Of all the things I thought would keep my youthful spark aglow it was the Beano comic. Every Thursday morning, throughout the 80s I would sit, waiting by the front door like an anticipatory gnome, for the spotty, adolescent paper boy to push my weekly mirth mag through the letterbox. Then I would sit down at the kitchen table and read, fervently, from cover to cover whilst shovelling down my chocolate Ready Brek (which never gave me the all over illuminated glow that the advert promised). All was right and good with the world.

The other day, thirty years later, a kindly lady in a charity shop gave my little lad a recent copy of The Beano. I still like a good comic so I was eager to have a read myself. It had been so long; how different was it? Were there still some old remaining characters? Did they still get the slipper as punishment? And where the hell was my Ready Brek?! I began to read. The front cover was still home to a couple of old stalwarts: Dennis the Menace & Gnasher. It felt comforting. But as I read, something perturbed me. Dennis’s dad. He was different. He wasn’t the dad I remember, the balding, moustachioed, patriarchal disciplinarian, no, he was a much younger man, and he looked very much like Dennis (see figure 1). So I researched further. To my utter astonishment I discovered that the father of today’s Dennis the Menace is none other than… The grown-up up Dennis that I used to read way back in the 80s. Oh Beano! You’ve made me feel so damned old!

Beano

This S*n Needs to Set

Posted: September 24, 2015 in Newspapers, politics
Tags: ,

A few weeks ago I was in the local chippy, getting myself a nosebag, when I foolishly thumbed through a copy of the S*n newspaper that the owners leave out for customer perusal. I bravely made it to page 2 before I closed it again. On that page was a vitriolic piece regarding individuals that the Labour leadership hopeful, Jeremy Corbyn, may have spoken to or sat next to in the past who turned out to have abhorrent views. The S*n, in its inimitable and bellicose style, then suggested that Corbyn might, by association, be some sort of monstrous anti-Semitic friend of the terrorist (they referred to one individual as a “Jezza fiend”; quality journalism I’m sure you’ll agree).

This cat-litter liner of a newspaper seemed to be suggesting that Corbyn, or any other individual for that matter—but mainly Corbyn—should never be allowed any sort of position of power if they have had or may have had any associations, no matter how minor, with terrible individuals (check out Thatcher’s bosom buddies; General Pinochet and Jimmy Saville).  Well, the picture below shows our current PM, whom the S*n newspaper wholeheartedly supported, bowing, deferentially, like some obsequious schoolboy receiving a swimming medal, in front of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime regularly flogs/beheads/stones/mutilates people for crimes such as: adultery, sorcery/witchcraft, blasphemy, apostasy, burglary, free speech, homosexuality and more. They are openly misogynistic and homophobic and, if you do the research, deeply anti-Semitic. How’s that for associating with insidious company.

Cameron Toad

When Three Became Four

Posted: June 17, 2015 in Babies, Birth, Family
Tags: , , , ,

The child known as Austin is now comfortably in his 3rd year on Earth. He is doing well. He is bright, funny, kind, gentle and delightfully brash—as of writing, he has taken to calling me by my first name (I blame his mother). As one half of his parents I believe we have done a superlative and thoroughly gilt-edged job of raising him to such competitive standards. For example, we haven’t once exposed him to sunlight or fed him after midnight. We did, however, inadvertently get him wet once and, as elucidated by the Speilbergian Theory of Evolution, a small furry bud did begin to grow off of Austin and from that tiny bud blossomed Arlo Dene Gallagher.

Arlo had a rather troubled start to life. As soon as he was born he was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where he remained for almost three weeks over the Christmas period, struggling with his oxygen uptake, fighting off various infections, trying to stabilise his blood sugar and regularly being invaded with a variety of tubes and needles; not the best way to hit the ground running. But to look at his lambent, scrunched up smiley eyes and enormous crab-apple cheeks as he carefully studies our faces, like some beautiful, benevolent, blinky being from another world, it is clear that, despite his unsettled beginnings, he is a happy little fellow, and for that, Mrs Gallagher and myself will be eternally grateful to the magnificent National Health Service and its staff for everything that they did for us: long may it reign.

There are very few individuals who have such a wonderful and tactile tenderness for Arlo than his big brother. From the early morning ‘til the end of the day, Austin is always there to offer his somewhat heavy-handed—but always well meaning—hugs, kisses, tickles, bounces and getting as close as possible to Arlo’s face whilst shouting “HELLO! HELLO!” It is clear from this that Austin loves Arlo dearly and Arlo has a bemused and rather nervous affection for Austin; brotherly love.

It is our hope that these two are going to have a joyous and spirited journey from now to whenever and to wherever, and always keep that kinship dear. They are amigos, compadres, Butch and Sundance, Starsky and Hutch; to quote children’s author Marc Brown: “Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero”.

As parents it is our job, not to shape them, but to guide them. Who they ultimately become is up to them. We have no business telling them which paths to travel, which hills to climb, we can only show them where the path starts and then, for the first few years of their lives, walk with them to ensure they don’t stumble into the road. But it is imperative that those paths lead them to good, happy and healthy places.

Looking at today’s society, however, it seems that that particular goal is becoming an increasingly difficult one to achieve. There certainly doesn’t appear to be a great deal to aspire to in terms of compassion and humanity of late. We seem to be living in a society that triumphs suspicion and disdain towards our neighbours and fellow earthlings at every given turn; a cultural plague that sets out to demonize the less fortunate and less able, but to canonise the rich and powerful. That was never the world I envisioned living in and it certainly isn’t the one in which I am happy to let my children inherit.

But, inherit it they must. So here’s to hoping that they, as the bright new beacons of the future, the fierce lion cubs of the tomorrow-world, the Luke Skywalkers to our Yodas, get the opportunity to instigate a real change for the good. Or at the very least get to be the generation that pushes Ian Duncan Smith into the bog of eternal stench once and for all.

Here’s to hoping.

_DSC0064

Well, actually about three weeks ago. I saw the trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, and I have to say I was rather impressed by it… Okay, hands up. I’ll admit it, I was incredibly giddy about it and almost lost it like a blathering seven year old! Happy now?

I felt something ferociously nostalgic and sweetly wistful about the whole thing. Not least for seeing the return of the coolest smuggler in the entire Universe (and don’t wookies age well?!)

I really hope that it lives up to all of the inescapable hype surrounding it. I don’t think I could cope with another Phantom Menace sized disappointment. Those three “prequel films” were not so much a trilogy, more, three heavy sustained kicks to the lower abdomen of my inner child. So these new movies have a lot to prove, and if they are as good as we are being led to believe, I, as an avid Star Wars fan, have a suggestion for J.J. Abrams and Disney.

Remake the prequels! Remake them: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith. And not just remake them, re-imagine them. Start with a clean slate and a better, more coherent story. Polish those turds, roll them in glitter, whatever, just give us a complete and glorious narrative that can erase the dark stain on our collective fantastical imaginations and give us closure.

Perhaps, if we erased the original prequels, if we struck them down, so to speak, they would come back, more powerful than we could possibly imagine.

Jingle Jangle

Posted: December 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

The howl of the wind outside caused Amelia to pull her bed-covers up to the bridge of her nose. Her wide, marble green eyes spied out over the edge of the quilt. Tracing the moonbeams, that crept through a nick in the curtains, she followed them to the far wall where they projected the shadows of the trees outside, dancing wildly amidst the rainbow pattern of her wallpaper.

She slowly brought the bed-covers back down to her chin revealing her cherubic, porcelain smooth face with its tiny imp-like nose and the biggest, widest dimple-edged smile that she could muster: Amelia was excited.

It was Christmas Eve night and her mind was racing. Thoughts thundered through her brain at a million miles per hour. Kaleidescope visions of tinsel, huge parcels wrapped with winter scenes and snowmen, pine needles on the carpet and colourful paper hats atop every head. The day was so close, yet so far. One more sleep away, that was all. But sleep eluded her; it hid itself away from her. She shut her eyes as tightly as she could and, as the moments passed, she willed the sea of slumber to spirit her away, but, almost as though some outside influence had taken control, her eyes opened. A ripple of frustration undulated through her belly.

Why can I not fall asleep? She thought. I want Christmas to be here more than anything else in the world, but if I can’t fall asleep now then it’s going to take ages!

Squeezing her eyes shut once again and holding her breath, she tried her very hardest to think of slumberous thoughts: gentle lullabies, fuzzy clouds, the swishing sound of the sea, but each time the dazzling call of Christmas day painted its magic over all of her imaginings. She bellowed out her held breath and sat upright.

“Mum told me that I have to be asleep before Santa Claus arrives.” she said in an irate, raised whisper. “I mustn’t let him see me awake or …”

She paused.

“Or what?”

She pondered that thought for a moment

“What will happen if he sees me awake? Will he be angry at me? Will I not get any presents? But that’s not fair, I can’t help it if I can’t fall asleep.”

A terrible notion occurred to her.

“What if I can’t fall asleep for the whole night? I’m terribly awake now. Might he not come at all?”

Amelia threw herself back with a thud! The pillow half-folded itself around her head, tossing her long brown hair all criss-crossed about her face.

She lay there, staring at the dancing trees on her wall that now seemed calmer, as the wind began to settle; it whistled gently, sighed, then silence …

Then …

Jingle jangle.

Amelia froze.

Jingle jangle.

She sat up and clumsily wiped away the tangle of hair from her face. She felt her blood run cold.

“He’s here!” she murmured.

She was overwhelmed with fear. Santa Claus had arrived at her house, but she was awake, more awake now than she’d ever been!

He doesn’t know! She thought. He hasn’t realised I’m still awake! What am I to do?

Jingle jangle. At the bottom of the stairs.

Jingle jangle. Halfway up the stairs.

Tears began to burst, silently, from the corners of Amelia’s eyes. Her Christmas was ruined. Santa would know that she was awake and would pass her by this year and all of her sleeping friends would have the best Christmases ever.

Unless! …

Again, she threw herself into her bed but this time she hoisted the covers up around her chin and closed her eyes.

He doesn’t know that I’m not asleep now, so if I pretend to sleep, he may come and go and leave my presents without ever knowing the truth!

Jingle jangle. At the top of the stairs.

Amelia laid as still as was possible and tried to control her breathing, but her heart was pounding away like a runaway train: she was about to be in the presence of Santa Claus.

Jingle jangle. Outside her door.

The handle turned. The door opened, scuffing along the carpet as it went.

Jingle jangle.

She half-closed her eyes and through her eyelashes she saw the shadow.

It juddered its way along the wall like a zoetrope animation . It was neither fat nor jolly, but tall, spindly and spider-like.

From behind the vestibule wall it came.

Jingle jangle.

Amelia’s stomach turned: this was not Santa!

The thing scampered, insect-like, across the floor and stopped by her bed. Amelia could not take her half-open eyes away from its grotesque form. It towered over her. As it leaned in, she could see that its face was completely covered in grey, matted hair, obscuring any features it may have had. It was skinny with loose flaps of colourless flesh dangling limply from its torso. Its arms were simply skin and bone but they were long, extraordinarily long, almost twice as long as the thing itself and they rested lifelessly on the floor. It wore a pair of red Santa trousers that looked so ridiculous, if Amelia hadn’t been so terrified, she would have laughed herself silly at them. Down both sides of the trousers, stitched crudely into the seams, were a series of sleigh bells. Jingle jangle.

Amelia could see that the trousers were held up by a black leather belt, and attached to that the belt was a large, filthy, threadbare sack that … Amelia gasped, mutely, in horror! The sack was moving, writhing.

Is someone in there? She thought.

Suddenly, through one of the many holes in the sack came a hand, a tiny hand; a child’s hand! The hand reached out for as far as it could and began to feel around in the darkness, hopelessly grasping at the air. The thing’s attention was caught by the hand and he lifted one of his elongated arms off the floor and swatted at it until, defeated, it wilted and returned into the sack. As it vanished, Amelia , briefly, saw a pair of wide glistening eyes peering out from the hole, looking back at her, desperate, scared.

The thing leaned in, close to Amelia’s head and seemed to be studying her. She remained as still as she could. Maybe the pretence of sleep would send this thing away.

Suddenly it spoke.

“Little girl. Little girl.”

The words came out in a whispered hiss and as each one ended, it’s inflection went up to a high pitched squeal that hurt Amelia’s ears.

“Little Girl. Little girl. Tell me, are you asleep? Your body lies silent and your eyes do not peep.”

Amelia fought hard against the urge to scream and cry and call for her parents.

“Little girl. Little girl.” The thing continued, “It’s Christmas Eve, and all that you do is dare to deceive!”

It moved closer to her and it’s voice became more of a whisper.

“But I never waver, I make no mistakes. I know when children are asleep or awake. So, no Christmas for you, no brand new New Year. Your Yuletide will be spent with these wicked children here!”

At that, the thing wrenched open the moth-eaten sack and inside there were hundreds of screaming, crying children, trapped in an impossible abyss.

The thing snatched Amelia from her bed. And threw her in. She tumbled down and fell into the tiny flailing arms of so many lost infants.

The thing continued. “But worry ye not! There’s no need to skrike, you’ll still see a Christmas, but not one that you’d like. You’ll be turned to a doll, for good children to keep. Good children who know how to fall fast asleep! And you’ll be a doll for the age of the world: do you feel sleepy now? Little girl. Little girl!”

THE END

© 2013 John Gallagher

The Half-Eaten Boy on the Stairs

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Horror, Poetry
Tags: , ,

Image

The old man sat still in his cold pantry hole, he was grizzled and grimaced in fright.

His knees crushed the end of his snot-frozen nose; his arms wrapped around them so tight.

A spider was hiding inside his left ear, peeking out from its wax splattered lair.

But the man did not itch, for his gaze was transfixed, at the half-eaten boy on the stairs.

 

For seven long days sat the boy on the stairs, as still as a tailor shop doll.

His half-eaten grin peeping out from the dark, and his half-eaten eyes seeing all.

His half-eaten throat hummed a sinister tune that gargled and groaned through the air.

Neither living nor dead, with a stench full of dread, sat the half-eaten boy on the stairs.

 

Feeble from hunger and weakened by fear, the old man began to come to.

He fumbled around for a scrap he could eat, for a morsel to help see him through.

He spied half an apple all covered in worms and reached out for as far as he dared.

But his task was in vain, and he soon felt the pain, from the half-eaten boy on the stairs.

 

It began with a breath, like the whisper of wind, or the soft rolling rush of a wave.

Blackness did then start to creep ‘cross the walls, as the air turned as cold as the grave.

The old man cried out, as the darkness embraced him with hands that just sprang from the air.

Though he struggled and kicked, he could not break the grip of the half-eaten boy on the stairs.

 

“For what is my crime that you punish me for?” shrieked the man from the dark of the room.

“What pain have I caused?  What sins passed me by? How deserving am I of this tomb?”

Then as swift as it came, the darkness did cease, could it be, had the old man been spared?

But as silence resumed, he looked out through the gloom, at the half-eaten boy on the stairs.

 

How he rallied and railed and bartered and begged, for a moment, perchance, to run free.

“If you please let me go, I’ll not say what I know, and that’s the last that you’ll e’er see of me!”

“I long for the rain and the sun in the sky, and a gentle breeze waft through my hair.”

But the old man sat here, half insane with the fear, of the half-eaten boy on the stairs.

 

Then one stormy evening, the old man did stir from a dream of the world past his door.

He could scarce catch his breath as he stared down the hall at the boy who now stood on the floor.

“A question, have I!” spoke the boy with a start, and he froze the old man with a glare.

“Answer me true, I’ll no more bother you.” Smiled the half-eaten boy from the stairs.

 

The old man sat stunned and he nodded his head, as the bile burned away at his throat.

“Your challenge I’ll take, and the truth shall you hear.” The boy, then, towards him, did float.

As the half-eaten boy brushed his half eaten nose ‘cross the old man’s cadaverous face.

His stomach did turn and his eyeballs did burn, as emptiness filled the whole place.

 

What seemed like an age through the passage of time, the boy remained silent and still.

Hung in the air like a gallows tree ghost, left to rot in the mid-morning chill.

The old man did whimper and tremble with fear, his hands and feet wilted and weak.

Then from the abyss came the ghastliest hiss, as the wretched boy started to speak.

 

“Please tell me, good sir, as you amble through life, along roads that lead from there to here.”

“And standing alone on the crossed paths of fate, ‘till the way ahead soon becomes clear.”

“To which do you listen, to render your choice of direction you’re willing to take?”

“Your heart or your head? Tell me which way you’re led? The decision is now yours to make.”

 

The old man gave thought and he furrowed his brow, as he puzzled and pondered and pried.

He rattled his brains and he swivelled his eyes as the fear ate away his insides.

But no answer came, for the man had ne’er wondered about all the things he had done.

So rather than try, he decided to lie; and thought that this battle he’d won.

 

“I lead with my heart!” the old man proclaimed with a fervency seldom he’d shown.

“I stride down those paths that feel right for my soul, where my destiny remains unknown!”

“A choice from one’s head? It is not for the brave, as we gamble a future dismay.”

“An answer you craved, and an answer I gave! Now release me and be on your way!”

 

The boy from the stairs bowed his half-eaten head and extended a half-eaten smile.

“Now that I know your heart steadies your feet, I’ll be gone from you in a short while.”

“But as it’s your heart, your foundation in life, I suspect you’ll no more need much else!”

And without a word said, he tore off the man’s head, and the man was no longer himself.

 

The hapless old man watched the world tumble by as his head rolled away down the hall.

Startled and stunned by this turn of events, he soon came to rest against the wall.

He saw his poor body all gushing with blood, and its hands and feet twitching in pairs.

And the last thing he spied, as he withered and died, was the half-eaten boy from the stairs.

 

The lesson to learn from this terrible tale is there isn’t a lesson at all.

There can be no escape as the darkness flows in, like the drape of a funeral pall.

So when there are shadows that creep at your door, never brush them aside, please beware.

Always think with your head, as you hide in your bed,

From the half-eaten boy on your stairs.

 

THE END

© 2013 John Gallagher

Been a While!

Posted: September 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

It’s been approximately 6 months since I became a full-time stay at home Dad and also 6 months since I last posted a blog. Could the two be connected?

So what occurrences have taken place since I last posted?

Well, I’ve lost a stone in weight, acquired a beard and turned 40! How the hell did that happen? Last thing I knew I was 22 and fresh-faced, then, BANG! I’m middle-aged and hirsute (I could say the beard was an intentional image change but I think it’s more truthful to say I simply haven’t had the time to shave in 6 months). I quite like the beard though, makes me look more like a Dad, so it stays.

The most important occurrence has, of course, been the pleasure of watching Austin, my little Jedi, metamorphose from a little baby boy into a little bigger boy. He turned 1 in June and his progress is thundering forward. He can say a few fundamental words such as “Hello”, “Ma ma” and “Da da”.

He can walk a few stumbly steps before crashing down onto his bottom and loves nothing more than grabbing mine or his Mum’s hands and going for a proper walk round the house. He’s also developed a very mischievous smile which makes it very difficult to be firm with him when he’s doing something he shouldn’t; you can’t help but smile at that impish grin.

On his 1st birthday we organised a humanist baby naming ceremony for friends and family to welcome Austin into the fold. It was a wonderful day and the ceremony was enjoyed by all: Sharon read out extracts from her pregnancy diary, family members got up and read poems, we had a night sky back drop where people could write messages for Austin on the back of silver star cards and stick them to it and I wrote a poem.

I include it here for folk to read if they so wish. It’s not brilliant but it is an accurate sentiment of how it feels to be Austin’s Dad.

Enjoy!

My Little Lad

My little lad.

My pride, my joy.

My golden sunbeam.

My baby boy.

 

To sit with you,

here, side by side.

To clap our hands.

To peek, then hide.

 

Your laughter rings,

and then resounds,

throughout my heart,

Your joy, abound.

 

You ask me only

for my time,

a guiding arm,

a trust, sublime.

 

But there is nought,

I wouldn’t do,

to keep that smile,

to care for you.

 

To see you safe,

to see you warm,

to hold your hand

amidst the storm.

 

Through Christmas lights,

and birthday cakes,

seaside days

and tummy aches.

 

And though our tale

has just begun,

remember this,

my little one.

 

The future is

not written down,

it has no plan,

our time is now

 

We spin our yarn

as we whizz by,

so, little one,

It’s time to fly.

 

From now ’til then

we’ll roam afar,

we’ll sail the seas,

Traverse the stars.

 

And all the while

It’s me and you,

I’ll help to guide

To see you through

 

Those battles lost

and battles won,

my little lad,

my world,

my son.

© 2013 John Gallagher

Image

 The Naming of Austin Sagan Gallagher

Pic by Ron Firth Photography