Endless fascination: Foo Fighters’ Everlong

GrohlI didn’t begin to appreciate Foo Fighters music until well after I’d left secondary school. A shame, because had I got there earlier, I would probably have been better able to relate to my class-mates. A select group of my peers were raving about this Foo Fighters band, treating angry Dave and his muckers like the originators of some kind of actual religion. Needless to say, this was something which provoked the attention of a sadistic RE-studies-despising-boy who went by the name of Big Terry (or Infamous Big Terry, depending on which people you hung about with). As was the fashion back in the early 1990s, Big Terry quite liked getting weaker pupils in horrendous looking head-locks, and he didn’t much appreciate groundbreaking rock music, either.

There was a boy in my form who had big ears and wouldn’t stop going on about Foo Fighters. A boy who, luckily for him, could also run fairly fast. Possibly the owner of the largest surface-area ears in our entire year, this immensely obvious physical characteristic went largely unnoticed to his class-mates as long as he was talking about Foo Fighters and successfully appearing cool. No wonder, then, that he kept up his adoration of Dave’s gang with punishing force – providing Big Terry was busy terrorising another victim, that is.

Everlong was one of those songs which instantly arrested my senses. There was no transition, no needing to get acquainted or even interpret the lyrics – the connection resonated instantly. Just like PixiesBone Machine would do, and just as Jeff Buckley’s mesmerizing song Grace would so effortlessly achieve, listening to Everlong was an experience akin to what could only be described as setting foot on another planet. At the time, I had heard nothing like it, nothing that even came remotely close. While other songs would come and go over the years, losing their significance and some of their magic, for me, Everlong still to this day retains the same powerful intensity.

The key to Everlong‘s astounding, multi-layered feel is, I think, an ability to completely consume a person’s senses. Grohl’s lyrics are raw and rampaging, while the song’s construction is a sprawling mass of high-energy which will have you receiving a speeding-ticket in next to no time. Everlong is a song to go crazy to, one to sing at the top of your voice or quietly embrace through ear-phones, isolated from the outside world.

When I first heard Everlong, I listened to it repeatedly. I listened to it for months, every single day, until the CD wore out. Each time seemed to bring something new and as yet unnoticed – yet so massively engaging that I struggled to comprehend how I had not acknowledged its significance before. Yet over time, I realised that something was happening. Everlong wasn’t losing its appeal, as such, but I was beginning to realise that, like very few songs, it was a song to cherish.

Nowadays, I tend not to listen to Everlong very often. If I hear it more than three times in 6 months then for me, that could be considered an exception. If I hear it in a cafe, I will, almost subconsciously, do everything in my power to put space between me and it – while also feeling cheated that I am doing so. If it comes on while I am driving, or accidentally finds itself pouring out of my MP3 player, I will shut it off without a second thought…unless I am truly in the precise right mood. For me, Everlong is a very special song which I like to listen to only from time to time. To savour and enjoy when I need that extra-special something (so much so that I didn’t even listen to it while writing this blog post).

While it’s possible that I will one day get fed-up with this classic song, something tells me that if that is to happen, it won’t be for some time yet.

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Channel 4: Live From Space, just for the hell of it

My girlfriend and I ended up watching the first of Channel 4s Live From Space series by total accident. Jen, fuelled by enthusiasm to see first dates flourish and fail miserably, was absolutely certain that everyone’s favourite new dating show First Dates was on Channel 4 at 9pm last night. It wasn’t of course. We were an hour too early. As it was then announced that, instead, the first episode from this new Space series was to begin, both of us sat there a bit pissed off and deflated and wondering what to do next. We had good reason to be annoyed, it’s true. I had my treats ready (one of which was a big fat bar of Dairy Milk) and Jen had her pack of blueberries at the ready (a real bargain at just 34 pence on special offer from our favourite supermarket, The Cooperative). In a very short period of time, we had to decide: do we watch this Live From Space thing or not bother? After a bit of debate, I decided to make an executive decision. We were going to give the show a chance. Probably it was going to be crap, we both thought, but whatever way you looked at it, it would at least be intriguing to see how people do poos safely in space.

But you know how it goes. No sooner had Dermot O’Leary appeared on screen than my phone went off in my pocket. I was tempted to not answer it, as Dermot had just started to speak – there he was, standing in front of Mission Control in Houston, looking happy to be doing something other than X-Factor – but it was our friend’s birthday and we had tried to call him a few minutes before (which, when he failed to pick up, saw Jen and I singing Happy Birthday onto voicemail like a right couple of silly goons). Selfishly, I had thought at the time that the amount of effort we had put into singing that famous song would somehow blow the mind of our friend enough that he would need at least an hour to take in the wonder of it all, thus giving us just enough time to first watch Live From Space episode 1. So as to concentrate fully on the chat with our friend, I turned the channel over. That was when I knew that I was more interested in learning about Space than I had first thought.

I tell you what, I loved learning about Space with Dermot. I really thought it was brilliant. Although it was at no point in time mentioned how astronauts safely do a poo in Space, we did learn plenty of other interesting things. For example, anyone who has often thought What the hell do people actually do in Space? would have been delighted to discover that, mainly, astronauts do bizarre experiments which are recorded in every way imaginable, apparently for the sake of it. Us viewing public witnessed this first-hand as ants were released inside a small container, live from Space. It sounds dull, I’ll admit, but watching the ants attempt to go about their business was strangely mesmerizing. It’s just a shame the ants can’t speak for themselves.

Another high point came when one of the astronauts shared with us a routine daily task that most of us with decent running non-diseased water take for granted: that loveable daily event of washing one’s own face. As Koichi Wakata explained how good it felt to put a warm towel upon his face, I turned to Jen, initially unimpressed and said, “I didn’t start watching this to see astronauts wash their faces!” My initial opinion soon proved to be hasty and wrong, however, as we learned that astronauts don’t have showers or use running water in Space. Knowing this, what we had just witnessed took on a whole new dimension of importance.

As the show went on, my imagination couldn’t help but go into over-drive. I just kept thinking: what experiments would I do if I was spending six months hanging about in Space? I decided these would take priority:

1: technically it’s not an experiment, but it is exciting. I’d go on a bit of a rogue Spacewalk. One day, when everyone else was asleep in their quarters, I’d wake up and go out into Space on my own, like a renegade! Probably I’d try and walk to a star or something daring like that. Forever, scientists and know-it-all people have said without question that stars are light years away from each other, but what if they’re not? What if there really is one just a couple of miles away and we’ve been lied to all along? You’d feel utterly foolish for not trying, wouldn’t you? It would be a great thing to say when you got back from Space, that’s for sure: “it’s not true that stars are light years away from each other. I came across one on a rogue Spacewalk. Beat that.”

I did have a load more ideas – doing falconry in Space, or maybe tricking the other astronauts into thinking that a secret astronaut existed on the Space Station who was hiding away somewhere and hell-bent on sabotaging the mission, etc – but I have decided to not go into detail about these here. On second thoughts, it seems very cruel on birds of prey and possibly a waste, quite literally, of Space.

There is more to be said, so I’ll get on with that.

Do you ever wonder about TV in the future? I do. As a result, I predict – and this is a very serious prediction with absolutely no humour – that the future will see millions of us tuning-in to an X-Factor style TV show where contestants are beamed-up to the ISS for incredible galactic singing competitions. It sounds crazy, but I’ve decided it’s extremely likely (the adverts would probably mention the phrase intergalactic fun at some point, but to me that seems a bit inaccurate, seeing as in Space terms the ISS is barely out of the Earth’s atmosphere. But maybe that’s just me being a bit anal, I don’t know).

There were so many things which amazed me as we watched the programme elapse. One thing which freaked us out all the way through was how the astronauts looked when floating about. They didn’t look normal at all! Instead of stomachs being where they ought to be, they appeared to have floated upwards by several feet. People’s shoulders, for example, were up by their ears, and I’m sure I saw an arse round where their shoulder blades used to be. Everything appeared to have floated upwards. This observation quickly grew into a rapid, escalating fear for the safety and location of the men’s genitals. I just kept imagining myself in Space, going to the toilet, and looking about for my genitals, only to discover them where my nipples used to be, swaying around upon my back.

Then there was the whole thing about what these so-called experiments were really for. Considering the United States’ love for experimenting in secret locations on Earth without telling anyone until caught absolutely red-handed, I struggle to believe that Mission Control are experimenting in purely innocent ways. And let’s face it, if there are places on Earth where rules can be completely ignored, Space is going to be a million times better. I’m not sure I want to know what other experiments they are doing in Space and not telling us about. Then again, I’ve banged on quite a bit about it here, so maybe I am lying. Perhaps I do.

The Spacewalk that Rick and Mike Hopkins had to do was fantastic viewing, though. Widely considered to be the most dangerous thing you can do, this one was to see Rick and Mike Hopkins (they’re not brothers, by the way, I just haven’t bothered to research Rick’s second name) go out to replace a valve on a coolant pump. For me, being asked to do something like this is my absolute worst nightmare, so it’s a good job that you can’t be called to go up into Space like you can be requested to partake in Jury Duty (as of yet, anyway). I bet I’d break something which would inadvertently cause the death of a fellow astronaut. I just know I would. I consider myself to be a good person, but still, I am in no doubt that this would probably result in me going back inside the ISS only to say “guys, Jason sort of fucked up the valve and died…the idiot. I did everything I could but it was too late. I told you you shouldn’t have trusted me too – I did make a very big point of saying that changing valves is not my forte, and you still bloody sent me out there.” I’d love to tell the truth in this situation, but what might happen then? It could be bad. Spending 6 months in Space with just a load of other men must do funny things to you. For mental wellbeing it cannot be great.

Which reminds me…how come we didn’t see any women on board the ISS? Could that be mere coincidence, or is that by design? The more I pondered this question, the more confused I got. In an age of (supposed relative) equality, surely women are just as capable as men when it comes to Space stuff? I concluded in the end that probably it was – is – by design and for safety. While I’m fairly confident that most men would be able to work with a woman in Space for months on end and not violate them in some way, I suppose there is no way of knowing how people will react once they get out there (a bit of research at this link has led to something of an explanation which is worth reading, and which also shows my naivety and lack of knowledge up in quite a dazzling way. It would appear that tradition plays a large part: astronauts were originally fighter-jet pilots, and since the military didn’t used to allow for the consideration of female fighter-jet pilots, the resulting lack of female astronauts – combined with a lack of wanting on the US Government’s part to adapt or change their selection criteria – was the inevitable tragic and downright hideously unfair result).

So there you have it: Space is so much more than just the worst place to get lost (unless you want to get really lost, in which case you couldn’t have been more fortunate). It’s not a place for lazy people, however. Did you know that in Space it’s mandatory to do a couple of hours of intense exercise every single day? You could float about all day in awe of Zero-G and do absolutely nothing but smile, but when your wife asked you to go shopping or even stand up for several seconds when you got back home, you’d wish you hadn’t, because your bones would probably break. A smile wouldn’t be much good then, obviously.

Much as I enjoyed the show, I have decided that I have no ambitions to go to Space any time soon. None whatsoever. Once I’ve finally seen Gravity, I have a feeling that the inclination might be even less, but still, I am willing to remain open-minded.

Susanna’s OK, but what about Susie Fowler-Watt?

Unmistakeably SF-W

Unmistakably SF-W

It’s a good job I’m not the sort of demented determined person who’s good at organising protests, who paints signs and who will think absolutely nothing of dropping everything and marching through the streets and using those same signs to show the world who my favourite flipping newsreader is. That’s right: it’s East Anglia’s favourite presenting superstar, Susie Fowler-Watt. Owner of the finest, silky, multi-coloured satin shirts that the flattest part of our country has ever seen.

And today wasn’t good. Today, all us SF-W lovers suffered what can only be described as a crippling direct hit to everything we hold dear about newsreading. Why? Well, those of you who have been paying any attention to the news in any way whatsoever will have noticed that Susanna Reid has just been named newsreader of the year at the TV and Radio Industries Club awards. Newsreader of the year! Disgusting indeed. Especially when you consider the dynamite duo that is SF-W and SW (also known as Susie Fowler-Watt and much-loved anchorman, the one and only Stewart White).

If awards could be given for defectors, then, no doubt, Susanna Reid would be right up there with the best of them. But when it comes to quality newsreading, anyone who has witnessed Susie Fowler-Watt’s natural smiley banter with Stewart White over the years will surely agree that today’s latest shun to East Anglia is completely unacceptable. Just because our county is flat doesn’t mean that our newsreaders deserve to be more or less constantly walked all over. In this case trampled. Even if they do have haircuts that hark back to the 1980s (something that SF-W pulls off in a way which seems nothing less than impossible, I should add).

The worst part about it, for me, is that I bet Fowler-Watt, with her wonderful supercar like nickname SF-W, took it gracefully and didn’t complain once. I bet she never once looked in the mirror and said “you know what Susanna, I’ll take your bloody head off if you smile like that again!” While Susie’s grace under such pressure is of course noteworthy, it’d be wonderful to see the ever enchanting SF-W lose it just once for a short time (preferably with Stewart by her side, holding her back so as to prevent any GBH which might not be conducive to future newsreading). And why not, when you’re 50% of the greatest newsreading duo that the East Anglian counties has likely ever seen? Surely if anyone has the right, SF-W does?

Then again, it wasn’t just SF-W who painfully lost out in 2014. According to the BBC story which spawned my intense Eastern counties anger, both Lorraine Kelly (Lorraine for goodness sake!) and Fiona Bruce also missed any kind of acknowledgment. Bewildering is the only word.

Susanna may seemingly have hit the jackpot with her move to front ITVs new Daybreak replacement Good Morning Britain, but don’t count SF-W out just yet. I know some people, and they’re damn good at organising protests…they also adore the genre of East Anglian newsreading.

Boomerang!

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My sister and her partner, they bought me a boomerang for my birthday, several months ago. On the box, as above, was a to-scale illustration of the object inside, and in the centre of the illustration were the encouraging words Super Return. Backing up this claim were the smaller words beneath: Flight Standard No.8. With no grasp of how this standard matched up against all the other standards – presumably there were other standards – I couldn’t tell how great my standard was. In all situations like this, when only a best guess can be given, I think of 1 being crap and 10 being brilliant. Conclusion: my boomerang was probably quite good. Better than average, at least. I mean…it was a Super Return!

Walking towards the local playing field, my new wooden boomerang in hand, ready to throw, I was excited. Deeply excited. I had always wanted a boomerang, but for some reason had never got around to getting one. Now, close to my maiden voyage, I felt slightly ridiculous for leaving it to my sister and her partner to make my dreams come true. Then again, I was happy, and nothing could mess my spirits up. Within me was growing an enormous sense of anticipation and a feeling of being part of something majestic which very few people had ever known about. Having studied the instructions on the back of the box, I was confident of what was about to happen, and this was all I could focus on. I was going to chuck the thing in just the right way, and it was going to power out in a straight line in front of me before curving round anti-clockwise in some kind of semi-circle, before making its way back in my general direction (I set this at around 30 feet. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that). Of course, I wasn’t getting carried away. I knew that the first attempt probably wouldn’t be very good, and the second and third and fourth and fifth and likely sixth and seventh and eighth throws wouldn’t be good either, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because, having studied a few YouTube videos, I felt confident that eventually, my Super Return Flight Standard No.8 would make its way back to me. It had to. That was what boomerangs were for.

Arriving on the playing field, I was chuffed to see that I had the place entirely to myself. A good thing, surely. I had read on a boomerang enthusiast’s website that an enthusiast – especially a beginner – should never throw their ‘rang with others present anywhere near. What constituted anywhere near varied enormously, depending on the boomerang enthusiast’s website. But for my first ‘rang experience, I was going to play it safe and keep a space clear of 150 feet square, and no less.

I’m going to stop saying ‘rang now, and just stick to boomerang. I feel somewhat ridiculous saying rang all the time. After all, at this time, I hadn’t earned the right to. That was yet to come.

It turned out that the right to was a very long, long way to come. The kind of long way where if someone gives you elaborate, endless directions in the street to get to somewhere and says you can walk, you don’t, you get a taxi, because you can tell that either they’re not good with directions and it’s fucking ages away, or they’re taking the piss and just a cruel person who gets deep satisfaction from sending strangers into a state of pure and utter despair. It was to be that far. The world can be so cruel.

The first ten throws went like this: I chucked the boomerang and it flew out in a straight line, just as I had imagined…before dive bombing into the ground, cutting into the wet ground like a dagger. I’d then run up to it, all enthusiastic and sure that the next throw would be loads better, and at no time would I give any thought to the fact that from behind their windows, residents living around the playing field might be judging me and making jokes at my expense. My optimism was dangerous, actually. I was sure that, by some miraculous event, the boomerang would curve properly on the wind on the next attempt, before landing not too far from me. But it didn’t happen. Ever. No matter what the hell I tried, it just refused to happen. Again and again the boomerang – sorry, the stick – landed thirty-feet away. Sinking into despair with every passing second, I refused to allow myself to stop. I had made a promise to myself when I walked onto that playing field and it was very simple and could not be broken: I was going nowhere until that bloody boomerang began to come back to me.

Suffice to say, it was pitch-black before I began the long but short walk home. I had almost lost my boomerang on the very last attempt, and although there’d been a small moment of ecstasy when I’d thought I’d lost it forever and might be spared the torment of future throwing sessions, there also existed an enormous rage that was building with frightening speed. Clutching my intricately curved stick, the walk was slow and surreal as the reality of who I was sunk in: I wasn’t a boomerang kind of a person. I never had been, and chances were I never would be.

Absolute fucking bollocks. That was basically what it was.

Then a few days later, a revelation struck me with some force. In one of those crazy moments I’d been consistently having – one where I imagined myself as a boomerang kind of a person, all smug on YouTube, saying it how it is and giving nonchalant instructions to all the boomerang thickos out there – I found myself Googling boomerangs. Like so many novices before me, I asked question after question. Why won’t my boomerang come back? What am I doing wrong with my boomerang? The questions led to a complex web of lies and sinister secrets which couldn’t help but remind me of the film Se7en, featuring Morgan Freeman. I began to wonder if, perhaps, the failure could have been more involved than I had initially given it credit for.

This one website was saying that not all boomerangs were true returning boomerangs. That some were labelled as returning, but actually never would. It was the design, said the website’s boomerang enthusiast author. And this was when things started to get really interesting. Spurred on by this shocker, I began to investigate the source from which my sister and her partner had acquired my boomerang. It wasn’t long before my searching yielded results. The news was not good, however. First of all, my boomerang was a cheap one, making it a strong contender for one of these boomerangs that might not return. But worse than that was what was yet to come: comparing the boomerang against other more expensive and specially crafted models, there were significant differences. Differences that could very well push a novice boomerang enthusiast well over the edge. The main problem was the boomerang’s thickness and shape – which, when you think about it, is more or less all a boomerang has got. Good boomerangs were supposedly thin weapon-like masterpieces which sliced effortlessly through the air. The bend and curve of the boomerang was the next big issue. Mine was only slightly bent, as if by accident like a not-bent-enough-banana, whereas the ones I was seeing where much more so, with each wing curved as much as 90 degrees to the other…

For a moment I felt a great weight lift off me. I was free! The world opened up and there was I at the centre of it, surrounded by new possibilities. I could be a boomerang kind of a person! It was at least possible! So now, the way I saw it, I had two distinct choices. Either I could put it all down to experience and keep myself from getting mixed-up in the grotesque web of deceit that boomerang enthusiasts certainly told their partners to get one more go with their boomerang – “I’m just nipping out down the shops again…” – or I could take a substantial risk. Buy a new and reputable boomerang from a trusted supplier and embrace what may be to come. No matter how dark.

Of course I chose the latter. I had come too far, and thrown too many failed boomerang attempts to just give up now. I told my girlfriend, Jen, and she said “great…here we go again.” I looked at her, smiled and said “I’m buying this boomerang from this Davro Boomerangs company based in Ireland, and it is going to come back!” Then she said what I said she said before, but with more force. I think she also may have sworn. That’s what boomerangs do to people, for good, for bad.

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Davro Boomerangs based in Ireland looked like a wicked company. In the good way that teenagers say wicked, and that I recently had once again started saying, because the boomeranging was doing that to me, making me giddy, making me anxious and excited and elated and hard to be around. Unless you too also were a fan of boomeranging.

Or, should I say, the thought of boomeranging! In my mind whirred these crazy spectacles. Me almost catching it then…me, catching it then dropping it, but…so nearly catching it! In these mind spasms of joy I could so easily have exhaustively pursued the fantasy of catching my boomerang cleanly, like a pro, but I chose not to every time. I didn’t want to ruin the eventual feeling. I also didn’t want to get my hopes up. I wasn’t sure I could take it if the Traditional boomerang I had ordered from Davro Boomerangs did not come back.

The day my boomerang arrived in the post, in a long cardboard box, I ripped the packaging open and marvelled at it for a good ten minutes. Lovingly crafted by the skilled hands of Richard Oglivy of Davro Boomerangs in Ireland, the thing was nothing less than a total masterpiece. A masterpiece, I tell you! All I kept thinking, as demented and childish as it was, was This looks like a weapon! This looks a lot like it could kill someone! Putting the boomerang down, the thought registered in a troublesome new light. This looks a lot like it could kill someone…this seriousness didn’t last long though, it has to be said. I had business to attend to. That Traditional boomerang had to be thrown!

And this time, I actually wasn’t leaving until it at least looked like it wanted to come back.

Nerves were making a mess of me as I approached the playing field with my new Traditional. On the other side of the field, I soon saw something else that concerned me. A man walking his dog, impinging on my turf with not a care in the world. This was precisely what I had read on boomerang websites: passerby had not the faintest idea of their plain stupidity and closeness to death at the hands of a novice. Instead of seeing a boomerang and thinking Better not go anywhere near, it was almost like they were drawn to the sheer danger of it. I stood there on the playing field allowing the grass clippings to fall from my hand for a good minute while I watched the dog walker’s dog’s erratic movements (this is what you do to test the direction of the wind for boomerang throwing, don’t you know). When the man didn’t get the obvious message, I had no choice but to back away from him, finding myself in the opposite corner of the field with my deadly weapon. Five minutes later, with his dog now happy, the man left unscathed. It was time for me to make Pink family history.

And it was then, in that fateful moment, when it struck me full-force: this was likely the first time in the history of the world that my village had ever seen a proper hand-crafted boomerang thrown. I was not going to waste this opportunity.

Figure of speech, of course. Being a novice, wasting the opportunity was precisely what I was going to do, for at least half-an-hour. But at least I wasted it wholeheartedly and with a smile upon my face. The first attempt sent the lethal weapon flying up into the air, before careering sideways with a freak gust of wind, landing about fifty-feet away. Aided by my lack of skill, the same thing happened for the next 50 attempts, where my Traditional landed in every part of the playing field, taking in the local shrubs and bushes. It even landed on the cordoned-off bit where they’re trying to grow near grass for the cricket (I think). Until I began to get the hang of it. Until, amazingly, I threw the boomerang and it began to curve in front of me and started to head back.

Standing in a field with a Traditional boomerang flying towards you may sound like an enviable position for a boomerang enthusiast in his third decade to be in, but I soon learned it wasn’t. Twice, the boomerang literally came straight at me, and the only way I avoided it was to hurl myself out of the way. “How do I catch you?” I cried out in despair, sort of toying with the idea of catching it now, but knowing in reality that there was no way. I knew what I had to do, I just couldn’t see how the hell I might apply that logic. I had read somewhere that catching a diving boomerang is a very stupid thing to do indeed, and I now had first-hand experience of why. My next breakthrough, which saw the boomerang begin to hover-in on landing, came on my next throwing session, and with it the realisation that I was, definitely, a boomerang person. I knew so because, that fateful day, I ran towards it, looked up and saw it float down towards me, before clapping my hands around it (after about 10 other times where the boomerang had hit me in the thigh at 30-miles-per-hour, narrowly missed my head and whacked into my hands about a dozen times…).

I was a boomerang kind of a person after all. I had known so all along (sort of).

The Undateables, Series 2, Episode 2: If they can do it, so can you

hhshs

On Twitter the other day, I warned @Sam_Culpeck I might do a drawing of her and she sort of dared me to, which is always a dangerous move as I’m not scared to draw aything badly, ever. So here it is. Hopefully she doesn’t now want to kill me.

Warning: like last time, this contains major-major spoilers.

When I was 12, I underwent one of the greatest psychological traumas of my young life, and it wasn’t just my fault, it was also Derek from school’s fault, too. Derek was one of those nightmarish but essential to our heritage pre-teen characters who, for reasons not obvious then and still not obvious now, looked much older than everyone in our year and seemed to have a bizarre insight into what it was like to be a veteran teenager well before it was physically or chronologically possible (smoking, growing a mutilated beard, being freakishly powerful, that kind of thing). Taking this into account, it’d be reasonable to assume that Derek had stayed on a year as punishment from the natural scheme of things, or that Derek needed to stay on a year to catch up, because he struggled with his school-work. Or that Derek was some kind of evil time-traveller. Yet none of these things are true. Looking back, the only sound answer is that Derek was planted there by malevolent teachers, as a form of light-to-medium entertainment (I picture them scribbling instructions down for Derek and sending him out there to cause carnage with all the pre-pubescents). When the trauma happened inside my young mind, I cursed Derek something rotten, I can tell you.

See, Derek had given me the number of a random girl in our year and convinced me to call her family’s home phone and ask to speak to her. This was back in 1992, when the mobile phone was something of a myth. Anyway, I did as Derek said and it didn’t go anything like Derek had promised it would. Derek had said that the girl, who I (luckily for her) will not name here, would be overcome with joy. He made it sound like all this girl did all day was wait for such phone-calls from boys like me (but in a classy way).

What actually happened was the girl went very quiet and then burst into the kind of debilitating tears more often associated with surprise colonoscopies (I should know, I have had one). I would later discover, by way of constant verbal torture and rumourmongering at the hands of the entire school, that the girl’s family were extremely religious and boys were approximately as anyone sticking anything up anyone’s bum, ever.

Had Sam Culpeck – the first person we were introduced to on this second episode – answered my poor excuse for a call, I have a feeling that she wouldn’t have burst into tears like that poor girl did. In fact, having watched her chuck herself out of a plane with what appeared to be absolutely no fear whatsoever, I’d say that she’d have found the whole thing quite amusing (or have told me to piss off, which might have marked one of the first occasions of a girl saying rude words to me — quite the rite-of-passage for any boy, I think you’ll agree). Which is was, of course. It just took me about 20 years to find out.

See, unlike the girl who Derek groomed me into pestering — in a completely non-gay way — this Brighton girl wasn’t afraid. Born with Achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism, pretty and funny Sam just wanted to date a cool guy who wasn’t a total pussy – not too much to ask, you would think.  Except “there’s pricks everywhere you go,” she said, talking about the numerous crude things men had said to her, and I had to agree. What other word is there for men who joke about spinning you around on their cock? I can’t think of any but I wouldn’t mind betting that Sam can think of a few. “When I see a couple together,” she said, “I think they’re incredibly lucky.” Now trying calling someone with dwarfism stupid. Actually don’t, especially if you’re aboard an aircraft…

So, here we were: 7 years since Sam had had a date, and now she was going for it big-time, complete with a PhD in psychology. Flame Introductions were back again to do the dating honours, and this time Christine and Jenny were on hand to meet Sam and discuss what she was looking for. I’d had some cool tweets from Sam on Twitter — along with Joanie Scott, the mum of Sarah from Episode 1 – and was excited about what was going to happen next. If you want to follow Sam it’s @Sam_Culpeck. You can follow Joanie Scott on @SymphonyUK and Sarah on @SarahBScotty.

Next up, we have the man with the best laugh out there, the ever-likeable Ray. If you’ve been reading The Undateables Twitter feed then you might think Ray was in the Stevie Wonder lookalike business. Actually he’s a 49-year-old Leeds United fanatic with one of the most infectious laughs ever. Living in London, Ray has a learning disability and would, throughout the rest of the show, get ridiculously excited, making the people of Twitter come alive with joyous praise, drowning out the nasty taunts of the many and numerous who think people with learning disabilities are somehow inferior. Mainly, Ray looked like a bloody good laugh and great fun to be around.

As well as the unique laugh, I think it’s fair to say that Ray had one of the most unique histories of anyone to appear on The Undateables ever. Whereas many people like to get as far away from their ex as is physically possible, Ray was, by the very nature of being on this show, in dangerously close proximity at just mere metres away. Most people wouldn’t want their ex in control of the person they might date next, but Ray’s approach was different to say the least. His ex ran the dating agency, was the thing. Not only was Ray at the mercy of his ex, Lolita, but their mutual friend Lydia was to mediate between the two.

With dynamics like that, it’s not hard to see why the show is effecting such polarized opinions. But here, now, I’ll repeat what I said in my blog for Episode 1: The Undateables is genuine people, filmed in real-time, by people making a TV show about real, genuine issues. If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re watching, it might have more to do with you than any of the people on the show.

Or it might be that you’re Derek my ex school nemesis, I suppose. But I really hope not.

It’s tricky, of course. When you hear that Lolita left Ray for another man, and you see how sweet Ray really is, it’s going to stir emotion. And so it damn well should. It’s 2013 for God’s sake. Time to get our bloody heads out of the sand once and for all. If not now…when?

And all this has got me thinking. Maybe all the negativity surrounding the show – I say all the negativity, but let’s put that in context: many people also love it – is a necessary thing in a weird kind of a way. Before there can be proper enlightenment, we need to break barriers. That’s never going to happen if we don’t have all kinds of reactions, with extremes at either end of the spectrum.

Back to what was going on with Sam: Flame introductions weren’t mucking about…they’d only gone and found her a match! It was only bloody James, wasn’t it! You’d be smiling too if this was the first date you were going on in 10-minus-3-years. Sam said it best herself with “actually shitting myself,” while smiling and generally looking like someone had just asked, “I’m about to throw myself out of a plane, I don’t suppose you want to come with me?” The guy also wasn’t overly tall, Sam also noted, which made me laugh. If a TV camera crew were in my living room watching my mum and me have a conversation about an impending date, I’m not sure I could crack a joke like that – whatever you think of the show, you can’t say appearing on it isn’t anything but stupendously brave.

Now the show’s producers had lured us into wanting to know what might happen next with Ray and Sam, it was time for their good old favourite trick – switching to someone completely new.

To begin with I was cursing those fiendish Channel 4 producer people, but then I was once again engrossed. Oh, they’re so cruel!

On the screen before me now was 30-year-old supermarket worker Steve. Hailing from Sunderland, Steve hadn’t been on a date in 7 years (it seemed like this was very much the 7-year-episode). According to Steve, whenever he met a girl he immediately fell into friendship territory. As with Haydn from Series 1 (find him on Twitter here) who favorited my tweet just the other day, Steve was born with the genetic condition Crouzon Syndrome that disfigures the face – so named after the French physician who initially described this disorder. Like Ray and Sam, Steve’s desire to find himself in a relationship was touching to watch. If you’re not touched by this and you think Ray’s laugh is anything but ace then it may just be because your recycling bin is full up with Daily Mail newspapers – if I were you, I’d pulp them rather than just empty it, but it’s up to you.

Maybe it’s because I’ve written a book on a boy with Cherubism – fictional young adult adventure story The Number 3 Mystery book, if you’re twisting my arm to find out – but watching Steve talk about how his condition had proved problematic for dating, and how he’d been called everything under the sun when it came to his eyes, I struggled with how anyone could not want to be around someone like this. I mean, seriously, we’re talking about a man who had already planned how he’d propose when he met that one – cynics, mouth shut now, please – special person.

If you can’t find that touching then, as I said in my previous The Undatebles blog, you’re most likely someone who thinks Dirty Dancing is a terrible movie. Still, there are perks to being clinically dead inside. One of them is not spontaneously bursting into “Nobody puts baby in the corner!” which is actually quite a good thing. People always look at me funny when I do that. Sometimes, my girlfriend thinks I’m really weird.

Another thing which made this episode stand out, for me, was the filming of the families, which gave the show a captivating edge. With Sam there was her mum, laughing and always there to give moral support, and with Ray there was Lydia (not strictly family, being white and from another mother, but you get what I mean). Steve’s family couldn’t have been more supportive, and if you ask me they’d done a bloody good job bringing up their son. Steve had inherited his Crouzon from his mother, but nothing about him appeared bitter or like the world owed him anything. All Steve wanted was to fall in love with someone like his dad had done and raise a family. Not someone just like his mum of course. Stop thinking that…you’re being creepy.

And so it was that Steve met Christine from the dating agency. Then those dirty Channel 4 dogs did their business, again, and changed things back to Ray.

Ray was anxiously waiting for Lydia from the agency to call, only it was hard to think of Ray as anxious, because he was more or less constantly laughing. Then the phone rang, and it was real: Lydia had good news. She had him a date!

By now, like a man or woman who has been forced to sit down and watch 10 episodes of once-trailblazing but now botox-infested soap drama Hollyoaks, you’ll be too beaten down to care that we’re changing things yet again. In fact, I feel a bit stupid for even mentioning it, so I’ll stop instead.

It was time for Sam’s big day, and also time for the population of the UK affected by vertigo to do big faeces in their pants. Yes, oh yes, Sam wasn’t meeting her date at a local pub for Sunday roast or any of that bollocks…Sam was going skydiving with 38-year-old sales adviser James from New Zealand! And if you thought sales advisers were dull as hell, and have recently made a bet with a friend that the next New Zealandish (?) sales adviser you see on TV is going to be outrageously exciting, then I hope you didn’t bet a lot of money, because you’re going to look pretty stupid. Almost as stupid as me for writing New Zealandish, I should think.

I could dress it up. I could lie and say that I think James was a really thrilling guy and his personality just didn’t come through. In reality I’m not going to do that. In reality, I’m going to say that James just wasn’t Sam’s type in any way, shape, or form, just as she said herself, and maybe the cameras made him feel just a little bit nervous. (And actually, I don’t feel too guilty about saying that, because somewhere in a parallel universe out there, Sam and James are married with 7 kids and 12 dogs. But don’t worry Sam. In that parallel dimension I wouldn’t have even been born, so that makes us even, I think you’ll agree!)

So…the date. If you could call it a date. It basically consisted of Sam trying to have a laugh and interact – you know, talking about being obsessed with good music like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, etc – and James putting his foot in it by admitting, live on British television, to actually liking Genesis in more than just a casual way, without anyone holding a gun to his head. Something which we all know shouldn’t legally be allowed to happen until a man has experienced at least 2 failed marriages and is on the brink of a quadruple mid-life-crisis. And maybe a heart-bypass, and only after having lost most of his hair.

Those few seconds, as Sam sipped whatever she was sipping, holding the cup to her mouth while James spoke of liking Genesis more than just casually, were something alright. I’m just not sure what. I think I may still be in shock. We’ll know if I ever stop crying inside.

Back to Ray again, who was having what I like to call An Extreme Date. I call it this because so few people do blind-date picnics in the park nowadays that the concept itself is dangerously daring. I mean…anything might happen…a pigeon might fly overhead and crap on your sandwiches…a gang of Evanescence-loving goth-hoody teenagers might wander past, wearing tight jeans, talking as if proper words quite literally went out-of-fashion long ago.

Ray’s first date in 3 years, don’t forget.

And the cringe factor, it has to be said, was seriously high. That may just be because Ray had chosen to hand-make cheese and marmite sandwiches, or it may just be what you couldn’t help but think. Watching Ray make cheese and marmite sandwiches, you almost wanted one of the show’s producers to step in and say “make cheese and ham, make cheese and ham! Or just cheese and tomato, just to be safe! Or just cheese, just to be safer still, because the tomato might make the bread soggy and that’d be a nightmare!” That’s another reason why people think this show is cruel, it seems to me. Viewers want the producers to keep things safe and keep the subjects from making mistakes and being at emotional harm. But surely that’s more offensive? What is more offensive than saying Disabled/disadvantaged people shouldn’t be allowed to make all their own decisions, as it upsets my sensibilities when things go wrong and I don’t like it, really?

So, the outrage of cheese and marmite it was. And that wasn’t all. Ray also bought a single red rose and had the man at the shop make up a delightful poem and write it on the label.

Following Ray’s sandwich debacle it was time to finally, once and for all, see Sam throw herself out of an aircraft while strapped to someone else. Here, us viewers were treated to an awkward televisual feast: first James sitting in the plane looking like a man possessed with the spirit of a ground-dwelling creature never designed to leave the comfort of the ground – this was his very first skydive, I should have said – and second Sam sitting there, smiling with excitement, expectantly awaiting her big dramatic free-fall. Next time James goes on a first date, I have a feeling he’ll have his feet well and truly on the ground.

The contrast of Sam and James as they fell through the atmosphere was less funny and more harrowing. As a man with a fear of heights, James’s face transported my worried soul to new despairing depths, while Sam balanced things up, and reminded me that doing new things is actually a big part of life that you sometimes – but by no means all the time – need to do. Upon landing, Sam looked exhilarated, while James looked a bit like I felt when my arch nemesis Derek had made me do that phone-call.

By now, it was blatantly obvious that Sam and James would never fall into the 40% of married couples who eventually get divorced, and definitely, certainly not the 60% who live happily ever after. Off went James, and actually, Sam didn’t seem too phased, which was great. If anything, the date had given her new hope – that someone was out there for her, and it was just a matter of time until she found them. A lesson to be learned there, too: if you fall to earth out of a plane and you don’t die then you have something to be thankful for, no matter who you are!

Time for Ray’s big date. Sandwiches at the ready, he was setting off, with Lydia acting as chaperone.

I’d love to say it went smoothly. I was sitting there, wanting the date to go amazingly well, wanting Pamela, 58, of South London, to have a secret thing for cheese and marmite sandwiches. Maybe not to want to rub them all over her body — that’s taking it too far — but to at least not be repulsed by them in every way. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Less a fan of cheese, and even less a fan of new dates who quickly start talking about their ex girlfriends while eating marmite, it wasn’t long until Pamela had decided that Ray wasn’t for her. At which point those Channel 4 rascals abandoned Ray, sitting there at the picnic table, and took us back to Steve – but only temporarily. There Steve stood in the kitchen with his dad, having a chat about the girl who the dating agency had lined him up with. “Treat the women with respect,” said Steve senior rather wisely. They really need to get Steve’s dad on This Morning as an Agony Uncle. Even things up a bit.

Switching unpredictably back to Ray once again, Ray was now a new person. Gone was the woe of the sandwich-ruined date: Ray had his mojo back, and it was perfect timing – Lydia was on the phone with good news about another date. Ray, you’re the man.

And now we come to one of the more heartbreaking moments of the show. In this case, it was Lolita, Ray’s ex, struggling to come to terms with the fact that Ray was dating once again. More than that, she still had feelings for Ray, and Ray didn’t know it…I could sense drama on the horizon. BBC1s Eastenders shaking in their big collective drama-soaked pants.

2 weeks after Sam’s dating anti-climax, mum Anna was round to lend her some moral support. And if ever there was a day for it, this was it: on the screen was the new guy the agency had found for her. His name was Colin and he was 24 and also lived in Brighton. First impressions? Sam was once again excited.

But let us not revel in Sam’s happiness too long, for there’ll be plenty of doing that in a minute.

Over in Ray’s world, shit was about to get real, as the kids say. On the one hand we had Ray, meeting another woman – Jeanette – and on the other we had the Lolita drama brewing in the background. Would Lolita and Ray get back together? I don’t know, I’m not Jeremy Kyle, am I?

Looking to make a good first impression, Ray went to the barber’s and got himself all clean shaven, save the tash — good, seeing as I couldn’t imagine Ray without a moustache. Then it was off to a central London pub, where Ray met Jeanette and got on like a house on fire and said she had really nice eyes. Jeanette followed it up with “you’ve got a really nice face,” and that, there, was what The Undateables are all about, I think. It doesn’t always have to be different. From where I was sitting, this was two people getting on well together, having a good time. Really, that doesn’t make them too different from anyone else.

If Steve had been really nervous before, now he was more or less a quivering wreck. Then again, if you hadn’t been on a date for 7 years – also known as two-thousand-five-hundred-and-fifty-five days – then you’d be panicking. I guarantee it.

Then the phone-call arrived and there I sat, patiently awaiting the news about the date. With what came next, I could have cried – as soon as he hung up the phone and stared at the floor you knew it wasn’t good. “Shit happens,” Steve said. She’d cancelled on him at the last minute and that was that. Shit happens, and it does. In the 3D future, people will be able to reach through the screen and give Steve a hug. Until then they’ll just have to hug their dog or cat or someone else (but not someone else’s dog…pet owners mean business. Never hug someone else’s dog).

Ray was having more luck, and I was glad, because once you’ve spent almost an hour thinking about what some people have to go through with things we all often take for granted, you need a bit of good news, right?

Except I was confused. What I saw before me was Lydia and Ray sitting in a cafe in what appeared to be a date scenario. Is Lydia about to confess her undying love to Ray? I thought and secretly hoped. Actually she wasn’t. Disappointingly, and much less dramatically but it has to be said a bit dramatically, Lydia was there to break some surprise news. No longer could Lydia stand by and watch Lolita pining for Ray in the office and do nothing. She was here to tell Ray that his ex missed him, that Lolita wanted him back, maybe, and ask him what he felt about it.

Jesus. I couldn’t think of anyone of any shape, colour, size or variety that would have opted to be in Ray’s shoes here. “We had 3 years…a really good time with each other,” Ray said, breaking down, with Lydia there opposite, asking him to make the choice.

Then Ray looked up at Lydia and said the words that I’m pretty sure about a billion people with a learning difficulty wouldn’t have been mature enough to arrive at. “I want to go on a date with Jeanette,” Ray said, “I want to move on.” Ray, seriously: you’re the flippin’ man.

Back in Sunderland, 4 weeks after his date fell through, things were changing for Steve in a big way. Another girl had been found and, once again, Steve was highly nervous. Not just 25 out-of-ten nervous, either, but a full 50-out-of-ten, a bit like any time I am ever forced to do anything with numbers, or asked to give directions against my will.

Ellie had been single for 6 months, and I’m not going to lie about my first impressions of her. Instead I’ll just come out with it: I thought she was bending the truth a bit when she said she didn’t care about how someone looked. There she was in front of her mirror, with all the hallmarks of someone who has spent a ludicrous amount of time making herself look good. So I’ll admit it – I was suspicious.

I needn’t have been, though, and I was wrong about Ellie. They got off to a promising start, talking about music and films and generally doing a much better job of being on a first date than 90% of us. Then just as you thought that was it, something within Steve got all bold and made him ask Ellie out for another date. And Ellie, she said Yes. It was amazing TV for everyone with a beating heart and a will to live – even people who hate Dirty Dancing and are clinically dead inside, as I mentioned before.

Best of all, Ellie really liked Steve. Are they still dating? I don’t know, I’m not a Channel 4 database-reader, am I? You’ll just have to Google it again. Or Bing it. You might even Yahoo it — up to you.

What do you do when your name’s daredevil Sam and you’ve got your second date in a month? Why, you dress up as a sailor, of course. “Everyone loves a uniform,” she said, preparing for her date on the Brighton seafront. Cue the screen changing to reveal Sam sitting there nervous, excited, apprehensive, and much, much more. Colin arrived wearing shorts and off they went to a bar called The Rock Ola, where the pair talked about how Sam had been a ski instructor, among other things (but not Colin’s shorts, from what I heard).

And there, more or less we have it. Colin thought Sam was cool and interesting, and Sam was cagey about fancying Colin, avoiding the question completely, but admitting that she’d certainly be up for another date.

What I love about The Undatebles is the normality of so much of it. The way that Sam struggled with sending that first text to Colin like we all would, and Ray and Lolita are finally friends, after all the heartbreak that any estranged couple might experience. There’s been a lot of moaning and complaining of the show exploiting these people, yet this second episode proved, once and for all, that the exploitation thing is a myth. If it’s there then it’s in our heads, not in theirs. These people are perfectly aware of what they are doing, and their families appear fully supportive, so it’s time to get over it and move the hell on.

In 10-years-time, I think we’ll look back on this show and finally all come to agree on what it really was. Even those people with recycle bins full of Dail Mails. Maybe.

Series 1 links: Introduction, Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3.

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I complain properly?

Like any hard-working consumer with a grudge against the modern capitalism he so diligently feeds and profits directly from on a daily basis, I don’t like being hard done by. In fact I despise it. When I am wronged by society in even the smallest way, in particular when a popular supermarket chain has let me down by failing to re-stock the Pringles shelf, for example, I get moderately to highly frustrated, depending on the supermarket and depending on my mood and how much I need crisps (it seems even more insulting when they only re-stock with the salt & vinegar variety, as if goading me to burn the skin from the insides of my mouth, or what feels like mouths after an entire stinking tube of salt & vinegar Pringles which I am unable to resist). My problem is that I’m too polite for my own good. I can be dangerously polite, at times. I blame it on my parents – dad specifically. Growing up in a household where dad would politely listen to caller after caller attempting to sell him pointless stuff over the phone, time after time, and then say “wasting my bloody time!” to us but not to them, I didn’t have a single hope in hell. I didn’t even know that single hopes in hell existed, let alone that this would be a saying I would later use in a blog post many years later. Complaining about things? Genetically it just isn’t in my nature, and that hurts me very much, because now I am living through the most complaint-strewn period of my life. If ever there was a time for complaining, it is now. (Note: I’m talking about verbal complaints here, not written ones. I have demonstrated before, on this blog, that my written complaint skills are growing in power — such as this letter directed at Tesco’s Customer Service. It’s true that I did once almost get into a fight with a National Express coach driver, but I class that as a reasonable-furious-angry-outburst rather than a verbal complaint, seeing as he was acting like a prize buffoon.)

Fortunately, the modern evolving side of me doesn’t care much for nature, and every now and then I seem able to over-ride the nicer part of me (like the time when I asked the Customer Service bloke at the train station if I had a legal right to walk through the open barrier without a ticket and be fined at rush-hour rather than wait in the massive queue to buy a ticket and miss my train — one of my favourites. He was baffled). I haven’t quite got to the stage yet where I can work myself up into a furious rage in a matter of seconds, but I’ve definitely been close once or twice, which is very pleasing. Today’s complaint marked a serious evolution. Or at least one step in the right direction, as is probably more accurate. The end goal is to conjure up the spirit of (justifiable) complaining in mere seconds. I’m miles away right now but with every new day comes a kind of progress. I now know this. For example, just the other day I complained at the AMT coffee shop in the train station because they still didn’t have any White Hot Chocolate in stock after 2 months. Serious business.

Today’s complaint was a worthy one — it wasn’t just complaining for complainings sake, it was about my human rights and what I expect when I buy something online. It was about my Birds of Vietnam book, which I ordered on the 23rd of November 2012, and which still hasn’t arrived. Ignoring the fact that I can be a bit of a bird geek at times – no more accurately demonstrated than last Saturday, where I stood at the window for a full 30 minutes with my binoculars, watching a red woodpecker really go for it in the tree at the end of the garden – this book wasn’t just any old book. I need it for my travels. Our travels. Very soon, my girlfriend and I will be flying out to the other side of the world to basically get as far out of our prospective comfort zones as is physically possible without ending up as human sacrifices. It should be easy – we’re starting in Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Min City. They don’t do human sacrifices there — that was just an example of being really out of your comfort zone.

Anyway, last night I realised, very late at night, that the book hadn’t arrived. Quickly, I found myself looking through my 2012 diary, where I found an angry scribbled note that said CALL ABOUT MY BIRDS OF VIETNAM BOOK IF NOT HERE IN 2 WEEKS!!! Even more quickly, my rage was fuelled by the fact that I had left it much more than 2 weeks…I mean, just look at the calendar: it’s now mid January. Those bird book people were going to pay. Pay for their shocking nerve. Pay for their lack of sympathy and empathy for bird lovers all over the world. Lovers of all books, for that matter. Yes, I was being dramatic, and I felt I had a right.

Upon dialling the number of the online shop which I won’t name here, because my genes don’t allow me to do such a thing, I was pleased to discover a sense of urgency about my body: I couldn’t sit still, I could only pace up and down and around my small office room, and generally speaking I must’ve looked like a man who wasn’t going to take any shit. Sadly, that man, if he had ever truly existed, deserted me the moment the camp man answered the phone and I politely enquired and gave him my reference number, desperately calm all the while. Hideously calm. Luckily for me, after I had enquired, I could hear the typing of keys and then there was a long five-minute silence where the man attempted to find my order and discover its status. Plenty of time for anger and frustration to build to a manageable level. I felt lucky I had stumbled upon him when his computer was slow to load.

Unlike some people, for which consumer rage comes naturally and easily, I really had to work to sustain mine. At several points during the wait I found my heart beating slower and my mind veering off in the direction of what to have for lunch and other trivial things which had the potential to ruin my complaint spree. But I just about managed to hold onto it, thankfully, and so when the guy came back on the line and said that the book should be in soon and that they wouldn’t charge me to send it out, I still had enough left in me to do an impression of someone who was, at least, a little bit justifiably angry.

“I’m sorry but that’s no good!” I found myself saying, even managing to cut across the several last letters of one of his words. “I’d like a refund, please.”

OK, so the I’m sorry and the please bits ruined what would have been a good attempt, but still, you had to make exceptions. This kind of thing wasn’t learned over-night.

“Not to worry,” said the man, “you haven’t been charged yet. I’ll cancel the order, if you would like.”

“Yes,” I told him, firmly, no sorry or nothing. “I would like that very much.”

I was almost there, almost home. I could feel myself nicely angry, now. Angry enough that if a postperson had come to the door and asked me to sign for something right there and then, I may even have been able to make a moody face at him and mutter, “can’t you see I’m on the bloody phone?” Even if he or she was a postperson I had previously liked.

Then I went and ruined it, as was always going to happen. You knew it. I most certainly knew it. “Thanks for sorting it,” I said. “Cheers.” And put the phone down. Seems I still have a way to go.

Out Of Nowhere, Or Not Really? The Steve Messham Apology. Yes…There’s More

Steve Messham

Just when you think that heads are going to roll, you discover that it’s worse: whole bodies are about to get burned. And in the world of relentless sexual abuse allegations, it looks like the Jimmy Saville thing – colossal and incriminating as those first claims were – was merely the trigger.

A while ago, when it all kicked-off, I, like many people, predicted that things were going to get a whole lot worse. Now they are, now they have, I do not feel pleased to be right in any way. If you’re revelling in it, grow up. Think about the real victims here. The victims who are being abused right now as you read this, and the future-victims who might be living a normal life now, but are soon to be swamped by revulsion and fear from predatory attackers in positions of trust and responsibility. You hate it, I hate it, but it’s happening and we can’t deny it. There will be people reading this who were the victims of abuse, and, if statistics can be relied on — they can’t, but go with me — maybe even people reading this who have abused. Children who are wholly innocent now won’t be in the days and weeks to come, and no matter what we do to prevent this shit from happening, it’s not something that will ever end. Surely, that fact alone should give you nightmares and make you think before you start spreading the muck on Facebook and Twitter.

A couple of years ago, it seemed that the so-called lucky kids of the first decade of the year 2000 had nothing to rally against or call their own, and that they never would. Now they have something memorable, they’ll really wish they hadn’t. Shockingly high unemployment levels and general cultural and economical malaise as enemy-number-one? It’s not a good thing and none of them will ever boast about being unemployed to their children, so interested in what growing-up was like back when we didn’t know what would happen to computers when three 0s appeared. Their parents had the cool-factor of the 60s and 70s to pretend they didn’t think were cool, and their — the kids in question, not their parents — older brothers and sisters had the transitional political era of the 1980s as seen in This Is England. Yet there they are, with this, and unfortunately, it ain’t just a lack of jobs and high-street shops shutting that the new-millennium teens can now shamefully lay claim to in many years to come. When they look back and discuss what was happening in their youth and early twenties, they’ll also be able to say that it was the time when the rumour-mill went absolutely fucking stratospheric, beginning with dodgy journalism and MPs expense claims and ending in…who knows what? It’s hard to guess how much more mess might come to light…how much more controversy and false lies on Twitter and in the papers. There’s no doubt about it, either: what Phillip Scofield did on ITV was daft and naïve and bizarrely off-key — even for a man who once spent a worrying amount of time with a toxic-waste-yellow gopher… — but what’s just come to light about the North Wales police during the 1990s carries much more weight, and, unlike a few minutes on national TV, it’s not about to go away, nor can it be erased from YouTube.

Steve Messham is one man who, last night, upon my reading the latest news online, I feel really sorry for. Timid-looking yet doggedly determined about making public his cause, when Messham — himself a now-famous victim of child abuse and the focus of serious media scrutiny recently — came forward recently to make claims against Tory MP Lord McAlpine, the internet went crazy with speculation. That’s nothing new, of course, it’s just that this time, thanks to the subject matter, people really started to get behind it in a unified, belligerent, politician-hating way that was something truly remarkable: students, married men, housewives, IT professionals, creatives and amateur bloggers alike. Everyone wanted in. Cue lots of name swapping, and blogs claiming that, without question, the information contained within their pages spoke of real truths against high-ranking paedophiles, many of them allegedly Conservatives of the Thatcher era. Except we all know that that’s not the case — them being the real truth and only truth, I mean. While it’s fair to say that there could potentially be some truth behind the allegations, right now, too many people are playing a dangerous guessing game. Now out of control, what started off as a single thread of misery has now metastasized into a senseless monster, and it’s very sick and hungry indeed.

According to what Steve Messham has just announced via countless news portals, the photograph of Lord McAlpine which he recently viewed was not the same image of a Lord McAlpine that he was shown during the 1990s by North Wales police. Read that sentence again, because it’s bound to cause confusion on its own: hard to believe, isn’t it? Conspiracy theorists will, without doubt, say that this is a cover-up: that Lord McAlpine was and is involved, somewhere along the line, and that if he isn’t the man responsible then he will know without fail who is. And the really worrying thing is that, this time, it’s hard to say that it’s not tempting to believe (note that I said it’s hard to say that it’s not tempting to believe, not that I do actually believe it — there is a tremendous difference). Number 1, you have to ask yourself, how does a police force get something so immensely wrong in the first place? Maybe it’s understandable if just one person was in the room with Steve Messham at the time. Perhaps, if you consider that human beings are imperfect and make mistakes and go to bed too late and drink too much alcohol and do way too much cocaine, the wrong name was given and that was it – simple human error like anyone could make, regardless of intelligence or information. But we all know that police departments aren’t run like that. They just can’t be — you need at least one officer to make tea, and another to clean the toilets. But seriously, surely, at some point in this process, another person came across the fact that the wrong name had been given. Even if we imagine, for one seriously improbable moment, that this was not the case, surely the conversation with Steve Messham and the officer in question was recorded or possibly even later assessed? If so…how come nobody happened to pick this little problem up infinitely sooner, or nobody came forward to say this was the case? If not…why the hell not? Like most people, I’m not a fan of many politicians, but no matter what they’ve done to piss-off the common man and woman since the dawn of time, I know one thing alright: not one of them deserves to have his name dragged through the mud because of one ridiculous error. If it is an error. Whatever this thing is. If I’m honest, I just don’t know what to believe any more…first we need to know more, and only once we do can we begin to move forward.

So, what with all the finger-pointing and the dark rumours, where does that now leave us? Blaming Steve Messham for not double-checking and doing the police’s work for them about this photo? Blaming the police for…numerous incompetencies? Blaming the BBC for broadcasting information without doing more research? Blaming technology for dispersing diseased intellectual — or not so intellectual — rubbish without rules or established guidelines to protect people? There was a time when we were focussing on the most important thing – the victims in all this, however old they are now, however much it’s hard to see them as children, subjected to profound, utter horror. But now, I’m beginning to feel really uneasy. With every day that passes, too many people seem to be forgetting that fact and playing this thing like it’s some kind of game or a way to gain notoriety. Except it’s not. Lives are being ruined and have been ruined since you started reading this article, since you got up this morning, since you just went to go and put the kettle on. If you’re blogging about this subject, please, be responsible with what you are saying, because not everyone is able to think for themselves — some people follow what everyone else is saying and don’t think twice. Ask yourself before using your readership as a way to set fire to countless reputations: do you really want to be speculating in an uninformed way about things you don’t really know?

And there-in lies another grisly problem. Everything I know I know because of the internet. Which means knowing isn’t really knowing any more, is it?

End note: at the time of writing, I know the information contained within this article to be right and correct.