What happened to old-school human bravery?

The beginnings of bravery: the Midwife (try and ignore the lady’s massive arm, but yeah, I know…it’s a bit off-putting)

According to generations of historic films, it goes like this: in the ancient times of battle and uprising – an aspect of life now largely replaced by IKEA furniture and panicking about your broadband connection’s speed, unless you happen to be a paramedic or a fire-man/woman, in which case you panic desperately about your 3G coverage – bravery wasn’t just an option, it was a way of life; as ingrained as the notion that all witch’s should be burned, or that when night falls, evil spirits lurk and the bras must come off buxom maidens (Knight: “If you remove thy bra, it will protect the village from evilest spirits! Plus I suspect it will also feel quite good.” Damsel: “I’ve heard that one before…). So, when you weren’t trying your damnedest to forge the softest, thinnest make-shift condom you could from the wood of a tree – please…spare a thought for the whores of those first few hundred agonising experiments… – you were eating food which you almost certainly knew would kill you as it had killed many of your relatives and friends, or dabbling in things which magic (now science) said might curse you if you got your toad’s legs confused with your lizard’s entrails. Basically, the moment you opened your eyes, you were locked in a fierce battle not only with your senses, but with everything you could touch or see or hear. About the only time – and this is me purely hypothesizing here – you got any real rest from being brave was when you dreamed about nice things like fields of golden corn and maidens running all smiley through it, the dream climaxing in you both simultaneously defending the maiden from a dragon while making love heroically. Though of course you didn’t ever tell anyone about those particular dreams in such detail…well, apart from the heroic climactic part. That bit you really rammed home. For one they’d think you delusional – have you ever seen someone run through corn smiling, maiden or otherwise? It’s really painful – and for another they’d consider your intellectual interpretations so grotesquely advanced and modern that the friendship would end abruptly. A savage blow to the head, presumably, brains spilling out. Nothing personal of course, that was just the way it was.

Today it’s fine to dream about anything. Dream it, do it, everyone else is, why should you be any different? In fact, dreams now play second-fiddle to CGI — as well as philosophical apes and films so realistic that there really isn’t any point in getting excited about eating chocolate anymore – it’s far easier and less taxing to just watch a sultry Galaxy commercial. That’s not to say that bravery isn’t still an integral part of every-day life, it’s just that things have changed. There is no going back. I really can’t see the average supermarket trolley boy dying with the same amazing dignity that William Wallace exhibited on that stone when his number was up (unless he or she works at Morrisons or Londis or a Poundstretcher with a particularly spacious car-park. Bred into a constant struggle to do better and work harder than almost anyone else on Earth, these down-trodden, resented-by-society workers are, from a very early age, made to contend with things like run-away trolleys and impossible to live-up-to sell-by-dates, not to mention the whole country constantly saying how they will never be as good as Waitrose etc, which would be enough to fuel the fire of even the slackest career-minded person. Which tends to explain why the previous supermarkets have both a much higher suicide and success rate – you tend to go one way or the other).

Try and be brave, go on, I dare you. Take a walk down the shops. Deliberately get in the way of those mums who always gang up together and block the entire width of the pavement. See what happens. I’ll tell you what’ll happen: one of them, or two of them, or all of them, if you’re really unfortunate, will tell you to Piss Right Off – right in front of their children, who are all more than capable of displaying their hatred for you with their small fingers. There will then be a moment when you think I’m not having this! I have every right to this pavement as well as you do. But you won’t do anything about it. You’ll then suddenly think of Google. Or Bing if you prefer to champion the underdog. The point is, without the internet you don’t know what to do. Really, without the internet what do any of us know what the hell to do? Think about a skinny black child growing up in the worst drought of our time in Somalia right now. He never thinks of Google. He’s more brave and daring every time he breathes than any of us out here and you know it.

Aside from all that, it’s probably true that for most of us, being brave has just got boring. As a people we are over it. A few thousand years of bravery is enough to break the backbone of any civilisation, and we’ve just had enough. Really, what’s the point if you don’t actually have to? We don’t need to be brave anymore, for the most part. Usually there’s a way to prevent us having to experience this daft archaic emotion, a way to get around the problem with technology. Being brave is what we used to do before the age of the internet; now we sing “I’ll catch a grenade for ya,” without really thinking the idea through properly (are modern boy-bands – sorry, ‘male groups’ – actually aware of what a grenade’s purpose is?). Unless you want to try and actually get out of your comfort-zone without the internet, of course. But why would you want to bother? It’s much easier just to talk about it – that’s what Facebook is for, after all.

Despite my ranting, we all know I’m missing a lot of modern-bravery out here: the mid-wives, the Policemen, those that risk their lives so we can continue to live our lives – all of these people exhibit incredible bravery which is hard to comprehend by engaging body and soul in Loose Women (the TV show…you’d probably know true bravery if you engaged in enough loose women…). Next time you hear about someone doing something brave, planning something brave, even if it’s dangerous, especially if it’s dangerous, spur them on. Make it clear that they have to do it (unless it might actually kill them, in which case back off a bit). It’d be nice if bravery continued to exist in a thousand years’ time, I think. And we are not going to get there by watching The Only Way Is Essex, that much is certain…

Note: I watched The Only Way Is Essex for the first time the other night. It was better than I expected. Some of the stuff they come out with…

Chris’s new experiment…

Where to begin…so much to say…

That was my attempt at doing tension. I hope you liked it.

I’ll keep it biref. It’s 12:30am and I am KNACKERED. Can you tell?

How about this: I have a brand-new blog up.

What’s it about? Well…hold on to your hat. Hold on to anything near you. But make sure it’s fastened down.

It’s about football.

That’s right, FOOTBALL. That thing which I have never been able to understand.

And it’s serious. Over the course of the next few months — up until May 2012, to be precise — I’m going to be recording my journey as I learn about football. The blog will be, and is, a blog for anyone. Even if you don’t like football I hope you’ll still take something from it.

Really, it’s about facing something you’re scared off and just going for it. And believe me when I say I am SCARED.

Right now there are three posts up, and you can read the intriductory one by clicking here.

I’ll still be blogging here, of course, you don’t get rid of me that easily!


The mysterious secrets that women keep (and men, well, me at least, will never understand…)

Sadly, when I typed ‘average looking woman’ into Google, this image came up. This doesn’t look very average to me. But then, when the majority of the internet is plastered with too-thin women, maybe this is average.

I’m not going to get into a religious or evolutionary debate here – and besides, everyone knows that you need at least two people to debate something, which is fortunate for me – but I will say that however it was that man and woman came to be, and whatever some disillusioned people may still think, woman came out on top. All things considered, the fact that we live in a male-dominated world stupefies me, really — I just find it hard to believe that things are still that one-sided. I often lie awake at night wondering how the trains would be running if women had been in charge since the start (not to mention whisks; if women had been in charge of them since day one then I highly doubt we’d have had to endure the tedious annoyance that is hand-whisking things for over a hundred years). So, let’s quickly examine several traits generally associated with both sexes (and please don’t email me in a rage stating how I have generalized. I will simply agree with you wholeheartedly while not bothering to reply to you. Thanks. Also don’t email me to say I hate men. I am one, or at least I was last time I checked. Yep, still am).


1) Will not ever ask strangers for directions (if they do — and I am talking from experience — they like to dress it up as a friendly conversation, dropping the question in nonchalantly, so as to drive on with a degree of male pride intact. Which does not work, ever).

2) Will not ever look at instructions. Instructions are THE ENEMY.

3) Will not ever accept help from strangers or friends when trying to build something. In this case, EVERYONE IS THE ENEMY, including and not limited to the Sky, inanimate objects both near and imagined, and even ones pathetic, constructually-impotent self (I do believe it is the first and last time I will ever use that expression, but I may be wrong).


1) Are better than they should be at multi-tasking. Let’s just leave it at that…

2) Possess the universally, language-transcending, irritating ability to always have the last word.

3) Are attracted to human-beings such as Rod Stewart. Rod Stewart. And the thing is, you just can’t blame ten million women fancying Rod Stewart on ten million brain injuries, either — although it would explain a lot — which suggests that something much more sinister has to be going on. But then I would think that…I’m a man, with a deep and entrenched obsession with not being able to work out Rod Stewart’s unbelievable face.

Delving deeper into the murky quagmire of enormous differences that exists between the sexes is the fact that male body’s resemble some kind of ultra-elaborate joke where body parts have been randomly slapped on willy-nilly, pun-intended – an ugly wrinkled dangly thing here, a pair of ancient-looking hanging round things there. It doesn’t matter which angle you approach it from: women are streamlined, gorgeous creatures which can dance badly all they like and still, somehow, come off with a degree of integrity and sexual allure, while men on the other hand…

…but still, at least we look at Rod Stewart and go “Oh, bloody hell…”

But it’s in the secrets that women keep that things get really interesting. For, since the dawn of time – or at least since fish grew breasts and discovered they really liked winding fish-with-dangly-bits up – they have had their own unique code of practice which men find impossible to understand. Which, surely, is the point?

Forget the point for a while. Some of which are as follows:

1) Leaving wisps of black, ambiguous hair clinging to the toilet bowl after some odd, unthinkable ritual. These strange ritualistic happenings can also be found in bathroom bins, adding even more so to the mystery.

2) Farting — modern-day equality demands that I use the term most commonly used by men, as opposed to the far less abrasive one passing wind — with just as much raging stinkage as any man, but somehow always avoiding suspicion as the perpetrator (it’s almost as if they can throw their farts like a ventriloquist expertly throws his or her voice).

3) Being not hungry in the slightest one minute, then absolutely starving the next (which always happens after you have just asked them, several times, if they wanted to change their mind, and they said “stop asking me if I want to change my mind!”).

Or maybe it’s just me.

A big surprise

Yesterday afternoon at 4pm I was writing, mood: relatively content. Freelance writing, in the spare room which used to be our garage back when Chesney Hawkes was singing his blisteringly successful number 1 single ‘I am the one and only,’ and everyone down our street proudly wore a different coloured shell-suit (mine was purple with green and pink bits). As is usual at around 4pm, my Greyhound Jojo was beginning to get lively. This is very much the habit in our house. Greyhounds, despite their love of speed and darting about, tend to sleep a lot, only to become more active in the afternoon in the lead-up to food-time. This craving for activity is further encouraged by the fact that at around about 5:30pm, Jojo’s Master — and my dad — returns home from work. Basically, if you have four legs and an obsession with sniffing which is only just a bit less fantastic than your Master — easily the best thing in the entire world, even better than sniffing other dogs’ bums — this is the absolute most exciting time of the day.

So I stopped writing to watch my mum play ball with Jojo — something which happens like clock-work in the afternoons, and is carefully timed so that there will be an hour or so afterwards for Jojo to rest (because the moment her Master comes in she’ll go mad and run about, which Jojo never realises is a bad idea until the moment she pukes all over the carpet). A five or ten minute break is nothing less than essential when your working day is largely spent alone, imagining things. I highly doubt I needed to tell you that.

The game of ball, yesterday, was of medium quality. I say ‘medium’ because Jojo’s bal-catching capabilities are, at times, second-to-none. On a good day she can catch the ball after its first bounce every single time and predict where it’s going even before it’s thrown. On a medium day she misses it more often, and scampers about like a small horse who has just learned how to play.

I heard the noise but Jojo didn’t — no surprise; Greyhounds aren’t alert unless they see something, and besides that, she was too busy recovering from the game and enjoying having her belly stroked by mum. It was by the fence, whatever was making the noise. As I wandered over I had in my mind that it was a small bird scuttling about in the bush there, above my head, but as I scanned the smaller bushes and ground I saw it was a baby pigeon.

As anyone who frequently reads this blog will know, I am a bird lover. While many people cite the pigeon an annoyance and a bird which we can do without, I have always marvelled at them. Pigeons are, after all, one of the most intelligent birds there are, not to mention they have a powerful memory and sensory perception — something which by far not all garden birds possess.

So there was the pigeon; it’s fluffy head and naive wandering quality something sweet in an otherwise routine day. For about five minutes I chased it around in-between the small plants and bushes, trying to either scare it into flight or pick it up so I could set it free. The pigeon wouldn’t go with either option. It just wanted to strut up and down by the fence all day. And that would have been fine, if it wasn’t for Jojo having something territorial against it.

I had some success getting the pigeon to take flight in the corner of the garden, but this was to be short-lived, and led to it scrambling with confusion up against the study-window. From the way it did this I could see it was no more than a week or so old. All birds get confused by windows, it’s a fact, but this pigeon lost bright white feathers as it landed, unsure of which direction to head next.

I’d decided to grab the pigeon whether it liked it or not when I looked to my right and saw Jojo break away from mum. In the time it took me to register this, Jojo had grabbed the pigeon, sinking her teeth all the way through it. I stepped back and put my head in my hands, walked to the other side of the garden. Mum shouted at Jojo and told her to put the poor animal down but it was already too late. More than anything at that moment, I didn’t want Jojo to put the pigeon down. Cruel as it sounds, I wanted the pigeon to go now, to die quickly, for it to be smooth and finite. I just couldn’t stand the idea of being left with no other option but to finish the job myself.

We spent 10 minutes trying to free the bird from Jojo’s mouth. 10 minutes, but her mouth was like a vice. When I finally did get the pigeon out it was without its right wing. I buried it in the front garden, the poor thing.

I was in a rage after that. I rarely get in a rage, but this, all this, seemed like everything bad and doomed and broken about the world. I blamed myself for the death of the bird. Myself and my mum for allowing Jojo to murder it and not taking her inside the house while I dealt with the pigeon. As upset as I was about what I had just witnessed, I wasn’t angry with Jojo for what she had done. It tainted the day, this thing. Nothing is quite the same when death has left its mark before your eyes.

But on the bright side, at least it wasn’t some kind of rare bird of prey. That really would have pissed me off.

Catching grasshoppers


When I was young, me and my brother — yes, I’m feeling like breaking some grammar rules today — spent a lot of time catching grasshoppers and crickets. I can’t remember how we learned this particular skill — a skill which my dad didn’t possess, and I can’t remember anyone showing us — but it was highly addictive and something which we both took very seriously. While our parents wandered around nearby, doing quintessentially adult things like thinking about the future and planning when to go shopping — two things which lost all credibility in our minds, as we focussed on this thing very much in the present — me and Maff stalked these most majestic of insects. And we were successful, really successful. Using a careful and highly strategic method which never failed, we caught grasshoppers and crickets over and over again.

Up until today, I hadn’t thought about any of this in years.Looking back, though, there seems to be no dividing line between that childhood and this life; no time when it stopped being important to do things like this. It makes me wonder how important catching grasshoppers and crickets really was to us as kids. The more I think about it, the more it seems that we took it for granted — just something which we did without any real effort, without even trying. Yet now I think of that time as special. Funny how things gain gravity all at once, such a long time later.

For these reasons and also just for the sheer hell of it, today, it being a bright, sunny day — the kind of day when grasshoppers would be loving it — I decided to see if I still had it in me (not the juvenile passion for doing all things that is exciting — I certainly hadn’t lost that). I knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as when I was 9 or 10, but what I didn’t realise was just how much I had forgotten in the last 20 or so years…

I probably shouldn’t be too surprised about that, seeing as how I can barely remember what I ate for dinner. But still, I really thought it’d be easier than it was.

It wasn’t easy, it was really, really hard. Just as predicted, the meadows at my local nature reserve — I am lucky to live not far from an amazing, immense space which glows in the Summer and the only downside is that you can’t go there at night as there are doggers — were heaving with life; the kind of intense, thrumming sound which is around you wherever you are, but that stops with eerie abprutness the second you take the smallest step forward.

“It was like I had the eyes of an eagle!”

After five minutes: nothing. I couldn’t even see any crickets or grasshoppers, let alone attempt to catch one. Where, before, the long yellow grass had looked serene, swaying in the breeze, now it just pissed me off. There was a moment at the ten minute or so mark where I considered abandoning my mission. But then I got a grip of myself. “You can’t turn around and just give up,” I said, trying to ignore the walkers who were passing behind me, probably wondering what I was doing prancing about in the grass all hunched over and concentrated. “If you could do it when you were 9 or 10 then you can damn well do it now!”

It was time for a re-assessment of my approach. What I had been doing obviously wasn’t working. Taking a step back, I tried to think like a grasshopper/cricket. Only joking, that’s taking it too far. But I did consider more deeply how to go about my task (I did briefly try to locate the long-lost memories of me successfully managing my task, but this did not last long, as it involved traipsing through the quagmire that is puberty. No thanks).

This time I was more careful. Everything was more thought out, less adult, and my footsteps caused less of a disturbance. Soon I was following grasshoppers and crickets of various sizes as they sprung from one long grass to the next.

And now, amazingly, I could see them amongst the grass. Before they’d been camouflaged and hidden. Now I could spot them from a distance. It was like I had the eyes of an eagle! A very bored eagle, but an eagle nonetheless.

I spotted an impressively-large grasshopper clinging to that long bit of grass next to the hundred-thousand or so others, you know the sort. This one was different, and I mean that literally: it was a scramble of browns and reds, with large hind legs and a kind of knowing expression on its face. Or maybe it was just the way it held itself.

Cautiously, I stepped forward and knelt down in front of it, being as careful as I could to avoid squashing the long grass behind me — the grasshopper’s expansive home, no less — with my gigantic human arse. As I brought my cupped hands down towards it there was a moment where we were both still as the most still thing. Then, swiftly, I closed my hands around it, expecting it to escape, as they always had done before, at that very last moment.

Except this time was different. I had finally done it: the impossible had been achieved. For just a few seconds, my little friend scampered about inside. Then I opened my hands ever so slightly and watched her crawl slowly out then vanish in an instant.

I tried to catch some more after that and failed. It didn’t matter. I had done what I had come for. I was in the sunshine. I was happy.

More stories like this over at Stories that are short.

Alternatively, if you enjoyed this post and want to read my new novel you can find it at Amazon UK here and Amazon US here (paperbacks are on the way soon, I PROMISE — email me if you need more details).