Foreman Funderdog

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything, I’ve been busy and life has been; erm, normal. 

Or what passes for normal these days anyway. 

I had a brief commute to India that lasted for just two days and then came back with a stomach bug that kept me occupied for just over a week… 

The India trip was in support of a sales bid and I had a bizarre coincidence while I was there that left me genuinely surprised. 

I was sitting with the prospective client’s CIO at the bar in a hotel in Delhi and was explaining that I wouldnt be able to make the UK visits scheduled for 1st week in September as I was on jury service. 

Then my personal phone rang with a +36 country code. 

Unusually for me, I answered it (it costs money to even receive a call in India thanks to o2) and found that it was the Jury service asking if I could bring my jury service forward.  

I agreed and things start from here.. 

Even though a few months have passed since all this happened, it’s still subjudice and so all names and locations are untrue. 

Lenny and Dawn had a chequered history, Lenny was raised offshore in one of those caribbean places and took to drugs early in his life. He’s genuinely thick and was too stupid to get above a one star job in McDonalds. 

Dawn had been married, but took up with Lenny a number of years ago, they had some issues and Lenny went to prison for offences against her. For some reason, he pleaded guilty to crimes that had no witnesses and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. 

When he came out of prison, Dawn contacted him again. 

Yes I know.

They took up again together, and despite him being a jobless addict with mental health issues, Dawn allowed him to replace her as the main tenant on her accommodation. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why -the taxpayer now funded their joint lifestyle, even though Dawn supposedly had a high flying job. 

While Lenny was away on another short stint in prison a few years ago, Dawn went back to ‘her’ carribean island and made a few friends. 

For reasons that escape everybody, she kept the pictures of her male friends on her camera for a few years despite Lenny being paranoid due to the crack and meth he was smoking. 

Lenny caught her in a lie and they had a row, there were no witnesses at all. 

Dawn called the police and Lenny being a black drug addict with a record; was arrested and banned as part of the bail arrangements from the house that his benefits were paying for. 

Dawn  – for reasons unknown and in terror for her life don’t forget; went to the police station and left cash and clothes for Lenny. 

When bailed, he was shipped to another force who wanted to talk to him. He spent a day in their cells but was not charged. 

This all occurred on a cold and wet few days in January. 

Lenny, being a moron, went back to their house and broke in through the back door. Things went wrong and Dawn and her friend Sharon were stabbed. 

The stabbing was a fact and Lenny was eventually arrested and charged with GBH and Attempted Murder.

And so the trial began. 

For two counts of Attempted Murder. 

Only.  

CPS began the case by presenting a lurid set of facts that showed Lenny to be a cold and calculating criminal mastermind who planned and executed a chilling plot to murder Dawn in their home in Glasgow after travelling from Durham with murder in mind. 

The carefully selected weapon of choice was shown to the Jury and a breadknife that looked too cheap for a poundshop was shown in all its bent and pathetic glory. 

Dawn and Sharon’s wounds were shown to us on a completely useless rendered graphic and Sharon’s wounds were shown to be non-penetrating. 

A second weapon of opportunity was used on Dawn and she suffered one deep, potentially life threatening wound. 

This all took a few hours to present and things initially looked like it’d be a short trial. 

We were then treated to two hours of video testimony from Dawn. 

The first was from her hospital bed, the second a few weeks later. 

There were some big discrepancies in the two stories, with the second version being more dramatic than the first and some key facts changed. 

Dawn was then put on the stand. 

Despite the fact that she’d just watched her own videos, the story grew even more dramatic and lurid, punctuated by tears and sobbing. To be fair, she had been stabbed and a trial is an ordeal no matter what side you’re on. 

CPS gently questioned her. 

Did she know that Lenny was on drugs ? Yes, but he didn’t do it at home. She would NEVER let him do drugs in front of her. 

Did she ever give Lenny money for drugs? No. She was a GOOD woman 

Did she ever take drugs herself? NO. She was a GOOD hard working woman with a high flying career. 

Did she recognise the knife? She had no recollection of it. Where are you going with all these questions sir? Am I on trial here?

And so it went. 

Defence was very gentle with questioning, but. 

Did she ever leave Lenny Money for drugs in a jar. No, that money was for food if he needed it. 

Did she ever go with Lenny to buy drugs? No. Never. 

Why did you lose your job a few weeks before the incident? Was it drug related? NO. I started my own business via Facebook 

Where were you the day before the initial assault? Erm, I don’t remember?

Were you with Lenny buying drugs in Newcastle? NO, but I don’t know where I was. 

Have  you ever bought and smoked skunk? Er. Yes. On occasion. 

So you have seen Lenny do drugs in your house? Just Skunk. 

And so on. 

Sharon’s video testimony was shown and in a bizarre mixup the camera ran a bit too early and showed her sitting on the floor at ease before hurriedly refitting a soft neck brace and hunching over before she spoke. 

She then took the stand. 

Despite some random statements early on about how Lenny had kicked Dawn in the initial assault (something that Dawn didn’t allege), she admitted that she’d seen nothing and only heard the tail end of the row when Dawn left the house. 

She stated that Lenny was normally a lovely man and that on the night of the assault, he was “a crazed animal” and that she didn’t think that he consciously knew what he was doing. 

She was a balanced and fairly believable witness, although her evidence at times contadicted Dawn’s.

Let’s talk about the jury for a second. 

A couple of retired women who were initially terrified that the scary black man would somehow ‘get them’ afterwards. 

Three older blokes who saw exactly what they wanted to see and may as well have written ‘guilty’ down on day one and then pissed off home. 

One silly old git who brought the fucking newspaper coverage of the trial in. 

A couple of people who didn’t use their notebooks at all.. 

A pain in the arse bloke who went to court every day in a suit, just because. And who kept asking questions via the usher, at one point causing a half day delay. (me)

The questions came about because Lenny took the stand. He didn’t need to. Whatever he said could only back up the facts, he DID stab both women. 

We’d already had testimony from two cops who somehow wrote the same words that Lenny spoke at certain times in their notebooks, despite them admitting that they weren’t always together and that Cop 2 wrote his notes six hours later. 

However. 

What they agreed on was that Lenny tried to kill himself four times after the event that night (the fucking idiot) 

1 – hanging – the branch broke

2 – Cutting his own throat, too blunt an edge

3 – setting fire to the car, in pouring rain

4- overdose, this one nearly worked, his heart stopped and he was hospitalised when cops 1 and 2 wrote their uncannily similar statements. 

And so my question. Lenny had stated that while he was in the  neigbouring force’s custody, he begged to be sectioned and said that he was suicidal. 

I asked that we see the interview notes. 

Four hours later we listened to excerpts from the custody notes. 

Yes he said it.

And was seen by a mental health professional who recommended that he see a doctor ASAP. 

 BUT. 

Notes after he was released said that he’d been reinterviewed and was OK. 

Despite Lenny being a fucking idiot with a drug addled brain, the CPS prosecutor couldn’t break him at all and a few people (me included) were trying not to laugh. 

Lenny admitted to the assaults and knew that whatever happened he was in deep trouble. 

He did say that the knife was his / Dawn’s and that he must have picked it up in the house. The CPS tried hard to prove that he’d carried it there, but if there was CCTV, etc. they didn’t want to reference it. 

I wrote in my notes something like this:

“don’t understand why GBH was dropped, no problem with that, but The Crown can’t prove intent here at all” 

Lenny’s defence was of drug-comedown paranoia, I looked up the symptoms, it was a reasonable thing to be looking at – he had a history of mental health issues, 20 years of hard drug use and previous suicide attempts. 

The next day, we were adjourned for four hours again and four new charges were introduced. 

Two of GBH with intent

Two of GBH

Lenny duly pleaded guilty to two counts of GBH and I hoped that we could all go home. 

Nope. 

We now had to deliberate on the four higher charges. 

The judge spent an hour in summing up and may as well have shown us a picture of Lenny in a noose while mouthing the words ‘guilty, guilty, guilty’. 

For some reason, I was made foreman.. 

We spent four hours in complete deadlock  and I wrote to the Judge asking clarification (as some of my fellow jurors had evidently been in another court)  – was it the Crown’s case that Lenny went to Glasgow with the intention to commit murder?

‘Yes’ – said the Judge, ‘however, don’t forget my guidance that ‘intent’ can last a millisecond and if you believe that for even a split second that Mr Rastus intended to commit murder then you must find him guilty.’ 

An hour later I wrote to the judge saying that we were never even going to get to a majority verdict and a mistrial was declared. 

It turned out that the case in the court next door was also attempted murder and also a mistrial . 

I spoke to a juror on that jury, she said that it was ‘a fucking fiasco’ and that the jury was 10 / 2 not guilty but the judge wouldn’t accept a 10/2 majority. 

This all sounds really negative and in some ways it is. 

The CPS in Lenny’s case was (in my view) vindictive and lazy. They saw a thick, black drug addict with a record and thought it was a slam dunk. 

It wasn’t

The jury system – though flawed and inevitably made up of a proportion of dimwits and loons, is the best we have and it’s given me a bit of hope that even when a judge is nakedly biased, people will do the right thing according to the facts and their conscience. (mostly)

I hope that Lenny is allowed to do whatever prison time the GBH charges would give him (up to 20 years I think) and that the CPS save us all the money and hassle of another botched trial. 

I know this though. 

NEVER EVER PLEAD GUILTY. EVER. 

Home is the Hound

So. 

my last few days in Chennai passed quite quickly, I had a Saturday flight booked for 530 AM and didn’t bother to pack until I finished work on the Friday.I had my (hopefully for a long while) last meal in the hotel restaurant, a few drinks and dozed until it was time to leave. 

The car journey was uneventful and I was one of the first people on the plane. 

Sadly, my company doesn’t want to pay for club seats, so it was premium economy on the flight, which is fine in every regard except the little matter of the toilets. Premium economy pasengers have to use the economy toilets, which on most flights isn’t probably an issue. 

Here’s the thing, a LOT of Indian air passengers don’t know how to:

  • Lock the doors
  • avoid pissing on the floor, walls, toilet seat, etc. 

At one point, I opened a door to find a woman hawking and spitting into the sink and also had the joy of watching a steward trying to explain to somebody already inside the toilet how to lock it. He eventually gave up and locked it from outside. He then gave me a despairing grin and said “I’m blaming you, this is your fault”, before sighing deeply and walking away. 

The staff were obviously stressed and I was grateful for the stewardess who topped up my gin with unfailing regularity and I passed the flight in a state of medication. 

I spoke to the friendly steward again as I left the flight, telling him I was glad to be back; he rolled his eyes and said “you’re glad, how do you think we feel”?.

Saturday and Sunday passed fairly easily, although it was strange being back in my own bed for a change and not having hotel noises all around me. 

Then Monday was the big day. 

Would I stay on the FuckedUpProjectOfDoom or would I leave?

After a very short discussion in which it transpired that the goalposts were not just moving, they were emigrating to Australia and demanding maintenance; I agreed to write a handover report and leave. 

A very pleasant leaving drink took place on the Tuesday night; along with a stay in possibly the worst hotel in London, if not the whole of the UK. – (Take a bow Fitzrovia Hotel, burning the whole fucking place to the ground would be an improvement) and I produced a fairly lengthy report that I suspect will get buried in a nuclear bunker; before wandering off grinning. 

And then.. 

Wednesday night, I picked up my festival buddy and we set off for Dover and the four-day combined pissup and Rock  Festival known as Graspop. 

The coach arrived about 30 minutes early and the ferry journey across was uneventful – and so we started our coach journey to Turnhout in Belgium. 

The drivers were fantastic, professional, knowledgable and good humoured. Even when some of the stupider elements on the coach got back on after a 90 minute ferry journey so pissed that they couldn’t walk… 

We arrived in Turnhout at 11ish on Thursday morning and because the rooms weren’t ready, decided to leave our travelling companions to squabble and queue in the hotel and wandered off for beers and an early lunch. 

   

 Turnhout was a most unexpected and very welcome surprise. 

It’s a beautiful little town, thirty minutes from Antwerp and  fifteen minutes from Dessel – where Graspop is held. 

  
There are a number of  bars and restaurants and dinner was in an excellent Italian restaurant just on the main square and opposite the church. Our waiter managed to combine being incredibly pretty and charming and was unbelievably attentive without being cloying – no easy trick..

As a little extra, he served up some Carolina Reaper Chili powder – currently the world’s hottest chili and the waiting staff seemed fascinated as we mixed it with olive oil and added it to our meals. 

It was a great meal and a good start to what turned out to be one of those weekends that linger in the memory. 

On Friday morning, we boarded the coach for the short and pretty journey to Dessel and arrived in plenty of time to suss out the payment mechanism for food and drink before hurtling off to watch the first band of the day – The Dead Daisies. 

For a band you’ve probably never heard of, they’re an awesome band with an amazing pedigree. http://thedeaddaisies.com/line-up/

They were also the first band to do a signing and seemed pleasantly surprised to see a Dead Daisies T Shirt, which the whole band duly signed. 

  
They were nice guys and very generous with their time. Marco Mendoza insisted on kissing me full on the lips,the  filthy deviant. 

Good kisser though. 

Slash was on later in the day and my 21 year old Guns N Roses tor T Shirt aquitted itself well, despite being older than half the crowd.

  

There were a few good surprises, an excellent beer tent with dozens of video screens and regular appearances by the Lounge Kittens – clever, sexy and very, very funny.  

Kiss were the second headliners and managed to turn a buzzing crowd into something restless and bored, when their (fucking useless) lead singer went across the crowd on a zipwire, he was pelted with bottles from all sides. 

Marilyn Manson closed the show, but wasn’t that wonderful as a live artist, although his songs are amazing.. And the single most memorable moment for the two of us that day occurred when we somehow got into synch while walking along to his “third day of a seven day binge’ playing in the background.  

Something about the way we were walking seemed to worry people and a path cleared with people giving us a wide berth of ten metres and more as we ambled towards the exit. 

Saturday was more of the same, with standout performances by Alice Cooper, Arch Enemy and Slipknot. 

It was the first time I’d ever seen them play and they were awesome musically and visually, with a performance that still sends chills up my spine. 

On Sunday I had an early chat with the coach drivers, gave them both a tip to say thanks for their professionalism and humour and agreed that although we wouldn’t bother to go to the concert; they’d reserve front seats for us on Monday for the return journey. 

We then had a wander around Turnhout, a lovely lunch in a bar and another amazing dinner in the Italian restaurant, washed down with Belgian beer and a lovely bottle of Amarone.

   
    
 It was the perfect way to finish the weekend and I didn’t feel guilty in the least for not going to Graspop for the final day. 

The trip back on Monday was smooth and we missed the riots in Calais by one day, arriving back in the UK in the early evening. 

It took less than fifteen minutes to catch the coach up on the motorway after picking the car up at Dover and we exchanged friendly abuse with the drivers before I sped off and left them behind, feeling a bit sorry for the drivers having to put up with the stupidity and the smell all the way to Liverpool. 

All in all, it was just what I neeeded to get my head back into the place it needs to be and I’m writing this as I sit outside a pub in Birmingham, not yet assigned to a role, but getting paid anyway. 

Life’s good, I have some challenges and some things that I need to sort out as soon as my job (new role) situation is clear but I’m happy and will probably blog on the horrors of mowing a massive lawn with a hand-mower shortly. 

It’s great to be back. 

*sighs, sips beer, ends blog*

Pensive Pooch

This has been a very long trip. 

I flew from London on the 20th April and will finally fly back in the early hours of the 13th June. 

This has been a very strange trip. 

Earlier trips included delegations from the client and a large number of colleagues from the UK and Germany, I’ve been alone here for the past four weeks now and I think that I’ve become a bit institutionalised. 

Here’s my day

  • Wake up after a crappy night’s sleep
  • Go to the gym and work out for 30 minutes or so
  • Go to Breakfast, sit alone, read a book for a while
  • Go to the pool – read a book by an empty pool
  • Sort my laundry
  • Shower, get ready for work, take a car to the office
  • Work mostly alone, have occasional conference calls, take a car to the hotel late evening
  • Go to the gym if there’s time
  • Go to dinner, sit alone, play on twitter, have one or two drinks
  • Go to bed, watch catchup TV, sleep badly

Repeat

And Repeat

And Repeat

I’ve become very internalised and have actually caught myself thinking like I’m actually writing a blog; as it seems the easiest way to process what’s going on. 

In case this seems like a whinge, it really isn’t. 

I’ve been lucky enough to have two excellent weekends in Thailand that would never have happened if I’d been working in the UK. 

I’ve seen some wondrous sights and I’ve met some great people who I hope will remain as friends a long time after this role / project / job finishes. 

I’ve swum in the sea during a monsoon; dared the lightning to kill me and been to ancient temples and huge monuments. 

   
                             I’ve laughed so hard at times that I honestly thought I’d pass out and I’ve danced with ladyboys and huge Russians. 

Trouble is, they’re the exception days. 
Today so far has been. 

  • Wake up after a crappy night’s sleep
  • Go to the gym and work out for 30 minutes or so
  • Go to Breakfast, sit alone, read a book for a while
  • Go to the pool – read a book by an empty pool
  • Sort my laundry
  • Shower, get ready for work, take a car to the office
  • Work mostly alone, have occasional conference calls

I’ll eat the same food (ish) tonight as I did yesterday and will pop my head in the bar to see if there’s any reason to avoid going to bed ridiculously early. 

And then tomorrow will be the same. 

Friday will be a day of last minute arrangements, goodbyes (because I don’t intend to come back to this project), packing and hanging around until 2am so that I can be trolled by the ridiculous spectacle that they’ve turned Chennai airport into. 

And then a ten hour flight, hopefully with lashings of gin before landing at Heathrow. 

And then what?

I don’t know. 

I do know that I have tickets to Graspop in Belgium for Thursday to Sunday next week and that I have meetings in London to discuss next steps  / roles with the job. 

One option is to come back here for another 3-5 months – not very attractive right now. Particularly as I’m starting to loathe the FuckedUpProjectOfDoom with a vengeance now. 

Other work options are a little less clear today. 

It’ll all work out I suppose, but I’m a bit worried that I may have changed more than I think. I was never the most talkative person (unless you got me started and then I’d never shut the fuck up) and now I speak less than a few hundred words a day. 

And I’ve been living one day at a time, no thoughts of even the immediate future – I haven’t even started to plan to pack yet. 

Institutionalised. 

It’s going to be strange all round, for me and those who know me. 

 I hope that they bear with me for a while. 

The new quieter me is probably going to be a massive pain in the arse to be around back in England and I’ll need to shed some of the reserve I’ve built around myself. 

Hopefully Graspop, heavy metal music for three days, excellent company and a shitload of beer will help. 

On the plus side, I’m getting out of this fucking office, that fucking hotel and a massively boring routine  that still has these steps to take today. 

  • take a car to the hotel late evening
  • Go to the gym if there’s time
  • Go to dinner, sit alone, play on twitter, have one or two drinks
  • Go to bed, watch catchup TV, sleep badly

It’s been a very long and strange trip and it isn’t quite over. 

Phuket Pup

When I was younger, I thought I knew all the answers. Issues were in black and white and before the Internet, the only way to get information about people and places was to go to a library or have your opinion fed to you by a newspaper. 

It was genuinely a different world and my  trip to Ibiza with a mate was the first time apart from school trips to Calais that I’d ever seen anywhere outside England – yes England, I’d never been further north than Peterborough or further west than Heathrow. 

A typical working class boy from an overspill council estate in Romford in other words. All bluster, swagger and bullshit, what I didn’t know could have filled countless volumes, but I was too young and uninformed to know or care. 

I started working in IT when I was eighteen and after a year or two, was making enough money to have a couple of holidays a year in the glamour spots of Ibiza and Magaluf. 

But my fixed views of other countries really didn’t change in that time, Germans stole sunbeds, the Spanish were OK but you needed to watch your back. 

And so on. 

Over time, my views changed, sometimes overnight, sometimes imperceptibly. 

And travel helped. 

I’ve been lucky with work, it’s taken me to India (5 cities and twenty visits), France, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Norway, Malaysia and Australia. 

And exotic locations like Norwich, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bridgend. And hundreds of towns in the UK for trips of one day or less. 

I’d never been to Thailand before a few weeks ago, all of my holidays had either been in Europe, Canada, Australia or the Caribbean. 

And I wrote about how fantastic I found Bangkok as a city in a previous post. 

So; I’m still in Chennai and we had another bank-holiday weekend – only this time I would be alone. 

I did a bit of looking for places to go on the Internet and settled on Thailand again, this time I would stay in Phuket in a quietish resort called Karon Beach. 

It was a longer flight, with stopovers, but it all went fairly quickly and I arrived at my hotel around 10 hours after leaving the office in Chennai, hours before official check-in time and with a sense of resignation that I may have to wait a while. 

Except. 

I received a beaming smile from the clerk, a sheaf of money off leaflets and was immediately shown to a room that was considerably nicer than my £30 a night should have paid for. 

  
Once I’d unpacked (30 seconds), I had a quick wander down to the beach and the shops before going back to the pool for a crash and food session. At the bar. Obviously. 

  
In the background, you’ll see rooms that had entrance into the pool. An extra £20 a night was the extravagant cost, so I moved to the largest and most private of the bunch, the whole transaction was worked out in five minutes, again with big smiles. 

Another pleasant surprise came when two separate groups of tourists started chatting to me, making any lingering worries about finding company disappear. 

One older couple lived in Bangkok and had been there for 16 years, he used to work in an office opposite my Bangkok hotel….

Towards evening, I went for a wander into town for a beer or two and to get my bearings. 

It’s a beautiful place. 

   
  

     

And I had a couple of beers with a Filipino guitarist named Victor who was auditioning for a spot in a new bar that had just opened. 

And time passed very nicely. 

I didn’t bother with dinner that night, I went to a few more bars and then took a TukTuk to Patong to see what the nightlife looked like. 

And stayed for an hour. 

It was busy, but felt somehow like they’d tried to recreate Soi Cowboy, but just got it somehow wrong and off kilter. Maybe I was just tired from 40 hours of no sleep. 

But I had a couple more drinks in a place called Rock City, watched some live music and was back in Karon Beach less than two hours after leaving. 

   
        And had some more drinks. 

I went back to my room at some point or other; had a swim and slept the sleep of the innocent and very pissed. 

  
Saturday was a deliberately quiet day during the day, a long walk along the beach, a swim in ferocious riptides, lunch and a crash by the pool in the afternoon. Oh. I also adopted a dog for a few hours, he followed me everywhere and I had to take him back to the bar where I found him.. 

   
   Then it was a case of gearing up for the evening’s assault. 

Food was definitely needed and I found a great little restaurant that had a superb (if slightly ballad heavy) live band. Gin was on special offer and I sat and watched the world pass while eating excellent food, sipping gin and listening to music. 

I found that I’d been remembered in two bars in particular, one a quiet little place that only had space for 6 people to sit. The other was a huge place with a live band, bar girls, ladyboys, a flamboyantly gay barman and a mama-san who was larger than life in all ways possible.  

 

  
I finished the evening in the smaller bar, had a few beers with a German, took over their sound system via bluetooth and played music from my phone and left fairly late.. again. 

Then a surprising thing happened; it was one of the bar staff’s 40th birthday the next day and I was invited to share their meal. 

I blurrily accepted and went off to sleep as I’d decided to get up early and take a trip up into the hills. 

The next day, I negotiated an all-inclusive fare and set off for the Big Buddha. There were Elephant camps along the way, the photo below shows how far phones have come – filmed at burst at roughly 30 MPH. 

  
The Buddha itself didn’t disappoint, it was free to enter, is still a building site and was a genuinely peaceful place. 

   
      

I was moved by the practice of setting bells to wish people luck or to remember them, they looked stunning and sounded beautiful when the wind caught them.  

After that, it was a trip to the JungCeylon mall in Patong for a bit of lunch and wandering around. The clouds were gathering and cover seemed a good move. 

The monsoon hit around 4pm, the rain was cold and actually stung when it hit the skin. 

How do I know this?

It’s because I decided to walk to the beach. 

People looked at me strangely when I went out, but they all wanted to talk to me when I came back. 

On a length of beach that stretches for over two miles, there was just me and some mad Russian guy. 

We nodded at each other and walked into the roaring sea under cover of the torrential rain roughly two hundred metres apart. Lightning was flashing every ten seconds or so and I remember thinking that we were far apart enough not to be killed by the same bolt of lightning. 

The sea was like a warm bath after the rain and I let myself get battered around by the riptide until I was physically tired from the waves and my laughter. 

It was glorious; stupid, borderline suicidal and utterly fantastic.   

Then I went to the birthday meal. It was a very quiet affair with no booze and a lot of brilliantly prepared food. The red sauce by the fish is the spiciest thing that I’ve ever tasted that doesn’t have the word ‘psycho’ on the label. 

   
    

I stayed for a while until the bar picked up with some other customers and wandered up to the music bar where the mama-san gave me a bearhug and the first free drink of the night. 

I ended up in a mixed group comprising of some Russians, a couple of the girls from the bar, the outrageously camp barman and a ladyboy who stole my phone to take a series of selfies. 

Occasionally I was harassed by one of the tough, funny and streetwise kids who have to earn their living selling flowers. He was 12, had a patter like an old style barrow boy and was fond of showing how he could do magic tricks.   

   
    A six foot four Russian woman who looked like she wrestled bears for a living dragged me up to dance for a while. 

As did the ladyboy, who promptly jumped up and put their legs round my waist while dancing. I think I could be heard laughing six bars away. 

More of the same occurred, at one point the Russian lady’s boyfriend produced a small knife and ran it across his throat while I was dancing with her. I had no idea what the gesture meant and I laughed even louder. 

Eventually it was time to crash and I said my final goodbyes to the mama-san, who insisted on one last drink – and I received the biggest surprise of the night. 

A gift. 

Two of the girls had bought me two tiny souvenir picture frames as a souvenir. They probably cost next to nothing, but I was a bit choked up to receive them. I don’t really know why they did it, but I am very grateful. 

 

The next day I did a final beach walk, checked out, had lunch on the beach in a very strangely named place and took the taxi back to the airport. 

   
When I was younger, I had very fixed views on the world. 

It’s hard to remember what they were now to be honest, but I would probably have frowned on dancing with ladyboys. 

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to find out otherwise .

Phuket was astonishing,  the friendliness and openness of everybody I met turned me from a fairly insular ‘not sure what to expect tourist’ into a participant. 
They’ll never see this, but I thank them all. 

Tales of the Thunderdog  – The Shield Maiden

Come on – I know you’re in there. TIme to tune into ME again and forget about all those funny smelling demigods you’ve been cosying up to. 

Come ON. 

That’s it – there you are. 

Where have you BEEN? 

And what’s that smell? I’m not sure I can stay here for too  long, it’s too complicated out there and far too many cows and dead things and some really, really, smelly humans.

 But there are things you need to know; the world is changing, a tiny piece at a time, and things that should have gone for ever are starting to come back. 

I can hear WULF some nights even when the moon isn’t full and I don’t know  if he’s close or if it’s just a touch of the old night terrors. 

You know the sort of thing, you’re being chased through a forest, the moon is silver through the trees. There’s a ground mist that dampens your own footsteps and somehow magnifiies the sounds behind you. 

You try to pick up speed and you can hear the sound of  breathing just behind your ear. 

And teeth snapping together. 

Then you wake up, all four paws scrabbling. 

Yes OK. 

Two. 

You’re going to have a part in all this, I just don’t know if you’re a narrator, a hero or somebody that gets killed really quickly. Sorry.

Odin knows of course, but he’s got a habit of telling you everything, including things you don’t ever want to know.

Plus he thinks the whole thing end in death for us all anyway.

Here’s the thing, for you to play a part, you’re going to have to learn some things – and quickly.

I don’t know why the Norse lot are so tied up in this, but that’s the way it is, so we need to talk about Valhalla, dying in battle and the skjald-borg – the Shield Wall. 

The wall was everything to the old Vikings – it was how they dominated larger forces, that and being lunatic bastards that thought dying in battle as a brave warrior would get them to Valhalla. 

Where they’d fight again. 

Anyway, they were right about that, so who can blame them really. 

Still they were hard work to be around sometimes. 

There’s always been a Thunderdog, ever since the first dawnings of the Aesir, I took different forms, sometimes a huge fierce beast, sometimes like this. 

I like this version of me, if you look really closely at the shadows behind, you can see what I could be, but to be honest I get less bacon when I look like that and dancing dogs make everybody smile. 

And it’s best to be what you want to be. 

Take the tale of the first Shield Maiden. 

A girl was born to a gentle family, the father was a ship-builder and her mother was a local healer. 

She was not the first born and her elder brother was already training with the sword when she was born, for even gentle families must learn to defend the village. 

Unusually for the area, the girl had green eyes and so she was named Álfr or Elf and everybody was sure that she would grow to be a good wife, mother and provider. 

Maybe she was part-elf, from the time that she could focus her bright green eyes, she was drawn to the gleaming axe and sword that hung on the wall. 

When she was five, she had a dream that showed her village covered in a mist that came in from the sea and the mist was blood-red. 

In the dream, she wandered through the mist and saw people, dogs and horses all lying still, staring at the sky, with the mist dripping from their bodies in bright red streams. 

Her parents found her in the morning sitting by the door with her father’s sword clutched defiantly in her hands while her emerald eyes stared at the sea beyond. 

From that point, she refused to be unarmed at any time and would steal knives from her mother, even the fiercest beatings meant nothing to her. 

Her father, being a wise and good man knew that he wouldn’t be able to change the mind of his strange and determined daughter and had the blacksmith make her a quarter length sword, a thing of rare beauty as the smith was amused with the fierce little girl and admired her warrior spirit. 

Secretly, her father hoped that the sword would help her to grow out of the idea that she would be a warrior, but she practiced her cuts and slashes, parries and blocks on the beach every day. 

And every night, she watched the sea before she slept, sword cradled in her arms. 

Time passed and  Álfr’s brother was given his test of manhood and allowed to join the Shield-Wall, he elected to be apprenticed to the blacksmith though, he was big and strong but didn’t have the heart for raiding or battle. 

When she was twelve, her brother made her a three-quarter length sword, emblazoned with runes and a splash of green at the pommel to match her eyes. 

Which brightened to such a degree, matching her smile , that her brother, big and gruff as her was, let a solitary tear fall to see his sister so happy. 

For she seldom smiled, her dream still haunted her and she could see that people were starting to resemble those in the mist – and one was her brother. 

At the age of sixteen, she rejected the man that her parents wanted her to marry, even though he was tall and pretty and smiled at her when other boys and men seemed nervous.  The village of her dreams was now so similar to reality that she sometimes had walking dreams where the mist covered people. 

There. 

And There, 

And There. 

Sometimes she cried, for all her pleas to join the warriors in the shield-wall had been rejected with laughter and taunting from the King and his men . 

And she withdrew. 

She practiced with the sword and shield every day, dancing and piroutting with the blade, which flashed slver and gold in the sunlight.

She spoke less and less, caught up in the horrors in her mind and terrified for her friends and family. 

One day she found a small dog on the beach. 

Or it found her. 

At first she thought it was  a puppy, it was smaller than the local hunting dogs, but as it ambled towards her, she saw the age and wisdom in the dog’s eyes as it stared at her. 

Confused, she stopped her practicing, at which point the dog danced on its hind legs, moving around her excitedly, grinning as it danced. 

Backing off five paces, she danced with the dog, her blade quicksilver-bright in the sun, a smile at her lips and fire in her eyes. 

In the evening, the dog followed her back home and she slept for the first time in many years without a blade in her hand, the small dog’s breathing and heartbeat lulling her to sleep. 

The next day, she and the dog were back on the beach, dancing,  moving and making a game of the whole chore of practice 

Months passed and the girl and dog became something for the villagers to watch in amused amazement,from a  discreet distance  – as the dog seemed to know exactly where people were and wasn’t averse to sneaking up on them and pissing on them while they lay in hiding. 

And the girl slept peacefully, somehow knowing that it wasn’t time for the mist just yet; feeling the dog’s warmth through her thin blanket, giving her a strange sense of tranquility. 

Then one night, when the moon was just a fingernail sliver in the sky, a silver mist floated in from the sea and the girl was woken by a gentle nip from the dog who angled his head towards the sea and she could hear. 

Muffled oars and timbers creaking, moving towards the village inlet. 

Quietly, she picked up her sword and she and the dog slipped into the night to follow the sounds coming from the sea. 

And was close when the first sounds of the war-horn from the ship sounded and the berserker horde landed at the docks. 

Fire-arrows flew and flames grew from half a dozen houses by the dock. 

The first villagers to respond died, cut down in their sleepy confusion by men who had lain off the shore for days, just waiting for the chance to attack. 

Whistles and gongs sounded, calling the able men of the village to battle and Álfr was terrified to see her brother among those arming to go into the shield wall. 

The sound of the invaders’ swords and axes as they hacked at the terrified villagers was awful, hisses and thuds, cracks and screams and Álfr could see their leader, a huge man, invulnerable to the attacks he faced, hacking down men at will. 

And the shield walls met with a crash and the clang of steel against wood and bronze. 

The villagers were losing, being pushed back inch by inch, their faltering steps heralding their imminent death. 

Álfr looked at the sky and saw two ravens circling, she looked at the dog who now had a very quizzical look on his face and she SCREAMED. 

She screamed hatred and defiance, love and fear and a knowledge that the scream was important. 
And she screamed. 

Until she caught the eye of the enemy king, who grinned at the apparition before him, a small girl with a small dog and the eyes of an outlander. 

Adjusting his armour, he walked slowly over to the girl, the ravens circled overhead and the dog looked at him without fear. 

Undecided whether he should kill her or take her for his own, the king swung his great sword with the flat towards the girl’s head, if she lived, he’d take her. 

He grinned as his sword hissed through the air, bracing his arm for an impact that. 

Didn’t come. 

Álfr had danced underneath the blow, spinning inwards towards the king and her sword sliced through the tendons of his wrist. 

He wasn’t grinning as his sword fell to the floor from nerveless fingers  and the girl sliced at his unprotected thigh, opening it from knee to pelvis. 

She danced away as he swung his great axe with his other hand, bellowing a challenge, struggling to stay upright on his torn leg. 

The axe missed her by inches and she rolled forward, taking the hamstring on his other leg. 

The huge king toppled forward, still swinging his axe wildly as he hit the ground, blood spilling from his legs and wrist. 

Álfr SCREAMED again and the battle stilled, all eyes on the small girl and the fallen king. 

Who smiled and walked away from the still living but crippled warrior and walked towards the battle. 

Two ravens flew at her shoulder and the dog danced on its hind legs as they walked, grinning at the invaders. 

Who broke and ran. 

Álfr walked to her brother, kissed him gently on the cheek and continued walking, the ravens at her shoulder and the dog at her heels. 

And they vanished into the mist. 

What do you mean ‘then what’ ? 

Find out for yourself. 

That was the point. Your part in this is still unclear. 

And WULF is coming, believe me. 

That smell is getting to me now, I’m off for bacon and maybe a sausage if I can look sweet enough.. 

March of the Cyber-Lemmings

The weather has changed a lot this week, from incessantly blue skies and sunlight so hot that it actually feels like an oppressive physical weight; we’ve gone to black skies, torrential rain and Thunderstorms.

I like the storms, I’ll happily stand in the rain and dare the lightning to do its worst. Given that I did that on a hotel roof this morning – while standing in a swimming pool may say a little too much about either a sense of invulnerability or a death wish.

Your guess is as good as mine on that – I’m leaning towards the former though.

I had a dream last night, more of a nightmare really.

I dreamt that I was working thousands of miles from home on a job that I’m massively overqualified for and that is ultimately pointless.

I woke up disoriented and scared, had a little cry and then went back to sleep.

Yesterday was a strange day, a mix of tedium and annoyance in equal measures, with an amazingly bizarre incident happening in the hotel gym after 9pm.

I’m glad to say that I’ve been working out a lot lately and that I can fairly easily do pull-ups and a complicated form of press-up without looking too stupid.

Because as I was working out alone in an empty gym, a group of locals at a conference came in and started watching me.

Being the shy person I am, I just notched up the music and tried to make it all look just a little easier.

Then a couple of them tried lifting the same weights or using the same equipment as I moved through a circuit – annoying and still amusing as the pin was quietly moved to a lower weight when they thought I couldn’t see.

One of them actually took a selfie with a pathetically low weight while still wearing his work shirt, grinning at the camera as if he’d deadlifted a car..I was stifling giggles for ages.

A fairly boring dinner followed and I fell asleep to the sound of distant thunder.

And in my second dream.

I was back in the little parallel universe that I created a few months ago; but it was different.

It was weirder, slightly broken, the sky seemed fractured and the stars hurt to look at them.

The keyboard still stretches on for ever, but strange shapes flit at the corner of your vision, moving as if they’re trying to hide from view.

I heard a familiar booming laugh and a blinding light flashed in synch with the laughter.

No – not him.. not this time.

It was the dog, he’s been trying on his new godhood and I think he rather likes it.

Over a thousand people follow him now, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but how many people do you know that really  believe in Jesus.

I have to say, it suits him, he looks Magnificent  – he’s the same size as he always was, but he glows. His eyes are painful to look at and he has a weird sort of presence, it’s almost like he’s the centre of a dog-shaped black hole that is much bigger than the physical space it occupies.

We had a quick catch-up, he’s been busy it seems, mostly pissing on temples of other gods and leaving a bit of a metaphysical piddle problem for the priests to deal with.

He told me a story from his Valhalla days about a green-eyed shield maiden and the nature of leadership and I’ve promised to add it to his story at the weekend.

Then he showed me what he was laughing at.

I’d created a world, but I didn’t put any rules and restrictions around it, so although the gerbil couldn’t get out of performing and failing the task; he could do something about the spider monkey and the constant smacking around the head that he received.

Being a sneaky little fucker, he knew that he couldn’t appeal to Shiva or the dog, both of whom have a nasty sense of humour, but he could go to somebody who might just help him out for fun and to get back for a few missed nights because of booze and fucking shit up .

Parvati – or Meenakshi – Shiva’s wife.

She managed to get in through a crack in the fabric, creating a hole that moves and swirls, never in one place long enough to get a view of what’s on the other side.

And so the gerbil’s prayers were answered  – after a fashion

He wanted support and reinforcements in numbers, he didn’t want to be a gerbil anymore and he wanted to get that fucking spider monkey and give him a daily thrashing.

You need to be careful with the gods.

The dog danced and grinned as he told me the story, lightning flashing from his eyes, illuminating the keyboard and a very pissed off spider monkey who was strapped to the spacebar.

And being slapped around the head by an almost endless succession of lemmings.

The gerbil was still recognisable somehow, he just looked different to the other lemmings, a little more cynical and bowed under by the weight of the thing that he’d done.

lemming

Oh  – he was the only lemming who jumped the queue to give another slap to the monkey.

But the basic rules of the universe hadn’t changed, he still needs to complete the task in front of him to move on and to get back to his life.

And there’s a million gerbils all jumping over the keyboard at random intervals.

He’s fucked –  and my universe is now more chaotic and ridiculous than it ever was.

I confess that I laughed at this, a multitude of gerbils all doing the same thing because the one in front did- too close to the problem to see that they are the problem.

Doomed to trudge on the keyboard for ever.

Still, they could whack the spider monkey about; so that’s progress of a sort I suppose.

I watched for a while, lost in the spectacle of stupidity before me – and then…..

I heard the booming laugh again and saw the twin flashes of light.

The dog grinned at me one last time before buggering off to annoy some Buddhists.

I woke up with a start as lightning flashed outside the hotel.

I could swear that I saw huge glowing eyes and a big grin etched across the sky.

Who knows?

Quarantined Dog

It’s been a bit of a flat week back in Chennai, the FuckedUpProjectofDoom trundles on, but has now slowed to a pace that is actually painful. 

Never mind.. Move On. 

The weekend arrived with a bit of a whimper, I thought about going out on Friday but was so tired and bored that a desultory dinner and two beers was enough to send me to bed with my tail between my legs. 

Saturday started with a long gym session and a plan to get in a car around 3pm to go to some temples in a place called Kanchipuram -including one dedicated to my old mate Shiva. 

Before that was pool and relaxation time and a spot of lunch. 

It fell apart slightly with the introduction of a large wedding party and the attendant bullshit that follows a wedding in any country. 

The normally quiet pool area became a gathering for a group of early 20s males doing the age old territorial dance, I’d already bounced two of them into some lift doors as they tried to force in past me as I left; and to be honest I wasn’t the happiest Thunderdog. 

 Going on the basis that if they wanted to talk to me, they’d find me, I put my headphones on and crashed on a sunbed. 

Only to hear music from the outside through headphones that are pretty much noise cancelling. They’d set up a five piece speaker system. 

I looked up to see another of the Europeans telling them to turn it down and wandered over to make sure that the little crowd that was forming didn’t do anything silly. 

My sunny personality and air of inner calm won the day and the speakers were packed away and my new friends were all smiles as I wandered back to my sunbed. 

Lunch was a pizza and a bottle of water, which for reasons that still escape me took 80 minutes to serve up, by which time I was told that it was too late for the temples. 

Plan B was the Phoenix Mall  – a popular local tourist spot by all accounts and I set off with the hope of seeing something interesting.

I didn’t of course. 

It was a mall, what was I expecting?

To be fair, the power went off three times, giving it that Zombies  – Dawn of the Dead feel and the Vengaboys were playing at 7pm – which meant I HAD to be in the car before 6.30pm. 

Other interesting facts. 

Not one restaurant had an alcohol licence, including the Hard Rock Cafe. 

For Fucks Sake. 

You wouldn’t go there for food would you?

So it was back to the hotel, a bit of food, a couple of beers and fall asleep watching catch up TV. Last night’s fare was The Following – I only watch it now to see Kevin Bacon either get killed or go full serial killer. 

This morning I had a fairly good sports massage, an hour by the pool and then was ready to hit the road to Kanchipuram. 

The wedding party was still around and a number of  them still haven’t worked out how lifts work. 

My room, along with the pool and spa is on the top floor and the lift arrived with a large number of guests who hadn’t pressed the ‘0’ button. 

I’m obviously popular with them because a guy at the front of the lift moved to the middle and bellowed ‘FULL!’ as I walked forward. 

As gently as possible, I moved him back to the side and said ‘apparently not’  – it didn’t help his ego to hear the giggles from the women in the lift. 

And so to the car. 

It’s around a 90 minute drive and the driver was waxing lyrical about the wondrous saris and silks available. After a brief conversation that consisted of me saying:


No Silk’ 

‘No Saris’

‘No workshops’

“No shopping’

Our relationship was a lot clearer and we arrived at the town in good time. 

There are three big temples in Kanchipuram and they’re all very impressive. 

   
   

The quality of the stonework is incredible, amazingly detailed and it tells a story as you move around inside the temples. 

I was quite stoked as 3.30 came round, that would be when the first temple opened the door and let people in. My 5 Rupees for allowing me to use a camera had also given me a fairly annoying guide who kept trying to move me on  – while I was looking for Shiva. 

   
  Then he dropped a snippet of information – as a foreigner I wasn’t allowed inside the sanctum. 

I was quite shocked and asked him to show me where it said it, apparently it’s in Hindi.. 

He seemed to think I’d still follow him after that news and was quite shocked with the ‘fuck off’ that I gave him in lieu of a tip or payment. 

And we moved  on to temple number two, it didn’t open til 4pm and we were too early, but it was an amazing looking place  
    And it was genuinely peaceful, people were lying on the grass outside just enjoying the day and waiting to go and pray. No sign of Shiva though, just a few statues and carvings and we moved on. 

The third temple was the biggest of the three and I managed to avoid paying for a camera ticket by asking the ticket seller where it was written that I had to pay for entrance for me. He tried to do the guide thing, but I asked him to leave, which he very graciously did, 
My driver was starting to look nervous by now and I had to point out that I’m not really a tourist, just doing tourist stuff – hence no silks, shops or interminable time spent looking at craftsmen.

   
    The doors opened to the temple itself and I joined the queue, genuinely excited to get to see a temple to a god that I keep weaving into my writing and to see what happened next. 

Which was THIS

  My driver wanted me to walk towards the left side of the temple and to follow him, I decided that I didn’t fancy listening to anybody any more and walked slowly around the outside. 

In his (very) broken English, the driver explained that the temple was dedicated to Shiva  – I showed him a picture on my phone and he seemed a touch surprised that I even knew what he was talking about. 

We drifted through the temple at my pace and I took photos of things that seemed interesting while he followed with a confused look on his face. 

And eventually we came across a priest, he was opening up a small shrine with a huge bunch of keys – I’ve never seen so many locks. 

The priest waved me over and I waited patiently until the last lock was opened and the huge doors were pushed inwards. 

To a small shrine to Shiva with the god surrounded by mirrors on six walls. I slipped a note into the colection box out of sight of the driver, who was looking at me like he’d never seen me before. 

The priest asked my name and gave me a blessing and a garland of flowers, the driver also received a blessing with a slightly dumbfounded look on his face and told me that we were very lucky. 

I smiled. 

We walked back to the car, seeing these guys before we exited the temple. 

   
It’s been another strange day here. I started writing this in my head after being banned from the first temple. I was vaguely angry, feeling ripped off and disappointed. 

And yet. 

And yet… 

I knew something would happen – just not what. 

The driver sneaked glances at me on the way back, I think I confused him today but that’s a good thing. We should never assume anything. 

Nothing is fixed, anything can happen. 

And Shiva will continue to dance with me for a while yet I think .