Friday, 25 September 2015

The Bad Influence by Tony X Stanton

I remember my mother sitting me down on plenty of occasions when I was about 5 or 6 years old and warning me about other kids who were a ‘bad influence’ and could encourage me to get into trouble.  She was and remains a singular woman and most times she was right, although on subject she couldn't be more wrong.  I didn't have to worry about people being  a bad influence on me, because I was the bad influence.  To be fair, this didn’t really kick in until my teens, when I seemed to go from sweet little kid to total fucking lunatic overnight.

I’ve always tried in life to do the right thing, most times I’ve managed it but sometimes I either haven't or I’ve went down a different path.  I sometimes see myself as a toxic individual who has a nasty case of ‘it seemed  a good idea at the time’. I’m usually the guy who when everyone is ready to go home after a night out convinces everyone to have just one more… one more drink, one more bar, one more song.  It’s always ‘one more’.  But never in an alcoholic way, simply as I hate the whole idea of things ending or winding up.  The very idea of ‘an end’ is uncomfortable to me, once I am on a roll, be it work or play I have a tendency to keep going until there is no option but to stop due to tiredness, lack of resources or inclination.

I’m an extremist by nature. I remember when I was about 4 years old a friend of mine and I wanted to climb / walk up a wall like batman did in the old TV series.  So I came up with the idea of waxing some string to strengthen it and use that.  I clearly remember the afternoons it took with wax candles covering this string and trying to get it ready.  When the day finally came, a fantastic sunny day, and we tied the string not to the top of somewhere small as my friend Andrew insisted (he was 2 1/2 years older than me) but at the top of the highest bloody wall I could find in the entire housing estate. After Andrew tying what seemed like  hundred knots in the string around a railing, it was decided that we’d start from the bottom, of a 20 foot wall with a sheer drop onto concrete.  (See kids! This is why you listen to your parents!)  we did our best to climb the string, Andrew declaring it wasn't strong enough, but me? I knew different. I was convinced of such and would prove it.  So I kept on climbing, getting halfway up when I started hearing a horrible stretching sound, somehow the waxed string held and I reached the top and felt like king of the universe. I was Batman goddamn it!

I managed to get Andrew caught up in my enthusiasm, and I declared to this much older boy that it was rather hard climbing up, so maybe we should climb downwards instead.  Of course it was Andrew's turn next.  He didn't want to do it (probably as he had at least some semblance of common sense, even when caught up in the moment.) But I insisted, a deal was a deal and he had to do it.  I’ve always had that horrible ability to cajole people into doing stupid things I want them to do, or to help me in doing the crazy things I want to.  So Andrew started climbing down...the waxed string did not hold and he fell 20 feet onto concrete.  He broke his arm, something somehow I managed to keep from my parents who to this day don't know why the kid I used to play with suddenly had an arm in a plaster cast.  His mother for whatever reason thought it best not to mention this to my mam.  He walked around for what seemed like forever with that plaster cast and never once would mention or discuss ‘the Batman incident’ again.

But that wasn't the end of me encouraging him to do crazy shit.  In fact just a couple of months before we moved away when I was 5  and never saw him again something else happened.  My mother used to let him take me to the cinema on a Saturday morning. It was much simpler times when kids could walk the streets without fear of paedophiles, muggers etc.  we used to queue up and watch really old black and white films from the 20’s and 30s which for some reason the local cinema used to put on for us kids.  The queue was always long and we always would chat away about whatever the latest ‘thing’ was while we waited. This one time (the last time I was allowed to visit said cinema in fact for reasons that shall become very obvious), I decided that we should see how hard we could punch an old glass window on the cinema and not break it.  Hey! Don't judge me! I was 5 for god's sakes!

I was informed by Andrew that this could be a very bad idea, but I managed to talk him around with how cool it would look to the other kids queuing up and how it was the sort of thing Batman and Robin would do. That was all the damn convincing he needed.  So we started punching this small glass window. taking turns we punched this dirty glass window each one punching harder than the next.  Getting more and more worked up about it, until Andrew (at my prompting as the queue was moving) punched far harder.  His hand went through the glass and seemed to cut his hand to ribbons. I still remember the blood running down the dirty shards of broken glass washing it with his blood.  I felt like running as I KNEW this was my fault, but I didn't because he was my best friend and he was badly hurt. I stayed put even though I knew it would have consequences.  rather unsurprisingly the noise of both breaking glass and screaming kids drew some attention from the people in the cinema, police were called Andrew it turned out wasn't as badly cut as everyone had thought  due to it being a hot day.  I tried to explain it was all my idea, to take the fall I should have done.   But as I was aged 5 and he was 7 ½ years old they didn't believe me or him.  So Andrew took the fall for it and we were both given lifetime bans from that cinema.  Andrew’s mother stopped him playing with me after that, although he still visited when he could escape right up till I moved away. I shudder to think what would have occurred if I had stayed there, the way I kept ramping things up could never have ended well.

As I grew older I kept that side of me in check, it scared me and I could never get the thought of the blood running down the window out of my head. I knew I’d fucked up and as a result it fucked me up a bit.  But once I hit my late teens all bets were off and if there was a crazy idea you can bet your arse I’d be behind it, if there was something crazy to do it’d usually be my idea.  (Usually by making others believe they’d thought it up all by themselves), But as a rule I was the bad influence encouraging others to do things.  I was the secret bad egg, the rotten apple in a fake apple skin.

Around this time I was best mates with a guy I’ll simply call R as he now has a rather nice job, a family and friends who have no idea how much of a fucking nutcase me and him used to be.  R had ‘issues’ and hadn't had an easy life up till he moved into my home town.  It was a case of two people just clicking together and working as friends immediately.  He was also one of the few people I’d met who could be just as much of a bad influence as I.  I however knew he had a bit of a pyromaniac tendency, something once afternoon I decided to encourage.  Every sunday afternoon we’d walk around a long walk near my home town called the ‘Derwent Walk’. It was miles long and lined with trees and bushes either side and when the sun was shining as it was on this day it was glorious.  

There was never anyone about apart from the occasional jogger or bloke walking his dog, so we could play our music on his ghetto blaster at full volume.  The mix tape for Sunday's usually consisting of Alice Cooper’s ‘Raise your Fist and Yell’ album and some Rush tunes.  I remember mentioning to R as we both lit a cigarette that it’d be fun to see if one of the bushes would light on fire.  So after checking there was no one there...R set fire to a small branch.  However in the hot dry weather the brush went up like a bomb with flames 6 feet tall within seconds.  Before I could stop him R lit another bush...and another...then another!   Before we knew it a 100 meter section of the derwent walk was an inferno of burning bushes with not a single sighting of god in any of them anywhere.  Suddenly the reality of the situation kicked in. Oh Fuck! We’d just set the place on fire! We were fucked!  We were going to fucking jail for this!

So we ran…. not along the Derwent Walk itself but off one side…. through muddy fields (me losing a shoe in the process, something which was interesting to try and find an excuse for to my parents later that day).  We ended up behind bushes about ½ mile away the sound of fire engines filling the air with faint voices of the fire crew.  Eventually we calmed down and decided never to speak of it again… it made the local papers and it was put down to vandals.   On a positive note though, after that R’s pyromaniac streak vanished!  Never again did he set light to things like that, so it cured him.

Once again that put rest to any crazy ideas I’d have for a while…  Although as I got older the ‘it seemed a good idea at the time’ thing reared its head from occasionally until it got louder and louder.  So my tip is this: If you ever meet me and I convince you of an awesome idea to do something crazy, say no. Make an excuse because as a general rule it hasn't really worked out too well for others.

When the real fun began was when in my late 30’s I met up with 2 other people just like myself. But that is a story for another day.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

“Minus Money / Broke” by Tony X Stanton

“Minus Money” by Tony X Stanton

I walked along with my son, the sun beating down on my head, somewhat of a rare occurance in my home town.  It often seemed to me that the little town of Consett not far from Durham in england was quite similar to the Adams family house in that it seemed to have a perpetual cloud hanging over it.  But on this rare (some may even say freak) occasion the day was clear as a mountain spring and a warm sun beat down.  The sort of day that you wake up to and it makes you feel alive.  I however didn’t feel happy or even in the same galaxy as happy, due to a strange combination of circumstance, bad luck and some epic miscalculations of my own I was flat broke.

In a previous article I covered how I went to Montreal (in canada for those with the geography knowledge of a dead hamster), to spend a year working and experiencing a different culture at the same time.  But all did not go according to plan.  when I was informed that someone back home had a serious health problem the very last place I wanted to be was stuck the other side of the damn planet.  I couldn’t think, let alone work.  I needed to get back home ASAP, yesterday if possible.  In one way I am thankful that the firm I was working for were prepared to let me leave early only 3 months into my contract.   However what I wasn’t aware of was the fact that as such I’d be liable for all expenses incurred to relocate me to montreal by them, and not just the current month, but three further months of the rent on the apartment I was renting.

So after they had deducted what they claimed I should owe them (even though it was for compassionate reasons), it meant working the last month and a half for nothing.  Did i mention that this was on one of the summer blockbusters?  It seems karma wasn’t kind to the film.  So when my girlfriend came over to help me move all my crap back to england I wasn’t just broke. I had minus money.  The very idea of having less than zero is a very bizarre one when you think about it.  If I have £100 and spend £80 of it I have £20 left, However if you spend £150 then you have minus £50.  So I wasn’t just broke, I was less than broke into a mirror universe where suddenly every single penny seemed to be worth double its value.

Money I used to piss up against a wall on a friday or saturday night suddenly would be enough to have kept me for weeks. Not just my current decisions but every single one I had made came back to haunt me with a vengeance.  In fact they still do every single day.  All the times I had thousands in my wallet and wasted most of it as I ‘could afford it easily’ are now the stuff of my darkest nightmares.  Logically I know there is no way I could have ever known what was going to occur, logically I was in the clear. However emotionally and psychologically I wasn't.  I’m no stranger to either failure or great achievements, however this time every single decision I had ever made had sparked off an endless stream of ‘could haves’, ‘Should Haves’ and ‘Might have beens’.

Suddenly everything feels like my fault, even things that patently are not and cannot be. This is the curse of being so broke your into theoretical minuses.  Every single time you pass a mirror you don't see yourself, you see an abject failure of a human being you couldn't stop this all from happening. So I avoid looking in mirrors now, the one in our bedroom has an old t shirt over it in fact.  I tell my girlfriend that’s due to it being rather sweaty and needing to dry off a bit before going in the wash. But the reality is it’s often painful to look at myself.

So while walking around town to bum a cup of coffee from my parents in the cafe that day with 50p in my pocket, in fact in my whole world the universe saw fit to make that less.

“Dad! I need a wee!” said my son.  Young lads of his age often need a piss, it’s sort of part of their makeup, they eat their own weight in food, grow too fast and piss their own weight each day.  In a normal world, a world without theoretical minus money this isn’t a problem. But in town the only public toilet is in the Bus Station, a collection of various people at the bottom of life some of whom are actually trying to get a bus.  The thing is..the toilet costs 20p.  For virtually every other person 20p is nothing, it's not worth even thinking about. However when your entire world consists of 50p suddenly it feels like someone is about to repossess your house. Sure, I could have snuck him around a corner in a backstreet and he could have taken a piss for nothing there, but that is not the behaviour of a dad, that is not the behaviour of someone I want my son to have fond memories of when he is an old man.  So I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out the change, all I had in the world. Three Ten pences and a single Twenty pence piece and I handed the twenty pence to him.

No doubt someone is wondering why I don't just go and claim some sort of dole money?  The simple answer is that as I left my job of my own accord, albeit for very very good reasons that certainly come under the heading of ‘compassionate’, I can't and wouldn't get a single god damned penny. All I would get is my stamp put on and that is not worth being harassed and made to feel like even more of a failure than I feel deep inside every single day.  So my days are spent at the moment trying to work out with my girlfriend how to keep my kids eating and provided for, looking after my son who is a 24 hour a day job on his own and trying not to go nuts and run round with a  rocket launcher and 46 pipe bombs in the centre of town.

I’ve been on the bottom before when I was far younger and spent 6 months living on the streets in a cardboard box. So I know exactly what poor and having nothing feels like, although in this case it’s worse as I’m not just poor, I have minus money.  The most heartbreaking moment for me was when my kids came back from my parents and decided that they would give daddy some pocket money.  Toa child the solution is simple, if your down because you have no money, then you simply give that person money and they they’ll be happy.  It was the one time I almost cried.

But here’s the kicker I’ve learned from being less than flat broke.  People you often think of as friends run like the wind, fair-weather friends indeed.  People who you have lent money to on many occasions find reasons not to pay it back.  People try to take advantage of you every single hour of the day.  I ended up having to write a book on slimming for the princely sum of £20 just to be able to afford food one week.  Others suddenly see you as a guy that it used to cost a fair bit of money to hire, think they can get the same work for nothing or very close to it. I may be financially in a subterranean vault, but I am no ones mug.  Some seem quite perturbed by this fact that I won't work for nothing or do anything for such low fees again.  It never crosses their mind that one day the tables may be turned, maybe they won't but do they really want to take that risk?  The old adage of ‘be nice to people on the3 way up as you’ll sure as hell meet them on the way down’ is very very accurate.

But I don't want charity, I don’t need your or anyone else's money. I don’t need a break, I’ve had plenty of them in my life.  I just feel like I need life to stop shitting on me long enough to find a way out.  Every idea of a way out, I can promise you I have already thought of.  My skillset on paper should be a license to print money.  I’m a  3D artist, have worked on triple A hollywood films, I’ve worked for the biggest computer games company in the world as a senior artist, I’ve lectured all over the world (usually at a loss to pass on my skills to others), I play about 16 different instruments, I compose classical music, electronic music and just about every other type of music, I’m an experienced programmer, I’ve been writing nand published since the age of 14, I’m a painter, I’ve been a world record holding escape artist and much more… But none of that means a thing any more. 20 plus years of it and I have less than nothing to show expect a pretty nice demo reel, a mind full of awesome stories and the memory of the times when I had something and felt like something other than a failure. 

These days I have about 15 mins a day to do my emails, the rest of the time is taken up just trying to survive. I cannot give up any ‘surviving time’ on a speculative venture that may or may not make money.  When you have nothing everything is a risk with very great consequences, if you pay one penny more for something than you need to then your fucked.  Maybe I should put all my articles and other experiences into a book and self publish it? It’d be one helluva read as I’ve not had the most normal of lives.  But right now it’s going to be a fight to keep from drowning and to keep positive enough to keep putting one foot in front of another.  But I’ll keep fighting because I’m a big believer in Karma and although my depression is biting hard right now, one day it’ll ease and then karma will look after me.  So don’t count me out just yet, there is still a little fight and a fair few good ideas left in the old dog yet.  The great magnet looks after its own.

“Dont mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, But when someone is unkind to me,weak is not what you're going to remember about me”

Alphonse Capone

Friday, 11 September 2015

Confidence and Aggression

I sat watching the remains of the late night Thursday crowd in the bar, their drinking pace slowed down by now so much so all it was missing was the theme tune to the film chariots of fire in the background. The testosterone filled air over at one end of the bar late in the evening only could mean one of two things. Either there would be a short fight involving lots of pushing or one half of the couple who owned the place would sort it before it came to that stage.

It ended as the latter much to the chagrin of many of the punters in need of some evening entertainment. It's a scene repeated around the world in various forms. The outcomes are always the same. Either someone wins or no one wins. Occasionally someone ends up in hospital or dead. Whichever way you look at it, it can get messy.

Why do some males feel the need to assert their masculinity? How does it often get to the point where physical violence is the best solution? Maybe it’s down to the lack of confidence that many males feel in an increasingly demasculinized world plays a part. Could it be the lack of heavy industry and a world devoid of 'men's men' has contributed to a state of lack of confidence on their masculinity? Has it now become the state that some men missing confidence brought to their lives by ‘doing a hard days graft for a hard day’s pay’ feel the need to overcompensate?

I have noticed over the most truly confident of men rarely bite with overly aggressive types and never end up fighting. Simply put they have nothing to prove to anyone and are far more prone to simply ‘letting it ride’ that others would punctuate with a swift bottle to the face. After the whole 1990’s ‘girl power’ and ‘ladette’ culture, some men were left feeling that maybe they weren’t the strongest sex after all, maybe they’d been misled all this time by women who just let them think they were in control when really they were little more than puppets. That can have a profound effect on a generation!

In my travels to many different places and cultures I also see a disparity sometimes where you would expect a hard drinking down to earth culture in a rough area to have endless fights, only to find there are hardly any. Then other times you are in a supposedly civilized and ‘upper class’ area or place only to find anyone daring to not look at their own shoes finds themselves son the other side of one of a vast cornucopia of meat heads and knuckle draggers. So maybe the upper classes are not as different as they’d like everyone to believe? (Something most people have worked out long ago, but they seem to have totally bypassed.)
But is the solution to bring back hard work and give men confidence to behave like 1970’s caricatures of what men used to be like? I don’t think so, I’d prefer to think it’s all part of an evolutionary process where the male mind is finally starting to leave behind its knuckle dragging ways and push aside violence and aggression when it’s no longer need. It’s rare to come across a bloke these days that fight son a weekend for ‘fun and relaxation’. In that regard the film ‘Fight Club’ wasn’t that far from the truth. Back when I was in my 20’s and further back than that it wasn’t unusual for blokes to have a fist fight on a weekend to ‘unwind’ after a hard weeks graft.

But it’s also entirely possible that I’m talking total bollocks and making a prime mistake of using too small sample size to enable me to gain any true meaning and simply reflecting my own biases. A true man isn’t judged by whom he can beat up, but by smaller and often more important things like the ability to stick to his word, to protect those who are unable to protect themselves and to help out where he can. Besides which, how many noses you’ve broken isn’t really something that you can put on your CV at any point in your life unless you’re a mixed martial arts champion or a boxer. …and I for one am far too old for either of those professions.