My little boy ain’t so little anymore….

My only son, Little Bloke, is 10 years old. A few days ago, we were having some spirited discussion round the dinner table. (Our favourite adage, ‘the family that eats together, argues together’.) Little Bloke raised his voice to make some point and….he squeaked. Just slightly, but an unmistakable squeak all the same. Mrs Bloke didn’t register it at first but, as a man of many years standing I recognised that sound from my own tortured youth. He’s beginning the change, his voice is starting to break. My little boy ain’t gonna be so little anymore.

He was a miracle baby, our Christmas miracle. (His birthday is late September so do the maths and you’ll see what I mean.) For the real miracle though I have to take you back to August 1999 (I warn you, this piece may get a bit…..fluidy.) and a couple of extremely awkward conversations.

In August 1999, I was admitted to Leicester Royal Infirmary for tests, as I was, to indulge in hilarious understatement, a bit under the weather. It took two days for a formal diagnosis but, as soon as a blood sample was slid under a lens it would have been obvious. I had a rare form of Leukeamia, and was pretty close to circling the drain. I was 25 years old and really not prepared for that kind of news. My consultant, a kindly man named Dr Hutchinson, explained the illness and the treatment to me in very simple terms. (The exact analogy he used was that my blood was a garden, and that it had become choked with weeds, so they were going to inject me with weed killer so that healthy plants could start growing again.) Blood transfusions had already begun, as my red count was dangerously low and they would soon be followed by large injections of Chemotherapy, that would blitz my system and wipe out any short lived, fast growing cell. The targets were my traitorous white blood cells, but it would also attack my hair follicles, taste buds, red cells, platelets and, yes, those little swimmers I might one day want to use to spawn progeny.

Doc Hutch, as I never called him to his face, really was a sweetheart. Once, when prodding around my chubby stomach he drily commented that ‘there was a rather a lot of muscle there’. Bless him. I was moved into a side room for treatment to start and I saw Doc Hutch everyday. I thought it was just good care. I later learnt/realised that you only get that kind of care when they consider you a touch and go case. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and the awkward conversation.

It was late afternoon on the ward. I had been told the day before I had life threatening cancer and would soon be injected by a gigantic syringe full of bright red liquid. (Incidentally nobody warned me it would turn my urine bright red. That was quite a surprise, I tell you. Told you there’d be fluids.) I was actually feeling physically better than I had for weeks, the blood transfusions had ramped up my red count and I had a little energy back. A nurse, I forget her name now, but they were all pretty wonderful on that ward, approached me with a petri dish and asked if I wanted to do a sample before we started Chemotherapy. Being on the thick side it took a moment for me to catch the drift as I had already given every sample imaginable.

The chemo I’d be given was strong stuff. With Leukaemia there is no tumour to cut out or zap with radiotherapy; my illness was rushing around my veins getting up to no good. Odd as it may seem it was so aggressive it actually helped me. It was killing me so fast it had no time to spread to any other organ. So my treatment would be strong chemo and lots of it. That has all sorts of side effects, some temporary, some potentially permanent but trivial and some permanent and not so trivial. So, yes, the chemo would kill off my sperm for a few months (Sorry, had to use the word eventually.) And there was also the chance it would kill them off for good. That petri dish, before the first injection, might represent my only chance of having children.

My nurse suggested I try the ‘Relative Room’s’ bathroom, for some privacy. Long story short and without getting into detail, I was not able to provide. Something about NHS antiseptic, an almost critically low red blood count and a cancer diagnosis less than 24 hours before left me feeling, well, not especially randy.

Bless her though, when Mrs Bloke arrived to see me later that evening, the nurse approached again with the petri dish in case we wanted to try together. Yeah. Really hard to imagine a more awkward conversation. We declined. Probably much to everyone’s relief, as not a single person on that ward needed that mental image.

Neither do you I imagine. Sorry.

Fast forward several years. My treatment was successful and I’m well into remission. I don’t want to be glib about it, treatment was hellish for all of us to go through and has left many, many scars, physical and emotional. But it’s 2005. Mrs Bloke and I got married the year before and we were giving it the 6 months we’d been advised before investigating me further. Time for some more awkward conversations with GP. Now, I’d been led to believe by TV that, ahem, providing a sample, was done at special labs, with a room set aside for the purpose with certain materials on hand to help. Not in Wisbech apparently. I had to take  a pre-prepared sample to the path. lab, along with everyone else queuing up for blood tests. It was a cold day, and I’d been told to keep ‘it’ warm until I dropped it off. I walked down to the hospital with a sample jar held firmly in trouser pocket, 100% certain that this was the point I would be stopped and searched by an over zealous copper.

There was a queue at the door of the path. lab for opening time and, with some trepidation and with a dozen embarrassing scenario’s running around my head, I joined. As you process in you have to take a number on a little ticket and wait to be called for a blood test. I however, had different business, so had to speak with the little old lady behind the counter. She didn’t look like my granny, but she could easily have been someones gran. ‘I’ve got a to give a sample’ I said nervously. ‘Take a ticket’ she replies without looking up. Horribly aware of the people waiting behind me I try again and explain I already have the sample, I just need to hand it in. At this she looks up. In my memory she has a steel gaze over half moon specs, but that’s properly not true.

‘What kind of sample?’ She asks with, what I think was vicious glee. Oh please I think, don’t make me say Sperm in front half of Wisbech’s old age pensioners. I hold out the sample jar, wrapped in the little identity slip to hide its contents. The letter ‘S’ is forming on my lips as I have a brainwave.

‘A fertility sample’ I mutter, fooling absolutely nobody but at least I wouldn’t hear a toddler asking his mum what semen is. As the penny drops her eyebrows raise and she takes the jar and drops it into a little box with practised indifference and I escaped to the frosty morn with a load off my shoulders. So to speak.

It wasn’t good news. I had to do the whole thing once again and the results were the same. If a normal man’s sample was a sell out screening of Star Wars, mine was a showing of a Bolivian Art House film about failing grain harvests and existential dread. Not much there. My GP was unambiguous, it’s extremely unlikely to happen naturally. We’d have to look at IVF.

But, small though my squad may be, they got the job done. Special Forces clearly. It took us longer than it should have for us to join the dots and realise Mrs Bloke was pregnant after Christmas 2005, and to say it was a shock is an understatement. What should have been a surprise birthday trip to a suite in a lovely hotel at the sea side, turned into a morning sickness tour of Norfolk as we tried to work out how we’d ever cope with a baby in our lives.

But here we are, ten years later, and the tiny baby, (Well, hulking nine pounder of a baby) has learnt to walk, talk, potty trained, started nursery, started school and now heading for secondary school.He no longer wants to cuddle, doesn’t need us to dress him, doesn’t believe in, well, anything much any more. He’s bright, very bright; in fact I doublecheck my spelling and grammar with him now. He does a mean Trump impression. He’s becoming a man. The hair, the spots, the mood swings are all coming over the horizon. Everyday I tell him I love him, even though he doesn’t say it back anymore.

I never thought of being a father. Then I was told I couldn’t be a father. Then became a father by utter surprise. I never knew, never suspected, that intensity of feeling and connection, having that little guy, stirred within me. Within minutes of holding that baby, I knew I would step in front of traffic for him, defend him, love him unreservedly for ever.

Something I’ll have to bear in the mind as puberty and the teenage years roll toward us.

And of course, it also means, that fairly soon, I’ll be having some more awkward conversations.

If you have liked this blog piece, or others I have written, I would be very grateful if you could help spread the word on Facebook or Twitter. 

Find me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

 

Why I hate (and love) Facebook

Given that it was inauguration week in the U.S I was going to write another ‘letter to America’ this week, with some wise words for the country and its new President. But then I spotted something on Facebook that made me mad so I’m going to leave Trump for another day. They’ll just have to manage without my wisdom for another week. (Although I hear White, Middle Aged Men are finally going to to be listened in the States. Odd they haven’t been heard before, what with them filling the seats in Congress, Senate and the Whitehouse. They must be shy, what with one in five of them being Ladies.)

Anyway, thinly veiled sarcasm aside, let’s talk about Facebook. I’ve been on Facebook for 9 years I think and have had a topsy turvy relationship with it. It seems to represent the very best and very worst of society on its pages.My eyes have welled with tears at some posts and I have been driven to fury by others. This week though, I saw a post that got me so angry I punched my tablet, smashing the screen.

tablet-crack

It was one of those ‘I know 97% of you won’t share this’ posts that try and guilt us into spreading what is essentially a chain letter……

Fighting!!! Big C !!! Well, I’m gonna say bye-bye to some of you. Now I’m watching the ones who will have the time to read this post until the end. This is a little test, just to see who reads and who shares without reading! If you have read everything, select “like” so I can put a thank u on ur profile! I know that 97% of you won’t broadcast this, but my friends will be the 3% that do.

Please, in honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer, or even had cancer, copy, and paste.

Write “done” in comments when you’re finished. I can put a thank u on ur profile! I know that 97% of you won’t broadcast this, but my friends will be the 3% that do.

Please, in honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer, or even had cancer, copy, and paste. Write “done” in comments when you*re finished

I am a cancer survivor. I have also lost people very close to me with cancer. The idea that someone would pretend to announce to the world that they have cancer is, to me at least, little short of vile. This, and posts like this, are all about attention seeking. It has nothing to do with spreading awareness of cancer, because, let’s be honest, how many people, who are Facebook users, are going to say to themselves. ‘Gee, Cancer, what’s that? Boy that sounds sucky, now I’m real sad for people who have it.)

(I should hasten to add, it wasn’t a direct friend who shared that post, they had simply commented on it. I don’t know the person who did post it and can only hope it was a brief abberation.)

All social media has become an insidious part of our lives. We are all ‘Big Brother’ now, watching and commenting and judging on those around us. And, for some reason, whatever we see in our Facebook feeds, we believe. We’ve all been aware of the impact of fake news on the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential election, but it isn’t just political manipulation. Lets talk about murder…

Say I wanted someone dead. I could create a post with their picture saying that they, for example, had raped a girl, beaten a child, or are the grown up figures of, say, the James Bulger killers. I post it to Facebook, using a fake account of course. That clickbait spreads like wildfire and suddenly that persons life is in danger, not just from me, but from any hot head idiot who thinks he’s doling out natural justice. Here’s an example I saw this week. Shared by a UK citizen..(This guy may well be guilty of what he is accused, but I don’t know that so I’ve blanked out his name.)

wp-upload

I clicked on the share, to see who had passed it on, and it was a guy in Texas. (Who I’m assuming has lots of friends in New Hampshire, since they are pretty far apart.) No date, no proof. The incident, if it ever happened, could have been years ago. Last year there was one morning where I saw two posts, from different friends, about a young lad doing a burglary caught on camera. The exact same pictures, in the same house, same boy. (They always seem to steal medals for that added impact.) One robbery had apparently taken place in Cambridgeshire, the other in Derbyshire. I say again, the photo’s were identical. So, at least one of those posts was a complete lie. Probably both.

Companies are being blackmailed with fake posts, showing images of children, burnt, injured, made sick, by various named products which duly get shared by well meaning people thinking they are passing on a genuine warning. Recipes for home made medicines, cures, beauty treatments, using potentially harmful chemicals are shared without being tested.

Please, before sharing, stop for a second and think about what you know, what you think you know. Just because a friend has shared it doesn’t make it true, because a friend has shared it to them as well and they’ve trusted it because they trust their friend and on it goes…..

Google it, because usually a fake post has already been debunked and you can find the truth in a few seconds. I saw one about refugees bringing containers of weapons with them to Europe, to arm an ISIS army. There were pictures of Greek customs officers pulling rifles out of boxes marked with pictures of coffee tables. It took me 15 seconds to type the phrase ‘containers of weapons’ into google and to find the Associated Press story attached to the pictures. It wasn’t refugees, it might not even have been ISIS. It was arms being smuggled into Libya to arm who knows who. But, unchecked, it’s just another piece of anti-refugee nonsense.

Oh, one last thing to show you. The man from Texas, clearly a man stupid beyond all belief, also on his profile had this image. (I’ve added the red graffiti just to make sure you know what I think of it and that the no-one can ever associates the unedited image with this blog.)

bullshit-quote

I can’t even start to tell you the ways that this is wrong. It’s just so, so, monumentally, hideously wrong! Historically it’s cobblers, morally is total rubbish and politically it is dangerous. And this was just one click away from my feed. When you share a post, do you really know where it has come from and who you are implicitly supporting by sharing?

So, why do I stay on Facebook? Because of my friends and my family. Once you get beyond the fake posts, the stupid ‘what does your name say about you’ posts, the life affirming but oddly meaningless meme’s (Share if you love your daughter/ son/ father/ cat or ‘today is world cancer day, share this candle’ – Wouldn’t want to give a donation to charity instead would you? No? Okay, share a candle, that’ll help.) and political browbeating you get the real nice stuff. The little snippets of news, the family photo’s, the silly videos and the jokes. I am in touch albeit, very lightly, with friends from primary school, I haven’t seen in years but who are still tremendous fun to swap barbs with; I can see, day to day what family the other side of the planet are up to. (It has it’s downside though, when I fell off my motorbike I mentioned it on Facebook and a relation in Australia dobbed me in to my Mum in the U.K. My ma is on Facebook now, so nothing gets past her.)

I love the jokes, the life, the reality of what people share. Keep sharing those. We should all be here to laugh and smile at the good news, and be sad and offer support at the bad.

And pet pictures…always post pet pictures….this one has had me laughing since last night..

fb_img_1485034082386.jpg

P.S I was lying earlier, I didn’t punch my tablet. I dropped it getting it out of my bag with cold hands, later that day, but, I had a picture and something to blame it on. Fake news is so easy people. Only share what you KNOW is true.

And Fatbloketalking posts, always share them. I know 97% of you won’t……

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com.

Seriously, follow me on Twitter, I’ve done some great jokes this week and got no traction whatsoever!

Public Privacy -On the Buses!

I was going to write about something totally different this week, but a couple of events over the last few days have pushed the issue of travelling on buses to the top of my mind. I think I have mentioned before that I am one of nature’s pedestrians and a cheapskate. My commute to work, lengthy though it is, is far cheaper by public transport than by car. Plus it gives me a nice dose of exercise each day, walking to and from bus stops and usually a little nap time as well.

To commute on the bus is much like commuting on the train, but slightly lower class. The same approximate group of people arrive at the station each morning, catch the same time bus or train, sit roughly in the same seats. We don’t speak, just vaguely pretend that everyone is invisible. Sometimes, an event will crop up and you’ll have to speak to your fellow travellers, usually about some delay you’ve found out about. (For example, the other day I shared a tweet I’d seen from the bus company saying our bus wasn’t running.) For a few minutes everyone will tut, and chat and moan then the veil of silence falls again. We, the daily commutes are, what I like to call, the professional bus user. On before nine, home after five. Our journeys are largely civilised and quiet. I almost always have ear buds letting my Ipod lull me to sleep. We are in our own quiet worlds, thinking of the day ahead, or just past, or, as the bus has WiFi, glued to our various devices.

It’s when you travel outside of working hours, at the weekends and during the working day that the process becomes a bit more tiresome. Yesterday (Saturday), Mrs Bloke, Little Bloke and I had cause to all catch the bus into Peterborough, something we have not done together for many a year. We got on and climbed to the top deck and took our seats. There were already up there, predictably at the back, a group of teenagers, about  half a dozen, mainly boys with a couple of girls. They’ll have come from some of the smaller villages further up the route, or possibly the bright light of King’s Lynn. They were making a lot of noise but I wasn’t unduly bothered. On the forty minute ride though their language and conversation got worse. I don’t pretend Little Bloke has never heard harsh language, but it was repeatedly  being shouted along with a couple of jokes about rape and sex toys.

If I was on my own, it wouldn’t have been an issue because I simply wouldn’t have heard them. But on a bus, in front of my 10 year old it was annoying me. I toyed with the idea of getting up and complaining to them, but like as not that would have resulted in the rest of the trip with abuse being thrown at us all sotto voce, whilst I have thick skin (made thicker by my husky physique) abuse aimed at Mrs B or the boy might have pushed me over the edge. And that’s where I have a problem, as a middle aged man. If a woman stood up and told them off, like as not, they might return some abuse, but that’s a s far as it would go. If I, as a perceived Alpha male, were to challenge them, especially in front of their girls, then at least one of them is going to physically challenge back. And once there, what am I supposed to do, a grown man punching a 15 year old kid? Or letting a 15 year old take a swing at me? And I’ll admit, in this frenzied Daily Mail world you do wonder if one or more could be carrying knives as some macho display. So, I did the British thing and remained silent. We arrived into Peterborough and, as we stood to queue to get off, to my complete surprise, I found myself turning and telling them off. I genuinely didn’t think I was going to. I was polite, I didn’t shout, I may have been a bit sarcastic. (Alright, I was sarcastic) What happened next was textbook teenage boy behaviour. I was met with surly silence, but as we moved off the bus a few f words, half a dozen people back, were aimed at me. We stood by the bus though when we dismounted, and oddly none of them were brave enough to say anything to my face then. We walked down the bus station, a safe distance away and another expletive was thrown at my back. Just far enough away so that if I turned to walk back at them, they could run away. We stopped at the escalator to discuss the issue of toilet needs. That pause, I noticed from the corner of my eye, caused their little group to stop as well and they waited until we were on the escalator going up to follow us again at a distance. Little bloke, bless ‘im, looked at me and said ‘well done dad’. One of those rare times you think, have I just set a good example? And I think I did.

I must smile at the conversation they would be having, one lad would be saying ‘I could have taken him.’ (Good luck, I’m not a fighter but there is a lot of me to absorb a blow.) The others would be nodding and saying, ‘yes mate’ whilst thinking, ‘funny you didn’t try when we walked right past him at the bus.’

So that was my run in with a bunch of gobby village kids having a trip to the ‘big city’. One aspect of bus travel you occasionally run into. To my shame, I was once getting off a bus and a couple of elderly ladies in front of me stopped to complain to the driver that a man upstairs had been verbally abusing them all trip. I had my earbuds in and had fallen asleep and didn’t realise. I hated the thought that they thought I’d sat there ignoring them. The guy is an occasional traveller and has some mental health issues I believe so I’m not sure what I would have done, but at least I could have changed the target.

Coming home from work Friday I was looking at Twitter and saw a tweet from Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about how you’d react if the person sat next to you on the bus was watching porn. I replied with a (what I thought) hilarious tweet saying ‘ I’d tell them to stop looking at my phone and move seats’. Got me only one like. Twitter is so cruel.

But the point is a good one. When we are travelling on a bus, we like to pretend we are in our own private world and the journey becomes very uncomfortable if someone invades that privacy. That applies doubly so to women and kids travelling alone. I sometimes wish I could qualify for a ‘safe passenger’ scheme, a little badge that says ‘If you sit next to me, I will not try and talk to you, or touch you up. If you are feeling uncomfortable and need support please ask.) But frankly, since I’m usually at a limited level of consciousness on the bus I wouldn’t be much use.

The porn issue got me thinking though, and it raises rather more questions than it answers. According to the show it isn’t actually an offence to watch hardcore porn in a public place on your phone. I would argue it is a public decency offence. Being naked in public isn’t illegal unless someone is offended by it and I would argue the same would apply. The Woman’s Hour piece related to an experience one of their reporters had actually had, it wasn’t a hypothetical. She had been shocked, and made to feel deeply uncomfortable, but had left the bus without doing anything. Wisely in my opinion. When asked the transport company did say they would have reported an incident like that to the police.

Now, you probably won’t be  surprised to know I am not especially anti-porn. Broadly speaking, as long as everyone involved is of consenting age and fully aware then it’s okay. Yes, content needs to become more adult and realistic, there is a generation of boys and girls grown up now who think Porn sex is the norm. Let’s be honest, you watch porn for one reason. And the bus is not a good place to be seeking sexual excitement. You aren’t watching it for the story. ‘But I really want to know if the washing machine ever gets fixed!’

To sit on the bus, or train, or any public place with people close by, and watch that content, I believe is a type of exhibitionism. Like a flasher in a park, you are deliberately trying to shock, make uncomfortable and perhaps even frighten a little, anyone who catches a glimpse of what you’re watching.

I have just one last point though. And it’s one I’ve touched on in the past. They made great point on the radio of questioning what if a child had seen it. Well, what if? Yes, they might be confused but at the end of the day, it is sex. Not good sex maybe but still a (relatively) natural process. What if the person has been watching an 18 certificate, gory horror film? I would argue seeing explicit depictions of bloody torture and murder would be much more upsetting to a child. Why do we heap the highest level of indecency on porn? (Again, I stress am talking about mainstream, legal, porn.)

What really grinds my gears on the bus though, is the 6 weeks before Christmas, when rich middle class pensioners start using their bloody passes to avoid the car parking and traffic, to do their Christmas shopping and treat the whole thing like a bloody school trip out. They barge into the queue, pile on board with their John Lewis and Pandora bags, forget where they’ve put their passes, fight to get the front seats on the top deck. It literally adds ten minutes to each journey and they don’t pay a penny! On this point though, I am willing to concede I may just be being more than usually miserable.

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com

 

 

 

 

Taxing Times

My father, over the years, has given me some snippets of advice that have stayed with me. ‘Always check the ring finger’ is one, not quite as relevant as it once was, but still useful. ‘Always be wary of a driver wearing a hat’ is another curiously accurate statement. The final nugget of truth, that I’ve been thinking about these last couple of days, is ‘don’t complain about income tax, you’ve got to be earning to pay it.’

I thought of that this week as, when I returned from work on the 3rd January, first day back after a lovely Christmas break, I found a cheery brown envelope from the tax office. Always a sight to gladden the heart. It turned out though it was the annual breakdown of my PAYE and National Insurance contributions.Now, I love a good pie chart as much as the next blogger, so I examined carefully to see where my hard earned pennies are being spent.

I don’t earn much, so my contributions over the year aren’t massive, but proportionally they reflect slices of the government budget the same as anyone else. The smallest slice of that pie, to nobody’s surprise is £20 to the EU. That’s 39p a week. Phew, good job we’ll be getting that back soon. Next up was £22 to overseas aid. Another controversial one this, but still at the tiny slice of the pie end of things. Mrs Bloke doesn’t quite earn enough to pay tax and little bloke is expertly playing his ‘I’m only ten’ card to avoid getting a full time job. Therefore my contributions pretty much represent our entire household. So, when all is said and done, what the likes of the Daily Mail and Farage get so excited about, EU payments and foreign aid, represent what I spend a year on Shreddies. (Well, Malted Wheaties, we don’t waste money on brand names.)

Foreign Aid, in the right wing press is always represented as cash handouts to sunglasses wearing foreign dictators and corrupt officials. The truth, as usual is a lot more mundane and benign. Yes, some money does get directly given to foreign governments. That money, I suspect comes with plenty of backroom diplomacy and sneaky dealing we are not aware of, it greases the wheel of world trade and diplomacy.  More aid goes to NGO’s to support specific causes. There are also disaster relief contributions and, lets not forget, the genius slight of hand that meant we could use the foreign aid budget to help cover the costs of refugees already in the country. A large chunk also goes to fund UN projects, fighting world hunger, improving infant mortality, that kind of tiresome do-gooding. So, yeah, whilst I may have some disquiet about where some of the cash goes, for such a silly slice I’m not going to get overheated about it.

The next few slices are fairly unexciting, ranging from street lights, Culture, ‘Business and Industry’ (whatever that means), Environment, worryingly small slice at £31. Transport takes us up to £73. Public Order £78. All pretty good value for money really. Defence is £95, which means I’ve probably paid for a pair of squaddies boots or 0.000023% of a Challenger Tank. Some hasty maths means that I should have a turn in my tank every 57 years. I’m in my 40’s now, that means it’s nearly my turn. Where’s my tank?!

Next up, another ‘Red Top’ red flag, is Interest paid on the National Debt. One pound more than defence at £96.00. Helpfully, it means we pay the same on the EU, Foreign Aid, Housing and Culture as we pay in debt. Sounds horrendous doesn’t it. But, let’s calm down and have a think. Got a mortgage? Had a mortgage? You’d have to be in a stunningly strong financial position these days to buy a house without incurring managed debt. And it’s the ‘managed’ part that’s important. It’s factored into your budget, taking on that debt makes you more financially flexible and robust, the same for the country as for your household. Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s still only 5.3% of the National spend.

We then take a huge step up to Education (£218). Fair enough. I have some concerns about Education policy in this country, and what I perceive as privatisation by stealth. However, I was thoroughly schooled for free, Mrs Bloke more successfully so and Little Bloke is currently begrudgingly testing his teachers patience. If we assume that yearly payment every year for a working life for all three of us, that means we’ve paid about £12,000 for our education. Our local private school charges £12,575 a year for senior schooling. Now, I’ll admit I never went skiing at Val D’Isere with my state school, but it still seems, on reflection quite good value for money.

Pensions next. Can’t touch those. Until the new generation of voters actually become politically active it’s the pensioners that decide elections so no party is going to dare reducing them. And, by the time I’m allowed to retire at 70 I’ll look forward to reaping the rewards of my contributions as all these hipster millennials will be struggling to pay our social costs. Serves them right, topknot wearing gits.

In penultimate position, at £362, is fan favourite, Health. There are few things about this country that genuinely make me proud to be a citizen. The NHS is one of them. I have had a….ahem..colourful medical history and the cost of finding private medical insurance to cover that history and exciting ailments yet to come, would be well outside my budget. I already can’t afford to go to the dentist. The NHS has its problems, undeniably, and it could do better without being used as a political football and ideological testing ground by every new government, but it was a great idea and remains a great institution.

And top of the heap, Number One, romping home with a cheeky 25%, is welfare. Benefits scroungers, refugee scumbags and lazy louts draining this taxpayers money from his wallet to keep them all in fags, crisps and Jeremy Kyle. Except, that is, obviously, complete bollocks. Yes, look hard enough and a tabloid journalist can usually find someone who is happy to be a benefit scrounger, but they are the exception, very much the exception. Got children? Get family allowance? You are on a benefit. We have one child, so, of the £455 contribution I make to the Welfare budget each year, our household gets back £991. Qualify for Tax Credits? You are on benefits. (Although that system is a shambles, for every year we ever qualified, the following year we’ve had to pay a bunch back because of over payment.) A huge chunk of the welfare budget goes out to top up the incomes of low waged earners. People who work hard to make ends meet.  The retired, the disabled, who get supplementary payments to meet extra living expenses. Benefits.

Both Mrs Bloke and I have had periods of unemployment and had to throw ourselves upon the welfare system. And let me tell you, you do not get rich in that scenario. You got about£70 a week for 6 months to replace your salary. If your partner also works, even part time, only 16 hours a week then you get no other help with mortgages or rent. After 6 months that help stops. The only way to get everything paid for by the state, is to have nothing to start with. And, I’m kinda of the opinion, that if you are clever enough to play the system to live a life of luxury from benefits, you should be hired by the government to rewrite the system. Poacher turned gamekeeper as it were.

So, all in all, I paid £1800 odd quid in Tax and National Insurance last year. Yes, that is money I would rather have in my pocket than the Chancellor’s. And if I was clever enough I would try and find ways of not paying it, limiting my liability. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t? Who amongst us doesn’t take advantage of any loophole they can climb through. I’m just a working Joe, so my loophole’s are limited. We’ve become so holier than thou about Tax in recent years. The big companies like Google and Amazon are covered in scorn for juggling the numbers to not pay Tax on their gross (in both senses of the word) profits. But I don’t blame them, I blame the government for leaving those options open.

Lets use a health analogy, if Tax Avoidance is a disease, then Tax Law is the antibiotic. It works for a while ’til the disease mutates and becomes resistant to the antibiotic, then the cure has to refined once more.

Yes, those companies could volunteer to pay more Tax, but so can I and so can you. If you like you can write a cheque and send it with love and kisses to the treasury. Not going to though are you? Neither am I. Hell, I’m even thinking about applying for the marriage allowance and the thrupunny hapenney a year that would save us.

At the end of the day, if you are paying it, you are earning it. If you are paying a lot, then frankly, you are earning a lot. Depending on where and how you live, living on any budget can be hard. But let me say this, if you are struggling to live on 40K a year you have got a lot more options than anyone living on £14,000.

I may not like where all my money goes, but frankly, I don’t like much broadcast on BBC 1 , but I still pay the licence fee. We throw our pennies into the pot and each election we get to chose who spends them. And shortly after we’ll complain about it. Death and Taxes as Franklin said, the two certainties in life. And, I guess since I certainly can’t afford to do one, I’ll just keep paying the other.

Also, I mean it about drivers in hats. Be wary.

Postscript -Monday 9th Jan. Walking to work this morning and nearly got wiped out by a car when using a zebra crossing. Yup, he was wewaring a baseball cap. Confirmation bias, I don’t think so! 

Find and follow me on Facebook – www.facebook.com/fatbloketalking  and on Twitter – @fatbloketalking or email me at fatbloketalking@outlook.com