I currently have three bikes propped against my bedroom wall. Three bikes is far too many bikes for one person, some would call it an infestation.
The first bike is a hand-me-down from my dad that I brought up to Glasgow and have never ever used, this is due to my own inaction and nothing else. It’s a mountain bike, so I’ll probably use it if I go cross-country cycling, but that hasn’t come up so far. But these are not the first bikes in my stable.
The best birthday present I ever received was also the first bike I ever owned. Bikes are not the easiest items to wrap. I came down to breakfast that morning to find the playpen that was usually reserved for imprisoning my little sister or brother. It was covered with a patchwork quilt, underneath the quilt was not an angry baby, quite the opposite, it was a non-angry blue and white bike.
I used this nifty little model a lot, mainly cycling up and down the street I grew up on, like Lance Armstrong with stabilisers. My preferred braking technique at this point in my cycling career was to drag my feet along the pavement until the friction eventually brought my bike to a halt, or my shoes to an untimely end, whichever came sooner. As a single-figure daredevil I was constantly on the look out for the next extreme: riding beyond the borders of the street our house was on; removing the stabilisers; it didn’t matter, so long as I got that sweet sweet rush. Was I a seven year old adrenaline junkie? Perhaps. Perhaps I just liked going very fast. We’ll never know, I just thank my stars I was never exposed to performance-enhancing drugs (they were kept on top of the fridge).
But I’m back-pedalling, and the problem with back-pedalling is that you don’t actually go anywhere.
The second bike in my room is an old Raleigh that I found in my grandparents’ garage in 2003. My gran had acquired this bike decades ago, ridden it once and decided that it wasn’t for her, so I took it home with the intention of ‘doing it up’. Phase one of this process involved leaving the bike in our garage until April this year. The saddle is a ‘Terry’ brand, so I’ll refer to this bike as Terry from now on, although given that it’s a lady’s bike it should maybe be ‘Teri’ (Like Lois Lane). After some tinkering with Terry/Teri I discovered that the bike had seen so little use that the dyanmo generator and lightbulb still worked, although apparently these old dynamo bike lights have a tendency to explode if you cycle too fast. Feeling like Dr. Frankenstein after a successful re-animation, I walked bike number two from my flat in Queens Park to the Common Wheel in Maryhill.
The Common Wheel is a massively worthwhile charity which ‘provides meaningful activity for people with mental illness through working with bicycles and music’. I can’t vouch for the music, but the bicycle side of the operation is carried out by extremely enthusiastic and hard-working people, and the results speak for themselves. Suffice to say, the people at the Common Wheel are better at fixing bikes than me. So it was with a great deal of confidence that I presented Terry to the Common Wheel, only to be told that the bike had been obsolete when constructed, and would be a dangerous beast to ride. I felt like a modern Prometheus struck down by the cycling gods, my pride dinted like a dodgy spoke. I left Terry over-night to have new tires fitted, so that he could at least be ridden in flat, pedestrian environments such as the tundra, and empty swimming pools.
This brings us to the third bike in my life (and my room), the most recent addition to the flock. After having been warned against riding Terry in the presence of traffic or inclines or weather, I was shown into the container where the Common Wheel keep the old bikes that are waiting to be reincarnated. From there I selected an old red bike and was told to pop back in a few weeks. When I returned to the Common Wheel what awaited me was not the old shabby red bike I’d seen in the storage unit. The frame had been retained, and it had been varnished so that the bike was the colour of a shiny red dodgem, and the wheels, hub, seat and even bell were new. It also had functional brakes, which was a step-up for me.
Apparently bike number three is a Royal Albert brand bike, so I call him Albert, and he is a him. I’ve had some good times with Albert already, and I’m looking forward to our future together, man and bike. I can only hope that Terry/Teri isn’t feeling too jealous, but there is only so much cyclist to go round after all.
If you see me careering past you down the hill, either I’m riding the wrong bike or I’m wearing new shoes.
‘Goldfinger, do not record over’
This isn’t Shirley Bassey, it is the stern, but fair, message written on the side of a VHS cassette I recorded from ITV some time in the late ’90s or the early ’00s. Around this time, me and my brother went through a phase of taping James Bond films each week and then watching them after school the next day, or (sometimes) watching them on the evening they were broadcast. Eating Rice Krispies as James Bond seduced a lady was one of my regular forays into high culture when I was maturing from boy to teenager at the turn of the century, and it prepared me for life in a world of ever-increasing dangers and ever-increasing gadgets.
Has there ever been a time when ITV didn’t show one Bond film per week? Some people speak of a shadowy time ‘before 007’, but I don’t think there’s any way to verify their tales. The repeating cycles of super-spy stories seem to be as much a part of nature as the migration of birds or the rotation of the earth around the sun. Surely ITV2 was designed purely to raise awareness of the precarious condition of Roger Moore’s sagging face in Octopussy?
Sky recently bought the rights to show James Bond films from ITV, so this ancient cycle will come to an end. It’s a shame really, as it means that people who don’t have Sky TV will never experience the rite of passage of a Bond marathon. Our family was one of the families that did not have Sky TV when I was growing up. The lack of Sky TV in the Waterfield residence was just one of the many injustices that I have had to overcome. The other injustice was the time Mum implied that she thought the school trip to Alton Towers would be a waste of time, so I didn’t go. I did eventually go to Alton Towers, sure, on a later school trip … but the scars run deep.
To return to my point: A younger me learnt a lot of valuable life-lessons from watching Bond do his thing.
This was all important stuff to a boy doing his GCSEs, like what shoes to wear with my tuxedo, how to be a remorseless killing machine, how to be a remorseless sexing machine, and so on. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m such a ladies man, it’s because of 007. If you’ve ever wondered why the ladies don’t realise I’m such a ladies man, it’s because they never watched James Bond films. So before these ancient lessons are taken away from future generations, who may not have Sky TV, I’d like to pass on some nuggets from my years of taped-from-tv wisdom:
People with braces are not to be trusted (The Spy Who Loved Me; Moonraker)
A Flamboyant Union Jack parachute is the perfect way to camouflage yourself while engaged in a top secret mission (The Spy Who Loved Me)
A car that contains built-in machine-guns is able to pass its MOT (Goldfinger; Thunderball)
Just after Bond has stabbed a man in the heart is an excellent time to advertise Cumbrian furniture showrooms (All the Bond films)
Gold body paint is a bit tacky (Goldfinger)
People with prosthetic arms are not to be trusted (Live and Let Die)
Roger Moore is not some kind of a clown. He does not make me laugh (Octopussy)
Octopussy is a ridiculous title for anything (Octopussy)
Pussy Galore is definitely an acceptable name to give your child (Goldfinger)
Volcanoes are roomy (You Only Live Twice)
So why has Sky decided to buy James Bond? It would be all too easy to claim that shadowy media hate-figure Rupert Murdoch wants to gain control over the 007 films in order to further his own nefarious plans for global domination, but of course that would be entirely accurate. It could also be that Murdoch just wants to prevent the world seeing his true form as the media mogul super-villain in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Another possibility is that ‘the guys at Sky’ want to make lots of money, I suppose that might be it.
Despite these unsettling thoughts, all is not lost. My ITV MI6 training has left me with the expectation, nay certainty, that Bond, James Bond, will still escape from this tricky situation at the last minute, blowing up the lairs of both the Sun and Fox News before snogging a page 3 girl and driving off into the sunset in a missile-firing rocket-powered invisible submarine car.
Failing that, at least I’ve got Goldfinger.
My first name is Joseph. It’s a biblical name, and my brothers and sister also have biblical names. As a child I thought that the biblical Josephs must have been quite confused in heaven. St Peter would request a carpenter to repair the pearly gates, and would instead be presented with a well-dressed dream-reader. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of Joseph and Joseph being confused with non-Biblical Josephs (Heller; Di Maggio; Waterfield). Names are important, more for the bearers than the outside world, and as a child I objected if people shortened my name.
The heirs apparent to the Waterfield trillions, me and my siblings had a fairly standard Church of England upbringing. This meant that we believed in God, and believed everything else that we were told by our parents or at Sunday School. I was a particularly credulous child as it was. For example, like many of my peers, I believed in Father Christmas, but I was probably one of the only children asking him for a dragon. I also believed that my uncle [an accountant] was a globe-trotting treasure-hunter, a belief he readily fuelled with references to treasure and monsters in holiday postcards to our family.
Having said that, my belief in God and the stories in the Bible was real. I had a pretty clear idea of what God looked like as well. He was a man, a giant man, and He lived in the sky and He possibly had a beard. The Sunday School we attended met in the Tithe Barn, an old building in Carlisle in the grounds of St. Cuthberts Church. This building contained old beams of blackened wood, I was pretty sure these were parts of the cross.
At Sunday School I was precocious. One morning we were being told a story in which Jesus met a tax-collector, we were told that this man’s name began with a Z, and we were asked if any of us knew what his name was. Being an astute scholar even at this tender age, I informed the rest of the class that the answer was probably Zorro. Apparently Jesus and Zorro never actually crossed paths, but I maintain that they would have been friends.
Sunday and week-day school nativities were my first experiences of being on stage. My breakthrough role was King Herod in year 6 of primary school, although documentary evidence shows that my earlier credits included a shepherd and an architect. These roles garnered praise from sources as venerated as ‘My Parents’, and ‘My Grandparents’, although the Cumberland News remained strangely silent about the young De Niro blossoming at St. Cuthbert’s.
I was confirmed into the Church of England in the first or second year of secondary school, but by this point I had lost the unquestioning belief of my childhood. ‘Unquestioning’ is perhaps an unreliable term here, I had plenty of questions, and plenty of my own theories, but they started from the premise that God existed and the stories in the Bible were true. This foundation seemed less firm the older I got. I don’t believe in God any more, and I’m re-thinking my position on dragons. I do not now believe the things I believed when I was younger, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t believe again when I am older, a person can only ever be a work-in-progress.
Around fourteen I stopped insisting on being called Joseph, eventually more and more people called me Joe, eventually I started introducing myself as Joe, and it stuck. Joe isn’t a biblical name, but it’s who I am today.
My legs are the wrong size.
I have trouble buying jeans, I’m a 30” 28”, and apparently in our sick shallow hollow society, the perfect waist and leg size is some unattainable different measurement. I’ve considered going to kids’ sections in shops, but I’m worried about looking like a paedophile, it’s not a good look. I could claim the jeans are for my kid, but that would lead to uncomfortable questions, e.g. what’s your child’s name, how old is your child, is your child a nice child etcetera etcetera. Hassle and complication. And if the clothes seller later sees me wearing those jeans, they are definitely going to think that I’ve been keeping “my child” in a sort-of dungeon, that I’ve killed “my child” and I’m now wearing “my child’s” jeans. But I honestly haven’t.
Still, against all the odds, I found some jeans in a grown-up clothes shop. The problem is, they’re button jeans not zip jeans. This disturbs me and I don’t really understand it. I can’t claim to be on the crest of the fashion wave, I’m usually the novice surfer desperately trying to doggy paddle away from its impact. If it were up to me we would probably be wearing powdered wigs or ruffs. But I do like jeans, so much so that my nickname [used by myself and nobody else] is DENIM ELLIOT. Why would you choose buttons instead of zips? We have zip technology now, why return to an obsolete format, i.e. buttons? Perhaps it’s to cut down on zip/penis-related accidents.
But buttons bring their own perils.
A zip is sturdy, it’s an iron curtain between my penis and the cruel cruel world outside. Buttons just leave too much opportunity for inappropriate exposure. If my buttons were to fail me now, in the privacy of my own home, that wouldn’t be a problem, in the presence of friends or family it might even become a hilarious talking point. Though I don’t plan on making that my ice-breaker. If, however, a button-related wardrobe malfunction were to occur in, e.g. the child section of George, Asda, that would be a whole different issue. It seems there is one rule about sexual practices for people OVER the age of consent, and quite another rule about sexual practices for people UNDER the age of consent. So now I can’t shop for children’s jeans, the risks are just too high.
I suppose it’s time to button up.
I went for a run this afternoon. It rained so I felt like Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption.
My standard route is to run around Queens Park. Its a nice distance, and a nice park, and the run gives me time to air my thoughts to myself. I started – as I always do – at a light jog from the main gates up the hill towards the playing fields. It isn’t that long since I started running, probably about two months ago, just as the days started to get noticeably shorter.
Why did I start running? To get fit obviously, to get rid of the guilt of sedentary modern life. But like all stories this one is also about parents and children. The realisation that my dad had already started running seriously when he was younger than me certainly prompted me to take up running now, and like all sons I’m trying to catch up with him. He does have a twenty-five year head start though.
Running up the hill towards the glass-house, dripping with raindrops, I was pleased to find that I wasn’t out of breath. I must confess that although I started running two months ago, I had a recent hiatus of about two weeks, so I was worried that my small progress might have been eroded to nothing. The first runs I went on were wonderful, the simple act of lacing up my trainers (new-bought for the purpose of running) made me feel almost superhuman. But novelty is like that, it’s a Hotwheels toy-car that is shiny and lightning-fast to begin with, but loses its paint the more bannisters it is driven down, leaving a paint-flecked grey metal tiny car with three rickety wheels.
Careering down the hill by Battlefield, I came to a split in the path. I could see that the path I would have usually taken was flooded further down the line, so I took the path - less sodden and less well-trodden - through the poetry garden. The garden is dedicated to Burns, and today is St Andrews Day, so as my running shoes ran between the roses, my inner-self considered Scotland. I have been in Glasgow over six years now, so I’m finally coming to the point where Scotland is as much my home as England is. I grew up in a border city, and while Carlisle is definitely English in character, outlook and actuality, Scotland was always a fact that could not be ignored. On this day what better blog entry than an exploration of my identity as an Englishman in Scotland? But I don’t want to write about that today, so I jog on.
The pond comes next. I always jog around the outermost side of the pond. Anything else would be cheating. I find that I think my best thoughts when engaged in some physical activity. Perhaps this is because by walking or running from A to B, I am better able to follow linear trains of thought through their connecting lines to their terminus. Perhaps my brain is able to function better when it does not need to entertain my body. Perhaps I just like exercise. The pond circled, the swans left behind, I enter the final leg of my standard legs-run.
Just as I re-approached the entrance gates after my orbit of the park, there appeared in my path a puddle. A monster puddle; a puddle that had become engorged to such an extent that it had burst it’s piddling banks and made a bog of the surrounding parkland. This puddle was too wide to jog round, and too long to jump over, and tunnelling under was never really an option. So I had to go through it, opting to try my luck on the puddle’s muddy floodplain.
As I christened my trainers in the squelching baptismal mud, I reflected that these trainers would never really be clean again, not as clean as they had been when nestled in crepe-paper in their shoe-box. Of course the decline had begun on that first jog round the park several weeks ago, but now there was no disputing the unclean soles of my running shoes.
I’m not the same person as I was when I started jogging, and I’m not the same person as I was when I started blogging, both activities which began around the same time. I’m a little bit stronger, a little bit more fragile, a little more thoughtful, I’d hope a little healthier. But there’s more. The me who started jogging round Queen Park this afternoon was not the same me who jogged out of the park gates onto Victoria Road, just as the me who wrote the first sentence of this entry will not be around to write the last sentence.
I only lapped the park once. I’d have gone around again, but it was getting dark. I have no problem with running the same route all the time. Going round in circles is fine, so long as you don’t go back in time like Superman.
On Saturday night I went to the fireworks on Glasgow Green with some friends, we watched them from the beer garden of the West brewery. As I usually stand with the much larger crowd on the actual grass of Glasgow Green, this made me feel like a celebrity. Standing in the VIP beer garden, choking on a pretzel so salty it could be an emetic, I remembered the bonfire night poem that we are taught in school.
‘Remember remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot’
When I remember the 5th of November, ‘gunpowder, treason and plot’ are the last things on my mind. I tend to remember that this is probably the first night of the year that I’ll need to layer up, I remember that Glasgow Green will be incredibly busy, and I remember the other Bonfire Nights in my life.
As a child our family always went to the fireworks in my grandparents’ village. There would always be a bonfire, there would always be soup and baked potatoes, there would always be a turnip lantern carving competition, sometimes we won. We would always take sparklers and treat them as though they were TNT, and we would always wear more layers than Scott’s entire expedition to the South Pole. These were my formative bonfire nights.
You can tell from that list that fireworks aren’t actually the most important ingredient for me. That is not to say that I do not love fireworks. I do love them. Whizzers, Roman Candles and (my personal favourite coming up) Catherine Wheels are exotic, even esoteric, names that sound more like sweets in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory than explosives. In fact the Catherine Wheel is named after St Catherine, who supposedly met her martyrdom while tied to a wheel, though she probably wasn’t set on fire and spun in front of toffee-apple-eating children.
Probably the most important ingredient in Bonfire Night is the communal sense of excitement, how else could people get so sentimental about twenty minutes of lights and noises? The anticipation of a crowd is as essential to the mix as public service announcements from the fire brigade, and indeed, fireworks.
400 years after the Gunpowder Plot, in 2005, I came to Glasgow to study history at university. In that first year me and the people I was staying with in halls went to the fireworks on Glasgow Green. This was the first 5th of November that I had not spent at the Beaumont village fireworks, and it was naturally a much larger event. However, it was a cultural landmark that allowed me to feel comfortable in Glasgow, I still wore fifty layers, and I still had a packet of sparklers. We also constructed a Guy for the occasion, but as there was no bonfire we were not able to burn him, which was probably for the best for all parties.
Despite what the people who wear Guy Fawkes masks at student-protests seem to think, the gang behind the gunpowder plot were not champions of democracy or free speech. By the same token, although with our fireworks and our sparklers we are celebrating a failure to overthrow the government of the day, none of us would wish to live in the repressive regime headed by James I/VI. The Gunpowder Plot may have been foiled in 1605, but we are never too far away from gunpowder, whether it is to be used against us, or whether we allow it to be deployed in our name. These are all things we would do well to remember remember.
Having said all that, Bonfire Night has become something other than its original. The 5th of November is not really about revenge or sectarian violence, it is a festival that fulfils a very primal need. It is the night when we all come out of our homes on a cold night to huddle around a warm fire, and we try to scare off the dark things in this world with bright lights and loud noises.
One thing that happens when you grow up is that you become more immune to hype, I suppose it is a way of coping with disappointment. As a child, it was possible to hype up every meal with the promise of impending dessert, dessert being the heaven after a mealtime of toil and suffering, potentially involving brussels sprouts or other abominations. Annual hype reached fever pitch at Christmas and birthdays. I remember being being particularly hyped about the new Star Wars film (episode 1), having just become obsessed with the films due to their late ’90s ‘re-imagining’. At school I was shown the folly of my enjoyment of that film by pupils older and wiser than me, and I came to agree with them. So ended one of my first lessons in avoiding anything that had been hyped up.
Hype is not confined to children of course, in 1997 most of the electorate was extremely hyped about the victory of New Labour. ‘Things can only get better’ is an attractive mantra. A similar hype surrounded the Lib Dems in 2010, and Barack Obama was basically deified by Americans and non-Americans alike. From our financially unstable crows nest in 2011, the mistakes of New Labour are clear, and it seems laughable that anyone could ever have agreed with Nick. We can roll our eyes, and snarl that all politicians are the same, but we will definitely get hyped up again about the next bright-eyed ‘Yes we can’ man (or woman) who comes our way. Grown-ups then, are not really immune to hype at all, merely more demanding of the results. It’s fine to ask for the moon, but don’t throw a tantrum if it’s not made of cheese.
It is a defining feature of hype as a force that it never has the energy to sustain itself. Hyperbole is praise that nothing could ever live up to. In the Star Wars films, hyperdrive is a great sci-fi invention, but it is only useful as a means of transport. A hyperactive child will only last a few hours before crashing. This is all to say that hype can never – by its nature - be sustained or realised, but we would be wrong to reject anything that doesn’t live up to that hype. It would be great if everyone could stumble across everything good in the world, and discover it for themselves in their own time, but that’s impossible. Hype is needed so that I can tell you and you can tell me about things that are genuinely of merit, that merit is not lost just because you don’t believe the hype.
I have double standards. Unfortunately this does not mean that my standards are doubly high, it means that I apply different rules in different situations, that I sometimes reward people I would otherwise punish, and vice versa. But you know what double standards means.
I was in a coffee-shop today, drinking a black coffee and a glass of tap water, my usual order. A girl sitting at a local table was crying into her phone, I am not sure what she was crying over. She was also hitting the tissues pretty hard, blowing her nose mid-wail. Naturally I couldn’t ask the girl what was wrong, because I didn’t know her, and perhaps more importantly, because she was on the phone. So just before I left I fetched her some more tissues from the dispenser (she didn’t have a ready supply).
That was my good deed.
Did it do any good? I don’t know. Probably not. In hindsight the act looks quite intrusive and patronising, I was almost literally saying ‘You got issues? Have a tissue’. Nonetheless, I left the coffee-shop certain that I had made a tiny but positive difference to someone’s life.
Before entering the coffee-shop I had told no less than two chuggers that I did not have the time to talk to them about the undoubtedly worthy cause that they were promoting. Of course I did have the time, as I was on my way to somewhere where I could drink coffee and waste time before another engagement.
This is an example of my double standards. I could protest that I cannot put a stop to a problem like child abuse on my own, whereas I can provide comfort to someone in distress. However, the point is that I was willing to try and help the coffee-shop girl, whereas I refused to even listen to the ways I could help whichever charity was being chugged.
It would be a neat conclusion to suggest that I provided the tissues out of a sense of guilt at having avoided the chuggers, as a way of pretending that I might actually be a nice guy. The flaw is that this would suggest that this is the first time I have avoided chuggers, and that I actually have standing orders to an array of charities, and this is certainly not true. The real conclusion is not neat, and it is not pleasant.
It’s time I cut down on my standards.
Some friends and I went to the cinema last night, to see ‘Drive’. ‘Drive’ is (rightly) an 18-rated film, and the trailers followed suit. One of these trailers was for a violent-looking film called ‘The Texas Killing Fields’ starring Sam Worthington, during which I heard the man sitting beside me say “I can’t hear the dialogue” I turned to the man on my right (Sam Worthington’s left) to see who he was talking to, “I can’t hear the dialogue, AT ALL” the last two words received a special emphasis as I was treated to a withering gaze. It didn’t take a De Niro to work out that this man was talking to me. What could I do but apologise and cut mine and my friends conversation short? We three of us - me, my friend and the stranger - spent the rest of the trailers and ‘turn off your phone’ messages in awkward silence, and I can guarantee that not a word of dialogue was permitted to escape.
Certainly our conversation was loud, we are both loud people, as was proven by the prevailing peace after our censorship. That said, my understanding had always been that so long as the lights are up in the cinema, you have free reign to exercise your voice. Who goes to the cinema for the trailers? Trailers are optional, a fifteen minute window during which it is still possible to ‘grab a coke or some snacks’.
This question along with the imposed silence took my thoughts back to my first memories of being taken to the Lonsdale Cinema in Carlisle as a child, perhaps to see a re-re-re-release of ‘Snow White’. Sitting in the baroque darkness, I remember being intensely annoyed with the trailers, and constantly asking my mum when the real film would actually start.
A childish frustration with trailers must leave some trace in every grown up cinephile, nothing else can explain the compulsion to cheer when the BBFC rating screen appears, or to say ‘that was a short film’ once the last trailer has finished playing.
We all display trailers about ourselves, dropping hints about coming attractions and the interesting people who will be starring in our lives. It’s completely understandable that sometimes we childishly want to see the whole feature film of a person almost as soon as we have met them. In most cases however, that feature won’t be released until you have really properly gotten to know someone. So perhaps we should all be more like the guy in the cinema, and be a bit more grown up about the trailers we see in life, and take some time to listen to the dialogue.
He was a very very rude man though. Who goes to the cinema for the trailers?