Monday, 31 May 2010

April Ridiculousness

“Tell me I've lived a good life. Tell me I'm a good man.”
-Private Ryan (Matt Damon), Saving Private Ryan

Napoleon Complex kicked in big-time in April. I'd spent most of March writing constantly like a maniac- and I hadn't done much working out. I hadn't done much of anything else either, wanting to knuckle down and hammer out some serious wordage. But writing is mostly a solo affair- it's just you and your pen / keyboard, scratching around in the caverns of your mind trying to compose something, hoping that somebody will give a fuck and read it once you've finished it. It's no wonder so few people choose to do it.

When April came, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I drank an array of different whiskies- Glen Farclas, Talisker, Johnnie Walker Black Label- and also some Wild Turkey Bourbon. I felt better for it as I watched An American Werewolf in London (impressive DVD extras include behind-the-scenes footage of the puppeteering performed during the main transformation scene. It's a cinema moment that I doubt anyone will forget).

I also watched the twisted brilliance that is Meet the Feebles. Before Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson created this depraved and formerly banned tale of a cheating hippo going on a violent rampage, a rabbit with AIDS, a shady, duplicitous walrus and a journalist fly that loves to dish the dirt- in more ways than one. A hilarious outing. Check it out.

As I mentioned- I wanted to work out. Loads. I still do, and I find that writing and gym seem to clash a lot- I'm always thinking about how far behind I'm getting on one whenever I do the other. So after March's lit-frenzy, I've been to the gym a few times. I've been working out since I was seventeen, in one form or another, be it weights, boxing, Muay Thai or Mixed Martial Arts. I'm 173cm tall (that's something like 5'8 for those still catching up with the 1980s), which no-doubt spurs me to build muscle to compensate. Besides, if you ever watched Gladiators on ITV, how could you not want to grow up like one of them? I'm keen to catch up- and tone up- to what I was, after sitting still for so long.

Another reason for hitting the weights- I'm booking a lads' holiday soon. Obviously, I want to look my best in the sun. I keep meaning to go away with mates, but things keep getting in the way... It's being booked imminently, though. So I have until the end of July to get ripped out. Tuna sandwich for lunch, then.

Here's a third reason for going to the gym- I twisted my knee at the start of the month in a ridiculous wrestling match at my mate's house. Typical, isn't it? Two years of grappling training and I fuck myself up throwing an amateur around. I tried a knee support for a couple of weeks- a tubular bandage that helped me to straighten my leg. I wore it that much that the quadrilateral muscle on top of the thigh, used to extend the lower leg, started to diminish. So the quad machine is getting hammered every time I hit the gym between now and the holiday.

When I'm not writing, learning how to kill people with my bare hands, cruising Greater Manchester for MILFs, watching crazy Australian films or sat at this desk writing, I like to read. Believe it or not. In December I started reading Don DeLillo's epic Underworld.

On the surface, it's about a group of people who are all connected by one baseball- the ball hit by Bobby Thompson of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. This instance- a factual event- became known as “The Shot Heard Around the World.” In the novel, various people come into contact with the ball, and we see segments of their lives in an almost vignette fashion as the ball moves from person to person. The book spans four decades, ending some time in the 90s. It takes in the Cuban missile crisis, dissects consumerism (one character is a waste management executive and sees everything as trash while it sits on the shelf) and even has Lenny Bruce himself doing stand-up. What more could you ask for? It's a textbook example of fine descriptions and realistic, engaging dialogue- the kind of writing you feel compelled to read out loud and impress on others. And I found it for four quid in Oxfam! Winner!

So anyway- in April I finally finished the novel, after reading it in sporadic bursts from December onwards. I then dived straight into The Nature of the Beast by Janni Howker. Does anyone remember reading this in third year in English? A quality piece of teenage fiction that has stood the test of time. Kind of.

As I'm thoroughly bored of going around the same circles with street-fighting, pint swilling women (I'm digging a hole here- they are probably reading this) I decided to make a few lifestyle alterations recently. In 2006 I joined a salsa class at what was Che bar in Manchester. It was overcrowded and there were always too many men, so I slung it. Four years later, I decided to give it another shot. Che bar is now Parrot Bar, and as it doubtlessly no longer has any South American connotations they are unlikely to be running classes. I scouted out a few other groups.

First up- Copacabana, a bar in Manchester's Northern Quarter. I wasn't too impressed with the class- once again, it was overcrowded and male-heavy. They also taught us to step out-of time to the music, which I think most dancers will agree, is pointless.

A quick peruse online led me to Salsology, a dance class near to Copacabana. Miles better. Students get separate tuition for their first lesson, to learn the basic steps and get them up to speed. Then you get to dance with the opposite sex- and there's usually an even number. Occasionally there's not been enough women, but sometimes it's the other way around. In fact, Salsology is a pretty good place to go for older women. Okay, okay. That's what I go there for. Happy now?!

Another reason I go there: In salsa, the man needs to take control of the woman. He needs to guide her to move in certain dirctions. If the man doesn't lead, the dance falls apart. When learning salsa, there's two mistakes that dancers make. Men can be hesitant, and can mess it up by expecting the woman to move without his guidance, and women can go wrong by taking control away from the leader (man), by moving without his encouragement. Sociologists could have a field day at a Salsa class. Admittedly, I'm doing it to man-up.

After the class, we usually head to Copacabana for drinks. There's no place like this Latin bar at night- the wooden décor gives a beach-hut feel, and most of the customers seem to be Latin-American. The music, I'd describe as contemporary Latin- slightly influenced by rap and R'n'B, but played with a lot of the traditional instruments like the guitar.

I can't remember whether the music is played through automatically from a sound system somewhere, or whether there's an actual DJ. A DJ booth isn't something you'd really notice. The reason for this is possibly that it's packed from about 9:30pm onwards, and everybody is there to dance. Nobody goes to get pissed. That's really separates Copacabana from the crowd of other city bars- you're not going to get chatted up in Copacabana. You're going to be offered onto the dance floor. Don't worry if you don't know what you're doing and you've never had a salsa lesson in your life- the place is way too laid back for anyone to care about mistakes.

I'm keen to check this place out on a Saturday- I'll let you know what happens.

Before I go to the class I make sure I stock up on the finest American BBQ food in town. SouthernEleven opened in the Food Court on 29th March, and for the first few weeks they were giving away free samples to passers-by. I passed by. I was hooked. So far I've munched through tender pulled pork, chicken thighs, smoked brisket sandwich (twice), an avalanche of fries and a tsunami of BBQ beans. They also have a selection of tasty sauces characteristic of the Deep South. It seems to be a standalone venue, so people in the rest of the world will have to do without. For the moment. So unless you frequent the awesomeness of Manchester city centre, you're missing out big time.

In another attempt to break the mould, I eschewed the weekend bar crawls in favour of a speed-dating event. The night was held in Manchester's Circle Club, a very upmarket joint in a secluded area of the city.

I expected it to be two rows of seats facing each other- men on one side, women on the other, with a whistle being blown every two minutes and one gender moving down the seats, “dating” us one man at a time. This is your traditional speed-dating format, but Circle went for a “lock and key” event. I stepped into the club and was given a key on a lanyard, as were the rest of the men. Women were given a padlock on theirs. As an ice-breaking device, we were to find a matching pair, thus unlocking the padlock. You can imagine the innuendo this encourages. “It's too big. It won't fit... well, it goes in but it won't move... maybe next time hey?... Wow, I sure am opening a lot of locks tonight!”

A successful unlocking allows you to go to the event organiser (who happened to be the hottest woman in the building), and we each receive a raffle ticket. At the end of the night, the raffle is drawn and prizes are won- including a box of quality street, if memory serves me correctly. The winner that night decided to share them all out. Bravo. After all, we didn't really go there to win a competition, did we?

You're going to ask how well I did, aren't you? Go on, ask me if anything happened.

Well. I dished out the banter. I did my god-damn best. And I gave my number out to a few girls. I can't describe a speed-dating event without pointing out my own weaknesses here, but I stopped short of asking for numbers. I shouldn't have. Nobody rang. There's a certain comfort zone that giving my number exists inside. Asking for someone else's is outside it. Gotta stretch out of that comfort zone.

Let's end on a high note.

This week saw the launch of Shadows, the new book by the Oldham Writing Café. The Café is a group of writers who meet in Oldham. I'm a member. In the meetings, we read out work, give out feedback and share info on upcoming literature events and competitions. There's usually a writing exercise, where we each produce a short burst of text in a limited time. You'll notice some of them on here. The book launched at Gallery Oldham on Thursday, where we read out segments of the book to an audience (of mostly very old women).

The book, a series of short stories by each writer in the group, was published just as I joined. So none of my work is in there. But I read out a section of a story written by a group member who had since passed away. The section I read was about a nurse preparing to meet her extra-marital lover. Her husband knows she's playing the field, but he doesn't confront her. Instead, he watches her as she chooses out her best lingerie and puts it on. I thought the old biddies in the front row were going to have a heart attack.

I also met the Mayor and local rap group Double A. A good day all in all.

And that's April. Am I living a good life?

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Coronation Street Screenwriter Mark Lwellyn

People don't want to pay 8 or 9 dollars to go see a problem that they have in their life, on screen. They pay to get away from that. That's why they watch soap operas.
-Omar Epps, American Actor

15th April 2010- ITV's flagship show, Coronation Street, is fifty years old today. To Mark this, “Corrie” screenwriter Mark Lwellyn is giving a talk at Gallery Oldham for the event “Script to Screen”. Out of curiosity I'm there, surrounded by mostly middle-aged women. In all honesty, I hate the soap opera format. I think real life is usually dull enough, without sanitising it for a pre-watershed audience, but hey- ten million viewers clearly don't agree. Mr. Lwellyn dishes out many nuggets of information that impress even a hardened soap-opera-opposer like myself...

Coronation Street is made by production company Granada Television. The founders of Granada named it after their favourite holiday destination, the Spanish province of Granada.

They decided to shoot the programme in Manchester because it rains a lot up here in the north. That would justify lots of cost-cutting indoor film shoots. Shooting indoors is also easier.

Not long into the talk, two teenage girls leave the room. “Eastenders fans,” quips Mr. Lwellyn.

Coronation Street was originally going to be called Florazel Street. Nobody liked this name, so the staff were asked to choose between Coronation Street and Jubilee Street. Jubilee got the majority, but somebody sent the wrong result to the heads. And the rest is history, as they say.

Corrie's theme tune, which I once saw quite accurrately described as a “mournful dirge” in one TV magazine, is called “Capri”. The composer named it so while writing the tune on holiday in Capri. (it sounds like everyone has great holidays at Granada, although it seems like everyone works through them anyway). He was given a one-off payment of £6.

Regular viewers will notice that characters always die between September and Christmas. That's because the actors' contracts are renewed around this time of year. If they don't continue their contract for whatever reason, the character has to go too...

The first Coronation Street screenwriter was paid £30 a week. Today, writers may get a script for half a show and they could be asked to finish it off.

The show's purchaseable memorabilia included a jigsaw of the show. Mr. Lwellyn holds up the box- it looks about 30 years old.

On some of the sets, the bricks are from my home town of Oldham. On the actual street, the cobbles are fake. Producers are planning to get rid of the actual street and replace it with real bricks- a lot of viewers have HDTV, which would show up the falseness!

Aside from the sets, the show is sometimes filmed in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Prestwich and Didsbury.

After Fred Elliot's death, there was a scene in which his family scattered his ashes. The production crew used Shake-n-Vac.

This week is Annual Coronation Street Week in Toronto. The show is massive in Canada; there are also big audience figures in Dubai, Australia and New Zealand. Kiwis love the show so much that they nearly ousted a Prime Minister when he had Coronation Street's slot moved to the middle of the night.

Coronation Street is a show about working-class people. There isn't much glamour in the programme. Likewise, the lifestyles for the actors aren't on a par with Hollywood either- in fact, they seem quite the opposite. Actors get a script for each episode. Mr. Lwellyn holds up a script. It looks about sixty pages long. The cast shoot six days a week on set. On the seventh day, they learn their lines. Actors are allowed to go on holiday, but they can't get a sun tan unless their character has gone somewhere warm as well. On the subject of continuity, full books exist on each character detailing everything they have done. Regular viewers will pounce on any mistakes that the writers make.

Elizibeth Dawn, who played Vera Duckworth, never learned her lines. She kept her script pages hidden in saucepans during the kitchen scenes.

Bill Waddington (playing Percy Sugden) had complicated words written into his cap. When he needed to check his lines, he'd appear very solemn and take his cap off, looking down into it. In some episodes, those shot on hot days, you could see that the ink had leaked and the print showed backwards on his bald head.

I catch up with Mr. Lwellyn after the talk and I mention I'm working on a few scripts. I ask him for advice for budding writers and he suggests checking out the BBC Writer's Room ( He also suggests visiting local actors groups- Oldham Lyceum could be a good start, he says. ( These groups might be able to act it out on stage so I could see what my script looks and sounds like. Oldham Colesium may also advise me (

All in all it was a fascinating talk. I've got an interest in all things media-related, so I enjoyed it. I'm still not going to watch the show though, or any other soap. No matter how much the rain keeps me indoors.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Freed Up at the Green Room

Thursday, May 20th.

I pick some pineapple of the fruit platter at the entrance of The Green Room, a bar on Manchester's Witworth Street. Tonight's event is Freed Up, a night for new and established poets. Barry White plays through the speakers, reverberating off the bare brick walls; the bar is built into the arch of a railway viaduct.

Compare Dominic Berry starts the night by breathing heavily into the microphone. The crowd hushes to watch him. He's playing a fox being hunted by a pack of dogs- his opening poem graphically describes a kill in this “sport”. After the recital he warns us that the ban on fox hunting could be overturned by the new coalition government. He suggests we fight it. I think he's right to.

On a lighter note, he tells us, it's Freed Up's 4th birthday! Tonight's poetry theme is “Adventure”. Each poet is given 4 minutes to perform their piece.

Poems of the night include subjects such as a naked freefall skydive and eating a whole cucumber. (Two different poems by two different poets.) One of the most contemporary poems is written completely as Facebook statuses from a group of people sat on Everest's summit, updating their pages while getting hammered off cheap booze. Quite bizarre and pretty funny too.

Next month's event is Thursday, 17th June. The theme, if you fancy performing, will be “The Dark”. So get writing.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

England's World Cup "Chances"

“Wit in the face of adversity! Good! You've learned something from the English...”
-Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier), Sleuth, 1972

Sorry to piss on everyone's chips here, but I just wanted to throw a little realism into the swelling patriotism that England is feeling. The FIFA World Cup is 17 days away. The flags are flying. (Nobody's really offended by this, by the way, but that's a side thought. Unless, of course, they are very strange. It's just a flag.) Most of us are looking forward to the England games. Even I am, even though I'm not remotely interested in football. Most of us are thinking maybe, just maybe, this will be our year- the year the England squad lifts the World Cup trophy.

But it won't be. Look at the facts.

'06- Portugal beats England on penalties at the quarter finals. Italy wins the tournament.

'02- Brazil beats England on penalties at the quarter finals. They win the tournament.

'98- Argentina beats England in the knockout stage.

I could go on. Portugal, Brazil and Argentina “were once part of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires”. (Rangel, Carlos (1977). The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship with the United States. ) Now check this out. In Portugal, they have the Waltz and the Fandango. In Brazil, Samba. In Argentina, Tango. Salsa is popular throughout Latin America, Spain, Portugal, France, Eastern Europe and Italy.

What does England do? Morris dancing and country dancing. How many of us do this? I'll guess at none under 50 years old for the former, and none over 10 for the latter. I can find no evidence that dancing is even on the British National Curriculum any more.

England has a squad of clumsy, diving accident-prone luddites. English footballers- from the FIFA England squad to your local five-a-side- have never changed their ways, never honed their footwork beyond what they have been used to in England. And they won't. Because the aforementioned countries have dance engrained in their culture, because people of these nationalities grow up seeing and experiencing dance, they seem to have a practical understanding of footwork and balance- and it appears to cross over to the football pitch.

I heard a news reporter mention something similar to this theory on TV after the 2002 World Cup. He mentioned it was possible that the England squad might look into what makes Brazilian football so skillful, and try to take on some of their techniques. I didn't see it reported again. In 2006 England lost, again, to a salsa-dancing country.

Given this theory, it seems amazing that England even won a World Cup in the first place. 1966 must have been an off year for the Latin nations. Maybe 2010 will be too, but I'm not holding my breath. I'm preparing for a quarter-final defeat to a country more graceful than our own.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Poetry Pillow

Friday, May 7th saw Manchester's “Poetry Pillow”- an open-mic night at An Outlet, a cafe deli on Dale St. in the Northern Quarter. Compares Dominic Berry and Steve O' Connor (both wearing pyjamas including Spiderman boxers) explained the running of events: each poet has three minutes to perform their poem. After all the poets (around seven in total) have read their poems, Dominic and Steve will run through the names (one each alternately, a good quirky touch) to remind us all- then we cast our vote on the best poem of the night.

Many people had typed up their poems ready for reading out- certainly a technique I'd use if I was performing- although some poets had memorised their pieces.

Hats off to winner Oz- her poem about her nose was light-hearted and well received. Dominic held open the “Pillow of Wonder”, from which Oz was awarded a wind-up minature space hopper and a DVD.

The next Poetry Pillow will be Friday, 4th June, 7:30, at the same venue.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


Here's a poem / writing exercise from a recent writer's group. The poem was to be written on the theme of “obsession”. The stanzas were to have a series of end-words- we were to rhyme them. They were:





In the timed exercise, here's what I came up with.

Wild Turkey Bourbon the name of my vice,
I drink it straight, no need for ice.
No mixer either, that would be bad,
neither coke nor lemonade must you add.

Diluting will only make you drink faster,
at Fifty percent, that would just spell disaster.
It commands respect, and this isn't a race,
so get drunk responsibly at a sensible pace.

You've worked all week, now time for play,
So pour out a shot, let it take you away.
Soon the logic will evacuate brain
til only ridiculous drunkenness remains.

The bottle and glass all you need to bring
and paper towels, in case of spilling.
Your mind the only thing you're likely to lose,
I need one more line- where is my muse?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Bartholemew's Bedroom

Writing exercise from a recent writer's group meeting: Describe a character. Then describe his bedroom, allowing the reader to see more of the character without him being present in the scene.

Bart is 22. He's a graduate, scraping around for work. He's intelligent, but he's angry at all that is around him. He lifts weights and runs a lot. He's lost a lot of jobs due to his temper.

The room is messy, his bed unmade. Next to his Hi-Fi, rap and rock CDs are piled up against the walls from the floor. There is another pile, DVDs, and the spines show mostly action movie titles from the 80's, like Aliens and Predator. On top of his DVD player, an open DVD case for Falling Down is propped up. A few books are scattered around- a sci-fi anthology sits on a shelf, next to a book about the 1972 Olympic massacre. An ab-roller sits in the corner of the room, along with some hand-weights and a weight bar.

The floor has not been hoovered in a long time. Maybe never.

The clutter is organised, though, not unkempt, just overcrowded, like he would need a whole house to comfortably store what he's fitted in the room.

Bill sheets are pinned to a cork board on the wall. Sky News plays on a small TV with the sound down, and Dr. Dre plays through the stereo.

His cupboard door is open- the contents of the small wardrobe are so crammed that the door won't close any more, and the suits' shoulder pads are crushing against each other, forced against the jeans and shirts.

I'd have written more on this- describing the walls of the sixties-built house, the irregular shape of the room caused by the chimney shaft, the way the wallpaper hasn't been changed in a long time and the edges are falling away from the wall. In some places the wallpaper has been picked at or drawn on with a biro. Maybe Bart did this. Maybe it was a previous inhabitant. I'd have described way the worn carpet matched the walls- not by colour, but by giving a hint of outdatedness, and how these elements contrasted with the modern Ikea furnishings- the cereal bowl that should have been washed up before the remnants dried on hard.

I'd be interested to know what you think of this character. Comments, as always, are welcome...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

March Madness

"It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
-Theodore Roosevelt

Wise words, Teddy. You make me feel kind of better about myself- that no matter how many monumental fuckups I can create, no matter how many times I can make a total spoon out of myself, at least I was trying to do the right thing. I was making an effort. Unfortunately, despite this, March has been a very weird and broken month.

The first fracture occurred outside a house music club called Venus. The club, on Blackfriars Rd in Manchester, is seemingly the same outfit that ran a night called 'Venus' in Club V, another club in Manchester, some months ago. When I turned up, my friends were already inside. I had driven down sober. I was dressed in All Saints, which isn't cheap and isn't chavvy- generally not a brand any club would have a problem with- and I had a fair wad of money in my pocket. However, the doormen wouldn't let me in because he “didn't recognise me.” What the fuck. A friend, one of a group of girls I was meeting, was already inside. She tried to have a word with this ridiculous doorman, but no. He was being an arsehole. I even showed him my members card for Club V, which would surely hint that I'd been to this “night” before. But as it's a different club, he brushed it off. So I'd like to give a big proverbial FUCK YOU to the organisers of Venus. There are other, far superior house music clubs in the city- and that's where I'd rather be.

The fracture turned into a gaping fissure not long after this, when I went on an internet date. I was going to meet a girl who had added me on Facebook. She looked pretty fit in her pictures, but unfortunately Facebook can be deceiving. When she turned up with her friend, four hours late and both utterly steaming, I realised she was also ridiculously fat. I stayed for one drink and then told her I had “shit to do.” I then went to get the night bus back to Oldham. But my evening was to get weirder still...

The sign in the bus station told me that my bus now ran from a stop a few streets down. So I trekked to the appropriate stop, only to find that there was no indication that there was a bus leaving any time soon- in fact the next bus was due at about 6am...

Two girls and another guy were waiting for the same bus. We chipped in for a taxi, assuming that the bus wasn't running after all, as we were all heading the same way. I got a phone number off one of the girls, who was fit, and everything looked to be working out- until the guy decided to rip us off and flee the taxi. He would have a monumental bounty on his head if I could remember what he looked like.

A week later, I decided to break the mould and try speed dating. Picture a line of men facing a line of women, on two rows of facing chairs. You get two minutes with each member of the opposite sex. To talk to them, I mean. Well. That's the theory. I found out about the event online, and booked on. When I arrived a week later, the building was closed. I emailed the organisers, and they said an email had gone out explaining that the event had been cancelled through lack of interest. I checked my inbox and junk- I'd definitely not got it. Fucking hell. How hard can it be?

Then I had an idea. In 2006 I attended a salsa class in Che Bar in Manchester. It was pretty good fun, but it got too crowded and there were too many men. Undeniably, I went to meet women, but Salsa is a dance for a man and a woman. So if there aren't enough women, you've got to wait your turn. Also, I was working in the city at the time. When I moved jobs, it wasn't as easy to keep up. But recently I figured it could be good to get back into it- just to do something different. And undeniably, to meet people. So I Googled a few clubs. Copacabana was the first that I visited- this was similarly cramped, the instructor didn't teach in time to the music, which is confusing, and, still, there were too many men.

Next club in line- Salsology, on Oldham Street. Much better. Male/female ratio is slightly more even, the teaching is more specific, there's more space on the floor and beginners get one-to-one tuition to get up to speed. They use a range of music with various tempos, so you can pick things up slowly. And if the music leaves you behind, it's no big deal. You pick it up over time. The group normally go for drinks afterwards, ironically... at Copacabana. I'll keep you posted on developments, if you know what I mean.

Aside from doing the above, the majority of March was spent writing my arse off. As in, writing a lot. Not smashing myself to a pulp and selling myself for scrap. That would never happen. But for now, I need to wipe off this dust and sweat and blood and get off. I might stumble a lot, but coldness and timidity are not on the agenda, Teddy.

Saturday, 15 May 2010


If you write fiction, you're by yourself. There are certain advantages to that in that you don't have to explain anything to anybody. But when you get in with others who share the loneliness of the whole enterprise, you're not lonely any more.
-Denis Johnson, novelist

In the month of March, I attempted to put myself under heinous pressure and write at every possible second of the day. The intention was to revive the kind of atmosphere I was working in at the end of the third year of my degree. At that time, I had worked until I puked. It had got to the stage where a moment of slacking off was another increase in the possibility of failing the course. Various lecturers were cracking the whip, my nerves were frayed and the end was looming. I was in a state. But somehow I managed to get it all in- just about- and once it was over, the pressure eased and my head cleared. It was like drinking too much and spending days knowing that you're going to spew. When you finally do, it's horrible. But afterwards, when your stomach's empty and your eyes are watering, you feel levelled out, like you've sailed back into a calm coastline estuary after a hellish boat ride through a disturbed sea.

That's how I should feel right now- It's April 2nd, I've written nearly every day in March, I've hammered out some serious wordage and I've battered the review websites- places online where writers can share feedback. I've visited two writers' groups who have given me ideas for more stories and have given me advice an various elements of writing. But now the month is over, and I've had a day off, I don't really feel that relieved. There's a few reasons.

1)I am not a hermit. I have a life, and I have loads going on in it. In order to write that much and that often, I'd have to give up my social life completely- and I neither have the willpower nor the desire to do that. I couldn't do it at uni and I can't do it now.

2)When I write, I am the master and the slave. Like all amateurs, I only work as hard as I make myself work. At uni, on the other hand, I had a set deadline- that had already been extended. Lecturers were pestering me daily for overdue work. I grafted or risked failing the course. It's hard instilling that pressure on your own.

3)I have a job as well. Let's not forget that. It's part time, meaning plenty of time to write, but obviously the hours I do work mean I'm not writing. The job comes first, too, meaning I can't stay up 'til stupid o'clock writing, and then drag may arse out of bed and roll into the office. If I'm tired, it's pretty obvious to anyone nearby- I yawn incessantly and forget twice as much as usual, which is already a lot. Having said that, I was on leave most of the month. So I have written a lot. However...

4)I don't have much to show for the work I've done. I've completed first drafts for maybe seven pieces this month. I only upload second drafts to Facebook and, normally. I use feedback to make adjustments. I've spent hours and hours on review websites for writers, firing out advice for others and occasionally getting reviews in return. is my regular site, and I've garnered a stupidly high amount of credits for the reviews I've given. Normally, the more reviews you give, the more credits you get and the more reviews you receive to spend the credits on. Over the last few months- particularly in March- I've only received a few reviews in return for the work. I've also requested refunds on a lot of reviews that weren't helpful. I've tried a few other similar writing sites, but I didn't think they were as easy to use. Also, a lot of writers on other sites weren't as talented as those on Urbis- in terms of their own writing and their ability to dish out constructive criticism. So for the moment, I'll have to be patient. And so will the legions of my avid blog readers.


On the whole, it's hard to push yourself to a crazy level of stress. One part of your brain, I'm guessing, is reflexive. It knows there isn't the justification for the graft, and stops the other part that just wants to push and push.

I fancy a short break from writing, although not for long. A few days to clear my head would be nice. I'll get to the gym a bit more. I've got a pile of DVDs waiting to be watched. I'll get out and do things and meet people like normal human beings do... then I'll wait for the itch to write again.

Friday, 14 May 2010

I Need a Blog Picture

“Remember: power is a state of mind. You have as much as you think you have. If you don't think you have any, you don't.”
- Motivational tape, The Assassination of Richard Nixon

I've just been browsing through some blogs by a few friends- some local, some from around the globe, most of whom I've never met in real life. We writers we meet online and help each other out when we can. And if that's not a form of friendship, I don't know what is.

Okay, I'll let you dry your eyes now.

Most people have interesting pictures on their blogs that brighten their page and reflect the content of their blog. I need a picture like this. The title of my blog is in clear white block caps at the top of the page:


It's mostly an E-diary, filled with all the maniacal and depraved things I do in life. It also has some political criticism and links to my published stories and poems. Want me to get booted out of a girl's house by her mum? It's in here. Want me to get touched-up by a Z-list celebrity dog? Done. Want to know why we have dreams? Read on.

I'd rather not have a picture of myself as a picture reflecting the content would be much more fun. And that's what this blog is all about. Fun. It covers serious issues, such as the lack of metrication in Britain compared to the rest of Europe- when the metric system itself was invented in Britain- and it explains what exactly has gone wrong with the higher educational system.

With regards to the writing style, my main influences are Bret Easton Ellis, Hunter S Thompson and Chuck Palahniuk, as well as magazines like Esquire and GQ.

If you can think of a particular picture that would suit the blog and be really impressive, please let me know: describe it or send me the link to it- if not the picture itself.

Check it out here:

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

I Annoyed Timmy Mallett

-Timmy Mallett

At some unspecified time at uni between 2002 and 2004 (the majority of it is a confused blur) I went to see Timmy Mallett's public appearance in Manchester Metropolitan University's Student Union on what was probably a Wednesday night. It could have been any night, really- we were out that often.

Those of you old enough to remember “Wackaday” - ITV's answer to summer holiday kid's programming- would also remember this TV icon and his oversized sponge hammer. He first burst onto our screens in 1985 and reigned ridiculous until 1992. Timmy would appear in his child-friendly, vibrantly painted TV studio sporting one of his garish shirts, some Donny-Osmond-style stonewashed jeans and an outrageous double-peaked baseball cap.

The show's highlight was “Mallett's Mallet”- a word association game. Contestants were given a word, to which they had to respond with a similar word. (The word “house” could be answered back with “building”, for example.) If the contestant couldn't think of an appropriate synonym, Timmy would bash the child on the head with his foam mallet (which was complete with it's own sinister grin and yellow wig). Each bashing came in time with a comedy sound effect.

This is the game that a lucky (?) few students got to play in the Union that night. Whenever a word escaped a contestant, the DJ would provide the squeaky horn noise on cue with the mallet-bashing.

After the game, Timmy sold off a collection of miniature cuddly-toy mallets and signed them all for the queueing students. My mates and I had randomly decided to dress as schoolboys. My white ASDA shirt was plastered in permanent marker abuse. “Lady-killer” was written on one pectoral, and one half of my back assured people that I had “a fanny”.

I got to the front of the queue and Timmy was sitting on the edge of the stage, open-handed. His bemused expression said, “where's your mallet?”

I pulled the fabric taut in front of my body. “Sign my shirt, dude!” I said.

He impatiently scrawled his autograph on my chest and drew a smiley-faced mallet underneath it. He might not have been happy, but I was.

I still have the shirt buried in one corner of my room.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Sculpture

A writing exercise: you have two minutes to write about a picture that I'm about to show you from my mobile phone. Are you ready?... Go.

The picture is of a sculpture of some kind- perhaps made of material that has been sewn together. I guess I could 'fabricate' a story out of it. Ho ho.

I suspect the sculptor may have sabotaged some outdated trousers to make the man-shaped figure- the material is adourned with diagonal lines, a chord-like surface that reverses direction on each adjacent body part.

He even has a walking stick, I think, as if he's hobbled himself into what I assume is the art gallery, and posed, still, for the array of tourists to gaze at him and contemplate, like I'm doing now.

All he needs is a little sewn-up dog on a lead, maybe a collie or something smaller. If the artist wanted to go all-out, he could even make the dog out of dog-hair. Art reflecting life, or whatever it is they say.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Vasquez's Blackpool Extravaganza

“And we can do this until we pass out...”
-Tinie Tempah, Pass Out

It seems impossible for me, now, to visit Blackpool without doing something highly illegal. It seems that drugs of some kind will find their way into the excursion arbitrarily. Someone will always bring something potent, and I'll indulge. Before I put whatever it is into my body, I'll think to myself, what's the point of not doing this? I'll feel more regret if I don't.

As a result of this indulgence, the weekend will be a weird one. These parties are usually spectacular. However, something crushing will occur at some point that forces me to question the point of my existence. Something will piss me off eventually, normally once alcohol has entered my system. The drugs don't really bother me that much. some people feel great once they are on coke. After a line, I normally feel like I've drank a gallon of Red Bull without getting bloated- instead I'm a hyped up, arrogant cock. And once I'm on it, there will always be something absurd to document later- without fail. But it won't make me feel particularly good. Eighteen hours on, the tip of my tongue is still numb after snorting two short lines of coke, lining my gums with the remnants and then manically trying to lick the powder off the back walls of my teeth.

Vasquez turned thirty this weekend. About twenty of us trekked to Blackpool to celebrate, including a guy I went to primary school with. I hadn't seen him since he left in about 1991. As nobody in this group uses my real name, Primary School Guy must have recognised me, presumably from when I was about eight. How the hell he did, I don't know. If there had been a Facebook event for the party he might have noticed my name in the 'attending' list- everyone remembers my real name- but there was no such information on Facebook. I guess I've just got one of those faces that never changes, even after two decades.

Vasquez had chosen a Mexican theme for the proceedings; Hudson had aquired a poncho, 'tache and pointed hat for me so I matched my latin-styled cohorts, all wearing the same brand of outfit. He had also aquired a vast quantity of Columbia's finest that he divvied out into a series of short, white lines. Once we were fully Mexican-ised, the fifty was handed around and, one by one, we picked a line and hammered it.

Hicks, Ferro and Apone had cross-dressed for the occasion. I had driven down with my seniorita passengers, whose outfits were complete with wigs, dresses, stockings and heels. Hicks had found what appeared to be a porn DVD in the glove compartment of my mum's car, mixed in with Simon and Garfunkel and the Bridget Jones Diary Soundtrack. I'd like to reassure the world that none of these discs were mine. How the porn got there, and how long it had been there, is beyond my knowledge.

What followed was only a blur- I can recall a karaoke bar just off the pier in which I did a duet of Robbie Williams' “Angels” with another Mexican that I'd only met that day. We drank lots of tequila, of course. Half of the shots were administered by a Mexican with a semi-transparent orange water-pistol, spraying it straight into the mouth of whoever was nearby. In the toilet I found Ferro who, as far as I was aware, hadn't done any coke but was on the way to being steaming.

I dug into the pocket of my jeans. “You want some poppers?” I held out the bottle of Pure Gold alkyl nitrate.

“You fucking gay bastard,” he said. Then, “Here y'are, give us that.”

He inhaled the bottle's fumes hard through each nostril. I did too, and walked back out to the bar, chest stuck out like I owned the place. And maybe I did.

Later, back at the hotel, we pigged out on chicken dippers and oven chips, devouring tray after tray of steaming food brought in by the hotel manager. More karaoke followed as we were eating. People were dropping out, disappearing into the night. Hordes of us had taken over the likes of Brannigans and Tower bar (the latter of which was also populated by painfully hot air stewardesses), but most had drifted off into the night. Some had driven back home.

We changed into jeans and t-shirts and prepared for the clubs. Still drunk and wired, with the floor shifting under my feet, things were getting worse. Apone was dishing out his trademark cynicism- the banter had now crossed into spite. He's a big, dangerous guy, and my patience with him was wearing thin. He was drunk too, and the more he drank the worse his tone became. His exact words are a blur, but there was no point arguing. I walked out of the room to calm down.

Where do I go from here,
I thought. He knows everyone in this group. I'm close to these people now. Ferro and Hicks went to school with him. If they had to choose between me or him, I'd be out in a flash. Do I address it? Does it have to come to this? Should I tolerate it? Am I just not getting the joke?

Within moments (and after another line) I was bundled into a taxi with Ferro and Hicks and Apone of all people, and I found myself in Walkabout, Underbar and finally Sanuk, a multi-roomed club on the Blackpool seafront. I recognised a few of Vasquez's friends who'd found their way there, but Vasquez himself was nowhere to be seen. He had a lot of guests to buy him birthday drinks. Maybe he just hit his limit.

I was stood sipping pineapple juice and trying to control my breathing when Ferro put his hand on my shoulder.

“What the fuck is that?” he asked, staring at my drink.

I quelled self-pity. “Dude,” I mumbled, “I just get a bad feeling every time...”

“You're with us,” he said. “Nothing's going to happen.”

“It's not just that,” I said. I'd joked about people wanting to batter me because I stare at them when I'm pissed. Not a total lie, but not the reason I don't like beink drunk. I paused. “I can't explain it.”

In one of Sanuk's rooms, both versions of Tinie Tempah's “Pass Out” played alternately between every other song to the point that his lyrics were just an urban, melodic mantra. I pulled some girl with an impressive cleavage in a prohibition-style gangster outfit, and she took me to the smoking area where her friends were dressed in the same theme. One of them asked me if I am of Asian origin, although not in those words.

I glanced down at my arms to check. “No,” I said. “No, I'm not.”

One of her team got a phone call. Their minibus had arrived. I swapped numbers with the girl that I pulled- it turned out she lives a few miles from me- and she mentioned something about sexual fantasies her possible bisexuality before kissing me and disappearing into the night.

The club connected to a takeaway selling burgers, chicken and pizza. I found my team in there, with Hicks laughing his arse of.

“I turned around and she was stood behind me,” he said. “I just looked at her and went, ewwww!”

“Hicks got lamped off some girl,” Ferro said.

“It was a fucking good shot as well,” he admitted, eyebrows high.


The next morning I awoke, ravenous, the tip of my tongue still numb from the coke, my teeth feeling like dentures: senseless, alien. A decision needed to be made, once I was level-headed. I was hoping that the giant fry-up would cancel out the booze and drugs, and I'd be cool to drive. Well... you're reading this...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Broken Scene in the Student Village

It's 2002.

I've made it back to the student halls, hungover, after a painful lecture. I want to go to bed. Right now. I got past the first door when someone opened it for me, but now I've got to swipe my pass at the second door- and the pass is in my pocket which is stuffed with keys and money and other crap weighing me down.

There's a growing queue of students behind me, waiting. I could let them swipe me through, but just to prove that I actually live here, I have to find this damned pass.

There are no guys in the queue at the moment, just girls, and they're pretty good-looking.

This is my chance to make a good first impression, I think.

I'm digging into the pocket forcefully, prising out my wallet like I'm a dentist extracting a tooth. It loosens slowly and breaks free, and my hand jerks up, still grasping the wallet. Unfortunately, the luminous yellow condom I'm carrying flies out with it, sailing past the eye-line of about eight hot women. It lands on the black tiled floor before us all. The girls look at the contraceptive- then back at me. They smirk collectively. The girl at the front shakes her head, swiping herself through.

I still just want to go to bed.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Dream of Snails and Purdah

“The year's at the spring / And day's at the morn; / Morning's at seven; / The hillside's dew-pearled; / The lark's on the wing; / The snail's on the thorn; / God's in his heaven - / All's right with the world!”
Robert Browning, Victorian poet.

I come home from work to find giant African land snails crawling all over the living room. I'm following their slime tracks, streaking across the wallpaper, intersecting like aeroplane vapour tails. When I find a snail, each as big as my outstretched hand, I pluck it off tentatively- it retreats instinctively to it's shell- and I set it down in the garden. My stomach flips as I evict them, one snail after another.

Later, I'm in work. My blog is getting me into trouble- I've mentioned my job during Purdah, a period when we cannot be seen to be promoting ourselves as an organisation. It constitutes a breach of employee behaviour, and now I'm securely up shit creek. So instead of staying for a disciplinary... I run. I run out of the town and into the country, down small back roads that split giant fields. Still in a suit with no tie, I'm roasting under the summer sun and sweat soaks my shirt in snail-track streaks.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hunger Writing

Automatic writing exercise.

My God. I am starving. The time for the writer's group was advertised wrong in the paper, so I turned up an hour early. I've not had tea yet. I was hoping someone would have brought some cookies or chocolate just to tide me over for a few more minutes. But no. My handwriting is deteriorating, my stomach is empty and my head is starting to pound.

In the middle of the table, there's a giant pile of Ian Rankin books, donated by one of the group members. Rankin is the dude with two names- he sticks an 'm' in his name whenever he writes SF, but does not for crime. I'll check these books out. Have a peruse. Then stick it on the “to read” pile in my house, on top of the James Ellroy, Carl Haissen and Stephen King.

Rankin is a Scottish writer. Another Scottish writer is Irvine Welsh. (Fluid transition, there. Amazing.) I met Irvine Welsh in, what, 2008 maybe? He was signing copies of his new book, Crime, in the back of Waterstones Deansgate. Welsh also read a funny segment of the book- involving a coked-up cop flirting with two old American women.

And then the timer went. I was going to say: I got a signed copy and a photo with him. Crime is good book but not for the faint of heart. Very different to Trainspotting and its sequel, Porno. Much more dour and very, very dark. I recommend all three.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Be A Fan!

There's nothing wrong with trying to reach out to new fans.
-Carrot Top

Power is a State of Mind is the “Flagship” blog by Oldham writer Matt Tuckey. It's a place where anyone can access accounts of his ridiculous escapades, read his opinions on life and find links to his published work.


The blog is making waves in the grand metropolises (metropoli?) of Oldham and Huddersfield, allegedly. And those waves are due to break on your shore... any time now.


Ever wondered why 98 sheep got thoroughly hammered off cheap beer while touring Saddleworth? Want to know which are the weirdest and most depraved bars in Manchester? Want a step-by-step guide to inducing a female orgasm? Can you guess which England footballer Matt had an 'altercation' with in 2003?

The answers are all here.


You'll also find opinions and views on films, politics and the world in general that you won't find anywhere else. Here at Power is a State of Mind, Matt takes a different slant on the burning issues. What did BBC's Panorama forget to mention when they filmed in Oldham? Why are there so many divorces in Britain? What did journalists forget to ask Jaqui Smith's husband after the porn debacle of 2009?

As with every other groundbreaking, absurdly amazing and universe-altering piece of literature (cough) Power is a State of Mind now also has its own Facebook presence- in particular a fan page. You can become a fan here:!/pages/Power-is-a-State-of-Mind/72024826811?ref=ts

I look forward to seeing you on the fan page. Matt does too, in a big way. And, of course, don't forget to check out the actual blog.

Thanks for reading,
Fluffy Oakes
Zooological Interspecies Consultant
Oldham Zoo