Thursday, 26 November 2009

Modern Woman has Shot Herself in the Foot

“Garth, marriage is punishment for shoplifting in some countries!”

- Wayne (Mike Meyers), Wayne’s World

A recent article in the Telegraph (6/8/09) outlines a very serious issue in Britain- and most of the developed world.

“‘Some women have become ball-breakers,’ says Francine Kaye, known professionally as The Divorce Doctor, with an eponymous website. ‘It's not entirely our fault, because the demands of the workplace have changed us, and brought out our more masculine side. But unfortunately we're taking that home with us every evening into the domestic sphere, and often bullying our men into submission.’”

This article sums up why so many of life’s problems occur- whether it is in the workplace, as part of family life or involving relationships.

Some months ago, after doing a lot of anthropology research online, I learned something that would change the way I think from that moment on. Ten thousand years ago, women needed to be protected. Like today, they were generally physically weaker than men. Civilized society had not been formed. Saber-toothed tigers, and other life-threatening creatures, could not be tamed or domesticated. Women needed protecting from these ferocious animals as well as other massive dangers- including, of course, those brought by other humans. These dangers are now, largely, absent. At times of prehistoric strife, there were no police, call-centres, supermarkets or maintenance men (or maintenance women, for that matter) - the man HAD to take care of any problem. He was responsible, solely, for finding food, making warmth and ensuring safety. If he didn’t fulfill these duties, his spouse and baby- and likely he himself- would die.

Today, if a man doesn’t pull his shit together and take care of things, the woman just divorces him. It is, I’m guessing, harder to offer women anything they need that they can’t already get themselves. This could be why “51% of women under 50 are single” (in Britain). –

Despite this growing female independence, women will always have needs. I call these requirements ‘the three Ps’- provision, protection, and you know what the third one is.

It cannot be denied that, as women gain more equality, both men and women behave less and less like our sexually respective anthropological ancestors. As the divorce rates rise around the world, is this a sign that women are becoming harder for men to please? I suspect that, in days gone by when gender roles were more defined, it was a lot easier for couples to stay together.

You may be wondering what decade- or century- I’m from, but regardless, family life in Britain needs to re-stablise. Can we quell the spiralling divorce rate? Are women to blame for this? Do we even need marriage anymore? Without the suffragette movement- a time when women like Emily Davidson died for women’s rights- would women be happier with less equality and hence less responsibility? Would men be happier with the imbalance?

I am all for mutual respect between men and women. I would never encourage people to purposefully make women feel bad. But the evidence seems to suggest that sexual equality is impossible. Men and women are different. It is this difference- and society’s masking of it- that is preventing many people from living happy lives.

The situation in Britain may be different to that in other parts of Europe. Of what I’ve seen of European TV, it seems that most of it is chauvinistic innuendo-based programming- thinly veiled pornography for men. Tarrant On TV, a British programme celebrating the most daring and usually the dumbest TV output from around the world, features Italy’s smutty shows on a regular basis.

Italy has the seventh lowest divorce rate in the world.

The countries with the lowest three divorce rates are Libya, Georgia and Mongolia. Women in these war-torn and oppressive countries don’t have a great deal of rights.

On the flipside, World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index says Iceland is the most sexually equal country- scoring ‘4’ on a scale of 0-1. (I don’t get this measurement either.) Guardian says Icelanders are the “least hung up people in the world.”

In ’08 Iceland had the highest divorce rate in Europe. In ’07 it was Sweden- the country the Forum claimed was best for women’s rights. Interestingly,, a Swedish newspaper, claims 60% of marriages in their country are failing.

On the whole it seems that the more rights women have in a country, the harder it is to maintain a marriage as a citizen there. On the flipside, more rights for women allow them a better quality of life. It can be suggested, then, that marriage is not the way forward in any country in this day and age.

I would have thought the idea of couples agreeing on masculine and feminine roles in the household would have been a start. Various newspaper websites I have trawled through while researching this seem to suggest that women taking household tasks away from men (calling a tradesman in to fix something, for instance) cause a lot of domestic disputes.

If equality is what is being sought in this debate, then I might as well suggest that both men and women are equally responsible for the growing failure of marriage and sustainable relationships in the 21st century. My personal opinion is that total sexual equality is an unattainable goal. Everybody is different, and one cannot suggest that all women should be, and one day will be equal to all men. That ‘difference’ makes equality difficult to define, but I’ll give it a shot: the further away we get from the cave, a time when the men hunted and the women mothered, the less happy everyone will be with each other.

Anyway, pass me that spear. I’ll get something in for tea.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Global Warming is Inevitable

‘It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.’
-T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Metro, the paper found on most buses in Britain, recently published a photograph of a melting iceberg- a familiar but poignant image in today’s ever-warming world. This particular iceberg, however, had a vaguely facial appearance to it- an elongated enclave resembling feminine lips, a distorted, long nose of melting ice, and one long, shadowy eye-like ledge. This crumbling, frozen mass seemed trapped in the centre of the otherwise smooth walls of the iceberg. On the left of the picture, a section of the iceberg wall juts over the space where you’d imagine the other eye to be. Under the arctic sun, a stream of ice water falls from this space, gushing into the freezing sea below.

The paper suggested that the face was that of Mother Nature herself, crying over the damage done to her planet in the short space of time humans had lived on it.

There was, however, one angle not covered by the piece- an issue seemingly unnoticed by the paper and even the United Nations. I thought I should provide that angle. It may have proved too radical, however, as it didn’t make it onto the letters page.

The ‘Tears of Mother Earth’ photograph (3/9/09) was excellent, and another vivid reminder of what we are doing to the planet. However, I doubt humankind will take heed from Mother Nature’s supposed warning. We’ve been powerless to stop our own ravaging of the planet for 1.6 million years- when man first harnessed the power of fire. This was the beginning of global warming- our harmful effect on the planet. The trend cannot be ‘stopped’, as the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon suggested. But it is important that we delay this devastation as much as we can by encouraging the use of more efficient power sources than oil, petrol and wood.

It has been brought to my attention, since sending this letter, that I’m right. Not regarding my eco-thoughts, though; just the fact that my ideas are too far-fetched for newspapers. My original argument was this: the first fire that man created was the first step towards today’s extremes of global warming. The ability to burn things, as the Jungle Book’s King Louie reminds us, is what sets us apart from every other species on the planet. (‘Give me the power, of man’s Red Flower so I can be like you!’)

Yes, we are a million miles (and years) away from Paleolithic flint-bashing. But nature gave us the gift of combustion. I think nature made us harm the planet. I’m surprised so few people agree with me. But fair enough: it has only been since the industrial revolution- starting at the end of the 18th century- which our polluting habits have started to take their toll on the Earth.

It has also been brought to my attention that, even though the planet is heating now, it will inevitably cool off- then heat up again. This is due to ‘Milankovitch cycles’, natural patterns in the change in the Earth’s temperature.

My point is that we can’t stop it. Our reliance on cars to get from A to B, and our need for oil to keep the lights on around the world, show no sign of letting up. I’m just going to keep separating my waste for recycling and using public transport where I can, but I won’t be waging war on Shell Oil and ranting at passers-by from my tree-house.

Not in the near future, at least...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Falling Gold: A Dream

‘Heaven and Earth are not humane; they treat the people as straw dogs. The Sage is not humane; he treats the people as straw dogs.’
-Dao De Jing

The totalitarian government is a monster with many faces. Somewhere, behind the metropolitan sheen of the city, lies a terrible, deviant power. The people are afraid. But out in the village, the city could be another country. They just don’t bother us at all.

Until now.

I am summoned to the city- by whom, I don’t know. My guess is, they realised there’s no point fighting fire with fire. Why not send in me, a nice guy who won’t pull any tricks?

I leave my family behind, abandoning the simple barbecue and all the day’s serenity. The city needs me.
I am taken to a building much taller than I realised existed there. We don’t have much money back home... Nobody does. Who built this thing?

I’m alone in the lobby when the lift behind me pings. I turn around: the lift is pure gold. My yellowed reflection parts vertically as the doors open. The interior: more gold. The walls, floor, and ceiling all connect into a sickeningly opulent prism that I feel compelled to step into.

The elevator rises with a jerk. I’m lifted so high and so fast that my guts slam into my pelvis, and I swallow hard, ears popping.

The door opens. I can hear the sound of construction- a distant, clanging sound from below. Am I safe? Gold bars are stacked all around me, and these piles stretch down much further than they should. I realise there is no floor beyond the lift.

Silently, like the door, the floor of the lift retracts, and the infinite reflections of the floor and ceiling start to narrow. It’s a trap. I back myself to the wall, but soon there is nothing underneath me.
I fall. The clanging gets louder, and rows and rows of gold blur upward into each other.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Falling Dream

“It's only when gravity starts to take over you begin to think about your body.”
-David Soul, AKA ‘Hutch’ from Starsky and Hutch

I’m soaring up to the planet’s boundary, to what is technically space, vast and freezing. The land I know as home, it feels- and is- distant and I miss it already.

The curvature of the Earth is clearly visible. It was daytime when I left Earth; right now, the time of day can’t be classified. It feels like night, like the time on Scout camp when we crept out of the tent and lay gazing at the stars. It’s colder now, though. And there are an incalculable number of galaxies blinking at me, millions of light years away. The universe, sprawling, is scattered haphazardly in every direction. But when I look back down at the Earth- which is incomprehensibly immense- the stars vanish from my peripheral vision and the glow of my home planet is all I can see. The ground looks rocky and uninhabited, but in that rugged terrain there are entire cities teeming with life, reminding me of how truly small I am- how small we all are.

And then I fall.

There’s a blurry ache in my chest that used to be a recognisable heartbeat- my pulse is so high that every artery wants to escape my skin and live forever in the clouds. My back arches. I’m forced by gravity to look upwards- the blackness of space has already disappeared and I’m surrounded by blue ozone. An occasional wisp of cirrus cloud whips across my face like speeding fog, leaving cold moisture on my skin to be dragged backwards over my scalp.

I’ve never been so conscious of the air around me, yet despite this- and now, because of the velocity of my own body through this air- I can’t breathe any of it in.

The detail of the land below me, albeit minimal, becomes clearer and spreads wider like a dramatic camera trick I’ve seen in countless flashy films. I can see the rugged texture of farmland. The ocean is out of sight.

I’m almost home.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Is This Some Kind of Joke?

‘Here’s a little impression for you. “Kaw, Kaw, BANG, Fuck, I’m dead!”’
-Michael Wincott, The Crow

There are many reasons why someone might kill a pigeon and stuff its carcass into the receptacle for milk bottles around the side of my house. I have fallen out with numerous people this year- some men, but mostly women- people who have proven themselves to be depraved lunatics, including women who punch people to feel good, and women who cling to you like a leech, then threaten to commit suicide when extricated. I have not seen or heard from these people in months. Why would they do this to me now?

Was this carcass delivery an attack against my parents? Did their apparently horror-free lives have a macabre element to them that I did not know about?

My mum, as nice a lady as she is, once walked through a large expanse of the Yorkshire Dales brandishing a sheep’s skull, the curved handle of a walking stick fitted through the eye sockets. Trekkers heading in the opposite direction were glancing horrified at the skull with lips turned up in disgust.

A basic biology class could be aided in some way by the inclusion of a sheep’s skull, found in a field. Mum has worked in early years education most of her adult life. Due to this she has a mind frame that weighs up everything she sees and does, and whether it could enhance her pupils’ education.

Now an advisory teacher, my mum deals more with education staff as opposed to the children themselves. So there was less of a reason, now, for her to need a dead pigeon. Even if she did need it, why temporarily store it in the milk cage? Mum likes her hygiene. I wondered whether this quirkiness was a habit she hadn’t got out of.

She’d been gardening for pretty much the whole morning whereas I had just stepped outside to put some empty milk bottles out. I thought she would have noticed.

I went back to my desk to hammer out some flash fiction I’d been working on.

Hours later I checked the milk cage and the morbid ovarian souvenir was still there. Its feet were still clinging to one of the lower bars; one wing was splayed, as if in mid-flight, and the tip of the wing jutted out from under the cage lid. The neck of the bird rested against the bar of the cage, head lolling outside of it. It looked like it had been alive when it first got there, and had tried to clamber out.

I found my mum in the kitchen, filling up the kettle, so I asked her why there was a dead pigeon in the milk cage. She considered me, bemused, as if I’d developed premature dementia and I’d begun spouting the kind of gibberish more commonly associated with the geriatric. Mum craned her neck around the side of the porch door tentatively. When she saw the mangled bird her top lip upturned, aghast, like the woman who spotted her sheep skull years ago.

‘Matthew, that’s horrible!’

She said this as if I was guilty of killing it myself - or as if I was playing some kind of unhygienic prank.

She got Dad to remove it and respectfully dump it in the wheelie-bin.

Is this going to be a solitary incident, I thought, or a sick hate campaign? An attack from a crazy ex or a maniacal stalker?

A few days later, Mum pointed out a mark on the window in her bedroom. I may have found the body, but Mum had solved the mystery.

Mum and Dad’s bedroom- cuboid-shaped- protrudes from the sloped roof of the house. The vertical window and ceiling look almost like a shelf on the outside. The pigeon must have seen nothing but clouds, a few trees, unaware of the reflective quality of cold, hard glass. Its neck broke and it died on impact.

After hitting the window, the bird presumably rolled off the roof and landed, by fluke, in the milk cage.

Somebody phone Colombo, I thought. Tell him we don’t need him anymore.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Publication: The Machines

My Science Fiction flash, The Machines, was accepted by new publication Gemini Magazine. Check it out here:

Monday, 2 November 2009

Quarterly Summary 3

‘I love you, but sooner or later you’re gonna have to realise the fact that you’re a Goddamn moron.’

-The Dude (Jeff Bridges), The Big Lebowski

This is a line I would accept from any individual and take it as truth at the moment, as I recently realised I have been involved in numerous ridiculous and memorable events over the course of this year, but failed to put some of them into the appropriate previous summaries- blogs detailing the highlights of my year, three months at a time. Hence I will slam them in here- the third 2009 summary. They even get their own ‘special’ section…

1) Meeting Danny Dyer

Danny Dyer drops the heavy end of the sledgehammer on the mat. ‘Fackin’ ‘ell,’ he breathes, and sweat sprays from his lips.

‘Come on Danny,’ screams the instructor. ‘Keep it going! Dig deep!’

Dyer, star of Human Traffic, The Football Factory and The Business, is put through his paces at Quannum Fitness, Saddleworth. But he isn’t just here to work out. He’s presenting Britain’s Deadliest Men, a daring TV series for Bravo. Tonight’s subject: The Butlin brothers, my Mixed Martial Arts instructors.

Dyer picks up the sledgehammer again, wincing through exhaustion, and slams it onto the lip of the tyre. And again. The thuds reverberate around the brick walls of the gym as the camera crew capture the graft.

Around him, gym members are working through an intense circuit. On one station a man steps up and down from the floor to a bench, working the legs and cardio. Next to him a fighter does press-ups. Another does sit-ups. When the buzzer goes for the last time, we are all drained. Some of us have fights coming up and conditioning of this intensity is essential for them. For the rest of us, it can only do us good.
After training we are all properly introduced to Mr. Dyer and Ian Butlin mentions my blog. I hand Dyer my blog card and he says he’ll check it out. (I’d also given one to the director at the start of the class; Ian pulled up ‘Most Embarrassing Moment’ on screen and had the guy reading it in the reception area.)

I had a cameo in the show when it aired on Bravo, apparently.

2) Image Risk

Here’s the deal. I was 26, intelligent, articulate, and reasonably popular. Most people who knew me knew this. They also knew that I had a memory disability. I’ve always found it better to disclose this information to people, rather than pretend the memory issue doesn’t exist. That way when I make a mistake, which could happen at any time and could have any number of unforeseen consequences, people can at least relate to some degree.

Hence, when The Oldham Chronicle wanted to interview me regarding my role in the council as a disabled employee, I accepted. It was a risk that I do not regret; however I am aware that people could typecast me. It might sound a bit arrogant but my eloquence masks my disability and people frequently assume the problem is smaller than it is- and sometimes they assume I’m making it up altogether. (It doesn’t help that I can remember massively long film quotes and the odd song lyric, but forget pretty much everything else.) But I got my picture alongside the article in the Chronicle, circulation 18,062.

3) The World’s Fastest Man

May in Manchester. It is freezing and has started to rain. Despite the typically crap weather, people cram the pavements of Deansgate on either side, some climbing into the alcoves of second-floor windows. The road itself is mostly cordoned off and the ground has been covered with a special running-track material. Athletes from around the world, wearing next to nothing, are limbering up for the Bupa Great
CityGames 150-metre sprint.

It was warm when I set off so I didn’t bring a coat. I buy a bright blue plastic poncho from a man but it’s too late and I recognise the sharp pain in my throat as the oncoming of tonsillitis. I put the thought to one side, not thinking about the prescription pills I’ll be popping and the time I’ll need off work. Other, more engaging things have my attention.

The high pitched crack of the starting pistol ricochets off the walls of the Deansgate shops and is channelled past all of the people on the street. The athletes burst out of the blocks, but a second crack is heard and they saunter to a halt. This is one of many false starts. The women, mostly black, are ripped- all have defined six-packs, wiry arms and solid, powerful thighs. They constantly shake themselves off to keep the lactic acid flowing as they return to the starting blocks.

Amidst all the umbrellas- the street looking like a product-endorsed version of the scene from Foreign Correspondent - very little can be seen of the track or the athletes, especially if you’re a short-arse like me. But somebody- perhaps the BBC who may be or may not have been televising the event- has provided an immense LCD screen high above the street, stretching from one side to the other.
It is through this screen that I see British runner Marlon Devonish represent his country (he got his arse kicked) and more memorably watch the World’s Fastest Man, Usain Bolt, as he ‘clocked 14.35 seconds - smashing the previous world's best by 0.40secs’ in the men’s 150m sprint. (

After this, I do the most obvious thing: go home, neck painkillers and go to bed.


1) Publication

I’ve done a lot of first drafts and not much polishing off (so to speak) recently, however new publication Gemini ( published my Sci-Fi flash The Machines, a story I’m quite proud of.

Some weeks later, I wrote a letter to the Oldham Chronicle. It regarded an investigation into Oldham’s nightlife made by the BBC’s Panorama programme. Panorama’s aim seemed to be to demonise Oldham and paint it to be a town full of alcoholic psychopaths and rapists. There is a lot of truth in the claim, but what really pissed me off was that the programme laid all the blame on the bars. Nobody seemed to be using any basic logic or common sense when making the documentary. There was a perspective I needed to put across. I wrote in to say that PEOPLE, not alcohol, cause the problems, and if people’s attitudes improved, so would the town. What I didn’t include was that I expect it will be another thirty years before Oldham enters the twenty-first century and people start acting like adults and show respect for each other. And even that’s if the problems are addressed and people are educated as of NOW.

Phew. Did I mention that I consider Oldham to be a shit town?

2) My High-Profile Reader

Hello, Hywel Teague, editor of Fighters Only magazine (UK).

3) BBC

Following up an advert in the Northern Film Network Email circular, I managed to get a place on an open day at the Manchester offices of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The event was for people interested in the position of Trainee Broadcast Journalist. Putting aside the nagging feeling that I was biting off a chunk eight times bigger than my own mouth, I booked a day off work and went down to the BBC reception on Oxford Rd, signed in and slapped on the name badge.

Two of last year’s successful applicants delivered an overview of the traineeship, details of their experience and their advice. The general message? You have as much chance getting a job with the BBC as you have winning the national lottery and meeting the unicorn from the advert. But if you can get in, it’s ‘very rewarding’.

Northwest Tonight presenter Gordon Burns gave the next speech. He told us that, as a young lad, he’d been to his local paper to get a job. The editor told him to go to college. He did college. He went back to the editor. The editor told him to get a degree. He put his foot down and said no: the three years he would have spent at university would be more worthwhile as three years experience on a paper. Hence, the editor hired him.

That kind of foresight and knowledge and balls seems to be the requirement of employees in media- something that university, I can say from experience, fails to instil.

But that’s another blog altogether.

While on this paper Mr. Burns saw a job advertised at the BBC in the sports department. He requested the application and when it arrived, as he described, he went out and got drunk. On returning he slammed it straight into the typewriter and hammered it out. He then stuck it in an envelope, went out and posted it, then went to bed.

On waking, he realised what he’d done and assumed he’d flushed a prime opportunity down the toilet. He forgot about it.

A month later, he got a phone call inviting him to an interview. He claims this was just because the heads wanted to see ‘what he looked like’.

The interview was going badly, with only two of the three panel members speaking. The third kept his head down until the subject of football arose, at which time Mr. Burns and the third panel member started having their own massive conversation. It turned out that the guy was familiar with an amateur-made football newspaper- that Mr. Burns himself had made and sold. Hence, the guy was aware of his skill, and Mr. Gordon Burns has had a successful career at the BBC ever since.

I will need slightly more luck than that, as my BBC application is currently inaccessible- I got half way through, my computer crashed and now it won’t open again. I can’t even start afresh because of the details that I’ve already submitted. I asked the BBC, but they haven’t got back to me. I’m now wondering, if I found the application form alone mind-bendingly problematic, would I even float for a second in the turbulent waters of BBC journalism?

4) To conclude

Hmm. How to round this off. How to end on a positive note…

There are a thousand things I could say to sum up my current situation, but they all warrant blogs themselves. I’ve got a good set of mates, a secure job (albeit financially insufficient) and a loving family. The plan? Find a job I love that I could actually live off, sort out this ridiculous memory of mine, move out of this Goddamn house, find a decent woman and make a name for myself through my writing.

I gotta go. Shit to do.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Publication: How Not to Win a Writing Competition

Wrirter’s Bloc is a website featuring writing... about writing.

Here’s my article on a six-word memoir competition. Have a go at the quiz! (Just don’t scroll down too far- the answers are at the bottom.)