No God, No Good?

First in the new debate series – here we hear a story from the lovely Linda Bethea (thanks Linda!), and later I discuss religion, morality, and…probably a few other things. Hope you enjoy it. 

Opinions are obviously more than welcome, I expect this issue to be a little bit more controversial than say…the time some leeches attacked me in Nepal, or a Chinese guy looking at me weird in a bathroom – but that’s not a bad thing, it’s healthy to have discussions. I’d love to learn something new. 

If you have a video request you can leave a comment, or send me an email – if it’s a cool/interesting idea then I will get to it as soon as I can!

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Escaping a Braying

A friend of mine recently created a lovely little video of my hometown, Sunderland. It’s the place we both grew up in, and the place we know as “home” no matter where we are in the world. The clip mainly follows through the countryside and coastal areas of the city- rather than the inner-city terraces that I grew up in – but I found it charming all the same, and it soon had me reminiscing of my past life there, and the many friends and memories I still deeply treasure to this day…

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Mind, that’s not to say that life there is always smooth sailing! And I think this story from the childhood archives should prove that! But you know what? You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, and the good with the bad – and always, always make sure you laugh at the negatives later…

I’m going to stop my rambling and just get on with it, so without further adieu, here it is; ‘Escaping a Braying’:

          Every Wednesday without fail was “Mamoo and Grandar” day. So on days off we’d be there from morning to night, but if it was school term time then we’d have to wait for the bell to go…and it was only then that we could make our way to their home, and their sofa. You’d desperately want to be the first one there to get a proper seat, and dibs on the stuff we weren’t normally allowed; the stuff that rots your teeth and makes you fat – the stuff that other kids had in their lunchboxes every day – you see that’s the kind of stuff that was in Grandar’s biscuit tin. 

It was our little haven, just a few rooms that offered so much. You could have sugar in your tea as long as you kept it a secret, and if there wasn’t anything on the television Grandar would always have old cowboy films he was keen to show us…we could take or leave them usually, but he added a whole new dimension; giving running comedic commentary, and repeating the dramatic lines in even more dramatic voices…“DYAAAA FEEL LUCK-EE, WELL DOOYA – PUNK?!” He was, and still is – the funniest man alive, so sometimes I’d laugh so much at his little routines that I’d spill things on the floor – but it was never a big deal: “these things happen” they’d say. And Buster would probably eat it right up anyway.

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Eventually my Mother or Father would pick us up, and then we’d moan and ask to stay longer – so sometimes they’d sit to have a cup of tea and ask them how’s it going, but sometimes they wouldn’t. As we drove away we’d turn back and Mamoo would be waving us goodbye,  and she’d keep waving and waving until we couldn’t see her anymore. Mamoo is what we called my grandma, although we didn’t ever call her grandma unless we were talking to other people outside of the family…friends at school and others like that who would demand an explanation…it was just more bother than it was worth, so many why why whys and it always came across as weird for some reason. But to my siblings and I, she was undoubtedly Mamoo. Which is pronounced “Ma-maw” by the way…a baby’s mis-pronunciation that stuck forever.

 I remember one of the Mamoo and Grandar days more clearly than any other. I was walking over there, and was already late – probably detention for something that didn’t even really matter; laughing with friends, talking in class, not doing homework – something stupid,  that somehow  translates to a heinous crime at school. I was so late that all the other kids had cleared out from the streets and were nowhere to be seen; I was happy about this as I had to pass by another school to get to Mamoo and Grandar’s house and they didn’t take too kindly to St. Aidan’s lads, or Bent Aidan’s as they fondly referred to us as thanks to our all-male make up. Problem was there was no hiding my allegiance to this suspected homosexual club as the uniform marked me out…in black, white, and the gold stripes of my tie.

Anyway, I was late so hopefully nothing would happen this time arou-

“YA FUKEN BENDER!! OI…OI…OI, YA FUKEN BENDERR! OI!”

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Spoke too soon. There were three or four voices behind me, but I didn’t turn to look – all I knew was that they were advancing quickly, but some way away yet. “HEW! HEWWW! SCUSE ME?!” One of them suddenly remembered his manners, but I guessed that it wouldn’t change the possibility of him booting me in the face with his Rockport boots. “OI YA FUKEN BENDERR MAN!!” It was the same voice, but with a significant change in tactic. I hurried my pace, but didn’t want to run…if I ran it would be like attacks on those nature documentaries with the lions and the gazelles, running would encourage more running, and I was no runner. So I just moved a little faster, but tried to move my arms at a normal sort of speed so as not to arouse suspicion…perhaps it wouldn’t look so obvious and I’d be out of sight in no time! Or maybe if I got around a corner, then I could sprint, and just zigzag zigzag zigzag the streets in the hope of losing them? Well yeah, maybe. Maybe.

“ARNLY WANNA TALK TOOYA YA GAY FUKEN LIDL CUNT!”

I wasn’t so much in the mood for conversation, I just wanted to get to Mamoo and Grandar’s house – it was puddings in the corner day, and there’d probably be ice cream. I reached the end of the road and turned right…and started fleeing just the way I had planned – they didn’t seem to give chase, or if they did the adrenaline of sheer fear powered me beyond measure. I looped back around, and headed on a different route. When I’d caught my breath I took some time to reflect on how I could have probably taken them, and how I shouldn’t have ran – I mean, so what if they were older? I should have whipped out some karate moves, and used makeshift weapons out of things I could find around me…a brick as a hammer, a FOR SALE sign as a spear…I’d send them flying through windows – they’re lucky really, I let them off lightly. Next time they won’t be so lu-

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“WHYAYEE! LOOK HUU IT IS!! FUKEN GAY BASTAARD!” 

Shit. They were only a few feet in front of me. I span on the spot and belted away as quickly as humanely possible despite being knackered as it is. A glass bottle spun past my head and shattered on the jagged pavement – as a strong odour of cheap vodka temporarily filled the air. One of them grabbed at my shoulders with grasping heavy hands, but I shrugged free and darted across the road, not sure of where I was heading. But they were faster. I felt a heavy club to the head, not sure what – and then a boot up my behind. I pushed away in every direction, and one lost balance…falling to the floor in a pile, with a dumb expression stretched across his face. This surprised the pack temporarily, and spared me a few precious seconds…

I was still some way from Mamoo and Grandar’s. There was no way I could run all the way back without them catching up and slamming my head off a lamp post several times, or whatever took their fancy this particular day. So I made a split-second decision, to use this space for an impromptu theatrical performance…I really hoped they would enjoy the show and would refrain from heckling…

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I opened a stranger’s gate, and walked up a stranger’s pathway through a stranger’s garden, and then knocked at a stranger’s door. I heard the lads follow me, and caught a reflection in the front room’s window…they looked unsure as to what was going on. I rapped faster at the door and began Scene 1: “Maaaaammm! Maaaaam!” I knocked again, harder this time – “Daaaad! Daaaad!” Open the door man, I’ve forgot my key!” The lads were stood in the middle of the pathway with a shared puzzled look glazed over their faces. I moved to the window and tapped it while looking around the stranger’s house, it was pretty nice and well decorated – I wasn’t sure what I’d do when I met the actress playing my Mam, or the actor playing my Dad…but this was true improv, and I was out of options. “Maaaaaam, Daaaad! Can you open the door?” I shouted through the letterbox this time…catching a whiff of a scented candle as I peered in…

I felt a small rock hit my back. “FUKEN GAY BASTARD MAN, YA LUK-EE. Awer man…let’s go…” I guess he was the leader and had made a collective decision for the group.  Thank God. I carried on with my little one man play until I was sure they were out of sight…then I double checked the area before continuing on my way to Mamoo and Grandar’s house…

Puddings in the corner were waiting in the microwave, and they’d left me some gravy too. Later we had caramel Rocky bars, but I’d missed out on the ice cream. “Why were you so late?” they mused as the television flickered…

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“Detention” I muttered, as I stood up to fetch another cup of tea with two secret sugars.

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Unholy Climb (Vatican City)

Vatican City ~ St. Peter’s Basilica – 2014

You would have to be a complete and utter moron to not anticipate a long line when it comes to visiting the Vatican City…what? …WHAT?! No, that wasn’t an inference towards me being an ignorant moron – how rude of you to assume! SHEESH! But now you say it…I was slightly taken aback at just how massive the line was! In fact I recall that when we got to St. Peter’s square there was a cartoon-ish moment where I found the back of the huge line and thought “urghh, great!”, only to be shot a thousand disapproving glances from the surrounding mob of strangers – which made me aware that the real back of the line was actually approximately five miles down the road…“Oh Jesus Christ?!?!” (OOPS!) Cue more stares from my grumpy neighbours as I slumped off in defeat.

This was going to take forever, if the searing heat doesn’t kill me, then I am sure that boredom will. Perhaps the Pope pops out every now again, with sandwiches, ice creams and milkshakes – just to keep the punters going…surely, if there is anything that would get a guy the saint badge these days it would be that…just picture a nice statue…of him with delicious grub in both hands, and a nice little description underneath…Saint Francis, the patron saint of confectionary. That would be sweet. Argh, getting sidetracked as per usual, sorry – when is lunch?…I know I just ate breakfast, but still.

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It actually didn’t take too long! I guess we can safely put it down to some kind of miracle? Well, whatever your explanation the line sped along at an ungodly speed, which was a blessing as I am pretty sure the devilish red glow of my skin was starting to attract unwanted attention from concerned onlookers. There was one final hurdle to go however, you see there are checks just outside the entrance gate – and it is here that people’s true ugly colours start to emerge…these people, your supposed best pals for life line buddies – (well strangers I guess), suddenly decide that now they don’t give one solitary shit about you…or your new friendship, and instead make every effort to cut in front to save themselves a few seconds! It’s upsetting to be honest, because they really meant something to you – you shared a moment together, a lasting memory – you smiled a few times, possibly nodded when you felt it appropriate, agreed with whatever they said despite not really hearing, you are probably in the background to some of their photos…basically you were well on the way to becoming legitimate best friends…and then what happens? All of a sudden they are ruthless line pirates, with no respect for etiquette. Disappointing, very disappointing.  After all I had even taken the time out to give them little nicknames in my head, and they value that at 0 – trading you in like you don’t matter at all, as if they don’t even know you! And when they do cut in they do that weird lizard side eye, as they are pretending not to know that you know that they…err…I’m lost.

Safe to say Beard Belly, I CAN see you – and I wholly regret waving at your (not even that cute) child half an hour ago, I really do.  

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Anyway, it took us a little longer than most to get through the checks as the guard insisted that my little sister pull her skirt down, further and further, and further, until there would be some serious lower stomach situation going on…meanwhile ladies with dresses revealing major upper thigh could just strut on through – confusing system, next time I am wearing some short dungarees, just to see what’ll happen. 

Once we were finally through, we were given the choice of walking up the stairs to the steeple, or taking the elevator – it seemed like one of those choose your fate Goosebumps books…which one would be least agonizing? We took the stairs, I mean it’s just walking right? I like walking…BIG MISTAKE! HUUUGE! I mean, yes, you don’t want to be stuck in a horrible steel box, like a sweaty sardine – but those stairs seriously take it out of you, in fact I think my knees are still crying from the ordeal. I actually don’t think anyone else took the stairs…maybe they were not as clueless as me, or maybe someone else had waned them…but whatever it was, I found myself pulling at a rusty banister, as my thighs burned with a vicious ferocity…as if to say SIT DOWN…SIT DOWN…JOHN, SIT DOWN PLEASE, GOD! LIE DOWN – PLAY DEAD, PLAAAAY DEAAAAAAD! 

They were not far wrong, it was absolute hell…hell in the Vatican, so that is like – double bad, right?

After what seemed like an Everest climb, we found ourselves at a false precipice – a little courtyard before the real top – it was then that the smug little bastards in the elevator strolled out…the sight of mandatory stairs soon wiped that self-satisfied smirk off their faces, I will tell you that for sure! The steeple climb is the worst part, the curve means that you have to walk at a 90 degree curve…it is a bizarre sight to behold, boomerangs of all shapes and sizes, shuffling up at a snail’s pace, puffing and panting, urging themselves on…occasionally releasing a pressure valve with a grunt of either: “oh shit!” Or, “fuck!”… or even, “why God? Why?” I was seriously concerned at the life threateningly elderly who were attempting it, as well as the seriously overweight…and actually, myself – I didn’t feel up to this at all, what is the safety procedure? We are all packed so close together – I have a stranger’s nose up my ass one side, and a stranger’s bum in my face on the other, if my heart gives out, there is no other way to deal with me than throw my out of a window and hope for the best. Not exactly reassuring.

Eventually we made it. I felt like we should all go for a round of high fives – but no one was up for it. They were busy wiping the sweat from everywhere. and attempting in vain to catch their breath. Fair enough…but they should really be focusing on the view from up the top – you could see the rest of the smallest country in the world, The Vatican City, all of Rome – and even further afield…

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You attempt to take photos at a time like this, it is almost our first instinct – if something looks sensational we want to snap it, immortalize it, as proof that this spectacular thing exists…but I realised after a few tries that nothing I could capture was a true reflection…it just looked like buildings, and building, and buildings in the form of a photograph…but with the naked eye it was so much more.

After that rather deep philosophical moment, I gave my sister the nod – which was reciprocated, that basically meant “done with this? Yeah me too, I am starving though…ginormous lunch and even more beer? Yeah, great – let’s get out of here.”

No better place than Rome to wine and dine, so my stomach was certainly happy…my thighs and ankles however…well, they are still in a bad mood with me. I guess this is my confession – I know I did them wrong. I should have broke the rules, like this guy – no better man than the Pope to wipe away my sins…

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