Please sir, I want some more…

It’s somewhat serendipitous that in the week after a new film comes out, entitled ‘THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS’ that we discuss the most seasonal idea of redemption and humbug; of the best and worst of times, of complicated plotlines and mysterious characters, with happy endings and serious messages…. but that’s enough about my day to day existence.

Yes, it’s funny that the film should come out when Oliver Twist was playing heavily on my mind, amongst other things.

Like Ollie boy, my life has been a ‘bundle of contradictions’ recently –‘twas ever thus – and a rollercoaster of ups and downs, since last we met.

It really has been a winter of discontent: I will go into some detail, but skirt over others… ‘I keep mine hidden’ but simply recognise that a lot of things must change in the new year.

We’ve had illness and issues over money and conditions; health problems easing themselves before uncertainties alongside happy news – and that’s just with Everton, before my life events.

First, then, the character analogies: far be it from me to accuse BK of being like Fagin, but he knows large accounts don’t grow on trees and that – according to many suspicious fans – you’ve got to pick a pocket or two, boys (where’s the Arteta money etc) or maybe he should take the role of Mr Bumble, given how the search for a manager panned out.

Similarly, Farhad Moshiri could be the Artful Dodger – given the strange response he gave to the Panorama questioner in the Park End car park – or, more hopefully, the rich and generous embodiment of gentlemen, Mr Brownlow. Similarly, I guess Rooney could be the Artful Dodger – he’s scored again as I’m typing, watching a dodgy Thai stream – as he’s getting away with it again.

All this madness and alternate reality culminated in success in the workhouse, for now at least. Still… it’s the season of goodwill and we need to stay positive.

CULTURE KLAXON!!

Stranger Things 2 was watched within a week and as truly wonderful. The League of Gentlemen returns, and the promise of seasonal specials and dramas which will probably clog up the planner until next year; just like the Derby, we watch from behind the sofa uncomfortably. Christmas clothes are purchased, presents wrapped and favourites such as ‘Knowing Me Knowing Yule’ and ‘Jamie Does Christmas’ (yes, that’s my life now) are re-watched with glee, whilst Christmas parties remain contently avoided until they involve Joy Division and biblical references rather than hangovers and regret.

Before Christmas, though, we need to step into the old DeLorean once again.

Going back to the last post, it was nearly Hallowe’en and we all assumed the darkness would soon disappear. Liam Fray, an acoustic gig in town on a Monday night, offered some respite and a polite reminder that life still goes on for many people who aren’t stuck in a rigid routine and who can afford to take the next day off with hangovers.

One of my modern day heroes, Liam: a wonderfully intimate concert with some seminal moments on offer. I feel blessed to have discovered this band, all of nine years ago.

A nice little hint that life goes on elsewhere, too… especially useful if you were in the doldrums… And if you were waiting for a hospital appointment the following morning.

Thank the Lord, I got the all clear for the underarm lump and we didn’t even need an operation, so concentrated instead on watching Homes Under the Hammer and planning how my life was going to be different from now on.

The next day, I attended a fascinating lecture on Italian football and its history between 1966 and 1982 and the role that the prime minister played in their success in Spain. A period of time just before my interest in football was piqued – though one I enjoy reading about and then watching, just before tournaments every four years. It was delivered by John Foot, an eminent writer whose excellent Calcio, I read next to the pool in Sorrento on our honeymoon.

 

He explained at length the suggestions of media manipulation by Pertini, photo opportunities and TV directors cutting to him at every opportunity during the final, even the glorious homecoming – at odds with the rotten tomatoes Italy had faced on their return back in 1966. This was all incredibly heart-warming stuff – Food, glorious Food! and all in all, it was a great evening – which restored my faith in football and its positives.

The following week brought with it illness and shock redundancies – reflecting society’s problems, just like the context of Dickens’ work from 170 years ago. There were some positives: excellent news of
births and glimmers of hope for the future. We even allowed ourselves to get slightly excited by the notion of Diego Simeone being mentioned for the job… the most ‘Everton’ of coaches around, in the present author’s opinion, given his passion, mentality and ability to get players to run all day for him and the shirt.

A pipe dream maybe, but, talking of shirts, we had the sad departure of Buffon as Italy were knocked out of the play offs and a plethora of international new kits harking back to the 90s were released. They took me back to USA ’94 and reminded me of the romance football can offer: maybe it is the panacea, after all. To avoid the gloom and hark back to happier days, I went to meet Andrei Kanchelskis who was doing a signing of his book locally.

I loved Andrei Kanchelskis.

I was at his first game, saw some stellar displays, and felt sad that we didn’t get longer with him (for whatever reasons) though I conveniently forgot the way he left the club and his last appearance. Still, he was a gent, smelt of chewing gum, and despite spelling E’s name wrong when signing said autobiography it was a pleasure to meet him.

As I told him and my oblivious son, he was a hero when I was sixteen. It took me back to a good time in my past: ‘’it’s a fine life’, I thought back then. How we could do with someone like him ‘on his day’ now (although not the state he is on – so many people didn’t recognise him from this photo) and again, the links to Oliver Twist were clear when Brownlow notices the similarities between the boy and the painting on the wall, just like his current appearance evoked memories of my GCSE year:

How good it was.

The following week, we got a new manager.

Romance is dead, then: long live the king. King Sam, even.… he actually played for Preston in my first ever live match I attended, thirty years ago, when said Dad could only take me to Deepdale and he (Sam) was something of a cult figure. He has made a decent start, saying all the right stuff – in contrast to the rather odd ramblings of other managers – and I’ll hope he is the mysterious Brownlow figure who turns out to be the fairy (grand)father of the piece.

Meanwhile, in the real world of course, Christmas approaches with vim and vigour.

Other issues mean it’s been hard to concentrate on what everyone else was obsessing about, which is a shame, but a sign of the times. The songs, the lights, mean more this year, of course, but when you’re blinded by the marking – and can’t yet acknowledge the Last Jedi – Christmas just has to wait.

Still, my copy of the new Morrissey album arrived to accompany me in my pain and it was glorious. Similarly, the sublime feeling of hearing beautiful noise was matched – no, usurped – by my little girl’s improvements as a swimmer, and her presence as an angel in her first ‘proper’ nativity, despite my having, in true Morrissey style, spent the day in bed just beforehand having been laid low by a vomiting bug.

There then came the church nativity when the other child was a Basquiat-esque king, and a meeting for them both with Neville Southall who previously tried to close his car door on my arm and told me to ‘eff off’ the last time I met him in similar dire straits back in the nadir of 1994.

He looks a bit like Mr Bumble right now…

He was signing a Christmas gift; Betsy was excited and gave him a kiss, somewhat aptly, and reminded us that whatever Dickens’ ideas, Christmas is what you make of it and that certain characters embellish the experience, but ultimately, it’s about you and your family first and foremost.

Have fun: God bless us, everyone.

The Upside Down (AKA stranger things have happened)

We will start with the statues.

It all started on a wet Monday in July, with a peaceful trip down to Waterloo Docks.

(As an impressionable teenage boy, I loved Carrie in Four Weddings, so this is in homage to her speech)

#100 was non descript and an anti climax. #99 was green and mouldy, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Could #98 talk? #97 was ‘more defined’, according to my notes… whatever that means. #96 was really weathered and a greeny/grey… #95 I could only see from a distance.

#94 reminded me of all the scare stories about people ringing 999 for the statues who looked like people about to commit suicide… the birds were circling, ominously. #93 had some strange bits of food on his shoulder, with flies buzzing around as if it was a rotting corpse stuck perpendicular to the sand forever. It looked cancerous, with offered sinister foreshadowing of future events. I liked the lines in the background of #92 and I couldn’t help but imagine if #91 might come to life. There were blue skies over #90… but #89 had been spray painted purple.

#88, whatever, and #87 was wearing a t-shirt which said ‘STEPS FOR LEWIS’ and also had spray painted (golden) genitals. #86, too far away but #85 wore another t-shirt, emblazoned with “My wife Cathy, Happy Birthday, Manchester Midnight Walk.” I liked the personal touch here, although it was darker than the others so far and I hoped this wasn’t an omen. #84 was too far out and #83, on softer sands, also had been spray painted.

#82 was a long way out but had the clichéd bird on its head. #81 and #80? Non descript… #79 I drew close up and #78 was being captured by other photographers whom I reluctantly engaged in conversation with. #77, I have nothing to say about. I got a nice composition with #76 but #75 was also too far out: #74 was buried up to its waist in sand and a tyre, and #73 (somewhat bizarrely) had bits of green on it. #72 looked very contemplative and #71 had rather haunting eyes, which had also been spray painted.

#70 had a dog chain around its neck, and a very craggy face, akin to one of the Fantastic Four. #69, #68 too far away and #67 had Elijah in the background as he had accompanied me on this particular trip to the beach. #66 and #65 were distant specks in the sea: it was a choppy day. #64 looked forlorn, #63 Mr Blue Sky, and #62 was barely visible. #61 reminded me of a rusting superhero, with piercing orange eyes, and, drawing him, I almost got stuck in the mud. #60 was wearing a snorkel parka like Liam Gallagher or Han Solo, and again I struck up a conversation there with a southern couple who were marvelling at this other place they were experiencing.

#59 was too far out, #58 was wearing a polo shirt inexplicably, and #57 just looked sad.

I put the project on hold at that point. I’d found a lump, under my arm, one Tuesday morning.

It was probably nothing, I knew… Still, I was naturally perturbed at this strange arrival on my person, so rang the doctor’s and made an appointment. I went to see her a few days later; it was a locum, she didn’t seem too concerned but I still went home worried.

A couple of weeks later, I’d tried to forget about it. It was still there, keeping me awake at night, but those six weeks were meant to be about rest and recuperation and actually had a bizarre dream about Wayne Rooney… the night before his arrest. I do have some mad dreams, largely due to frustration at lack of opportunity for creativity, but also alcohol and cheese, plus being at the mercy of a one year old’s teething and sleeping patterns.

I was sent back for a further check and the doctor seemed perturbed. He referred me for an emergency scan and blood tests, the results of which would be back within a couple of days. Teaching and busy all morning, it had to wait until midday.

I nervously enquired and after a deep breath was told ‘everything was fine’ so suddenly things were looking up. Everton win at last, we get good news, the boy turns one…

At this point I apologise to those readers who, like me, have had worse experiences personally, or lost family members to awful illnesses: I’m truly sorry if this brings back bad memories of mixed messages and ups and downs. There are many people going through it right now, too: my heart goes out to you, because, as you’ll understand, things change quickly, don’t they…

For me too: the next day, the hospital rang and they wanted me to go for a scan the next week.

As I sat nervously in the Marina Dalglish centre, I’ll be honest, I thought about Everton but the current plight of L4 4EL was far from my thoughts. I even felt new found respect for the founder’s family, as fellow patients came in and out, clearly concerned for the youngish man very much out of place at a breast screening clinic.

They said the scan was inconclusive and took a cell sample… I had to wait for three weeks, so that was that for the time being.

I tried to forget, but daily life was getting tougher. As the work situation intensified and other pressures mounted, there needed to be an escape. Not caring about international football other than to admire Italy’s new kit and Gerald Pique’s stance after the barbaric treatment of Catalans wanting to apply a basic right, I decided to go for a few drinks and drown my sorrows with friends in town one Saturday. This foray included a trip to a poutinerie I would wholeheartedly recommend as something different if you’re feeling peckish and want some chips, cheese curds and gravy from Canada.

Talking of town, how sad that almost every weekend now we are hearing about a fight or a stabbing and someone fighting for their life after violence when people should just be out having a good time. As a parent, I worry so much at what it’ll be like in fifteen years when my kids are going out on a Saturday night. It certainly wasn’t as moody when I first arrived in the city in 1999. Drugs play their part, I know, but I got the train home before it got too late because – perhaps due to the failings of the city’s two teams – there seemed to be developing an aggressive undertone where we were sat and I read later there was a stabbing in the bar opposite just a couple of hours later.

Still, in between times there were some positive experiences. Firstly, Joe Parkinson came into school to do some coaching and I managed to watch some of his session and have a good chat with him about the current squad, his recent experiences in the game, and the game in general. I wanted to remind him of Earl Barrett getting asked ‘who are the big eaters’ in the build up to the 1995 final but thought better of it. He was a good bloke and that made my week.

Going back even further, Peter Reid was doing a signing of his new book so I took my one year old to meet him and to get said book and a photo signed. Real gent, funny… everyone has a Peter Reid story and I’m forward to reading it. At around the same age, I’d taken B to meet HK in the exact same spot and, when they’re older, I hope it means something to them and that the current underachievement doesn’t diminish the greatness we had twenty to thirty years ago.

He was oblivious, thankfully.

In between times, I actually had to change my settings on Sky to get a stream of the Brighton match and not because of the bizarre Indian TV deal for the game, but because they thought it was inappropriate for children so the Internet safety shield wouldn’t allow me access.

It wasn’t the best performance but to describe it as a video nasty seemed a bit harsh. The next week, I actually made it to a game, and had fun despite the defeat, but was saddened even more by the father trying to punch a player whilst holding a toddler in his arms.

As a summative review of the month, then: October = despondency and despair, leading to several Domino’s Pizzas being supplied by our union; but on the plus side, feet being measured at Clark’s; anticipation of the new series of Stranger Things (which is incredible so far) and the League of Gentlemen along with genuine excitement building for the return of Morrissey…

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I wrote the main part of this article sat in a car park, whilst my son had his morning nap. Two hours later, he was getting fitted for his first pair of shoes when the news broke about Koeman. It’s a shame, but it was never meant to be… I never liked him as a player, and only a few times as our manager. I admired his celebration when Holland beat West Germany; I respected his tweeting habits, his ambition and honesty and even the way he handled Christmas tree gate. But I didn’t like him and never really felt that he liked us very much either.

Talking of love, the day of Koeman’s sacking I was due at the doctors for the results of the biopsy.

I sat in trepidation in the waiting room, alone and wondering who the next manager might be… as well as how I’d tell the family. I’d only shared my predicament with a handful of people, understandably…

My name flashed on the screen and I walked down to room 3.

The results weren’t ready, I had to wait and ring back on the Wednesday morning.

I filled the time in between with lovely moments like this:

Though inside, was getting really scared.

I did ring. Still nothing.

Two hours later I had a phone call from the apologetic doctor, giving me the all clear, and a new chapter could begin… Not just for me, but for that frustrating football club too.

Call us insecure or precious, but we need to be loved a bit don’t we? And within five minutes of his first press conference, Unsworth showed us that he does.

I actually met him this time last year, when E was very poorly in Alder Hey and I saw Unsy in the atrium there on the way out one day. Being a fellow Lancastrian, I always loved him as a player growing up, and let him know this discretely, plus that the Norwich game was a very special moment. He concurred, saying it was the best day of his life, and despite the result, I think the Chelsea game might just have usurped it: even though it’s never nice to be knocked out of a cup (especially one we’ve never won) he should be proud of how his team performed.

For how long he gets the chance, we know not… whether it’s him or an alter ego, another hero or villain will enter stage left and become the new protagonist of our narrative.

In the meantime I will finish with a happy family picture, taken an hour after the good news:

November simply can’t spawn another monster… It’ll be beautiful.

Hypnopaedia in dystopia

Dystopia = an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

This time of year is always difficult: getting used to new routines and regimes, new faces and expectations. Not just for Everton… but those of us working in education, too. Now, I don’t expect sympathy, of course: us teachers are lucky enough. All that time off!

But this year, it really has been more difficult than usual.

The last month has been a bit of a blur, for reasons I can’t really yet divulge. Health issues for some; impossible targets and expectations for others… Everton, I mean, of course.

As if in a dream, dreamt by another. Or nightmare, depending on your epistemological standpoint.

Talking of dreams, I absolutely loved the first episode of Electric Dreams, adapted from Philip K. Dick’s dystopian short stories. It’s so stylish; very evocative of Blade Runner and the notions that Black Mirror evokes, which will be back soon too, and this all suggests there will be lots to look forward to on our screens in the Autumn, even if Morrissey recommends that we don’t watch the news in his new release.

English singer Morrissey 

If only we actually could spend the day in bed.

And that’s no offence to my wonderful HoF, who got engaged recently: hearty congrats, love is all around.

Based on the first single release, and the ‘perfectly Morrisseyan’ tracklisting, I’m very excited about more Moz music, and consider yet another tattoo in his honour. Those titles of the album tracks offer promise and, I hope, will sing me to sleep, because for a plethora of reasons there’ve been sleepless nights, despite the tiredness since the start of term.

At the start of September, normalcy resumed, then, for us anyway, and everything changed at the same time. B started primary school and it’s gone well so far. She’s counted to a hundred, her handwriting is coming on well… even been placed on the blue table, thankfully and the transition has been smooth. I even got to walk her in on her first day, something I will never forget.

Talking of blue, it’s been a funny old month for us Evertonians, and the recent cup game was E’s first birthday. Thankfully we won 3-0… we’d lost to Norwich on the day he was born, so this felt like progress, although in reality the lack of improvement in the team since his hurried birth in our conservatory a year ago alarms somewhat. It’s been a rollercoaster year for both the team and the boy, as you all probably know, with a serious illness at a month old meaning a scary stay in Alder Hey, but things are getting better all the time in terms of his health, thankfully.

But concerns remain: even though the day before he turned one, he fell off the bed and got the biggest, quickest swelling on his forehead I’ve ever seen! Thankfully it didn’t last.

We reflected a lot on his birthday; easily summising that he’s such a brave, funny, magnificent young man and we’re so proud of him. A celebratory bottle of fizz, then, in recognition of our – and his – achievements and progress, and the temporary realisation that dystopia – this imagined place where everything is really bad, might not actually exist – but then, still I had to sort something the next morning.

So did others, and I feel bad that I can’t divulge more but it seems wrong to discuss delicate issues ongoing – so I’ll send my heart out to them instead.

I promise that soon, I will also let you know about how I tried to draw all the Gormley statues on Crosby beach; I managed 54 out of the hundred.

A research graduate from Cambridge University has got in touch about it, via an excellent family / friend photographer, and I’ve also been reading loads about Jean Michel Basquiat, the artist I’d studied intensely a few years ago but almost forgot about in the years since. What a story his was: look it up if you don’t believe me.

The Julian Schnabel film of his life, and Downtown ’81, were staple watches in my flat as a student and I’ve just reignited the flame I held for him when few others had even heard of him. Anyone in London, please go and see the retrospective, I implore you. There’s another show of Jasper Johns’ too, which I’d love to see, as he also influenced my early career hugely.

However, a mix of events and finances mean it’s not possible just now.

This re-introduction with art coincided with my folks kindly finding my collection of the fanzines I played a part in all those years ago, back when things were easier:

These brought back such memories… before Liverpool being named capital of culture, before marriage and mortgages and kids – other people’s, and my own. There’ll be an archive coming soon which I will no doubt link on here, so if you weren’t there at the time, look out for it.

Meanwhile, for the past month whilst I’ve been lying awake in the middle of the night it’s been Everton’s fortunes and the travails of these artists who I turned to, predicting team selections, listing alphabets of players, matches and influences and contemplating future successes, projects or otherwise.

Hypnopaedia in dystopia, then… At least I’m learning.

Everyday isn’t like Sunday: it’s a school day, and as you’d expect, Everton and art have been with me – as they have throughout my life – on this journey and I hope, will continue to be.

I turn 38 today. Two more years to make myself famous.

To celebrate joint birthdays, we visited Martin Mere… a good day was had by all. Baby crocodiles, meerkats, various raptors, hedgehogs and corn snakes then a plethora of wildfowl, feathered friends to be stroked and other creatures who all shared our special day with us and for a while at least, everything was ok in the world.

I’m getting old. To bed, now.

I learn while we sleep, and still believe this bad place is only imagined.