Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Those Good Ol' Dancing Days

I spent some time on Union Street today, sitting opposite the derelict Dance Academy.

There's something melancholic about abandoned buildings, the way they stand on their spot with no purpose, just an empty vessel rotting away - a concrete corpse. But as crappy as they become they can still hold memories untainted.

When I was a teenager Dance Academy was without a doubt the best place to be at on a weekend. And it was where I had one of the greatest days of my life.

I remember me and my mates had an amazing night clubbing: the DJs were on fire; we were with a mate that was on leave from Iraq; we were all buzzin' and when the lights went up we got a taxi to the Torpoint Ferry, crossed over the Tamar, got another taxi to Whitsand Bay where we laid on the beach, talking, chillin’, laughing and loving life. We watched the sunrise, saw dolphins a mile off shore heading eastwards and the tide creep slowly forwards. Magic.

Then, like idiots, we fell asleep until the afternoon. We woke in a sweat. Our faces redder than a Baboon’s arse. And we were surrounded by windbreaks and a massive family of massive Brumies!

I've had better mornings.

We walked 12 miles back home that day - if we’d got a taxi the day would’ve been over too soon.

Last time I went to the Academy turned out to be its last night.

I paid about £10 to get in then an hour later the lights went up. Police dressed in full riot gear lined the balcony, some had sniffer dogs, and there were bins laid out for people to put anything they might have on them that the police might not approve of finding on them, in. I searched my pockets to find a contribution and found some blackcurrent strepsils that had gotten loose and sticky. When we got passed the police and made it out into the street we found ourselves in front of local TV crews and journos. And I never got a refund. I've had better nights.

Ever since the police raided the Academy it's been closed. Now it’s just there, an empty vessel, a concrete corpse, boarded up, sprouting trees and rousing memories of the past.

Something in the Air

Yesterday morning was unusual.

I was woken up by the munchings of a cow that’d chosen to graze on a bunch of turf less then two feet away from me. Nothing unusual there. But as I looked up at the sky - which the sunrise had painted a rich vermilion blending into a soft lilac - I noticed there wasn’t a single vapor trail in the sky.

It stayed like that throughout the day (and the next few days). It was striking but ominous. Why was the sky so clear? Had there been a terrorist alert? I searched for a newspaper and found the cause.

Iceland! Again! Their volcano, Eyjafjallajokull (I think that’s how it’s spelt) was reeking havoc (as well as giving the simplicity of Mt Etna’s name a new found respect). First their banks collapse, now this. I still don’t know if our council got its money back - I’ll have to check that.

But it’s an act of nature, unlike a liquidating bank. S0 I can look the other way but I’d think twice before seeing Bjork again. If she comes back to Plymouth Pavilions, I wouldn't be surprised if she cancels at the last minute rendering my extortionate ticket nonrefundable - it's not worth the risk.

That said, Iceland is a great island, even if their alcohol is as expensive as bullion. I stayed there for a week extra after a training exercise back in the day. I hired a skidoo and skidoo-ed out to this remote hut in the center of a frozen lake. It was during that night that I witnessed for the first time the aurora borealis, and I hope not for the last time - I want my kids to see its majesty.

Friday, 12 March 2010

A Beauty Spot (and Plymouth's madeover makeover)

There’s a spot in Plymouth’s city centre where I spend lots of time - in fact I was there earlier today. It’s a place where I can see into a shop and watch my ex fleet in and out of view while she’s working. Well, I say ex but we’re not officially divorced - she doesn’t know where I am and that, for the time being, is how I want it.

I do keep in contact with her: when I can I make the odd telephone call, that way she knows I’m OK and I know she’s OK and that the kids are OK, too.

You probably think that sounds a bit odd. I wouldn’t blame you. I know it’s not normal behaviour. I’m not in a normal place at the moment. When I am though, and I will be, I’ll approach her and we’ll talk face to face.

In case you're wondering, if she ever looks in my direction I’m safe, she wouldn’t recognise me, I barely recognise my own reflection. But I have to make sure I keep an eye on the time, I don’t want to attract undue attention from her or her workmates or those CCTV hawk eyes above me, behind me and to my side!

When I left that spot I was feeling pretty low so I trundled around the city centre to gather my thoughts. Thankfully, my feelings were lifted when I noticed that parts of the West End were being repaved following all the trippings over the last few months. At least somethings are going right...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Return of the Unwanted

The world contains evil - that's a fact. I've seen it in its many forms, and when I've been able to, I've removed it or avoided it. And when it's possible, I believe evil should be laid to rest; it deserves nothing more. This is why I have an issue with writer, Wensley Clarkson.

Last summer Plymouth was held under the media spotlight while the horrific case of paedophile nursery-worker Vanessa George became national news. It was a dark time. For the families involved December was met with a sense of closure (or as close as one could get) as George was sentenced to a minimum of seven years. Then, less than two months later, Clarkson's book Vanessa: A Portrait of Evil was released.

In less than two months! Does the public really need that woman's face peering at them once again, this time from the shelves of high street bookstores and supermarkets? And at this point in time is it so important to humanise her?

For me, Clarkson could redeem himself by channeling the money he earns to a worthy cause such as the NSPCC; and since the book has already sold 8,000 copies on Amazon.co.uk, I'm sure they'd appreciate the gesture.

You see, I'm wary about these 'true crime' books because there's two kinds of people I don't trust: people who place ads in local newspapers for items costing between 50p and £1; and people who buy 'true crime' books and put them on display in their homes. There's nothing more perverse or off-putting than trying to socialise with somebody while the face of Josef Fritzel is staring at you from the coffee table!

But people do. It's a genre that sells very well. If Satan wrote an autobiography detailing all his diabolical deeds it would be on more coffee tables than there are coffee beans in a Kenco warehouse.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Plymouth's West End Makeover

I've always viewed life as a continuous stream of gambles, so I never saw gambling of any kind as an enemy. What a mistake. It's horrifying how much one man can loose when a thoroughbred has a revelatory moment and discards her rider before the first jump! Nowadays, if I can scrape enough kazoo-busking cash together, I only gamble on lotteries - it's safer that way.

If I ever won a lottery I'd spend a generous portion of the winnings on developing the eyesore areas in Plymouth. It'll be no surprise for you to learn that I have yet to win big, so you could imagine the joy I felt when I heard, back in 2007, that BID (Business Improvement District) was embarking on a multi-million 20 year plan to redevelop the city.

But whether all that money is being spent wisely is questionable.

Last December the west-end of the city centre had a £3.2 million revamp. It took 8 months to complete. The aim was to make the area more attractive and accessible to shoppers because Drake's Circus Shopping Mall's magnetic pull on consumers had proved too strong.

Now part of an area which had been pedestrian for 20 years has became a one-way road with car park spaces, the pavement has been badly repaved and a crucial zebra crossing has been erased! Madness! Inevitably, there has been a slew of falls and near misses, thanks to the unevenly raised cobblestones and confusing open spaces which fail to clearly mark out the boundary between pedestrian space and car space - as if they want us to co-exist harmoniously!

But why was the pavement cobbled? Why wasn't tarmac used? One cobblestone fall victim was Babette Doolin (86!). She tripped and fell flat on her face leaving an "abrasion to the head." Is this the price of a pavement going retro: pedestrian pensioners are getting hurt.

This issue got on my tramping moobs, not just because our elders were tumbling but because falling in public is one of the ultimate faux pas. Personally, I find the sober falls the most cringe-worthy because, you either hit the deck like a tonne of lead, the shock of which can leave you speechless for a minute or two, unable to communicate with the public that's literally looking down on you; or, rather than your body submitting to the forces of gravity, you're actually arsed to try and rescue yourself, which means you have to endure a humiliatingly prolonged, bent-legged stumble before finally skidding onto the concrete, and if there's somebody in front of you, well, try not to grab them or else next time you need to be CRB'd you might find you have an uncharacteristic, irremovable blot on your record!

But, just thinking about it, maybe that was the intention all along: get people to trip up and they'll conveniently stumble into the nearest empty independent trader’s shop. In which case, the developers are mischievously ingenious.

But I doubt that.

Get it right next time people.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A Cold-fisted Catharsis During the 'Big Freeze'

Thanks to my background, I attuned to this month’s prolonged cold snap faster than most. I know how to survive these exceptional conditions. In fact, I enjoy the challenge. It's about focusing your mind, keeping the fire inside burning and always knowing where to find food and shelter. I remember one year I had to hide in an abandoned badger’s sett, or was it a fox hole? Either way, as I lay sandwiched between earth, it didn’t take long for my body temperature to warm up the tight space. But I digress...

During my winter wanderings on the edges of Dartmoor, it was warming to see families out in the newly whitened landscape, making the most of it before the thaw, sledging, having snowball fights, creating snow sculptures; and you can't beat the look of wander in a child's eye as they take in the spectacle of snow for the first time - absolute magic!

Also, people seem to have been particularly artistic and generous this year: I saw my first snowsheep and a hefty, Hattie-Jacques-like snowwoman wearing a sizable bra and skirt, hats off to their creators.

As I walked into Plymouth I began to notice how the snowpeople* changed as I got closer the the city centre: on the outskirts, snowpeople* wore traditional items such as a top hat, flat cap and tartan or plain scarfs; closer to the centre, I came across snowpeople that I can only describe as snowchavs, draped in Burberry hats, scarves and 'bling'.

I must confess that under the cover of night, as I passed some of these snowchavs, I couldn’t help using them to vent my frustration. You see, I’ve had so much verbal abuse in the past from teens and sometimes kids as young as five, calling me names, telling me I smell (imaginative!) and to piss off out the county (no chance!). So when I saw these snowchavs I couldn’t resist applying a swift undercut to their stomach, or a sharp blow to their temple. Such swift Ali-esque moves inevitably lead to the casual disembowelment and decapitation of the snowchavs. But I had to take advantage because I had a lot to get off my tramping moobs and I could never hurt an actual person - unless in self-defence.

Tip: If it's icy do what I do and wear a rucksack filled with clothes so should you fall backwards, your coccyx will be spared a rattling. If you fall forwards, err, try and roll mid-fall.

* I say snowpeople not to be pc but because saying snowmen would do an injustice to all the snowwomen I saw - they may have even been in a majority.