Category Archives: Bullying

The Dreaded Netbook Hurler of Old Mountain Ash

In which The Author encounters a real-life Goon Show

Back in the 1950s, when Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine first erupted from the UK’s wireless sets and into the ears of an unsuspecting nation, the word ‘goon’ meant a stupid person. There’s a broader meaning as well these days: the sort of musclebound, brain-dead thug who spends his time intimidating people and generally causing trouble. Think of the ‘henchmen’ in old spy films and the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series, or a fair number of bouncers, and you’ve got the right mental image.
When we were prefects in school, we used to call those same people ‘meatheads.’ However, when I first read Viz, back in the late 80s, they had a character named Terry Fuckwit. I’ve loved the word ‘fuckwit’ ever since. It’s got that delightful combination of hardcore swearing and childishness which makes it the perfect post-watershed synonym for ‘goon.’
There’s one sub-group of Fuckwits from the Aberdare Afternoon Piss-Artists Association, who come into the Prince of Wales every afternoon except Sundays. I know from talking to the barbints that they’re from down the Valley – Mountain Ash or that neck of the woods. They’ve never made eye contact with me or spoken to me. However, whenever I’m been in there with Martin H., showing him various tips and tricks on my Netbook, the Fuckwits fail miserably to hide their contempt for us. We both know why, of course: their small-minded fear of anyone exhibiting intelligence, creativity, a knowledge of the world outside the confines of our narrow little Valley, and/or a grasp of 21st Century technology. These characteristics, singly or in combination, absolutely define the Loteks around here.
About a fortnight ago, we were chatting as usual, aware that they’d been staring at us for ages. Eventually, the Fuckwits decided to move on to another pub. One of them came to our table and proffered his hand. I’d never spoken to him, had never had anything to do with him, and had no reason to reciprocate. I totally blanked him and we carried on our conversation.
A couple of weeks ago I was having a quiet pint with Jason C. when one of them made a great show of trying to attract my attention. I was wearing a dress that day, and I’d known as soon as the Fuckwits walked in that they’d have something to say on the topic. Fortunately, I was in the early stages of partial deafness (see Waxing Lyrical), so I didn’t have to pretend to ignore him. A few minutes later he crossed over to our table and sat in the empty seat beside me. I asked Graham if I could squeeze past him, finished my drink, and headed to the bar. After that, I went to the Gents’, and Jason G. followed me in case any of them decided to make another move. I assured him that I wasn’t bothered by them, and we headed back to our table. They drank up and went to their next port of call, mouthing off as usual as they left.
On Saturday afternoon I was sitting with Big Ted, updating the links on my blog, when one of the Fuckwits came and sat beside me. He didn’t know my name, and I didn’t know his. We’d never spoken before, but he was convinced that we had. He asked me straight away whether I could help him write a book. I immediately told him, ‘No,’ and carried on with what I was doing. Then he decided that I’d already helped him to plan a holiday (the first I’d heard of it!), and that I could definitely help him. After all, I read books, don’t I? I used to sell books, didn’t I? (I volunteered that information.) But simply working in Blockbuster, or sitting in the box office of the Coliseum, doesn’t qualify you to go and make a film, does it? It might have worked for Quentin Tarantino, but by this argument, half the world would be film directors.
I suggested this analogy to him, and he told me that, on the contrary, he could make a film. I congratulated him, and told him that he was obviously far more intelligent than I’d given him credit for. Obviously, he’d never encountered someone speaking fluent sarcasm before, because he went on to insist that I was definitely the man to help him with his book. I was shocked, because until then I’d assumed that he and his mates had yet to learn to read and write.
He said, ‘You could help me, though.’
I said, ‘Yes, I probably could – but I won’t.’
‘Why not?’
‘Because I’m a busy man. And because I don’t want to.’
The Fuckwit grabbed my Netbook, jerked out the mains cable, and threw it about fifteen feet across the room. It narrowly missed one of the regulars as it crashed to the floor. Before I had had chance to swing for the Fuckwit, Nicola B., the manager, shot from behind the bar and confronted him. The rest of the Fuckwits started shouting, and Nicola threw them out. Ted bought me a pint to settle my nerves, and Nicola got on the radio to the police. It wasn’t long before two PCSOs walked into the building. A third was accompanying the Fuckwit to the police station. All the while, Nicola kept insisting that ‘Freddy wouldn’t do that.’
I said, ‘He just did – so don’t tell me he wouldn’t!’
For the first time, l knew his name. I’m going to put it on the record here: ‘Freddy’ Prosser. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t publish it. It’s not sub judice, as you’ll see.
I gave my details to Ben, one of the two attending PCSOs, and related the whole story while his colleague Bleddyn went to the office with Nicola to review the CCTV footage. I told Ben that I would be pressing charges for criminal damage. It was an open-and-shut case, after all. There were nearly twenty witnesses to the incident, and the cameras had captured the whole thing. There was a moment of light relief while Ben and I were talking – a bunch of scumbags started fighting directly outside the front door of the pub. Ben set a new world record for police response times – two seconds or so – and Bleddyn nearly matched it on his run downstairs. Once they’d broken it up, I finished my pint and we walked up to the police station to ‘crime it up.’ We sat in the conference room while Ben phoned through the details of the incident, and a few minutes later a female officer came into the room.
She explained that Prosser had admitted the charge of criminal damage, and now I had two options:
A. The quick option, whereby he’d receive a fixed penalty on the spot, together with a criminal record;
B. The long way round, where Prosser would be arrested and taken to the cells in Merthyr for processing. I’d have to give a statement (but not turn up for the hearing itself – the CCTV evidence was enough to convict him.) He’d appear in court in about three weeks’ time, where he’d be found guilty, fined, and receive a criminal record. The court would order him to pay compensation, which she admitted would probably be a fiver a week at best. At that rate, it would take him over a year to pay for a new Netbook, and nearly six months for a second-hand one.
I decided to go for the first course of action, not because I felt sorry for the cunt, but because it seemed an unnecessary use of scarce resources. Simply taking him to the cells would have meant taking two officers off the streets on the afternoon/evening of the FA Cup Final, when they’d need all hands to the pump. Then there’d be the cost of the CPS, the court time, and putting a Fuckwit in a police cell on a night where they’re bursting at the seams anyway.
I must admit that I liked the idea of his being stuck in Merthyr on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, when public transport is scarce at best. But I’m a man of science. I took the path of least resistance. The officer told me that she’d put the alternatives to him, and I chatted to Bleddyn and Ben until they decided they had all the information they needed.
We were on our way to the exit when the female officer called us back. Prosser was refusing the on-the-spot fine, apparently. That meant that Plan B was back on the table. The custody sergeant asked me if I’d follow him to give a statement. Prosser must have overheard our conversation, because he started shouting from inside the interview room.
I smiled at the sergeant and in a low voice said, ‘It’s a battle of wills, isn’t it?’ He smiled back and nodded.
A few moments later the female officer emerged again and said, ‘He’s going to take the ticket.’ Job done!
I went back to the Prince, where Rhian and Nicola were waiting to find out the outcome. Nicola thinks I might get some compensation anyway, through some sort of victim support scheme. One of Prosser’s Fuckwit pals was still in there, and apparently he’d told Neil G. that he was going to ‘get me.’ Rhian and I drank up, she stashed my stuff behind the bar, and we left by the back door.
The upshot is that my Netbook is officially fucked for the time being. It’s powering up okay, but the screen is damaged beyond repair. I could probably get a replacement, but it might not be a cost-effective solution. Sammy’s old Netbook still needs a new keyboard, and, after a momentary lapse when it played nicely, steadfastly refuses to connect to Wifi. I’d wondered briefly whether the keyboards and/or screens might be interchangeable, but needless to say they aren’t.
Considering that today was the first day of my placement working with Loteks, it’s ironic that I’ve found myself on the same level as them. Rhian’s going to lend me her laptop again, and I’m hoping that Paul P. can work his magic on one or both of the Netbooks. In the meantime, I’m not going to be online as often as I used to be. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

A Little Respect

In which The Author doesn’t want to be in your gang

Respect seems to be the buzzword amongst today’s wannabe gangstas. (I’m deliberately using the US slang term here!) When he was Prime Minister, Tony Blair launched a half-baked policy called the Respect Agenda. It was designed to bring some rogue elements of Britain’s inner-city youth back on track. In the inner cities, gang-related crime, violence and murder are a real problem. Almost daily, the media report ‘postcode rivalries’ where kids from one part of (say) London will declare war on kids from the neighbouring estates, simply because they aren’t from the same part of town.
We all used to do that, of course ‒ our ‘gang’ was that in all but name. Ian, James, Phil, Slim, and a couple of other boys were ‘a gang’, to all intents and purposes. As I sketched out in ‘Where Do We Draw the Line‘, our areas weren’t even defined by postcodes. The Mill Street Mob were constantly doing battle with the Trefelin Terrors, the Broniestyn Beasts and the Llwydcoed Lloonies. (I’ve made all these names up, by the way!) Occasionally a scrap would break out and everyone would walk away, bloodied but unbowed. Sometimes a real feud would ensue, which split an entire school intake along fault lines delineated by families’ and friends’ allegiances.
I met people in university who attested that the same things happened in their areas. That’s why people from Abercwmboi couldn’t possibly consider playing for Mountain Ash RFC – even though they’re only about half a mile apart. In fact, it’s probably possible to kick a penalty in the Abercwmboi ground and get it over the post at Mountain Ash. It’s tribalism at its most ridiculous, when you think about it. On the whole, though, these things didn’t descend into murder and mayhem.
There are some pathetic youngsters to whom I’ve often referred (most notably in No Future and Not Born Beautiful) who seem to have mistaken the South Wales Valleys for South Central Los Angeles. There’s a terrific scene in Joel Schumacher’s film Falling Down, where Michael Douglas’s pissed-off commuter finds himself in the middle of an LA turf war. Parts of Britain’s inner cities are heading the same way, if the media are to be believed.
There are kids in the Valleys who think they can live the same lifestyle. I overheard one of them on the train a while back, as I related in Strangers on a Train. They’ve adopted the American style of dress, manner of speech, and the ridiculous swaggering walk that film characters use. (Swagger – or ‘swagga’, as they spell it – seems to be the Word of the Year so far.)
Aberdare even has a new ‘designer clothes shop’ called Swagga or something similar. Primark would be more appropriate in the current economic climate. For fuck’s sake, even the pound shop closed down a while ago. Meanwhile, a so-called disco in a neighbouring town has launched a dance night, also called Swagga. I’ve seen posters for it. The girl on the poster looks attractive and quite hot. In reality, it’ll be full of pissed-up teenage single mothers fending off the local steroid boys in their best JJB Sports purchases.
In their slavish attachment to American ‘yoof culture’, these boys and girls seem to fancy themselves as ‘gangstas’. Not even proper gangsters, but the imported US variety.
The Krays, the Richardsons, ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser and Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie were gangsters. They were legends of the Swinging Sixties, equally at home in London nightclubs as in East End pubs such as the Blind Beggar. I once met a man who knows a man who knew some of these figures of London folklore. (I saw him briefly on Wednesday, in fact.) He’s a friend now, but here’s an interesting fact: I didn’t have to prove myself ‘worthy’ of his acquaintance.
He knew some friends of mine through the tattooing scene in Aberdare, and that enabled us to strike up a conversation in the pub one night. He was standing at the bar and so was I. I worked in a bookshop, and he wanted to know if I could get him a particular book on tattoos. (I could, of course.) Job done!
There was no complex initiation. I didn’t have to kill anyone in cold blood, or rob someone with a shotgun in my hands, or undergo any sort of terrifying ordeal in order to become his friend. I’ve never been involved with illegal drugs, or crime, or violence (if I could help it). But he wanted a book, and at the time I was the go-to guy in Aberdare.
[A digression: Yes, okay, I know we’ve got The Works in town these days, but I’m not sure whether that really counts. A mate of mine suggested it to me as a possible employer when it first opened. He meant well, of course, but I couldn’t help feeling that he was taking the piss. He’s not a big reader (as he’d be the first to admit), but he’s a huge music fan, so I put in terms that he could understand: ‘If you wanted to buy a CD, would you go to Spillers (a shop in Cardiff, which claims to be the world’s oldest record shop), or to Wilkinson’s in Aberdare?’ He saw the point of my argument once I’d phrased it like that.]
Anyway, even the headcases who used to drink (or, rather smoke) at the back of the Carpenters gave my friends and I some grudging ‘respect’. Whether it was just for having the sheer balls to walk into the place, and then sit and talk about films and books and art and music, I don’t know. None of us ever had any grief in there that I can recall. We got to know some of the Cynon Valley’s Most Wanted (and some of its Least Desirable) while we were drinking there. Some of them remain mates. Not many of the others are still around, for one reason or another. A friend of mine pointed out a couple of years ago that the area’s ‘going to be missing a whole elderly generation’ in twenty years’ time – so many people have died prematurely in the past few years.
Now, there’s a whole generation of kids who’ve grown up on US ‘pop culture’ – films, (c)rap music, video games, and so forth – and see themselves as bit-part actors in a Spike Lee film. There’s only one problem with this, of course – we don’t have that many black, Asian, or Hispanic kids around here.
Consequently, we have loads of fake-tanned wannabe gangstas swaggering around, openly drinking cans of lager in the ‘Alcohol-free Zones’ of Aberdare, fighting, shoplifting, and dealing drugs in full view of the general public. They’re all known to the police and the PCSOs (as Ken Bruce once suggested, this might stand for Police Community Something-or-Others). A mate of mine suggested the other day that half of them are police informers, which is why their presence in town is condoned. And you can bet your life that in any confrontation, the one thing the enemy will be accused of is ‘disrespect’.
Well, okay, let’s analyse this in more detail.
My friend Ross Dinwiddy wrote and directed a film a number of years ago. It’s never seen the light of day owing to a legal dispute with the distributors, but it exists. That’s the main thing. Now he’s written a children’s book. My friend Josie Henley-Einion is also a published author. My photographer friend Rob Hudson self-published a fantastic coffee table book on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, an often overlooked part of the country.
In a related field, Pam is a web designer and CGI artist. I’ve already told you (in Connecting People) about how I arranged for her to meet my mate Stuart, who writes screenplays. That brings me to Geraint Benney, an actor – he’s turned up in an episode of Doctor Who, and regularly appears in the Welsh language soap Pobol y Cwm.
I’ve got musicians coming out of my ears. Three lads I knew from Cwmaman used to play the Great Valleys Songbook in backstreet pubs, calling themselves Tragic Love Company. Apparently they changed their name subsequently – I’ve no idea what happened to them afterwards.
Talking of music, my old schoolfriend Darren Broome works as a radio producer for BBC Wales. We were in the same class as Dai Evans, who sat his Maths A Level in New Zealand while touring with the Wales Under-18 Rugby squad. Other friends of mine from school went on to become doctors, or teachers, or engineers, or (in one case) a petroleum geologist.
As I said in Connecting People, I’ve got a wide network of friends in all sorts of interesting, creative, fulfilling lines of work. One has recently set up in business with a friend of his installing solar panels. He’s always been passionate about the environment, and they’ve got in at the right time.
Through my own work I’ve met world-famous scientists (Prof. Steven Pinker, Prof. Steve Jones, Steve Grand), actors (Simon Callow, Roger Lloyd Pack, Joan Collins), writers (Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett), and even shaken hands with Cardiff City’s former manager Peter Ridsdale. Further out, in the Expanding Sphere, there are chefs, fashion designers, photographers, and film stars with whom I can claim One Degree of Separation.
And what it all boils to is this: They’ve done something with their lives. Not all of them will go on to become world famous, of course. For every Stephen King and J. K. Rowling, there are thousands of people knocking out books in their spare time, while holding down full-time jobs and juggling family responsibilities. On Saturday afternoons during the autumn and winter, playing fields across the Valleys echo to the sounds of amateur club rugby (possibly even a local derby between Abercwmboi and Mountain Ash). One of these players, Ian Evans, got lucky, and is in the current Welsh squad. The rest of them don’t get discouraged, they soldier on in the true sense of the word ‘amateur’ – doing it for the love of the game.
There are half a dozen amateur theatre companies around. Once in a blue moon one of the youngsters might break into the professional stage. It doesn’t matter whether they go on to conquer the world, but they’ve all made a small contribution to society. These, and the people like them, are the people who deserve respect, in the true sense of the word.
The junkies, criminals, drug dealers, wife beaters, and other assorted scum of the Valleys, inspired by the whole gangsta phenomenon, seem to think that people should show them some ‘respect’.
For what?
For having managed to live into their second decade? That might have been one of Prof. Steve Jones’s evolutionary hurdles a century ago, but now it’s nothing to shout about. A lot of them have cleared Prof. Jones’s other hurdle as well – bringing children into the world. Well, congratulations! At least they’ve proved that they’re qualified to do something – even if the children are immediately placed into care, and they end up paying through the nose to the Child Support Agency.
And they’ve got ASBOs galore, of course. Criminals see them as a ‘badge of honour’, we’re told. I don’t. The only thing I’m going to show these people is contempt.
My respect is reserved for people who’ve done something to increase the sum total of human happiness. Gaining it is not a right; it’s a privilege which has to be earned – and I’m afraid that no pathetic smackhead has done anything yet to prove himself worthy of it. If you’re only capable of adding to the sum total of human misery, don’t demand my ‘respect’, because you won’t fucking get it!