An inspector fails to call.

June 15, 2017

I’ve just finished  watching a documentary about cultural signs and signifiers in Japanese culture, whilst it was mostly things that I already understood, gundam, gojira, yakusa, geisha and the like, it went into the notion of kannagara to a much deeper extent than I already understood. Kannagara is a philosophy linked to the Shinto religion, loosely translated it means something like community or social responsibility. In Japanese society  people are naturally respectful to one another and crime is virtually non-existent. From what I can gather, this situation exists for two main reasons, firstly because children are taught at school to respect and take care of everything they use, cleaning up after themselves and carefully folding and putting everything away, and secondly, shame and disgrace are seen as major no nos in Japanese culture and are things to be avoided at any cost. 

Shame seems to be an unknown sensation in the west nowadays, it seemed to disappear as an emotion with Monica Lewinkski’s presidential spunk splattered dress and Tony Bliar’s dodgy dossier and a slew of reality shows of the Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, persuasion. In fact, the only time I’ve seen the word used lately is in the defending of those wrongly shamed for their weight or sexual proclivities. Some people really should feel ashamed though but it seems to have gone out if fashion along with self control, acting your age, knowing the difference between right and wrong and most importantly, knowing when and how to apologise.

I was sitting with a few local friends the other day and we were passing comment on how the attention various people draw to their own charity or community minded activities is directly proportionate to the size of their egos and inversely proportionate to the level of their actual talent. Did anyone actually do things for the right reasons? We didn’t think so.

I watched “an inspector calls” again recently and was wondering while I was watching it how it would stand up to today’s crop of the middle class, or indeed anyone. I saw a production in the eighties with Tom Baker playing the inspector, who was playing it for laughs. It was the strangest thing, being led through something that dark and chuckling your way through it and thinking about it now, that is probably what it would be like trying to get anyone to feel a shred of remorse now…. A sick joke.  By the way, if you haven’t seen the play or any of the movie versions I have included a link on the photo to the crib note version using playmobile toys for those with short attention spans. 

I can picture it now, the rakish fiancé would now be drugged up as well as drunk and the girl he knocked up whilst in his twenties would probably be fifteen and he would blame it all on a bad upbringing because his parents got divorced and wouldn’t buy him a scooter/pony/ back tattoo/whatever. The sister would claim to have some vague disorder that would prevent her from being civil to anyone, particularly lowly shop assistants and shrug her shoulders and proceed to snort another line of ketamine off the silver salver on the table with a rolled up twenty. The husband would chuckle at the thought of sacking the dead girl and wonder out loud if this would qualify him to be a bigger bastard than that bloke off the apprentice or those mouthy celebrity chefs and would it be possible for him to get on television. Then the wife would explain that her only interest in running the charity that wouldn’t help the girl who topped herself was that it was that she was only doing it so that she could network herself into some more paid work contracts and the girl’s situation wouldn’t have got her enough attention if she spent her precious socialising time trying to help.

The inspector would be sent away because someone had googled what to do and they would start quoting their rights at the poor spectre, then they would all drop an e and go out clubbing and then to a swingers party and shag a few strangers whilst pilled up before going out and doing something the next day that they are morally unfit to do, like look after vulnerable children or give advice to the unfortunate.

This may seem to be satire, but all I am doing is cobbling together various actual things that I’ve heard done by people who should behave better and changed the details slightly. In fact, I have toned things down somewhat. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that the world today has become a place where corruption and immorality are starting to become a baseline norm amongst certain circles and I can’t believe I am actually having to write this. I regard myself as pretty normal, not predudiced, not homophobic, I have no real religious beliefs to speak of, but I believe in right, wrong and having a conscience and I spend a lot of time right now being disgusted with people. When someone like me started being appalled at your behaviour, you know you are a bad person and heading for a fall.

All I really know right now is that I should have been born in Japan.

Holidays in the sun. 

June 13, 2017

I have always been very wary of the urge to meddle, particularly as I hate it when clueless but well meaning people do it with things I have been personally affected by. This is probably where I would usually go off on a rant but I want this to be a bit more focused that my usual rambling and tangential waffle. I walked into town a couple of weeks ago along the Hastings sea front, I don’t do it very often and I was shocked to discover that a group of homeless people had set up camp on the beach. The last time I had seen anything like thing was during the late eighties and I worked near Waterloo station where cardboard city, a shanty town for the homeless, had sprung up in the underpasses around the station. It was like something out of mad max or the future world in the first terminator film. There was something deeply strange about this seaside encampment though, whilst there is never anything jolly about being homeless (I have been so myself), if you didn’t read the context for the people being their, you could be forgiven for reading to situation as a nice little seaside vacation.  It was a situation I felt a need to document as I suspected (quite rightly it turned out) that it wouldn’t be allowed to remain there for very long.

One thing that have been a constant in my work over the last couple of decades is the documentation of appalling things using overly cute and benign seeming imagery. I have found that it is easier to get a message across if people aren’t aware that they are being given one in the first place. This is what I tried to achieve in the new painting, Holidays in the Sun, a happy sounding title that also happens to be a song by the Sex Pistols. It’s all smiles and sunshine and camping at first sight until you think about why the postman looks so bemused. One of the worst things about being homeless is the lack of a postal address, you are instantly a non person in regards to getting benefits, let alone applying for a job.

 I decided that this painting would be going up on eBay for charity before I even started it, initially I was just going to take the money to the campers and buy them a load of provisions but as they have already  been moved on I felt it would make more sense to have the money go directly to the St Mungos  who run a homeless shelters and help and rehabilitation for the initial causes of homelessness. I am aware that someone will probably read what I’m doing wrongly or see some cynicism in it and kick off. That is really up to them I guess, I can’t control anyone else’s responses, only my own, which was that this occurrence needed to be documented for posterity in some way. There are far more offensive things that go on in this town in regards to the homeless, if you want to get angry about something then I can happily furnish you with a list of people who demean and patronise the poor and vulnerable hereabout and get paid for the privilege of doing so. Anyway, I said I wouldn’t go off on a rant today so here is the link, happy bidding! 

The third rung of the ladder.

May 30, 2017

To say that running my own business is a bit of a strain is a slight understatement. Actually, it’s a complete and utter lie. Trying to do everything that I need to do is an utter nightmare. It is not helped when you discover that people that you trusted were actively working against your best interests at various points, if not actively betraying you.

I have experienced the struggle of trying to make a success of yourself as an honest, working class, person with permanent health problems and I can honestly state that it is hell on a daily basis. It has been a long hard road since 1999, dragging myself back to a given value of normal life, through breakdowns, madness, homelessness, agoraphobia , pain killer addiction, depression and anxiety and now heart problems. 

If you think of it as climbing up a ladder, trying to get on the first rung back to ‘normality’ is an absolute nightmare, we all scurry along through life, juggling work, finances, relationships, keeping healthy and keeping a home, never quite realising just how near we are to the whole lot just blowing up in our face, of course, that is until it does just that. All it takes is for one thing to go at the wrong time and all the rest start to suffer. Your health goes, then your job goes, your relationship doesn’t stand the strain, then you pop a few more gaskets until one day you are sleeping on a relations sofa, with them pretending that you aren’t getting in the way, none of your clothes fit and you look dreadful because all the medication is puffing you out, your friends have all started distancing themselves from you as if mental health problems are catching and you are flogging all the things you can’t drag from one place to another to keep yourself in cigarettes money because it is the only thing getting you through the days. 

The first rung is admitting how bad things are and getting help. The problem is, what help? Much of it doesn’t come until you are actively making a nuisance of yourself and the waiting list for ‘polite nutters’ like myself is phenomenal. Then there are the issues of what you do get in the way of help, what is fashionable amongst the mental health services  at that moment and what is affordable. You may get cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy), mood stabilisers, anti depressants, anti psychotics, group therapy or if you are really lucky, jungian/humanistic/ talking therapy. They each work for a give value of working for different people,  some people are lucky and they hit the right combination of meds and therapy first go, but for most it is a long and drawn out process with the welfare services making it worse all the while. Let’s be honest here, the biggest factor here in the likelihood and speed of recovery is how wealthy and supportive your family is. For me, they were neither and so…

After ten years I finally got to rung two, that is, interacting with the world again. It isn’t an easy thing relearning how to do everything you need to do to get back to living that normal life we all crave. Learning how to recover from set backs is tricky and requires a great deal of practice. Having a breakdown that lasts a hellish fortnight can be regarded as a success if the one before lasted a month and the one before that six. I started living independently again, working hard to do those things that others take for granted. It took a year of monthly session with a life coach at forty pound a time to learn how to sit on my own in a cafe without turning into a gibbering wreck. That came out of my pittance of survival money and was worth every penny. 

The curse of getting slightly better is that the welfare services start twirling their moustaches and looking for a railway track to tie you to. The Tories hit upon a wonderful way of dealing with the walking wounded in mental health terms, theyjust pretend you are perfectly fine. They pulled out the instructions of the monopoly set and just changed all the rules to fit their own skewd version of reality, ignoring tens of thousands of deaths as a strange quirk in their statistics. 

There are wonderful people out there to help but, ironically, you have to know where to look and be sane enough to get that help. It’s a chicken and egg situation, a trap that many fall through and back onto the streets again, your fingers stomped on and off rung two you fall. 

As well as the wonderful people, paid and voluntary, out there, their are also so utter wankers. They fall into three main categories, the well meaning ones who don’t know what they are doing and cause harm, the ones who just take the money and do a crap job and the people who are mentally ill themselves, either boosting their ego or fulfilling some sick need to feel superior to the unlucky sods who cross their paths.

I am always amazed at how disgusting some of the things that people do are to the mentally ill and the vulnerable. There is stuff going on that harks back in offensiveness levels to the black and white minstrel show. They aren’t horrible people doing it and they get really offended if you pick them up on how insulting and degrading they are being to people like me but if you asked some jobbing musician in the seventies wearing blackface, I’m sure he or she would have thought the same.

My ascent to the third rung was a bit of an oxymoron as it was a case of jumping rather than being pushed. I’m self employed now and it is not easy, I’m constantly exhausted and my time is never my own. I’m poorer than I have ever been in my life and I am constantly beseiged by worry. And yet, it is an improvement on waiting for the next government sponsored witch trial so send me back to homelessness. I still get help though and I need to down tools for weeks every years just to deal with the admin and paperwork for that help, knowing that all it would take would be some faceless bureaucrat to take issue with the validity of all my work and wipe everything I’ve done into the gutter. That said, when asked what I do now, I make no apologies, here is my business card, those are my web stores, you can buy my stuff from that shop and over there is a mural I have done and if you go and have a look in that gallery, there is one of my paintings, hanging on the wall.

I don’t know if i shall ever reach the fourth rung, I keep reaching out for it but I can never take hold. To get to even a shadow of that ‘normal’ life that has so long eluded me, to have choices, to not be a sitting target for the government to take a pot shot at should they take a fancy to. To take hold of that I have to compete with the norms. Those with families who were supportive or at best not a total nightmare, those who breezed through the education system, those who were handed opportunities rather than having to claw at them with broken finger nails and chew at them with broken teeth.

Now, here it comes, that noise like a plague of locusts, that chittering sound on the edge of hearing that gets louder and louder. Bitter, bitter, bitter, bitter, the deflector shield of the privileged slides into place to cover all the ways they slid into what they do as they silently close ranks and doors and stick out a leg to trip you up. As you try and get paid work, build up a network, get a foot in the door. There they all are, stopping you. Whether through bruised ego or the thought that one day you might cost them that cushy bit of work and their chance to get a shiny new vintage look pushbike instead of you starving and freezing another winter. The middle class mafia stab you in the back just one more time.

And the most twisted thing of all? Why look there! There they all are, the exact same faces in all those well meaning but ultimately useless charities, ‘helping out’ other poor sods, getting their street cred, polishing their halo and doing a bit of networking all the while. Happy to lend a helping hand…. Just so long as you don’t climb too far out of the gutter as the stench might permeate their world. And they can’t have that, can they?


February 2, 2017

I was asked for a definition of poverty recently…. It’s a hard one.

All poverty is relative. One definition is being beyond a certain percentage out from the rest of your peer group, another being where you fall on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs spectrum. A pyramid diagram where on the bottom level lies, food, clean water, warmth and shelter and, as it narrows, things like education, comfort and self fulfilment become available but the relative availablity is shown through the narrowness up to a tiny point where so few people get their hearts desire. On the other end is the term “fuck off money” the ability to tell anyone you don’t like to “fuck off” with no consequences to your  wellbeing or standard of living. I know a few of these, they buy my art occasionally, they have a fascinating outlook on life. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buffer you from an awful lot of woes. It also buys you time… Time is the most precious gift any of us will ever have, well, along with health and, no, we can’t buy that either, but we can safeguard it. A friend of mine is alive today because his parents could afford to go private and jump a queue, he has two children who would not have been born. I’m way beyond a socialist and have sacrificed a lot for my principles over the years but I would go private like a shot if I had to and the money was there, which it isn’t. That said, the nhs saved my life and I thank its wonderful  staff every day of my life.

My own experience of poverty is this…

I was born to elderly parent in 1970s in North London. Dad owned a small central heating business, mum was a secretary. They both worked and I was brought up by my nan mostly. They had a bit of money left after the mortgage and had a few luxuries, in truth too many. For some people, poverty is never that far away, it lurks like a monster in the shadows, one illness, one accident, a simple change of fate and there it is. Like many of the working class, my dad the guy in the pit village who left for the navy in the Second World War and never went back and my mum and her parents not able to comprehend the importance of an offer to attend one of the best schools in England and not going, my parents weren’t brought up to handle money carefully or understand the dangers of having credit. When they had money, they spent it, when they didn’t, they spent it still. And then came Thatcher. My dad’s business went down the toilet and, in a fit of desperation, he hit upon the idea of selling a three bedroom house in London in 1978 to buy a place in Yorkshire. My mum was so out of it on Valium that she put up little fight. I remember the screaming and the arguments though. Both then and for years later when the bills and the bailiffs arrived. There was no work for either of them up north, my dad leaving for the evil south and bringing one back to the heartland. People were backwards then, they still can be now sadly, but about different things. No work, predudice, freezing in the winters, hiding from people chasing debts. No phones, no going anywhere, wrong school uniforms, decaying shoes and the bulling that went with. There are things that stay with you forever, the look on my mum’s face when she had to sell her engagement ring and her dead mother’s wedding ring for next to nothing will haunt me to the day I die. 

They refused to go under though and one, then both, went to seek work in London leaving me in the care of my sister with mild learning disabilities. Mealtimes were interesting and school was infrequent as the ease with which I could pull the wool over my sister’s eyes was spectacular. When I broke my arm on my bike I never went back for a year. I didn’t miss much mind, the school was fodder for the mines and the army if you were a boy and retail or pregnancy if you were a girl. In a way that year of saved me, I sat there in front of the television and there was nothing to watch but schools tv and the open university. I still can’t do long division but I know an awful lot about the strangest of things.

The quality of the local hospital and my almost feral behaviour led my parents to drag me back south where they could keep an eye on me. I slept in a camp bed at my nan’s at first and was put in the remedial class at school, I was smarter than that but had little motivation. My horizons and expectation in life were limited and once in that class, the second you showed any drive, intelligence or ambition, the other kids beat it out of you. These were third generation unteachable children mostly, dads in prison, mum’s on the game, doomed from day one. It put the wind up me and I wanted to get out, even if it was just so I didn’t get punched in the face every day. It wasn’t long before we were homeless, the house worth a pittance in Yorkshire wouldn’t sell and remained dormant while my brother (see numerous daily mail articles) sold my nan’s house, which was in his name, just to spite my parents. My Nan was granted a one bedroom maisonette by the council and in we all moved. My nan, who instantly went from forgetful to senile slept in the double bed with my sister, my mum on a camp bed in the same room and my dad and I took turns of the sofa and camp bed in the living room area. There was both black and green mould up the walls, the flat was infested with silverfish and woodlice. The toilets in the flats above would overflow as would the river nearby. Everything I owned was constantly damp and smelt bad. We were ill permanently and the lack of personal space affected everyone. My grandma took to shitting in the bath and to absconding in the middle of the night to either Walthamstow or Peckham where she lived as a child to be brought back bewildered by the police. Then, irony of ironies my nan died just a month before a family member was legally entitled to continue the tenancy and eviction proceedings began. I remember we were interviewed for the today show on radio 4 as Norman Tebbit had come out with his “get on your bike” speech and the housing charity shelter thought being on that might help our case, it didn’t. 

After much fighting, eviction day came and we found refuge in a very strange place, a tiny bungalow that was in the middle of a garage forecourt. The rent was cheap, but there were catches, lots of them. What little electricity there was, was put in in the nineteen thirties. Bakerlite  switches would buzz and arc in disconcerting ways and the rubber cascaded from the fittings like toxic dandruff. I had no electricity in my room, but I had a room!! My parents had a pull out sofa bed and my sister a grotty room with electric but no daylight. The worst thing was the lack of privacy though. The mechanics kept their parts in a room off the kitchen and their mot book and security embosser in a secret safe in the front room. They were in and out constantly and there was never an evening or weekend went by without some idiot ringing the bell at all hours to drop off car keys or pick some up. 

It was about then that my dad had his first heart attack and my sister started to get strange headaches. Heart attacks begat strokes, begat heart attacks and my dad became more disabled and brain damaged, my sister was going through the long and painfull process of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I spent a lot of my free time caring for both of them, nursing my sister and escorting her to Barts and Moorfields hospitals and changing my dad’s pissy trousers and washing stuff there wasn’t much time left but I managed to do art foundation course. Walking half the way sometimes and skipping lunch to pay for paint and pencils. Doing  a degree was out of reach though. My family situation caused me to fall inbetween the cracks in the local council’s system and I was prevented from doing further edjucation until I was 25. So I plugged on, working, caring, doing evening classes. My mum was pensioned off and left me caring for my sister but, whilst absolving herself of the rent and bills, still spent nearly as much time in the crazy bungalow. At twenty five I went to university and at twenty five my dad died, leaving me with two traumatised people to deal with. The student loans came in and the grants disappeared and I paid my way by getting up at four am and  doing the books for a building company before heading for campus. I got my degree through, and was immediately headhunted by a prestigious Japanese designer. It was impossible to survive on the starting wage though. Poor people are locked out of progressing in the creative and media industries by all the unpaid foot in the door jobs, without independent support. I had friends at the time from similar backgrounds who only survived by becoming drug dealers just to keep going on their chosen career path.

Lacking the mindset to become Pablo Escobar, I went back to my old job and promptly went mad. The squalor of my home and the lack of official tenancy documents meant no paper trail. No paper trail, no housing benefit and once I had racked up every debt I could and sold everything I owned, I spent a couple of years off the grid, sofa surfing from relation to relation, friend to friend, I never did the rough sleeping thing, but wasn’t far off. I spent a decade in the white elephant house in Yorkshire on sickness benefit, barely leaving the it, severe depression, severe anxiety, almost a shut in. I never stopped learning though, never stopped making things. Taking every small opportunity back to something like a life. Eventually I got one…. Just in time for the Tories to get in. It was simple, I couldn’t hold down a real job, still can’t. Now I get by on things I make at home in the peace and quite and then the occasional phenomenally well paid thing that leaves me wiped out for the next few days. Then though, it was a case of turning up at a medical every three years by which point I was a gibbering wreck and then they would  promptly wheel me home again.

Then came Atos and the work capability assement, a benign scheme created by new labour that was turned to a witch hunt by the Tories. The first one I promptly failed, I found out three days before Christmas, followed by a year of appeals, meetings, sick notes, scraping  by on emergency money, psychiatric assements, culminating in a tribunal which left me mind fucked and in tears. They found in my favour and I had a year of relative peace…. And then it all started again. Next time I went mobbed up, a massive paper trail, a social worker, a legally trained advocate and I passed. It wasn’t the end of it though, in a new dodge I was put in the active work related activity group, where you are forced to jump through hoops and be patronised and demeaned at ever turn. There was another option though, and that was to become self employed.

The last few years have been exhausting, whilst I have had cash flow, made sales aplenty and done some pretty amazing things, knocking up sales on every continent bar the frozen ones, it goes straight out again. Materials, fees, printing, it all adds up. Going without food and warmth to pay for £250 a metre bear fabric, being awash with debt whilst investing in the next project. This could all blow up in my face any second though and I will end up back where I started or worse. Poverty is hiding in my shadow, poverty is breathing it’s foul stench over my shoulder, only the beta blockers and the ssri’s keep it from swallowing me whole.

For nearly forty years now poverty has been in my life and that of my family. One thing after another, affecting health, affecting sanity, everything having a knock on effect, setting off the next one, you never catch up and with every struggle you sink further and further into the quicksand. Living in poverty is living in fear, I have all the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, you get that from spending time in combat situations normally. 

The worst thing about being poor is other people though. You buy one nice thing and it’s pure hatred, as if that new t shirt would have cleared all your debts and left a bit more to invest in a pension. Then there is socialising, standing at a bar buying drinks for people you don’t like that would have fed you for a fortnight. Even joining things, there are never the right clothes or you are expected to chip in for such and such’s wedding gift, or God forbid! they ask you round for a dinner party, a day’s food on wine, another on afters and then you have to do a return one. Poverty ghettoises you so you can only hang out with the equally poor who would never do something as cruel as to invite you to something and so there you stay, stuck on the same level, never making contacts or getting opportunities.

Worst of all though are the do gooders. Well meaning people who unwittingly rob you of the last of your dignity, without even knowing it. Trying to empathise but never truly knowing what it is like to live without hope or to realise what it is to know that you are so far behind in the race of life. When you are that in need of help it is so demeaning, you have nothing left, not even a sense of self worth. Plus you can feel the warm glow that you are giving them in return for doing their good deed, the trade off is never fair. 

The way a lot of people cope is to just give up, just sink into the mud and stay there like a good little peasant. Sink into the oblivion of drink and drugs, throw what little money they have at a betting shop or on scratch cards. I wish I could do that, I wish I could just give up, but a little voice in the back of my head keeps pushing me forward, inch by slow inch and it reminds me that this is my one life and I better make the most of it.

Hope is a dangerous thing to have if you are poor, it takes you forward but it also torments you at every chance. According to Dante, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” is written across the gates of hell.”  Those words are not a warning, they are a piece of kind advice.

%d bloggers like this: