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The internet ruined my life

Every now and again I have to remind myself that not all my friends have a computer. When you spend your working day on your computer, and even socialise on chat groups on your computer, those rare trips down the pub to entertain those computerless friends can seem like a trip to a foreign country.

Despite attempts to steer the conversation to TV, or football, or whatever, as soon as I declare that I have a PC, the familiar barrage of questions starts flooding in. “Got any games?”. Yes, I reply. But I then – stupidly – add that I don’t spend much time playing them, and I’m more likely to spend my leisure time on the internet.

Suddenly, jaws open. A glass is dropped. The piano player stops midway through a song and the saloon doors swing eerily in the wind. OK, I’m being melodramatic, but I’ve hardly declared that I’m having a sex change operation and marrying General Pinochet. However, it appears that I’ve just performed character suicide. So – it’s OK on the internet to go shopping, look up the football results or download an infinite number of South Park screen savers, but spend my leisure time there? I may as well just stand up now and write PERVERT on my face in marker pen. All of a sudden and without anything being said, it’s become blatantly obvious that I’m a close personal friend of Gary Glitter.

The questions welling up in the faces of my friends look set to explode at any point. Porn, porn, porn. Do I get it, what’s it like, how much does it cost, can I come back and have a look, oh please, go on, go on, please please please. The only problem is, I don’t get it. Like everyone I’ve seen porn on the net, partly because of curiosity, and partly because you just can’t help it. I’ve typed “Paracetamol” in a search engine before and ended up with pictures of Courtney Cox giving hand relief to Homer Simpson. Now, whenever Friends follows the Simpsons on Sky One I get this terrible shiver down my back – it’s practically wrecked it for me. That said, I have no idea where I would start looking if I was actively trying to find it. So I refuse the offer of my friends coming round and spilling beer on my keyboard saying that I can’t help them. Of course, no one believes me and now they all think the porn I own is so hardcore I wouldn’t even share it with my friends. You can’t win.

Keith’s wedding

I know NOTHING about computers. Yep, that’s right, despite 12 years in the industry, I know NOTHING. I thought I used to know something, but apparently, I don’t. Before you start writing to me asking if I’ve started suffering amnesia or wanting to know if my 12 years experience were equally shared between the ZX81, Vic 20 and Dragon 32, the answer is no, and no. And it’s certainly not because the technology has left me behind.

The simple reason is this. This August, an occasional friend of mine is getting married to his long-term girlfriend. This friend of mine “works with computers” in the same way that a postman “works for the government”. He’s an IT recruitment consultant. This enables him to have the most dangerous knowledge there is – a little knowledge. He’s heard of the World Wide Web and everything that’s “in it”. He’s no stranger to words such as Java, ActiveX, CGI, scripting, Flash, querying, active server pages and so on. I mean he really does – he knows which ones are nouns and which ones are verbs, and that’s everything as far as he’s concerned.

I thought I’d heard of the Web and what was “in it”. But it turns out it’s as much as I like driving my car, and I know there’s oil “in it”. For his impending wedding, this friend (lets just call him Keith – after all, his mum does), approached me saying he’d want a Website for it. I was slightly bemused. I’d put together websites before, albeit simple ones, but these were for companies, and products. What would he want a website for? I had mental images of him sat round the kitchen table with his wife-to-be writing out their infallible list of everything that had to be perfect, and nestling somewhere under stationery and above choirboys was “Website”.

What did he want? Did he want wedding photos? Invites? Maybe an interactive present list? I started thinking of actual good uses for the site. A map to the church? Details of nearby accommodation? Did he want to go the whole hog – a domain name? www.keithswedding.com? Which I believe is still available.

He stared blankly at me. Good God no – what he wanted was Java. And Flash. He wanted secure elements. Some scripting. Browser detection. “Why?” I responded. “What do you want in the site? I can do it for you in HTML.” A dark cloud passed over his face – I felt like I’d insulted his mother. He didn’t want HTML, oh no, he wanted a good site, and apparently, you couldn’t do those without the best technology. Oh dear, he didn’t have a clue, and I’d just admitted to being able to ride a bike – but only with stabilisers.

I’m not sure the site will actually happen now, as Keith has not asked me to do anything for it. Guess if I’d have feigned ignorance and just told him “I know how to make a website” it would have been a great wedding present. It could have been something old, or something new. Something borrowed (with graphics from other sites), or something blue (with graphics from adult sites).

Danger

I’m saving up. It’s February, the credit card’s paid off and I’m putting cash away as fast as I can… for a new sofa. Now before your eyes glaze over and you start scanning the page for quick ways back to the home page, there is a very real and dangerous reason for this bold, bold step of mine. You see: I have a perfectly good, (almost) new sofa already. I’m certainly not expanding – my front room wouldn’t take two sofas and I don’t have enough regular visitors to get my money’s worth of sitting. No – the problem is this – ‘danger’ has become the social smart drug of the year 2000. And my sofa won’t be able to cope. I shall explain.

Like most people, I have a group of friends who are basically, crossbred hippies and yuppies (yipees?). Like all hippy folk, they like to go travelling – but that’s only because their top city jobs give them 30 days-a-year paid holiday, bless. Top pastimes in these regular breaks include snowboarding, white water rafting, and skydiving – in fact it always contains at least one activity that is made up of two of the words from the following collection (water, snow, ice, surf, air, skating, boarding, diving) added together.

I tried snowboarding once, and being an extremely average skier (I can go, I can stop, I can turn – anything else is showing off), I found that you needed a fair amount of upper body strength. This is because when you fall over you can only use your arms to right yourself – and seeing as your legs are practically cuffed together, you fall over a lot. I remember trotting back to the hire shop with the board after 2 hours of said torture and listening to the man there using his pigeon English to rally me back onto the slopes. “No more,” I said. “No more?” he cried. “You must have faith! You must have courage!” No. “I must have SKIS.” But years after this nightmare, people are still harping on to me about the near death excitement they pay through the nose for. Their brown runs. Their black runs. Hell, the photographs they’re bringing back are giving ME the runs. What is this fascination with entertaining near-death experiences in a foreign country? Surely that’s why people join the army?

And it’s not just a fad – it’s a style statement. The rush of mortal danger is the new drug of the millennium – and I’m Captain Spod for staying at home. “Come bunjee-ice-death-boarding!” they cry. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Sense of adventure? If I want a 50/50 chance of instant suicide, I’ll save myself the airfare thanks – I’ll just get out the bath and do the light switch a few times while my hands are wet. Oooh! Life on the edge!

But where does my sofa come in? Well – it’s like this. In 2000, the danger drug is coming to your home – as horror films. Scream 3 broke all box office records for a horror in the US last week – and now you genuinely CAN have that earth shattering mortality rush in the comfort of your own home. I watched The Mummy last week and by the end I was shaking, sweating, wide-eyed and hyperventilating – and it’s not usually those sort of videos that have that effect. I went to put the vid back in its case and I saw the cover – 12? 12???? This was a 12? I looked behind me at my sofa. My buttocks had clenched so hard round the cushions I’d practically ripped out a chunk of foam. If this is how we’re all going to be getting our kicks this year, the sofa won’t last till Easter.

Paranoid

Internet addiction is simple enough to describe, isn’t it? Basically, you spend too much time sat there, ‘surfing’ (I hate that phrase) and whatever. But while it should be considered widespread, as time goes on I find it harder and harder to think of it as a disease. Due to bad traffic, some days I might be sat in my car for almost 8 hours. Am I now suffering from car addiction?

No. I’ve unearthed the hidden net plague – and it’s rife. And what’s worse is, the more net-wise you are, the worst you have it. INTERNET PARANOIA. It’s not difficult to see where it comes from. For a start, you’re sat there, on line, in a room, maybe on your own. But you are logically connected to 100 million other people. That many! Now when you’re a newbie, what does it matter? It’s like someone looking over your shoulder as you thumb through the yellow pages. But as you get more in tune with what’s going on, anything and everything becomes an act of privacy suicide. I recently had a chat with a friend of mine called Andrew, who is doing a PHD in Internet technologies. I casually asked him if he could get hold of a piece of software for me. He said sure, and I followed on by saying I’d email him. His face darkened.

Email him? EMAIL HIM? Was I mad? Did I not realise that all free text mail was monitored by the IT managers where he was? OK, I said, I’d send it to his web based account. Now it appears I was just stupid. A web account? With people using redirectors? Javascript fake front ends? He practically stood up from shaking. OK, I conceded, I would send it to him encrypted.

ENCRYPTED! Andrew practically fell over. Did I not realise that almost 100% of all Internet traffic now goes through NSA routers in the US? That the world governments were sitting on everything we had ever submitted? That they had software decrypting every key ever written? Now I was ‘deranged’. Mad and stupid, it appears, had been quite mild.

Blimey. After a 15-minute chat where he walked the coronary tightrope of fear- induced, sweating information delivery, it appeared that almost everything on a computer these days was unsafe. It slowly transpired that the average Internet user who used instant messaging (that’s paging to you and me), online shops, any version of Windows, Intel chips, British Telecom, and shareware, and had typed their postcode, name, or credit card details into a web browser and had ever registered anything written by Microsoft, ever, was dumb, blind, air-headed, mad, deranged, gormless, deaf and, well, a bit thick.

Andrew then proudly showed me his ‘safe’ PC. It doesn’t have Windows, has virtually no software on it and won’t use any embedded software, making it useless for 90% of the important bits of the web. Virus checkers, anti-hacking guards and security software run flat out, leaving about 5% of the computer available for, you know, running a calculator program or even something as advanced as a word processor. Maybe one day I’ll have a computer that advanced. Until then, I’ll ‘stupidly’ carry on enjoying myself, with the worlds geeks knowing exactly where I live, how much I earn, and when I last bought an imported Wham CD off the net.

Leave it out

When I was at school I didn’t know one boy in my class who didn’t want to be some kind of martial arts expert. A sort of a cross breed between Bruce Lee, the Karate Kid, and Hong Kong Fooey. There was always one kid who would start a playground fight by making long ululating noises and holding his flat palms out as if he was about to slap a midget in the face. Shortly before trying to kick them in the goolies and hiding in the toilets, that is. And he was usually quite short, as well.

Anyone – girls included – who says they never got into a fight during their school years is either a liar or someone who’s public school allowed them to have professional boxers fag for them during breaks. Running away was never an option as most children can run point to point between the furthest edges of their school in under a minute. You had to stand there, shout a lot, throw a few tentative punches / slaps / kicks and make sure that no matter how bad it was the opponent (or opponents) always got off worse.

As you get older though, you realise that this is not a productive way to conduct business. The biggest attendee swirling his fists in a windmill fashion while stating that all the other people’s mums’ smell of poo, resolves very few important executive meetings. So, unless you work in a kebab shop or are going out with Stan Collymore, as you grow up you tend to lose the ability to diffuse, avoid, and most importantly, WIN fights. And just as importantly, you forget how much it hurts when someone hits you with a fist.

This happened to me a couple of months ago when I was at my comedy club in Brighton and a member of the audience, totally unprovoked, walked up and smacked me in the face. And it wasn’t even as if I hadn’t been that funny on the night. What did I do? Well I’ll tell you what I did. I’LL TELL YOU WHAT I DID. Errrr… nothing. I stood there in shock. Eh? I hadn’t said anything, he had said next to nothing, and then he’d walked off. WALKED. I’m looking at him and I’m almost 6 inches taller than this bloke. Surely, he should have been running. Couldn’t he have even been the slightest bit worried that he’d get ‘a good kicking’ in retaliation and at least jog out? Especially as, in order to keep my ‘manliness’, I had to be seen to go after him. The bloke deserved it. But then it dawned on me that I certainly didn’t want to catch him up. After all, he was a nutter and had just hit someone – he could be dangerous. Maybe he had a knife and was too spontaneous to use it.

But joy and rapture! Just before I caught him up (by which time I was shuffling), two people who knew him stood in my way and told me it wasn’t worth it. They held me back. Thank God. I put up a bit of a struggle to make it look like I needed to chase after the bloke but I never struggled sufficiently to break free of their grasp, no matter how little effort they actually put in. Friends and onlookers gathered round my face (bleeding quite impressively for effect by now) and took it in turns to mouth off how much I didn’t deserve it and what a git this bloke was. And there we have it – a complete unmitigated success. A large bag of sympathy for being the victim of an unprovoked attack and kudos intact for the possible revenge punishment the guy may have experienced. I believe I started quite a few sentences with, “If I ever see that guy again…”. Of course, the full sentence was, “If I ever see that guy again… I’ll run like a horse and hide like a baby.” But no one ever got to hear that.

Anonymity

I know the intimate goings on of people who don’t even know I exist, thanks to the wonders of the internet trying to promote anonymity. As well as all my writing jobs, I have a sideways profession as a comedian. Stand up comedy is odd – having a job where you tell strangers lies for a living (not to be mistaken for law) is fairly fickle at the least. And it’s certainly not for the shy – most people think they know me by the end of it, and anonymity is next to impossible.

Now, to most people of the world, that would seem fair enough, but to the British, it’s still a travesty. We value our privacy like no other people – and most of us seem to be happy spending Monday to Friday as part of the background. Lets face it, if we can get on a train and do a 2 hour journey WITHOUT eye-contact and burbling noises from the nutter sat opposite us, it’s a complete result.

And yet… we’re obsessed with the lives of others. Our tabloids are the most explicit in the world, and yet we only match that enthusiasm for snooping around, with the effort we put into closing our doors to strangers. Internet wise, we seem to be similar – but as the internet is a global phenomenon, that glorious British reserve just isn’t working. I signed up for a free web-mail based (like Hotmail) account a while back, with a company that lets you have 20 addresses in one mailbox. One of the email addresses I chose was someone@something.co.uk – I thought it sounded funny (I also own I.dsaam@mywitsend.co.uk). The beauty of these web based accounts is that there’s no user information (if you don’t give it or give ‘made up’ names) and you can read and write your mail in secrecy.

However, it turns out that I’m doing a lot more ‘reading’ than I am ‘writing’. Every day, people filling out their email address on webpages, application forms, and even cereal packet coupons, are choosing dummy addresses. Why? Don’t they want that glorified spam about free diplomas from the University of RedNeckVille? Do they want to look clever because they secretly don’t have email? And one of the addresses they are choosing is…. You guessed it, someone@something.co.uk. They think it’s a dummy address, but oh no, I *own* it. Testing your new database system and thought you’d type something randomly? Thanks for the passwords. You think that free 5 minute ‘home video’ of Pamela Anderson was going to be posted to you? Don’t be silly, I’ve got that too. Valentines day? I got over 20 emails from people wanting to know who I was. Someone from something’s a busy bunny… it appears he’s got a fair share of his efingers in onlinepies.com. Assuming that he is a he, of course. I’d best email him and find out.

I’m beginning to find out that the best thing about being anonymous, is that nobody wants to talk to you, but in my case, everybody does. Douglas Adams once devised a race in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that could read each others’ minds, and as a result they had to talk bollocks all the time just to stop themselves from going mad. In the same way it appears the internet is stripping us British from any ability to keep our inherent perversions to ourselves. Forget them finding out our credit card numbers, what if they know that I get turned on by the noise of rubbing brillo-pads? Secrets are getting few and far between. Maybe in this digital age it’s time the UK stood up and opened its heart to the world… and if we do, then all I can say is this… bagsy last on Rikki Lake.

Pre-life crisis

I’m 26. Can you hear me? I’m 26. When I was 18, the statement, “I’m 18” was exactly that, a statement. Here I am! Bold! Young! Ready to take on the world! And ever-so slightly sexually frustrated! Then by the time I hit 23, “I’m 23” was just an incidental fact, a mere detail. I whispered it. Now, I’m 26. I can say that boldly again. Like I’m in an American self-help group. “I’m 26. I’m not married. I don’t intent to marry. I don’t want kids. Help me, I’m obviously ill.” (Add the noise of whopping and clapping to complete the effect).

What’s made me feel like this? Well, the other day I updated some software on my PC and they asked me to fill out an online questionnaire. In true back-of-the-cereal-packet style, instead of typing in an age, there was a series of check boxes. Yes, you’ve guessed it – my mouse travelled sadly across the ’16-25′ box and clicked firmly in the middle of ’26-35′. Oh God, I’ll probably still be clicking that box when my fingers start feeling arthritic. I scanned down to the bottom of the list but unfortunately, the company did not have a checkbox for, “Would you like one of our sales representatives to come round and shoot you now.” It wasn’t Microsoft, then.

This questionnaire had obviously realised it had backed me onto the ropes, and went in for the kill. “How much money is coming into your household?” it demanded. Surely it’s more important to know how much money is going OUT of my household… but anyway, a scroll down list was provided. Well, technically, I should have selected “nothing”, as I don’t earn ANY US dollars, thankyouverymuch. Nonetheless, I knew what it meant, so I looked at the options. 10 to 15 thousand, 15 to 20 thousand… and it went on, all the way up to 70 to 80 thousand and 80 to 90 thousand. And now a feeling of deep-rooted personal failure set in. How specific does the marketing need to be to differentiate between someone earning 80 grand or 90 grand? How many people on 80 grand are thinking – “Can’t afford that Merc – that’s for people on 90K”? I scrolled back up, and up, and up, and selected my income. I could practically hear “100 grand and over” sniggering at me from behind the monitor.

Then, they wanted my marital status. I didn’t need to give it to them, but curiosity kicked in once again and I scanned the choices. This pull down list provided, Single, Separated, Divorced, Co-Habiting, Married, and Widowed. It suddenly struck me that it seemed to be in some sort of order of preference. I skipped over this part when I realised that it should have been check boxes – most people I know would need to tick at least 2 or 3. Design fault, obviously.

Finally, came the ultra-small text stating that if I did (or didn’t – it wasn’t entirely clear) check the following box, my in-tray would be chock full of ridiculous back-country US spam until I shut the account down, moved home, and changed my name by deed poll.

I glanced over my previous answers. So far I’d admitted to being a clapped out, worthless, social inadequate. Did I want attention from strangers who were only after my money? You betcha. If there was an ‘extra spam’ box, I would have clicked that too.

Monster Drive

I’ve never really understood the meaning of ‘shrewd’. Webster’s dictionary describes it as, “marked by clever discerning awareness and hard-headed acumen , given to wily and artful ways or dealing”, but for me it has only ever been considered a mild form of socially acceptable paranoia. For a start, reading the ingredients on the side of a box of cornflakes for most people is a space filler. It passes the day. Other people actually care – maybe they’re vegans and they don’t want to poison their Soya milk. The more anal amongst us (I’m now standing, proudly waving my arms) are actually curious as to what’s in it. And in some cases, it doesn’t make for good reading. If I stumble across a foodstuff that I adore, which it turns out has got more ‘E’s in it then 90’s pop sensation East 17, it ruins the taste. Call it psychosomatic – because it is – but the flavour inexplicably changes.

In the wacky, wibbly wobbly world of the web, packaging takes on whole new forms. A ‘shrewd’ purchase no longer involves the ability to search out the small print – it turns you into a fully-fledged private detective. So you want to join this new ‘free’ ISP. How much will it cost? But how much will it REALLY cost? Are they a good company? Who owns them? Are there any reviews? Are they from magazines? Who owns those magazines? Is it fast? Who says so? Do we trust them? What about bulletin boards? What do other people say? Is that newsgroup moderated? Are those postings false? Is it all a big scam? HELP ME MUMMY! THEY WANT MY CREDIT CARD DETAILS AGAIN.

In the internet world at the moment, the NBT (next big thing) is 0800 access. Oh yes. We all want it because we all NEED it. And all of a sudden, there are hundreds of companies offering it. But, hang on, this offer doesn’t exist yet. And this COMPANY doesn’t exist yet! And they want to change my telephone company? I remember writing a shortlist and looking at all the what-ifs of completely ‘free access’. If I took the worst case exceptions to all the services out there, your ‘classic’ 0800 provider would give you unlimited 24 hours a day 7 days a week access – so long as you changed your telephone company, fitted a box to your wall, paid a 50 pound joining fee, made 20 pounds worth of calls a month, bought 45 quid’s worth of clothes, subscribed to a motor racing magazine, bought a new PC and took out a 120 grand mortgage. If I had a definition problem with ‘shrewd’, just look at the grief some people are having with ‘free’.

It all reminds me of about 1 year ago when I moved house, and I found an old box I used to hold books in. It had previously held an external SCSI hard drive for my old Atari ST. Big box. But best of all, was the writing down the side, where the company had happily splashed, “Monster 20 Meg drive!” on it. And as an after thought, “ALL YOUR STORAGE PROBLEMS SOLVED!” It’s a frightening thought, but it looks like these people found long-term niche jobs in the service industry.

Why John Lennon is no hero of mine

Does a great songwriter make a great man? I was thinking this just this morning as I sat smoking cigarettes and listening to my copy of Lennon and Ono’s ‘Double Fantasy’ album on the day when he would have celebrated his 60th birthday. If you’ve got a finger hovering over the skip button on your remote and can manage to get through the album without having to listen to a single Yoko Ono travesty, it really is a supreme recording. But does the fact that Lennon wrote tunes like ‘Watching The Wheels’, ‘I’m Losing You’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ (all included on ‘Double Fantasy’) and tunes like ‘Imagine’, ‘Mind Games’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ make him a truly great man?

I personally don’t think it does. I have to admit that I’m no real expert on John Lennon – I’ve read the odd book but I’m certainly no Beatles obsessive – but I’m not taken in by all this Lennon-was-a-great-man propaganda. His music is legendary but he strikes me as a bit of a c**t.

As a very young child, he was given a straight choice of living with his mother or his father when they split up – a terrible decision to force on any child – and he chose his dad. Then, when his mother turned around and walked off, he burst into tears and ran over to his mum. He didn’t see his dad again for 20 years. Now, I don’t care how strong a person you are and I don’t think Lennon was very strong at all, that has got to hurt. So, for John Lennon to walk out on his son Julian while he was only a child disgusts me. You would have thought that of all people, John Lennon would have understood just how much something like that would have hurt Julian and yet he still went and did it.

In fact, the leaving of his first wife Cynthia for Yoko was no more dignified. According to a recent Lennon documentary, he simply shacked up with Yoko without a care in the world. Cynthia was on television saying that she returned home from a holiday to find a half-dressed Yoko and Lennon together in their home. And that was that. John had chosen Yoko and to hell with his first wife and their son Lennon.

If walking out on the pair of them wasn’t bad enough, John fell so under the spell of Yoko that he deemed it perfectly acceptable for the new woman in his life to telephone Cynthia and inform her that is she wanted to speak to John about Julian, she had to come through Yoko first. This led to Julian not seeing his father John for four years. Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t exactly paint me a picture of some great revolutionary figure. That simply says to me that John Lennon was a weak man who allowed a manipulative woman to steam into his life and tear apart any relationship he had with his son. What a prick.

I’ll continue listening to his records – some of the greatest ever recorded – but on what would have been his 60th birthday, I won’t be shedding a tear for a supposedly great man. Paul McCartney was never as talented as Lennon but he appears to have been a far greater man. His relationship with Linda sounds like possibly one of the greatest love stories of all time and he certainly never walked out on his kids. Maybe Mark Chapman did get the right man after all.

Working Class Student

Being a bit of a new student I thought I would embrace all things student-like and get myself some new clothes with me Student Loan. Now, living all me life in Holloway, I thought I would go down the Holloway Road because the stuff down there is quality stuff – and all at decent, honest bloke kind of prices. Armed with my new Switch card in one hand and my girlfriend, Tina, on the other arm (she was pushing our kids in their buggy with alarm, dodging the dog shit and refugees), I strutted down the Holloway Road greeting my old mates from my school sitting in some of the greasy spoons eating their lunch.

“Oi, Dave!” they grunted at me as I walked past, “you fink you’re something special now you’re a student, don’t cha?”

“I don’t think I’m nothing, mate. I’m just getting myself a bit of an education so I can jump straight into management position at Kwik Save. You aint seeing me on some poxy checkout.”

Anyway, first stop was the shoe shop. Now I know, yeah, that one of the main buys for students is shoes. Tina told me so.

“Dave,” she said, plying the kids with chocolate to shut the fucking things up, “you must get some new shoes. Nice ones. To go wiv yer Ben Sherman shirts you got down the market. Gotta look like you know stuff and you aint full of shit.”

I wondered if that meant that she thought I was. But I aint one to question her. She’s only 17, three years younger than me, and does her job brilliantly. Our kids are only noisy when they want somethink. Which is often. But again I am losing track. Keep getting pestered. Right.

So the shoe shop, yeah. I found some class shoes with a tiny bit of a heel for added height and I thought, ‘Nice one. Bargin.’ Cause while they were £30 quid they looked like a lot of time and effort had gone into making them – they were genuine leather and everythink. And because they were quality, nice Italian stuff, I didn’t mind handing over the dollars – although Tina got in a bit of a humph ‘cause we normally only stretch to £25 at a push for some shoes. But it was a special occasion. Start of my HND, innit.

I buy the shoes, and at Tina’s insistence (read bossiness) decide to wear ‘em home to break em in like. The shop assistant bird said that ‘cause they were leather they wouldn’t need no breaking in so I reckon that Tina just wanted to show me off in my new shoes on Holloway Road. I think I looked quite fit in em. In fact I know I did. So we’re walking down the road, right, when my left foot begins to ache a bit. The shoe on my left foot is properly squashing my toes and I’m getting a bit concerned.

“Ere, Tina,” I say to the missis, who is munching on Wotsits that the kids sucked on for a bit but then decided not to eat. “These shoes, yeah, they feel a bit tight.”

“You’ve gotta break ‘em in like I told ya,” she said to me, scratching her arse and breaking one of her false nails off in the process. “Keep on walking, yeah, and they’ll feel better. It’s ‘cause they’re real shoes and not cheap tack off the market.”

Tina knows about these things. So I walk on.

A few days later, after I come to University, enrol and meet all the twats on my course, I stand in dog shit. Slippery brown muck all over the road. Well nasty stuff. I get home, yeah, and make Tina clean my shoes for me.

“Ew, yuck, they like, stink,” she says to me in a whiny voice that she ain’t used since she was about 13 and she got pissed off with me trying to poke her while her brother was in the room. She cleans the shit off ‘em, and when I examine the soles to make sure she’s done ‘em properly, I notice that one of em says ‘9’ on the bottom and that the other says ‘8’. I’m a size 9. I then realise why the toes on my left foot have been throbbing uncontrollably.

“Oi Tina,” I yell to the missis, who is watching Tricia and is bawling her eyes out ‘cause some couple have just tied the knot on the telly.

“Why can’t we get married on telly like them there?” she snuffles at me, looking at her engagement ring I bought her from Argos for £200 (that pained me, that did).

“Never mind this wedding nonsense,” I said to her, wondering why she keeps on finking we’re gonna get married, “my shoes are two different sizes! That’s why my feet have been hurting, innit’.

Tina looks worried. “You can’t take ‘em back, you know?” she says. “You’ve worn ‘em. You’ve trod in dog shit.”

This well badly pisses me off. “But I kept the reciept ‘cause they were a proper piece of class clothing,” I say.

“It don’t matter Dave,’ she states, sounding bored. “You trod in dog shit and they ain’t gonna let you swap a small shoe for a bigger one – even if they did give you the wrong size in the first place.”

This is shit. I mean, you go to a top shoe boutique, they give you one shoe a size too small and then you can’t take the shoe back, just ‘cause you have trod in dog shit? What is that about? The bloody owner of the bloody dog should be paying for me to get some shoes to fit for fuck’s sake. I don’t need no education to tell me that this is wrong, that this is an injustice or whatever, but I am fuming.

If being a student is about being someone who takes a stand and starts campaigns to end nasty shit then this is what I stand for. I am not gonna let poncy shoe shop assistants with their expensive leather shoes treat me, a working class lad, like this. Especially not when I have paid £30 for the shoes in the first place. I could have got imitation leather ones for a tenner down the market. And they would ‘ave let me swap ‘em no hassle.