My Dad, Boris Johnson: Greek Meze, Mythos and Mayhem.

It’s not been the easiest of upbringings to have a name like Spartacus.  There were the innumerable chants at the start of a new school year when a new teacher would call out for me.  “Who’s Spartacus?” she would call and before I could say “I am”, numerous wags and tails would chirrup, “I am!” or even more predictably “No, I am Spartacus!” and the class would descend into much giggling and strutting.  We may merely have been in Class 5C but we all knew our Kirk Douglas movies.

It was one of the earliest clues which hinted at dad’s identity.  No-one else in our wide and diverse household had any interest at all in Greek culture but we all have dim and distant memories of him visiting mum in the late 1980s and throwing his weight around in a style which could only be interpreted as having an interest in all things Greek.  Whether this was his tedious plate throwing after dinner, inept attempts to play the bouzouki or delight in bamboozling us with his references to Greek mythology, the effect was the same.  Dad would visit, cause some Greek inspired mayhem and mum would be left clearing up the mess. 

You could be pretty certain that if he ever went underground, chances were that you could find him holed up in some Greek restaurant, stuffing his face from the great taramasalata tub in the sky which seemed to provide every Greek restaurant we ever went to with exactly the same fish roe delicacy.

So, after my abortive trip to Oldham where I ended up on Saddleworth Moor, there was only one place to go to: the Taste of Greece in Bolton. Scoring an average of 4.5 on Trip Advisor, this Greek restaurant is exactly the kind of place Dad would be inclined to visit if given a break in his busy schedule:

“The food is cooked fresh when you order, authentic Greek gyros cooked by Greek staff. The owner is from a little village called Kremasti in Rhodes. He has definately (sic) brought with him the skills of presenting and making delicious food at amazing prices…  Its only tiny but so very clean and the toilets are downstairs so if you have a disability you may struggle. He will also play greek music if you ask… Just the kind of restaurant to visit if you want to throw plates, play Bouzoukie badly, stuff your face with Taramasalata and reference Pericles and cause mayhem…” 

The Trip Advisor reviews were an undoubted sign of where he would be found over the weekend so on Saturday afternoon I revved up the car and headed west off the Moors towards Bolton.

But “dystychós” as he might have said had I found him in the restaurant, it was too late by the time I arrived.  He’d been there of course – a half eaten table of meze paid testament to that –  but a fire in the city meant he’d had to leave without finishing and go and be prime ministerial.

Such has been the life of a young Spartacus when it comes to trying to come face to face with his father.  Always on the wrong end of a platter of meze and mayhem.  It had to stop and this election campaign had to be the time to end it.

My Dad, Boris Johnson: the last bus out of Oldham.

I’d never been to Oldham before so when I found out that Dad’s battle bus was going to park up and he’d be spending a few hours exhorting people to vote for the Bus party, I thought this was a good a chance as any to try and make the break through that had eluded me for so many years.

I’d never been before and it’s unlikely I’ll be going again if yesterday was anything to go by. The sweeping swathes of grey motorway, the unrelenting rain and the sheer tedium of the M62 (or was it the M60?) meant that you couldn’t be too sure of whether you were bypassing Oldham, Bury, Rochdale, Salford or Eccles.

After about 3 hours on that infernal road and its detours, road works and so called ‘smart’ sections (recognised by the high concentration of road side pile ups and traffic carnage) I realised I’d just been going around and around in motorway hell circles, no nearer to Oldham than when I’d set off.  No nearer to Dad Boris either, given the unlikelihood of him staying any longer than was absolutely necessary. 

Later I saw him proclaiming the reason for having a bus in the first place.  Well, I thought, it’s nothing to do with an election, but much more about your well known predilection for Routemasters and Double Deckers. Buses do at least know where they’re going and how to get there, unlike me on the M62 / 60.

I found myself envying his bus driver who would have had the benefit of at least 11 on board CCTV cameras.

I wondered whether Dad Boris spend time squatting in front of the CCTV console,  flitting from one bus cam to another, gleefully checking out every nook and cranny of his Battle Bus? Observing the actions of those others on board, wondering whether there was any plotting going on, any shenanigans in the making, just in case this election didn’t go the way he wanted? Or was everybody looking eyes forward, full body attention to the man who is currently King of his Own Imagination? 

The bus CCTV system would at least give his entourage  the benefit of knowing where they were going, how they were going to get there, how long it would take and what the conditions were going to be like ahead of them. 

They would also know that in the cities, the traffic lights would be rigged in their favour.  They may not know however why they’re going where they’re going – over and beyond the usual exhortations of unleashing their potential – but that kind of existential question is also beyond me too right now, stuck as I am  in a motorway service station as a result of a flash flood on Saddleworth Moor.  

Dad Boris and Son Spartacus: we’re both in the same boat in that regard.

My Dad, Boris Johnson. I am Spartacus.

Boris, Johnson.  Alexander. De pfeffel. Boz. Jojo. Bojo. Dad.

It’s not a word I use lightly. It’s a word I’ve avoided for the last 5,  15, 25 no 35 years. But it’s a word that has found its time. It’s been with me all around the world, flirting with danger, sucking up to secrecy with more than its fair share of mucky mystery but now the cockerel  has come home to find its eggs well and truly scrambled. And to leave a deposit in the locker rooms of the great, good, dazed and unwashed to boot. Dad. 

Why did it take me so long? And why now, this day of all days, have I decided to claim what is rightfully mine and risk everything? Suspicion, ridicule, hatred are all staring at me down the end of a very long barrel. So what’s the point?

Call it pride, call it stupidity, call it mean spirited, call it what you want but you won’t call me away from what has become the final furlong of a very long quest.  To name the one who refused to be named. To name but not to shame. Or even blame. Just to set the record straight for my mother and the others. All of them.

Stories on Whalls: what we call the beginning is often the end.

“What took you so long?”

A voice bounced around my head as I crossed the threshold of Thurning Village Hall in deepest Northamptonshire to look at the newspaper cuttings and memorabilia collected by the church warden and his family over the years commemorating one of the village’s most famous son, Christopher Whall: one of Britain’s leading stained glass artists from the turn of the last century.  His voice was on the irascible side; as if he’d been waiting in situ for the last century and was mightily impatient for someone from the family to turn up and genuflect at the altar of his birthplace.

What took me so long‘ I replied was that it had taken quite a while for my mum to tell me that the reason her first name was Veronica was because she was the God-child of Veronica Whall who happened to ‘do a bit of stained glass’.  Understatement doesn’t begin to describe that description.

Consequently,  it’s taken me some time to realise the extent to which both Veronica’s work – and her dad’s (that would be you Chris,  if you don’t mind me calling you that?) has had such an impact on stained glass across the world.

It then took me some time to find Thurning on the map, and even longer to realise that together with its nearest neighbour, Little Giddings, here was a geographical hotspot which would account for some of the world’s leading artistic creation.  T.S. Eliot for example composed the final part of the Four Quartets after he visited the area:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.

…seems an apt homage to how this mini-pilgrimage is developing.  Start at the end and work backwards to the beginning via the middle, Chris: that’s what I’ve been doing and what would account for how long it’s taken me.

It is funny how long it takes us to realise what’s on our genealogical door step so to speak.  TV programmes tap into that desire to find out who we think we are, who we really, really are and aren’t: and the questions of how on earth we got to be where we are, are never far away from those deliberations and which even Wikipedia is incapable of answering.

Some years ago, Talking Heads had a hit with their song, Once in a Lifetime: the opening  lines including ‘And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?’  and the punch line eventually, over time , reveals itself as ‘And you may say to yourself, / My God What have I done?’

Chris, I’ll never know whether you and Veronica asked yourselves those questions, but rest assured your beings and doings,  comings and goings still live on, in the most surprising of places.  They just take some time to find.  As T.S. might have (and did) write:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

What kind of cheese is your organisation?

Organisations look pretty imposing from the outside: pictures of corporate serenity, coherent matching wall paper and carpet, an organism at one with itself and its surroundings. A well sorted business entity.

However, you’ll soon realise after working with organisations for a while, that this appearance of solidity and uniformity, is in actual fact a mirage and that all your average organisation actually is, is a large piece of cheese: smooth and daunting on the outside, but full of holes in the inside.

An organisations’ holes become apparent when messages get lost, staff don’t return calls, emails get unanswered and letters get returned to sender. Things fall down the cracks in the middle of departments, never to be seen again.

Apparently,, the cheese industry calls holes in cheese “eyes”. This is particularly ironic for those organisations whose infrastructure is so shot to pieces, they resemble slabs of Emmenthaler or Appenzell – the cheeses with the largest holes in them. If one thing a holey organisation doesn’t have, is eyes: or ears too for that matter.

And most times its digestive system doesn’t function properly either, from one end of the organisation to the other. the organisation which resembles a chunky piece of Emmenthaler tends to leak from both ends, often simultaneously.  You just have to look at the recent track record of the British Government to see a piece of Swiss Cheese in action and see integrity, intelligence, truth and vision draining away by the day.

Scientists say that the reason Swiss cheese is so holey is not due to hungry mice or over exuberant bacteria but due to the buckets being used when the milk is collected from the Swiss cow being contaminated with hay. Scientists are yet to establish why the UK government is leaking so profusely from all pores and both ends, but chances are it has very little to do with mice, bugs or hay.

Poetry on the Hoof: The (rail) road to Barra

ALL TOGETHER NOW LADS!

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you want from a
Wind farm blade.

We’re all going on a beer hunt lads!
From hanging town, brief encounters,
To Holke hang out, submariner sheds,
We’re getting our names up in those causeway lights!

HEYSHAM HIGH HOPES

Spot the jogging bishop with a mitre on a Sunday!
We’re talking rhubarb triangle with legs to spare,
A mammoth onion off the old green road.

They’ll split the atom here Bob in the years to come,
There’ll be lock downs, sirens,
Ever Ready for us, the pervasive threat.

Heysham 1, Heysham 2
It’ll be a football score Bob
In the years to come, when we get home.

One goes down, the other goes up
Two little boys Bob, that’s what they’re like,
Seismically protected to Gas Mark 7.

But there’s no more time for:
Haff netting salmon
in the skinny dipping Lune;

No more time for:
Sticking toffee pud
Up the old girls duff.

Cos we’re heading out to Barra,
Prepping for the Somme,
And all her sail in her.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you need from a
Wind farm blade.

ARNSIDE’S HUNTER GATHERERS

It’s a long way to Tipperary,
A very long way indeed Bob,
You’ll be needing your khaki trousers ,
and a hat to shield you from the blaze.

Hats with fascinators fascinating,
Travel hunters hunting and
Heath and safety instructing:
Don’t forget your shorts.

Don’t forget your sun cream.
Don’t forget to write son,
We’ve got your Grand-dad round at Christmas
He’ll want to see you standing

Arnsider,
Tamesider,
Wearsider,
Humbersider;

Bloody Merseysiders, Scouse not English?
(Always kicking off in their socks and shades,
A disgrace to king and country,
Just who are they trying to kid Brian?)

Scouse lads! Manx lads!
We’re all in this together lads
Cockney lads! Toon lads!
Even Maccam lads can walk on the Kents Bank waters!

Climbing over ledges,
Diving down in gorges,
Geo-physical, geo-logical,
Geo-temporal, neo-natal.

Head line shock,
Culture block.
Road up ahead,
Detour to the Humphrey Head.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you earn from a
Wind farm blade.

FURNESS FEARS

Grange over the sands,
Wind over the waters,
Steam over the causeway,
Fog on the time and we lose our way;
Lights up ahead and we shield our eyes
From the light on the horizon.

Don’t be daft Bob,
It’s just the moon on the river,
No need to stress, no need to sweat,
It’s just another brick in a wall.
No dark lions in the wardrobe,
No more air girls on the dole.

Ulverston oh Ulverston,
I still see your home fires burning,
I still see your water wheels turning,
I still hear your sea winds blowin’,
I still see the dark coal glowin’,
I was 21 when I left Ulverston.

Last wolf in England,
First turn on the left,
Water catches fire,
The air stops breathing,
But we dig deep down for leading lights
Tractors turning, gas flame burning, submarine yearning.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you covet ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

BARROW IN FURNACE

Cor strike a light!
Blow me down!
If ever I cross this side of town
I’m dead, I’m gone,
A shadow of my former self.

The nuclear dump,
The ever present hump,
Of the guy in the trench,
Standing doubled over the stench
Of the lads in the earth
And the girls in the air,
Waving, waving farewell, adieu, auf wiedersehen,
To their boys on a train sliding into town.

Pink Shap granite, Pink Shap granite
Archaeological dig in bullet rich sand;
Turbine, turbine,
Slicing up the seas in a frenzied fit of
Fission, fusion,
Grasping the cushion of a nuclear safety net of
Caste iron furnace, caste iron furnace,
Grenades to launch ten thousand ships to pieces.

It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we’ll be shipbuilding,
Well I ask you
The boy said “Dad they’re going to take me to task, but I’ll be back by Christmas”
We’re all in this together Bob,
It was like this way back when Bob,
Digging our trenches into the heat of the night.

Guiding lights in Barrow lands.
Trig towers point to trig points in the ground.
Landing lights in the estuary guide boats by.
Staging posts act as half way stops mid river.
Help us navigate this wilderness.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade
Everything you ever loved ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

Help me fight young people’s homelessness with the CEO Sleepout

Following on from my last ‘CEO Sleepout’ at Notts County FC 2 years ago, I’m repeating the experience on 11 October this year to raise funds for not only Emmanuel House and The Friary, but also now for The Mighty Creatives (TMC) too.

I’m doing it through JustGiving:  you can visit my page here.  

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

The Sleepout involves spending a night out on the football pitch of the club, armed with not much more than a sleeping bag, a pillow and a piece of cardboard.  Whilst it doesn’t come close to emulating what homeless people go through, the group I was in 2 years ago raised over £50,000 which went to Emmanuel House and The Friary and so had a direct impact on the services they could provide their service users.

Homelessness has also been an issue that I’ve been particularly exercised by in the last year or so too: this article in the Nottingham Post was a particular eye opening experience for me.

This year, CEO Sleepout – the organisation who run the sleepouts – have agreed to allocate 32% of my fundraising directly to TMC.   If you can help the cause, anything you can give would be hugely welcome. And if this isn’t possible for you now, please feel free to spread the word to your family, friends and colleagues too.

Thanks in advance for your help!

 

Confessions of an Ageing Football Player: I will be that Bolshevik!

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true (enough). Me and the lads were out on the park tonight cheering and jeering each other as usual on a Monday night when what do you know but a postman rides up to us on his pre Second World War rickety rackety bike, rummages around in his sack and extracts what looks like a flea-bitten telegram. He looks around us all and our collection of muddy knees, torn shirts and scuffed boots and eventually his quizzical gaze focuses on me.

“It’s for you?” He’s adopted that annoying upturn of vocal intonation so beloved of soap stars from the Antipodes and I nod and reach out for his missive. I rapidly tear it open, wanting to get on with our park kick about but on reading its contents, slump to the ground in disbelief.

You OK.” states the postie, and I nod, partially dazed, semi confused and totally irritated by his inability to know the difference between asking question and making observations. More significantly,  it transpires that our national football team has, on its build up to this year’s World Cup, had to remove several of its lower ranked footballers from its squad due to some mysterious case of food poisoning they have mysteriously picked up from some mysterious source.

The management have been forced right at the last-minute to survey the stats of some our nation’s more modest talent from the league tables that yours truly fills in diligently every week in my capacity as team secretary and have concluded that the best player in our league – as defined by goals, assists, back passes and good intentions – is yours truly. I have consequently been called up to join the national squad to play for our beloved country in what is, let’s face it, the pinnacle of all sporting achievement. Ever.

There’s little time to hang around. My flight tickets are waiting for me at the airport; my bags have been packed by the team’s coach who has had to spend yet more time in the poisoned atmosphere that is the modern jet liner fuselage to collect me and my old socks and my diet from now on will be severely restricted to no less than 15,000 calories a day. It’s going to be difficult to be jettisoned into the stellar attention of international football stardom but I’m as ready for it as I always have been.

I have waited all my life for this moment: it won’t hurt my team to wait that little bit longer for me to arrive and collect what is rightfully mine: the lifting of the Jules Verne trophy on Saturday 15 July in Moscow.