3 Friends Do Adventure

Moorhens contemplating what to do next. I suspect this is a never-ending battle when everything looks exactly the same, but I may be wrong

Saturday is adventure day.

The entrance to this undisclosed location — one of the few ways into a place you’ve heard about for years but never got round to seeing for yourself — is just 5 minutes from a busy road, 15 minutes from the city, half-an-hour away from home. A giant, secret, enigma of a place which needs to be seen.  Although getting to the entrance is as familiar and uneventful as walking down almost any road in the area — just 3 good friends turning onto a narrow path, moving single file, talking and laughing and just enjoying being outside together on the weekend — this is actually one of the best parts of the entire adventure (at least, if you’re me).

It smells of grass, flowers, wood, pollen, distant water and barbecues and damp earth — a potentially very brief summer. You try and ignore the fact that this is England and it probably won’t last. It is difficult. Actually, it’s impossible.

You are walking down a passage-way. On your left is a small, hardly-moving stream. Something in your peripheral vision flickers with just the barest hint of motion. Enough to tell you to slow down and look, in this place where nothing normally moves apart from the people on the path. You all stop, then you turn your head and find 3 black fluffy balls sitting there on the surface of the water, surrounded by green river reeds.  At first, for a split-second, they are just simple dense shapes without meaning or dimension. Then you see a bright-red beak attached to the biggest of the birds — its body about the size of a small rugby ball — and the big splayed feet of the baby creatures spreading out underwater, cautiously moving about. That’s when all 3 of you stop to listen to the tiny-chirping sound the birds are making. A strange, surprising moment: they’re not going anywhere in a hurry, as you first expected, and the presence of three enormous beings looming above them doesn’t bother them at all.

You all lean over to look closely at the creatures. By now, you’re all excitedly pointing and smiling and talking about how cute the Moorhens are (you more than anyone else, because you’re mad about Moorhens). You get your phone out. It’s a new-school-ish HTC Desire and, unlike the brick-phone that the leader girl in the group possesses — you are secretly jealous of the way the orange envelope symbol appears in the middle of the screen when a message arrives — it has the ability to take actually pretty-good photographs! Not that this is a reason to think that the HTC Desire is preferable to the brick-phones of old. The brick-phone may lack functions, apps and general finesse, but it wins hands-down for durability, nostalgic 1990s style and simple toughness. Besides that, some people like the sensation of weight in their pocket — something which much of the modern world seems to have a thing against.

After the photos are taken (the girl in the group took photos of you and your friend with your arms around each other as in a classic holiday friendship pose, and you hoped that the 3 Moorhens would be visible in the photo, but guessed they probably wouldn’t, even though the girl in the group is a skilled photographer), the 3 of you are about to move on when the whirring wheels of a cyclist can be heard somewhere along the path. A moment later 3 cyclists appear and you all try and make room for them to get through the narrow space (you are cautious…there are stinging nettles on both sides of the path!). As they are passing, you mention the 3 Moorhens and a second later, the family stop, prop their bikes against the fence to your right and come over to have a look. The little girl of 3 or 4 delights in the natural spectacle unfolding on the stream below her. You all watch the Moorhens swim and flap about in tiny circles, and you detect that the family are German and try and speak German with them, because you cannot help it. They reply in too-good English, which is slightly disappointing — you wanted to practice, say the words out-loud for a change — but it doesn’t matter, because you got to see a great natural thing. A special moment between man and Moorhen. Ah, it is a good day.

Less than five minutes later, the 3 of you are standing at the entrance to the secret place — you’re not really supposed to be here, but the land has always been accessible — and realising that you can’t just walk across, and neither can you jump. Once this is established, some of the enthusiasm for making this adventure happen immediately dies. It’s not enough to ruin things, but it does cause the 3 of you to pause and consider how to get across. Personally, you feel optimistic about getting across the stream without falling in, but the one of you in the group with a funky moustache and beard doesn’t. This is highly predictable: he’s not used to negotiating streams with narrow planks of wood as the access point, while wearing carefully-chosen clothes. Not that this matters, as he provides a constant source of humour which is one of the many things about this friendship which is most prized.

Your friend has every right to be dubious. The plank of wood is only 4 inches wide, and neither end is attached to the ground, making it wobbly to the touch. You test it with one foot and half your weight and it gives a bit, more than feels comfortable: after a few seconds you decide it should be fine and cautiously make your way across, while, behind you, your friend with an impressive moustache points out the various things that could go wrong. It’s fine though, you make it across safely, and after you’ve told your friend off for making you nervous at exactly the wrong moment, the girl in the group — the leader of this adventure, as I said, and the only reason any of this is as easy as it is — does the same thing with ease and very little concern, like it was no big deal (she has been here before, though, so she does have an advantage!). Now you 2 are over, it’s time for the moustached fashionista of the group to make his way across. With his intense dislike of messing his expertly-gelled hair up, this fusion of man versus nature is an exceedingly comical sight to behold. You don’t say it out loud because it’d be cruel and inappropriate — although completely fair as he just unnerved you — but you do think That’d be hilarious if he fell in!

He doesn’t fall in. You consider that this is a probably a good thing after all, because had he done then he’d have only moaned about it for bloody ages and you’d probably have had to turn around and go home so he could change his clothes and sort his hair out and write an exaggerated Facebook status about what had happened. Safe and sound on the untouched ground of the secret place, you continue into the thick of the foliage feeling full of purpose. It begins a few metres away from the stream and quickly becomes so thick that it brushes every part of you. In comical fashion, it’s always the sharp plants that get you where it isn’t best.

Everywhere you look is green. The leader of your group navigates you through the twisty, turny path, with the ground beneath you all getting wetter and wetter as you go. Here, now, you are in another world which feels miles away from where you have just been. All around you, the plants and shrubs are taller, so that you can’t see out and nobody else can easily see in. Grr, Jurassic Park!

After twenty more steps of only green plants, laughter and excitement about the proximity of the secret — the girl in the group says it’s close now…maybe just 5 minutes away — the anticipation gives way to a fence on your left. A tall flat-metal fence formed from stainless-steel and the first reminder that you’re still in civilisation. It’s a slight disappointment, but this quickly fades as you catch a glimpse of something far behind the fence. A smash of light blue colour which changes as you move, morphing into grey and then a dull metallic-green as the clouds drift above you, shifting on the wind.

But you’re not there yet. First, you have to get past another obstacle — this time a boggy area of black-ish mud that smells like a combination of clay and composted plants. The kind of mud that posh ladies might pay a lot for just to wear on their faces and maybe even bums. There are 2 possible routes across: 1) take the gloopy path that arches around the worst of it, holding on to the fence, or 2) be like Indiana Jones and take the perilous route which is much more fun: first you’ll need to walk as far as you can along the narrow branch that sits in the middle of the swampy area, and then you’ll need to balance and pause for a moment before springing from it, leaping with both feet all the way to safety (it’s not that far but it feels like it when you don’t do this kind of thing very often anymore. You make a note: do this kind of thing more often).

You take the Indiana Jones route, pulling the balancing bit off well and the jump effortlessly! Well, not effortlessly, effortlessly is too big a word, but quite well for a bearded bloke who was once considered a demon at leap-frogs.

The girl leader of the group, of course, is not silly. Instead, she takes the sensible option and holds onto the fence. She looks nothing like Indiana Jones but you suspect that this is a good thing, as girls — even leader girls — generally don’t like being compared in writing to adventurous rugged men who care nothing for anything but making love to women and have an intense fascination with ancient archaeology and the pursuit of near-death experiences.

Once the moustached fashionista has made his way across — he also took the sensible route, and does actually look like Indiana Jones might have done had he gone to fashion college instead of chasing wondrous artefacts — you all head on, now more excited than ever. This is when you come across the break in the fence that makes it all possible…a vertical smile of space just wide enough to let you in and keep anything much bigger out.

You enter the open land. It feels interplanetary and surreal. It’s hard to believe this place is so close to anything modern.

Blue water several hundred metres across, surrounded by small chalky cliffs to your left that rise gradually to the right.

With so much land to explore — much of it flat, punctuated by mossy ground that turns into woodland in the far distance — you could spend half-an-hour arguing over where to go now. But you don’t. Without really talking about it, you all walk just a few metres to the right and sit down at the cliff-edge, where there is no sound.

There is nothing here apart from a few people camping on the other side of the lake. No tourists, no cars rushing by, no easy way in or out. Just peace and beauty for as far as the eye can see. And that’s how you spend the next few hours in the sun, sitting here, talking, watching a big fish make small splashes out in the water in front of you. You pull rocks from the cliff face and throw them, lose yourselves in simple pleasures. A perfect day all the way through until the sunlight gradually dissipates, and it’s time to head home.

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The Olympic Games Opening Ceremony: Memorable TV

Copyright issues mean that I can’t legally draw what I wanted to draw. If I did, I’d immediately get into trouble. Instead, in the spirit of guerrila illustrating and sticking two fingers up to the controlling forces of this planet, I have chosen to draw 5 interlocking triangles which may or may not represent a very famous symbol connected with this blog post

I’ve personally always struggled with the amount of money that the Olympics costs to host/produce, and the fact we’re in a recession did mean that when preparations kicked in, I had a good old moan about it. However, this post is not about moaning, it’s about celebration. No matter what your stance on how the transport network will cope, or some of the dubious sponsors connected with the games, tonight’s opening Ceremony was impressive, if only for the amazing lack of knowledge that the commentators possessed about precisely what was going on. Here are my more positive highlights.

1: This post starts with a personal highlight. Before the Ceremony started, an old-fashioned English ice-cream van came slowly down our road, complete with Croatian driver. I purchased a 99 Flake for the first time in years and my sister, who is visiting, told me an outrageous story of how she dropped her last 99 Flake the second after she bought it. A bad way for a 99 Flake to go. You know you’re getting old when a 99 Flake story sounds outrageous…

2: Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins came on and rang a massive bell to mark the start of the Ceremony, doing so casually, almost as if he was sleep-walking or thought this was a dress-rehearsal (or maybe both combined).

3: The Tolkien-esque hill with spiral path and ancient tree, surrounded by a traditional old English village. I loved it, but what I loved more was when the tree took off like the world’s slowest rocket and then, surprise!, loads of miners came crawling out to mark the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. It really reminded me of Ghostbusters, actually, when all the ghosts walked through the city. I’m not sure if that’s exactly what Danny Boyle had in mind.

4: The general dream-like atmosphere of it all. Again, it doesn’t matter what your opinion of the Olympics or elitism or dodgy sponsor associations is – it was one hell of a history lesson.

5: When the giant Olympic rings showered rain-light and an impressive lava-stream weaved its way across the ground. I imagine mums and dads all over the world had to field a lot of questions when this happened, like “Daddy, how did they do that?” Makes me feel lucky that I haven’t had children yet, because if I had of done then I have no idea what I’d have said to them. I’d have definitely had to lie.

6: The recorded bit where Daniel Craig – sorry, Bond – met the Queen. A nice surprise. The camera-people seemed to be obsessed with the Queen’s corgis, and this fixation remained until we followed Bond and the Queen into a helicopter…which the Queen then parachuted out of with comic effect! (It was genuinely funny, actually.)

7: When the floor was turned into a giant hospital with beds everywhere. It did seem to be like one enormous advertisement for the NHS, but despite this, it made being sick seem fun again, so there’s something to be said for that.

8: The weird demon creatures that appeared to mark the amazing history of Great British children’s literature. Each one looked to be modelled on the creatures from British hit film Attack The Block. Or at least how those same creatures might look if you starved them for several months and gave them only sugar.

Diving superstar Tom Daley in an alternative universe where the aim is to create the biggest splash using just your belly and under-arms

9: The ingenious range of creepy giant monsters on display. A terrible and hastily designed/constructed 20-foot Voldermort from the Harry Potter films and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang promised enough nightmares to last a billion children an entire life-time.

10: One of the commentators claiming that all the dancers were NHS doctors and nurses. Er, no they weren’t. At least not all of them. I didn’t see one person who looked like a clueless dad there and you’re not telling me the NHS doesn’t have a few hundred-thousand of them.

11: I kept wondering if the cast of Hollyoaks would appear and that was not a highlight, I can tell you. It really shouldn’t be on this list but I’m sure you’ll agree, it was distressing.

12: Learning French while watching pure TV excitement. I’ve forgotten it all now, but as they kept announcing things in French I was sure that some of it was sinking in. One day it’ll come out, probably at exactly the wrong moment.

13: This one’s debatable: Mr Bean – played by Rowan Atkinson – playing the fool sitting at a keyboard, as the London Symphony Orchestra played a classic tune which I cannot remember the name of. I am expecting a backlash for writing this, but I stand by this statement: I loved growing up with Mr Bean as a role-model.

14: All the amazing British music and actors and songs which were played throughout the ceremony. It really is incredible how much good stuff has come out of Great Britain since…well, let’s not be stingy here. Since forever!

15: Loads of people looking like they were genuinely enjoying themselves. It was great TV, even for cynical people.

16: When they played the West Ham football club anthem from classic hooligan boys movie Green Street, while, on screen, a female and male actor pretended to meet for the very first time. This was a bizarre contrast, since Green Street is to violence on British film what Blue Peter was to being selective about handing out badges. It was also followed by a montage of kisses which surely must have made the Queen go “Danny…Oh!”

17: Dizzee Rascal. He lit the place up.

18: Sir Tim Berners seated behind a desk in front of a computer. And no, I didn’t have a bloody clue who the hell he was either and yes, I felt ashamed. Sir Tim Berner is a downright genius for developing the basis of the Internet, it has to be said, but not exactly the kind of bloke you’d want to bump into at the supermarket after not seeing him since secondary school and you both started talking, as you do, about what you’d achieved since being 16.

19: The 2 minute silence to commemorate the brave men, women and children who lost their lives in the World Wars.

20: When Muhammad Ali came on at the end…

21: No big accidents, incidents or anything bad going wrong.

22: 80,000 people waiting for Steve Redgrave to deliver the Olympic torch after its journey of 12,800 miles.

23: Learning that “Olympism” is actually a real word.

24: The construction workers of the stadium being acknowledged.

25: All the blue lights and surreal undersea-atmosphere reminding me of Avatar.

26: The lighting of the cauldron. A gorgeous idea…footage that will truly live forever. There really is very little point in me attempting to explain it here for people who didn’t see it, but let’s just say this: if modern art was always like this, life would be amazing…

27: Hey Jude…

DISAPPOINTMENTS OF MAGNITUDE

1: All the nations coming on with their flags in a way which seemed a bit lazy to me. Most of the people carrying the flags look drugged, or as if they’re off out on a Las Vegas Stag Party. A few of of them must have been drugged to have been coerced into putting on some of those outfits…

2: Disappointingly, shockingly, there was no ode to a) fish and chips, Great Britain’s best and most extravagant fish-based meal, b) grumpy old men like you can find in an English pub, c) our love of moaning about the weather, or d) the Loch Ness Monster. Come on, you can’t forget the Loch Ness Monster! Also not featuring, unless I missed it, were e) Jimmy Saville & The Crankies and f) Cilla Black. I was really hoping she’d sing “surprise, surprise, the unexpected hits you between the eyes!” from hit 1980s/90s show Blind Date. Lastly, completely missing were g) sighing and queuing – two things which we are experts at. It seems a shame to miss them both out, don’t you think?

3: No Mr Blobby!

NOTE: sometimes writers make mistakes, publish a blog then wake up in the morning and realise that hundreds of people from across the world have witnessed and probably laughed themselves silly at those mistakes…for example, in the original version of this blog post, I inexcusably said that Voldermort was a character from The Lord of the Rings. Well, as Elessartelkontar thankfully pointed out in the comments section below — along with some other good points — he quite clearly wasn’t, he was from the Harry Potter series and called Lord Voldermort. That was just my  brain getting things mixed-up. Thanks to her for saving me from possible massive embarrassment! In future, I’ll learn to double-check…

When summer indulgence goes one step too far…

I know this looks a lot like a jogger with prosthetic arms, but it’s not!

I can’t be the only one who has noticed that joggers are a very strange breed: you get the ones who have intimidating horse-like muscular legs, tiny arms and run with unstoppable force in their way- too-small shorts, the ones who look like they’ve been doing it for a hundred years and have been active so long that they now can’t stop – like those mystical babas in India who’ve been holding their arms in the air so many years that they’ve become fused into position – and the ones whose arms and hands flap about all over the place for no good reason that anyone has ever been able to convince me of (that’s as much as I will say about flapping, I promise). They irritate me, actually. I don’t know why, but every time I’ve see one recently I’ve felt the burning desire to stop them and say Please stop doing that…it’s poisoning the summer! Just stop flapping around, will you?

Then you get the amateur joggers. Poor souls who’ve been hassled into doing jogging by their partner and who aren’t going to make a real habit out of this — they haven’t got a hope in hell. You just know that in 3 months time, jogging will be a distant memory for them. It’ll be back to the gym, but more than likely, the pub.

If I had to put myself in a category, it definitely wouldn’t be the small armed, horse-like-muscular-legs-small-shorts one (T Rex joggers? Maybe this is what they’re officially known as). Equally, I would like to think that when friends think of my face, they don’t think Oh, Chris, he looks like he’s a hundred years old. The beard does add age, but it’s 10 years at best, I think. I hope…

Anyway.

I remember a time when jogging would’ve been the very last thing on my mind. I just didn’t understand why anyone would spend their free-time running around with no real purpose. I didn’t want to be yet another human Golden Retriever of my generation, was the thing. Now? I’m like one of those really enthusiastic ones that sees water and bounds straight in it. One that can never get enough! (Unless I am experiencing an attack of ME, in which case there’s no way I am leaving the house, but let’s not get into that right now.)

People are always saying to me that they would jog, they’d love to, but jogging/running bores them. And they have a point, in a way – jogging while listening to all your organs pump and expand and shuffle and make strange whirring noises isn’t the best of times, really. In fact, if you were a hypochondriac you could leave the house with 14 mild illnesses and come back with several terminal ones! But that’s never the case if you go jogging while listening to ol-school Foo Fighters or Interpol. You don’t hear your organs if you do this, all you hear is guitars thrashing, Dave Grohl screaming or Interpol…being Interpol. They’re actually quite a hard band to explain, but I never knew that until I had to. It’s just one of those things.

One of the things which I love most about jogging is the freedom that it gives me. OK, so I’m only running around my village or local recreation ground, but there’s a certain freedom — both philosophically and physically — that comes with it; one that transcends the surroundings you are in. And it does feel like progression. The goal may be vague and ultimately irrelevant – my aim is to always jog past at least one horse-like muscular-thighs type and do it nonchalantly so that they feel emotionally crushed – but every step I make is going somewhere and achieving something. Every time I come back home absolutely shattered, I am fitter. Even if I feel like a big sack of pulsating shit.

When I am jogging, nothing can touch me. Nothing can invade my own little world. But today that all changed when I accidentally came across a couple enjoying an intimate love moment on a park bench to my left as I ran alongside the serene river, in an un-name-able park in an unmentionable part of Cambridge, East Anglia (it’s not actually unmentionable but I do feel I should protect the people involved in the encounter, especially as I am about to reveal certain details which might narrow the list of suspects down).

And I’ll tell you one thing: had my intention been to appear at precisely the most inappropriate moment possible, my timing was impeccable …

…just as I saw the couple – the young woman straddling her partner barefoot, with a body that was a world away from the dishevelled dinner-lady-type I had jogged past a few minutes before – she began to shifty the left-hand strap of her frolicky summer top off. I couldn’t see the bloke’s face, but as I looked away I couldn’t help but imagine various faces on it. Somehow, Robin Williams snuck in there, and I think it was because I had recently watched Good Will Hunting. And maybe also because the bloke had hairy ginger legs.

So there I was…stuck in the wrong place at the right time.

By this time I had ceased jogging or doing much of anything and Dave Grohl screaming in my ear just didn’t feel right anymore, so I stopped the music and crouched down by the tall grass to my left, so as to think about my next move. The reeds: now the only thing dividing me from the happy couple.

Now I was stationery, it occurred to me that if I’d been smarter, more readied, somehow, then I’d have been able to carry my speed on and they probably wouldn’t have noticed. I should have been more ready! This was a public space! We were in England! Of course youngsters were going to get intoxicated with the summer heat and lack of employment opportunities and lose themselves in heady outdoor passion as a way of staying sane in the current economic climate! As the seconds wore on, however, it became crystal clear that they were in that in-between stage of engagement. The stage where shuffling and bodily reorganisation occurs as with genuine non-movie encounters, so to say…the place where you can hear things again, and you’re both trying to hold onto the sexy moment but also become more comfortable, because you are on a bench and it now isn’t feeling like the best idea. Hear things like an anxious bearded grown man loitering in the crouch position not far away…

I was in real trouble.

At this point, something really interesting took place in my brain. While I was nervous and concerned that a dog walker might appear at any moment and shout “filthy bearded pervert! Watching that couple! Get away” (Don’t over-analyse the actions of the dog walker, who should really have been angry at the couple, not me), or that a punt full of a selection of people I had known well over the years might appear on the river next to me pointing with wide-open mouths (impossible as half of them have moved away and punts don’t frequent the village where I live, as there is very little to see apart from grass and psuedo-hoodies too village born-and-bred to know the right end of a sharp knife) I also had this thing growing in me that was really very childish. It was about nine-years-old, had about 5 ASBOs, and wanted to jump out of the bushes and shout “I caught you doing it!” while I clapped my hands repeatedly and almost wet myself with hysterical laughter (not: I am ASBO-less — it’s just my childish inner-self that has them). For a few daring seconds, I had to pin myself to the spot, for fear that this menacing inner-child-villain would do just that and leave my career as a writer in ruins. After about a minute though, I had everything under control and I was back to thinking again about routine random things (where do all the donkeys go after they’ve finished giving people rides on the beaches of England? Are they well-fed? Can you eat donkey? No, stop thinking about eating donkey, that’s not right, Chris) and more adult, boring things (why is every single pedal bin I come across always broken? I am sick of having to manually lift the lid with my hand, I should not have to do that. This must be sorted out, If we can’t even do bloody pedal-bins, how will we manage the Olympics?).

I looked up and left, caught a glimpse of a bare bum and decided that now was very much the time to move on. I did so, slowly to begin with, feeling like a hunch-back with a good taste in music. Then I escaped and passed the dinner lady type again a few minutes later and it made me feel a little bit sick actually, but that may have just been the heat. Her arse really wasn’t as bad as all that, for a dinner lady.

Bank Of Dave Episode 2: Determination Will Get You Everywhere

Prime Minister Fishwick, now there’s a thought…

Warning: contains spoilers

PART 1: DAVE SAYS “BALLS TO CONVENTION”

How much do the banks hate Dave Fishwick now the final episode of his series has aired? My guess is a lot, and that’s bloody brilliant. What’s even more brilliant is this: there’s probably not a banking executive in the whole country who watched the conclusion of Bank Of Dave and didn’t feel physically sick and like someone had just taken a toxic-waste dump on their doorstep. But then…you can’t blame them for not taking Bank Of Dave seriously and all this creeping up on them now, when it’s too late. I didn’t either when I first heard about it…I mean, if someone tells you there’s a Channel 4 show on soon about a mini-bus millionaire from Burnley who’s decided to open the world’s smallest bank, you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t laugh out loud. Yet now, nobody should be laughing. Something tells me that Monday morning’s at work are going to feel a whole lot more grim if you work at HSBC or RBS.

As soon as the Channel 4 voice-over girl said, seconds before the show started, “Dave tries his hand at casino banking as he hits Las Vegas”, I knew we were in for some great TV. I deliberately hadn’t checked the TV guide to see a summary, so this news of Dave hitting Las Vegas was nothing less than mind-bending.

First came a typical Channel 4-style recap of last week’s shenanigans: Dave in a stainless steel lift looking like he wanted to drown a banker, swiftly followed by the concept – Dave wasn’t just opening up any old shitty little bank, he was opening up a bank embodied with all the right, proper, northern-style sensibilities. The same sensibilities that you get every time you order chips anywhere past Sheffield (and they come with mushy peas!). In the case of Dave’s bank, this meant 5% interest on savings, then taking that money and lending it out to local people in the surrounding community. And then came the best bit…he was going to give all the profits to charity. No more bonuses, none of that bullshit!

For any banker watching, it must have felt a lot like being buried alive…

Unsurprisingly, all this no-nonsense, no-messing action had got the attention of the people of Burnley in a big way. The fact that Dave was risking everything was also appalling from a dramatic point of view. Much as I wanted Dave to succeed, I can’t deny that the fact he might not made it pretty bloody exciting TV.

Off we went. This final episode of Bank Of Dave reminded me a bit, in the best possible way, of being at school stuck next to this boy who really loved drawing Cockatoos. Don’t get me wrong, I love exotic birds as much as the next man, but this lad…he really did love Cockatoos more than anyone else you could reasonably hope to meet. And that was the level of crazed enthusiasm that Dave had at all times on screen, no less. Short he may be, but get Fishwick talking and you’re not going anywhere until that vision is completely embedded in your DNA.

Now we’d done a quick recap for all the people who didn’t watch the first episode — shame on you! — there came a montage of all the people Dave had helped so far, such as £1000 to an internet business, a load of money to help a down-on-his-luck busker and £1700 to help a boat-fitter in need. Not to mention £200 so a boy called Charlie could have some decent Christmas presents. Everyone go Ahhh now.

Thing was…it soon became clear that Dave’s generosity wasn’t just impressive, it was also verging on disturbing. So far, Bank Of Dave had given out £25,000 per week and according to Dave’s colleague – another, more numerically-minded Dave who was clearly vital for keeping this on track – this was cause for concern. Alarm, actually. Not that Dave gave even the slightest of shits, for he had bigger stuff to worry about.

Like those arses at the FSA (Financial Services Authority). It was bad enough that they were being total bastards, but aside from that, they’d refused to discuss the possibility of a deposit license with Dave face-to-face. In other words, Dave was convinced they were doing everything they could to stand in his way, and to be honest, it sounded about right.

By this point, anyone else bar Lance Armstrong would probably have just given up (thinking about it, it’s a good thing Dave hadn’t got into road cycling…). Not so with Fishwick. Instead, hot on the heels of going to see his local MP, Dave quickly devised a plan B. In the mean-time, while Dave and his solicitor started working out a way to take deposits without the FSA wetting their pants in the process, we were treated to the next best thing: Dave doing what he does best, doing banking his way, live and in person…

Meet Tariq: a local food producer who can’t borrow money from the banks for reasons unclarified. This might be an issue to most bankers, but not to Dave. Instead, he hears the bloke out. How his business needs £5,000 in order to buy a food-forming machine so that he can expand his handmade Halal products and grow.

But there’s a problem…Tariq’s religion means he can’t pay interest on his money. Dave doesn’t see this as a problem, while his colleague does. In fact, he says Dave can’t do it. And you know what Dave says to that…

While all this was going on, applications for loans were going through the roof. Dave then started handing out money to literally anyone who needed it, including the local stables and even the man who runs the car park out the back of the office. Oh, and a large outdoor adventure company. All with his own personal money. Just because he’s good like that.

There’s so much more to say about this section of the show, but the main thing to know is that it’s really hard to take a man seriously when there are two clocks behind him marked New York and Burnley.

 PART 2: DAVE DOES AMERICA

Love America? You haven’t seen anything until you see a short cocky millionaire from Burnley wandering the streets in fish-out-of-water scenes reminiscent of Crocodile Dundee, telling the banks he’s “fucking coming to get you!” If the sight of Dave in a convertible Cadillac shouting at Americans in northern English didn’t make you smile, what was coming next must have.

The reason Dave was in the US, of course, was simple. Simple to him: find support and do a bit of casino banking – the very thing that had screwed the UK over so badly. Only Dave’s vision was different and more solid. His concept was to gamble with intelligence, and see if he could make good interest on $100,000. In other words, make all the other banks look really stupid by playing them at their own game (and succeed).

There’s too much to say here, but the main thing to know is that Dave did alright. 3.2% alright, in fact. Chuffed to bits with his winning the stock market, Dave made his way back to Burnley, “the greatest city in the world,” where everything we had seen so far was now made to look pretty ridiculous, as Dave struggled to get into the world’s smallest safe…and finally found the key to it behind a cheeryade bottle, almost in plain sight…

Daft, but I’d still rather trust my money with Dave than Barclays.

By now, it was becoming clear just how much of a monster Dave and his enormous appetite for risk and generosity had created. With the local economy booming and Steve Punchard’s Tropical Fish Store full with fish lovers for the first time in years – black-tip reef sharks being the main attraction here – the legend was growing by the second. Not only that, but Dave had grown more adept at wheeling and dealing than Del Boy, if that’s possible. Having just bought a stupidly cheap house which he’d use to rent out and fund the shop’s overheads, Dave then dived head-first into the gold business. The aim being to salvage enough gold jewellery from Roy down the road to create his own precious gold bullion bar.

No, I’m not making this up.

By this point in the show, it was time for the arrival of a new man with a crazy name: enter Keith Arrowsmith, Dave’s solicitor and vital man-with-sensible-head-on-his-shoulders. Crazy as Keith’s name was, his idea – the plan b I mentioned earlier – was surprisingly simple. The concept being for Dave to handle money on behalf of his savers, and then lend this out to people needing loans, getting around all the FSA licensing problems.

As the clock struck 9:27pm, a momentous occasion arrived. Balls to normal banking, with the new process in place, Dave was free to take on the world on his terms! On local radio Dave goes, to spread the word. Within minutes he’s offering free gifts, £25 to the first 10 people to arrive at the shop the following day, and lots more (like a free ticket to the upcoming Burnley v Westham game…for what it’s worth). I couldn’t keep up with taking my notes by 9:35. By the end of the day Dave hadn’t just put smiles on faces, he’d taken in over £61,000!

Then came an announcement: bollocks to staying in Burnley and just doing Las Vegas, it was time for serious business. Dave heads for his mini-bus headquarters and orders a mini-bus to be built. This banking show is going on the road and taking its message with it.

It was now that I started to get really excited. Could the rest of England handle Dave’s enthusiasm? What would happen when he met a gang of pessimistic southerners? But first, more important things…like how the fuck the mini-bus was ever going to get to the rest of Great Britain…Dave’s vehicle of choice was hardly built for the job, was the thing. For one it was 14-years-old, and for another even Dave admitted it was a piece of shit.

Despite all this, I couldn’t help but feel that Dave was at the helm of a banking revolution. And when Alistair Campbell dropped by to view a video Dave had of his MP speaking about Bank Of Dave in the House of Commons, it was confirmed: it was a matter of time until the FSA had to give in and play ball. Or at least until their members couldn’t leave the house without eggs being chucked at them.

Is Dave at the start of a revolution? I seriously am starting to think so…

Now with a somehow functional elderly mini-bus, plus Bob the driver, Dave sets off on his quest to speak to normal people about what matters most. Soon he’s in Wales, where locals are confirming the beliefs of the rest of the nation: mainly that all bankers who have stolen money should be put in prison, but other stuff, too. This was good TV enough – Dave with a megaphone, shouting at people like some kind of demented peter-pan school-boy – but then things hit an all-time high when Dave and Bob arrived (eventually) in London. Right outside the Bank of England, to be specific. Where it all began and where Dave wanted it ended. You could practically hear everyone watching the show cheering at this point, with Dave leading proceedings, yelling “Let’s make Britain great again!”

After an incident with the police – Bob the driver looking with confusion at the high-viz jackets as Dave tried to distract their attention from the mini-bus’s balding tires – Dave is like a man possessed. Somehow he manages to get Secretary of State Vince Cable inside the van and by the end of a short conversation, he’s agreeing to contact the FSA and see what he can do. “Now we pick a bigger fight,” says Dave, high on pissing people off. What comes next is a fitting end to a memorable two-part series, as the day of reckoning arrives and, 6 months after the idea’s conception, it’s time to see if the bank has made a profit.

Everyone told Dave it was impossible, yet there he is, this bloke from Burnley, sitting on £9,000 worth of profit and absolutely zero debt. Better than that, Bank Of Dave had lended money to 62 people, Dave’d made a gold bar worth £15,000 out of cheap tat lying around his mate Roy’s house, and Steve Punchard’s Tropical Fish Store was booming like never before. With the local community better off and morale in one of Great Britain’s most ill-reputed city’s at an all-time-high, Dave was rightly off-his-tits with the satisfaction and excitement of it all, and I was right there with him, bloody chuffed to bits!

If the first 55 minutes of episode 2 were compelling and non-stop, the final 5 minutes were the perfect peaceful antidote, as Dave went about giving money to all the local charities, just like he’d always said he would. I had a tear in my eye as Dave handed numerous cheques for £2,000 over. I also had my faith in banking back: did someone say Dave Fishwick for Prime Minister? Right now it’s looking like a very good idea.

 

 

 

Bank Of Dave: The Final Conclusion Is Coming!

Dave Fishwick: the man single-handedly responsible for making Burnley look good again. Now we just need someone to do the same for Hull… Image Copyright Chris Pink artist/writer

After you’ve been blogging for a while, you tend to get a feel for posts which will do well. Despite this, nothing is certain — some posts unexpectedly gain mass attention for no discernible reason, while others barely get any views at all (ironically, the latter are usually the ones which were the most fun to write!).

Then there are the exceptions. Posts which receive lots of feedback, are fun to write, and get picked up on Twitter and Facebook. Posts which unite all of us, from all backgrounds. My post on Bank Of Dave episode 1 was one of these exceptions which comes along every once in a while and received many hundreds of views from across the world within just a couple of days of going up. This didn’t surprise me…if we can take what happened in episode 1 of Bank Of Dave as a measure of the man who is Dave Fishwick — something that is becoming increasingly difficult to do in an age where trust in someone is so often eroded soon after by some horrifying discovery coming to light — then we can assume a few things for certain: 1) Dave Fishwick isn’t another banker bastard out to con people, he really does care and wants to help the community in any way he can and 2) Fishwick is in it for the long haul, whatever that means and whatever the risks that kind of attitude involves (like losing all his money and reputation, that kind of thing). He’s in it for the passion and the fight for a better financial future, is Dave. So, considering all this, I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that this isn’t a man who’s going to vanish overnight…this is a man who’s going to do for the financial sectors’ executives what chronic hemorrhoids have done to generations of arse-holes.

Dave Fishwick, we bloody love you! I hope that if you see my illustration you won’t take me to court for making a mockery of your Northern smiling face.

And it’s not just me who thinks that Dave’s seriously onto something…one reader who goes by the name of Wilcock left the following comment (unedited by me), echoing my own views and much of those currently flying all over the world-wide-web:

Born and bred in Burnley, I have seen, over the years, the town fall to ruin with pound shops, budget chains and come and go businesses letting the area down. Dave is a breath of fresh air…his comments and opinions form 90% of the Burnley folks views. Why let fat cat bankers get fatter with their huge bonuses and corrupt ways…off our savings! They seem to forget that the money they have in their vaults is ours anyway! Perhaps we should do a mass cash withdrawl and leave them desperate to get the public vote and money back! David Fishwick for Prime Minister!!!

EXACTLY! You can just see it now…the look of sheer terror on the politicians’ faces as he enters the House of Commons. Dave Fishwick on The One Show, trying desperately hard not to swear, and Alex Jones knowing that he’s going to swear and theres’s nothing anyone can do, it’s just a matter of time.

Another reader by the name of Stephen James said:

Dave all the best m8, And I agree the powers that be dont want you to succeed! Because if you do then you will have got inside the closed shop of Banking secret club and they dont want you to! We need more like you and great idea go and visit your customers not just tick F*****G boxes on a Credit Application and refuse a loan because your credit history aint rosy, Wish you were nearer m8, Banks have shafted me over the years!! Go for it m8!!!

Thanks for the comments and the support, people.

The conclusion of Bank Of Dave airs tonight on Channel 4 at 9pm. I’ll be blogging like crazy about it soon after and I have a strong feeling it’s going to be a fitting end to a way-too-short series!

Sponsoring people: I can’t afford my friends anymore and it makes me feel mean

Don’t take this the wrong way, but here’s the honest reality of it — here’s what it comes down to: after 31 years I’ve got too many friends who are too nice and too bloody physically fit and too willing to give up their weekend and spend it doing something amazing for charity (I even have a few friends who aren’t in any way physically fit — you know who you are, you really do, don’t deny it — but who are still willing to put themselves through physical and emotional hell every so often). As a direct result of this, like a lot of people I know, most months I find myself giving money to one charity or another and obliged to consider giving money to many more. One week it’s to fight Cancer, the next it’s for people newly blinded in accidents at work — people like you and I who really need our help and rely on donations to live. I want to give to them all but I can’t. And it’s getting more difficult. It seems like every single year, more money is needed and more people are being amazing.

Balls. It’s a conundrum. The last thing I want is for people to read this — friends, especially — and think Well there’s no point asking Chris if he wants to sponsor me.

Last week was particularly charity-heavy: walking through town I saw a pair of eyes scoping me out and below the eyes a good-looking female body and hands holding a clipboard with all the familiar charity logos and colours that you’d be a proper moron to just ignore. The eyes belonged to a stunning woman in her early twenties, so I was done for. She knew it, I knew it, and as soon as I stopped she started telling me all about how if I gave just £5 every month I’d be saving a little African child from bad water and bad rice, bad diseases and a short unhappy life. Basically, what she was saying was that if I couldn’t find it in me to give a pathetically small £5 per month then I was a bad person. A bad person who didn’t give a shit if little African children died and led short unhappy lives no better than those animals you see on those ads on TV where the dog has been left outside all night and his/her face says I may as well be dead. (I do realise that those dogs are actors from some kind of dog acting academy, but for the sake of this blog let’s pretend they’re genuinely suffering, shall we.)

I knew I was going to have to say it, it was just a matter of time.

“I really can’t,” I said after a while, “I’m really sorry but it’s not going to happen. I can’t do it, I wish I could.”

Chris you’re a git said my inner voice, followed by What you mean is that you can do it, it’s just you won’t bloody do it. There was then a brief argument as I told the voice that yeah, I could do it, I had the money, but what if I kept on doing it? And there I go again: calling it my inner voice is a great way of pretending that it’s not really me, it’s actually another moral entity which keeps me on track and knows so much better. It’s quite pathetic, actually. You probably do the same though, so that makes me feel at least a little better. For a while.

But let me qualify this, please. It wasn’t like I didn’t care — I did, and I do — and it wasn’t as if I just walked on by, was it? (Not that I could have, but still, I like to think I might have been able to ignore this woman’s fine-looking appearance if I’d really wanted to. Maybe…). I’d listened to everything she had to say to me — where the money was going specifically and how it would be spent once it arrived, all that stuff and more. I’d even asked a load of questions which I bet most people can’t be arsed to do, not to mention discussed with her at length about how 90% of people just walk on by with seemingly not a care in the world. So it hadn’t been a waste. I might communicate all this to someone else and they might tell someone else and they MIGHT give £5,000 to charity. It could happen, and I’d have been a part of it.

Except nothing made me feel better about it.

And that was when I started to feel really fucking guilty. After a pause which was like a punch in the gut, she said: “You know, you can give four pounds per month if you like,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be five.”

“Um…”

Or just two?

“Well…er…I…”

“Or even just one?”

£1 per month: I mean, come on, seriously…

It’s ONE POUND PER MONTH.

That was what did it, what finally really broke me. If I was a bad person for not giving £5 per month every month, then what was I for not giving £1 every month?

A complete and utter arsehole, is what. And so much more than that, even. A time-wasting arsehole. An arsehole who sadistically leads charity workers into great big long discussions, before cutting them down with the harshest of responses…

It stacked up and up and up.

The next thing I knew, I was now even worse than the people who just walk on by! All because I’d wanted to hear what she had to say and get where she was coming from.

If there’s any possibility that you might end up buried in the plot next to legendary charity superhero Roy Castle then I seriously suggest you start doing some charity work soon, otherwise you’re going to look pretty stupid if you do end up next to him…

As it became clear that it was time for me to continue walking — for the real onslaught of my grief and mental torment to begin, in other words — and for her to do her job and actually find someone who was prepared to pay, it really got to me, all this, and I felt obliged to explain myself before I left. Had to explain myself. Couldn’t just leave her thinking I was some git who didn’t care. It wasn’t only about the money, I said, it was the principle…the principle that at least once a week I buy a Big Issue, and that at least once every 4 weeks I sponsor somebody for something. More than that, there was the how much? debate to explain to her, because it’s fine if you want to give to 50 different charities, but in that case you’re hardly going to be able to afford to give much to each charity, are you? And so I started going off on one, I suppose — although she did seem interested, I think — about how I’d rather give to fewer charities and give more each time so that I felt like I was making a genuine difference. But whatever I said it didn’t seem to matter, and however I said it, it just didn’t sound right. It’d sounded right in my head, but when I said it out loud, the cruel reality of how we think about charity — yes, I am now sharing this responsibility with you — hit me. The call of injustice and involuntary discrimination was haunting the back of my mind all the time, making me constantly wary of everything I had said, as well as anything that I could potentially say. I still felt like a serious git and couldn’t see that changing any time soon. No matter what I said, I was going to come-off looking selfish. As if a packet of Minstrels was worth more than a child’s life (they are amazing, but they’re definitely not that amazing. If I didn’t buy any chocolate for a year, how much could I give to charity then?).

Like I said, this time it really got to me. It didn’t usually get to me this much, it was just that there were a few things which made this incident slightly different to so many I’d been in before (aside from her looks, I mean). One was that I could see she genuinely cared about what she did — that’s to say she cared more obviously and openly than the charity workers I had stopped to talk with before — and another was that the conversation had flowed and not been dragged down by any of the usual formalities that occur when one stranger converses with another and the other doesn’t give his money. For these reasons, it felt more like a chat between friends, and this is where we come full circle: I find it hard to say no to friends when they ask me directly if I’ll sponsor them, or when I see their status on Facebook. Because that’s difficult, isn’t it? To tell a friend that you don’t want to support them…what does that make you look like? And you know, one day, it might be you needing the support, so there’s also that to consider, too. It’s much bigger than just you.

What’s the answer, then? Weigh up the causes that are more worth it and only sponsor them? No, it’s not the answer, I already tried that. A) it’s impossible…the very nature of most charities is that they are indeed worth it and B) when you stop in the street there’s not enough time to work out if you feel you should give to a charity and analyse your emotions. There’s your gut instinct telling you to run to the nearest ATM and take out your life-savings, sure, but that’s just your primary reaction to the stimulus: you want to do something good, you don’t want to let people down,you don’t want people to suffer — the image is visceral and the image of suffering is alive in your mind with all the facts and figures you’re presented with, and it HURTS. Being a selfish human being who spends more every day than Ethiopians earn in 5 years is horrible and there is no way around that fact. Even if you stand there for a few minutes, it’s impossible to come to a conclusion that doesn’t collide directly or indirectly with everything else going on in your mind at the time. If you had 24 hours to think about it, that might be easier…but most of the time you don’t. Most of the time you have to decide there and then if you want to walk on by or not.

It’s really bloody hard, isn’t it?

The thing is, it’s not like there’s ever any serious pressure on me to sponsor my friends, or people who stop me in the street. But you know what? S0metimes that actually makes it even worse. I’m ashamed to admit it, but without the pressure to guide and coerce me, I’m left on my own to come up with the right answer. And there is no right answer, but there is this one certainty: so long as I can’t give money to all the charities out there, the likelihood is that I’m gonna feel like a git…

I suppose one good thing is that I have friends who want to do stuff and do do stuff (believe it or not but another is that I have plans to run for charity, although right now that’s still some way off). Aside from being a compliment to me — I’d much rather be associated with kind people who run marathons than nasty criminals who run organised crime — it must mean I am surrounded with people who care about the world they live in, and that has to be a very good thing.

Now I just need to work out how to sponsor every single person I know with enough cash that it really does make a difference…I have a feeling this might take some time, but I hope the day comes soon.

Freaky fever: which funky dancing freak are you?

It happens every time I go somewhere there’s a dance-floor — it’s completely predictable and there’s no way I can change the pattern, nor would I ever want to: at the start of the night I’m standing with all my man-mates, arms crossed, sniggering, adamant I’m not going to dance — I’m definitely not going to dance, nothing and nobody is going to get me on that floor, dancing to crap music that I’ve always hated — and by the end of it I’m all over that dance-floor. You can’t get me off it. It’s the most natural thing in the entire world. For those few hours, while the music plays and I sweat my bollocks off, it’s like nothing can touch me and time stands still. Atomic Kitten and Kylie have never sounded so good.

But it’s tough to begin with. I don’t drink, I can’t drink, it’d literally put me in hospital — let’s not go there now — so it’s not like I have anything to hide behind or any way to blame my dance moves on something other than me. For this reason, alcohol is never in charge of creating new and inspirational dance moves, and this, I think, leaves me at a distinct disadvantage compared to all the other dancing fiends out there. Totally sober and fully aware of everything, second after second, moment after moment, I’m thinking Come up with something cool and new! or No, not that move again, I’ve already done that too much. Chris, don’t let yourself down!

Dancing like a lunatic is tough when you’re sober and, the next morning, you wake up and remember it all. You should try it sometime, really.

Which dancing freak am I? I couldn’t possibly comment. It’s not my place. It doesn’t seem right to. Others should decide. So, instead, here’s my run-down of some of the various dancing freaks I have come across over the years (confirmed by last night’s excellent move making experience).

1: The Copycat: beware the Copycat. The Copycat sees every single move on the dance-floor and carefully works each and every one into his or her routine. It’s subtle, but if you know what to look for it stands out a mile away. And the Copy Cat is absolutely shameless. They don’t care that you’ve spent 10, maybe 15 minutes cultivating that cool side-step manoeuver. All they care about is stealing moves and passing them off as their own — usually with less style! (Note: can be infectious, so look out.)

2: The Occasional Hero: of all the dancing freaks, the Occasional Hero is one of the most elusive. One minute they’re commanding the dance-floor with grace and style, leaving a trail of awe and jealousy that is not easily healed…the next they’re at the bar with the kind of stance that suggests they’ve never even set foot on it. The Occasional Hero is one hell of an interesting phenomenon…it’s like they don’t even need to practice. (Note: can be quiet and unassuming off the dance-floor, taking you by surprise.)

3: The Never Ender: think you have dancing endurance? You ain’t seen nothing yet. The Never Ender might look like they weren’t exactly built for the dance-floor — they often have a drink in hand and can be found texting while dancing — but they’ve been through this experience a hundred times before and they can go the distance. (Note: their moves aren’t always the most extravagant, but over the night, as everyone else becomes worn out and knackered-looking, their moves begin to shine, coming into their own.)

4: Funky Moves Deluxe: the FMD is truly one-of-a-kind. Gifted and completely without inhibition, the FMD is a source of constant surprise and it doesn’t even look like they have to try to come up with ingenious new dance moves. (Note: often preyed upon by The Copycat, and for good reason.)

5: Too Pissed To See Straight Let Alone Care: you know the type.

6: The Berzerker: on paper — or spoken out loud, for that matter — they seem totally illegal. Like the dance-floor is the very last place they ought to be allowed. Their moves are utterly unorthodox, mind-bending, even, but do they care? No, they couldn’t give a shit — they were born to party. The Berzerker is very often the quiet guy in the office, or the shy girl who never speaks during team meetings. But get them on the dance-floor and all hell breaks loose and minds are corrupted. (Note: they can look mentally ill at times, but that’s all part of the charm.)

7: Group Boppers: these rely on being in a group, where all the dance moves are synchronised carefully and with stunning committment. These flank the dance-floor, and rivalry can develop between various clans. Usually hanging around in small groups of 4 or 5, the world of the Group Bopper is an enclosed and intimate one of whispers and giggles — nobody gets inside their circle. Group Boppers, when they become separated from their dancing pack, can often be seen making their way towards the bar. The last thing you’ll see them do is dancing on their own.

8: The Stand Alone Enigma: one of the most unconventional of all the dancing freaks, the SAE is in a world of his or her own…untouchable and without a care in the world, they’re not bothered that you think their dance moves are crap, and they have a certain nonchalance that the FMD can only dream of. (Note: avoid getting in their personal space, because you never know when a wild dance move is coming right at you!)

9: The Space Maker: speaking of wild dance moves…nobody knows more about that subject than the Space Maker. You can think of the Space Maker as a friend of the Berzerker. Only that’s where the similarities end, and very abruptly. For when the Space Maker starts on a campaign of freakiness, everyone knows about it and clears the dance-floor within seconds. (Note: they like to swing their arms around and won’t leave the dance-floor unless physically made to.)