Friday, 10 June 2016


On Sunday the 8th of May, 2016, Simon Morris of the Ceramic Hobs left the following inspirational post on facebook:

Blackpool was worryingly quiet last Monday for bank holiday and a good table at Harry Ramsden's was too easy to get at teatime. But this weekend things have perked up - the most badly behaved conference attendees ever, the Young Farmers are in town. In my youth before cheap foreign travel became a reality the rampages of 'Scots Fortnight' were a thing feared by locals. Going back almost a century, the Wakes Weeks had whole mill towns like Wigan visiting en masse and hospitalising, infecting and impregnating each other under the piers. Not quite the sanitised version as portrayed by dear old Gracie Fields, there are remarkable stories in local history books surrounding the 1930s Blackpool Carnivals and why they were abandoned - too much carnival.

My first sight of the farmers tonight was a man urinating in broad daylight in full public view by North Pier. Magnificent. The bars, drug dealers, brothels, police cells and A&E cubicles will be doing a roaring trade tonight and glad of the farmers' custom. These people are very dangerous and absolute scumbags, the men and women both. I walk through it all unscathed always, I dress in a nondescript style and don't catch anyone's eyes and don't feel fear. I love bad behaviour from humans very much. The hell with laws and sense. The hell with morals and art and politics. Drink, Fight and Fuck!

As a sensitive child, I would have found such sentiments appalling, but at the age of fifty, the words just made me think of Ripper, a person with whom I never really had anything in common beyond a job, and whom I probably haven't even set eyes on this century, but who nevertheless made a huge impression; and he made a huge impression because he was terrifying, and could quite easily have been that magnificent man urinating in broad daylight in full public view by North Pier.

Ripper wasn't actually his name, but that's what everyone called him. I never found out why. I always assumed it to be because he was, as I said, terrifying, just as Peter Sutcliffe was terrifying. Having a nickname which attempts to make jovial association with dismembered prostitutes will strike many as extreme and possibly disgusting, but I'm setting the story down from memory rather than making it up, and that's just how it was.

Ripper was a couple of years older than me as I was in my twenties when I started work as a postman at Catford delivery office. He was tall, a little skinny, and with a ratty sort of face - which isn't supposed to be an insult. He wore his hair tied back in a ponytail, but otherwise bore a strong resemblance to the Nick Cotton character from EastEnders, in terms of both personality and appearance; or at least his face always seemed to be twisted into the devious leer of Nick Cotton cheerily asking cup o' tea, ma?, having just raided his long-suffering mother's savings account and spent the lot on nose candy. Maybe it's just me, but Nick Cotton was the only reason I ever watched EastEnders. He was great.

I started work at Catford delivery office in August 1990 and immediately understood Ripper to be my natural enemy. I was trying to grow a moustache and beard at the time, but my efforts were straggling and pitiful, and Ripper gave me the nickname Catweazle based on my resemblance to a similarly unkempt character from a children's television show of that name. The problem wasn't just that he only ever referred to me as Catweazle, or that it annoyed me; it was the raw delight he took from my displeasure, and his peculiarly creative use of the nickname. He was a van driver, whilst I was a postman, and our duties were such that we had no real reason to interact; so to circumnavigate this obstacle he'd stand behind me and just repeat it in a peculiarly squeaky voice.

Catweazle. Catweazle.

This meant that the nickname never lay fallow or neglected, and he applied the same delivery system to other victims, Ralph being one. Ralph had picked up Big Bag as a nickname owing to how much mail he'd managed to stuff into a single delivery sack on one particular morning.

Big Bag, Big Bag, Big Bag, in that weird squeaky voice like an obsessive-compulsive chaffinch or someone operating the Pop-O-Matic dice bubble from a seventies board game; and then somebody else would usually chip in with the inevitable variation on Burt Bacharach and Hal David's song, what's it all about... Ralphie?

Ralph always looked ready to kill someone.

Being a bit of a knob, I attempted to engage with Ripper, to decommission his campaign against me with both logic and an appeal to his better nature, but he wasn't interested in the first and didn't possess the second; although my efforts weren't entirely wasted in that they clearly brought him further satisfaction, sometimes inspiring him to elaborate on the theme by asking me questions, whether I had a toad called Touchwood, or when I called in sick if I did so by means of a telling bone.

My role was as a source of amusement by which he might tolerate the indignity of being at work. In fact that's how he saw most of us. He didn't really do communication in any conventional sense.

Being a van driver, it was his role to deliver packets which were too big for the postmen to carry; so if anything too humongous erroneously found its way into your packet bag, you just took it over to your driver - Joe or Robby or whoever it was that week.

Unfortunately Carl's driver was Ripper. He shuffled over, politely setting forth the proposal in his nasal John Major voice. 'Here - are you doing Boundfield Road this week because—'

'Fuck off,' Ripper suggested, kicking the parcel out of Carl's hand so that it sailed upwards in an arc to the far side of the sorting office. He had a bit of a hangover that morning, and was in no mood for idiocy, or people asking him to do things.

I worked at Catford for two or three years, eventually getting to know everyone fairly well, as well as you can know anyone at work, eventually fitting in as much as any of us ever fit in. Ripper would still take time out of his busy schedule to taunt me by meaninglessly repeating my nickname in a high voice, but was no longer quite the enemy, if he had ever been. I was invited to the fairly regular piss-ups down the pub, and outside of work I got to see a different side of Ripper, although it was actually more or less identical to the first side. I was still Catweazle, but the difference was that we were now buying each other drinks; and only drinks. I took Zammo's advice and just said no when it came to the nose candy. It wasn't just me who said no.

'Have it your way,' Ripper growled bitterly at the other one who had declined the offer, 'but don't come crying to me at two in the morning when I'm sat there with a big red hooter!'

When I announced that I had put in for a transfer to another sorting office, I was surprised at Ripper's response. It actually seemed like he was going to miss me, as though we were friends by some definition.

'What you want to go there for?' he asked philosophically. 'That's a fucking rent boy's office, that place.'

Nevertheless I transferred, and the last I'd heard of Ripper was that he'd got married, and the presiding vicar had supposedly asked are you really sure about this? during the ceremony.

I've no idea where Ripper is now. He might be dead or in prison for all I know; and this isn't really a story with any sort of moral or point, just an assemblage of stupid annoying shit which passed the time, and which had nothing to do with art, or a better world, or people being nice to each other. The point of this - if we're going to pretend that there is one for the sake of closure - is that sometimes it's healthy to find oneself surrounded by dangerous arseholes, or failing that, people who aren't necessarily going to agree with everything you say, or even care whether you say anything. The contrast is good for the development of a healthy sense of perspective. Like Simon Morris, I too love bad behaviour from humans very much - which on closer inspection probably isn't strictly true; which therefore conversely proves it to be a wonderful thing specifically because it makes my inner Lord Longford squirm with horror.

Ripper was a monster, but just like that man urinating in broad daylight in full public view by North Pier, he was also magnificent - maybe still is, for all I know - and not least because he was right about me. That beard I tried to grow really was ridiculous.

I suspect this is one of the things we, as a society, often dislike about bullies, or a certain kind of bully: sometimes they're right.

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