Woolhouse Boys road trip.

You may have spotted that I’m a Twin Peaks fan, you might even have noticed my recent obsession with a certain item of garish knitwear, due to my membership of The Woolhouse Boys, the best group on the internet. If so, then hopefully you’ll be up to date enough with the story to appreciate this seasonal tale of goodwill and friendship.

First, a little background.

Back in March, while the frenzy surrounding Twin Peaks: The Return was still building to fever pitch, I became friends with a very interesting chap with the unlikely name of Kneel Downe.

As an author and fellow Twin Peaks fanatic from the North of England, with whom I share a birthday, along with many other common interests, it was inevitable that Kneel and I would get along like the proverbial house on fire and I subsequently invited him to join the Woolhouse Boys.

To my total lack of surprise, that warm and friendly group of kindred spirits took to Kneel as quickly as I had and it wasn’t long before he became one of the inner circle of genuinely close friends we have all made in the last few months.

So it was just as unsurprising that, when he was going through a really tough few weeks, the Woolhouse rallied round to help.

Kneel suffers from MS and his health can vary wildly from one day to the next, especially when dealing with stressful situations, but despite this, he is always concerned about the welfare of other people and is one of the most compassionate people I know. He was caring for his father, who was seriously ill, meaning Kneel’s health also deteriorated and there were many days that we didn’t hear from him at all, the stress was clearly taking its toll.

Then, on November 6th, we got the sad news that Kneel’s father had passed away.

Which was when the Woolhouse swung into action.

Within minutes of hearing of his loss, Joel and I were getting messages from members all around the world; from here in the UK to all over America, from Europe and even from Australia, everyone wanted to do something for Kneel.

Now, sending round a card for everyone to sign was obviously impractical, given the distances involved, so I suggested anyone wanting to contribute could PayPal me donations, which I would gladly take and present to Kneel, along with all the love and condolences of the boys and girls in the Woolhouse.

Needless to say, donations came in from many of Kneel’s friends and, after the funeral had taken place, I arranged to go up and meet him for the first time last Saturday, taking Audrey with me for company, (because it’s almost impossible to feel down when she’s around) but not before we had another brilliant idea.

Joel and I had been working on a new shirt design, which we were about to roll out to any interested group members, and I’d only just picked up the first prototype when we heard Kneel’s sad news. It immediately seemed obvious that, along with the generous donations from his friends, I should also present him with this small token of our affection.

But how could we make it that little bit more personal, a completely unique gift?

Then I had a flash of inspiration; if I got everyone to send a nice clear photo of their name, black on a white background, I could compile them onto one sheet, invert the colour and have the resulting white signatures printed on the shirt, as if we’d all signed it for him.

That was easy enough to accomplish (although I left the technical stuff to Joel, who works with computer graphics) and I’d have been happy with that, but Joel had other plans afoot.

While I was still on the phone to him, ironing out the fine details, Joel was e-mailing one or two of his famous Twin Peaks cast member friends, asking if they’d be happy to add their names to ours for a good cause.

I can’t, I’m afraid, reveal the three names he delivered to us, but rest assured you would be amazed at who he managed to get to send us an autograph. On top of that, I contacted the wonderful John “Chad” Pirruccello from the show, who had previously been such a good sport about our daft shenanigans and he instantly sent us his name.

{I should point out that all of this happened on Thanksgiving, so I am eternally grateful to all of you who spared the time to get involved, you’re all awesome}

So at six thirty on Saturday morning, Audrey and I set off on an 800 mile round trip to Lancashire, arriving at Kneel’s around lunchtime and presenting him with his extraordinary gift, along with a few baked goodies from Rhonda and all the best wishes of The Woolhouse Boys.

Kneel’s home is a veritable shrine to Dr Who and you can’t turn round without coming face to face with one of the dozens of daleks that adorn almost every flat surface, not to mention the hundreds of DVDs, a Cyberman head on top of a hat stand in the hall and all manner of other memorabilia throughout the house.

I filmed little clips of our journey, editing them together into a short travelogue, WHICH YOU CAN WATCH HERE, including our first meeting with Kneel and, although the actual presentation of his gifts will remain private, here is a redacted version of that fabulous shirt and a shot of us toasting our friendship (a condition impressed upon me by Joel was that I must get a photo of Kneel and I having a pint together and who am I to refuse such a request?).

Please excuse my peculiar eyewear, I wear my varifocal glasses from work for driving and forgot to take them off for the photo.

It was a real pleasure to finally meet Kneel and to see his reaction to the kindness of his global network of new friends, it made me truly proud to be a part of something so positive and supportive.

But I’ve found that this is what The Woolhouse does, it brings people together from all walks of life and it makes them into lifelong friends, I see it happen every day and it is good to know that we have helped one of our own in some small way, by showing him that there is always someone who cares enough to make a difference.

*****

You can explore Kneel’s amazing Virulent Blurb universe AT THIS LINK.

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The people upstairs.

Ever since Rhonda and Audrey finally arrived from America, three years ago this week, we have lived on the ground floor of a small block of flats.

It is located on a housing estate built in the late ’80s, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, ideally situated for Audrey’s school, Rhonda’s job and local shops. We have our own garden and, until recently, perfectly decent neighbours in the other three flats in the block.

When I originally rented number 14, the flat we now live in, (back when Rhonda and I were still battling the labyrinthine bureaucracy of immigration agencies, on opposite sides of the Atlantic) we were unaware that the landlord was going to sell it six months later, a problem we solved by moving to number 16 next door.

For the next two years we lived next door and got on fine with the nice Hungarian family above us, became friends with Meg and Adam, the young couple who eventually moved into number 14, (after considerable renovation from the state it was in when we lived there) and had no problems with the other upstairs neighbour, who we hardly ever saw or heard from.

Then, in May of this year, when Meg and Adam moved out, we went back across the hall to number 14, due to a very tempting offer from the owner. We had got to know her when she was doing the renovations, (the young couple were the owner’s daughter and her boyfriend) and she wanted someone she could trust to live there; meaning we got a fully refurbished flat, lower rent, no deposit and a nicer garden.

Sound too good to be true?

It is.

Almost as soon as we moved back, it was clear that the pair who had moved into the flat above since we were last there (see photo) were not exactly in thrall to domestic bliss, in fact they seemed to be in an almost constant state of war with each other.

She was heavily pregnant, he was very obviously selling drugs to a steady stream of unpleasant visitors, (which they all stood and openly smoked on the front step, right outside our door, making the stairwell and entryway permanently stink of weed) and they often had long screaming rows, which made Audrey very nervous and resulted in the police being called more than once.

In fact on one occasion, soon after their baby was born, I was already at work at 7 a.m. when Rhonda called to say the woman upstairs was hanging out of the window, screaming “Somebody help me!” so she’d rung the police and they’d arrived, broken up the fight and hauled away The Twat (as I now habitually refer to him) while she screamed that he should never come back, etc etc etc.

Already long story, short; this has happened multiple times over the last few months, with him coming back the next day and the cycle begins all over again.

Sometimes the fights are so violent that we can hear them dragging each other around upstairs and hear every hoarsely screamed obscenity, along with the poor, doomed baby adding its own terrified protests to the infernal din from above.

During my recent whiplash holiday from work, I was here for the latest police visit, informing them that this was the nth time this had happened and what were they going to do about it, because these two lunatics were ruining the lives of everyone within earshot which, given their prowess at bellowing and screaming, was by now quite a radius.

“It’s a domestic, there’s nothing we can do unless a law is broken, speak to the landlord” is the standard police response to this type of enquiry, so once they’ve allegedly restored the peace, they just bugger off and leave us all to it.

Again.

So, having already complained several times to our landlady, who passed on our concerns to the landlord of the flat upstairs (which he rents privately, not through a letting agent, otherwise they’d be gone by now) I finally spoke directly to him on Monday, to find out what he was going to do about his Neighbours From Hell.

Now, I’d mistakenly been under the impression that he would be aghast at hearing of his tenants’ continuing bad behaviour and be keen to see the back of them asap, but no, no such luck.

He initially told me that he’d spoken to The Twat and that he’d promised there’d be no more arguments or noise.

I respectfully enquired when it was he’d acquired this assurance and he told me it was the day before.

I politely informed him that Mr and Mrs Twat had in fact woken Rhonda and Audrey up with a high volume slanging match at 5 o’clock that very morning and therefore, with the greatest of respect, The Twat was talking bollocks.

I also informed him, with nothing but the most delicate diplomacy, of course, that my wife and daughter were regularly subjected to frightening and distressing episodes of violence and that it was his responsibility to do something about it.

What, I enquired gently, the fuck are you going to do about getting rid of these two scumbags, (my diplomatic repertoire was beginning to wear thin at this point) who are making my family’s life a misery?

His answer was; “If at any time you or your family ever feel threatened or nervous in any way, you should of course call the police.”

I pointed out to him in a friendly tone that we had done that, several times, which was why I was ringing him; to tell him he had a pair of menaces to society living in his property and wouldn’t it better for everyone if he evicted them and replaced them with ordinary, decent human beings?

To which he gave this extraordinary reply; “I’m not going to evict them on your say so, I’ll evict them when and if I think the time is right.”

Wait…what?

He’s only going to evict them if I stop complaining that he needs to evict them?

I smell spineless bullshit.

So I did ring the police, again, to ask their advice on a matter they obviously don’t really give a shit about. I even highlighted the child protection issue and they gave me some crap about them “always filling out an at risk form when a child is present at a reported disturbance”.

They told me to see a solicitor, or go to to the Citizens Advice Bureau, or (and this was when I softly hung up the phone) maybe I could try talking to the landlord…?

I did copy out all the landlord’s phone numbers several times and handed them out to the neighbours, making sure they definitely didn’t ring him every five minutes if they heard even slightly raised voices from upstairs.

I guess we’ll just have to wait until he decides the time is right to do something about it and hope his cowardly prevarication isn’t at the cost of the life of mother or child.

One liner Wednesday: Rant.

The alternative dictionary is taking a week off, so I can rant about the violent, disruptive and unspeakable couple of trailer trash chavs we have living above us.

{See today’s second post for details. but for now here’s an infuriating quote from their absentee landlord, who I managed to get on the phone at the weekend}

“I’m not evicting them on your say so, I’ll evict them if and when I think the time is right.”

#1linerWeds

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Rooms and pathways: An Autumn walk at RHS Rosemoor.

A tour of one of England’s finest gardens, reposted from my photography blog, Photo Sans Frontiers.

{So please click the link and check out the photos, as I’m trying to save space by posting picture heavy posts over there, thanks}

Photo Sans Frontiers

Having a week off work in October and a sunny day at the same time, well that was too good an opportunity to pass up; so today Rhonda and I took advantage of a free entry offer at RHS Rosemoor and, of course, I took plenty of photos.

The large, sprawling gardens are cleverly laid out in a series of themed spaces, obscured from each other by the use of hedges, trees and hard landscaping, using the curves and perspective of connecting paths to draw your eye onward to the next horticultural treat.

There’s something for every gardening taste; formal rose gardens and the geometric precision of tightly clipped fir hedges; vibrant colours of the hot garden and a glorious mixture of textures in the foliage garden; the walled kitchen garden and fragrant delights of the herb garden and, my personal favourite, the lush and beautiful lake area, with its…

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Sticking my neck out.

I’ve had some bloody stupid injuries in my time, but the latest one is possibly the most inane and painful of all.

I had a pretty good weekend; I went to the fair with Audrey on Friday after stopping in at the pub for a quick pint; Rhonda managed to get Saturday evening off for a change so we went to the carnival for a wander round (until it rained); there was a Grand Prix on Sunday (Vettel crashed, Ha!), the sun came out and I spent the afternoon in the garden doing some writing.

All in all, a very pleasant few days.

Then I woke up yesterday and my neck felt like someone had hit the left side of it with a cricket bat while I was asleep.

Great, must have slept funny, (no, not “ha ha”) so I took a couple of ibuprofen and went to work.

By lunchtime I couldn’t turn my head to the left, or tilt it down, or reach out my left arm, or bend forward at all, without a MASSIVE bolt of pain shooting up into the base of my skull, like someone had attached jump leads to my neck.

After couple of hours of the pain getting progressively worse, I gave in. I called the doctor and got an appointment at the rapid access clinic half an hour later, leaving work while I could still move well enough to drive…

“So, what did you do to yourself this time.”

(Oh lucky me, it’s the same nurse who patched me up after the various chunks I’ve taken out of myself on previous occasions)

“I don’t know, honestly.”

*Examines badly inflamed and rock hard neck muscles*

“Ow!”

“Hmm, did you do anything over the weekend that might have injured it?”

“No! I honestly just sat in the garden yesterday, I didn’t do anything all weekend, I went to the fair with my daughter on Friday….”

“Go on any rides?”

“Yeah, the Bumper Cars…Ah.”

“Yep, you’ve got whiplash.”

“Oh for f…”

“I’ll give you some muscle relaxants, they’re valium.”

“Really? Oh, go on then. No work?”

“Oh no, they’ll make you very sleepy, you won’t be able to drive or work for a couple of days.”

“That’s a shame.”

“I bet. Now, you can only take three a day and stop taking them when you’re better, because they’re very addictive, ok?”

“Ok, got it.”

“But I’ll give you twenty eight, anyway, because you can always hang onto them, in case you need them in future.”

(Wait, what?)

“Um, ok. How long do they last?”

“About four hours.”

“Hahaha, no, how long do they keep for?”

“Ah, right, they’ll have an expiry date on them.”

And now I’m sat at home with neck muscles that feel like strips of teak, despite the fact I felt perfectly fine all weekend.

Having never had whiplash before, I’d never fully appreciated a) how painful it is, or b) the strange delayed action involved in its onset. I went on the dodgems (with Audrey driving, I might add) at about four o’clock on Friday afternoon and had no inkling there was anything wrong until first thing Monday morning

So, there you have it.

Whiplash.

On the bloody dodgems.
They’re going to love that at work.

It was a fun day out, though, and for those of you who enjoy watching unforseen injuries in action, here’s the video I shot whilst my neck was being primed to torture me three days later.

My favourite part is near the start, when Audrey notices the camera for the first time and her expression changes from fearsome concentration to a happy grin in one quick double-take.

Buckle up, it’s a bumpy ride!

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