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Sunday, 22 May 2016

If You Think You Can't, You're Wrong...



     I'd always wanted to be able to call myself a writer, but if truth be told, I thought that time had passed me by. Thing is though, I kept fighting, kept going, and most importantly, I kept writing until one day, it happened... I was a writer. 

     Here's a little article about how it happened:

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015...

Friday, 6 May 2016

Just Imagine...



 
    I was in Haworth, Yorkshire, the other day. It was cold, clear, crisp and quite beautiful. I walked through a churchyard, and then into a church that was lit by the springtime sun streaming through a stained glass window, that threw colours on the ground like puddles of joy. 



  

   The church was empty, quiet except for the sound of the birds singing outside, and the sound of my footsteps inside, as I walked up to a brass plaque set in the floor. 


     Someone had left a bunch of flowers and a "Thank You" card on the plaque. I picked up the card and read it:

     "Thank you for the joy you have given me, thank you for the books."

     That was it, 150 years after they had died, a thank you to a writer for the time they had taken to write. 

     Just imagine that?




     Tony Schumacher on Amazon


Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Cat, the Tree, and the Bird.

           

            Back in the days when I drove a cab for a living, I sat and watched a cat get beat up by a bird one morning.
I say it was beaten up, in truth, it was just sort of knocked around and chased for a bit, but whichever way you look at it:
            I saw a cat, being assaulted by a bird.
            Maybe I'd better tell you exactly what happened?
I'd been working all night, ten hours or so, up until about five thirty in the morning. Hunger got the better of me until I had to give in and grab a sandwich and eat it somewhere quiet.
            I found the perfect spot, a beautiful place in Liverpool called Sefton Park.
Now Sefton Park is always beautiful, but early morning, sun coming up, blue sky, and a light mist rising off the dew makes it extra special. The place takes in a willo-the-wisp look to it, grey and green with a tiny gap in-between. Just occasionally, if you are lucky, you’ll see a fleet footed fox splashing a dash of red across the dew dropped grass. A deft dash of paint on canvas from the old master.
            That morning I sat, door open, with nothing but the sound of morning yawning birds and a cooling engine for company.  I was sniffing my sandwich (I wasn't going to leap straight in) when there, just out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cat sitting under a tree watching me. It was maybe thirty foot away, a little tatty, with the look of a beast that has never really found a lap to relax on.
            I smiled at the cat, but he didn’t smile back.
Cats can be like that.
He was sitting and staring, when out of the tree, a massive blackbird swooped down and knocked the him over.
            Poor old puss jumped up, hopped around sideways a couple of times and then stopped and stared at me. Now I am no expert on cat body language but I know for a fact that cat was saying,
            "What...the hell... was that?"
            I smiled and shrugged and said out loud,
             "You must be in his spot mate."
            The cat didn’t reply, he just glanced around and then regained some composure and sat back down. It was then, just as he nestled his bum back into its spot, the bird came down and did it again. This time, hit and run wasn’t good enough, this time it did a bit of pecking and flapping its wings at poor old puss, who in turn, desperately tried to get away, and failed miserably.
            Puss rolled and tumbled as the bird slapped and flapped a blur of yellow and black. The only sound I could hear was the rustle of the grass, and the beat of wing, until finally, the bird flew back up into the tree.
Puss took a couple of steps away and sat back down. He was looking even more confused and maybe a tad embarrassed, I guessed if he’d been wearing glasses they would be twisted half around his head and that he would have scrambled to put them back on his nose to restore his dignity.
            But cats don’t wear glasses, so he didn’t.
            I broke off a piece of sandwich and held it out to him. I waggled the titbit and “puss pussed” a welcome until eventually he wandered over. Each step slow and nervous, until he sat about five feet away sniffing the air. I tossed him some tuna and he ate it and did that cat thing of not looking at you, but looking at you closely.
            “Yeah, whatever.”
            I tossed him some more tuna, just a little short, and this bridged the gap between us enough for him to wander over and offer a nuzzle on the back of my hand. He stood and stared at what was left of my sandwich, pushing out his bony ribs to make a point, and I gave him some more.
Eventually, when he’d had enough of me, he licked his lips, looked at the park, thought cat thoughts, then wandered back to the tree.
             I swear he almost sighed as he did so.
            I felt sorry for him and said out loud as he went:
            "She's not worth it."
            But he didn't listen, cats never do, he just sat back down under his tree and went back to watching the world.
            It was only later, when I was driving home, that I thought of the old lady and her husband who I met many years before when I a policeman.
            It was late night, probably about three am, maybe a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday, but definitely midweek. Now I think it would be fair to say that where I was working wasn’t a hotbed of crime. St Helens is more Mayberry than Hill Street, so any job that came out on the radio was seized more as a means of staying awake, than an opportunity to battle the forces of evil.
            A report came in from a neighbour reporting shouting from the house next door. I was the first car at the scene and after some banging on the front door I was surprised to be met by an old guy, about mid-seventies, wearing a pair of too big trousers, and an old gray vest. The trousers had once made up part of a brown suit, but now they bunched over his belly like a Christmas cracker and his vest bore the color of a thousand hot washes with one black sock rubbing up to it.
            He ran his hand through thinning hair that looked like it hadn’t woken up yet, and then told me everything was okay and the neighbor had been mistaken.
            “It doesn’t work like that,” I said as I looked over his shoulder into the house, “I have to check everyone is okay, so step aside and it’ll only take a second.”
            His hand scraped his hair again and it rose and fell like his chest until finally, he sighed, and let me pass. I smelt beer on his breath as I squeezed through the door, but once inside all I could smell was polish, leather, gas fires, farting dogs and the family that had lived there for fifty years or more.
            I went into the living room; it was one of those that are full of brass, rugs, and photos of grandkids in university gowns who never phone but expect a card every birthday.
I looked around, and saw that over in the corner, almost forgotten, sat on a chair, was a sparrow of an old lady. Thin pink flannel dressing gown clutched tight to her throat, two tiny furry slippers peeking out from its hem. The skin on her hands was wrinkled and brown and looked like half scraped wet wallpaper, bunched over bone.
            Those wallpaper hands were clutching a tissue to her nose.
It was red with blood.
The old guy had followed me in. I looked at him, his eyes flickered with sadness and shame.
Before he could speak I already had my hand on my handcuffs.
            “You’d better put your coat on.”
He nodded and did as he was told.
            I drove him the three miles to the custody suite. He didn’t speak all the way there, and to be honest, neither did I.
            The custody sergeant heard the story, then politely asked the old guy for his details. The old guy stood still, did as he was told and called us both “Sir” more times than he really had to.
            At the cell door, as I waited for his shoes, the old man asked his first question of the night:
"What happens now sir?"
“I’ll go get a statement off your wife, then I’ll interview you, then the sergeant decides what to do with you.”
" I'm sorry son." He said, and for the first time his voice cracked.
"Don't be sorry, we'll sort it out."
"I just snapped."
"Don't tell me here, we'll talk about it on tape."
"There is only so much you can take."
“Don’t say any more, I’ll be back soon.”
“Go easy on her.”
            I shushed him again and closed the cell door; and then drove out to see his wife. When I arrived she had dressed and had fashioned her hair into one of those cotton candy blue styles that only old ladies have. I followed her into the living room and she gestured for me to sit, and then offered me tea. I declined and pointed to the chair opposite for her to sit, in that way that only cops do in other people’s homes.
            Like they own it.
            "So what happened?" I asked, pulling out a pen, all business with an eye on the clock,
            "It's my fault."
            "No, you mustn't blame yourself love, it's easy to blame yourself, you've been assaulted, nobody should have to put up with that,” even though I meant what I was saying, I’d said it a thousand times, and it probably sounded like it.
            "No, you don’t understand. Really, it is my fault, I started it, I always start it... he lets me hit him. I batter him, really beat him... I've done it for years,” she paused, looked at the clock even though she had nowhere to go, and then said softly. “I hate him for it, I hate myself for it. I don’t know what happened tonight… but he hit me back for the first time ever.”
To say that that wasn't what I was expecting would be an understatement.
I was dumbfounded; I looked at the blank statement, up at her, back at the statement, and then realized I hadn’t even clicked my pen yet.
            She told me they had three kids, four grandchildren, they had been married for fifty plus years, that she loved him, that he loved her, and that he had never raised a finger until that night.
She told me that he had come home from the pub and fell asleep in the chair, that she had woke up and come down and that they had argued and then she had slapped him, then punched him, then slapped him again.
Just like all those times before, and then this time, for the first time ever:
He had slapped her back.
            “I called him names, terrible names.”
            I looked at my pen for some help, but it just looked back at me and shrugged.
            "I deserved it, I wish he'd done it years ago,” she shook her head and then lifted her chin. “I'll not make a complaint, I'll tell them I walked into a door, you can’t make me say anything I don’t want to.”
            There are times when you are a copper, and I am sure many police officers will have felt this way, when you just don't have a clue what to do next. As I sat there that night on that couch looking at that little old lady who could have passed for Tweety Pie’s grandma... I did not have a clue what to do next.
            I can remember staring at my statement forms for a minute or two, and then finally scribbling down some stuff about her not wishing to cooperate with the police. With hindsight, I maybe should have locked her up for assaulting him, she had just confessed to it.
            I knew that wasn't going to happen, I just didn’t know why.
            I told her I was going to go back to the station to speak to her husband. She didn’t follow me to the front door. As I stepped out into the street, I could hear her sobbing behind me, right until the door clicked shut, and I stood alone and watched the sun coming up.
            At the time Merseyside Police Force had a zero tolerance policy when it came to domestic violence. It was an excellent tactic of everyone being arrested and interviewed at the very least. We aimed to protect the weak, and charge the aggressor, and I used to feel that I was doing good every night I pulled on the uniform, and stood up for the people who had no one else to stand up for them.
            But back at the police station as I sat opposite that gentleman, that gentle, gentleman, in the interview room that morning, just me, him, a duty lawyer and a tape recorder that picked up the solicitors every yawn in stereo. I felt like reaching across the table and giving the old man a hug.
            He was ashamed, tired, and he looked very, very, old.
            I gave him a lift home so that he wouldn't have to wait for the bus in his vest. As we drove I told him what his wife had said, I told him he didn't have to put up with it. I told him about various charities that could support him, and his wife, to find different ways to communicate without violence and I tired, oh god I tried, to explain his life could be better than it was.
He didn't say that much back to me, he just stared out at the passing view thinking about the passing years.
            As we pulled up outside the house, I killed the engine, and tried again.
“Please let me help you.”
He shook his head, looked at his front door, and said:
            "I've put up with it for fifty years, and there's not many left to go now. I'll be okay son, thanks for your help."
            He then got out and walked up the short path, then disappeared inside.
            The cat under the tree made me think of him, the cat could have just walked away and found another tree to sit under but didn't. Something made it go back, sit down, then wait for the next onslaught from the angry bird.
            It had the whole park to sit in, a thousand other trees, all better than that one, but that tree, with that bird, was where it had to sit.

            Strange things cats.

            Tony Schumacher on Amazon

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Trump, Sanders, Corbyn, Geoff and Me.


     Back in the dim and distant past, when I used to sell trucks for a living, there used to be a thing Geoff my boss used to call: “Customer Relationship Maintenance.”

     It basically entailed driving around the North West of England, visiting harassed men in too tight nylon trousers and shirts (them not me), sitting in leaky porta-cabins, drinking bad tea, and making worse small talk.

     I knew they didn’t want to speak to me.

     They knew I didn’t want to speak to them.

     And we both knew we were wasting each other’s time.

     Sadly, this is what Geoff told me to do, and if I wanted to keep my Vauxhall Cavalier (2.0 GLS, (these things matter)) I had no choice.

     One day, when I was sitting in one of those leaky porta-cabins, I had an epiphany. I turned to the customer and said:

     “Listen, I come here every two months to take up your time, all because my boss Geoff tells me to.”

     “Oh yes?” He replied, looking at his watch.

     “He thinks you’ll buy a truck if I keep coming around and getting on your nerves. Is he right?”

     “No not really, I’m actually busy, and I have to sit here for half an hour talking to you. To be honest, it does get on my nerves.”

     “Well how about you call me when you need me, and we keep this our little secret?”

     “Grand.”

     We shook hands, and I came up with a new method of “Customer Relationship Maintenance” which basically involved not getting on people’s tits.

     I quickly spread this new model out across all of my customers. It worked well, until the day Geoff figured out I had strayed from what he believed to be right. He called me in the office, gave me a telling off, and threatened to take my Vauxhall Cavalier and replace it with an Austin Maestro.

     Geoff reckoned he always knew best, and he was always pretty patronising about it too. That wasn’t the only reason I disliked Geoff though, the other reason was that Geoff was greedy.

     He kept all the best customers for himself. He wined and dined them, he took them for “jolly” weekends away, he bought them presents, and in return, when they wanted trucks, they rang him, and not me.

     He scratched their back, and they scratched his.

     If a salesman dared to complain he was told:

     “I’m the boss, like it or lump it.”

     He would then hand them the keys to a second-hand skip wagon and tell them to go and earn forty quid commission on it.

     Over time I became more and more uncooperative with Geoff. We wound each other up no end. Him by being Geoff, and me by hiding his car keys, not answering my phone, and leaving coffee cup rings on his desk diary all the time.

     For all my efforts though, he didn't really care what I did. Even though there was always a high turnover of staff, he didn’t care he was about to lose another one. He was okay, his mates were okay, so what did it matter if I lost interest? He was still the boss, and the world would never be short of a salesman to take my place.

     One day he called me into his office to give me some rubbish sales leads. Outside his office window sat five brand new trucks he’d just sold to one of my customers. He'd just ripped me off again, and I was angry and humiliated, so I resigned by chucking my car keys onto the table, spilling some more coffee on his diary, and then walking out the office.

     What had happened between us was that I’d lost all respect for Geoff, because he didn't care if I lived or died. He was going to keep doing whatever he wanted, whether I liked it or not, and there was nothing I could do about it.

     So even though it cost me my Vauxhall Cavalier (2.0 GLS), I was prepared to walk out, just to give me back some small sense of self worth, and integrity.

     A few months later I found out the other salesmen had finally banded together and gone to senior management to complain about Geoff and his practices.

     After this "Arab Spring" of an uprising, Geoff was wobbled, then finally, a few months later, toppled when all the sales staff decided to no longer cooperate with him in any way.

     It was his turn to resign.

     So why am I telling you this?

     It’s because I think the average person on the street now think governments are a bunch of Geoff’s.

     Governments in return, just like Geoff, have a sense of entitlement, and a general disdain, for the guy in the street because for all their complaining, there is always another guy in the street to take their place with a vote.

     Be it cuts, corruption, tax shenanigans, war, expenses, scandals, lobbying, back door deals, ignoring public opinion, governments are acting just like Geoff (I'm not sure Geoff declared war on anyone, but I wouldn't have put it past him.)

     In return, by voting for Trump, Corbyn, Sanders, or Brexit, all we want to do is wind them up, and show them that we still matter.

     A friend of mine said the other day: “I’m voting Brexit not because I want to leave Europe, but because the Government want me to stay.”

     In other words, due to their “we know best” attitude, he doesn’t care if he loses his Vauxhall Cavalier (2.0 GLS), he just wants to be able to irritate the hell out of them.

     So what could Geoff have done to make things better between us?

     He could have stopped taking people for granted.

     He could have stopped abusing his position.

     He could have stopped patronising us.

     He could have listened to us, and acted on our concerns and not in the interests of him, and a few of his mates.

     He could have been honest and accepted that just maybe, he didn’t know best all of the time.

     And he could have upgraded my car to the CDX with the thicker velour seats and sunroof, but in fairness this probably doesn’t apply to governments around the world.

     So what is the lesson for those governments?


     Well unless they do the above, there really isn’t much point in spending 9 million on a leaflet, wheeling out Peter Mandelson, or generating billions in donations from their mates, because all of that just makes us want to throw our Cavalier keys on the table and slam the door behind us after we've spilled their coffee.


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Just a Minute...




    Can I ask a favor? I promise it isn't much, all I'm wanting is that you take two minutes out of your busy lives to leave a review for your favorite author.

    One minute isn't all that much, especially when you think they they have spent a year writing that book that you loved so much.

     Go on... you can do it, spread the word, leave a review, because if you do, your author will love you as much as you love them.


     Tony Schumacher on Amazon