Thursday, 31 May 2018

Big Fear

Ismailia, Unknown Soldier War Memorial
A letter from my Grand-Uncle Dick about his time in the RAF, and how he blagged his brother- my granddad- into something which I guess was quite illegal. I used it for the basis of this poem.

Dear Jan and Christine,
I am writing this only once, so one of you is going to get a Xerox copy.

Did I ever tell you about Granville when we all met in Egypt in 1966 or 67, and Reg and I promoted Granville to Sergeant, much to our “WORRY” and Granville to “BIG FEAR.”

After Reg and Granville bumped into each other in Ismailia on the Suez Canal he had decided that he would come up again, a week or so later, to see Reg again, stay the weekend.

It was quite a way for Granville to come and after a few hours Granville decided to stay overnight and would get a bed in the airman's bunk. Reg said he would take him down there and get him fixed up.

Incidentally we were both Flight Sergeants, with single bunks and rooms in the Sargent's Mess. The Holiest of Holies to a ranker.

G said, "He'll feel a little uncomfortable there with a shower of airmen.”

Now, only two weeks previously we had both moved our beds into one room and made the empty room into a nice little lounge, with other chairs pinched from the Sgt's mess store room, radio and drinks cabinet. Nice and cosy!!

So I said, “Let Granville have my bed and I'll sleep on the floor in the lounge.”

G got some spare biscuits (mattresses) from a spare bunk so was reasonably OK. He even had my b___ sheets. The things I do for you lot at Winsford.

So the night passed off uneventfully, everyone slept well.

In the morning, another problem arose- BREAKFAST.

Once again Reg said that he would take him down to the airman's dining hall to get him a breakfast.

But once again Flt Sgt Taylor came to the rescue.

I had a South African Tunic, it was a better material than the RAF issue, and was khaki.

I said let Granville wear it and we'll take him into the mess for breakfast.

Granville said “Christ no I'm not doing that!”

Anyway, after a lot of persuasion “and briefing” he decided to risk it.

Don't worry; if we didn't think it possible we would never have attempted it.

We said to him, “Keep quiet. We'll do the talking.”

We had to take the crowns out of my jacket to bring him down to Sargent.

He was far too young to be a staff Sargent or Colonel Sargent in the army.

So in we went!!

We normally used to always sit at the same table just inside the door.

AND- ALWAYS the senior Warrant Officer in the mess used to join us for breakfast.

He used to say he liked joining us, because we were a happy jolly couple. He himself was a nice old chap. Warrant Officer Wigg.

So this time, with Granville in tow, we decided to get out of the way and go to a table at the far end of the dining room.

Granville was amazed at the waiter service with Fezs, egg, bacon, fried bread, mushrooms, the lot.

BUT, Reg and I were watching out for WO Wigg, when suddenly he walked past the window and entered the dining room, where he stopped DEAD.

Reg said, under his breath, “He's looking for us. Christ, he's seen us!”

Down the centre isle came Wiggy and stopped at our table and took a chair.

Good morning lads.”

We'd primed Granville to 'stand up and say “Good morning sir.”' We all did.

So we started breakfast when Wiggy said to Reg, “And whom have we here?”

Reg explained that he was his cousin from TeleKabir, near Cairo, and Winsford, and visiting for the weekend.

Oh, that's nice,” said Wiggy.

And then he suddenly said to Granville, “Well done Seargent, I see that you have the Africa Star medal, well done.”

Granville remained silent. I had qualified for it in my previous overseas tour in the Sudan Eritrea, 1939-42 against the Italians. It was sewn on.

So after a good breakfast Wiggy shook hands with Granville, perhaps thinking that he had earned it with Montie in the Western Desert earlier on.

After breakfast we all went back to our lounge and relaxed. OPERATION SUCCESSFUL. PHEW.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Undercover in the Officer's Mess

NaPoWriMo's Day 17 prompt suggests that we write a poem re-telling a family anecdote that has stuck with you over time.

My mum's Uncle Dick, greyed and portly,
welcoming us into his flat. Nine decades
of stories, anecdotes and experience.
Royal Air Force pension keeping him comfortable,
he hands me a cold glass of orange juice
and casts his mind back.
I realise, too late, I should be recording this.

Granville, my mum's dad, arrives at the RAF barracks,
war weary, the grit and oil of a hundred trucks washed from his skin,
The Cairo sand long gone from under his nails.
Some time in the 60s, out near the Suez Canal,
Granville is here to see his brother.
The familiar strangling Egyptian heat,
A world away from the mild and refreshing English sun.

Dick is an officer, a few decorations on his blazer,
quiet reminders of the roaring horrors of those six years.
His friends and colleagues are all his level,
The like-minded and fellow-afflicted.
A spare jacket is an easy procure, Granville's size.
His brother's disguise.

They enter the Officer's Mess, Granville quiet,
eyes roaming.
The war ends, he thinks, and only now do I go undercover.
Crackle of a snooker break towards the back,
a couple of pints being clinked together
in a thin layer of cigar smoke.

A door shuts. Eyes head to the sound,
a flock of salutes.
Warrant Officer on deck. Granville mimics the officers.
Dick makes some formal introductions. The blagging continues.
I see you have the Africa Star,” says the Warrant Officer.
Granville nods. He's not felt this uncomfortably warm since Cairo.
Well done.” A polite smile for Granville. A knowing glance to Dick.
The Warrant Officer departs. The brothers had earned their breakfast.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A Story to Tell the Grandchildren. Or Not.

I'm a member of a dubious dating group on Facebook called Greater Manchester Singles, set up for single people to meet each other. I haven't met anyone off the site, but never say never. Some of the clientele are, predictably, a bit odd, but perhaps as a result they have some odd stories to tell. I had to share this one about an un-PC Priest.

So I was on holiday and we’d hired a car and decided to go for a spin! It was baking so I had (on) shorts and Bikini top (forgot to put a vest top in the car ?)! We parked up and went for a walk but there must have been some kind of event: festival at the church 'cause it was mobbed and there was. Priest sitting outside the church. I had no intention of going in the grounds or the church I know that’s disrespectful in a bikini ? But he started shouting at me in Greek; I kept saying “it’s okay, I’m just walking past” but he wasn’t having any of it he was getting more and more irate until he eventually peed on the floor in front of me! 

Not the same urinator

Monday, 28 May 2018

Talk About it, Mate

The subject of male depression is very steadily becoming less taboo and something that more and more men- and women- can discuss openly. The success of support group Andy's Man Club- of which I've been a member for a year now- stands testament to this.

New group Talk About It, Mate began in autumn of last year via the Meetup site and so far has 69 members. The groups description says, 'Whatever you think is troubling you or holding you back in life, meet with others who will show understanding and support. Whatever your issue, if you think you could benefit from widening your network then Talk About It, Mate could be a great place for you to start!'

Talk About It, Mate is a group for men and women whose meetups have so far taken place in south Manchester, but their next arranged meet is in the city centre. I'm not sure how practical it would be to hold a group of this nature in a public place, but I'm going to give it a shot. The meet will be in Caffe Nero, Peter St, at 10-12 on Sunday morning.

Unrelated: I read Judge Dredd vs. Aliens: Incubus yesterday, another great find from the tables at Oldham Comic Con.

Somehow an alien infestation has made its way from outer space to the old New York, hidden underneath what is 'now' Megacity One. When Dredd is called out to a riot, he finds a citizen in the throes of death as a 'chest-burster' alien emerges from him and escapes into a medical facility. This leads him to an underground lair and a terrible secret.

Familiar Aliens action with plenty of violence and inside jobs. Intense, fiery artwork. Worth a read.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Predator: Big Game; Big Win via Twitter

A sleepy Army outpost in New Mexico is disrupted with the arrival of an intergalactic trophy hunter, slaughtering men and pigs one and the same. It's disrupted itself when Navajo- American Corporal Nakai finds himself in the creature's target-beams, and it's eerily similar to something in the tales his native grandfather told him of- 'nothing more than a shimmer in the air.'

A fast-paced, interesting story with a few twists and new developments in the Predator franchise.

Why the hell they can't make Predator movies as good as the graphic novels I don't know. The latest cinematic instalment looks characteristically weak.

Oh and also... I won a voucher for Turtle Bay thanks to this tweet. The restaurant was asking us for our best music / food combinations. I was picked out for this questionable  pun.

Awesome! Love the Caribbean food and cocktails in Turtle. And in case you don't get it...

Saturday, 26 May 2018

What a filing system looks like when you have memory difficulties

I moved into this flat in 2010, during a period when I was dubiously placed under Social Services care. I had no clue how to decorate, organise bill payments, cook, shop for food, apply for benefits or even do my job. Throughout the following 12 months I had meetings with Supported Employment Advisors, a Social Worker, her manager, a Housing Support Officer and had a few difficult appointments with my GP.

After all of this, I went back into neurospychology in mid 2011, and I focussed on career, organising the flat, cooking and social life. Most of this did help to move me forward, and to learn how to do all of the things that I, at the time, couldn't. The learning process produced, along with my own development, mountains of paperwork. It seemed the more chaotic my life was, the more mail I received. I was filling a lever-arch file every month.

Once my life started to settle, and I applied for paperless billing, the mail seemed to reduce. There wasn't as much NHS correspondence, or other extraneous updates, as I wasn't involved with as many support professionals. The files didn't fill anywhere near as quickly, and I didn't have to keep going to Ryman's to buy another. I had a quick flip through the files some years ago and recycled a fair chunk of the paperwork, but I wasn't risking it with the vast majority.

In recent years, though, things have changed again. DLA ending at the end of 2016 and the subsequent PIP application process produced swathes of information, including doctors notes (that I had to source myself) and various application forms for the different stages of applying.

You'd think that, at this point, most government departments and other services would be happy to email me instead of spewing my hallway with mail every morning, but it's 2018 and I'm still organising piles of paperwork a few times a week. A lot of this should not be destroyed. As a result, the cupboard I was storing all of this has very nearly collapsed. The shelf it was stored on has bent beyond repair, so I've moved everything to the floor of my wardrobe. There's a little more space and it's always easily accessible, as opposed to drowning under a pile of ironing. The floor of the cupboard isn't going to fall through, despite it being Ikea and the sliding doors steadily (and inexplicably) bending as the years go by.

I'm expecting more stacks of paper over the next 12 months. HMRC are still not bending on the £416 they think I owe them, I'm on a wait list for therapy and I'm receiving some support from Get Oldham Working. Question is, what happens when the new storage place is full...?

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Back to Clean Eating

I keep bouncing between excesses of junk food- mountains of Galaxy chocolate, Chinese takeaways and a few flapjacks thrown in for good measure- and healthy-only food- sweet potatoes, chicken stir fry, Spanish omelette. Really, a healthy balanced diet should include a few sweet treats every now and then, but mostly a consistent veg-and-meat approach.

I'm not doing that, though: I'm being regimented until I can achieve certain targets at the gym, then falling off the wagon as a reward. But at least I'm aware of this flaw. It's time to get back to clean eating. This time it will be for a long time, I expect, as the three movements I'm planning to beat have been sat unchanged for many years.

10-minute cross train (last beaten in March '14)
10-minute run (last beaten in May '13, my oldest PB)
Chest press (last beaten circa September '14)
Horizontal dumbbell fly (last beaten in August '15)

I was 83.6kg yesterday. Way too high. 73 would probably be a healthy weight. I'll aim for this while focussing on these four movements. I'm out of chocolate now, so I won't be buying any more until after one of these is destroyed. Also, I'm clean shaven right now. I refuse to have a shave until one of these is beaten.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Come do some cocktails in Turtle Bay

Life is short, and so is money, so there's two good reasons to come for happy hour in Manchester's Turtle Bay restaurant. Manchester Cool Bars are dropping in at 10pm for 2-4-1 cocktails this Friday.

No plans yet for Saturday or Bank Holiday Sunday night, but Sunday afternoon is Writers Connect time. I need your feedback on some poems! Join us at Nexus at 1pm.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Goldie Cheung and the Lovesick Aliens

A quiet week. Goldie Cheung from X-Factor follows me on Twitter. Jemma Lucy from Ex on the Beach liked my tweet. I had to cancel a meetup because only one other person RSVPd. Probably for the best, seeing as I'm fast running out of money. I have some interesting Throwback Thursday stuff to share from an ageing relative.

I read Lovesick, a standalone Aliens comic I got from Oldham Comic Con. A great short story about spurned love, infatuation, and xenomorphs. I have more comic material in the pipeline.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Citizen's Advice help to Untangle the Mess of the British Benefits System

I moved out in 2010. When I did, I was working with Social Services, attempting to get on DLA and Working Tax Credits, working with Housing Support (although they did nothing until my parents and I practically forced them to teach me how to unblock a sink), I was employed through the Work Choice scheme and was receiving advice from Ways to Work, a head injury charity. Some of this support was more helpful than other parts, but helpful or not, each one was bombarding me with paperwork. I was buying a lever-arch file a month and stuffing each one stupidly quickly.

After a few months, though, things started to settle and I'd managed to get a certain grip on problems with work, benefits, my flat and my memory. They were all still challenges, but they weren't as utterly chaotic as they were in the first year.

Recently, after my DLA was stopped and I had to fight to get PIP, and subsequently (and dubiously) lost my WTC, I have had to fight and fight to find out why I lost these benefits and why HMRC are demanding a three-figure sum from me. I'm currently working with Citizen's Advice and these issues are under review from the government.

This ongoing debacle hasn't, so far, resulted in a great deal other than a threat of a visit from bailiffs. I've been to visit Citizen's Advice, as mentioned, and the woman working with me on this has been so much more helpful than the last few people that I've worked with- most of whom have sent me out of the meetings empty-handed.

TJ, as we'll call her, contacted HMRC on my behalf. She managed to get more information out of them in one 15-minute phone call than I got in hours spent on the phone to them. Apparently HMRC sent me a TC818 letter that I didn't see, and if I'd responded to this my WTC would have been reinstated. At no point in the numerous phone calls I'd made to HMRC did anyone mention this form.

TJ asked for a transcript of all the calls I'd made to HMRC. (We're waiting on this.) This government department, she explained, had a duty of care to explain to me what was happening with my benefits. Suffice to say, they fell way below attaining that. We've decided to put in a complaint. While this is happening, the demand for £416 in on hold: this overpayment has now been handed over to a debt recovery company. So not only did I have to chase HMRC (who are still claiming the overpayment is 'correct'), I had to phone Advantis Debt Collection Centre to explain that my case is under review and that I have a future appointment with a Welfare Rights officer again, and that I needed the case to be put on hold.

Apparently it's the benefit recipient's responsibility to report changes 'within a month'- even if the change comes from within HMRC's own offices. I had no idea of this, which is essentially why my income has plummeted over the last year and why I'm being threatened with debt recovery. At the time of my DLA being stopped, I had no idea that it was the DLA that was making me eligible for WTC, so it would never have occurred to me to phone them to tell them that. Apparently their systems (DLA, PIP and WTC) 'don't talk to each other.'

Advantis have put my case on hold until 16th June. In the meantime I've talked to Early Help, the first team you deal with if you attempt to get Social Services support. EH have palmed me back off to Welfare Rights, who they say should be able to advocate for me. I'd rather Citizens Advice did, though, as TJ was a great help. When I'd been to WR they'd sent me out empty handed, telling me to get more hours work. EH have said they'll look into Work Choice, a scheme I used to be employed under. The company that were administering Work Choice under the coalition government was Pure Innovations, and they were superb. They helped me with all sorts- benefits, workplace issues, a negligent Social Worker and any other issue that got in the way of them doing their job. I've been trying to find out who's running this scheme, and covering Oldham, but nobody seems to know.

It's all well and good telling someone to get more work, but if their current employer won't give them more hours and they need flexibility, and the individual has short term memory difficulties and requires patience and understanding from an employer- not to mention hours that fit around the current job- it's easier said than done.

So yeah, that's where I'm up to. In a few years, I'm hoping, I'll look back on this post in amazement that the Tory government could be so callous to people who are willing to work hard for their own money, and are only asking for some basic assistance. This is 2018 in the UK.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Steph Ledigo's Birthday Party / Go:PR launch

Sunday afternoon, 13th May- I tore myself out of bed after a night in Deansgate Locks to drop into Neighbourhood in Spinningfields for Stephanie Ledigo's birthday party. Steph, founder and MD of the newly-rebranded Go:PR, invited me, others and a host of famous people for afternoon drinks at the launch.

After attending a few Ledigo events over the last few months I've found I can now spot a few familiar friendly faces who are regular attendees. The atmos is always welcoming, and the celebs and non-celebs are always open to chat to new people. There were a few famous faces that I didn't get to say hi to: Lee Ryan from Blue, Nikki Sanderson formerly from Coronation St and now Hollyoaks, Steph Waring from Hollyoaks, and Callum Best, son of footballer George, to name a few. I did, however, bump into Lauren Simon from Real Housewives of Cheshire...

...Alex Bowen from Love Island S2...

All cool people.


Extra cheese

The birthday girl
A fun afternoon. Can't wait for the next event!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Oldham Comic Con '18

The Oldham Comic Con event returned for a second year at Oldham Library. Last year's was a lot smaller and less well-attended, but was put together well enough to convince me to return. No free 2000AD comic this time, but I found a few decent comics and graphic novels on sale, that I didn't come across last time.

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I wish I'd talked to Carlos Ezquerra. The co-creator of Judge Dredd is responsible for one of the cheesiest, most enjoyable 90's action movies, and a movie I fondly remember watching on a ferry when I was only 13. How I blagged that I don't know.

Carlos Ezquerra, creator of Judge Dredd

I hope he comes back next year, and the third event is bigger and better.


Anthony Johnson, creator of Atomic Blonde

Monday, 14 May 2018

Come Try Some Cocktails in Tattu

On the blog: a comic convention, a new bar, a PR launch, a load of celebs and a potential interview in a magazine.

In the city: I've finally organised for Manchester Cool Bars to drop into Tattu, the Chinese bar and restaurant. Although it's mostly known for its incredible Asian cuisine, the ground floor bar also serves up some of the most amazing cocktails. I've been meaning to put together a night out to go do check these out. I got around to it yesterday. Luxurious dΓ©cor, quiet deep house music, and, last time I was there, friendly people propping up the bar.

Get involved!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

A Beautiful Launch of A Beautiful Event

Wednesday night saw the launch of Hale signmaking firm A Beautiful Event, offering 'a range of personalised products from our workshop in Cheshire, with over 500 gorgeous products.'

The night, held at the traditional but classy Victor's restaurant in Hale, was organised by Go PR events and kick-started with a complimentary glass of champagne and a doughnut. Cannot complain!

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In attendance: MTV presenter Jess Impiazzi, and Anthony Quinlan who plays Pete Barton in Emmerdale and previously Gilly Roach in Hollyoaks. Also:

A good atmos with some familiar friendly faces from other Ledigo PR / GO:PR events.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Andy's Man Club Oldham Turns 1

The Oldham branch of Andy's Man Club, men's depression support group, celebrated their first birthday last night. Local wine bar Milan in Lees offered a venue and Parcel O' Rogues provided the live music. A few of us, myself included, stepped up to tell the bar about our struggles but most importantly how the group has helped us, and what a strong sense of camaraderie and brotherhood has emerged from the collective struggles we've faced and the support we've steadfastly provided for each other.

I've always been a pretty decent public speaker, but talking about my own mental health issues is an always has been the hardest thing to discuss. Last night was a challenge but it was remarkably rewarding. I, like most of us there, was moved by the bravery displayed by the speakers. We've all gone through somewhat of a transformation to what you see in the above video.

The buffet was astounding too.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Bank Holiday Closing Time

There's something about the phrase 'bank holiday' that, to a good number of people, equates to 'get hammered and behave like a knob.' This weekend just passed was no exception, and after 21 Stories on Friday I had a wander.

I found this Sean Hughes lookalike getting arrested outside Tiger Tiger.

Sunday: after Theatre of Impossible closing I hung around to do another spot of low-grade photojournalism.

Here's Manchester's answer to Peoples Hernandez from the Shaft remake, outside Revolucion de Cuba, who seems not to understand the phrase 'fuck off, you stupid twat.'

But, then, I don't think their night was quite as bad as this guy's. Deansgate Locks seems to have taken it out of him. Or put it in him, in the case of alcohol.

But he wasn't the only one. 

Back at the Printworks again...

If you think what I'm doing is immoral in any way, please remember: You're in a public place, and people have cameras. You're an adult, control yourself. If you don't, you risk anding up being featured either here or in the MEN.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Hey Look, it's Alex Carter at his 5th Form Leaving Do

Alex Carter, Oldham actor who played Lee in Hollyoaks and Jamie in Emmerdale, went to The Blue Coat School in Oldham with Yours Truly. In the run-up to a 20-year school reunion, a few of us from the class of '98 banded together to find as many pictures from our school days as we could. Someone managed to gig out this gem from the 5th Form leaver's party, which if memory serves was held at the since-demolished Pennine Way Hotel.

Gutted you weren't at last month's reunion, Alex...

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Carnival of Fools Bank Holiday Special

This is the last thing I saw before I got snogged by a monkey.

Sunday night: Carnival of Fools took over Theatre of Impossible for a night of circus-themed antics. A team of acrobats, most dressed in monkey outfits with added waistcoats, scrambled through the audience and scaled the structural beams of the bottom floor club.

Not long after this the performers took to the stage, displaying incredible trust in their own- and each other's- abilities.

We went with Manchester Cool Bars. Another great meetup with the group.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Andy's Man Club Oldham Turns 1: Come Along

On the blog: a bizarre, chip-infested circus display, a handful of street fights and a local celeb as a 16-year-old.

In the future: men's support group Andy's Man Club Oldham celebrate their first birthday in Milan in Lees, Friday night from 7pm. The group has been a massive help to me and others over the last year, so I sure won't miss the party. Also I've not been out in Lees for a long time, so it'll be interesting. Milan is a public bar so it's an open invite. See the Facebook event!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Who's Driving Wayne Rooney's Car While He's Banned?

Thursday daytime- got my dates wrong and went to a meeting that wasn't scheduled for another month, so had a quick scout around. Found Wayne Rooney's car at the end of Deansgate, sporting a disability blue badge.

I'm assuming he wasn't driving, considering he isn't disabled, particularly not physically as would be required for a blue badge, but also considering he's banned until September 2019.

Friday night- dropped into 20 Stories in Spinningfields, the rooftop terrace bar on the ever-developing Hardman Square.

Incredible views but horrendous waiting times. We got there at 9 and the queue went from a small handful to a giant line. Once in the building and out of the elevator, you're then led into the opulent bar area. Nicely designed, with quiet house music passing the time, but 50 minutes to get served on a Friday night is absurd. I dread to think what a Saturday is like. As part of the bar is open to the sky, the queue would have been larger than normal as everybody wanted to enjoy the fresh air.

It's well worth a visit, but I'd recommend going before sunset and at a time when the queue isn't so large.

Finally finished reading The Private Eye Annual 2017, which I got for Christmas and have been reading since then. I've not really applied myself to reading recently- I've had a lot of other concerns like money and the current government. I've said enough about them. So I found the political satire occasionally funny but frequently annoying, as there's no laughing matter about seeing your income plummet and being hounded for 3 figures at the same time. Thanks, Tories.

Tonight: Carnival of Fools, circus act extraordinaire, in Impossible with Manchester Cool Bars. Last call to get involved!