Thursday, July 29, 2010

No news is good news

This week there is news. There have been developments of a sort that, quite frankly, I could have done without. It's a bit of a mixed bag in many ways and, as we all know, it never rains but it pours - there isn't just one bit of news, there are several. Well, isn't it always the case that we wait for hours for a bus to come along... Etcetera.

So, it all started on Wednesday 21st July when I had a letter from the CCRC to tell me that I was to be very disappointed at their final report. They weren't wrong.

Then I examined their Statement of Reasons and, to be quite frank about it, there is no reasoning there at all. They have simply ignored everything offered and trotted out the precise same response as was trotted out years ago. They have taken absolutely no notice whatever of the facts, not a word of it.

However, I have been given until the 13th September to tender my further representations, particularly if I feel they have made any errors in fact. They have made not only errors in fact but a few quantum leaps too. I shall be working on my response.

Then, on the following day - and I make no connection between the two - I had a paper from the Risk Assessment Management Board here at the Lazy L and it said that I was due a board in June of this year and would I be attending? That's a good trick if you can do it. Then, lower down the paper, it stated that the board would sit on 5th October 2010! What happened to June?

I filled in a receipt slip to inform them that I WILL be there and handed that in personally just to make sure that later in the year I don't have any of the "You didn't hand your receipt back!"

Is that the end of it? Not by a long chalk. In the same envelope which held the paper about the RAM board there was another slip, this one from the Offender Management Unit, the OMU. It sounds like one of those secret service units in the Communist bloc in the fifties. "Be very cautious, Comrade, or you may find yourself in the cellars of the OMU in Prague. And let me assure you, in the OMU cellars nobody hears you screaming." Yeah, well, this place could teach them a thing or two.

So there was a slip from the OMU and this one said, "Following your Sentence Planning Meeting, the Chairperson will submit an RC1 form to the Deputy Governor which will contain a recommendation regarding REVIEW OF CATEGORISATION and REALLOCATION ASSESSMENT. If you wish to submit your own written representation to the Deputy Governor you must bring it with you to the Sentence Planning Meeting and hand it to the Chairperson. Offender Management Unit HMP Long Lartin."

That is precisely what it says. It seems to me that there have been decisions made already. It makes me wonder why they don't just shove me onto a van and move me to a lower security dump. That seems to be the plan anyway. Why wait a further three or more months? Oh sorry, I forgot, they have to tick boxes first - they can't function without a tick in a box.

I wonder what else they do by rote, ensuring that all correct boxes are ticked. I'm making no suggestions but their family lives must be quite funny.

"Get yer drawers off, Gertie!"

"I can't, Albert. You haven't ticked the right box yet."

And that's STILL not the end of it. I've been trying to get facilities for prisoners to have their pictures taken to send home to their families - I have mentioned it before. I have now been told by our wing Governor that moves are afoot to acquire a digital camera and printer. When they are in place then we will see progress. I am to wait two weeks and then remind him so that he can check and see where things have progressed to, if they have progressed at all. Watch this space. (You'll never see a picture here but it will give you something to do on rainy afternoons when you haven't got the right ticks in the right boxes.)

Finally, Boudicea has been taking the piss again, in fact she always is. Apparently I'm a miserable old goat. Very nice of her to say so - in fact I think I'll get her to write the representations for the upcoming board.

Her latest scheme to annoy the neighbours is to encourage every stray pigeon to live in or around the house, eating the best of corn and sneering at passing cats. I've told her, keep feeding them, lull them into a sense of false security, it will make it easier for me to get them into a pie.

One of these pigeons is a white one and her niece (or is it a great-niece) who lives in Gran Canaria said that it is an angel come to see her. Stick around, kiddo, one day your Uncle Frank will be able to tell you exactly what angels taste like if that's the case.

I shouldn't have said that, now I'll have all the little girls in the world marching on the palace of the Queen of Hearts and yelling "Off with his head!" One of the little horrors will even be called Alice!

I've said it before, and no doubt I'll say it again, but it's not easy being me.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just a snapshot

Pictures at an Exhibition

There is a scheme within the prison system generally which allows for prisoners to get their photographs taken at their own expense, usually about £1.25p per picture. Not a lot of dosh compared to the national debt but a fortune if you don't have it. It's a good idea, this picture-taking. It allows cons to send home pictures to ageing relatives who can't travel perhaps, or young children, or - okay, let's get the jokes out of the way - for those who like taking the piss, people like Lesley, she with the sense of humour like a burning orphanage:

We can use the pictures to frighten babies off the breast!
Put them on the mantlepiece to keep the dog away from the fire!
Send them to Oxfam and ask for humanitarian assistance
 ... and so on. There - is everybody happy now?

Well, for the last month I have been trying to get my picture taken and.. Yes yes, a crime against humanity, I know. Have we finished with the jokes now? Can we get on? Wonderful.

Most of the schemes for getting pictures taken usually involve them being taken during the course of a visit when the con has had a wash and shave, is wearing decent clothing and doesn't put on too bad an appearance - and that makes sense. Well, when I see the state of some cons at times - unshaved, wandering around in dressing gown and flip-flops with a frozen chicken under one arm - or is that the cockney gangsters? Anyway, there are some less than salubrious sights at times, and I am no exception.

So I applied to have my picture taken some weeks ago.

"It will be taken on your visit!" I was informed.

"No," said I. "This has nothing to do with visits. Read the application. I want a picture to post out, nothing to do with visits."

"You have to have it done during a visit!"

"Listen, Einstein," said I. "Watch my lips. This has nothing to do with visits. I just want to have my picture taken so that I can send it out to friends and family - so that they can see for themselves what a miserable old bastard I have become!"

"It will have to go to security!" they cried.

That was about three weeks ago. Yesterday, Wednesday 14th June, I ran into security, who were loitering with intent, and asked about my picture.

"We know nothing about it," said they. "You will have to put an application in," said they.

"Done that," said I, "weeks ago."

"Well, they will take it on a visit," they responded.

"You are not listening," said I. "This has nothing to do with visits. I just want my picture done so that I can send it out in the post - no visits - post - there's a difference."

"Our S.O. has to decide," said one.

"We will let you know," said another. And that is where it sits now. I am no closer getting my picture done (for £1.25p) now than I was this time last month.

The wheels of the prison service grind exceedingly small at the best of times. Ask them something slightly difficult, but quite within the scope of an idiot in a hurry, and they get confused.

"You get it done on a visit!"

"There is no visit! Nitwits!" I cry, tearing out my hair - or I would if I had any.

Finally, Lesley is mad at me. Her latest scheme is to send me lyrics from songs from all eras and I have to identify them. I did it a couple of times, just to show willing, but now I have told her to get stuffed. This has not gone down well with Boudicea of course - she is mad at me. Personally I think she is just mad, but that's only my opinion, and everybody knows that I'm a miserable bastard at the best of times.

But shall I tell you the best bit about being a bastard? I don't have to buy anyone a present on Father's Day.


Once again we have reached the end of an eventless week where nothing has happened. There is no news, and I am beginning to feel like an invisible nomad wandering through the desert of life saying to myself, "I wish an explorer would come and tell me where I am." Alas and alack, such an adventerous soul doesn't seem to be anywhere on the horizon.

I have an automatic watch that doesn't work so last week I put it in a padded envelope to send it out to Lesley to have it repaired and she can then give it to anyone she cares to give it to. It's quite a nice one really. So, I put it in to be sent out by post at my own expense.

They still haven't sent it. They seem to be confused.

I don't get upset by this kind of thing, I simply add it to the list of incompetencies which includes getting my photograph taken and seeing the optician.

Yes! I wear glasses! Well, when we get older and Old Father Time has a quick look at our inventories to see what else he can take away from us, he pokes us firmly in the eyes and we have to get glasses. It is either that or get run over by a passing police car and end up in hospital saying, "What was that?"

So I wear glasses. A few years ago when I started to wear glasses I wasn't going to be a run-of-the-mill glasses-wearer, not me. I had to get myself an antique pair with spring-loaded arms, the sort that grip the side of the head and don't fall off or slide down the nose making us look like myopic owls.

Unfortunately there are side-effects. The spring-loaded arms have been gripping the sides of my head so tightly that I now have two indented lines running from the middle of each temple to the tops of my ears.

The other day I was wandering about without my glasses on and the lines in question were clearly there to be seen.

"Frank!" says one fellow with nothing else to do. "Why have you got two scars at each side of your head?"

"Scars?" I asked. "What scars?"

"There," he pointed. "One each side."

I look in the mirror and he is right, two indented lines, one each side. Well, you know me, never miss a chance for a bit of the ould craic.

"Oh," said I. "You mean my birth scars?"

"Birth scars?" said he.

"Precisely," I nodded and settled down to tell lies. "When I was born my head was too big to come out so the doctor had to get a big pair of forceps and pull me out."

"You're kidding!" said he in disbelief.

"No," lied I seriously. "My head was huge. The doctor got a grip and pulled me out and the two lines are where the forceps dug in. My mother yelled a good bit apparently."

"I fucking bet she did!" said he, examining my two lines again. "They are dug right in!" says he.

"Well," I replied, "I think that I must have been nice and warm where I was and didn't want to come out. Remember, it was 1946, the coldest winter ever recorded - parts of the North Sea froze over it was that cold. I didn't want to come out so I dug my heels in and fought them. I've been digging my heels in and fighting them ever since."

He looked at me for a few seconds. "Is that a true story?"

I smiled my angelic smile, the one that makes me look like a lion with a tasty morsel between its teeth. "What do you think? Does it sound like a true story?"

"It could be true," said he, "You've got the scars to prove it."

I grinned again. "You sick, sad, insane, demented, lonely lunatic. You should be working for Security - they'll believe anything too."

The Voice In The Wilderness

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A wind-up

I have the dubious pleasure of informing you that once again we have reached the end of yet another week where there is very little to report. In fact there is nothing at all, not a word. Well, there is nothing unusual about that. It is a red letter day when I DO have something worth writing about.

So, I want to tell a story - and there isn't much unusual about that either. I do it every time there is no news. This one is about a watch - a wristwatch.

I own, and have owned for years, a Seiko 5 original automatic. It needs no batteries and does nothing fancy beyond tell the time, day and date - in French! All I have to do with it to keep it working is to wear it and move my arm from time to time and, lazy as I am, even I can manage that much movement. I have had it stored in reception for about three years and the other day I dumped the watch I had been wearing and got my old Seiko back - good, old, reliable Seiko.

The bloody thing isn't working! It has been inert for so long it needs some sort of an M.O.T. doing on it, so I have decided to send it out to Lesley and she can get it cleaned at the jewellers and give it to somebody for Christmas - or throw it at her pet pigeon for all I care. To replace it I have ordered an Accurist from the catalogue.

Okay, that's the background story - just to keep things clear. The story I want to tell about the Seiko took place about eight years ago in Whitemoor prison. One evening I stood watching a couple of fellows playing pool because I was playing the winner. While I waited I stood with my arm down at my side and shook my wrist back and forth to wind up my Seiko. I often did that in idle moments, and let's face it, if there is anyone who knows about idle moments, it's me. So there I stood, probably looking pretty vacant as I shook my wrist back and forth.

The following day I had a call-up to the Healthcare where I was sent into a room and there sat Dr Muller, a psychiatrist! I used to make coffee for Dr Muller in the early nineties when I had been at Whitemoor on an earlier occasion.

"Hello Doc Muller," says I. "How are you?"

"I remember you," says he. "You were here about ten years ago."

"That's right," says me, "and I'm still in jail. What's all this about?"

"Well," says he, "there is a report that you have a severe personality disorder because you were seen shaking yesterday. I want to have a chat about it."

"Shaking?" said I. "What do you mean?"

"You were seen shaking and it could mean that there is a severe personality disorder. That's what I intend to examine."

"Shaking?" said I. "What do you mean?"

He examined a bit of paper on his desk. "It says that your arm was shaking rapidly and you didn't seem to notice it!"

"Oh!" says I as I stood up, "Like this?" and proceeded to do my watch-winding bit - arm down at my side and wrist going back and forth like a whore's arse when the fleet is in town. "Like that you mean?"

"That's it," says he. "Why would..."

I interrupted him. "Look, Doc Muller," and I pulled up my sleeve to show him my watch, "I've got an automatic watch. I'm winding it up!"

"Oh!" cries he. "Is that all it was?" and he had the grace to laugh. "Well, that's that cleared up then. You don't need to see me about winding watches," and he laughed again.

"Well," said I, "let's not dismiss it as a joke because it's not funny. No wonder people get written down as all sorts of strange things if this sort of mistake can be made. Suppose I had refused to see you, you would have continued with the false assumption, wouldn't you?"

Well, there was more to it but the gist of it all is this - never presume. That's how mistakes are made, and mistakes in the prison service can have catastrophic consequences for some unfortunates.

Still, the watch is being sent out to Lesley now. Let her develop a personality disorder as she stands in the queue at Aldi and shakes like a leaf.

Some little kid will say, "Look Mum, that woman is shaking!"

"Don't look, it's rude to stare Tyrone. She's probably got a personality disorder."

No she hasn't! She's got a bleedin' automatic watch!

The Voice In The Wilderness

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All at sea

For a long time now we have been struggling to get some sense out of the prison service, and several other places, about my salubrious past. I'd better explain that statement because on its own it makes little sense. If anyone should know about my past it is me, but apparently I don't know what I am talking about, not according to the prison service anyway.

I had a brother who is now dead - he died of stomach cancer about fifteen years ago. He, like me, had a colourful history. Two men, same date of birth, same initials, same surname - some idiot saw this and decided in his wisdom that they were both the same man. He (or she) understandably lumped both records together and now it is proving impossible to get the authorities to admit that they have made a mistake. Hence the struggle.

When I was young - as the Beatles would have it, "So much younger than today" - I went to sea. Well, I was an adventurous sort of cove, like most youngsters. Sailors are strange fellows. They must be - how else do we explain pirates? In fact we were only one step up from pirates at times. Young men, no morals other than those of a particularly wayward alley-cat, and a conviction that, once out of sight of authority, we could do as we pleased.

Mostly we were around the Medway towns as home port. I went onto several ships, signed on and went to sea. As we all know, water always finds its own level and birds of a feather etcetera. As soon as I joined a ship I just as quickly got in with the worst elements on that vessel, although what we did could be seen more as stupid escapades rather than crimes - though there were plenty of those in various ports.

Let me tell a wee tale to illustrate...

In Chatham we, as a group (a very flexible and changing group), were of course forever chasing the ladies and, being sailors, the ladies we knew were the ladies we met in dockside bars and other dens of ill-repute - the ladies of the night, shall we say? Of course we would have one we considered our girlfriend, although she often left us in the pub while she went out to earn a quick fiver. That never bothered us - as I say, we had no morals.

I am not saying that we lived on immoral earnings, although if a lady of the night bought me a drink today it wouldn't be the first time. I am sure that when we were at sea these ladies would have other boyfriends on other ships - that was in the nature of things. This story is about such a lady, in a way.

One of my pals, and he will remain nameless for obvious reasons, had a girlfriend, a lady of loose morals and knicker elastic, who had a prow on her like a Russian icebreaker. I won't use her name, she may be a long-married grandmother by this time - she will certainly be well into her sixties. I'll call her Bouncy Barbara and, from henceforth, BB. BB was a very pretty girl with this luscious, buxom figure which made lusting young sailors drool - and older sailors too.

One day we were to take a cargo across to Holland, so off we went and, as was the unofficial practice in those days, a couple of us smuggled our girls aboard to come with us. We were only going to be away for less than a week - but if the Old Man had caught us we would all have been looking for a new berth. One of the girls who came with us was BB. I had a girlfriend too, of course, a lady of the night. In fact, never mind the night, she didn't give a toss what time of day it was when it came to dropping her drawers for a quick fiver.

In Amsterdam, whilst we mucky little matelots did our matelot stuff - such as unloading the ship - the three girls went ashore to have a look around and maybe score for a few knee-tremblers here and there - after all, they were working girls! BB met a Dutch Captain in a bar, much older than her of course, and one look at her inviting curves and he was smitten. The first I knew about it was when BB's boyfriend came to me and told me all about it. BB had been to the Dutchman's home - very plush, a safe with a lot of money and other things just asking to be evacuated to England. The best part was that the Dutchman had asked BB to marry him! My pal wanted me to pretend to be a vicar and do the job. BB would go off for a few days' honeymoon with the Dutchman, leaving the house keys with us, and we would strip the place bare. BB would come back, slip off, join the ship and we would all bugger off back to Chatham with the loot, leaving a deserted Dutch husband with an equally deserted house.

This of course is a wicked crime, no doubt about it, but it is also a great adventure and a laugh for young sailors who had no morals. I couldn't do it of course because I would have started laughing before we got halfway through the fake wedding - another fellow did it. We robbed the Dutchman's house, BB legged it from the marital bed and we were on the ship when she was ready to sail back to Gravesend with our loot. We were the toast of The Royal Exchange in Chatham High Street when the tale was recounted later for the benefit of those who hadn't been there and we spent our loot on several days of debauchery.

I was involved in hundreds of such dodgy incidents around the world - pure adventure mostly, although some were a good bit darker and nastier than BB's marriage to the Dutchman. It wasn't always the same people involved, sailors are transient at the best of times, but they were all the same calibre - crooks, and as I say, only one step up from pirates. (We'd have done that too if we could have gotten away with it.)

The point is, all of those men, and women of course, are my age now, or older, and some will probably have passed away. They will all be settled grandparents and if we were to get together no doubt many a laugh would be had about our murky deeds as youngsters. The trouble is, they won't want any of it being brought out and THAT is where I think my problems lie! I've asked several fellows to get hold of people to prove where I was at certain times in the past but everyone seems to be a bit reluctant to talk about any of it. Quite understandable too really - the great majority of those old crimes will still be on an unsolved register somewhere.

I can see their thought processes. They think I must be going to drag it all up again, tell tales out of school. Well, I'm not! All I need is people who knew me between 1963 and 1983 to verify that they were at sea with me and where we were, what ships we were on, that's all. I don't want to discuss anything we might or might not have done.

Life is like a garden that we create. When we first get it, it's a patch of mud and soil. We mess about at first but as time passes we flatten the ground, grow grass over the ugly mud and trim it until it is a nice, neat lawn. Obviously we don't want some prat coming along and digging up the lawn we have created to cover all of our past blemishes and indescretions.

Don't worry. The lawn is safe. I just need someone to verify the facts of where we were in our salad days, not what we did. What we did wasn't so bad anyway, not by today's standards, and we saw it all as more of an adventure rather than a criminal sort of thing. But criminal it was, and it is best left in the past. Maybe one day we can get together, those of us still alive of course, and snigger about it into our grey beards.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Neglected toys

Once again we reach the end of one more week where nothing at all has happened or been said on any subject whatever. This business of me being the invisible man isn't all that far from fact - I might as well not be here. Come to think on it, that's not a bad idea. I'm working on it.

Of course all of that gives me little scope for news - no scope at all really - so I'll just have to fall back on something either esoteric, philosophical or just downright pointless but semi-amusing.

The other day, as I sat here sweltering in the heat, I decided to get the mail order catalogue and buy myself an electric fan - it is allowed these days. In fact, on the enhanced wing, cons are given free electric fans. Mind, they are given a lot of stuff which we lesser creatures do not get even though we too are of enchanted status. They get free duvets, bedside lights and so on. I had to buy my own duvet, just as I am buying my own little fan to stave off heat-induced heart attacks.

So, I got the catalogue and, as I perused the pages, I saw soft pillows at a tenner for two, so I got them as well. Then I just browsed, and it is quite amazing how many gadgets and little toys are on sale these days - toys for the boys. This got me to looking around my cell and checking to see what utterly pointless toys I have bought over the years to play with and keep myself amused, bought for no other reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Let me see...

I've got a portable personal CD player which has never had the batteries in it. It's brand spanking new and I've had it a couple of years. There is an extremely sophisticated calculator, which I don't even know how to use, and an electronic spell-checker which is still sitting there in its little velvet presentation bag. I've got an electric shaver which I've had a couple of years but can't use because it makes my face sore, me being a tender-skinned fellow with a hide like a numb rhino.

What else have I got?

Playstation of course, but I use that. Fancy stereo, but I use that a lot too. Hair clippers, electric alarm clock, transformer and charger and, the pride of any idiot's collection, a watch which does just about everything, including tell the time in Australia. I can't actually work it, don't know how to set it despite the fact that I've got the instruction booklet which makes no sense to me at all. I think it must be translated from Chinese. Of course I have the ubiquitous transistor radio which never gets turned on, hasn't been for years - we are on the mains these days.

There is more but I've made my point - toys to play with and utterly useless. Why then have I decided to buy yet another one? By the time I get it, summer will be over and it will sit in its box under the bed, neglected and ignored. I know how it feels - I've felt like that for a long time.

Some fellows have more than me of course - and that's just the electrical stuff. What about the mechanical stuff such as the very typewriter I am bashing away at with great abandon?

I think it all comes down to two things - modern living and the fact that none of us ever really grows up. We like our toys no matter how old and silly we are.

Bloody watch! Cost an arm and a leg, and it is sitting there on the shelf an hour slow because I don't know how to work it to put it onto BST - all those little buttons to push, it's very confusing to a fellow like me. Let's have it right - I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

So, the end of another week and all I've got to report is that I have ordered another toy for my collection. I'm not telling Lesley - she just takes the piss.

The Voice in the Wilderness

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Flaming June!

Why am I surprised? Just a few short weeks ago I wrote that I was full of hope for June - shall we say that I had great expectations! There were three main reasons for my hopes for June, three arrows fired into the air, seeking targets.

The first was the decision that was being made by the CCRC, and we fully expected that they would order another investigation - on many grounds, not the least being the new evidence that has been uncovered, turned up, call it what you will. That decision isn't coming now, not for another six weeks or so. Still, what is six weeks after over twenty-four years? I'll tell you - six weeks is six weeks I'll never get back. It's not as though they will be tacked onto the end of my life, is it? (Never end a question with a preposition - my tutor, Sandra Forrest told me that.) So - no CCRC decision.

The second arrow was the Parole Hearing of course, but that has gone much the same way as the CCRC decision - in fact it has gone further. The Parole Board has ordered that proper reports be done and assessments too. That has all got to be completed by November 7th, so there's another delay - no decision.

The third arrow was my manuscript that I sent off to the Koestler Awards in my quest for yet another award to go with my Galberg and my David Astor. We expected that decision to be by the end of June too, but it won't be. In fact it will probably be August before we hear anything - so yet again, no decision.

Story of my life really - hurry up and wait. So, I sit here in my kennel on the Lazy L and cogitate, muse, meditate, contemplate and vegetate, doing absolutely nothing, zilch, nada, nuffink. It's all good for me of course, character-building, so they say. However, the way I see it is that after getting on for twenty-five years of it, my character is formed, built, erected and cast in concrete - and some people probably think THAT wouldn't be a bad idea. I'm getting quite the expert at doing bugger all now. I can sit in my cell and keep myself entertained for long and sustained periods of time, doing nothing.

At least the lock-down is over now, more or less. They locked the prison down on Saturday 19th June and kept it that way until the morning of Friday 25th June. That's six days, the longest lock-down I have ever been involved in, and I've seen a few over the years - more than most in fact. Not many fellows have been in jail as long as me. Ha! There's something to be boastful about!

So, the lock-down came to an end at 9:30 am on Friday 25th June and the very first thing I (and most others) did was head for the showers. It's all very well washing in a sink but that can never give the feeling of cleanliness that a shower gives.

As a bit of an aside - have you ever stood in a shower and heard, from the cubicle next door, a fellow who is tone deaf singing in a fake Jamaica accent - he's from Birmingham - "Polly Put The Kettle On"? And the beautiful part was HE DIDN'T KNOW THE WORDS! Having said that, knowing the words is hardly the point really. We've got this hairy-arsed gunman who is doing thirty years or more singing a nursery rhyme in an accent he THINKS is real but is as phoney as his 'sense of honour' and I think he must be in the middle of a personality crisis of some sort. Does he know who he is? I doubt if he knows WHERE he is, never mind anything else.

But, like me, he was happy to be getting a shower - which brings me neatly to the statement that most people are happy with the little things in life. But now and then, just for a change, we would like to get at least SOMETHING to give us hope - like a decision from the CCRC, Parole Board, the Koestler Awards or the idiot in the kitchen who seems to confuse apples and bananas.

It's all character-building is it?

The Voice In the Wilderness