Remembrance Day

poppyEarlier this year I attended the funeral of my uncle Rennie – or Reninghelst ­– as he was never ever known in my lifetime.

Rennie was my favourite uncle of all my uncles because he was an unstoppable force. He was a fantastic footballer – I think he trialled for a First Division side once – and his skill on the ball was evidential as he revealed his box of tricks in garden kickabouts. He taught me how to ‘dummy’, but little did I know that this would later be referred to as the ‘stepover’ in modern footballing parlance. My father was a pretty good footballer as well, playing left-half for Middlesex County Boys, but Rennie was in a different league. The ball stuck to his feet as he dribbled his way around myself and my dad. We were easy meat.

A lovable rogue, Rennie took it upon himself to help my gran with odd jobs – you know, building walls, garages, sheds, and totally reshaping my gran’s back yard with a combination of brute force, theft and haphazard landscaping. Short of material to construct these exterior masterpieces, he would help himself, with our wheelbarrow, to the sand from local school’s long-jump pit and appropriate cement from a nearby building site. He took the water from my gran’s tap, however.

Rennie was one of six Harris brothers: Billy, Les, Miah (Nehemiah), Albert and Doug were the others, in order of age, alongside my gran, Edna – the only girl – from Grancha and Nan.

Grancha named Rennie for a specific reason. In the First World War, while sitting in a muddy Belgian trench waiting for the whistle to order them to ‘go over the top’, the Germans lobbed a gas cannister only feet away from where Grancha was positioned. Struggling to get his mask on, Grancha almost lost his life. He was taken away to a hospital in Reninghelst, where medical staff ensured that he lived and that he ultimately produced a daughter called Edna. Such was the care he received, it was only fitting that one of his sons would take the name of the village that saved him.

I’ve been watching a BBC documentary – inbetween child care duties and shopping errands – called WW1: The Last Tommies. Of course, the horrors of World War One are well documented, but this series takes first-hand accounts of 27 people who fought in, or were affected by, this bloody awful conflict that claimed the lives of millions of people.

Vivid descriptions of survivors detailing the sheer lunacy of running down a muddy field alongside your compatriots waiting for a German bullet to cut you down, tells me that a) I was born lucky and b) I must never forget those who fought for my freedom.

Of course, I am preaching to the converted. Pretty much everyone I know agrees with this sentiment, but literally, I would not be here had it not been for the people of Reninghelst. They have ensured that generations live on, that I get to enjoy the joys of fatherhood and that one day I might be able to teach my son to do a ‘stepover’.

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Remembering dad

Roger Bowdler 1934-1986

Roger Bowdler 1934-1987

Below is a short article I wrote for my church’s magazine. Of course, it feels somewhat incongruous in the context of this blogsite, but, as an act of pure self-indulgence, I felt I couldn’t let an important anniversary go unmentioned…

This part of the magazine is reserved for a bit of levity, where a bit of light-hearted humour is required.

So, here goes.

On April 1 1987 my dad died. I was 21 years old and, as the 30th anniversary of his passing approaches, it still remains the saddest day of my life.

The irony of that date is not lost on me. April Fools’ Day combined with my surpassing of the supposed Age of Maturity, tells me there’s a joke in there somewhere. I have yet to find it.

My dad was awful at telling jokes. I remember joining him with his friends on a golf day and he attempted to tell a standard set-up-then-punchline gag. Even at the age of 13, with my sense of humour still developing, I realised he was fundamentally pants as a comedian.

He did, however, have a glint in his eye and cheeky outlook. Whenever a seemingly daily malaprop popped from mother’s lips, a glance in my direction was enough to put us both in fits of laughter. He was, and is, the most disarming human being I have ever met.

Preposterously handsome, preposterously charming and preposterously unaware that he possessed both, he pottered through life as a gifted mathematician, artist and sportsman. He excelled in all.

A socialist, he positively couldn’t understand racism. His mantra was ‘all men are equal’, as it should be. When my Welsh grandmother told me ‘The Indians’ had moved in next door to her home, I had no frame of reference. As yet unexposed to multiculturalism as a 70s child, I expected to see a tepee and a smokestack in the neighbour’s garden.

So where’s God in all this? This is a church magazine after all, and so in a ridiculously clunky segue, I can tell you that my dad happened to be the conduit for my first real exposure to Christianity.

I had joined the Boys Brigade at Bushey Baptist Church. With this membership I was given the opportunity to blow a bugle, march in time, play games, go on camps, wear a paramilitary uniform (what the hell is a haversack for?) and attend Church Parade.

Church Parade I reasoned quite rightly, was too boring for the likes of me to attend, but my father, the devout atheist, said that if I were to enjoy the undoubted benefits of this organisation, I must also embrace the bits that I did not like. This was the deal. No church parade, no Boys Brigade. Grin and bear it.

So I grinned and bore it, and boring it was. Every fourth Sunday I was forced to sit in a back-breaking, buttock-hardening pew for an hour while a bloke in a funny black shirt told me about a man called Jesus. This was a man, I was told, who loved us, cared for us and, more importantly, died for us.

I can’t tell you whether any of this sank in, but I did get chosen to represent my ‘Battalion’ for a Bible-reading competition that resulted in disastrous, embarrassing consequences that still makes me cringe to this very day.

Ultimately, as a teenager I was desperate to carve my own way and when I became a Christian at 18 years old, my family was appalled: not really surprising since I spent most of my time battering them into submission with my lofty, self-righteous piety.

It got better though. I soon softened and shortly before my dad died, I remember him observing my Christianity with a wonderfully parental fascination. One summer’s evening, as I prepared to go out, he just said to me: ‘Tim, I really like the way you lead your life.’ It was a heartening acknowledgement that he approved of a faith that maybe he was just starting to understand himself.

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The EU aftermath

Flag_of_Europe.svgOn Friday morning I woke and was unhinged by a metaphorical broadside that I hadn’t expected. Our country had voted to leave the EU and the sickness in my stomach and the fear of what the future might bring was overwhelming. I hadn’t really had that feeling since my father died and that was almost 30 years ago.

The blanket coverage included a map of the regional splits of the voting patterns and, as I scanned the UK, it was a wake-up-and-smell- the-coffee moment. In my poncey middle-class metropolitan home in West London, with ambitions of bi-folding patio doors and kitchen islands, I realised that I had forgotten about those in the poverty-stricken council estates, the marginalised, the disenfranchised and those with little hope and, more importantly, little cash to splash around. They had nothing to lose, they made their point and, suddenly, idiots like me with retirement plans and a tax-efficient Audi were going to pay. I had built a protective fence around my comfortable lifestyle while people in these areas were watching immigrants, prepared to work for peanuts, drive wages into the floor and, really, none of my stupid centre-left politics and compassionate words had helped.

I might blather on about social justice and generosity to my fellow man, but what have I done about it? Well, bugger all (apart from a bit of volunteering for meals for the homeless – yay, go me!) and the thing is I am a self-professed Christian, and the worst kind; loaded with hypocrisy and eloquent words, so completely at odds with the Jesus I choose to follow. This is the man who stopped the establishment stoning adulterers, who turned the tables on the money changers, who mixed with prostitutes, tax collectors, the marginalised and desperate, and was ultimately nailed to a cross for it. But that’s not all he was. For most of his life he was a carpenter, pricing up quotes for people who wanted a new fence or their roof fixing. He is the archetypal white van man, the stereotype so vilified by the middle-classes for not having enough basic intelligence to vote.

So we’ve been chastised, but what is left for us now? The saddest thing about it all this is that those who needed this the most won’t actually get what they want. Within two hours of victory Nigel Farage admitted that the spurious £350m that goes to the EU won’t go to the NHS. Then Conservative MEP Dan Hannan accepted that the future outside the EU will still mean a deal that will result in free movement of labour to the UK – everything the working classes didn’t want. The elderly who voted ‘out’ will see their pension pots evaporate as the stock market goes into freefall and you can bet your life that Cornwall, one of the most emphatic Brexiteers, will not see the £60m in EU funding matched by any future UK government. With an economy that went from the fifth biggest to the sixth biggest overnight, the likes of Cornwall will be standing at the back of the queue.

I said last week that people should be careful what they wish for. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove looked like they were attending a funeral after the result. They don’t want to press the Article 50 button and Theresa May is insisting there should be no rush despite the fact that the French and Germans say there should. You kind of get their point.

Whichever way you voted, you’d be impossibly naïve if you are not expecting anything other than a serious detrimental impact on the UK’s economy. Short-term pain for long-term gain? I think not. The last recession hit us in 2008 and we’ve only just recovered. During that time I got made redundant twice and it was horrible, but I almost got made redundant three times had it not been for European regulations that offered me enough protection to keep me in work.

And what of the UK? Expect Scotland to leave – and quite right too – and expect them to take the oil with them, but more worrying is the impact this will have on Northern Ireland, and this is where all the economic arguments for and against Brexit pale into insignificance.

We spent years trying to get a peace settlement in Northern Ireland and now we’ve thrown a ruddy great can of petrol over the embers. Since Northern Ireland will no longer be a member of the EU, we’ll have to introduce border controls to stop the immigrants coming in. Anyone with half a knowledge of Irish history will understand that this will be more than enough to antagonise those spoiling for a fight. The Orangemen of Drumcree would rather die than unite with the likes of Sinn Fein. Bloodshed, I am afraid, is inevitable.

So it’s all unravelled in front of us and, as much I think this has been a dreadful, dreadful mistake, I am not calling for another referendum. Democracy has had its way and the voices of those who had been previously ignored have now been heard. I do not blame those who voted for this – they had their reasons and they have to be respected – but I do blame those who led this campaign and peddled nothing but barefaced lie after lie to the British public. We deserved so much better than what we got, and I suppose all we can do now is just get on with it and hope and pray that it all turns out alright.

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The EU debate

NigelI haven’t written anything on this blog for a while because there hasn’t been much to write about, but I feel that the name of this website/blogsite lends itself well to the current EU debate.

The killing of Jo Cox, the vitriol, the constant bickering about what is and isn’t ‘fact’ is so saddening it should tell us that, as a nation, we’re not as ‘Great’ as we’d like to think we are. We have to face the reality that we’re just very ordinary and, if you are in any doubt about that, take a long look at the poster from the so-called ‘Out’ campaign. In this link you’ll see a picture of ‘poster-boy’ Nigel Farage standing in front of an ad hoarding depicting a long line of immigrants that are, purportedly, desperate to come into our country. They all have brown faces.

If what we are proposing to do, i.e exit the EU, becomes reality, we’ll stop Poles, Lithuanians, Romanians, Hungarians etc coming into our country (unless of course, under Nigel Farage’s points system, they are astro-physicists or doctors who are prepared to go tomato-picking in Peterborough). I live next door to a Polish couple. They are a lovely, hardworking, if slightly insular family with… white faces.

I spoke to a friend who said to me ‘at least Nigel Farage speaks his mind’. I’m not so sure this is a reason to exit the EU because, quite frankly, I don’t particularly like what’s in Nigel Farage’s mind. If you managed to read the previous two sentences and the penny didn’t drop, what we are talking about here is not a control on immigration, it is about fascism.

Don’t get me wrong, people who want out are not fascists and I do respect the opinions of those who have genuine concern about our status and have ultimately made the decision to leave, but this poster leaves me in no doubt about what the underlying message is here from those leading this campaign. This hoarding is designed to appeal to people’s fears and prejudices, nothing more. It’s a monumentally blunt tool and, what is surprising to me, is that people have bought into this lemon without fully understanding what kind of agenda awaits them.

First of all, you have to bear in mind that Farage is a charlatan of the highest order. He appeals to a base instinct: an internal fight-or-flight mechanism where instinct leaves you with no other course of action other than to lash out. Farage is the worst sort of politician: his common-man appeal – drinking bitter in English country pubs – is a façade designed to put you at ease and, if you hadn’t already worked it out, I’d rather paint my hand with fresh blood and put it into the mouth of an extremely hungry lion than side with Nigel.

Then you have to look at the rest of this ragtag bunch. Michael Gove, former education secretary who would have destroyed Britain’s education system had he been allowed to continue, and Boris Johnson, the lovable buffoon, who spent most of his time in the 1990s top-spinning stories about the EU because it pleased the political will of the great and the good at The Daily Telegraph. This threesome is not the ‘team’ I want running my country. I’d have a ‘faceless’ bureaucrat without a political agenda in Brussels every time.

Then let’s consider that main influencer designed to sway the British public for an out vote: The Sun newspaper.  Oh good. This is the organ that blamed Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough disaster.

In terms of the economic impact, I’ll say this. Nobody has any facts about what will happen because nobody knows the future, but my suspicion is that it’ll be a total disaster. Already the stock market is looking nervous and the Pound is in freefall. There is a simple reason for this. Financial experts – and I have said this before – are not experts. They do what everyone else would do. They are cautious when things are bad and bold when things are good and, with Brexit looking like a certainty, don’t expect bold, exciting investment that’ll stimulate/expand our economy in the next few months/years/decades.

Norway should not be held up as any kind of success story either. It’s not in the EU, but still pays a hefty contribution to the EU for free trade, accepts free movement of people and, most importantly, has no seat at the EU table. It’s doing alright for itself, says Farage. True enough, it is doing alright because it has a load of oil, but it still doesn’t have the fifth largest economy in the world. There is a reason we are the fifth largest economy in the world – it’s because we are part of Europe, not in spite of it.

There are other reasons that have all been well-documented, but if you have been living under a rock for three months, you should be aware that if we left we’d have to renegotiate around 50 new trade deals. This is not the work of a day, it takes years.

If you still think it’ll be a walk in the park to negotiate trade deals then think about what we’d be left with in terms of bureaucracy. There’s no avoiding it. Fully functioning societies need rules and we’d have to make them. If you are a UK government department or lawyer, granted, it’ll be payday because we’d have to sink billions into new UK-only legislation allowing them to fill their boots, but if you are the so-called hardworking common man or woman, it’s time to start putting your hands into your pockets to pay for it.

Thing is, the current EU rules can actually help you. I’ll give you one example. A few years ago I was threatened with redundancy because I worked for a production company and the contract had been moved to another supplier. Under EU regulations, the new supplier had to re-employ me. Had it not been for the EU, I would have been out of work. You might believe The Sun’s propaganda about straight bananas, but the EU helps us stay in work, improves our rights as workers and gives us a voice when employers try to take the piss out of us.

In other news, I want to retire… not in this country. I want to retire to somewhere hot in Europe, where I can play golf, wear loose-fitting clothing and get skin cancer. Out of Europe, I’ll not qualify under an ‘Australian-style’ points system because I’ll be too old. Spain won’t want me and after this messy divorce, I doubt Greece will want me either. It’s not looking good for my daughter either – she’ll have no right to live, study or work in Europe if we leave. My personal plans for the future are not looking good, it seems.

To me, the evidence against leave the EU is too strong to ignore: the fact that Farage is a chancer, I’m not confident about the economy, my personal situation will be screwed and there are some useful EU regulations that help us, but all that pales into significance when it has become crystal clear that our country has descended into a mirror image of Donald Trump’s America. It is a society quick to lash out, strongly suspicious and anxious to build walls. Farage is our Trump, but poorer and with less ridiculous hair. The only reason Nigel hasn’t suggested building a wall around our country is that there is a bunch of sea around us and sea is much more effective at keeping the Syrian refugees out.

In some respects there is one thing that gives me hope if we do vote out. It’ll mean we will have no-one else to blame but ourselves. Be careful what you wish for people.

Embarrassing ‘fat’ bodies

The Embarrassing ‘Fat’ Bodies team. They love the chubbers

Lately, on my return home to my flat in Crouch End I find that my rather sizeable flatscreen television is stuck on some sort of loop that subjects me to programmes about fat people, and Channel 4’s Embarrassing Fat Bodies in particular. Really, I should turn over and watch Question Time and learn stuff about the country I live in and the key issues that it faces but I really can’t be bothered with all that.
Common sense tells me that these fat ‘features’ should be fairly short. The advice, I feel, should be concise, y’know like: “Eat less, take regular exercise”, but Channel 4 manages to drag this out for an hour at a time with curiosity-led examinations that usually result in the revelation of people’s genitals.
There are plenty of chubbers blaming poor genetics for obesity. They’ll say their fatness is the result of a faultlined DNA that makes them look like a Space Hopper. I doubt this. I have to go to the gym, run about a bit and stay off the kebabs to retain my racing snake-like form. If I wanted to look like  Jabba the Hut I would embrace lethargy, sit at home, play computer games and eat pizza.
Still the Channel 4 fatties don’t understand this. One chap, suffering a medical condition, of which I know not what, had what one of the doctors describe as an ‘apron’ hanging down in front of him. The apron, essentially, was a supersized sack of fat the size of a sandbag, gracefully grazing the floor. Gravity had done its job well, and although it was just millimetres off the tarmac, the resultant ground-effect didn’t improve the man’s cornering at all. Indeed, a short straightline walk to the kitchen was about all he could manage.
To pee, the unfortunate patient merely had to stand directly over it, relax his groin and let the urine out. An undertray to catch the contents was all that was needed. It was like a Little Britain sketch the only catch being is that this was real. Underneath the man’s apron, apparently, were genitals. The male doctor lifted up the fat-sack like he was trying to put a duvet cover on and there, sure enough, was the man’s button mushroom. ‘Yep, I can see it,” said the doc with two kilos of fat on his head. ‘There it is!”, resisting the temptation to point.
To cure this man’s condition surgeons cut off the apron. There was a long pre-op conversation, which I also found surprising since I think the words, ‘Yep, we’ll chop it off”, would have had the benefit of brevity. I watched the procedure to understand the complexity but there wasn’t much. They knocked the chap out, chopped off a total of six stones of fat and then threw it in a bin.
There are many ways to lose weight. Some try walking, but that never works, and others have suggested to me that Tai Chi might do the trick. Predictably, I’m sceptical.
To do Tai Chi properly you have to wear pyjamas and slippers and generally look like an arse. According to the experts Tai Chi will sort you out if you are unfit. Could this really be exercise? Well not really since it’s just moving about slowly and let’s face it, doing anything slowly isn’t going to get rid of that beer belly of yours.
For the ill-informed Tai Chi is designed to exercise the mind and body. It comes from China and its purpose is to marry martial arts and mental concentration. The claim is it’ll improve strength, flexibility, balance and coordination and help you to lose weight. Tai Chi-ists say it also improves your heart function, decreases blood pressure and it’ll make you less stressed out.
Of course, that’s shite. It doesn’t do any of that.
If, in the course of your life, you get fired, you could lose your home and then as the stress heightens your wife will want to leave you. Your situation will affect your self-esteem and as a result you’ll lose the ability to perform sexually and you’ll go bald. It’ll be a downward spiral punctuated by the fact that you have no earning power and, as much as I appreciate the theory, I can’t see that cradling an imaginary ball for 20 minutes is going solve the problem.
Let’s nail this down. If you want to get fat just eat lots of stuff, sit around all day and, if you like, do some Tai Chi. If you don’t, however, you’ll have to cut out the pies/kebabs and run about. Nothing has changed as far as the laws of nature are concerned and if you want to head that unsightly apron off at the pass do your level best to avoid exchanges that begin with the word… ‘chillisaucesaladboss?’

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