Category Archives: Uncle Someone

Columns originally published in Sidewalk Surfer between 1998-2002

Uncle Someone: The Guide to Rough Paris

Eleven years ago this week, January 1999, we went to Paris and got in a gunfight.

The story was rejected by Sidewalk. Probably because I compared the Gliss’Expo trade show to an arms fair and that our photos really were rubbish. We pooled together our snaps of the event and sent them to the magazine by post, and they were never seen again.

But as you don’t get to read many eyewitness accounts of gunfights in skateboard magazines, here’s one:

[DDET The Guide to Rough Paris]

Sober Introduction

The Parisian Glissexpo Festival is a like an extreme sports arms fair. Contracts worth millions of pounds, dollars, francs and marks are signed, much of it wholly reliant on cheap labour from the Far East. The results of this two way relationship are that young Westerners spend their disposable income on disposable products several times a season, and the ancient cultures of the Far East are compromised for the sake of a quick buck.

The festival comprises a skateboarding contest as well as the trade show, which is why these words are even here. However, the contest is an overtly commercial affair – even by US standards – so we decided to cover it using the cheapest cameras and most inept team of skateboard journalists ever comprised. We hope you, and all the sponsors involved, agree that we have captured the heart and soul of Glissexpo.

Just a swift half then

$22000 in prize money was up for grabs. A hefty amount, especially for European standards. This was bound to draw some of the world’s biggest pros across an icy cold Atlantic. Combine that with the Disneyland location, and a Eurostar special offer; in no time a crack team was assembled, eager to exchange a grim English January for a grim French one. Wig, Ben and Andy were all off globetrotting so it was down to us, the B-Team, the Sidewalk Reserves, the Alcoholic Boy Scouts, to save the day. For the record, the team was Gustav, Charlie, James, Pete, Milo, Pelle, Jon, Dan, his girlfriend and myself.

I guess it’s my round

Journalism is all about organisation, teamwork, professionalism, dedication and ability – qualities none of us possessed to any degree. After a few beers on the train it became clear that skating took far higher priority than some crappy French contest, and if it was going to rain then we had Disneyland to destroy. As it turns out, La God, or whatever He’s called over there, blessed us with some of the sunniest January days we’d seen in ages, so we spent our first afternoon skating the streets of Paris. By the way, if you think you can hippy jump a chain when you’ve just stepped off Eurostar, think again; horror comedy slams went down within minutes.

We ended up at the legendary Palais de Tokyo, the Parisian street skaters hook up spot.

If you took all of the skate-chillers from around the world and bred them until they each had 5 chill-dren, they would all chill at Palais de Tokyo. It’s a chilling circus. Slamming is heavily frowned upon, as are creative lines and doing any tricks invented before 1998. Even if you can’t make your nollie flip switch crooks, as long as you fail avec le style you will get le props from le chillers. Simple. We decided to take our eccentric English style of skating around the corner before we got le beaten up for being le fags. Gustav did cause the odd Gallic smirk of approval – with his Nordic pop – using it to ollie, nollie, switch ollie, switch 180 and then kickflip down the hefty double set.

Lets start with some shots

The travelling and skating had worn us out already, and it was still only the first day, so we decided to check out some watering holes near the apartment in Le Motte Picquet-Grenelle. Parisian bars are funny old places, firstly you’ve got the international risk that you simply might just walk in to the wrong place. Couple that with it being the right place on the wrong night, multiply it with prices that vary from extortionate to frightening (with no indication outside) and then put all those facts on the barbecue with your wallet and watch them burn.

Needless to say we actually went out and home four times that night. Each disastrous return to the apartment was swiftly followed by drunken remorse that we shouldn’t be quitting so early. As the numbers dwindled down to a desperate few, we eventually ended up in the seedy part of town, where the rest of the weekend’s skating money paid for drink, taxis and unconsciousness.

Do they take credit cards?

The next day was the sunniest Saturday I’ve seen since childhood – enough even to banish the most putrid of hangovers. We had to take the RER train to Disneyland for the contest; imagine if Network South East ran through the Bronx using lifesize BRIO trains.

The RER has a locally famous reputation for crime, but our lack of knowledge and research told us to skip happily on to the brightly coloured fun train. Much later on we would regret that choice. Endless high-rises dominated the horizon, daubed in political and artistic graffiti. Skate spots, viewed from the safety of the train, invite the unsuspecting visitor into the craziest neighbourhoods. We were lucky that we had a contest to go to.

And nine people to somehow get into the contest for free.

Easy.

As we rolled up, it didn’t look good. The entire population of French 14 – 18 year old males were milling around, trying to smoke their way into the contest quoting gangster rap and using hip hop gestures to get past the guards. It wasn’t working.

We eventually found the Press Centre and scammed our way in after a bit of trouble, a few medium-coloured lies, some press passes slipped through the fence and the usual “Moi? Non” innocence.

I’m a French Rude Boy

A lot of money had been wasted attempting to make the street course look like a real street. The ground had been painted with road markings, traffic lights hung from the ceilings and roadsigns stood all over the place. The ramps had brick textures on the side and there were neon logos everywhere. Xtreme had come to Europe, so we’d better do our most radical manoeuvres before we got roadrash. I got all carried away, it was like a set for a terrible movie, but we were on this terrible movie’s set so it didn’t matter.

There was a proper session on, and no spectators yet. All the skaters looked vaguely familiar, yet it took us a few minutes before we began to recognise names.

Oh look Geoff Rowley. That’s Brian Anderson isn’t it. Check out Ronnie Creager. We hadn’t seen any professional skateboarders since last summer; they all had new haircuts and different clothing sponsors now. Some were fatter, some were thinner. This journalism thing was really coming together. The stars on the course began to shine – Tom Penny, Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, Rick Howard, Willy Santos, Rick McCrank, Ed Templeton, Ellisa Steamer, Mike Vallely, Jeremy Wray, Enrique Lorenzo, Chet Thomas, Jaya Bonderov – that’s just the first batch that rolled off my tongue. Manzoori, Woody and H were representing Blighty with Rowley and Penny, and countless other pros and ams jostled their way around.

That $22000 dollars was going to take some winning.

Hawk, Burnquist and Crum hopped around on the giant vert ramp, but in the interests of journalistic completeness we didn’t watch once because the street was too interesting. Here is 8 hours worth of observation diluted into a few measly sentences:

Eric Koston 360 flip nose manual and flip late shove-its, Mike Vallely nosepick vert corner and dives into roadsigns, Ed Templeton frontside feeble up rail, Gianni Zattoni cab over funbox, Andrew Reynolds frontside flip over funbox whilst having a picnic and playing chess, Willy Santos 16ft nosegrind, Tom Penny dazed and confused backside ollie wheel clips, Woody huge ollie late shove-its, H sketchy astronaut backside ollies, Chris Senn total destruction, Tim Brauch similar destruction, Ronnie Creager technical fatness, Chet Thomas hardflip crooks, Flips young new rider Bastien Salabanzi consistent backside flips and nollie heelflip bigspins etc.

Even Goofy – yes, Disney’s Goofy – showed up complete with security guards and had a quick regular footed skate around the course. Dan Joyce gets himself about these days.

The standard of skating was good to say the least; my memory and writing skills are no match for being there, or at least seeing a good set of photos. As you can see, my writing will have to do until you’ve seen Viewfinder No2.

Le Grand Shoot-out

Our skate shoes were beginning to wear out just from shifting from foot to foot, so we called it a day at around 6pm. Who qualified for the next days finals? No idea.

After a swift half at one of Mickey Mouse’s pubs on Main Street USA, and an unnecessarily firm ejection from McDonalds we headed back to the RER for the return journey to Paris.

Whilst waiting for the train to move off, James dashed across the platform to relieve himself. The driver, obviously looking back down the train, chose that as the perfect moment to close the doors. Much to the amusement of everyone on our carriage, James stood stranded on the platform, banging hopelessly on the door. The driver sadly wasn’t feeling that vindictive, and let him back in. It was calm on the train, comfortable seats and a warm atmosphere. We chatted about the day’s highlights as the RER trundled through the suburbs.

Then, all of a sudden, things went very lopsided.

Very quickly.

The train had stopped at one of the stations near Disneyland. The doors were open and it was pitch black outside on the empty platform. A loud bang rang out from the next carriage.

A very loud bang.

A very next carriage.

When I hear a loud bang I think of all sorts of things, but rarely a gunshot – it’s just not in my experience to hear gunshots. I thought perhaps it was the train engine backfiring, somehow. Please let it be the train engine backfiring, somehow. A second later another bang, louder.

Everyone knew it was gunshots.

Major panic set in. At this point I was high on adrenaline so coverage of events may differ from reality.

I remember the following: babies being thrown under seats by screaming parents, contorted children leaping randomly, more gunshots, skateboards and skateboarders flying across the train in all directions, Charlie shouting to get down, getting down, getting up, getting down, commotion on the platform, seriously rude boys smashing into our carriage, some mace action, maybe more gunshots, a doubling of panic levels, running from the train with hordes of frightened tourists, taking refuge at the end of the train, the driver announcing in French panic that he didn’t know what to do as his security phone was broken, another doubling of panic levels, more scrambling between carriages to follow rumour and avoid guns and mace. Fifteen minutes of nervous waiting, gradual calming down, police turning up, train moving off.

But that’s just my view.

Many hours later, when we’d mostly recovered, it turns out that some thought there had been seven shots. Seven?! I remain convinced there were only two shots, but we still differ, some saying seven, others five and Charlie and I two. I learned exactly why these things are hard to remember.

Le Grande Arche

Well you can guess what we talked about that night, all night. We went out to celebrate our lack of gunshot wounds or death and had drunk our last centime by 4am.

Trying to skate the next day, the alcohol combined with delayed shock and worn out spectator muscles. We cruised around La Defense, the financial district. Spots were plenty, but our lack of knowledge meant a half hour trek between each. Gustav nearly got his camera nicked after being accused of filming the wrong man. We’d really had enough by this time. We needed English soil.

Le Grande Arche is a huge skyscraper with a big hole in it, so we took the glass lift to the top to sort ourselves out. Watching the sun set over Paris on the last day of January 1999 was a memorable experience. It was cold and we were tired, but our hearts were warmed.

We didn’t know who had won the $22000 at the contest and we didn’t care. The experiences of the weekend were set in stone now, unchangeable events, already turning into a story for our grandchildren.

Do it. Go to Paris, but don’t use the RER. Travel anywhere with your friends, scam your way around Europe, the world even.

This is 1999, the perfect occasion. I’m still sure there were two shots. I need a drink.

[/DDET]

Uncle Someone: Krooked Krillas

Originally published in Sidewalk about 1999. This was a popular story that generated a lot of responses.

[DDET Krooked Krillas, or The Development of the Ollie ]

Part 1

Standing at the far end of the narrow path stood Spectrum (real name Steven Trumble). He gripped his brand new board by the nose and tapped the tail nervously on the concrete slabs. Ahead of him lay a thirty or forty metre run-up, and then a massive set of twenty stairs. It would be the ollie of his life, sure to get him that sponsorship he so deserved.

At the bottom of the stairs crouched his best mate Re-Cycla (real name Richard Chiswick) holding a Hi-8 camera, and the rest of his skate posse, the Krooked Krillas.

Spectrum looked down at his board. The trucks gleamed from the light of the street lamps, and the wheel graphics were still in top condition. A couple of Krooked Krillas stickers were strategically placed on the deck, surrounding his latest tag which adorned the central area. A dope-ass masterpiece, it brought pride and adrenaline to his veins. After landing this ollie, he thought, I’m gonna spray that tag on every one of those twenty steps, like a street dog leaving a mark for the bitches.

He checked to ensure that his laces were undone. Check. Thinking that one trouser leg rolled up to the knee was now a bit too cliched, he adjusted one leg so that it was only a couple of turn ups more than the other. His secret hope being that the material might fly up his shin a good few inches more during the ollie, perhaps ‘accidentally’ reaching up to his knee.

Almost ready to start the run-up, he silently mouthed some lyrics from his favourite rap album.

Just becuz yo ready don’t mean I’m feelin’ randy,

Wait ten minutes bitches, I got reason to be dandy,

My five bucks don’t stretch to what yo offer for a man dear,

I think it’s time I rent a movie-that way I use my hand here!

Spectrum waited for the moment when the bass line would have kicked back in, and then he moved off. The tiles on the path were crooked, and made it difficult to gain speed. On the wall to the left he passed tags and graff from rival gangs.  He noticed some of the better work, but quickly regained concentration as the steps began to loom. His slightly rolled up trouser leg felt heavy, banging against his shin, aggravating an old scab.

He could see the heads of his posse at the bottom of the steps now. As they peered up, he put on his dopest grimace, and began his pre-ollie affectations. His lips pursed and then pouted in a gangsta fashion, his arms adopted an unnatural swing with each push. Wrists and fingers contorted, halfway into the gang signs he so often used without even noticing. His confidence grew as he remembered who was the baddest skater, the wickedest tagger at the local bus station. It was himself, Spectrum, and now he was gonna be the first sponsored skater in their stupid little hick town. Just twenty steps lay between him and skate stardom. He would then save up and fly out to LA, sure to get noticed in no time at all.

He crouched, ready to spring at the edge of the rapidly approaching first step. He saw Re-Cycla with the camera, and he saw the glory in front of him, and with all the effort left in his body, he ollied as far as he could. Every muscle in his body was being used. Every vein pulsed the maximum amount of blood. His eyes focused through the sweat down to the landing spot at the bottom of the steps. It looked a long, long way away.

Part 2

Steven Trumble stood at the top of the steps, and had a good look down all twenty of them, before turning around and skating off down the path which would be his run up. His board and shoes were pretty worn out, but he liked the look of them.  They had been worn out from skating, so he didn’t perceive it to be a negative process, just a natural one. He thought to himself, why do some skaters moan about the condition of their decks? Steven knew he was poor and unsponsored, and so by accepting his situation so readily, he could find nothing in it to complain about.

He carved down the path to the starting point, about twenty metres away from the steps. All of his skating friends had gone home a while ago, and whilst he had enjoyed their session together, he felt truly at peace when skating alone at night. No one to judge, no opinions to clash, no distracting rivalry, or disagreements about where to skate next. Steven had been thinking about ollieing these steps for a little while, but he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. It would have seemed like he was after some kind of attention, which was the opposite of the truth. He simply thought of ollieing the steps because he knew he could. He didn’t strive to ollie them, nor desire it particularly. He had allowed nature to have it’s way, and nature had chosen this evening to be the right time.

Reaching the twenty metre point, he stopped and picked up his board. An outsider would observe that he handled it with remarkable, even obsessive care. But Steven was simply cherishing the skateboard that would take him on his journey down the steps. He respected the board, and offered it deep devotion, knowing that repayment would be automatic, and in full.

He began his run-up slowly, taking the best route amongst the cracked paving slabs without being aware of it. Free of all emotions, he had entered a state of contemplation. He didn’t see the gigantic ollie ahead of him, but instead viewed the entire process from run-up to ollie and then landing as one flowing movement,  more like the growth of a tree, or the transformation from rain to sleet to snow.

Later on, he would have little memory of these moments, because they were more than physical in nature. He truly existed as he skated down the path, and he always would exist in that way. How can you remember that which always takes place?

He had plenty of speed now, and prepared his body for the ollie by crouching slightly. This was the most tranquil moment. The edge of the steps were not a sharp edge, they were more like a slight change in the plane of his path. He ollied into a distinct space above the steps, his route to the bottom was clearly defined and easy to follow. His body remained relaxed, the combination of correct speed and technique not requiring any huge effort or strength.

It was certainly not rational to ollie down such a large set of steps, but it was undeniably natural. With a mind that remained clear of all thoughts of failure or injury, of college or work,  he barely even noticed the landing, intent instead on the process as a whole. Simply aware that he was nearing the end of it now. His speed took him far down the landing path and out onto the empty street. Steering towards home, he enjoyed the dying ebbs of momentum before finally pushing once or twice more, looking forward to some food and rest. The only sound came from his wheels, but he was blissfully unaware. He briefly noticed some graffiti that had been sprayed on a wall by the street, and smiled for the first time since the ollie, knowing that he had entered another world now.

The previous world of the graffiti and the other skaters and his parents seemed ever so comical, ever so distant.

Uncle Someone

[/DDET]

Uncle Someone: Granny Bottlechurch

Click to read a marvellous letter originally published in Freeride magazine about 2000.

[DDET Uncle Someone: Granny Bottlechurch]
Dear Granny Bottlechurch,

You asked me to write to you about our new neighbour in the village, well here is the story, verbatim, and recorded from their strange bearded gardener called ‘Dagger’.

“Runs upon the Tyne, oblong ties to go, Big Spence used to keep fit with curry paste smeared under his toenails due to the likely emergence of a tiny Indian parasite known as Eschebone Sandispatticus. As the little bug took hold of his feet, the incessant and agonizing itching could only be relieved through lengthy jogs near water, champion tennis and hockey activities. The big man soon tired of this activity and, after endless meetings with homeotherapists, aromatherapists, reflexologists, osteopaths and many other purveyors of bodily cures, Spence took his pocket money down to Rollermania in Bristol and bought himself a skateboard.

The year was 1989, and the Cotswold Fertiliser Wars were coming to an end. A treaty signed by Hinton and Gales of Southrop and The Victoria Inn of Eastleach ensured a time of permanent peace would return to these battle-scarred hills. Spence maximised his opportunities and quickly learnt the joint trades of street and ramp skating. A visiting fighter pilot at RAF Fairford was overheard saying, “Man, that guy was born to skate ramp!” after witnessing the ex-tennis stars transition skills. And what a true statement it was – defying both the physical laws of gravity and the metaphysical laws of gradual self improvement, Spence staled his fish high above his peers and rivals alike.

SS20 opened its shop in Oxford, and the inhabitants of the Leach Valley Players quickly adopted this retail outlet as an extension of Fairford youth club. Riders with names like Moul and Scamp were befriended and informed of the burgeoning scene within the Coriniums’ catchment area. Evil Kinevel ramps were constructed under the eyes of a thousand owls so that Stretch Limo might practice his stunt work with protection from the elements. School suffered, as it should, only to be enlightened by a short story concocted by some pupils regarding the midnight antics of members of staff.

The next decade saw ramps and decks broken with frequency, Bradford visited for the purposes of culinary and social education, new friends arriving by the quarter, and improvements in every field the handsome young man set his wellies in.

A Penny dropped in on Oxford’s new mini ramp complex and set about a global domination and withdrawal act in 36 months flat. The reverberations would be felt for many years, not least by the Penny’s many associates along the lengthy Thames Valley.

Stretch continued to skill himself up even more, and added a dash of balletic fluency to his trademark sketchiness of previous years. The big man’s media appearances started to flourish, so almost in response, he began a yearly crusade down under to cherish the Southern Hemisphere’s rays, and blemish the South of England’s days with his absence.

Today of course, the old bugger spends his time with a pantry stocked thick with fine wines and meats, a miniramp complex in the grounds of his castle, a motorised satellite dish the size of a meteorite crater, a loving wife and a devoted following amongst Chilford-under-Wychcarve’s younger generation of skate fanatics.

In other words, he’s made it.

To follow in his footsteps, just enter your name as SSPE, and when the final boss appears, type in JONNY B ROCKS before the first rollerblading minions begin their attack.”

Well, Granny, I think you will agree he’s an interesting fellow, although I’m not sure if a single word of that ‘Dagger’ fellow can be relied upon. If you visit in the spring, be sure to bring some Scotch fancies and we can pop round theirs for tea and find out the truth,

Your loving Granddaughter,

Jocelyn Buckwheat-Pasta.
[/DDET]

Uncle Someone: On Winter

Originally published in Sidewalk Surfer magazine, around 1999.
Click below to expand full text.

[DDET Uncle Someone’s World of Something: On Winter]

First off, apologies for absence. My hectic (lazy) summer schedule meant I couldn’t bring you any musings from the edge last month. But thanks for the continuous communications via atoms and bits, keep them coming.
Second, minutes of the last meeting. The riots on the streets of London seemed to cause a hot-headed literary flourish on behalf of many. Some in support, some in strong opposition. Now that we’re back to our routine of sessioning the streets as and when we like to (perhaps that is a kind of slow motion riot) we should remember how lucky we are to have the urban landscape as our playground. We are its most imaginative users, we have few agendas (hidden or otherwise) and our appreciation of the concrete sprawl is second to none. Let’s keep it that way.

So, fast forward to now, Autumn 1999.
I have no exciting ideas for you this month. No contentious propositions, no outlandish claims or controversial opinions. Read on if you’re stubborn enough.
It’s simply the case that there is not much left to give now that summer is behind us. Those times we dreamed about 9 long months ago have already passed us, like that motorway service station we just missed (next one-112 miles).

I lie exhausted on a pine bed in the depths of a Scandinavian forest. I look back over the last couple of months and realise that I’ve spent the longest time away from home in my life. (Don’t prepare to be amazed-it’s only 6 or 7 weeks.) But it’s taught my naive self a lot about the comforts of home. I long to flick on the limescale-ridden kettle or wrestle with the inconsistent shower. Home discomforts become sweet fantasies after even the smallest period of absence. One thing is for sure though, I am not saddened by my travels-quite the opposite in fact.

The wonderful activity of skateboarding has taken me all over this fair continent. It has introduced me to countless new friends and eaten steadily into the coffers of a bank who didn’t seem to care. I know that my monetary luck may soon run out, but the amazing experiences cannot now be erased. They are imprinted forever, etched in fact, deep in the texture of my mind. With all my heart I hope that you feel the same about your summer too. In many years we may meet and can discuss such matters over a pint of ale and a Beef Wellington.

Yet, with all this summery afterglow, a cooler wind blows forth. In the eyes of many skaters the winter heralds a time of frustrated skate trips, aching bones and just too tempting televisual warmth. But we should look forward to the winter with eagerness. Fresh, unstifled air drawn deep into the lungs as we glance up at the clearest skies imaginable. The empowering feeling that one push on that rock hard tarmac will take you 20 feet further than it did 3 months ago. Endless layers of clothing lay ready to be peeled in the maintenance of the perfect body temperature. Rosy cheeks. Harsh grinds. You know the rest.

In the wintertime, sessions are more special. Those who brave the cold to skate are unified by their commitment. Your circle of friends may seem to narrow down somewhat, but it becomes more true as a result. Post-session conversations have an honest, upbeat flavour. Blood still rushes round the body working overtime. Feet are tapped and hands are clapped. Brrr–lets get a cup of tea! The word chilling takes on an altogether different meaning.

Decks last longer or shorter in the winter months, depending on whether you brave the damper days or not. New skate videos grow magically in stature-depictions of sunny palm-tree-filled skate spots allow a temporary escape from the wet, grey housing estate.

Here in Scandinavia the skaters are used to dealing with winter weather. The brief summer sees an explosion of skating around the cities, whilst the long winter is a time for consolidation and construction in the many, many indoor parks. Some of Europe’s biggest (Bryggeriet in Malmö) and smallest (any kids garage) skateparks are to be found here. I am staying near a tiny fishing village on the edge of a large and frighteningly deep fjord in West Sweden. By some miracle (at least in my eyes) it has an indoor park with a mini ramp and street course. It is completely free to skate and is used by between 5 and 20 local skaters depending on the whims of the weather and their parents. To me it is paradise: The perfect antidote to living in London. But I wouldn’t love it here if I didn’t have London to return to, and I wouldn’t love London so much if I couldn’t escape to somewhere like this.
I feel perhaps I am making a point now (although I assure you it is an accident). Because everything is relative, it can only be enjoyed in comparison with something else. The British summer is short and sketchy at best, yet we look forward to it because winter exists. For this reason alone we should return the favour to winter, and begin to look forward to that too (couple that with the reasons mentioned previously). A backwater fishing village with a tiny indoor park becomes a fantastic treasure cove in comparison to the dangerous and anonymous streets of London. The favour is returned-the streets of London seem paved with gold after too long in nowheresville.

I guess we should try and like everything, every place, every situation.

It’s the same with different styles of skating too. Old school skating only has a label because there is something to compare it with. Technical street skating gets the recognition it deserves only from those who truly understand it i.e. those who have tried it or seen it in comparison to some other style of skating. The average passerby thinks that a switch backside tailslide shove-it looks weak compared to a simple ollie down 5 steps. One is not better than the other, each trick just provides part of the context for the other.
It’s taken me 12 long years to learn this simple lesson properly.
I know it won’t take you so long, in fact I see more and more converts all the time busting out nollie flips to no handed bone-ups.

The love of winter compared to summer is a bit harder to muster though.
Please don’t give up skating this winter.
It wouldn’t be the same without you.
[/DDET]

Uncle Someone: The Ideas Man

This column was never published or even submitted to Sidewalk, as I never got round to incorporating any skateboarding into the story. However, ten years on, it doesn’t need any skateboarding, it’s crazy enough already.

[DDET The Ideas Man]

I remember watching the Gentleman in a Jet Pack fly around at the end of the LA Olympics in ’84. I called him the ‘Gentleman in a Jet Pack’ because of the way it sounded – I talked to myself even then. I often wondered why they saved him until the closing ceremony, why such a spectacular feat was left until last. But not long after, I started my first job and I understood why pretty soon. The risk involved – if he had been in the opening ceremony and something had gone wrong, a very messy death would have taken place. That would have overshadowed the rest of the Olympics, and it would be what LA 84 would have been remembered for. My job involves messy deaths, or at least, the threat of one.

I am a Engine Operator for London Underground. To you and I that’s a tube driver, I drive trains up and down the Piccadilly Line all day. They are six carriages long, weigh 200 tonnes, and have 128 wheels. They are powered by 630 serious volts passing through 250 miles of steel track and carry 180  million passengers a year. I am proud of those facts. They keep a smile on my face when I charge through the empty stretches of the line. I feel like an ant pressed onto a giant hammer. I need impressive facts to remind me of my power. Actually, I used to put ants on hammers when I was younger, I thought perhaps they might pop or something, but I’m not like that anymore. I’ve changed now. Sometimes I forgive the young vandals who terrorise the trains behind me. I see them in the mirrors now and then, running off with a bag, or fighting each other. They are not real though, they are just in the mirror. I know that you see, I’m not stupid, and the ants never popped.

It’s quite a lonely job, that much is true. But it’s not to say I don’t have many friends. My best friend’s nickname is Harry.  I see him quite often really.  He gets on at Southgate around 5.55am and he gets off at Heathrow Terminals 1,2 and 3. He always sits in the front carriage, right behind me, and he wears a blue hat with a green logo on it. I wonder what he does at Heathrow, perhaps he works there, but he’s so untidy I find that hard to believe. A few months ago I had a revelation about him. Perhaps he actually works in Southgate during the night and lives near Heathrow!  That would explain a lot, but then I don’t know anywhere to live near Heathrow.

I’ve never been on a plane,  although I used to want to. After I got this job I was put off the idea. A single human having direct responsibility for hundreds of people? No thanks!

I often wonder how I’ve kept my job because, to be honest, I don’t feel up to it. There are so many ways that I could kill myself and my passengers it’s crazy. Every year, new safety systems are introduced, but I know how to get around them. The more technology they introduce, the more effective a crowbar can become, it’s brilliant! I marvel at my own ingenuity, but I know I’ll never get the respect I deserve for some of the fantastic ideas I’ve had.

That’s what I am really – an ideas man. Spending the time that I do in long dark tunnels gives you plenty of thoughts. I know that’s why I’m happy really, just me and my friends doing what we like to do. In fact I’m not just an ideas man, I’m The Ideas Man.

It’s funny though. The people waiting on the platform are all my friends, I study them intensely during our brief relationships.  But as soon as they step on to my train I become suspicious. What are they plotting behind my back? I realise then that they have the upper hand, they can talk about me and laugh about me no end, and I can never prove it. But I realise that it is I who truly holds the upper hand, with my direct control over 2200 tonnes of metal and glass.

The glass, oh the glass. It is all toughened and interwoven and everything, but when a tube crashes in a tunnel, I know what is going to happen. I can see it. I can cut it! The laws of physics will really be tested on that day. Fireworks of glass will be the final showdown for those conniving bastards behind me, you wait. And then the blood. And the guts. It will be epic! Only the rescuers will see it though, that stuff will never be shown on TV. Not the good stuff.

And I? I will be long gone. My end will be quick and glorious! I will be a kamikaze mole, innocent victim, father of two! “He was always so dedicated to his job”

I stopped watching TV in the late eighties, after the jet pack guy what could be better? But seriously, I’m an intelligent man, and as I matured I realised that I was beginning to be controlled by the TV companies. We have an illusion of choice, but that’s all it is – an illusion. We are really fed poisoned food by them, yes that’s what it’s like – a plate of food.  You supposedly have a choice on your plate, but it’s only between the meat and the potatoes and the vegetables. What are you supposed to do when you want something else? There are no other plates of food available, not for people like me. Maybe Johnny Foreigner can eat funny stuff, but I can’t – I’m physically different to them.

I have no choice, but I want a choice.

I thought over this problem for years until I came up with my solution  – eat what I did as a kid. You should try it honestly! It’s like going back to the womb or something. I eat a load of sweets when I’m driving the train, often the train creates a rhythm as it moves through the tunnel, and I try and chew the sweet along with the rhythm. It is those moments when I am truly happy. I smile appears on my face, that, when combined with the chewing, actually hurts! Sometimes I laugh out loud, but I feel strangely vulnerable opening my mouth in the tunnels, like a flying rat will appear and fly straight in.

I buy my sweets on my way to work, once a week from a newsagent near my house. Buying ten pounds worth a week, I swear the shopkeeper thinks I’m a child molester or a freak of some kind. But I’m his best customer so he never complains. He’s certainly not one of my friends though, whilst I enjoy carefully selecting my cola bottles and milk mice, when it comes to paying I hand over the cash, and then I’m out of there as quick as can be.

It’s usually straight after I’ve bought my sweets that I enjoy the long walk to work. I see the early traffic already beginning to queue, there’s no escape in London. The drivers at that time are just as rude as those in rush hour. It puts a real smile on my face to see their stress and their woe. They smoke frantically, thinking of meetings and deadlines and sales. I have none of that in my job. I have occasional meetings and stupid training days, but I sit at the back if I can. I listen to nothing and say yes and no when everyone else does.

I used to think I could make friends with other drivers, but I see them as rivals now. I wait for them to empty the trains at Wood Green, or move on at Arnos Grove.  They block my passage and I’m powerless. They even block my view, that’s what really gets me. I like seeing the track stretch before me. It’s the track that does all the work. It does all the steering at any rate. I just lie on it with my giant moving bed of death and go to sleep.

That’s what I’d really like, to go to sleep. They introduce all this technology to stop me making mistakes, why don’t they get the bloody computers to do everything? Maybe I should be present just to prevent the computer making a mistake, that would get technology working for us. Maybe, in a way, I already am, I hadn’t thought of that.

One of my other friends, perhaps you could call her a girlfriend even, I call her Mary. I don’t see her very often, but she’s perfect!  She often gets on at Hammersmith and off at Knightsbridge, she likes to sit in the front carriage, I guess that’s why she’s one of my friends. When I see her waiting for me on the platform, she looks so earnest and proper.  Every detail of her clothing is perfect, and her hair must take hours. She carefully gets on the train and I like to think that she carefully wipes the seat before sitting down. She really is the kind of girl that any man would give his seat up for.

I like to think she is buying me wonderful things in Harrods, gifts for our wedding day, things to put in the house. One day she will suprise me by coming up to the cabin and knocking on the window. I will let her in of course, and perhaps we will make love just before Heathrow or maybe between Turnpike Lane and Manor House. If I drive slowly then it could last ten minutes. ‘Signal failure in the Arnos Grove area’ I will manage to say over the tannoy before we both start to giggle. I will offer her a sweet and she will take a milk mouse and bite it’s head off. Wonderful!

I wouldn’t like to take her to Uxbridge though. It never feels right when I take that branch. That area just doesn’t belong to the Piccadilly line, I feel like I’m in enemy territory. When and if I crash my train it will be around Heathrow or Cockfosters. Mary will be with me, maybe we could flip a coin together to see who gets it! I think Cockfosters is my favourite, it would be such an event for that dull area, they’d talk about it for years. And the emergency services there are hardly equipped are they? I can’t wait! Wherever it is I go when I die, I hope I catch the news that night. I hope they have videos too, so I can tape it. I will watch it forever…

[/DDET]

Uncle Someone: The Fisherman

Originally published in Sidewalk Surfer magazine, around 1998.
Click below to expand full text.

[DDET Uncle Someone’s World of Something: The Fisherman]

There he sat, reading the skate magazine. He had watched a couple of skate videos earlier, and flicked through old magazines all day. He wore skate shoes with holes in, big jeans, and a tee-shirt from his favourite skate company.

He loved and lived skating.

Until the ghost came.

He was not aware of the ghost, but the ghost was very aware of him.

It began tormenting him, although it was not a bad ghost. It’s motives were very complex, but it knew that to fulfil it’s goal it had to work this way. Chasing and teasing, lying and denying, confusing and enriching. Only these tactics would change the boy’s mind, and save the boy’s soul.

The boy had been skating for three years now, and the ghost had been working on him for the last six months. The boy had a problem. He had begun to doubt his own ability at skating, as well as at school. He thought he would have to make a choice soon between school and skating, because both were suffering. His last report card had been one of his worst yet. And for the last few months he had begun to feel frustrated when he was skating. Tricks weren’t being landed properly. He had even lost a couple of flip tricks that he had previously wired. He could not succeed at both school and skating. Or so he thought.

One night the ghost told him a strange story in a dream:

There was a fisherman some time ago, who lived in the North of Scandinavia. A cold darkness reigned throughout the bitter winter, and hazy light struggled to provide warmth during the brief summer. From October to May the fisherman would catch his fish through the ice with special nets he had made, and he would use a rod on his prey from June to September. With each fishing method, there were countless little techniques and systems to try and achieve success. Each one was very difficult to learn, and required months, even years of solitary practice in order to perfect. As he had to make his own equipment as well, this took all of his spare time and energy. The nearest trees were a few days hike away, so wood was very scarce. Each device had to be built right the first time, and if not, then he simply had to adapt.

It was a learning process that he had picked up himself over many years. No one had taught him many of the things he knew. The fisherman spent his whole life learning about fishing in his own environment. He could be considered a master, a truly wise man.

One spring when the ice began to melt, some brightly coloured debris washed up on the shore. The flotsam and jetsam had come from the wreck of a cargo ship many miles off the coast. The fisherman picked through the rubbish, ignoring many items that others would have saved. Tearing open a black bag, he removed some pieces of old card and paper. Some of it had pictures of food on, including various fish he had never seen before. Amused by this, he began to chuckle and took a couple of these fish pictures with him.

On his way back to his cabin, looking at the brightly coloured packets with their strange wording and even stranger looking fish on he began to laugh out loud. He laughed most of the night to himself, pausing merely to eat the fish he had caught and cooked that day. Looking down at his plate of real, edible fish and then across to the false, inedible pictures of fish he had got from the beach he began to chuckle again. When he woke up the next day, he found himself laughing straight away. He was laughing about the other people. He knew that other people lived far away from him, over the sea. But he hadn’t realised how stupid they were, what sort of lives they led. “I catch fish and I eat them!” he shouted to an uninterested rock, “And all those people do is make pictures of fish!” He began chuckling to himself again as he pinned one of the fish pictures above his door.

From then on, every morning as he set out and every evening as he returned, he would glance up at the picture, and a broad smile would appear on his weathered face. Even on the coldest and darkest of days.

The boy awoke with a start, his memory of the dream was vague and confused. But there was something new about him. He felt good. There was a sharper focus in his eye. A smoother beat to his heart. On his way to school, he walked down the street as slowly as he could, guided by something new inside him that he hadn’t felt before. It felt so good, so relaxing. And yet he was amazed because he still got to assembly on time. The Headmaster spoke at the assembly about careers. As he was in the middle of careers week, that day he was due to meet the careers advisor to discuss his future.

The careers advisor was called Mr Hartley. He wore a tweed jacket with strange, dirty velvet trousers. He looked a mess. As he had obviously failed in life, it was very difficult to see how he could possibly inspire others down any career path. He was more likely to put you off school and learning, even life itself.

“I want to be an astronaut” the boy replied to Mr Hartley’s hopeless question.
Mr Hartley snapped in, “This is not a good time of your life to be joking around young man. Everything you do for the rest of your life will be decided here. You have to think very carefully about your decision.”
The boy did indeed know the importance of that time in his life, but in a very different way to Mr Hartley, “Okay then. I want to be a racing driver.”
“That is not a serious proposition, BOY. Look, you’re getting a letter home at this rate. Now let’s have a look at your file. Good maths grades. Have you ever thought about being an accountant?”
The boy looked down at his scuffed shoes to hide his smile. They didn’t look like the shoes of an accountant.
“What is it boy? Don’t you think you’re good enough? You can start at the bottom you know, and after a few years, well, you begin working your way up the ladder.”
The boy couldn’t help a chuckle, and then broke out into laughter.
Mr Hartley fumed and began shouting some nonsense.
The boy didn’t hear a word of it, he was laughing so much. Tears began to stream in his eyes. A blurry Mr Hartley stood up and began waving his arms about, shouting even louder. The boys laughter grew and grew, there was no stopping him now.

He could not see Mr Hartley any more, just a blurry swirl. He felt relaxed and excited at the same time. He saw only a rainbow of light, and heard laughter from himself and a thousand like him. His vision began to clear, but he was somewhere else, not in the careers room at all. He was somewhere very white.

Then the ghost slowly appeared before him. He studied it closely before understanding what it was. Then he began to see what he had learned from it. He realised now. The choices in his life were false, it wasn’t one or the other, this way or that. He was capable of going in any and all directions he wanted. The fisherman in his dream was an inspiration. The fisherman knew what he wanted, there was no clutter in his life. The boy could succeed at school and at skating – it was easy, all of it. Anything that he had ever done was easy, and now, anything that he was ever going to do would be even easier. He smiled and thanked the ghost, and it smiled back and disappeared.

The next thing he knew he was in the headmaster’s office, with Mr Hartley and the headmaster towering over him. In a surreal fashion, Mr Hartley was still trying to continue the careers discussion, “Look young man, it is my job to set you on a career path, and I will not have five minutes of stupid giggling prevent me from doing this.”
The boy looked at the careers advisor, then at the headmaster. He thought of his skating, and his school work, then he thought of the ghost, and the story it had told him in his dream. He knew how to shut them up.

“I want to be a fisherman.” he said.

Uncle Someone
[/DDET]

Uncle Someone: Does God Exist?

Originally published in Sidewalk Surfer magazine, around 1998.
Click below to expand full text.

[DDET Uncle Someone’s World of Something: Does God Exist?]

“Uncle Someone,” one of my skate nephews might say, “does God exist?”

Well I’ve been asked this enough times now, it’s time I found out the truth.  God is an old mate of mine, so I thought I’d ask the man himself.

“Do you exist?” I said rather precariously to him one lazy afternoon.

“Good question.” He replied, “Ever since the Seventies I haven’t quite known myself.”

I was confused. “What happened in the Seventies then?” I asked, wondering if drugs were involved.

God picked up my thoughts and barked his reply, “Drugs were not involved.” after a short pause, He said “It was TV.”

I was even more confused then. “So you watched TV and decided that you didn’t know if you existed anymore?” This couldn’t be true.

“No, I watched TV and decided that it wasn’t worth me existing anymore.” He looked me straight in the eye and continued, “It was two programmes that did it actually. A cartoon series called Mr Ben and a skateboard film, I think it was called Hot Wheels.”

I began to think that maybe drugs had been involved, but I did my best not to let the thought materialise – I didn’t want to make the Big Man angry…

He carried on, “As usual, I was watching all the TV stations in the World at once, when an episode of Mr Ben came on. It was fantastic. Watching this guy go into a clothes shop wearing a suit, and then he would put on some different clothes from the racks each week. By putting on these clothes he would be magically transported to the time and place where the clothes came from.  One week he was an Roman soldier, next week an astronaut, the week after he would be an intrepid jungle explorer. Bloody marvellous!”

I dimly remembered this program myself, but it hadn’t had this profound effect on me. On telling Him this he replied, “Aha! But you didn’t see it the way I did.  With this Mr Ben character, for the first time in my life I saw someone who had a better job than me! Each week something amazing would happen, a fantastic adventure, but by the end of the program he would be able to put his suit back on and go home a happy man – what freedom!”

“But Mr Ben was only a cartoon, and-”

He interrupted me abruptly, “ONLY A CARTOON! How dare you say that you non-believer. What’s this then – ONLY a conversation we’re having, ONLY a sentence you’re writing, ONLY a column in Sidewalk? They all exist don’t they?”

I had to admit He was right, so I decided to move on “Well okay. So you liked Mr Ben the cartoon, but it doesn’t explain why you don’t think that it’s worth you even existing anymore.  I just don’t know what you mean.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.  Anyway, I’d just made the decision that I was going to give up my job and become Mr Ben.  I had everything set up.  Mary was going to take all the houses and cars, Jesus didn’t want anything so I said he could have my job, Moses was going to look after the garden – I had it all sorted.”

Rather impatiently I asked “Yes, well, what happened?”

“Then I just saw this film, a skateboard film called Hot Wheels.  It changed my life forever. I hadn’t paid much attention to skateboarding since its’ invention 20 or so years before, but then, right before my eyes, mankind had transformed it into something magical, something incredible, limitless. You see, I’d just decided that being Mr Ben was the best job I could have, when this skateboarding came along. It was even better. And it wasn’t even a job, it was a … it was … it …”

Gods eyes glazed over and he looked at the Heavens. It’s not often I’ve seen him speechless. After all he invented speech. Yet I could tell that this was truly important. A defining moment.

Snapping out of it, he continued, “When I invented mankind, I programmed a simple and well-meaning destiny for them. They were to find a partner, build a family and a career, and if they worked hard enough, they would discover me at the end of it. But this skateboarding thing was something else. I didn’t plan it. It was out of my control. Skateboarding was way superior to the simple destiny that I had planned for humans. It was more fulfilling, more real and alive. The skateboard had become the ultimate urban device, I had accidentally created the key to mankind’s’ escape. I just couldn’t believe it.  What’s more, I had undermined myself, I had lost control. Mankind was now my rival, my equal. Can you see my problem? For me to exist was a joke. I had invented mankind, and they had created something that was even better than me.
I just had to stand down.”

Which brings us back to today. Nowadays I just potter about on my mini-ramp and check out new skate videos. I can see now that mankind can look after itself, so I suppose I did a good job after all.”

I waited a few moments. It’s quite breathtaking to hear a man of Gods’ stature describe his own downfall. Sheepishly I asked, “So, do you exist then, or don’t you? Sorry but I still don’t get it.”

His reply came slowly, “Well, if I had to say yes or no, I guess I’d have to say no I don’t exist. At least not in the sense that I used to. I’ve gone from being the Ultimate Being, to just, well, an interesting concept I suppose. Quite a step down really.”

How can someone tell you they don’t exist?

I’d had enough of this talk, I was beginning to wonder about my own existence. His answer would have to do, I’d describe it to my nephews somehow…

God and I had a tall drink, and then chilled out with an old-school session on his mini-ramp until the sun dipped below the hills.

Uncle Someone
[/DDET]