Perry and I have now moved all the content over to www.ianmarchant.com
Sadly, we haven’t worked out a wawy to move all the newest comments… thank you for commenting here… but please do comment on the blog at the new/old website…
Thought I should big this up…
I’m On The Train, Saturday 10th July 8pm Radio Four,
repeated Monday 12th July 3pm.
That I haven’t done so until today is because I’m so chuffed aout the new website which Mr Perry venus has been working on. It’s looking great, and there is lots to do and see, and we’re just about ready to go. So I guess this will be the last post on the old site…. hope you like the new one when we launch in a few days…
On the morning of Thursday 17th of June, I was having a bit of a lie-in.
I’d been at an all day meeting in Birmingham on the day before, and had finished the meeting with a blinding migraine. Getting back home to Presteigne had proved something of a challenge, and I needed to sleep the migraine off.
At 10.30, my fiancée went down to answer the door. She came back up to our bedroom to tell me that there were ‘two people from the court’ who were asking for me. I pulled on my jeans, and went to see what the problem was. There were indeed two people at the door, both in the uniform of Her Majesty’s Court Service, which is all but indistinguishable from that of policemen. One was a shaven headed man in mirror shades; the other a tough looking woman, half my height, but twice as mean. The man told me that I was under arrest, and that I should get dressed, as they were to take me straight to Brecon Magistrates Court.
‘But how will I get back?’ I bleated.
‘Well, Mr Marchant, ‘ he said. ‘You might well be going to prison, since I’m taking you into custody. So I doubt you will be coming back.’
I went upstairs and pulled on a fairly smart shirt, and told my fiancée what was happening; she was, perhaps not without reason, very upset I grabbed my book, (Jonathan Littell’s ‘The Kindly Ones’), my reading specs, some medicine I need for my heart, my tobacco, and my fiancée’s mobile phone.
By this time the court officers had come into our flat, and were coming up the stairs, calling my name. So I kissed my fiancée, and told her not to follow. The Court Officers also told her not to bother, as I was quite likely to be going to prison anyway. She ignored them, and me, grabbed her car keys (but not her purse, which meant that she spent all day unable to buy herself anything to eat or drink), and followed as the officers led me through the streets of Presteigne, past my neighbours, past my friends in the café where I have my breakfast, to their van (which was illegally parked). It was a long wheel base Transit, with seats in the front for the officers, a row of seats behind, and, inside the back doors, a steel and perspex cage, perhaps one and a half metres square. They opened the cage, and invited me to enter. There was a steel bench, maybe four inches wide, on which I could perch. I am quite tall, so only by crouching could I get into the cage. My head touched the ceiling of the cage; every time we went over a bump on the 35 mile, hour long drive, my head took a knock against the perspex. I could see my fiancée following behind. It was a smashing day, just the kind of day you might well want to drive down from Presteigne to Brecon.
On arrival at the Magistrates court, I could see from my privileged position in the perspex cage that my fiancée was crying. The policewoman who wore the badges of Her Majesty’s Court service had gone over to speak with her through the window of her car. I asked the man in mirror shades if I could go and talk with my fiancée, and offer her some comfort, but he told me that it wasn’t possible.
‘Of course not,’ I said, ‘after all, you’re only doing your job.’
He backed the van up to the steel shuttered door of the Magistrates court, and released me from the cage. I was happy to stand up straight. I’d had enough foresight to roll myself a fag in the cage, and he let me smoke it. The policewoman walked across to tell me how upset my fiancée was. I handed the policewoman the mobile phone, and asked that she return it to my fiancée; she said she would, and popped it into the top pocket of her flak jacket. The door to the court rolled up, and two guards came out. The man in the mirror shades then handed me over to the charge of the security guards who were running the cell block. From the insignia on their sweaters, it was clear that they were working for a private security firm. I was then led into the cellblock, and told to sit in an interview room. A female guard came and told me to empty my pockets. I asked if I could keep my book and my reading specs, and after consulting with her colleagues, she agreed that I could. She told me to take off my belt. She frisked me. I was then taken through a barred gate into the holding cell area. Two of the cells were already taken; I saw the inmates peering at me as I walked by. They shouted, and banged on their cell doors. I asked if I could use the loo before I was incarcerated, and the guard assented. There was a steel urinal, and a steel toilet without a seat, whose rim was damp with piss; luckily, I didn’t need a shit.
Then I was what can only be called ‘banged up’ in the cell. It had bare walls, painted an attractive institutional eau de nil. It had a wooden bench built into the wall. It was cold. The steel door closed, and I put on my reading specs, and settled down to enjoy Littell’s study of the Nazi mindset.
One of the guards brought me a polystyrene cup full of tea. From the next door cell there was more shouting, banging, but I couldn’t hear what was being said. I’m 52, and hard of hearing. After perhaps an hour, I was brought another cup of tea and a micro-waved chilli con carne in a plastic tray, and a plastic spoon to eat it with.
After luncheon, one of the guards came and opened the door, and invited me to accompany him to the interview room where I had been searched, for a meeting with the nice young Duty Solicitor. He spoke into his mike,
‘I’d like to shake your hand Mr Marchant, but the screen prevents it’.
He told me that if I pleaded guilty, he would make a plea in mitigation, to see if the Magistrates might grant me a suspension of my inevitable prison sentence. He showed me the three forms that I would need to fill in, outlining my financial situation, and told me he would leave them with the guards. He asked me what I did for a living, and when I told him, he asked me if The Kindly Ones, which the guards had advised to take with me, was one of mine. I told him that it would be great if it was, since it had won the Prix Goncourt, but he seemed unimpressed. He told me that the court had adjourned for lunch, and that my fellow inmates would appear before the magistrates before me in the afternoon session, as they had come in first, which seemed only fair. But my case should be heard at around 3-ish. I was led back to my cell. I filled in the first of the forms, which was for the magistrates, but declined to fill in the other two, which were for Legal Aid, because I suspected that the State had already gone to a great deal of trouble and expense on my behalf that day, and didn’t want to inconvenience them further. The guard came to collect the forms, and slammed shut the door to my cell. I returned to my book. I read about how the narrator loved to be buggered, and began to wonder if I too might need to develop a taste.
The book, however absorbing, could not stop me from brooding on my situation. I realised that the arresting officers had not shown me any identity, had not at any stage read me my rights, and had entered our flat without invitation to chivvy me along. I thought about how I was under the impression that I was innocent until proven guilty, but that I’d bought utterly the solicitors advice that I plead guilty as it would earn me credit. I thought about how I hadn’t been offered a phone call or a visit from my fiancée. I realised that after only a few hours in a holding cell, I really didn’t want to go to prison, even though I read The Daily Mail when I find it on a train, and so knew all too well about the luxurious conditions in which prisoners are kept and molly-coddled.
When the security guards brought me my third cup of tea of the day, I found that I wanted very much to throw it in their faces; and that when they closed the door on me, that I wanted to kick it. I resisted.
Three o clock passed, and four, and it began to dawn on me that the Magistrates were busier than had been foreseen, and that I would certainly be spending the night in custody. It made concentrating on my book quite hard.
But I was wrong, and at four thirty I was led out of my cell, up a short flight of steps and into the dock of Brecon Magistrates court. The old ducks on the bench looked decent enough; a lady chairman in her early sixties, a bald gentleman farmer, also in his early sixties, and a third person of indeterminate sex, who looked to be wearing an ill-fitting wig, and who reminded me somewhat of those pictures of Phil Spector when he was on trial for murder. I was asked my name, address, and age. I thought they looked quite shocked to see me, as I was probably looking a bit bedraggled and sorry for myself, and that otherwise I look like what I am; a middle class middle aged man, a part-time university lecturer, an author, and not like their usual punters.
The nice young solicitor told the court all about my innate respectability, how sorry I was, and that I admitted to him that I had been ‘dumb’. He told them of the relative poverty of the writing life. He told them that my fiancée and I were due to be married on the following Tuesday, and that our collective grown up daughters were due to arrive the next day, so that they could come to the ceremony. Then he asked if he could consult with me. The court agreed. He told me that the amount I had offered to pay was too low, and that I should offer £150 a month, which I can’t afford. I had no choice, I felt. He told the court of my offer.
At no point was I asked to plead, to swear on a Bible, or if I had anything to say for myself.
The magistrates consulted amongst themselves. The chairman turned to me and smiled.
‘You are sentenced to 53 days imprisonment, suspended on condition that you pay a fine of three thousand four hundred pounds in instalments of 150 pounds per month.’. The Clerk of the Court was kind enough to point out that if I missed a payment, I would not be returned to the court, but taken straight to prison. I said ‘Thank you’ to the court, nodded my thanks at the nice young lawyer, and was led back down to the cells, where my stuff was returned to me. I was told my solicitor was waiting to speak to me in the interview room. I thought he might be there to tell me how I could appeal, or at least give me details of how I’m supposed to pay. But no. He showed me a green form which would enable me to retrieve my fiancée’s mobile phone. The policewoman had not given it back, as she had told me she would, but had handed it over to the security guard on reception. My fiancée had returned to Presteigne to collect her daughter from school with no money and without her phone. I was walked up to reception, where the smiling guard returned the phone.
The security guard called the bus company for me, to see if there was anything heading my way; luckily, there was a bus at 5.55 that would take me as far as Hay. I walked out into hot sunshine, rolled myself a fag, and phoned my fiancée, to ask if she would come and collect me from Hay. She asked me if I’d been given a travel warrant. My solicitor had told her that I would be entitled to one. I hadn’t. My fiancée had children to look after; it was 7.00 pm before she could come and pick me up outside the Registry Office where we were due to be married in four days time..
I expect I should reveal the offence for which I have now accumulated a criminal record.
Parking fines. Eleven unpaid parking fines.
I do not have eleven unpaid parking fines because I am a diplomat for a small African state. I have eleven unpaid parking tickets because I am a dim-witted moron. But, I would wish to argue, a dim-witted moron with some principles. Dim-witted moronic principles, but principles nonetheless.
I live on a street where parking is restricted to twenty minutes. It’s Presteigne’s main, nay, only, shopping street. It’s a narrow one-way street, so I understand that the traders don’t want the residents parking there. It’s already difficult enough to find somewhere to park on the streets of Presteigne. Fair enough. I’m happy to park in one of Presteigne’s reasonably large car parks. But I’m not happy to pay. The more I thought about paying, the more it drove me mad. And it wasn’t even me paying that drove me mad. It was the idea of anybody paying that incensed me. The streets are full of cars, and the car parks are mostly empty. If a tourist came to town, and put an hours parking on their car, what might they do? An hours parking might seem adequate, because Presteigne is small. You might well think an hour would be enough. But say you wanted to have a cup of something in Elda’s Colombian Coffee House, stroll around the shops, and then go and visit The Judge’s Lodgings, our excellent award winning museum. The trip round the Judge’s Lodgings alone takes an hour and a half. And then say you wanted to go for a leisurely lunch at the Hat Shop, our top High Street Bistro. And then, after a lunch, perhaps a visit to our wondrous church, and a bimble around the Withybeds Nature Reserve. You could spend a very nice day in Presteigne, but few visitors are going to take the time to keep popping back to feed the parking machine, are they? So people put an hour on the machine, wander about a bit, and then go. The traders, who need all the business they can get, have taken hardly a thing from the visitors. Charging for car parking in a small town like Presteigne is anti-business. That’s why the traders, the Presteigne Chamber of Commerce, and the Town Council are all opposed to charging for car parking.
So, I embarked on the dumbest, worst organised and most footling political protest of all time. If occasionally I needed to park in one of the pay car parks, I refused to pay. Then I refused to pay the fine. Perhaps if I’d told anybody what I was doing, there might, just, have been some point to the thing. Maybe if I’d got the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council on my side, maybe if I’d organised a campaign, then it might have had some effect. As it is, Powys County Council can continue to impose unwanted and anti-business parking charges, and I am a criminal. A dim-witted moronic criminal: like most of them, I guess.
Last summer, when I was away, I apparently got a visit from a court official. He left a card with my daughter to tell her he’d called. In March, I was phoned by a collection agency, who said that the case had been passed to them. They told me I owed two and a half grand. I laughed! I told them I couldn’t pay, and what’s more, I wouldn’t pay. The man at the collection agency told me it would go back to court, and I said that was OK by me. I expected a summons, a chance to stand up in front of the magistrates to plead my case (and, by default, the case of all small towns whose streets are stuffed with parked cars and whose car parks are empty). I expected that the magistrates would lower the clearly disproportionate fine, and give me some time to pay. I thought, dim-witted moron that I am, that the case would be reported in the local press, and that lots of local people would speak up in protest at car parking charges in small towns which need visitors and business. Instead, when the summons came, it came in force. The fine seems to have arbitrarily raised. Two of the fines were addressed to an address where I’d never lived, or even visited. I was illegally arrested, not allowed a visit from or a phone call to my fiancée, and treated like a violent thug. And I wasn’t invited to speak at all.
One more point I’d like to make, which is that I hope I’m not special pleading. If not paying your parking ticket is a criminal offence, then I am a criminal. But all criminals, until they are proven guilty, are innocent. They (we) are all entitled to visits and phone calls while on remand. Nobody who is not a danger to themselves or the arresting officers should be locked in a cage in the back of a van. That wasn’t about security. That was a deliberate attempt to humiliate and intimidate me. The arresting officers loved their work. I expect they watch a lot of cop shows where people wear mirror shades. I hope their cocks drop off, both of them.
Have YOU remembered to Pay and Display?
That’s how things are at the moment! Working like a dog on the new book, BCU, Radio Four, etc etc. , so no time to blog at present.
My Dad was a man without qualities. He died at 11.25pm on May 6th, 2010, just as the election results were starting to come in. As his ultimate wife said to me a few days ago, ‘Ah loved him, but he loathed everything and everybody. He had a narcissitic personality disorder. I hope you never get that.’ I told her that although I had a narcissitic personality, I felt that it wasn’t disordered. Now I think I know what she means.
I did my grieving for him a long time ago. He used to rant that I only hated him because I’d been told bad things about him. He was right that I had been told bad things about him for most of my life, but they didn’t stop me loving him, because I didn’t believe them, and he was my Dad. When, as an adult, I came to see that the things I had been told were true, even then I still didn’t hate him. I just wished I’d had another father. In the end, I felt nothing but horror.
In 2006 I went to visit him in Florida, where he was living at the time. He’d been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999, and had had a lung removed. He had diabetes, and a spot of prostrate cancer, too. But he knew that the lung cancer would get him one day, that removing the lung was only a postponement. We spent a fortnight in one another’s company, and it was enough. At the end of the trip, I wrote to his wife, telling her I wanted nothing more to do with him; and that, furthermore, I wanted writing out of his will, since all he cared about was money, and I wanted him to see if he could take it with him. My sister had done something similar ten years previously; so had my uncle and one of my aunties. I was just the last person that he had driven away, apart from his American wife. I flew back from Florida to Gatwick, called my step-father to tell him I loved him, and that he had always been my real father anyway; and that was that. I didn’t hear from my Dad, and nor did I expect to.
Until February of this year, when he phoned up out of the blue. I was away, so he spoke to my Beloved for almost an hour. She told me that he couldn’t have been more offensive, unpleasant and insensitive if he’d tried. I told her that was him trying to be nice. I was angry that he’d found my phone number. A few days later, he called again, and we spoke. He told me that he was leaving his wife in the States and going to live in Ireland, in a place called Tramore, near Waterford. He said he’d never been there, but he couldn’t stand the US anymore. He’d been fighting with his wife’s family, and wanted out. I told him he was stupid, but that he could call me when he got there, if he wanted. He didn’t, and I stopped worrying.
On the day before the election, I got a call from a medical social worker in Waterford, telling me my Dad was severely ill, and that I should consider flying over at once. I told her that it was inconvenient, because I had three gigs over the course of the weekend. I think she thought me a bit callous. I arranged to fly out on Monday 10th, to see him. The next morning, election day, the head of the palliative care team called me, and told me my Dad wanted to speak to me.
‘Put him on…’
So I got to speak to my Dad on his death bed. He could hardly breathe. He said that I had to love him, as I was his son, and I’d ‘come out of his body’; (in common with countless squillions of other little spunk children.) He told me that he was leaving an estate valued at £250 000, but that I wasn’t getting any, and ‘neither are your girls’.
He said, ‘I know I’ve not been a perfect father…’ I said that no one was; that I certainly wasn’t a perfect father. ‘Hah’ My Dad gasped. He had got what he wanted to comfort him into the next world. ‘I’m facking glad to hear you admit it,’ he said. ‘At last…’ I had given him some kind of absolution. My lack of perfection as a father was the only explanation he felt he needed for his own fallings short.
He asked me to say that we were mates, so I did. We weren’t, not ever, not once. I told him that I could be there the next day, but he said it would worry him because of the money. ‘Who’d pay?’ he asked. ‘Me or you?’ Then he said, ‘But you talking to me is worth a million dollars,’ he said.
Then he became agitated, and said he couldn’t talk anymore. I said I’d call the following morning to see if he felt able to talk. Instead, Sister Fidelma from the palliative care ward phoned me at 11.35pm, to say my dear old Dad had died. He was cremated, unmourned, on Saturday morning at the Island Crematorium outside Cork.
I had booked that flight for Monday, from Luton to Waterford. Dad’s landlord Pat Doyle picked me up from the sweetest airport I’ve ever used, sweeter than St Mary’s in Scilly or Ronaldsway in Man. We went to the hospital to collect some paperwork, and then onto the Registrar to register the death and collect the death certificates. Then we called at Thompson’s undertakers to collect the ashes. Thompson’s had once been one of those cute as pie Irish pubs that serves beer, but also functions as a shoe shop, or a barbers, or, in the case of Thompsons, a funeral directors. My Dad loved all that stuff. He had a sentimental attachment to the Ireland that he had seen depicted in Oirish Pubs and Finians Rainbow. He loved traditional Irish music. My Mum loved Nat King Cole. They lived together until I was 10. Everyday, they fought to get their records on the turntable. When he was home, Dad would always win, and the house would be full of the sounds of The Clancy Brothers or the Dubliners. He liked rebel songs, especially. He loved standing up in pubs and singing ‘The Wild Colonial Boy.’ Above all, he despised Nat King Cole, who he said was saccharine shite. I needed to learn to appreciate real music, such as ‘The Mountains of Mourne,’ he told me.
So Pat Doyle took me to the apartment he had rented my Dad in Tramore. There was a great view along the beach towards the sand dune the locals call The Baldy Man. I put down the cardboard box containing Dad’s ashes, and started to sort through his things. There wasn’t much; a suitcase full of clothes, a jewellery box of old fashioned cuff links and collar studs; a small TV. There were some papers. I looked through them to see what he had chosen to bring with him from the States to Ireland, where he had come to die in order to cause maximum inconvenience to those people who had conspired against him.
He didn’t have any photos. No photos of his four wives, his two children, his five grandchildren, his lovely, kind parents, his funny warm brothers and sisters. No, but he did have a large bundle of napkins from American casinos, on which he had kept records of winning combinations of numbers on the Florida State Lottery, which seems to have been his only great interest in life. He was trying to work out a system.
As well as the napkins, there were two meticulously kept account books, dating all the way back to 1976. He noted every penny he ever spent; shopping, car maintainence, grandchildrens Christmas presents. I’m looking forward to auditing these accounts, and mapping them against his life. It will tell me more about what he felt to be important than he ever did while he was alive. But on his dethbed, he did say one true thing. I did come out of his body. I am his spunk walking; that’s why he couldn’t quite leave me alone, despite it being all I had asked him for.
Looking at his papers, talking to my Mum, my sister, my step-mothers, my uncle, I know one thing for sure about my Dad. He was what used to be called a sociopath. Here’s a handy check list to see if you are one too. I have too many of these traits, there can be no doubt. Here is everything that is worst in my nature. Everything that was worst in my Dad’s nature turned from a twisted weakness into a deep sickness that took him over, and drove away everyone who ever loved him, but who he was unable to love in return. I have remembered again the one thing he taught me. I am his spunk walking, the son of a sociopath. Everyday I pray that I won’t turn into him.
Here’s a song for Alan Raymond Marchant, born in Farncombe Surrey 13/12/31. Died Waterford Regional Hospital, 06/05/10
I imagine that followers of this blog will have guessed by now that I’m not voting New Labour. But here we are, the night before the election, and this will be the last of the series of posts that I committed myself to putting up during the election campaign. Thank you very much to the hundreds of people who’ve visited this site during the campaign, and thank you for your comments and pop music choices. The next time I blog, it will be Sunday night, and it’ll be all about electric bike racing, promise.
So I guess I should nail m’colours to the mast, and say what I’m going to do. I said at the beginning that if I lived in a Tory/New Labour marginal, I might be tempted to vote Tory. Not because I have any time for them, but because I felt that in a two-party system, there was no choice, if you strongly opposed one of the parties, but to vote for the other, no matter how distasteful you find them. And I do find the Tories distasteful, but not because their leadership went to public schools and Oxbridge. Some of my best friends went to public schools; my Beloved went to Cambridge. Nor do I find them distasteful because they are hate filled right wing nutters. However painful it may be for some of my readers, they are quite clearly not. Hate filled right wing nutters now have their own lovely parties, which hold the Tories in contempt. On some issues, such as civil liberties, the Tories are clearly to the left of New Labour. They have come a long way from Thatcher, and it is only a visceral tribal knee jerk reaction to say otherwise. David Cameron clearly ‘gets’ the NHS, for personal reasons. Nor do I mind the fact that they are only out to look after their own. As I’ve argued elsewhere, if the Labour Party had looked after their own, they wouldn’t be whimpering piss stained and broken in a corner. We KNOW what the Tories are; we THOUGHT we knew what New Labour was. That seems to me more honest. I come from a working class family. I expect my rulers to take money away from my family to maintain their moats. What I didn’t expect was to be paying for the husbands of Labour ministers, who are supposed to be defending the interests of people like my Mum and Dad, to be taking our money so they could have a wank. No, I find the Real Tories distasteful because they are out to grab power once and for all. By clinging to first past the post, reducing the number of MP’s, and refusing to reform the Lords, they think they have found a way to permanently exclude the majority of people in this country who don’t want them. As I’ve argued elsewhere throughout this month, their cynical machinations in Northern Ireland are a part of this attempted power grab.
But, there. Luckily, I don’t face this dilemma. I live in a Lib Dem held constituency. Our local MP, Roger Williams, has lived and farmed in the constituency his whole life. He is well liked. I’ve met him, because when he comes to Presteigne, he always drops into Elda’s Colombian Coffee House, and he seems a nice guy; the kind of down to earth Brecknockshire farmer you might meet any day at Knighton market. And the Lib Dems have been one of the great stories of this election. Clegg was good on the Prime Ministerial debates; as a commentator said, if Cameron’s USP was that he wasn’t Gordon Brown, here was someone who was equally not Gordon. Suddenly, there was the real prospect of a hung parliament; and maybe, just maybe, the chance of real electoral reform. Plus of course, the Lib Dems ‘get’ the environment; they stood up against the Iraq war, and they are opposed to Trident, ID cards, and the third Heathrow runway. Until yesterday, I had decided to ‘lend’ them my vote.
But in the end, I’ve decided not to. I’m taking the gamble that the Lib Dem surge is strong enough that Roger will get in. I’ve decided to vote with both my head, and my heart, and to vote for the party which I’ve supported for most of my adult life, the Greens. I was an activist in Brighton in the eighties, and it’s nice to imagine that one of the leaflets I helped write and deliver changed the mind of maybe one voter, and thus helped to build what really could be an historic result in Brighton Pavilion tomorrow night, if Caroline Lucas wins the seat. Like all Greens, the environment is, for me, the first and last issue, the one which should shape all the others. I don’t believe in ‘economic growth’, because I think it is founded on environmental degradation and human misery. I am a social libertarian, and, like the Greens, I believe there should be a Royal Commission on the Misuse of Drugs Act. I believe that the quality of human life is not dependent upon the accquisition of more and more stuff. I am, in short, a hippy. So my heart says Green.
And then I realised that there were head reasons, too. The BNP have announced today that their ambition is to take fourth place in the popular vote. By voting for my party, rather than lending my vote to the Lib Dems, however much I might hope they do well, perhaps I can play some small part in showing the BNP that they have no place in British political life. I’m voting Green tomorrow, because that won’t be a wasted vote, not if we can beat the Nazis to fourth place, and not if I follow my heart, and vote for what I believe to be right.
Thank you again to everyone who has read the blog and posted over the last month. Hopefully see you on Sunday for the bike race.