more patience than people… Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
Reading the diary, and learning and teaching about the horrors of the Holocaust, made me instantly think of V. The first episode ended with the old Jewish guy correcting the young kid who was vandalising the ‘friends’ posters and immediately, the links to Nazi propaganda came clear.
I have written about the original programme before, and if you’re not familiar, will only now share the headlines: a Science Fiction TV mini series from over thirty years ago that turned out to be a huge influence on my life, and it actually represents a metaphor for several events I have and am currently experiencing.
Here’s an introduction. Just in case.
Let’s go back in time, then (and stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you can read a more in depth analysis of the series here)
My first V related memory was watching it on a portable TV in the switch board office at the local hospital late on Friday nights whilst my mum worked shifts on X-Ray, it felt like a naughty treat back when I was five. It was pretty scary. And, at JMU on my first degree, we had to write a 10, 000 word assignment on Post Modernism and naturally I chose as my focus, the Nazi allegory that was ‘V’.
Through my research for that essay, I learned that its own reference points were far and wide but it was basically an adaptation of IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis. It also resonated with a short story by Arthur C. Clark, but the links to Nazism and the holocaust were sadly clear: the uniforms, the symbols, the visitor youth movement, the powerful leaders with their excellent communication skills, the targeting of Jews and scientists… the list goes on.
A few years back, though, the series made a return on the SyFy channel and it was actually quite good, tapping in as it did to post 9/11 paranoia and making good use of the new technologies available. This dated the original series’ special effects (who could forget Diana’s stretchy jaw?) but also offered a cameo to Jane Badler as Diana, which was nice.
Like I say, with all this talk of persecution and aggressive graffiti, everything came rushing back, as well as the realisation that I might actually be embroiled in my own V scenario.
But also, that the supposed Everton fans who spray painted their vicious wishes for Martinez Out were not demonstrating an act of resistance or rebellion, rather were supporting the contemporary ruling mobs who think they have a say in important matters and, if performance is not quite up to scratch, you need to go or be taken away in the night…
Deepening the divide, rather than spraying the symbol of universal friendship and a hope for a better world.
As I said before, I’m most concerned at the moment with the chances of a great escape for my local team, the Mighty Marine. It’s all to play for with six games to go, and I’ve taken B a couple of times recently, I can see why the crowds are growing and many fans, disillusioned with the football of Sky TV and image rights might prefer grass roots level and real passion and excitement. Not sure I’m there yet, but let’s agree to disagree, because if we don’t, as V taught us, we haven’t learned a thing…
I’ll re-iterate: There are much more important things to worry about, much worse things going on in the world, such as suicidal pilots and deadly diseases. It’s easy to ignore them, to think it’ll never happen here, to believe these things don’t matter to us, but then we need to keep in mind the ever more resonant words of Pastor Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
To summise, there are lots of things more important than consistent inconsistencies or bundles of contradictions, and if through them, we don’t stand together, our distractions and loves might just cause a terrible divide – and tear us apart, with dire consequences.
Thinking about the injustices and the inequalities that continue, as well as the intolerances and the incomprehensible events we learn about daily, it would be easy to lose faith in the world and the future, but as another old sage stated, we must be the change we want to see in the world, and no-one else.
I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if . . . if only there were no other people in the world.
Thankfully, there actually are a few good ones left.
Three years ago tonight, me and my stag enjoyed an unforgettable night at the Nou Camp with Messi, Iniesta et al, and I’ll tell you all about another one in detail, next time.
And some more dead pigeons.