Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Jeremy Kyle show and why it’s popular……..

What follows is something like a typical scene from the ever popular Jeremy Kyle show – if it’s enduring appeal mystifies you then consider my theory…………..


“You two don’t have any simple human respect for each other”

“Yes but we came on the show to try and fix….”


“I’m not sure this really was the best forum for trying to reconcile our difficu….”




Firstly, it doesn’t have to be Jeremy Kyle you know, you could really put any angry, sneering, self-righteous, disapproving ringmaster into that circus and they would appear, relative to their on-stage participants, well dressed, successful, intelligent and moral.

It’s what we perceive as Kyle’s moral compass that’s meant to link us to him, that connects the audience at home with the audience in the studio and sets us, as a collective, apart from the scrapping sub-human scum on stage. In the real world we know that Jeremy Kyle isn’t any more “moral” than us because he stole from his ex-wife to fund a destructive gambling habit. He met his current wife after she “won” a competition on his radio station to marry a complete stranger – surprisingly this didn’t last? But hey, all that was before he was cannonised by ITV to referee human bear baiting – so that’s all right then.


No, it’s the poor people on stage that keep so many tuning in. Poor in every sense of the word. Because here’s the thing: seeing the morally destitute, airing their dirty laundry in front of a studio audience on a daily basis is, for millions, oddly comforting. It plays a very important role in the ongoing pacification of the lowest social strata, because this show and others like it are the social counter-balance for the abiding culture of celebrity.


Consider that comfort is measured by humans in terms of relativity: a billionaire and a homeless person could describe exactly the same bedsit and their perception of it’s merits would, no doubt, be polarised. Bearing this in mind is important in realising how the satisfaction of a normal person could be adversely affected by continuous media exposure to the social elite: Hello, OK, Cosmopolitan, a plethora of TV shows mistakenly labelled “reality”. Young, beautiful and rich people are constantly paraded before your eyes, people whose concerns appear to be limited to matching stilettos to super-yachts, or deciding on the name of their new aftershave or being vocally ungrateful about the contents of their after-show party gift bag. Their ubiquity normalises their concerns and their conduct, even though it bears no resemblance to normal life. Understandably if you’ve been lugging-2-kids-and-a-week’s-shopping-back-through-the-rain-because-you-missed-your-bus-because-you-had-to-put-something-back-because-your-benefits-have-been-cut-but-you’re-still-trying-to-not-let-the-kids-know-just-how-close-to-desperate-life-really-is, then reading about Posh spice’s “struggle” to settle down in Los Angeles could make you feel just a bit unsatisfied with your position in society.  When literally anyone can be famous, just for being famous, who is to say what’s normal? Where the focus of the TV and popular press is all about the social elite, the fact that you haven’t shaved your legs yet this year and you won’t be going on holiday again and there is catshit on the front lawn again even though you don’t own a pet, can really put a crimp in your perceived level of comfort. The phenomenon dubbed “status anxiety” means that your perception of your place in society can be drastically affected when you unconsciously reconfigure what is “normal”.

The Jeremy Kyle show, under the guise of helping it’s victims, shines the spotlight at the gutter rather than the stars, parading the under class of society through your living room and letting you know that whilst you won’t be going to the Oscars this year at least you don’t have an electronically tagged son who is stealing from you to pay for his alcoholic girlfriend, who is also your half-sister and your mum, to have a backstreet abortion so she can continue her porn career. It doesn’t matter that the conflict has been carefully orchestrated and edited for your viewing pleasure because all it needs to do is put a smelly and stupid Ronnie Corbett next to your Ronnie Barker to distract you from the well dressed John Cleese.


It re-establishes the norm.


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A Dog’s Life………..

There are no dogs in my life at the moment and I miss them. I should probably get another one but I know I won’t……..


I’m fairly sure that my parents didn’t knowingly sign on for close to two decades of servitude when they arrived home with a golden retriever puppy all those years ago. A preposterously cute ball of sandy fur (baby seals would look at him and say “awww”), Lord Karl of GoldenWood bounded into our lives, hid behind the sofa and shit himself. We named him Max. The puppy years are a little hazy for me but I remember certain things: laying in bed, not wanting to be the first person to go downstairs during the “house training” period, I remember his confused joy the first time he saw snow and the first time he “sat” for us. I remember the dead-person-smell of tripe in the morning and trying to avoid using the “dog spoon” if I ever had soup. One morning, I dropped a dripping fat-rimmed chunk of dog food between my toes, frozen with disgust, I watched Max nonchalantly lick them clean – unperturbed by decency as only a dog can be. There was also that Christmas Day I remember him lapping at his balls and lipstick for the entirety of the Queen’s speech. 

With the genetic alchemy of the breed he changed colour and grew, the underside of his massive leonine paws like suede cushions – he was inarguably a handsome beast. A placid giant – his breath was worse than his bite. When motionless there was a nobility about him, a majesty that lasted up until the moment he moved and then you realised he was just a dopey bugger with good breeding. Nowadays I meet people like that on a daily basis, often their breath is worse. 

Whilst Max had nailed “Golden” early on, He never really fulfilled the “Retriever” part of the deal: often in front of witnesses I’d enthusiastically throw a stick shouting “Go on boy – FETCH!” and he’d watch it’s trajectory with mild interest before wandering off in the opposite direction to piss on some nettles. We went from leaded, to lead-free for a while, where he would walk obediently at my heel all the way to the field before bounding off. 


This stopped the day he got hit by a car. 


I was walking Max, lead-free, and chatting with Kisha Hoares when he saw a moggy, and betrayed by instinct, he dashed out into the road in front of a car. The car hit him and screeched to a halt, Max rebounded off it’s bumper and lay sprawled in the road, unmoving. Time stood still for a long long moment: I remember the smashed glass scattered like frozen tears and that dent in the bumper the precise dimensions of my childhood. As I walked towards him, already rehearsing what I would say to my parents, my sisters, he leapt up and raced away, clearly disorientated and in shock. We took off after him leaving a confused driver (our next door neighbour as it turned out) far behind. Now, anyone that has ever owned a dog knows that when they put their mind to it they can REALLY run, anyone that remembers Kisha knows that she could REALLY run (I think she ran for the county), anyone that knows me (with my little legs and penguin feet) knows that running has never been my thing, but fueled by shock and the miracle of canine resurrection I flew. We eventually caught him in a lane about a mile later, confused and exhausted (him not me) but seemingly uninjured. His back legs though, were never the same, operating in a different time zone to the rest of him, the satellite link-up delay of their movement a constant reminder I’d let him down. 


The years flew by and he was always there, smiling at us, warm-hearted, relaxed. As he got older the slobber came, and we became weary of his drooling kisses – often leaving the house unaware of the disturbing crotch stain of his affections. Old age comes to us all –  and we were considerate: when he smiled in his sleep, we learnt to just open a window and leave the room. Occasionally, tending to an itch beyond his reach, he would drag his ringpiece across the carpet, striping the hallway with incontinent glee. I had already moved out when he died, a fact for which I am eternally grateful, but still he bounds and pounces around my childhood and I often see him smiling away behind the eyes of other dogs. 


I’m not ready for another one just yet.


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The P in swimming pool is silent…………

The P in swimming pool is silent………….


I sometimes look at people who are completely oblivious to the world around them and I am very very jealous. Take the swimming pool on Sunday morning for instance; our local pool is midway through upgrading the changing areas at the moment which means that there are no toilet facilities. Which means that on a Sunday morning……….well, have you ever got out of a pool rubbing your eyes and said “wow you can really smell the chlorine today?” or “the chlorine’s a lot stronger than usual”? –  I don’t want to alarm you but that’s not chlorine, that’s wee. Yes you read that right – wee. Or more precisely it’s certain component parts of other people’s urine reacting with chlorine. Chlorine doesn’t actually smell of anything. So when we arrived at the pool my brain noted the lack of toilet facilities at the same time as that “chlorine” smell. Couldn’t help but make the connection really – because although I didn’t think want to think about it, there was one toilet facility and it had a flume and a wave machine.


The decline of ecclesial community and church attendance in general can probably be linked to the fact that parents, in some unspoken pact, now like to take their children swimming on a Sunday morning. It’s like a religion – only you get to see more nipples. Early sunday morning is toddler time in the pool and so it’s filled with people who have less control over their bladder than Paula Radcliffe. So it was with a sense of understandable trepidation that I entered the pool area. Why didn’t you turn back James? I hear you ask. Did you have a Jellyfish sting that needed treating? Well no. The truth, it seems, is I would rather bathe in piss for an hour than disappoint my three year old. If you don’t have kids you probably can’t conceive (pun intended) of caring about anyone enough to swim through other people’s discharge with a smile on your face on a cold winter’s morning – but there you go: that’s parenting. I even had to pay to do it. The difference between me and those already in the pool is that I knew what I was getting into.  At the pool’s edge was a man inflating his son’s rubber ring through clenched teeth while his son did that shivery tap dance that some kids do when they’re excited.

“Chlorine’s strong this morning” he said with a smile, blissfully unaware of the bouquet’s components. To make matters slightly worse he had that particular brand of roquefort halitosis common amongst coffee drinking smokers, I smiled and backed away.

We did the usual, we went to the deep end and I showed him the dark bars where the “sharks live”, he jumped in from the side a hundred times, always bursting back up out of the water with wide open eyes and a big smile. We did a length together at child-wearing-arm-band-speed which is roughly the same speed at which hair grows. The wave machine came on and we bobbed up and down watching the mum’s trying not to get their hair wet. The usual. At 10.30am they (the unsmiling-lifeguard-children who seemed to be running the show) opened the flume and we all climbed the brightly lit “staircase of shame” (Dads holding in their stomachs, Mum’s realising a wax wouldn’t go a miss. Or maybe a nice plait.)  Alex went first, waving the entire way down to the bottom; then I went, in patented “luge” style – only 3 points touching the flume: shoulder blades and one heel – I thought I looked like a human torpedo. That is until I saw another man in his thirties do the same thing and then I just felt like somebody who really shouldn’t be using this apparatus whilst there were witnesses. It reminded me of when you see a big fat clumsy pigeon at the bird table “trying to join in” but really just spoiling it for all the other birds. And then it was midday and we had to go.

When getting changed we always go to the open changing bit rather than the “cupboards of shame”, getting a 3 year old changed in one of those standard cubicles is logistically impossible and besides he would’ve missed out on watching that weird french guy “flossing” his bumcrack with a fluffy towel.

Bad breath man and little Fred Astaire came in and we left quickly – worried that he might be about to deflate the rubber ring and gas the room. We skip the vending machine ritual that a lot of parents go in for and head home for a Sunday lunch. My son glows for the rest of the day.


In case you’re wondering, he did and I didn’t – Even if I wanted to I drink far too much Berocca to get away with it.

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Pancake Day…….

Pancake Day……..


After the pancakes have gone, when your “annual lemon” has been juiced, when you lay there panting after the extravagant taxidermy of Shrove Tuesday, incapable of movement, deep within the crepe coma, this my friends is the time to decide what to give up for lent.


As a tradition it’s not a bad one: to relinquish something you enjoy for a defined period, to pit your will power against the forces of desire, to prove to yourself that despite it’s many failings you are in charge of your own body. Impulses can be resisted – it’s what separates us from the animals. It’s what separates us from Jeremy Clarkson. All aboard the good ship denial, turn your head away from the cooing sirens of fancy and hold fast me hearties! There be beasties ‘ere and cupcakes by thy name.


It should come as no surprise that in the increasing secularisation of Christian festivals, in this era of the detox, Lent has become something that many of us will take part in for perceived health reasons, especially in the dietary holocaust of winter. Just like Jesus, we will throw ourselves in to the culinary desert for forty days and nights, forcing ourselves to subsist on just three meals a day with minimal snacking and the odd bar of chocolate. Just like Jesus did. And like him we will be tested by the forces of darkness. Evil maltesers will appear in the hands of generous loved ones, melting attractively like your resolve.


“It’s okay – We’re lighter than ordinary chocolate” they’ll whisper to you. The same way they whispered to Jesus.


Many will fall in this race, endurance is, after all, a steep few may climb. You’ll watch them acquiesce to their hankerings, watch the weaker ones reverting back to calorific black holes – inhaling chocolate hobnobs to drown out the berating voices inside their heads. Unstable and insatiable these black holes will become infinitely dense and not even Walkers Lite will escape their chubby gravity. Stay well away from these lest you be sucked in.


Jesus said no to the choccy biccies or as they were known back then, “Satan” and so can you. You don’t need divine nepotism and a lack of easily available confectionary on your side – you’re all much better than that.


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Very Moving………..

Very Moving………...


Buying a house is weird isn’t it? The whole system is unlike any other purchase you’ll make. You get to see probably the biggest purchase of your life what? Twice? For half an hour? Before committing hundreds of thousands of pounds to it? Half an hour?  You spend a longer period of time deliberating over buying a puppy or trying on sunglasses (trying to hide that bloody tag behind one of the lenses so you don’t look mental). But 30 minutes for a house? Personally I’ve spent longer choosing pick’n’mix.


But if that’s weird then selling your house is a whole lot stranger. We really do just disengage our reason for that part of the process. Take, for example, the phenomenon of “dressing” your house for viewings. This normally involves two parts.


The first part is mainly just hiding all the shit. All the clutter of everyday life will be scooped up and concealed in cupboards or hidden guiltily in the car boot like a tramp’s dead body. You’ll binbag the billions of shoes you’ve somehow accumulated in the porch. The post at the bottom of the stairs will be freed from the hump of coats that usually shroud it. The fridge will be stripped of magnets and kiddie art. Toys will be stacked into neat towers of plastic or dumped at your parent’s house. But you won’t bother trying to tidy the garage because let’s face it – life’s too short.


The second part is where you add things that aren’t normally there. You’ll set the dining table just in case potential buyers hadn’t figured out that this is where you eat food. Beds will overflow with carefully arranged scatter cushions. The coffee table will try it’s best to look natural with carefully fanned out magazines. You’ll buy flowers. Oh yes fresh cut flowers will spring up in your kitchen as if it’s perfectly normal. You might wait until the last moment before puncturing a few satsumas and let their aroma whisper “buy my zesty house you citrus-loving bastards!!”


But dressing is painfully transparent isn’t it? It’s a bit pointless unless you think that potential buyers have the following conversation after seeing your home.



“Darling, that house we viewed today was perfect wasn’t it”

“Yes, yes it was. A nice aspect in a beautiful area. I loved the kitchen/diner and those french windows onto the garden”

“And Great schools nearby…. ”

“and that third bedroom would make an adorable nursery”

“Oh yes such a lovely family home”


“What is it Darling?”

“It’s just a small thing really but ……..”

“Tell me Darling”

“Well it’s just the downstairs bathroom……..”

“The downstairs bathroom?”

“Yes. It was fine and everything but it’s just that the vase on the window sill….”

“Go on”

“Well it didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in it. I just don’t think I could bring myself to buy a house that didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet”

“You’re right dear, now that I think about it. It just didn’t have a single stem of Gerbera in the downstairs toilet.”

“Oh well we have some more houses to view, we’ll just have to keep looking.”

“I quite agree. It’s better to be safe than sorry dear”



Clearly YOU don’t do that with houses you look at do you? YOU can see past the empty vases? Of course YOU can. And so can THEY. Because that’s not the house, that’s just the crap IN the house.


Then there are the awkward questions. The ones you happily lie about. Lets play multiple choice.


“Why are you moving?”


  1. “We want somewhere better than this shithole and we can afford it because we’re clearly richer than you”
  2. This place is haunted by the ghost of a dead peadophile and we hate the neighbours – their cats shit all over our garden.
  3. My husband’s work.


“Does the garden get the sun?”


  1. No it get’s the fucking Telegraph you bum diseased yokel.
  2. On midsummers day for about 10 minutes. Other than that it’s like an outside cave. Only darker.
  3. All the time. Oh yes we’re very lucky.



“Are the local schools good?”


  1. They’re good if you want to score drugs.
  2. Their metal detectors are good –  they have to be what with all the flick-knives………..
  3. Very good. Certainly well up there in all the league tables.



If you answered mostly Cs you are a liar (and a perfectly normal person trying to sell their house).

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In sickness and in health…….

In sickness and in health……..


I cracked my mobile phone screen today……..


There are certain phrases in the English language that cause my face to lie: I smile on the outside and groan on the inside. It’s like how I react to puns, only the wrong way round.


Today there have been two such phrases:


“Dad!! I’ve finished”, yelled to me from the bathroom, was the first (I won’t explain: you either know or you don’t) and the other went like this,


“I’ll just keep my mobile by the bed in case I need you for anything” whispered to me by my “poorly” wife. I smiled sympathetically and barely suppressed the groan.

“I’m not going out, I’ll just be ……y’know downstairs?” I said

“I know, but I don’t want to shout – maybe I’ll text you if I need anything”

As it turned out there were quite a few things she ended up needing.

I’m suspicious – I can’t help it. In the build up to being “bed ridden” her performance was rather too credible for my liking. She’d perfected the oscar winning hacking cough, the plausible red rimmed runny nostrils, even the disorientated sleepy head routine and the depressed sigh were compelling. The shuffling mope from sofa to bed was persuasive, the shaky hand on the bannister, rather convincing. So what’s the problem James? She’s genuinely sick I hear you say, well maybe, maybe not. It’s not that I don’t feel compassion you understand, I am 90% compassion (10% cheekbones). It’s just that when it comes to “illness” I know WHAT I’M LIKE and have a hunch everyone else might be the same.


Because there is a gulf of difference between feeling “meh” and feeling I-can’t-get-out-of-bed-and-help-you-with-the-kids-today-ill isn’t there? There’s that Goldilocks band where you don’t feel too bad if your wearing your Beecham’s All-in-One and you’re under the duvet and can’t be expected to do anything other than relax. That’s my idea of a prescription – a lay in. Especially if you have a magical note from the doctor: then it’s a cast iron government authorised lay-in: break out the “NightNurse” and slip into that sweet green liquid coma baby!


Now I may be going out on a limb here but I suspect it’s an unspoken rule, an utterable truth that a chestful of snot is a license to abuse your other half: to exploit the fact that were they to call into question the sincerity of your infirmity they would reveal that they themselves know how the game is played, that they are, in fact, players of the game. A game where the rules are pretending not to know the rules. So today I just had to bite my tongue and have conversations like this


“You texted COME QUICKLY”

“I was thinking that maybe I should eat something, that might me make feel better?”

“It might”

“Perhaps just some toast, something I can eat in bed”

“Okay toast”

“But….perhaps toast might be a bit dry, what with my throat”

“Just bread then?”

“We’ve got that nice soup in the fridge, maybe a small bowl of that”

“A bowl of soup then”

“A small bowl of soup and a tiny sandwich. Cheese but not cheddar, use the nice brie”

“Fine. Anything else?”

(Epic Oscar winning “Hidden depths of suffering/Sigh/Whisper complete with back-of-hand to forehead flourish)


“I’ll text you”.


I smiled sweetly but for some reason the screen cracked on the mobile I was gripping.

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A game of two halves……

A game of two halves…….


“It’s up time Dad!”

I haven’t set a wake up alarm for years now, I don’t need to you see because somehow I have sired the speaking clock.

“It most certainly isn’t up time Alex, it is, in fact, bed time”

I turn on the bedside lamp and a quick glance in the mirror confirms that it must still be “bed time” because my face has no elasticity in it. My face is still asleep. If I’m honest it looks like someone has drawn my face, on a ballbag.

“Back to bed please Son”

“But Dad I’ve done a poo”

“I’ll alert the media, please go back to……..exactly where have you done a poo?”

“…………come and see!”

Instantly I am awake and creeping naked down the hallway, ninja-like – senses on high alert for hidden faeces.

I realise that I must look mad: in exactly the way my Dad used to look for burglars – like a naked security guard.  My Son follows me, pleased with his cunning. Luckily it’s just in the potty, a massive relief; trust me, I’m still haunted by the “THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE POO ON THE STAIRS IN THE NIGHT”. We give it a goldfish funeral where we both say a few words and it’s then I realise that for good or ill I am actually up for the day – it’s 4.57am on a cold dark Saturday morning.


Not wanting to wake anyone else I put on a dressing gown and we tiptoe downstairs in the dark, leaving the girls asleep and warm in their beds. I pick him up and we watch the sunrise from the back of the house. In my arms he feels light and warm, tired but excited to be awake. Outside the cold sky is free from clouds and a heavy frost dusts the silent fields and hedges. On the horizon a peach glow is growing, enticing shadows from trees that stretch slowly towards us over the white rime. Amid the stillness we spot a vixen and her cub trotting across the field, coming closer, approaching the house. The cub is a small dancing silhouette, winsome and playful, every so often falling behind: pouncing on invisible prey. The mother pauses frequently, her breath just visible in the pink light of dawn, giving her child the ultimate luxuries: time and space. Her poise is recognisable: a relaxed exasperation in her patience, a parental understanding of youth’s folly, a sad acceptance of it ending too soon. They disappear together into a thick hedge and for a while we watch in silence to see if they’ll reappear. The sun leaves the horizon and the early shadows recede; the house is quiet. The world is quiet. I look at my son and he is asleep again, one arm draped around my neck, face bathed in sunrise. We stay that way for a long long time. I don’t see the fox and her cub again which is both sad and wonderful. These moments so fleeting and finite – so precious.


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