Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A mini holiday

On Friday last I caught a train to go back up to the North East for the first time in over twenty-seven years. (That's not quite true because I've been up there several times, if we count the number of times I was transfered to Frankland jail only to be thrown out again. Mind, to be fair, I earned the evictions usually and I've been thrown out of better places than that several times.) I'll say this for the trains these days - they are easy to travel on. It's all spelled out on the arrivals and departures boards on the stations AND they give out information ON the trains.

Caught the train from Lincoln and changed once for Newcastle. Bit strange crossing the bridge over the Tyne. I thought I would feel a certain amount of fascination or nostalgia seeing it all again, but I can't say I was over excited about it. It was interesting, that's all. When we arrived at Newcastle Central I went down into the Metro, lugging my bags behind me, and caught the said Metro into Sunderland but got off just prior to the town centre at a place called The Stadium of Light. It's a new station built where the old Newcastle Road Baths used to be, more or less. My brother Robert was waiting for me with Little Abby, his daughter. She is six and had refused to go to school - she wanted to meet me coming off the train instead.

Shortly after we arrived at Robert's home, a reporter called Ruth arrived with her photographer, Ian. We had a chat, had a few pictures taken, then we all went to Roker Park where we had a few more pictures taken - and one was a cracker of me walking along with Little Abby. That was that - press dealt with, nobody upset, everyone happy.

That evening, it being my brother's birthday, we all retired to a watering hole for a quiet birthday meal for Robert - but of course it didn't stay that way because several family members turned up. I had a couple of jars of Guinness - I should get paid for advertising Guinness, I always seem to be doing it these days - and of course one of my sisters had a dozen too many (the least said the better really, but it was funny).

Saturday was spent getting round a few of the family and a bit of shopping in the town. Now THAT'S changed. None of the roads are where I remember them being. I think the council has deliberately gone out of its way just to confuse me - rat bags! They have completely flattened the centre and rebuilt it. Put it this way - the Germans needn't have bothered bombing the place during the war, the council has done the job for them.

At tea time I made a nice curry. That's right, me, I did it. Nearly all by myself too, apart from I can't do rice, that was done by the boss. No more drink for me of course, I don't care for it much and I only had what I had the night before because it was Robert's birthday. Made a fantastic discovery on Saturday evening - Little Abby's dog, Ruby, is a magnet for females. Say no more squire!

Sunday I did as much as I could, getting round as many people as I could before I got the train back. But, as much as the train was comfortable and easy, I won't be using it again. It seems that from now on all I have to do when I want to go anywhere is ring home and a vehicle will be despatched immediately, driven by the boy racer himself.

Well, I got back to Lincoln and Bleak House in good time and of course it was raining when I did. Typical! All weekend with nice, sunny weather - come back to Lincoln to get pissed on. Lying in bed on Sunday night, reflecting on my mini holiday, I realised that I want to do it again soon. I quite enjoyed it - seeing the family. Well, there are a lot of them - and like any other family, we have our problems. We are as dysfunctional as the best of them, but they are my family and it's great to see them. Remember that old saying, "You can pick your friends but you get family thrust on you." Well, I don't mind my family - because they are mine.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A weekend away

Here is the news. I was informed this morning, Thursday 25th April, that it has been cleared for me to go up to Sunderland for the weekend. Travel up tomorrow morning and back on Sunday afternoon. It means that I will either have to do without my Sunday lunch or have it early. It would have made more sense, of course, to let me have another night and travel back on Monday - it's not as though I have anything to hurry back for, me being bone idle and retired to boot.

So, it's me for the train in the morning. I shall take a book to see me through the three-and-a-half-hour journey, but coming back I shall be in possession of my new laptop so I will be able to play on t'internet.

I was looking at my emails this morning, not that there were any, and left the machine on while I made a cup of tea. Imagine my surprise when I came back to find the screen full of messages from dating sites for the more mature punters. Of course, it's nothing more than a scam to get us to cough up our shekels on the off-chance we are silly enough to, but some were almost interesting. I don't beleive any of it, really, and the pictures will be phony.

Anyway, the clan is gathering tomorrow and we will be in a function room or somewhere like that - eating, drinking and being merry, I shouldn't wonder. My brother Jimmy tells me he has bottles of Scotch tucked away. Ha! He likes a jar, so I don't actually see there being much left by the time I get my grubby little mitts on the bottles. Not that I care - I'm going up to see the clan, not to get legless, although there is a danger that getting legless could be a side-effect. I'm not a drinker really - a couple of jars of Guinness and I've had enough - but I DO like my feed. So, while they are keeping the distilleries in work, I'll just be filling my face I expect.

Jimmy and Robert say they are meeting me from the train so that will save me having to carry my own bag. Told you - I'm bone idle really.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A letter from Bleak House

Once again I astonish myself with my ignorance. Does that need explaining? Not to those who know me. In fact, according to my little sister, I am as thick as a “bull's lug” - which also needs explaining (being Sunderland folk, or Mackems, we have our own language and accent):
Lug: An appendage found on the side of the head, normally called an ear.
So, to get back to what I was saying. My ignorance is boundless - ask anyone. I've got this desktop computer along with the bits that go with it, including a printer and a web-cam. All clear so far? Excellent.

My guru was here on Saturday and got the printer to work with alchemy, leaving me completely ignorant as to how it all works. We've got a dongle....now here's something I have to comment on, dongle. What's a sodding dongle? Why couldn't they use a word with a bit more gravitas? Dongle! It sounds almost suggestive.

“Pssst, pssst...want to see my dongle?”
I know exactly what the creator of dongles was thinking...”Let's use a word that nobody will want to go into W.H.Smith's and say above a whisper.”

Anyway, I've got this dongle which connects me to the internet, albeit not very quickly. Well, we got it all working and I was left to my own devices with the words, “You can mess about with Skype and work it out.”

Skype! Another dodgy word. Apparently it is a system which allows people to use a web-cam and speak face to face (on screen) with whoever it is they are talking to on the telefunken. Of course everyone knows or knew this apart from me, the fountain of all ignorance. Anyhoo, I did just that and yesterday I managed to get my sister and brother-in-law on the screen. Unfortunately they couldn't see me - and some unkind folk might say that's a blessing in disguise but let's not go into that. It seems that there must be something lacking about my web-cam but I am assured that when I get (and use) my new laptop later this week, that matter will be corrected because the laptop has a built-in cam - problem solved so I am informed. Time will tell of course. I can only live in hope.

This morning I had what "they" call a 3-way meeting between probation people and yours truly. I brought up the subject of lifting my curfew because I have to be indoors by seven in the evening. I have no idea why. It makes no sense to me, considering those they allow to run about until eleven at night. It means I can't go for a bit of supper or anything else. So they are looking into it and will get back to me, so they say.

I then brought up the matter of allowing me to go up to Sunderland on the weekend because it is my brother's fiftieth and a lot of the family will be coming from far and wide. I am the head of the family and there are a lot I haven't seen for about thirty years. There are youngsters in our family and those who even have their own little families who weren't born when I went to jail in 1986. I want to meet all of them if I can. Once again the response was, we will look into it and get back to you.

In prison that is something which causes despair - “I'll get back to you.” It is part of governor-grade training apparently. Their final training session includes practicing the following sentence;

“Leave it with me...I'll look into it and get back to you.”
When they can say that with complete sincerity then they are qualified to be promoted to governor-grade. All I can say is that I hope it hasn't spread to the outside probation service here in the secret city where Bleak House is located.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A dog's life

Where shall we begin?

One evening there were two fleas leaving the cinema and the first flea said to the other, “Should we walk home or should we catch a dog?”

The other day I was walking along the waterfront here in this nameless cathedral city (which has a loose-ish connection to Robin Hood in that he apparently wore clothing of a certain green hue, if legend is to be believed - hope I haven't given anything away there), perambulating along in a northerly direction and, just as I passed the Royal William - a hostelry where I have been known to quench my thirst and fortify the inner man with good pub grub - I had cause to walk under the bridge there. Sitting on the ground and surrounded by what I presume were his goods and chattels (including a little dog) sat a fellow who was clearly one of society's forgotten heroes. He was a paraffin - a tramp, homeless. I'm not knocking him - let's face it, I am only one step up from becoming a "Gentleman of the Road" myself.

He was clearly tall, grizzled and probably as old as me, if not older. Skin the colour of a stained teapot with long grey hair and straggly beard, both tied up in a ponytail. It's a bit strange to see a fellow with a beard in a ponytail, but there we have it. Maybe he had found a couple of elastic bands somewhere and felt it would be a shame not to use them, who knows? The point is, he had a beard in a pony tail.

He watched me pass and, as I did so, carrying three chicken slices which I had bought for a quid in the market, I dropped them into his lap but said nothing. Neither did he come to that. As I walked on, it occurred to me that the dog would get one of them. Oh well, even mutts need to live. The odd part is that despite the fact that I have a warm place to live and sleep, clean bedding, regular feed and washing facilities - all that manner of thing - it occurred to me that the nomad had something I don't have, several things in fact. He can come and go as he pleases, something I can't do, and he had a dog.

I like dogs, always have. A fellow isn't complete without a companion. Most fellows have a wife at my age but I don't want one of those. I tried marriage once - didn't like it and it won't happen again. Thankfully I am too old for that now anyway. I much prefer my own company these days, although a person to chat to from time to time always helps. I would prefer a dog.

Well, dogs are loyal and affectionate and demand nothing from us. We can talk to them, if the urge takes us, but the dog is just as happy sitting at our side silently for hours. Try getting a wife to keep quiet for hours - it's never going to happen. They don't listen either. In fact, the only time a woman listens is when it is her doing the talking.

My little sister Wendy tells me that a friend of hers has a dog which has just had pups, a German shepherd, and Wendy (in her insanity) has decided that she will get two of these pups for me as a present. The fact that, under current circumstances, I am not allowed so much as one of the fleas mentioned earlier as a pet, cuts no ice with Wendy. She has decided that I am having two dogs and that's that. See! They only listen when it's them doing the talking. Still, her heart's in the right place even if her thought processes are a little haywire.

Finally, for this one anyway, if you are reading this it is safe to presume that I have finally got the printer working - either that or I have acquired another one. So, now that I am on the internet or, as they call it in Lancashire, tinternet, I am now in a position to respond to any comments anyone wants to make or even to open up a dialogue with anyone who wants to do so. Try not to be rude, but at the same time say what you like - I'm a big lad and I find rudeness amusing most of the time. It comes with age you know. Things we once took personally in our callow youth now are merely funny. However, if anyone does feel the uncontrollable urge, at least have the courage to add your name - I do.

Well, it could be worse - I could be sitting under a bridge, surrounded by my goods and chattels and feeding chicken slices to little mutts.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wrestling with the twenty-first century

I got a desktop computer and printer. Anybody would be forgiven for thinking that I would be glad to be able to write things on the keyboard rather than using the old-fashioned method of a fountain pen. It's not quite as easy as that.

A pen - you fill it up and simply write until it's empty, then you fill it up again and get back to it. Computers are a little bit more complicated. Just plugging it in was a trial in stress management.

That wasn't the end of it, that was just the start because then I had to turn it on. Why do computer manufacturers hide the power-on button?

Well, I got the tower turned on, the screen and the little speakers.

"Magic!" said I to myself. "Now to try to get something out of it."

Easier said than done, let me tell you. There's too much stuff on the screen, all manner of little pictures and icons, and the only way to find what you want is to try them all. It only takes half of your life - no problem.

Finally got a screen that resembled that of a word processor and tried to organise the margins. Try that without an instruction booklet. In fact, try that with an instruction booklet. They could have made it difficult by printing it in Chinese Mandarin - in fact it might have been easier if they had.

Well, I finally got it all set up and proceeded to get on with a bit of letter-writing. Were my problems over? Were they hell! When I had the letter done, I turned on the printer, pressed the button on the mouse and sat back to watch the product of hours of labour coming out of the front of the machine. Nothing happened - it just buzzed then went back into a state of inertia.

More messing about, more resetting and all the inertia I could have asked for. I finally discovered that the problem was that the printer is different from the computer and I need special software to make them work together. By this time in the proceedings I am starting to think that euthenasia is a good idea - not for me, for the wanker who designed computers!

Well, I got in touch with my brother and he is sending the required software by urgent mail. If it's anything like the computer that will arrive quite quickly - about six weeks is my best guess. Still, look on the bright side - I got a desktop computer and printer.
A later date:

Well, I got the disks from my brother but they don't work. The installation wizard just tells me more or less to "sod off" for some reason or another. After a great deal of teeth-grinding and use of the vernacular, with a few words of Latin thrown in, I was on the verge of purchasing a new printer, but my guru told me not to until he has had the opportunity to grind his teeth, use the vernacular and a bit of Latin.

Fair enough!

So here I am, still sitting here patiently in my secret little location - or, as I like to call it, Bleak House or Dotheboys Hall - waiting for those who know about these things to put it right. However, if you are reading this then clearly it's all been done and is working, so don't read it, it's redundant - just like half of the country really.

What I really need is a weekend away, a bit of a break from everything, see the clan, stuff like that. We will see what happens and where things stand by this time next week.
The Voice In The Wilderness

A rich man indeed

So, here I am again, still living at the secret address in an undisclosed city that everyone knows about but nobody is allowed to mention. It's a secret. It's all for the protection of others, of course. I'm not sure whose protection, certainly not mine, I don't give a rat's fart who knows where I am, I have no enemies you see. Oh, like all the rest of the human race, I am perfectly certain that there are a few misguided punters around who don't care for me much, for several reasons, but that's a far cry from wanting to do me any harm, and wanting to and having the nerve to attempt it is a horse of a different colour.

But! All of that to one side, the point is that I'm still living where I am and making more than satisfactory progress almost daily. Well, I am according to my mentor, and maybe I should keep his name secret too. Why is authority obsessed with secrets that there is absolutely no call to keep? Now, if you want secrets, I've got secrets and they are mostly the secrets of others - I may have mentioned this before - but I shall take them to the grave with me. I have no choice. Of course this clearly evidences a criminal mind, ask any psychologist. I'll always have a criminal mind, no doubt about that. But having a criminal mind and actually acting on it is, yet again, a different kettle of fish.

So, yours truly is making satisfactory progress on several fronts. The biggest problem I found on release from the tender loving arms of Lizzie Windsor's jackbooted minions was establishing my identity. “Look at me!” I cried silently. “Who would say they are me when they are not! That's bordering on insanity!” However, I had to establish who I was and I started with the hardest task of all - getting a bank account.

Off I jolly-well-went to the Co-operative bank and let me state quite clearly here and now, they were a lot more helpful and accommodating than they needed to be - first class. I started with a marvellous young woman - a credit to her mother, she really is. I told her right at the very outset that I was a retired career criminal and I required a bank account to pay in a bit of dosh. She not only didn't flinch, not an eyebrow twitched or was raised and she went out of her way to push it through - the application that is.

“Leave it to me,” said she more or less. “I'll get on it right away.”

“How long will it take?” asked our retired career crook.

“Normally about three weeks, but we will see. First you will get a letter from Head Office asking for proof of identity but you have already given me that, just ignore it.” (Obviously one of those computer-generated things.) “Then,” said she. “a few days later you should get your card, pin number and all that kind of stuff.” (I'm paraphrasing here of course.)

“Oooo!” said I. “Will you accept money from me then?”

“We will.”

“Wonderful. I shall buy you a bunch of flowers.”

Today, little more than a week later, I was wandering past the bank with about seventeen quid in my pocket so I went in. One of the girls behind the bullet-proof glass recognised me and called me over. My account has been accepted and she gave me my paying-in number and account number. I am now a valued customer of the Co-operative Bank - marvellous. I saw this girl as I was leaving.

“Got my account,” said I. “I've not forgotten the flowers.”

“There is no need.” she protested.

I gave her my best grin. “I don't say things I don't mean,” said I as I left and went to get the flowers.

I took 'em back and she was behind the counter with two other young girls. I went toward the counter.

“She's just coming,” said one, big smiles everywhere.

“Oooo!” said she as I handed her the bunch of flowers. “They are lovely. Nobody ever gave me flowers before.”

“Thank you for all of your help,” said I - and that was basically it really.

I now have a bank account and so the process of becoming a real person again, a citizen rather than just a number, is under way. I thought it would have been harder, but it's not. It just takes a little time, patience and a bunch of flowers.

Finally my brother Robert supplied me with a desktop computer - it will save me a fortune in ink if I ever get the printer to work. I'm a total, complete and utter novice at this high-tec stuff, but I am hoping that I have enough friends to give me advice.

Speaking of friends, now that I am out of jail I am asking people to contact me, those who have read about me for a long time on this website. A man in my position needs all the friends he can get and there is an old adage on the subject which goes like this:

If a man has just one true friend, then he is a rich man indeed.
The Voice In The Wilderness

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Out in the world again

Well here I am, out in the world again
Back in the cold, cold weather.
How much work must a poor man do
To rub two coins together.
It's true - they finally signed the bit of paper, handed it to me at the gate at 8 a.m. on Tuesday 2nd April and said, "You are free. You can go."

So I went.

I've been asked the question - "What's it like to be free at last?"

Well, I'm not exactly free, but never mind. What I said was that it was interesting.

Wouldn't you think that after 27 years I would have something deeply meaningful and erudite to say about the whole experience? For some strange reason I don't - not yet anyway. No doubt but I will have soon, when I've settled a bit, but not yet. However, I've said loads of that kind of thing in my book, "An Abuse of Justice", currently being edited. My editor has been to see me a couple of days this week - a very interesting fellow indeed; as wise as an owl studying lexicography. Ha! I wonder how many are reaching for a dictionary now - I am.

I've also had Herman to spend a day with me along with my new agent, who doesn't want to be mentioned at all so I'll just have to call her Blondie - that's a clue. Actually, she is as good as gold and turning into a great mate. She thinks that I am weird - mind, I think I'm weird.

I had to go to the bank to get an account sorted out and I want to give a plug to a lady at the Co-operative Bank. What a nice and extremely helpful girl - or woman. Mind, she looked young to me - but having said that, Lady Godiva would look young to me. It made a change for me to be trying to force the bank to take money from me rather than taking money from them. I suppose I've come full circle.

What strikes me about this city is the fact that it seems to be a friendly place - people seem to be more cheerful and inclined to help. Even the police seem to stand looking benignly upon buskers, and there are a fair few of them - buskers, I mean. I saw one today, a one-man-band with the cymbals on the knees and the drum and the banjo. He was rubbish, but that's not the point really - at least he is trying to earn an honest living. Don't knock it - I might have to come out of retirement myself. Has anyone got a banjo they don't want? Is it hard to play the banjo?

Finally, some people may remember the swan which last year knocked my camera into the marina here. Well, I was there again yesterday and I swear that I saw this swan just swimming casually nearby, but watching me out of one eye. It looked smug - I bet that's the one which did it!

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I shall not pass this way again

I didn't do this blog yesterday, as would be normal for a Sunday morning - no, I left it for today, Easter Bank Holiday Monday.


You may well ask.

Well, the thing is that today is my last full day in this particular jail. Tomorrow I go to reside in a secret place in an undisclosed city. It's just another jail really with a few more restrictions (in some respects) than this one, and a few less (in some respects) than Alcatraz - but let's not be churlish, eh?

I've done all I need to do here - got everything signed, sealed and to be finally delivered at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Then I shall simply fade away - not with a bang but with a whimper.

It's been a long ould journey - and it's not finished yet, not by a long chalk. Oh no, not a bit of it. In fact I probably have one of the most difficult periods that I have ever had before me. The thing is that I am ostensibly released - the Parole Board said so!

But I'm not.

However, I shall manage. I always have and always will.

Out of the night tbat covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud:
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

(W E Henley - "Echoes" 1888)
I admit it, I'm tired - fatigued, knackered - but even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea.

So, this is my swan-song as far as this place is concerned. Next week I will be writing from the secret location mentioned earlier. I will be expecting (and hoping) that I can finally begin some form of correspondence with people, make new friends (it's too late  to make new enemies) and do my best to enjoy a little peace in what years I may have left. I have a lot of stuff I want to write, even more stuff I want to read - neither activity very strenuous, and I can do them on my own (an idea I like the sound of). Well, life is the same for everyone when you are alone at night in an empty room.

I have little desire or intention of joining the Rat-Race. Well, the trouble with the Rat-Race is that even if you win, you are still a rat, and I've never been that. Been a lot of other things - some were even legal.

So, from now on I intend to do my best to adhere to both the spirit and the letter of Stephen Grellet's philosophical thought:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
The Voice In The Wilderness