“What kinda fucking animal do you take me for? No, I didn’t kill him! But I did kidnap his wife.” – Trevor, GTA V
Hi girls and boys, I hope you’re well.
I’ve mentioned my charity work, and a few people have asked about it. I volunteer in a charity shop at weekends. I choose a couple of charities every year, with the current two being Cancer Research and Scope. I’ve been doing this for a few years but originally had just taken in a bagfull of my clothes. I got chatting to the manager and volunteered..it’s that simple! It’s an enjoyable few hours, and there are some nice people to meet. You get the occasional one that delivers some right old tat, but on the whole we do alright. Just before Lockdown 2:Covid’s Revenge, there was a little old lady that brought in a bag containing panto costumes that she had made by hand over 40 years ago. They were works of art. We advised her to take them to a theatre, rather than let someone buy and sell them on. Then there was the young lad that dropped off a stuffed owl. Owls are a protected species in the UK, or so I learned by listening to the ever funny David Sedaris, and the stuffing of them is a no-no, but this was a proper antique. It went to a museum.
Unwashed clothes have a certain smell when a bag is opened, and if they’ve been a smoker… Fortunately we’ve a washer and dryer in the back at one of the shops. The smoking thing, I just can’t get. What makes an otherwise perfectly lovely person want to inhale hundreds of chemicals, all of which are bad for you? Your clothes and hair stink and if you think you’re getting kissed, wow, I’m ok thanks. It’s like snogging an ashtray. Then there are the weed smokers. “Like man, it’s just like normal life but, like, man, everything is just heightened”. Really? I worked hard to eliminate those verbal tics from my vocabulary. I can also giggle like a silly bastard without smoking that, thanks. Is that why you see Usain Bolt off his tits when breaking records? “Usain, BBC here, did you feel that was one of your better runs?” “Well now, ah ‘ad no spliff beforehand, so no”.
Perhaps the worst thing I’ve seen was the bloody shirt and trousers in a bag of clothes. Real blood too, so they were burned.
The main part of my charity work though is helping to organise fundraising events. Because of this, I’ve sung on stage in front of 2000 people, badly, and have asked Ant and Dec if they would be quiet for a minute. Two people I could do with never meeting again.
But undoubtably the nicest person I’ve met through it was George Michael. We had been looking for a star to host an auction, and in the past had managed to have minor celebs appear, the aforementioned Ant and Dec, drunk and late, Christopher Biggins, funny and as over the top as he seems on tv, Alan Carr, ditto, and Alan Shearer. He donated, amongst other items, a signed and framed Newcastle shirt which is now on my wall. My debit card took a bashing that night. We’ve raised quite a bit of money for his centre for disabled children as well. If you’d like to send a few units of your local currency, this is the link to the website.. https://www.alanshearercentre.org.uk
I had wanted to get Steve Coogan, in his Alan Partridge persona (a-haaa), but that was deemed too niche. I can’t see how, as at the time he was everywhere. So I set my sights higher. I always write a letter to the people we invite as I believe it makes a better impression than an email. In George’s case it seemed to. I had been out for a run a few days after the letter was posted, and arrived back to see a message on my house phone. I played it and heard what sounded like George Michael saying he would be more than happy to appear, free of charge. “Give me a ring back on this number”. Fuck me. I actually had a shower, changed into clothes, and did my hair, before calling it. I thought it was a wind up, but no, he answered. We had a long chat about the event, my heart beating widly, ending with him saying he’d bring a boxfull of signed stuff as well.
On the day of the auction I was in bits. We’d had no-one of his calibre appear before, and despite email communication between me, him and his management company, there was still the sneaking suspicion that I was been had. But an hour before he was supposed to arrive, there he was, asking where Anna could be found. My heart stopped. I mean, GEORGE FUCKING MICHAEL!! He gave me a massive hug as if he’d known me all of his life, his driver bringing in a shedload of items as we arranged the auction. We had let a few collectors know what was happening, so the prices were above usual, but we also kept half back so the public could bid as well. All went well, with over £20,000 raised in one afternoon and as I was looking for him to say thanks and goodbye, I found him washing plates in the sink, singing some of his songs to a few volunteers.
He stayed for another hour, chatting with everyone, signing everything in sight. We had a hug when he left, him promising to stay in touch. True to his word, every six months I would receive a box of items to auction, as well as calls and flowers on my birthday and Christmas up to the year he died. His management company continues this, asking if I need anything specific to auction. He also sent me three framed platinum discs of albums, signed from him to me, which have pride of place on my walls. I must have made an impression.
I was never a massive fan of his music, but the man himself was a superbly generous person. When I had to appear on stage to sing, I called him to ask for tips. “Just close your eyes, and think you’re singing in the shower. What are you singing? Oh really, well give me some down the phone. Of course you can, it’s just you and me.” He said he liked it, I’d like to think that the audience that day liked my rendition of his “Freedom 90”. It helps when the man himself has sent you a remixed backing track and added some vocals.
I miss him calling, but have the recordings on my answer machine. Gone far too soon, along with Prince, Michael Jackson, and the shouty Keith Flint, from perhaps my best live experience, The Prodigy. (Glastonbury 2009. Never forgotten).
Once again, I seem to have something in my eye…
My apartment in Durham is one of three on the top floor. When the building was being built, I purchased all three apartments. My intention had been to try to lure my foster parents from Aberdeen and Plymouth, to all live together. This didn’t work so I rented both of them out. (The apartments, not the foster parents.) I knew I wanted them to be occupied by people that would care for the place, so I vetted each set of applicants.
The first one went to Carl and Morgan, two camp and funny lads who are a decorator and solicitor respectively, the second going to Frederick and Jake, a plumber and a chemist. Jake is from Atlanta. All five of us play the odd boardgame, Pandemic, Horrified, or the like, or the excellent Two Rooms and a Boom if there are more of us. Jake is very much into his video games, and had the biggest tv I’ve ever seen. It has to stand on the floor. I’ve never been one for playing games on a tv, but last month was in their apartment when he was playing something called Grand Theft Auto 5. “Sit down and have a watch” he says. An hour later and I was directing some miscreants through what seemed like a scripted movie but the language was a bit of a barrier. Fortunately there are subtitles… but this is a game, not an experiment on how you can read AND play at the same time?
I’ve always sworn, in some instances more than others. While playing hockey I became this fishwife-mouthed lass, and watching football at a game brings this out as well. I literally have to have my hand over my mouth at a Newcastle game, but then again, you’ve seen the way they play under the wholly incompetent Steve Bruce. Oh for Rafa to return. Sigh.. Strangely I don’t have this problem while attending basketball or rugby, but then the Eagles and Falcons are a better watch than NUFC.
I don’t know why I swear, I was raised not to. Once, in the back of a church, with Ellie’s encouragement, and to my eternal shame, I masturbated. The place was empty, but I’m sure that the priests of old must have heard my muffled, “Fuuuuuck yes”, even if the place had been abandoned for years. What? You thought I would do that in a working church??? I’m not that bad!
The amount of language in GTA V, as I’ve been told to call it, seems excessive. I mean I don’t play these games so maybe it’s the norm, but do you HAVE to call somebody a motherfucker? Jake says that this is how ‘brothers’ speak , at least it was when he was back in Atlanta. Even though I’ve known him for three years, it can be disconcerting to hear a voice coming up the stairs that you associate more with COPS than the chemist he is. We don’t have many black people in Durham, even less so American, so he gets a little bit of attention. He was dirt poor when growing up, the photographs on his walls there to remind him of his background, so that he doesn’t get above himself, he says. There is one in particular. His family are all sitting on the steps to a grubby tumbledown wooden house, parents, three kids, and two dogs. The dogs look the healthiest of them all. I had his family over, apart from the dogs, for a visit last Christmas as a surprise for him, and while they look good now to when the image was taken, and his father told me that the area is now looking better as people move in with money, there is the problem of where the poorer people move to. We’ve the same here of course, but at least the houses in the UK are made from brick. His sister, now a nurse, can mop my brow anytime..
Anyhow, the language used in the game reflects on how his friends speak, in the gang culture he escaped from. The tales he tells make my hair curl. Drugs, guns and jail, all before 15. He escaped prison only by making it out of high school and meeting Frederick in a McDonalds by chance. Love at first sight, over the Big Mac and fries. “Is this seat taken, and would you like to come and live with me in the UK?” was the short of it, they say.
It can’t have been easy, a gay lad in that environment. (The Atlanta gang scene, not McDonalds). I feel the same for the tortured souls that have gender problems. It was bad enough telling both sets of foster parents I was gay, not that they didn’t know, but what if you are unable to? What if your life is based around the persona of acting the hard man, not showing affection, always having to be on your toes?
I’ve no problem with the gender that you assign yourself, apart from… well, the rest of the world doesn’t know what that is. You may look and speak like a girl, but I don’t know that if you think of yourself as that, or a boy, or non- binary, of any of the myriad of assignations there are. Your pronoun doesn’t assure you of automatic acceptance, because the people you meet have no clue about your mind.
Back to Jake. Fast forward fifteen years from the McNuggets, a degree (at Durham, of course), and he’s a research chemist….whatever that is. I think it means he’s in charge of making sure shampoo lids are easy to open. People can change. From popping a cap in yo ass, to popping a cap. (You’ve no idea how much I had to think about that one…)
So, I’m badly guiding the “hero”, the thoroughly dislikable Trevor, through various levels and finding it an unenjoyable experience. Are we supposed to empathise with him, or not? I’m naive as far as these things go, yes, but surely to enjoy playing as someone like that, you’ve got to have little bit of you wanting to be the same as them?
I left Jake worse off in the game than he was when handing over to me. He’s completed it over and over, much like I can read The Stand again and again, so no loss to him.
Even the control pad is beyond me, the little goddamn motherfucker.
As ever, thanks for reading.