Saturday, 25 June 2016


There was a cul-de-sac on my estate lined with horse chestnut trees where prior to the expiration of the school summer holidays, hundreds of kids would gather with a collection of objects useful for hurling.

Wood planks with rusty nails, house bricks and broken bits of bicycles or go-karts would be airborne or else crashing to the concrete to the shouts of either annoyance or jubilation, depending on how many conkers it struck and successfully bought down.

Below the falling objects children gathered to collect the spoils, the hierarchy governed by age. Little ones hurried, looping through the legs of bigger kids, hoping to steal an unwanted conker or two. The older kids were the connoisseurs; they knew what they were looking for, the tell-tale signs of a potential “hundreder.” They would crack open the case and inspect the nut, roll it between their fingers prospectively.

I recall no adults ever present, if they knew where we were going they only warned us to be careful; supervision was not required and despite the fact that solid objects fell from the skies in regular abundance, I never recall any injuries worth noting.

We took the bags of collected items to Mum, who would sigh but still stop whatever one of the zillion jobs she was undertaking without the aid of technological kitchen paraphernalia, wipe her hands and get a baking tray to bake those conkers and get them real hard.

We lay on the floor by the heating oven, peering through its grease stained door, timing them to perfection while mum slipped her hands into her oven gloves to get them out. Now the tricky part, waiting for them to cool before we could raid Dad’s shed for a screwdriver.

We put the warm conkers on the patio slabs and sat on the floor, holding them steady with one hand and forcing the screwdriver through their centres in hope they wouldn’t crack. Every successful bore would be threaded with string and we’d tie a knot in the end. The job was complete, now for the challenge.

There was a whole technique to perfect with conkers and when the important elements came into play you had yourself a winner. Stance was fundamental; the ability to flick it from your fingers paramount, and aim, well aim was the last crucial component for a successful smash. If aim was in any way faltered you could blame your opponent for swinging his string slightly to avoid collision. You then had the right to touch his conker and align and steady it, otherwise you never touched another lad’s conkers. Unless you worked for BBC children’s shows it would seem.

It was at a time when the dustman would go through your back gate, pick up a heavy metal dustbin and fling it over his shoulder. He would march it out to the street and dispose the contents into the truck. Then he would walk your bin back to the garden, tip his cap and merrily greet your parents with a “morning’,” and shut the gate on his way out.

Things were the way they had been for generations in the early 1980s, little changed. The electronic milk-float replaced a horse and cart, lava lamps became old-fashioned, and that was about it. Then times moved on, Mum told Dad the house needed decorating. Chic contemporary design would replace the shockingly poor taste of the 1970s. Floral wallpaper was stripped and replaced with painted walls, music systems were replaced with hi-fi and we all had futuristic silver discs that we were told would last forever to substitute for jumping vinyl.

We had house meetings many-fold, in which we would try to convince Dad he needed to part with more money to rent technological gadgets and accessories for without them, we were doomed to live a life of 1970s humdrum. We begged for a video recorder and despite my father’s confusion as to why on earth we would need to hire a film or record a TV show if we were out, he got one. We supplicated him for a home computer, backing our pitch up with the concept he could control all his finances on it, organise his day. It worked and that Christmas we bagged a black rubber-keyed processor with a whopping forty-eight kilobytes of memory. We relished in the new terminology, RAM, ROM and whatever the hell POKE was.

And when Dad realised he had not the time or motivation to self-teach programing in order for this gadget to take over the organisation of his entire life, the machine was left to us kids to trade and swap games, none of which would load. For my mum it was infuriation; she wanted her television set back to watch Crossroads. So we went where only the elite 1980s families went, to the pinnacle of modern living; Dad bought a second television set and took the old one upstairs for us to use with the Spectrum computer.

And with these technological advances the country watched as the whole ethos changed. The country mutated everything that was sacred, in fear it was too risky and gradually we come to where we are today. My Dad took us on holiday in Cornwall in the 1970s, hired an estate car with my uncle and aunt. My Dad and Uncle sat in the front seats, which had seatbelts but no one used them. On the backseats sat my mum and aunt, without belts but with my baby cousin on my auntie’s lap. My brother and I were delighted to be in the boot, perched on seats loosely constructed out of suitcases, boxes and footballs.

So, where we are today, can you imagine taking the journey from Essex to Cornwall today in this fashion, would you conceive the possibility that you might consider loading your family in a car for such a journey? Would you allow your child to wander around lone on a street where it rained rusty-nailed planks of wood, bricks and metal parts of go-karts? Would you carry out metal dustbins when the house-owner has a perfectly good wheelie bin to save your back? You know, if you don’t take it out and align it in exactly the right spot, ensure the lid is not raised a fraction of a millimetre, it will not be collected. Not because the bin-men are obnoxious arseholes but because they have been conditioned by the terms of their contracts. If they break this in order to go the extra mile then on their head be it. They will not be covered if an accident happened.

This is the way of the world and some old folk need to keep up with the changes. I saw a pink stool sat outside an elderly person’s home, awaiting bin collection with a note saying “Take to tip.” I thought “Yeah right, like that’s going to happen, this isn’t 1977!” These older generation, still living in a time where, unbeknown how to our younger generation, people manged to survive against the odds and total lack of health and safety regulations. They hold on to the ideal that Britain is great and the only thing ruining it is the influx of people who are ignorant of our culture, our humble ways. But, unfortunately it is not those to blame; it’s us.

Our lives have been made so very comfortable, we need not worry as it is done for us. Providing we are wearing a high-viz jacket should any traffic knock us down they are liable, we will get paid out and hey, maybe not have to work for a living any longer. Britain has become lazy, lethargic and idle. We may never be able to work our way back from the mistakes of this week, unlike I believe our forefathers could possibly have…. unless we change our ways back to an age they lived, become uncomfortable again and with the rise in prices we will see over the coming years perhaps this will happen…maybe that is what the governing bodies want from us, but it is no walk in the park and walking in the park is about all we are good for these days.

Can we reduce our existence this low, now we are accustomed to all the 21st century has to offer? Can we find a solution to our problems by going back to a time when things were simpler? No, it’s all an illusion, a nostalgic flitter from your youth. You may have been having the time of your life but in reality, Britain was shit back then too.

We had recession, we had war, we had poverty and anger and hate, we had far right wing factions feeding on our rage, we had mass unemployment, we had people abusing their power, oppressing the poor, abusing children. We had serial killers, bogeymen. We had sickening underworlds of debauchery on every level. It was just your youth shadowing these things and it is this illusion which tells us we put the Great in Great Britain but we didn’t, we never did.

Get off your ego-trip and realise what the older generation and all those who followed them into the propaganda of the Leave campaign did this week, they did because they believe in a false concept, a fantasy that we still live, not in the Great Britain of yore, but a Great Britain from their adolescent minds which always fogs the hard bits and highlights the fonder memories.  Watch out, that wooden plank is coming down from the horse chestnut tree and it about to smash us in the face and no high-viz vest is going to protect us. Will we ever get back out of this cul-de-sac?       

Sunday, 19 June 2016

No Surprises Living in Devizes: Con-Air

With Index;Wiltshire out of action this week my regular column has moved to my blog, for just this week. So all the hardcore No Surprises Living in Devizes fans will not be disappointed (all two of them.) Be sure to catch up with it again on Index next week folks!
It should also be noted this piece was written prior to the sad news of MP Jo Cox. I wish her family my sincere condolences.

No Surprises Living in Devizes

Con Air


Darren Worrow

Like Con-Air but without the air, Nicholas Cage and the bunny in the box… So nothing at all like Con-Air really; Devizes was the centre of dramatic events on Saturday when Erlestoke Prison rioted (at least three of them officially) and the officers moved one-hundred and forty inmates to other prisons. I reckon I’ve been on rowdier cub-scout pack holidays.

As ever, the confusion spread on Facebook first, “why are there so many police hanging around Northgate Street?” people queried, “Has Dunkin’ Donuts opened a branch near the newsagent?” Thankfully rumours quenched by the Gazette and BBC Wiltshire who broke the story of the riot. Stopping for a kebab on the way seemed like a good idea at the time.

An unnamed spokesman reported problems due to accommodating category B prisoners at a category C/D prison. Who would have thought convicts were so fussy over the alphabet?

It was nothing to do with understaffing, Ministry of Justice claimed. Fifteen screws per five-hundred inmates not being an issue provided they’ve all seen “the Karate Kid” as part of their training. Other theories suggested a 65-year-old guy caught smuggling a controlled substance to the visitor area caused a drought; but, apparently, it was coincidental the riot occurred after a smoking ban.

At this I wince, really? This isn’t a 9-5 office block, these guys are locked up 24-7, at least allow them a fag for crying out loud. If I was a smoker locked up with ruffians hot on assessing my prison category status in line for harassment, I’d need a tab or ten.

Unless, of course, cigarettes are now banned under the ruling that rules anything labelled a “legal high” now illegal. I’m so out of touch with psychedelia these days; how are people supposed to know what highs were legal highs, and are now illegal, when legal highs are now as illegal as existing illegal highs? Or are all legal highs now illegal, I twitch the curtains every time I put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

Yeah so, way to go to free up space at Erlestoke; should be careful with my words this week but this nanny-state is getting preposterous. The other day, at the Woodborough Garden Centre, I noticed a sign on a clothes recycling bin which said “Danger: do not enter.” Is it me or is this not on the football managers level for stating the bleeding obvious?

I mean anyone stupid enough not to have worked out for themselves that they need to take the clothes off before putting them in the bin deserve everything that’s coming to them. Do we need this sign; are there really people so destitute in Woodborough they need to resort to climbing in recycle bins for a cardy? No, it’s because we cannot be expected to think for ourselves.

If we could be trusted to think for ourselves we wouldn’t require the propaganda bombardment to tell us which way to go on this, now-getting-rather-monotonous EU referendum. I’m beyond caring now, in, out or shake it all about. David Cameron’s doing the hokey-cokey, turning around more times than Bonnie Tyler on the Gimbal Rig. Could we not, I ponder, stay in the EU but have every other weekend out of it, see how that pans out?

The worst thing about the media shelling, every celeb who is anyone queuing up to put their tuppence in. Even American celebs are having a bash, without even knowing what a tuppence is. I don’t care what Sylvester Stallone or that nerd from the Big bleeding Bang Theory thinks we should do; America, you have your own issues, sort out your bloody gun laws then worry if Britain can choose the shape of their bananas later.

The thing is we need not be swayed with facts and figures when we know they’ve been tainted. We don’t want to hear which way Sir Ian Botham or Iggle Piggle will vote; most of us, I think, opting to go with our gut reaction.

So all the best with the referendum, I hope you get what you want. Unless you’re suckered by the Sun’s be-LEAVE campaign that you will “have your country back,” and trust-fall yourself into the arms of a bunch of the wickedest far-right conservative backstabbers ever known to politics; just saying.

You won’t get “your country back,” it was never yours to get back you fool; “they” will get the country back, to do what they will. Orwell wrote in revulsion, we weren’t supposed to base our political system on it.

Still, Wiltshire Council awaits our votes and Dr Carton Brand will count them. Let’s hope he’s better at counting then the Ministry of Justice. “It’s good for democracy if people in Wiltshire are engaged in the political process,” he says. Provided you’ve not been bored into an early grave by it all, I agree, but I cannot see where this going to go any more than I can see what’s coming at most major road junctions in the county. Perhaps they could trim the grass and hedgerows while they wait.