Monthly Archives: December 2009

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.

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…


We’re back

A brilliant time was had by all in Malaga. Expect a media onslaught over coming days. Whether or not sweet Malaga wine and an enthusiastic hostel owner ruined the skating component remains to be seen. Photo Milo Bragg.

A brilliant time was had by all in Malaga. Expect a media onslaught over coming days. Whether or not sweet Malaga wine and an enthusiastic hostel owner ruined the skating component remains to be seen. Photo Milo Bragg.