The introduction of the keyboard into my life - that is at first the typewriter and then the computer rather than the Yamaha Home Organ - I found to be The Great Enabler.

Before that I was always hamstrung when it came to expressing myself on paper and I suspect the messiness of my writing and how slow I was were a contributory factor to the "disappointment" teachers expressed in my efforts. For some reason they equated writing neatly with trying hard and intelligence, despite no evidence to support this whatsoever.

"Could try harder"


At first I used to blame this on the fact that I'd effectively missed being taught joined up writing at school. I left Galliard Road Junior School in Edmonton the year before we learnt it, only to arrive at Tetherdown Junior School in Muswell Hill and discover that they'd learned it the year before. I ended up teaching myself and whenever possible would lapse back to printing.  Handwriting was just too damned slow; I would end up missing out letters or even whole words as my brain raced ahead of my hands and would lose all sense of what I was trying to say. This was only exacerbated in secondary school by the insistence on the use of fountain or cartridge ink pens.

Even now I find printing far easier and clearer; something about the act of doing so makes it feel like I am drawing the letters and drawing is something that I've always been able to cope with. I was even kind of good at it sometimes.

Once keyboards came into my life I discovered that I wasn't bad at expressing myself in words either, despite accusations of being "quiet", "shy" or "hard work" by my peers. Perhaps I found conversation and small talk difficult, but given the opportunity to think out my words and get them down on paper I was as capable of eloquence as the best of them.

But even after typewriters and then computers became commonplace, I discovered that some people still insisted on things being handwritten. This was usually a problem for me.

I suspect that there were a number of reasons behind this.

Firstly simple Luddism. To someone growing up before the age of the keyboard and the computer the use of such tools was seen as a skill, a luxury, something which somehow required more effort and resource than simple pen and paper. One instance of this was in one of the first office jobs I had in London in which the big boss sent a memo round which asked all members of staff to write something in reply (I can't remember what it was about now - possibly about a strike or about security measures during Gulf War 1) which he insisted "should be in your own hand". I think there was no malice intended here but just that in his head it would be far too much hassle if everyone had to type and then print out their replies. He was trying to save time.

Not so! I thought, but hand wrote the thing anyway, because he was a scary fucker.

More sinister is when employers insist that job applications be handwritten. Why is this? Surely in this day and age no-one considers a keyboard too high tech? Well no, they don't but as part of the selection process these human resources departments hire graphologists to decipher the character of their potential employees. This strikes me as sneaky and unprofessional.

I am by no means dismissing graphology as a pseudoscience even though some people might lump it in with palm reading and astrology. Personally I can imagine that handwriting offers many insights into the character of the person concerned via straightforward psychological mechanisms. I am sure studying these might indeed reveal their true intentions or character just as effectively as studying their choice of words or facial expressions when speaking. But even if graphology was generally accepted as a hard scientific fact, there'd still be nothing to prevent you from getting someone else to complete the form for you, especially if you think they'd be more likely to get the job.

There is a third scenario when handwriting is insisted upon. You can kind of understand it. Given the way modern devices allow you to do so much it's no wonder that people running training courses or workshops might insist upon people using pen and paper during exercises; I'm sure there's nothing more annoying than someone reading their email, checking Facebook or playing Angry Birds when they're supposed to be making notes. However, this is unfair on people who suffer from the same affliction I do.

You see I no longer blame my inability to handwrite on missing lessons at school. It turns out that the inability to handwrite neatly or constantly is due to Motor Clumsiness which can be one of the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome, something which as I mentioned in an earlier entry I am fairly sure I have albeit in a mild form.

Such insistence on handwriting is therefore discrimination; an accessibility issue. Next time I come up against this prejudice perhaps I should say something.

Previously in this blog...

At the age of nine or so an unnamed friend and I discover two disused platforms at Highgate Station.

Now read on...

The gorge was set into the side of a hill which meant that the cliff face that loomed over the eastern end of the platforms was much higher than the one to the west. In this artificial escarpment yawned two enormous tunnel mouths. My friend and I decided to investigate.

There were no tracks or even sleepers present on the line, just pumice rubble and weeds. As we approached the twin maws we started to feel apprehensive. It was going to be very dark in there.

"Shall we hold hands?" I suggested. I was serious.

We only got a few yards in before panic got the better of us and we fled. But where did these tunnels emerge?

A little nearer home than Highgate Station was Highgate Wood, reached by going through the park (which obviously had aspirations to be like its bigger scarier brother given that it bore the name Cherry Tree Wood) and crossing a couple of roads. It was approached uphill through a wide footpath between people's gardens at the top of which you crossed over a bridge of some sort before arriving in the wood proper.

And it was a proper wood, make no mistake about it, a lung-shaped remnant of an ancient forest that had been there long before London and would probably outlast it. Once you were deep enough into it all you could see were trees. Endless trees. No exterior chinks of light breaking through from open spaces (even though there was one at the centre where people played football and cricket). No creosoted fences of suburban back gardens. Unlike its infant brother Cherry Tree, Highgate was the kind of wood you could get lost in. Walk far enough in any direction and you might find yourself back where you started, the tall trees warping and bending reality around you. When learning about local history, our teacher had told us that Highgate Wood was one of the places they'd buried the bodies during the Great Plague. No-wonder there was something of the night about the place even at noon. I imagined thousands of skulls staring sightlessly into the earth beneath my feet.

Once again I was with one friend, possibly the same one with whom I'd explored Highgate Station. I don't remember his name now although I do remember that he was thin, freckled, dark haired and had a face like a horse. Eschewing the paths we were making our way through the undergrowth, pushing through bushes and wading through piles of dead leaves, stifling giggles when we came across a man lying on top of a woman. My friend said they were having sex, which confused me because they were wearing clothes and I had assumed nudity was a prerequisite.

The ground began to slope down further and we ended up in a shallow trench. Looking back we could see that it passed beneath the odd bridge over which we'd entered the wood. Under the leaves and dirt the ground crunched in a familiar manner. Pumice rubble. This was another abandoned railway. Could it be something to do with the twin tunnels of Highgate? We certainly weren't far from there. Excited I struck out in the direction leading away from the bridge, the direction I hoped would lead us to Highgate station.

The path we were following reached a chicken wire fence topped with barbed wired which it continued running alongside. Beyond lay...

Acres of tracks. On these tracks sat tube trains, bold as brass out in the open where, I imagined, they had no right to be. I felt as if I had opened a cupboard door in my bedroom and discovered a whole new wing of the house.

Where in God's name was I? My knowledge of the underground network whirred and chattered in my brain but there was no logical explanation for this. The Northern Line was the only line anywhere near here and that went underground just past East Finchley station up by Cherry Tree Wood.

There were two men in hardhats near by.

"Excuse me!" I shouted. My shyness had been totally eradicated by my need to solve this mystery, the Mystery of the Tube Line, "What line is this?"

The men looked confused. I suppose it must have been very odd to be going about your business in a London Transport tube siding only for a child to appear behind the fence beyond which only moments ago all had been visible was undergrowth.

Nevertheless one of them got it together enough to answer.

"It's the Northern Line."

This made sense, but my head was still spinning. A secret branch of the Northern Line? A disused station was one thing, the route of a vanished railway another, but those were live trains sitting over there in rows and were as confusing to me in their multitude as coming across a person with five eyes in their face would have been.

Eventually I figured it out. This must be where the tracks at the mysterious two extra platforms at East Finchley led instead of plunging into the ground by Cherry Tree Wood like their peers. And if the tracks led off to the disused Highgate station in that direction, then it meant that once upon a time there had been two routes from East Finchley to its neighbouring stop.

Where had the line run after Highgate? I hadn't a clue. In a world without the internet no Google Maps or hobby sites being run by enthusiastic amateurs meant that I was unlikely to find out. It wasn't the sort of thing they'd have books about in the library.

However, the Ordnance Survey map of London that was one of my prized possessions offered a clue - a dotted line labeled Dism Rly. Dismantled railway? On the map it seemed to disappear off towards the uncharted territories of Crouch End in one direction and Muswell Hill in the other.

Did this mean that Muswell Hill had once actually been served by a tube station outside the Outer Circle Line of my imagination?

Highgate Tunnels photo by Diamond Geezer

East Finchley Station was quite an impressive building. I could forgive it for being above ground because it had an aura of mystery. For a start there were more platforms than the station actually needed. This was a conundrum. And then there was the statue of the archer looming over the platforms, caught in the act of loosing an arrow towards Central London.

To feed my growing obsession I told the staff at East Finchley ticket office that I was doing a project at school and was given a red plastic folder which contained a collections of maps and timetables. This was wonderful. The map was far better than the ones I'd had to make do with up until now, tiny ones in the back of diaries and black and white versions in the A-Z. This one was in full colour and made of card, folded twice in to what years later I would discover was known as a “triptych”. I covered it in the sticky see-though plastic sheeting you got for covering school books.

I made a nuisance of myself going back to the ticket office several times and asking for more maps for my friends at school whom I was trying to get interested in the underground. Eventually the woman who worked in the ticket office got cross with me and told me not to come back. After that I used to make sure she wasn't on duty before asking for more stuff. The Indian man who worked there was the friendliest, I decided.

Also in the folder was a bus map and most intriguingly of all, a big fold out map called "London's Railways". This not only had a map of all the tube lines but all the British Rail lines as well.

Somewhat irrationally, I hated the British Rail lines. They weren't proper. They should build more tubes instead I thought and began drawing maps of my own, devising the orange Outer Circle Line part of the route of which which I decided would go through East Finchley with a brand new station at Muswell Hill Broadway going on to Bounds Green and points east.

I even started travelling by tube unsupervised. At first it was in secret - my friend Robert Knight and I went to play in the park by East Finchley station and took a quick trip to Trafalgar Square straight there and back with no changes. After that came an "official" test run during which my parents dropped me off at East Finchley and picked me up from the next station, Highgate. From there on in I was unstoppable and began to explore further afield. I started going to Clare Ash's Children's Theatre Workshop on Saturday mornings on my own, getting the Northern Line to Tottenham Court Road and then changing onto the Central to get to Bond Street.

There was something otherworldly about these subterranean places. The upright consoles of the ticket machines with their illuminated sloping tops displaying giant red prices 20P; the smell of the dust and warm tunnel air being pistoned through London's arteries by the silver and red metal worms. And the sense that this was just the tip of the iceberg, that the underground I knew was just the surface and that further down into the earth and deeper in time there were hidden stations and lines that would transform my humdrum existence if I only could find them.

There were clues everywhere.  For instance, at nearby Highgate the sign at the top of the escalators read "Northern Line: Platforms 3 and 4" despite the fact that there were only two platforms. What had happened to Platforms 1 and 2? Were they hidden somewhere nearby I wondered? Might I discover a secret passageway leading to them?

It turned out that they were hidden, but in an unexpected place. Above my head.

Highgate Station was reached in a variety of ways - there were some steps that led out into a small car park, an entrance at the end of a cul-de-sac (which could also be reached from the main road by descending a vertiginous concrete path) and a long thin escalator that emerged from a small brick shed on Archway Road. These surrounded a void area thick with trees; on the map it appeared to contain nothing although some older A-Zs seemed to indicate a railway line there.

One day descending the vertiginous path with a friend I spotted something. Beyond the cottage which lay almost next to the station entrance and through the trees I could see what looked like a station canopy. We sneaked through the cottage’s garden and through the chicken wire fence.

It was a derelict station lying at the bed of a deep artificial gorge, overgrown with plants. The tracks themselves were missing, but the brick walls of the station buildings on the island platform bore the unmistakable imprints in discoloured brick of now-removed London Transport roundels. I'd done it. I'd discovered Platforms 1 and 2.

We wandered up and down the platforms, discovering them to be stripped of any accoutrements, the station buildings bare brick cuboids with metal window frames supporting a large overhanging roof. No long abandoned chocolate machines. No ancient posters. There was however a set of stairs leading downwards.

I walked down these steps to a padlocked wooden door through which leaked familiar sounds and smells. Burnt dust, the creaking thud of the escalators. These were sensations I imagined similar to those experienced by Wells' Time Traveller when he investigated the shafts that led down into the Morlocks' domain. I’d discovered something just as momentous; the link between the hidden and reality, the wormhole...

Arriving over the top as I had done felt a bit like cheating.

Alleyways weren't the only obsession during my first few years of life. The London Underground also captured my imagination. There was something about H C Beck's brightly coloured wiring diagram that plugged straight into my childhood brain and lit up all the bulbs.

I first came across the Tube when we moved to London at the tail end of the sixties. Most of the time when we went into town we travelled by car but on a few occasions my Mum had to take us into town by public transport. We would catch the bus from the end of the road (opposite the police box, just outside Tesco) which would take us all the way to Seven Sisters where we'd get on the tube.

Thus my introduction to the service was the Victoria Line. The new Victoria Line as it was known at the time. I seem to recall talk of the trains being driverless at first but that people got too freaked out by seeing no-one in the cab as the trains entered the platform so they installed a person there to reassure the travelling public.  However, I can't find any record of the "driverless Victoria Line" now but clearly remember adults talking about it. Perhaps it was a suburban myth.

However, they certainly were the first trains on the London Underground (as far as I am aware) to run without guards. The idea of a train guard on the tube seems weird now, but they were quite common back then. They lived just inside the front door of the rear carriage, roped off by a strap of elastic and with an array of intriguing bakelite buttons set into the end wall of the carriage in front of them.  Large and colourful, they were the kind of controls you would imagine finding upon a close inspection of the TARDIS console.  Train guards stood up a lot of the time but they did have a fold down seat they could use (and which canny members of the public could use when such guard carriages were in the middle of the train provided you knew how to release the catch).

Most exciting of all was they way they used to leave the doors open after the train had departed, standing nonchalantly in the doorway with their head poking out, only ducking back inside to avoid having their heads knocked off by the tunnel entrance.

I digress. The Victoria Line in the late sixties and early seventies was an exciting and futuristic experience with its blue-grey tiles and shiny metal escalators, such a contrast from the cream, purple and wood feel of the older sections of the network.  Another feature of the line was the one I became obsessed with very early on - station specific murals that decorated the walls behind the benches on each platform. We never went south of Victoria or north of Seven Sisters so the concept of the murals on the stations outside this zone was mysterious. As it was I had to be content with familiarising myself with and decoding the murals available to me.

Seven Sisters. Seven trees, a fairly straightforward concept. The trees were the sisters.

Finsbury Park. A square green of a park containing a tree, but by far the most dominating feature of this picture were the crossed pistols. I had no idea what this signified, but decided that a pair of handguns must be known as a "finsbury". Whatever that was.

Highbury and Islington. A castle. I assumed this was something to do with the castle I could see from the car when we drove into town (which was in actual fact Holloway Prison) and surmised that was where the station was (the mural actually depicted the now demolished Highbury House). Or maybe a castle was also known as a "highbury".  Either made sense to me.

Kings Cross. Another straightforward one - a cross made up of five crowns. Easy for the four year old mind to grasp.

Euston. An arch known as Euston Arch, apparently the victim of a great injustice. A tragedy. According to my parents, horrible bastards had knocked down Euston Arch when building Euston Station even though they didn't have to. I felt obscurely guilty about this. I couldn't see how it was my fault but it felt like it.  There are now plans afoot to reconstruct it  - and even today that would come as a relief to me; I'd feel as if I'd been let off the hook.

Warren Street. A bright orange maze or warren. No rabbits. When we were waiting on the platform there I used to try and trace my way out from the centre of the maze before the train came. I don't think I ever succeeded.

Oxford Circus. A circle, with lines converging on it. Some kind of representation of Oxford Circus itself I decided. I felt grown up because I knew that it wasn't the kind of circus with clowns, but just the boring crossroads where John Lewis was. Near the BBC where my sister and I had spent the night once.

Green Park. Some dots. I didn't get this one and asked my Mum. She said they were supposed to be blobs of paint on a palette because artists sold their paintings in Green Park. This was a more interesting explanation that the genuine one which turns out to be more bloody trees. Seen from overhead presumably.

Victoria. Like King's Cross, an easy one for me to get my head round. It was Queen Victoria's head, the same head that appeared on some of the pennies I had in my wooden money box shaped like a rocking chair.

These motifs became my childhood constellations, reassuringly familiar symbols I could use to track my progress across the capital. The ones I hadn't seen became almost mythical in my mind. I knew they must exist. Of course some of the stations weren't open yet; little notices on the maps in the carriages said so - anything south of Victoria wouldn't be open until 1971 and Pimlico wouldn't even be open until the futuristic sounding 1972!

One day when we caught a bus my Mum asked the conductor whether it went to Seven Sisters. Apparently not but it did stop at Tottenham Hale. I still remember his words to this day.

"Same line, different station."

I was excited. I was going to see a new motif.

I wasn't disappointed when we reached the platform. There was something enthralling about seeing a new instance of a familiar set of things and the Tottenham Hale motif didn't disappoint. I had the same background colours as some of the other stations, but in the foreground an oval frame surrounded a medieval looking picture of a man and a woman in a boat. For some reason I thought the man was Jesus because he had a beard.

I wasn't to see the Tottenham Hale Jesus in a Boat motif again as a child, but it was enough to have seen it once. There were plenty more motifs - would I ever get to see them? One day whilst waiting for the bus again I saw a London Transport poster on the bus shelter. It was about the New Victoria Line and even better had pictures of all the station motifs. I moved forward for a closer look...

...and my Mum grabbed my hand and we got on the bus which had just pulled up.

Eventually we moved house away from the Victorian Zodiac.  It was the end of the first era of my Tube obsession, but the beginning of the second which would turn out to be far more epic. For a start there was a tube station within walking distance of our new home, East Finchley...

I watched a fascinating documentary on BBC4 last week, part of the series The Brain: A Secret History. It was all about emotions, where they come from, how they work and what they're for.  All interesting stuff, but I was surprised that at no point was the evolutionary root of emotions discussed - it was all behavioural. And yet I've found that simply looking at things from an evolutionary perspective can provide astonishing insight into what makes us human and just why it is that we do all of the things that we do.

Evolution says that anything that makes it far more likely for organisms to pass on their genes to future generations will be exaggerated over time, and for sentient beings lusts, urges and instincts are what make us do things we have to (if we didn't "enjoy" food we'd forget to eat and starve to death).

The stronger the lust and protective instincts felt towards a chosen partner will result in more sex and therefore more children; the stronger the instinct to protect and go out of ones way to nurture one's offspring means that more of the children survive. Simple mathematics states that as time goes on the number of individuals who through random mutation experience stronger combinations of these varieties of instinctive emotional response will increase until ultimately it becomes the norm and is a fully fledged emotional behaviour in the psychobiology of the species. Then we can call it love.  But if it had happened that, say, embarrassment and guilt had inexplicably made it far more likely we'd pass on our genes then for one thing Mills & Boon range would be a very different proposition.

Embarrassment and guilt are two important emotions which are two sides of the same discomfort coin, one which has been legal tender in my mind for as long as I can remember. Sometimes as a young child I would feel so embarrassed that I could barely cope with what was going on around me and allegedly flew into a rage (which I don't remember, but I am reliably informed happened) or became so mortified that I shut down the emotional side of things.

I would embarrassed at the most peculiar things, often to do with pairs of things or varieties of things. Sometimes my source of discomposure would be what I imagined people might be thinking that I was thinking even though I knew I wasn't thinking it, if you see my meaning.

One early example of an embarrassmeme was the lyric "Dracula and his son" in the song Monster Mash. I was embarrassed to hear it. Another embarrassmeme occurred the first time I saw the video for David Bowie's Laughing Gnome - it was the part when the next morning the Gnome turns up with his brother. For one horrible microsecond I though he was going to be the Crying Gnome and was consumed with embarrassment. This swiftly passed when it turned out he was only "his brother Fred".

A further occasion was when watching Play School or some other children's show. The presenter announced she was going to tell us the story of:

"Busy Bee and Lazy B-"

Before she could even finish the sentence I was swamped with embarrassment again. I was afraid that there were going to be two bees, one of whom was going to be Busy and the other Lazy. However this moment of shame only lasted as long as it took for the presenter to finish her word and in fact the sentence turned out to be:

"Busy Bee and Lazy Bear"

Phew. The embarrassment evaporated.  This whole drama had taken a microsecond but had managed to be all consuming in that time.

Other concepts would overwhelm me in the same way. As a child I tended to see everything in a binary state which meant that in the universe things were either Good or Bad. I was always worried that I was on the Bad side of the line. This really wasn't helped by the famous nursery rhyme:
What are little boys made of? What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of
What are little girls made of? What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of
I took this really personally. It made me angry. However, part of me suspected that my objection and anger at this generalisation was because I really was Bad. Well of course I was Bad. I was a boy, and so I was made of frogs and snails. The word Bad began with a B and so did the word Boy. The word Good began with a G and so did the word Girl. Further evidence of the binary nature of reality upon the wrong side of which I had been born through no fault of my own.

At that age I didn't even know what spice was. Something wonderful no doubt.

I also picked up a strange eco-message at a very young age. I'm not sure where that came from unless it was a hangover of the hippy movement. Anyway, what it said was that trees and flowers and the countryside were Good things.  This also upset me. I liked science and numbers and cities and space. I felt that this was yet further proof that I was Bad, because I liked the Bad things. I felt bad about liking the Bad things, but couldn't help liking them nonetheless.

Losing myself in obsessions was one way I could forget my inherent badness. I don't remember any of the techniques now, but there was a time when I was seriously obsessed with origami. I'd get books out of the library about it and practice until I managed to construct some quite complex objects out of folded paper. It was very comforting.

If I attempted to revisit it in adulthood I wouldn't know where to start. I suspect that the origami meme fitted quite well into the particular shape my mind was at the time and perhaps that as my mind has matured and lost its flexibility I lost the ability to learn such things.

It might be worth a try though.  Next time I get angry or frustrated by the behavior of my fellow passengers on a crowded bus perhaps I should try and fashion my ticket into a Kawasaki Crane...

Some people might have noticed that I have suddenly started blogging a lot more frequently than in recent months. Amongst other things this is because I finished the first draft of the work in progress novel that has been hanging around my brain since the Christmas 2007. Those worrying about whether this is going to be a boring self-indulgent blog take heart - I promise not to mention the novel again after today until a much later stage.

As I have mentioned in a couple of recent blog entries this completion was in no small part thanks to the  machinations of which seems to have successfully tapped into the addictive qualities of social media (which I am given to understand is to do with something called Random Intermittent Reinforcement) so that rather than obsessively checking Twitter every two minutes to see what everyone has said since the last time I looked or checking into Palmeira Square on FourSquare twice a day to ensure I retain the mayorship, I actually got something useful and self rewarding done.

It was partly the little badges but mostly the implicit guilt I would have felt had I not completed my daily word count.  I am sure that the creator  didn't actually build any actual guilt into the system - if anything it's encouraging - but my brain in its limited wisdom was able to convert the motivation into guilt which for my mind anyway is a far more high-octane fuel.

I call it a First Draft, but I'm not sure that it actually qualifies for that status yet. Whilst the story is certainly finished and all the pieces are in place, I do think that I need to go through the whole thing at least once again to cross the Ts and dot the Is before I am ready to pass it onto any "beta readers". Currently the draft is in an alpha state; draft 0.8 if you like.

For one thing I need to put chapter breaks in; towards the end of the final stretch I completely forgot to do this.  I also strongly suspect that in the latter passages Wendi might have repeated one particular nugget of exposition so I need to clean that up.

So what have I learnt from finishing this, my second novel (for the background to the first, please see my earlier blog entry "You all everybody")?

Firstly that things aren't always what they seem. Even though I had a vague shape in mind when I finished (although to be honest all "Quest" stories have a similar form) I was genuinely surprised by the twists and turns of the plot and in particular by the denouement scene the details of which I hadn't realized until shortly before I actually started writing it. This is somewhat insane - as if Agatha Christie could have got 80% through writing one of her books before realizing Who Dunnit.

But that is just how things seem to work for me, as mentioned in a previous blog entry I'm an archaeologist, not an architect. I'm not sure of the mechanism behind this - is it my subconscious that formulates the plot in advance and allows me to uncover it as I go along, or is the story somehow part of the shape of my mind, built up over years of reading fiction and working out what I like? All I do know is that if I'd sketched everything out in advance with index cards and post-it notes I'd be too bored to actually write the book as in my head the story would already be complete.

At least I'm not alone; I have read about several other authors, some of whom I really enjoy, who work to the same method.

What next? Received wisdom is that I should lock the manuscript in a drawer for three months. I don't think I have the time. That's all very well if you're a successful author with several irons in the fire, but given my limited time I'm going straight to beating this alpha version into actual First Draft shape and then distribute a handful of copies to a small number of beta readers. Perhaps then would be a good time to take a break and write something else.

There's certainly a lot to be getting on with; the Toyah memoir has a deadline now - I would love for it to be available in time for her 30th Anniversary "From Sheep Farming to Anthem" tour because it would be supremely fitting.

And then of course I have to write the next novel.

Thinking back to my earliest memories, I recall myself as having been surprisingly (mentally) articulate even as a very young child. Perhaps what I was thinking wasn't necessarily in adult English or even in words but it was still recognisably me doing the thinking, exactly the same person, the same mind that is doing the typing now.  Particularly recognisable is the way things use to puzzle and bother me, in exactly the same way then as now.

Why was Fred Flintstone ordering a deckchair to be delivered to his car, and what was the deal with Top Cat?

Firstly it bugged me that he was called Boss Cat in the Radio Times and on the TV continuity announcements but that in the theme tune and throughout the show he was Top Cat or TC. My mother did explain that this was because the BBC didn't allow advertising and that there was already a brand of cat food called "Top Cat", but this explanation didn't stand up to scrutiny for me. If this was the case, why didn't they change it everywhere? A caption card saying Boss Cat appearing at the end of a theme tune throughout which people were cheerfully singing about Top Cat and mentioning his name a lot seemed to me like a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted, even if I might not have been able to articulate it in that way.

The lyrics of the song itself bothered me a little as well. "Close friends get to call him TC" as if that's a really coveted privilege. Why is it so great to be permitted this familiarity? He's only a cat.  What happens to someone who calls him TC whom he doesn't consider a close friend?  Or if a close friend does so with insufficient dignity? And again towards the end "He's the boss, he's a pip, he's the championship". How can an individual be a championship?

And what was all that business with the coin on the string being flipped into the hand of the doorman of the high class restaurant? Looking at it as an adult you realise that it can't be that fancy a restaurant if the employees are that easily bribed to let you in. It's just one coin and seeing that that the series takes place in New York City, it's a fairly safe bet that it's a quarter. A quarter? Is that all it takes to buy you into one of the Big Apple's top eateries?

I don't understand why Top Cat went there anyway if all he was going to do was sit on the pavement outside the terrace and then nick a sewer worker's lunchbox.

But despite these gaping plot holes, there was something about Top Cat that really appealed to me at the time. It was partly the sense of camaraderie between the members of the cat gang that made me wish I could somehow find my way there and join them. But most of all it was the alleyways.

As a six or seven year old child (which is when I was a big Top Cat fan) I was obsessed with the alleyways or "alleys" as I called them that riddled the area in which we lived at the time. In this terraced suburbia there was something magical about these shortcuts behind and between the houses; as an avid Narniaphile I couldn't help but dream that I might walk into one in Edmonton and walk out the other end somehow supernaturally transported to a bizarre magical foreign land where amongst other things cats stood on their hind legs and talked.  I knew it was only imagination but part of me really wanted it to be true. What if, I would ask myself, what if I actually do come out of this alley somewhere else? What if Top Cat could really be my friend?

I named all the alleys.  I don't recall any of the nomenclature now aside from The Lost Alley which certainly lived up to its name. It lay beyond the end of one easily accessible alley where there was a fence overgrown with brambles and weeds. if you pushed your way through these and then through a gap in the planking you could gain access to a fenced off section of alley (similarly boarded up at the other end) that it was obvious no-one had been in for years - the grass came up to my chin. It was discoveries like these that kept the hope alive that something magical might indeed happen one day.

I sometimes wonder whether the Lost Alley has been subsumed into someones garden by now or whether it is still lost? Revisiting those alleys via Google Maps reveals the sad fact that they all have metal gates now.   I suppose it must have been a very different time back then; for one thing our parents didn't see anything odd about letting us run riot in these rat runs all Sunday afternoon. And Sunday afternoons were about ten times as long in those days, you could lose yourself in them, eventually coming home far older and wiser with great chunks of fresh life experience to be digested by your brain that night.

One such summer afternoon I recall that Shamus, Raymond, Steven and I held an archaeological dig in one of the alleys, unearthing a peculiar stone bone. It was probably a lump of sandstone or something similar, but there was something very bonelike about it. I was convinced it had belonged to a dinosaur.

When we finally pulled it free the other three boys suddenly turned against me and, wresting it from my grasp, ran off.  Interestingly every one of them then came to me afterwards in secret over the next day or two and promised to get the bone back for me as long as I didn't tell the other two.

When I was eight we moved away to somewhere without nearly as many alleys. Some of the magic died right there as my brain matured and imagination began to coagulate.  But sometimes I would give anything to be back there running through the dust and weeds with the sun on my head, the sounds of grasshoppers in my ears and the possibility of meeting Top Cat just around the next corner.

Nothing in adult life ever comes close.

The problem with writing anything about politics is that people see it as carte blanche to Have A Go. Even though I'd hope that the bulk of people reading this very probably share my views, it is all in the public domain.  If I'm not very careful I'm going to end up with abusive comments.

You see, I experienced something like this once before when I wrote a miniblog entry on Tumblr about the whole Bigotgate scandal. You must remember.  It was when Gordon Brown was caught off the record saying he dislikes bigotry and got pilloried for it. The gist of what I wrote was that whatever you thought of his policies I considered that his treatment by the press had been unfair. The link to this miniblog was retweeted a couple of times and before I knew it was was drowning in angry responses from people who loathed Brown and completely missing the point I was trying to make were telling me so in no uncertain terms.

Of course many of them were dyed in the wool Tories, which is fair enough, but some of them I suspect were something more sinister.

Another entry last year was about the phenomena of Every Decreasing Socialism - the observation that many people seem to get more right wing as they get older. I argued that rather than being a calcification of the human mind which caused it to slip ever rightwards as it aged, these people were probably always right wing but when young and in the public eye adopted a faux leftie stance simply to appear cool. Belief as fashion accessory. When they got older they cared less for the cool and allowed their real selves out to play.

I stated my own political beliefs in this entry - a kind of instinctive socialism based upon what makes my blood boil. This blog entry is about the behaviour of some people around politics, and NOT about the political views themselves although if I start getting hot under the collar my own might slip in by accident. That was a disclaimer for anyone planning to Have A Go.

The last few years have been interesting ones in British politics from the point of view of the responses of these false socialists to political events. Things not being quite as expected led to some interesting behaviour.

Firstly, wasn't it peculiar how the faux-left pundits and bigmouths alike stuck the boot into "Bliar" and his party with far more enthusiasm than they'd ever attacked the Tories? Were these people really more incensed by the war in Iraq than by anything Thatcher and Major had ever perpetrated in the previous decades or was it that as Crypto-Tories they were suddenly delighted to be able to legitimately stick it Labour? Quite unexpectedly the cool point of view coincided with their genuine feelings even if they were missing the point (caring not about an illegal war in Iraq but merely for the opportunity to Have A Go). In the press, the Mail and Independent alike were attacking the same targets even if their agendas were very different. The same was happening with the Crypto-Tories and the genuine left.

With a marvellous irony (in hindsight) some of them made a big noise about how Labour had failed them, publicly crossed the floor and set up camp with the Liberal Democrats whom they now claimed were the only voice truly representing the left.

The result of the 2010 election must have been a delightful surprise to them. Their true masters had gained power in no small part thanks to their pretend support for the Lib-Dems. They'd voted Tory without any of the shame or loss of coolface caused by having done so.

Now that the coalition government has bedded in and is slitting the throat of the nation's future whilst enthusiastically raping its corpse these commentators are conspicuous by their absence. Their protesting screams of "Bliar!" whilst on anti-war marches have fallen silent even though there's still much to complain about, a lot of it far closer to home as the private security force once known as the police cracks heads and abuses children.

This is because their burning desire to look cool doesn't extend to actually slagging off those with whom their loyalties really lie. Some of them are still banging on about Blair - hey everyone, lets move his autobiography to the crime section, eh? That'll be good for a laugh, but even those who realise that they've got to move on seem to be reserving all their bile for Clegg who has unwittingly been forced into the role of the figure its OK to hate. That way they get to keep up their fashionable appearance without actually betraying their Tory masters.

Cameron seems to be getting away scott free.

Friday November 12th, 2021

To the Managing Director of Mattoy Educational

Dear Sir

I am writing to complain about the Mattoy “My First DNA Sequencer Kit” I purchased for my daughter Blaze’s fifteenth birthday in October.

From the widespread publicity and advertisements, I had been given to understand that the kit would “turn my kid on to the intricacies of genetics with simple experiments such as extracting DNA from root vegetables and revealing DNA fingerprints on doorknobs, thus giving her a head start in one of today’s most exciting and challenging growth industries”. However, upon opening the kit we discovered that not only did the electrophoresis chamber lack a power cord, but that the manual was missing.

Temporarily transplanting the cord from her PlayStation Seven, Blaze was naturally eager to begin experimentation, even without a manual, and so downloaded what at the time I believed to be appropriate material in order to make a start whilst we waited for the replacement manual to be delivered.

My first indication that something had gone wrong came on Monday morning when I observed Blaze catching the school bus as usual only to spot her ten minutes later sneaking out the backyard gate. Naturally of course I put this down to tiredness, although the weirdness continued that evening when I overheard what sounded like Blaze having a furious row with herself about “whose turn” it was to go to school the following day. However, the next morning she caught the bus to school as normal and so I dismissed it.

Later that morning as I was cleaning the lounge, I spotted Blaze backing my car out of the driveway. I was furious - not only was she skipping school, but also she hadn’t asked permission to borrow my car. The exact copy of her in the passenger seat was something that at the time I was prepared to turn a blind eye to, as it didn’t make any sense.

A week later I was no longer able to ignore what was going on. The neighbors had started complaining about the noise Blaze was making as all ten of her quarreled nightly about who was going to wear what the next day and who’d have to go to school. Most of the time she just ended up cloning off another copy to do the latter for her, which only made things worse. In addition, Mrs Manzarek was now phoning me up almost every day, bellyaching about how her son Vaughn (who had been Blaze’s boyfriend) had run off to stay with his dad in Alaska.

The last straw came two days ago, when I switched on CNN only to be confronted with a report that a rampaging mob of my daughter had run riot in Griffith Park, been arrested and were now all cooling their heels at 3353 San Fernando Road courtesy of Captain Sanchez and his colleagues in the LAPD Northeast Division.

As I am unable to afford bail for all twenty-two of them, I am turning to you for financial compensation. You will be hearing from my lawyer directly.

Yours faithfully

Azura Mantra (Ms)

NB: I have resurrected this old piece of writing to keep the blog ticking over whilst I finish the first draft of my novel.