Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Nostalgia Factory (iv)

My Bleak Year

My neighbours must be wondering what's going on in my office. I've been hoovering and decided, despite the cold and rain (it is July 31st after all), to air the house by opening all the windows and getting rid of the doggy and stale smoke smells. When I finished that I got an urge to listen to something noisy and very loud. So I put some Fuck Buttons on; music that really, truly, isn't the kind one would normally expect of me (except it is); and I put it on ear-bleedingly loud. I think the dogs have got the impression I'm holding a rave inside a steelworks in my office and have decamped for the living room. If the wife was here she'd probably hit me with something.

I can't tell you how delighted I was that Danny Boyle used Fuck Buttons in his opening film sequence for the Olympic Opening Ceremony; the man must have some good stuff knocking around his record collection; but he is good friends with Underworld (who were Freuer in the 80s) and they did the soundtrack to Trainspotting and also featured in the ceremony.

I rarely listen to loud music any more; the idea just never comes to me much as I've got older. I think I went off the idea of it when I lived in Scummersley Terrace back in 1999/2000. Living next door to a crack dealer with a teenage girlfriend with three kids, who he used to 'hire out' when he was short of money, made me realise what it was like to live next door to someone who played music so loud it hurts your ears.

Oddly enough, when we moved to that house of mixed blessings, things in our life were pretty damned good. I was still at Comics International and still earning a really decent living from that and other freelance work. We still owned the house in Wellingborough, which we'd rented out to a friend and while we were more than aware we were moving into a complete and utter shit hole, in a region of Northampton dubbed Beirut by the locals; we were buying a house that was about 40% cheaper than every other property in the area. The reason? Nothing wrong with the house; lots wrong with the neighbourhood.

The day we moved in was not without some inauspicious moments; the first and still most memorable was arriving at the house about half an hour before the removals van, driven by my dad, and finding two kids, an old pram and lots of soiled nappies in the bottom of the skip. I got out of the car - my brand new Fiat Punto - and asked the kids what they were doing in the skip. One of them turned to me and said, "We're not in the fucking skip." The wife looked at me and struggled to force an ironic smile.

The first two weeks were the honeymoon period; not only we were blessed with an Indian Summer which allowed us to completely clear out the garden, but the wife and my dad (who needed something to do now my mum had gone) set about stripping out the house and redesigning it. The garden was a treasure trove of crime; we found all manner of things buried in the very large garden, including a payphone - I kid you not - and a chest. This caused us all some consternation; the wife had this vision of it being stuffed with bones; I dreamed of it being full of money; in the end it was full of ... nothing - a few cobwebs.

Then the weather changed; and more importantly, the crack dealer got released from prison. Warm October turned into bleak mid-autumn, the leaves fell, the sun got low in the sky and suddenly Scummersley Terrace started to look a bit ... scummy.

The house cost us £34,000; it had originally been on the market for £50,000 and we'd been to see it then, because we could afford to go up to £60k without having to sell the Wellingborough house. The first time we drove down the cul-de-sac we both immediately knew that we would never buy the house. But, three weeks later and still without a house, we saw the place had been reduced to £40k, so decided to go back, have another look and see if the place was as shitty as we remembered it. It was and this was the beginning of June 1999, a nice month. Then the house was reduced again to £37,950 and we discovered the building society was selling not an owner - it was, naturally, a repossession. My brother, who hadn't seen the house said for a joke that we should offer them £30k; so we did and they came back and said £35k and we settled on £34,000 - we had, as they say in the trade, a bargain.

The house itself was a big old council house with a front porch that lead to a hallway. The bathroom was immediately to the right, the big living cum dining room to the left. The kitchen was directly in front down the hall and there was a cubicle toilet where one might have a cupboard under the split stairs. Upstairs were three bedrooms; a massive one that could easily have accommodated an en-suite and two other really adequately sized others. The only problem with the house, and this might have been because it sat empty for over a year, was it was very cold and superficially damp - well, not damp as such, it was a corner terrace or semi as snobs like to call them and had north and east facing walls which hardly ever got any sun on them, so the heat from inside the house against two walls that seemed permanently cold caused a lot of condensation (this was only ever temporarily solved). It had a 100 foot long back garden that was about 25 feet wide; it was a massive space, which had a garage in it - there was no access to the garden from a street, so heaven knows why it was there - and a patio and a lean-to or small crappy conservatory, which saw the sun in the summer, but only for about two hours in the evening; the rest of the garden though was usually bathed in it whenever the sun shone. If the house had been anywhere else it would have been delightful.

I think I've tried and largely succeeded in blotting this 13 month period out of my head. I've joked with the wife that my mid-life crisis was wanting a sports car half a dozen years ago and then regretting it; but I think 2000, if it wasn't the year I had my mid-life crisis, it was the year that I had an actual mental breakdown. Well, mental breakdown might be far too strong a description; but something major happened in 2000 and Scummersley Terrace played a huge part in that.

Believe or not, my memories of that year in hell are really sketchy; the more I sit here and try to remember anything more than isolated incidents, the more my mind throws up this wall and says to me quietly don't go there.

I remember setting my office up and thinking there was too much space. I'd finally moved out of my cubbyhole and into a real room and I think that inspired me; what also inspired me was the fact that my then employer had discovered things called IRC - which is basically the first working Internet chat forums and he used to spend ages on these things and as a result, I started to fool around with them, but and this is no bullshit, they was so such chaos and cacophony and I didn't really see what the point was. But, I was also entering a period of my life where I wanted to write again. I don't know if it was the space or just years of pent-up frustration at not fulfilling my ambition to be a 'proper' writer, but one night standing over Dez's shoulder in Finchley watching him chatting to some woman from Texas and thinking; neither of you know anything about each other; you could both be fat psychos sitting naked in front of your keyboard hoping for the typewriter equivalent of phone sex.

Bingo!

An idea came into my head and the idea grew and grew. I now had this room to let my ideas have some air, I sat down just over two weeks after we moved there and wrote a book. 80,000 words poured from my head over a three week period. It was like an express train; all those years of want came pouring out of my hands. It was really a pure and simple act of catharsis, but what landed on the 'page' was evil. I had dragged up things from the depths of my instinctive brain; wrote things that would have suggested a really, really, fragile and potentially dangerous person. I wrote a story that while, in many ways I was proud of (I still think it's paced beautifully), but would never, ever, admit to writing.

While I was writing it and while the express train mention is an old cliche, it really was one of those as soon as I got to the tipping point, there really was no turning back. The closer I got to the finishing line, the more time and effort I poured into it. By December 1999 when I finished it; it was full of hate and that reflected my life perfectly... I was exhausted; stressed from everything that was going on around me and I began to hate comics with a passion.

The wife's got a few 'heroes', among them David Niven, David Attenborough, Hugh Laurie (but she never watched House) and Stephen Fry. Imagine her surprise when we have Steven Fry move in next door. However, this Fry was tall, blond, lean, wore a lot of bling and tracksuits and was a crack dealer, who took an instant disliking to me because I was male and I lived next to him and I'm not exactly a shrinking violet. It was the middle of November and the wife said, "There's someone outside the living room window," and true enough when I pulled the curtains back there was Fry beating the crap out of his teenage girlfriend.

Now, what would you do? Call the police? Go outside and ask them to take it somewhere else? Well, that's what I did. I went out, by which time they knew I'd seen them and were making their way to the two foot fence that separated our front gardens. "Take it off of my garden please," I said, without a hint of malice in my voice and suddenly he's in my face; I mean doing an angry gorilla impersonation; nose to nose, arms in the air, hooting at me like a fucking deranged donkey. I have a reactionary temper at the best of times, but I was also well aware of the 'if you hit someone, they can defend themselves' law and the 'if he hits you first you can have him for assault' law, especially as 'MeeeShell' was screaming at him that he'd go back to prison if he touched me. But, he hadn't quite finished howling at me about his turf, his manor and he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to and I was not going to stop him. I actually wanted him to hit me by this point and I saw a hammer on the window ledge, picked it up and brandished it at him, muttering something about bashing his brains in if he so much as touched me or came near my house again.

The upshot was our first meeting with our new neighbour went about as catastrophically wrong as was physically and mentally possible. From that point on, for six months, he made our lives hell and guess what the council did? Diddly squat.

2000 was tumultuous; we spent it round RnB's because we didn't want to be in the house, especially as they had a party which was still going at 10 in the morning. The one reasonable thing was our bedroom was as far away from their house as possible and with windows shut, we barely heard anything, much. We might hardly ever have seen him, but we knew he was there; if he wasn't screaming at his bitch, he was shouting at the kids or playing dub music so loud it made the walls vibrate.

My car got damaged - the insurance assessor reckoned someone repeatedly threw a pushbike onto its bonnet. The new fence was broken; the two ducks were killed and I became more and more withdrawn. I had a period, probably around 1996 or 7 when I became a wee bit agoraphobic, but in 2000 I got the same thing, but what compounded it was two other things. The emergence of skunk as the smokers drug of choice and the fact I didn't feel safe leaving the house to go to the car, which was parked 20 feet away. I became this curtain twitching recluse and I'd started writing another story; not as grim as the previous, but almost as nasty.

I was about 25,000 words into a story about a hitman and the life he lives when he isn't working. The dual life he leads without his wife or friends knowing what he really does for a living. The story was based around the old copper's adage - never shit on your own doorstep - or never bring your work home or near home because too much of a spotlight can fall on the things you don't want people to know. The hitman and his family move into a new, nondescript house, in a slightly average neighbourhood, but within days, the hitman realises that he wants his neighbour dead.

I've got this mate, lives down in Hastings, he's a copper and a lovely bloke who I've always gotten on really well with; when we first met he must have had no allusions to what kind of person I was, with my bum length hair and obvious love for herbs illegal; but we were both comics fans and retailers (he did the ordering for his mate who run a book and comic shop) and when I came about to write the previous novel, I asked him for information regarding police procedure as far as serial killers, missing people and other nasty shit. He, naturally, didn't help me; but undeterred, six months later I'm again asking him questions about police procedures in murders, dealing with contract killers and even if they really exist. He didn't answer again, but then again, he is and has mainly always been just a community bobby; he wouldn't know CID murder procedure if it showed him its warrant card and helmet.

Anyhow, things had started to get a bit hairy at work; I felt trapped in my own house and towards the back end of the summer, the wife finished the d├ęcor and we decided that we needed to get out of there. I remember sitting in the cubicle toilet, on a hot August day wondering if the nightmare would ever end, as speakers placed outside the front door, broadcast music, broadly speaking, to the mass public whether they wanted it or not. By the late afternoon, when the wife came home I went out to meet her and she looked at me, looked at the human wastage sunning themselves to whatever the 2000 equivalent to dubstep was and shaking her head. Fry had been quite quiet for a while; we'd had the council in and I reckon he'd gotten wind of it, because things had gone quiet and almost like magic, the loud music came back out the day after the listening equipment went back to the council with barely a sneeze on it. But today he seemed to resent the look on my wife's face, so he was up at the gate suggesting we fuck off somewhere because he was in charge of this street.

Again he was up in my face, screaming at me to hit him, to give him an excuse to put me in hospital, but I'd wised up a little and stood toe to toe with him, saying all manner of vile things to get him to hit me. By this time MeeeShell had warmed a little to me and the wife; I think she realised that we weren't bad people and we actually gave a shit about her, but she was loyal to the man who beat her regularly, so she joined in and before you know it there's a crowd of people watching me and Fry going at it. I even considered at one point in finding out if any of my less than desirable mates fancied earning a £100 to give this twat a good kicking.

The confrontation over, the wife was on the phone to the estate agents and the house was on the market - but with no for sale notice - by the end of the week. It was on for £60,000, which was about £8k less than the going rate at the time, so it was priced to sell and make us a tidy profit. To add to the stress and strains of being recently bereaved, working for the king of all arseholes and living in hell, my best friend at the time suddenly changed; becoming even more cynical and seemingly disappointed when the first people to view the house put in an offer of £57k. He had claimed, quite boldly (and coldly) that we would never sell the house because of the neighbours and the location. When we did, his entire attitude towards me changed - I was suddenly this bloke who always landed on his feet and had never had to suffer real hardship for very long before something came along and sorted it out. That sounded pretty much like what most people of my social standing go through in a lifetime, but, go figure. He stopped talking to me in the August of 2000 and didn't speak to me again until almost the same day in 2001.

The wife was quite upset because the house was perfect in many ways for us and we had, initially, had plans for it, we were now trying to find something else to buy; but fortunately for us, the buyers of our house were moving down from Scotland and we had plenty of time to ensure the chain didn't go on forever. Then something ironic happened that lifted the shadow almost immediately. I'd been listening to some fractious arguing next door for about an hour when I heard a window break. I rushed upstairs into my office to see what was going on and there was a group of people hanging around outside. My first instinct was to call the police, because some of them were armed with logs, bats and possibly other things; but another part of me sensed the hostility in them and it was directed solely at Fry.

They dispersed, eventually, but after they left, there was a frantic race by Fry, MeeeShell and one of his dodgy looking mates to bundle as much stuff into the back of his crappy little Escort XRi as he could. MeeeShell and the kids also climbed in, leaving Fry alone. The car drove off and everything quietened down. However, shortly before I was due to take the dogs out for a walk, I heard the Escort return and Fry and his geeza were now trying to get huge speakers into the boot and assorted other 'essentials'. Fry stopped and looked around, he said something to his mate, they dumped the speaker, shut the boot and climbed into the car. They had travelled no more than 50 feet when something got lunged through the air at the car and a big breeze block landed squarely on the windscreen, busting it inwards. Suddenly there was a horde of people heading towards the car; the ones who had been there earlier. I had the window open and I heard Fry screaming at his mate to 'DRIVE, DRIVE, FUCKING DRIVE!" and the car almost ploughed through the angry mob, down the street and that was the second to last time I ever saw Steven Fry.

Between then and us moving to where we are now, life became simpler, quieter and the neighbours all relaxed and started talking to each other. It was becoming the street it could have always been, but it was too late. Some funnier things happened in our last days there, including listening to a husband and wife discuss why she really didn't like anal sex at 3:00am in the morning (well, any time from the sounds of things) and the 13 year old having a conversation with one of the young mum's about not hardly being able to wait before she gets pregnant; but when we moved out - at night, because we were still bothered about repercussions; the wife finally collapsed in a flood of tears, released stress and joy, coupled with utter incompetence from the estate agents, previous owners of our current home. Unexpectedly, Roger provided the extreme comedy moment of the day to lift her spirits and make things better, by walking into the pond without realising it was a pond.

I had some dark and lonely years in Wellingborough, especially when the shop struggled and I was smoking far too much; but the 13 months in Scummersley Terrace were the bleakest and most utterly soul-destroying I've ever had. There's this old saying about not being able to choose your family; well, unless you're really lucky, you can't choose your neighbours either; we've had some doozies over the year - mad old people, chavs, drug dealers, fuckwits, fishwives, fat bigoted women who wear curly wigs, new-age hippies, dull boring people, ditzy women and an assortment of lesser neighbours who would stretch the boundaries of belief if they were introduced into Corrie or Stenders.

Is it any wonder that one of my greatest unfulfilled ambitions is to live in the middle of nowhere? But if I got that wish, I'd have nothing to write about...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 - 54

Musings From a 'Summer' Office (on account of the thunderstorms)

Summer's over. I put a t-shirt on under my top this morning. Yes, the sun might be hot, but we're knocking on August's door and that means the start of Autumn until Mother Nature absent-minded as she is, forgets and we get a nice September. Of course, by then, I'll be back at work and as pleasant to be around as great white shark. Still, mustn't grumble, eh?

We're looking like the medals aren't going to be as easy to come by as we all thought at the moment, but apart from having the GB football match on in the background, I've watched about 4 minutes and most of that was beach volleyball; which reminds me of a joke I made up; it probably needs work, but would beech volleyball players get wood? I've never professed to being able to tell jokes, let alone write them.

Facebook finally stopped toying with me and fucked me royally up the arse this morning when they switched me over to Timeline. I spent an hour being furious and trying frantically to turn it off; then I spent half an hour altering my settings; deleting things and generally making sure my Facebook couldn't be used in any way by those cunts in the USA. Then I discovered that if I use Chrome there's a Timeline Remove app that strips it away from you and any other Chrome user. Yes, it means that all other browsers will see the Timeline shit, but I can live with that.

I'm also hoping to put something to the test. I know a couple of people who have had pictures removed from this banner thing on Timeline; Facebook actually gave them the option to feedback the decision. Now, for those people viewing my page on other browsers, what they'll see is a big blue banner which says FUCK FACEBOOK; this will be deemed offensive by Facebook and they will attempt to remove it; hopefully they'll allow me feedback where I'll explain to them that I use Chrome, Google Chrome, and I have their wonderful Timeline Remove app running; and most of my friends also have the same browser and therefore they do not see my Timeline; as they are the only people I care to connect with and they don't mind what I say, then it's not offending anyone who matters. I will also add that it is only there because I was arbitrarily put on Timeline without any consideration as to whether I want anybody to see the history of my fucking mainly bothered Facebook experience. I might also suggest to them that they probably should ban me from using their fascistic piece of irrelevant social networking software, because I will continue to be extremely negative about them; in fact, I will dedicate more time to that than I would have done adding anything to my fucking stupid, pointless and disliked Timeline piece of shit.

I will of course use my fake ID to keep in touch with people as soon as they throw me off...

Syrian Cities that sound like long-forgotten Marx Brothers

It's been an interesting Monday morning. One of the things that dawned on me was that if ever Fuckwit or Fishwife ever stumble across this blog, it isn't going to take a huge leap of intellect to work out that I'm actually writing about them. Still, I'll napalm that bridge when I come to it.

At about 8.50am, while I was taking the rubbish out, Fuckwit, Fat Bird, the Old Man (who lives next to the Sexually Explicit Family) and some cackling old crone were standing around the front of his drive (Drive! I make it sound like we all live in fucking Cheshire. Drive as in front garden with paving slabs) jabbering away about the events happening just down the road.

Last week the couple who have been renting the house down the road have gone. They moved the last of their things last Thursday and over the weekend someone new moved in. It seems this was the reason for the impromptu mob of halfwits outside the front and, I really have no idea why, they, or specifically Fuckwit, spoke to me!
"Alright Mate," he says. I've only lived here 13 years and the twat never calls me by my name. "Looks like we've got new neighbours."
"That's nice," I said smiling falsely and already feeling the pull of the house.
"I reckon he's wearing his boxers the wrong way round." What?
"What?"
"He has the flies at the back. He's a shirt lifter."
"So what?" Ignorant chuntering from Fat Bird and the cackling woman. "How do you know, anyhow?" Get this...
"He's on his own."
"'He's. on. his. own'? How does that make him gay?" The cackling woman seemed to think the word 'gay' was a hilarious and rarely used word, a bit like 'perambulate' or 'retarded'.
"He's not married." I couldn't help it. I just started laughing.
"P***, you're not married!"
"Yeah, but I live with J*****!" He said like I'd just suggested he was gay.
"I know, so who's to say this new chap isn't divorced or separated or, I don't know, perhaps he's a bachelor. I know about 8 men over 40 who aren't married and none of them are gay; some of them even live on their own."
"He's a bit camp," chimes in Fat Bird. That was it. I'd heard enough. The new man might be gay; he can camp around the road wearing pink chiffon, mincing to Pet Shop Boy records and sporting a big black moustache for all I care. Actually, I'd take real offence at the Pet Shop Boys records, other than that, he might add some colour and life to this bigoted little corner of Shoesville.
"Well, just so long as he doesn't give us all AIDS or turn us gay then everything should be okay, eh?" I said walking back into the house shaking my head. The real pathetic irony of that was they seemed to think I was being serious; I left them nodding their heads and muttering agreement with me. I might have just improved my standing with four people who I would gladly torture.

Last Wednesday, I had, what I thought, was an inspired idea. It was hot, the dogs all looked like they needed cooling down and I couldn't think of a decent pond for them to go for a swim in, without things like sheep, horses, cows or too many people to distract the two eldest and most predatory of the dogs. During the autumn and nice spring days, we used to go to what we call the water skiing lake. We call it that because that is essentially what it is used for. It's a lake situated near Delapre Golf Complex and the massive Brackmills Industrial Estate (should you ever wish to go to this place).

When it isn't warm, it's a lovely place to walk; the lake shimmers and the place is usually inhabited by other dog walkers. Five years ago you could go down there on the hottest day of the year and you would see members of the water skiing club, possibly having a BBQ or mucking around in boats; but as far as Joe Public was concerned, it was an oasis of privacy. After the influx of Eastern Europeans, the place suddenly became the cosmopolitan centre of Northampton. police had to break up impromptu late night parties around the lake; all the swans disappeared and it started, very quickly to look a bit tatty. Going here at weekends during the summer was a no-no; especially with Marley and her love of people and food.

But on Wednesday, I'd forgotten that it was the summer holidays and for some strange reason I got it into my head that the place would be less busy than it usually is. How more wrong could I possibly be? It was like Great Yarmouth beach on the hottest day of the year; it was like everyone was told that Thursday the world would end, so make the most of the good weather. It was like an impromptu party there and this actually played into my hands a little - even Marley was freaked out by the amount of people there.

The first thing of note happened after about five minutes. I was keen to get the dogs round the other side of the lake, where there is always less people and more opportunity for them to have a swim without bothering people; however, to get there, you have to go through the large green pasture that runs down the side of the north edge of the lake and it was here where the, I thought, largest concentration of people appeared to be. There were bloody hundreds of them; all in varying states of undress and sunburn. The dogs were ahead of me, well three of them were, and you have to go through a tunnel of trees and shrubs to get there, so it's like a blind alley. I heard the screams and shouts before I got there and I had this horrid feeling of Marley stealing someone's picnic hamper. I rushed to the clearing but Ness and Lexy were just standing there looking; almost like they were blown away by the amount of people. What the commotion was about was Marley, who was stalking on the periphery, but not going anywhere near the people. A group, probably a family, all stood up and held towels and stuff in front of them like a wild animal had just appeared. I heard exclamations and you could see the atmosphere change there and yet the dogs were doing nothing at all.

I hurried through the bottom of the pasture, calling the dogs, who were not taking any notice of the people. Marley tracked back to me and walked with two feet of a woman with two children; she said to me in a thick accent, "Shouldn't they be on leads?"
"No, they shouldn't," I said, walking on, feeling the anger boiling. Eventually, I chuckled to myself that it might have been me that scared them as I'd just had my head shaved the day before and I'm not renowned for walking the dogs with a huge smile on my face.

Anyhow, we got round the other side of the lake and spent half an hour there; I threw sticks and stones into the water and the dogs all pranced around (well, all except Murray, who stood next to me whining, because that's what he does best). I figured, if we walked the rest of the way round the lake, when I got to the back end of Delapre Abbey, I'd stick Marley back on her lead, because there was sure to be a lot of people there and from where I was sitting with the dogs, it looked like there were as many people there as where there had earlier. Oh how wrong was I?

As you walk down the back end of the lake, the path splits into two; the well used path and the one that edges the lake. The well worn path was still feeling the effects of the rain and was a quagmire of mud, leaves and detritus. So I went round the alternative route and within 5 seconds I heard a scream and some shouts. "Jesus," I said to myself as I hurried round the corner only to be confronted by two girls, one of which was standing with her arms stretched out, completely topless; she was shooing Marley away from her. I bellowed at the dog and she wandered off; she was just trying to say hello. The other girl, also topless, was lying on the ground and she was laughing and saying something to the other girl in what sounded like Russian. The other girl, arms now lowered, was just standing there, like I didn't exist, baps out like a well replenished condiments table at a BBQ, yabbering at the other girl and pointing in Marley's direction. The other three dogs were all around my legs; I think they were slightly concerned.

"I'm ever so sorry, she just likes people, especially if they have food."
"Ve haf no fud. Your dog made me all vet." I really didn't know what to say; she's never had that affect on anyone before. I just apologised and moved on, being eternally grateful I was wearing my sunglasses; neither girl seemed bothered about their attire. I didn't see her friends attributes, but had I been the girl with her tits out, I think I would have worn a bra or a bikini top - let's just say her nipples haven't seen the horizon for a long time...

Anyhow; my next pair of tits were considerably more interesting and they were to appear less than a minute later. We got round the corner and I had Marley with me; I think she was slightly freaked out by the girls. This part of the lake is arguably the most secluded, despite it being closest to a main road; it is here where the parties started and the clearing, which is also a sun trap, has more scorched earth than an apocalyptic novel. Laying on the floor, on a towel, were a group of people, three blokes and four girls; all Eastern European. and one of the girls, was sitting up and was also topless. They had a disposable BBQ and were cooking so foul smelling meat, which Marley seemed very attracted to, so she went over to them and I gritted my teeth for the inevitable problems. But this time the group of people were very welcoming and Marley made 7 new friends almost instantly; the topless girl was fussing her and she was really happy; the other three, who are becoming more and more like our old dogs, just walked with me. We exchanged some pleasantries; talked about the dogs, the weather and we moved on.

I put Marley and Lexy on their leads. I knew Ness and Murray would stick to me like Velcro so I wasn't worried about them. We went through the trees into the next clearing and were greeted by a wall of people. It was like the main stage at Glastonbury. I could barely make a path out through them and the only other option was to walk all the way back and I wasn't going to do that. Keeping Marley on a short lead, we made our way through the miasma of people; I didn't notice any of them; couldn't tell you a thing about any of them, apart from the pack of loose dogs they had with them who decided they didn't like being invaded. Ness had strayed from the path...

This big dog that looked like a cross between a Rottweiller and a German Shepherd decided to stamp on the little pseudo-dog. That was a very, very, silly move on its part. Ness might be scared of a gnat's fart (last night's thunderstorm was a nightmare), but we've also come to the conclusion she isn't a dog, possibly a mad scientist's gene-splicing experiment between a chinchilla, a wolverine and Hitler. She doesn't really fight, but squeals like a banshee and becomes a bit like a small version of the neat aliens in Attack the Block. The big dog didn't stand a chance. Our own little Tasmanian Devil just wheeled round on the big dog and went straight for him, all snapping of teeth and squeaking. The big dog took off like Ness does when the fridge's thermostat clicks. I couldn't help but smile as Ness, puffed up and full of herself, joined me. "Good girl," I said, ruffling her bouffant hair style.

Then, I discovered I was male and human after all and it wasn't even on the same scale as the two topless women I'd already seen. In the water about thirty feet from where I was standing in the shade with the dogs, was a group of girls, all in their late teens and early twenties, playing in waist deep water with a ball. One of them was wearing, quite amazingly, one of those Wham baggy singlets from the 80s. It was wet and she had nothing on underneath it. I stood there for what seemed like ages, but was probably about 15 seconds and realised that this was one of the main reasons why we really should get more hot weather in this country.

The rest of the walk was uneventful.

Stuff
  • I am listening to the Mamas & the Papas; it just seemed fitting for what is probably a nice summer's day somewhere. Yesterday I had a day listening to Deep Purple. Just how disparate/eclectic is that?
  • Still working my way through the Game of Incestuous and Questionable Morals, or whatever it's called. It's filled in gaps I've either developed from watching the series or were never explained.
  • You know those really annoying little spots, almost microscopic, that feel as though they should be the size of a cricket ball? I have one on the rim of my nostril and it hurts like a bastard every time I rub my large proboscis - still, that's nothing to really complain about is it?
  • I picked 7lb of rhubarb this morning; it would appear that One El and Roger will be eating some rhubarb medley by the week's end; we have about 40lbs of the stuff in the freezer - In fact, I'm considering buying one of those big chest freezers just to store the fruit from our garden.
  • I think today will be a curry day; made with spinach (and possibly rhubarb) from my garden. Mmm, spinach and rhubarb curry...
  • I am going to go out in a minute. New week, new goals and all that bollocks. I need to refill a prescription and go to the bank; you can't say that my life isn't rock and roll. Well, you can and you'd be right, but say it out of earshot of me, please.
  • Andromeda and the Milky Way are having a game of tennis and there's a disputed line call. Andromeda turns to the Milky Way after being awarded the point and says, "If you say, 'you can't be Sirius' I will punch you in the face."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 - 53

Friday 9.45am - Musings from a Summer Patio

News headline running across the bottom of the screen on the BBC News Channel: The Flame is processing its way down the Thames. Processing what?

Obviously, my current obsession is being woken up at a fucking ridiculous time of the morning by inconsiderate wankers. However, this morning I got up at 8.30 because Lexy decided to bark her orange head off for some reason, so I’ve got it internally and externally; I should take a nap in the afternoon. Anyhow, I had washing to hang out and the heavy earth moving machinery over the back was limbering up for a morning of noise, when I noticed that Ness had wrapped herself around my legs like a bizarre legwarmer. I could understand why, one of the machines sounded like a retarded yodeller being squeezed through a mangle while tripping his tits off on LSD. Have the people who look after these machines never heard of oil? Anyhow an hour and a half of this alien sound stopped shortly after 9am; presumably they’re having a tea break now, or maybe have achieved what they really set out to do and piss me off.

Does the Olympic village look a little like an open air airport departure lounge or is it just me?

I have to admit that while I’m not really in the Olympic mood (I watched Team GB draw a dull match with Senegal last night and fear we’re all going to become footballed out before too long; there were four different matches on simultaneously last night!), I am sort of intrigued by the Opening Ceremony. I remember my first one in colour – Munich 1972. I watched it on Joan Pitt’s colour TV because we still had a mono set. ‘Auntie’ Joan and her husband Slim were one of the constants in my young life; a friendly couple from Birmingham (but don’t hold that against them) who, as far as I know are still going strong, despite probably being close to 80 now. I don’t think the wife is particularly thrilled though; she sat, grumpily, doing a crossword book last night while I struggled to stay asleep, I mean awake through the football (with its really strange replays). Last night would have all been different had Roger not been such a wuss.

Today, I have some hovering to do; I should go to the bank and pay in a couple of cheques I have and I need to get the place sorted because we’re going shopping later. Sometimes I can see why so many of you read this, I live such a James Bond existence sometimes.

I am also dicing with the proverbial Desmond (old joke, not worth explaining) by sitting here with the sun directly on my back. Yes, today might be the last day of summer, so I’m going to burn to remind myself of this fact!

I’m not a huge fan of Morrisons, but they do an own brand Sicilian lemonade that is to die for; it’s perfect for this weather.

The project is coming along. I hit the 7,000 word mark last night as I sat here, on the patio, until gone 11pm, writing like a frenzied wassname. I also got to a weird stage in the story. I‘ve been bridging the gap between the beginning and the moment when things get revealed; getting excited about writing the big reveal because I’ve had so many ideas going through my head I’ve been mentally salivating at the prospect. At 11.07 last night, I got to that point and froze. Actually froze is the wrong word; stalled is better. I fully expect to get on with it today, but I think I stopped because I can see this particular section as being both long and quite difficult to write and I didn’t want to start it and then look at the clock, see it had gone 2am and make myself go to bed rather than work through it. I don’t do that anymore; it’s not good for one’s health.

The BBC is still saying ‘processing’, I’m now wondering if they actually mean it.

As I said the other day, I’m reading George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones at the moment and, to be fair, it’s better than I expected. I think I was going to read a bit of above average fan fiction, so was surprised at the way it actually was written. However, I have one strangely Victorian problem with it. I accept that the world of GoT is medieval, reminiscent of the Dark Ages and has a different ‘culture’, but Martin seems slightly obsessed with pre-teen sex and nudity; or at least the inference of it. No wonder the TV series has ‘aged’ most of the young characters.

I’ve never really doubted that Ed Balls is one of the least liked politicians in the country, but I thought it was because he was a bit of an arse, not because he is an extremely clever political powerhouse. I believe the best party’s in opposition are the ones that, regardless of the past, come up with the best ideas to solve problems, before the government can even consider it. It’s like a really detailed game of chess; the Tories would never adopt a Labour suggestion, so if Labour comes up with a logical solution and publicise it, it leaves the party in power having to come up with a different strategy lest give credit to the party in opposition. It doesn’t really help the economy, but it does prove that opposition parties can actually have a hand in day-to-day politics. What he needs to do now is actually come up with a workable plan that cuts budgets and also invests in infrastructure.

Next week, I’m going to do away from home stuff. I could have been away doing interesting things, but I opted against that on the grounds that I haven’t been well recently and it might have been an attempt at being young again too far. So I might be making a film (as an extra purely). I think I shall attempt to go to the pub at least twice. Might drop some old friends a line. I got to pay some money into the bank (still). I can see a week of extreme excitement ahead of me and the weekend isn’t here yet.

I have this horrible feeling this might be the last time I do this sitting on the patio writing shit for at least a week, sadly probably longer as I will be on holiday and hoping I can get through that week without worrying about the house sitter too much; his only responsibility is to let the ducks out in the morning and put them away before it gets dark… Shouldn’t be difficult, should it?

Saturday 9.30am

Okay, as British spectacles go the opening ceremony of the Olympics was pretty impressive, if not considerably less disciplined than Beijing. This probably had more to do with the fact that Danny Boyle couldn’t imprison anyone who stepped out of line for the rest of their lives.

To call the Opening Ceremony eccentric would be an understatement; it was full of the world-renowned British quirkiness we’ve exported since Shakespeare and at times I felt so proud to be British. Plus there were elements – such as the forging of the rings – which were inspired madness; but I couldn’t quite understand the relevance of having Great Ormond street/NHS sections – not only did they not seem to fit into the theme; they also were the most chaotic and the merging with children’s classic literature, for me, didn’t work. I was delighted to hear the opening music to the show though – Olympians by Fuck Buttons – wonderfully subversive.

But, my pride was seeing me through. However, when Seb Coe and Jacques Rogge (now, surely a famous Belgian) began the speeches; I couldn’t help but think the set looked vaguely tatty; like a bit of scrap land next to a housing estate rather than Britain’s green and pleasant lands. Instead of projecting this image of clean and serene, it sort of looked like two men in suits announcing there would be a competition, while trying not to get cow shit on their shoes.

And, then the Queen came on looking bored – as she had done throughout the ceremony. I don’t know what the three BBC commentators – Huw Edwards, Trevor Nelson and Hazel Irvine – were on but every time Liz was in shot, there they were saying she was watching avidly, while at one stage she seemed more interested in picking her finger nails than watching anything going on in front of her. Those three presenters must also have been a compromise by the Beeb; a newscaster, a sports presenter and a middle-aged black man presumably representing yoof culcha. I don’t know which of the three was most irksome, but the wife nominated Nelson, before she went to bed, as being subliminally racist.

Then the rot set in. My patriotism had begun to wane just as the part I used to relish most as a kid started – the parade of athletes. Made it to Paraguay and lost it. The next country I remember was Qatar; so I might not have missed any at all, but as I sat there, forgetting I could rewind live TV, trying to work out what countries there were between Par and Qa, I dozed off again and suddenly Venezuela were parading in front of me. I decided that perhaps I’d stay awake watching it on the PC in my office; so I waited until Team GB came out and then switched everything off and dashed upstairs for the finale and the wind had gone out of my sails by then. I watched the finale, but also took goes at Scrabble; checked emails and generally had a nose about looking at what others were thinking. My conclusion was it was held too late.

But Saturday morning has arrived and the realism of the next 16 days suddenly hit home. I was bitterly disappointed when I discovered we would have no TV for our week away; now I’m thinking it’s not going to be much different even if we had a TV, because the schedules are so full of the Olympics and repeats of shit programmes I didn’t watch first time around that might get a lot more writing and reading done in the coming days. Look, I’m glad we have them, but I’m not really that enamoured by them. I can take them or leave them and I appear to be erring on the side of leaving them. But whatever else I do, there’s a tinge of Olympicism in it all. The coverage isn’t so much blanket as smothering and the impression is those in charge are saying if you don’t want the Olympics then fuck off you miserable bastard.

The bonus is, despite the weather about to go tits up on us again as the jet stream moves south dumping more rain and cool conditions on us; today, the transition day, is proving to be glorious; possibly the most glorious day of the week so far. Hot sun, fresher feel; in my opinion the perfect summer morning. It’s a bonus sitting in the garden writing day and you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (which is another wonderfully peculiar British saying).

I’ve just been doing something hopefully very scrummy. I’ve just put a pound of raspberries and all the gooseberries off of our two bushes into a saucepan with some sugar and have made some shortcrust pastry. I am going to make a pie. I’ve debated whether I should perhaps put some rhubarb in it too, but have opted against.

We’re off to a garden party/bbq thing later, round One El’s; that should be good if the weather stays as good as it is; last week’s bbq weather was good, but had it been any later in the week and I think we would have wanted ice cream rather than grilled food. Not that I eat much at bbqs now.

It seems, through a quick perusal of the net and TV that with the exception of my old pal Mark, I’m probably going to be in the minority regarding the Olympic opening doo-dah; even Grace Dent, who at one point seemed like the logical replacement for uber-cynic Charlie Brooker is welling up on BBC News and I’m wondering if I’m just too bloody cynical nowadays.

Anyhow, I have chores to do…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 - 52

Wednesday 9am - Musings from a Summer Patio

At 7.20 this morning, my smallest dog, Ness, became a stole and wrapped herself round my neck and head – it was a little like a cat curling up somewhere inappropriate. The problem was I was still asleep; I’m on holiday, I deserve something of a lay in. What set off this vicious bag of nerves was the removal of a skip from the building site behind our back garden, where a bunch of new ‘affordable homes’ have been built. Now, I‘m not quite sure if I’m right on this, but I believe you can’t make too much noise before 8am, especially the kind of racket being made about 200 feet from my bedroom window.

The noise rattled Ness so much, it set off two of the other dogs – Marley is pretty much immune to everything that freaks the other 3 out – and after prising Ness from my head, I told them all to calm down, wrapped a pillow around my head turned over and tried to fall asleep despite the cacophony. So imagine my surprise when a Jumbo jet landed at the industrial metal concert I was being subjected to…

Possibly the greatest drawback in this enforced six week holiday is the fact that Fishwife and co are also on holiday for this first two weeks (their boys, like me, also for 6 weeks) and as I don’t believe they have beds, they were up as soon as the building site mayhem started, jabbering away at a decibel level that drowned out the skip scraping along the tarmac. Jesus Harry Christ these people are the noisiest individuals ever. I said to the wife at 8am this morning, on the phone, that I am being punished, by some evil god, for belonging to the noisiest family of the 1970s. Everyone in my house, during my youth, seemed to be in competition for sound (except Steve, who always sat quietly) and we never once considered what our poor neighbours must have thought; what with my dad booming away and us all chiming in as backing boomers.

So, I was up at 7.22am; with a slight hangover from 3 pints of mildly strong ale last night (it was the Vic, I expect a muzzy head) wanting to inflict torture, violence and unspeakable acts upon several people. I grabbed the paper and went about my morning ablutions; but wait, what was that, not content with having the builders over the back and the Fishwife Collective wibbling away like some retarded Polyphonic Spree; but some cunt decides to start mowing his lawn and cutting his trees down at the same time. It sounds like the end of the fucking world out here at the moment. I might have the radio on, but I can’t hear the bloody thing, because I have re-enactments of Michael Bay’s greatest noisy films to the left, right and ahead of me.

This distraction, of course, allows me to participate in my favourite hobby – no, not whinging, but procrastinating. I spent more time farting about trying to write a mildly humorous blog entry yesterday and no time at all working on Old Man, which, I fear, is another good idea without an actual plot; but as is the way, just by persevering another idea has surfaced; or rather an old idea with a slightly new approach. That’s not to say I’ve finished with my 300 year old man story; I just think it’s likely to end up being a short story. The idea that has resurfaced is one I had about ten years ago, made an attempt at writing, shelved it when I realised that I didn’t have the necessary tools to do it justice, but now I seem to have developed those tools.

The problem is, this time last year, I was just finishing the editing of My Monthly Curse and thoroughly enjoying it and part of me is looking at the completed novel I did in 1999 and thinking I could do that. The only drawback to that plan is if I was to finish this manuscript, I‘d never, in a million years, ‘publish’ or submit it to any publisher under my name. More importantly, it would have to be set in the 1990s, because a lot of the things that are in the story would no longer be possible due to the way the internet has developed. Ironically, with the success of Facebook, much of the set up in the story is totally feasible, so should I decide to spend some time on it, it might actually be easier to update it rather than plain edit it.

But, it’s all procrastination. I’m like the bloke over the road that can always get you what you need until you actually ask him to get something. I’m, as my dear old dad used to say, all mouth and no trousers. It’s always been easier to sit here and give a commentary on my life than it is to actually sit down and work hard on getting one of my ideas, however badly executed, knocked into shape to the point where I might be happy with it. There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you finish something like a story (when I say ‘finish’ I just mean the story in its entirety before you go about the tedious task of editing) and I need to convince myself that if I at least get something completed by the end of August, I will be able to look back and say that I achieved something other than household chores and a raspberry klafoutis.

Oddly enough, one of the reasons I have this netbook which has no net is because I wanted a portable word processor rather than something that will most likely distract me from my intentions. Neil, the brother-in-law, told me that writers recommend this because the net is too much of a distraction and the bottom line is if you are serious enough about something, you can do the piddly bits of research later. The great thing about things like Word is you can isolate text with a different colour or with other useful highlights, then come back to it when you know for sure or have to make changes. Back in the days of typewriters, I shouldn’t think people were quite as quick to get stuff on paper.

Anyhow, I’ve just finished mowing my own lawn, at a respectable 10am. It was still slightly boggy.

Have I told you this before? Maybe I haven’t. Is this the latest urban legend or something a little weirder? Judge for yourself.

I was told this story a few weeks ago and being a fan of mystery it appealed to me. It was the summer of 1979 and a young couple were snatching some private moments by a tree at the top end of Eastfield Park in Pubtown (when it was Shoesville) when they saw and heard a man coming their way. He had seemingly just emerged from the mist and was heading straight towards them. What was unusual about the man was he was talking into something held to the side of his head; like a mobile phone, but they were 20 years away from being like Star Trek tricorders. The man, continuing what appeared to be one side of a conversation, walked straight past the couple, completely oblivious to their presence and then disappeared amongst the trees by the side of Booth Lane.

32 years later, telling his son from a marriage to another woman, the man decided to contact through Facebook his old girlfriend and she remembered the event clearly; reminding her ex-boyfriend that the reason they were both so taken by it was the way the man was talking. There’s probably a totally logical explanation for it; an escaped loony or perhaps someone who thinks he’s Captain James Kirk, oh, another loony then… To be fair, it has all the pointlessness of being an urban legend.

I’ve been privy to an interesting conversation for the last 10 minutes or so, but it wasn’t until about three minutes into it that I noticed what it was about. Sadly, I lost the conversation when someone decided to make more noise; but the upshot is Fuckwit, who has been on InCap for the last half century has been told he has to get a job, so he’s got a DSS assessor visiting and she will determine whether he is fit to work. I have never heard such bullshit in my life; complete and utter bare-faced lies. He’s been telling this woman that he can barely walk to the shops any longer and that everyday tasks, such as putting clothes on have become really difficult. Intrigued by this and needing the loo, I had a gander out of the window and sure enough, there he was, sitting on his patio complete with walking stick, looking feeble. Jesus, I wanted to stick my head out of the window and tell the woman that he’s a lying sack of shit and that I‘ve seen him doing all manner of things; because I have. He’s less fucking disabled than me.

She’s gone now and I reckon he’s going to get away with it. I’d shop the bastard if that was in my nature. Anyhow, my patio is like a conveyor belt of human wastage. Fuckwit has disappeared, probably to eat his lunch out of a trough while having his back shaved by his fat slave; but fishwife has re-emerged with wife, wearing a little too little for my liking, and two unbelievably noisy children. Plus they will insist on talking to me when I’m trying to get on with procrastinating…

The ambient temperature on the patio is 33 degrees; it’s not 11am yet. At 8.30 it was really pleasant out here; now it’s getting pretty sticky. It’s the kind of weather where fat birds can lose a stone just by having sex for an hour.

Thursday 10.45am - Musings from a Summer Patio

Last night, I did something orgasmically heavenly. I took nearly a pound of raspberries and put them in a saucepan with two tablespoons of sugar and simmered them for about an hour until the juice had reduced to a thick syrup. I then sieved this gooey red mess into a bowl and had a reasonable amount of homemade raspberry something.

Then I took 2 scoops of vanilla ice cream and half a pint of milk; put them both in a mixer and added half of the raspberry mixture. I did this twice and produced two pints of the most gorgeous raspberry milkshake you will ever have in your life! The wife reckons my banana milkshakes, made using a whole overripe banana is also worth a mention in dispatches.

Yesterday afternoon, I shelved one project and got on with another and spent best part of the evening working on it; 3500 words so far and it’s shaping up really nicely. I’m really concentrating on it (but I’ve done that before and failed) and even though it’s an old idea of mine that failed once, I’ve put an entirely new twist on it, which has, fortunately, given me an interesting story and a way to tell it and the one that runs parallel with it. Imagine It’s A Wonderful Life crossed with elements of The Sopranos with a smattering of Peggy Sue Got Married, it’s a kind of what would you do in this situation story. The exciting thing for me is I know where it’s going; it’s just going to be really interesting filling in the blanks.

So, the Olympics haven’t even started yet and we’ve already upset the North Koreans (well, the jocks have). Augurs well for the next couple of weeks.

Well, that was a triumph for the common man. I was sitting here thinking about what else I was going to write about when the phone rang. I thought it was t’wife, but instead it turned out to be a scam. Alarm bells should have rang louder, because on hindsight he didn’t know what my name was, just asked if I was the main user of the Windows computer in my house. He had a thick Indian accent and I had to get him to repeat himself a number of times, all the while keeping slightly sceptical. Anyhow to cut a long story shorter, I went to my computer and did the things he asked me and sure enough I was awash with error and warning messages, but even this wasn’t convincing me I was talking to someone from Microsoft Support – who he claimed he was from.

At one point, I had to tell him that I had had a computer 20 years and knew my way around it, but when all these error message were displayed, he had the temerity to suggest that perhaps I didn’t know that much about PCs after all. This got my back up, but I remained courteous if a little distant. Then, of course, he said they could fix it and I asked what that was likely to cost me. He assured me that it would not cost me anything, so I carried on humouring him. Then he asked me to go to a specific website www.ammyy.com and instead of typing that into my browser, I typed it into Google and discovered all kinds of negative things about them and nothing, nada, zero positive. They are being investigated by the FBI and that bell what was ringing in the back of my head about the ‘event viewer’ he wanted me to pay special attention to was confirmed when he was asking me to look at a .log file; something that registers everything you do on your PC all and every day you use it. Error messages relate to things like trying to play a song through Media player that has been moved to another directory. It is a harmless event log and bares no relation to how your computer runs.

He then began to tell me that I needed to click on something to allow him remote access to my computer so they could do a scan and tell me exactly what needs fixing. He had been talking to me for a number of seconds but I was reading about how evil his company was. He also said that if they had to fix it there would be a £50 administration charge. Surprise, surprise.

“Tell me, before we click on this button, is your company still being investigated by the FBI?”

“I’m sorry…”

“The FBI – the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the United States.”

“That is Microsoft’s US division, sir,” and then said something I couldn’t understand.

“But you don’t work for Microsoft. It says here on one of Microsoft’s pages that the company has no association with ammyy at all. This other website says that the event viewer you hold so much trust in is just a log file and records everything a person does on his computer; it does not show errors in the hardware or software. Oh and one other thing, what’s my name?”

The sad thing is I’m naturally suspicious of anyone, but I’m probably the exception to the rule, especially when the person on the other end of the phone sounds so sure of himself and can make you think something completely harmless is something to be terrified of. Humans, we’re great, eh?

I’ve given up on Radio6 and have gone back to Radio 2.

I’m currently reading A Game of Thrones. Listening to the Big Dish, Chameleons, Mazzy Star, ELO and Sheryl Crow; so sue me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 - 51

More Musings from a Summer Patio

It was Noel Coward, wasn’t it? Who said, ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.’ Even I’m being sensible enough to sit under the parasol, but Marley is sprawled in the direct sunlight on a patio, that is a suntrap, that is currently sitting at 32 degrees ambient. It is absolutely wonderful; it’s just a shame I’m not by a beach, in a bar, that sells Inferno or Kingston Topaz. Jesus, that would be bliss at the moment.

I’ve set my stall out, so to speak. I am not going to be stymied by my own reluctance, I’m going to get out there and do stuff. So, this morning, I did just that. I went over to Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice) to see my niece who has just started a tattooing business and while I don’t like tattoos, I’m dead proud of her. If you need a tattoo in the Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice) area – ooh-er missus – then look out for Dist-Ink-Tion (I preferred Inky & Scratchy, but what do I know, I had a shop called Squonk, etc etc etc.). Where she lives doesn’t have a back garden; it has a small leisure village.

I like the drive to and from Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice), it reminds me of when I was a kid, having lived there between 1969 and 1974 and having nieces, great nieces and nephews, an ex-sister-in-law and some friends living there. On a day like today it was the sole reason why anyone would want to live in this country; it’s sometimes overwhelming natural beauty. The back road to Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice) isn’t spectacular, it just shows you why Northamptonshire is such a lovely place, especially if you could get rid of the towns.

Which reminds me; while I was driving over to Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice) I thought about ill and Andy’s visit at the weekend; they’ve been here before I think, even if it was just passing through, but I wonder what some people who have never been here would think of Shoesville or Pubtown as it has recently become known as; or for that matter the other (heh) major towns in this county that generally scores low on county questions on Pointless. So, here’s my guide to Northants (I warn you it is purely subjective and unless you are me some of it will undoubtedly go so far over your head someone on a Jumbo jet will wonder what hit them):

Brackley: Yes, Brackley is in Northants and it does exist. I’ve been there three times in 50 years. It wasn’t a bit like I remembered it, so perhaps I was somewhere else and have only been there once. Brackley, I can tell you with confidence, didn’t even register on the county’s youth crime figures, but I’m not sure if that was because they didn’t include it in results. It has a really impressive by-pass, possibly one of the few I’ve ever been on that is shorter than the original route.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: If you should find yourself here, it’s really easy to get out. Maudlin College is an academy, not some posh private school, don’t be tempted to find it.

Towcester: Roman. Long and thin. Old. Dull. It gives the impression it has more to offer, but it doesn’t. It’s not far from a place called Foster’s Booth, which makes me chuckle, but not for the reasons you think. It has obvious connections to Silverstone and therefore suffers every time the British GP is on. There’s money in this town all the same, even if you wouldn’t want someone you don’t like to die there.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: It has a racecourse, which probably won’t be on while you’re lost.

Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice): says it all really. However, if you think Corby is going to be Neanderthal, Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice) is prehistoric, especially because it is now officially a mongrel town and worse still, of all Northants towns, it and the aforementioned Corby are likely to be places lost Olympic tourists might venture to either out of choice or because of weird rail connections. Of course, they might find Long Buckby, which I believe could die in the next 100 years, like Flaxwell did at the end of the 18th century. Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice) is a heady mix of Birmingham overspill, Northants yokels who baint be quite sure if they’re in Thamptonshire or Warkshire. It was, once upon a time, just a place that wasn’t too far from the A5; now it’s this fucking awful town that isn’t far from a road that isn’t that important any more.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: um… it used to have a cinema called the Regal that was so small my mum used to call it the wriggle. I learned how to scrump in this place, but the orchards have all disappeared. It has a country park, but even that’s wanky compared to others in the county.

Market Harborough: isn’t in the county, honest. But I wish it was because people from Market Harborough call it Markey Tar Bra and that is dead funny.

Corby: has an Olympic training camp for swimmists. Has a brand new town centre that hasn’t been blighted by waste needles, yet. It is quite an ugly place (I’m being careful, I have friends who are fiercely loyal to this shit stain on the north of the county). I’ve had to work there several times in the last 30 years and frankly I love it, but only in an anthropological kind of way. It is changing again and in a few years it will no longer have any stigma attached to it; it will become just this oddly Scottish part of the most remote part of the county; which seems fitting.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: swimmists. But, honestly, Mr and Mrs Japanese Tourist, don’t think, ‘ah Corby, we’ll go there and see the pool’, it would be really nice if the pool was in, I dunno, Damascus.

Oundle: Woof. Woof woof. You want sexy Northants town, oozing with history, grand architecture and a couple of splendid pubs. You are looking at my favourite town in the county and even it’s a bit shit. You see the area is jam-packed with colloquial Conservatives; it is obscenely expensive once you get out of certain places we’re getting to and the people who live there know it. But, I’d fucking rather live there if I could live anywhere in the county.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: Just go and look; it won’t take you all day, but it will give you an idea why this country is pretty special, especially with its architecture and stonemasonry.

Thrapston: the upstart town, the place that probably isn’t a town, but they’re going to call it a town and they’ll punch you if you argue (but not as much as the people in Raunds village) and it has the East Northants Council based there, so it must be a town, Towcester has a council area it runs, so fuck you matey, Thrapston is a town. Thrapston is twinned with Daventry, Daventry, Daventry (so good they named it thrice); that’s how exciting it is!!! It is also the first place I’ve ever been to that sort of peters out rather than end; you think you’ve left the place about a mile before you actually have because there was once this shanty town of Morlocks living along the edges, scratching a living eating bored locals; but they’ve since gone back to the future and there’s an engineering company there now.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: you can see it from the A14, don’t stop.

Raunds (Village): I like Raunds, but it’s a touch parochial and is like the retirement village for the county. I’m thinking it probably has the highest teenage suicide rate, especially if you take in the villages of Ringstead (where Thatcher’s ancestors came from), Stanwick and that other place that’s too scary to go near. Paint drying is an Olympian sport in this part of the county where the recreation tends to be fishing, walking and wanking. Incest was prevalent in the 60s, 70s and 80s so that is why you get the occasional Cyclops or people with the Christian name Genghis.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: there’s a MacDonalds on the roundabout on the way out.

Higham Ferrers: now, there’s one thing wrong with Higham that is obvious, but we’re coming to that next. It’s got the look of a chavvy Oundle in places but away from the exterior (or in this case the high street) it’s not terribly pleasant. There are three ways out of Higham, the fourth goes straight to hell.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: if you’re standing outside an Asda, you have gone too far and are in hell.

Rushden: the crime capital of the county and thoroughly unpleasant place to live, unless of course you live there then it’s a case of ‘mustn’t grumble’. Well, why not? The place is fucking horrible and now it has the A6 by-pass there less reason to visit the place than there is Thrapston. It has a nice park. It is also stuck to Higham like a Siamese twin.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it has a nice park.

Wellingborough: or home as I called it for nearly 13 years. Lots of parks, taxis, pubs (mostly crap, bar 3) and closet Tories. Had a zoo once; not a good zoo, but a zoo all the same. I think they kept sheep, badgers, foxes, rats and an elephant, all indigenous species. Home to some strange people. A mate who grew up in a village called Wellingborough ‘the big city’. Residents are strangely loyal. There’s a house I’d quite happily take a shit in. Had a great shop once, but that was an age ago, yadda yadda yadda.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: Pooja, but don’t expect good service or hygiene, but the food, oh god the food…

Kettering: most famous for the being the word to describe the pattern a wicker chair leaves on your bottom after you’ve sat on it for too long. If you were transported into the centre of Kettering you’d think, ‘hm, this is nice,’ but then you’d notice that every other shop is closed and the yoofs only come out after dark. It’s a pleasant town that has Wickstead Park, nuff said.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: the hospital is really considerably better than NGH so if you get ill while in the county, go there, you might live.

Rothwell: scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit here, but it has bones.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it has bones, go look.

Brixworth: not quite within the confines of the town like Moulton, this is another large village now by-passed by a nice road. It does have Pitsford reservoir nearby, so you’ll never run out of water or naughty couples shagging in the long grass.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: pate.

Flore: like weedon but smaller.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: the bend.

Irchester: the thing is, it’s like Long Buckby in that you actually have to go and look for it, it doesn’t just pop out and grab you and once you’re there, you wondered why you bothered.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it isn’t going to happen; you’d have to be blind, deaf and retarded to find your way down the maze of B roads that lead to it.

Irthlingborough: or Artleknott as the locals claim it was once called. You can see it from a trunk road, that’s more than enough.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: you can see it from a trunk road, there’s swamps.

Braunstone: thought it was in Warwickshire for centuries, therefore there’s a general feeling of despondency about the place; nice bit of canal though.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it’s not far from 3 prisons.

Wollaston: banished from Birmingham in the 17th century it has a water tower and a road called Bell End.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: Bell End. Honest.

Kislingbury: odd place, possibly far chavvier than you would think. Dodgy pubs.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: a brewery.

Byfield: played football there once in the snow. Seemed big enough to count at the time. I was 11.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it’s not far from Banbury, which is famous for naked horse riding.

Blisworth: doesn’t do pate and it sort of like expensive without being anything too impressive. Close to Milton Malsor and Collingtree, both considerably more upmarket. Tiffield is nearby; that would have worried you 25 years ago.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: don’t be too underwhelmed.

Guilsborough: scored 4 goals there once, in one match. There’s an interesting pub/brewery and it isn’t far from Naseby which is worth visiting for the pub alone.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: Twinned with Long Buckby.

Bugbrooke: is literally full of Jesus cult freaks – avoid unless you are devoutly religious.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: is devoutly religious.

The Bramptons: yeah.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: money.

The Bringtons: okay yar.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: royalty.

The Heyfords: ‘ou gotta loight boi?

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: grain.

The Benefields: och aye the noo.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it’s also not Corby.

Desborough: doesn’t have bones. It doesn’t have much else. A sports centre, but that might not be there now. I could tell you a funny story about Desborough ports Centre, but I won’t.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: is quite close to markey tar bra.

Yardley Hastings: isn’t a cologne or a spy but held a campaign not to build the 7th London airport there an eternity ago.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: nice garden centre, but it closes on a Thursday; apparently the fish and chip shop is run by an Italian. Could be the cosmopolitan village in the county and it’s close to Olney, which isn’t in the county, but is worth visiting.

Roade: has one, well several, but only one that leads out of it. Had a pub once, that’s a pile of rubble now and the train line goes through the middle making a lot of noise.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: not far from Stoke Bruerne, but that’s a bit overhyped.

Gretton: dunno, went through it once and thought it was too small to mention.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: it’s not Corby.

Weedon: look, if I’m including Gretton and not Long Buckby, which is bigger than both, then I’ll include Weedon because there’s more to do there than the other two and it’s not far from Dav…

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: antiques, canals, nice looking one horse village.

Long Buckby: fuck it, I used to like this place and I’m considering Welton, so Long Buckby it is. Is dying, etc. Actually, it was a town once, dunno if it still is.

Lost Olympic Tourist tip: the train to Birmingham goes through it, so you might see a bit of it.

Then you start getting into the little villages and nice places; anything not on this list is probably worth visiting. Although I’d stear clear of Scaldwell, Maidwell, Wooton, Hardingstone, Harpole and Crow Hill, which might be part of Irthlingborough, but might have declared UDI several years ago.

Then, of course, there’s Northampton.

Moving on…

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 - 50

School's Out, Hell Awaits

I seem to think that I'm going to get bored rigid for the next 6 weeks, despite the fact I've spent much of the last three summers not working, for one reason or another, and I can't remember being terminally bored for any of them; but saying that, I was recovering from very painful things, all three times.

I don't know if I've had any affect on it, but the last six weeks (yeah, I ain't been there for two of them) have been the quietest in the school's history; so I'd like to think we're doing something right.

I didn't do much today; went and saw a few people, wished them happy hols and all that. Decided not to go to work's do tonight and ended up going anyhow. It was good to see some of them out of work, but I stayed for a beer and quietly slipped out as all were getting drunk around me. I've barely drunk anything for three weeks, so I didn't want to be pissed and in town.

I got home; had a long, relaxing bath and had this ridiculous idea of going to bed early...

Saturday

The busiest weekend of my summer so far; possibly even the year. Yes, the week of my 50th was hectic, but it seems that just about every plan we have for the next 6 weeks happens over this weekend. My trip to the work’s do on Friday night kick started it and Saturday morning I got up with the knowledge that not only was I going to meet a friend who I have known for nearly 15 years, yet never been in the same room with; but we (the wife and I) were co-hosting the almost annual Burwood Road BBQ and expecting to see a number of people who we haven’t seen in a while.

The morning was bright and warm and augured well for the rest of the day; I pottered about until 12.45 when me and the wife ventured into town to meet Will Vigar and his partner Andy. I first ‘met’ Will on the old Comics International Yahoo Group back in 1998 and he slotted into the organised chaos extremely quickly. Illness prevented him from being an active part of the group for a year or so, but when he recovered, he was back in full pelt, nerding it up with the rest of us geeks. Will began to meet the rest of the gang, but I rarely ventured far from the confines of Shoesville and even when I did, circumstance seemed to get in the way of this meeting, that seemed like it was never actually going to happen.

Three years ago, while I was working with a kid who was in a prison in Leeds and while Will was living in what is probably his spiritual home, doing a fine arts degree. I had a day up in Leeds and it seemed logical to meet up; but the fates conspired to prevent it. I got lost, totally through my own stupidity; completely missed the window of opportunity to meet him and felt so bad about it, I neglected to let him know. Then he moved back down to Southampton and the distance was just as problematic. We hoped they’d make it up for our 25th anniversary party last year, especially as so many of the small and select group from that CI group were still very much in touch, via other social networking media. But illness got in the way again. Was it ever going to happen?

So, when we pulled up outside the Ibis hotel in sunny Pubtown at 1pm, I recognised him immediately – we’d shared so many photos over the years, it would have been terribly amiss of me to have not recognised him. We did our greetings and got up to the local pub as quick as we could. Had some lunch and sat around chatting, laughing and acting like we see each other every week. Even Andy, who I’d heard was notoriously quiet, was in the thick of funny anecdotes and stories from our pasts. It was a great lunch, spoiled by some mediocre food (well, that was the wife’s opinion of the food, but…).

We dropped them off, took the dogs out for a walk, got home and geared up for the BBQ round at RnB’s. The weather was still perfect for an outside do and by the time I got there – a while after the wife – it was pretty much in the swing. There was the obligatory 45 minutes of pyromaniac japes; but I think for the first time ever, nothing was burned to a crisp. I expect no one will be suffering from dodgy BBQ food this morning. As the evening wore down, we retired to Roger’s veranda, where the res of us chewed the fat, talked music, drugs, food, lasers and whatever came out in the course of the conversation and we were never short of something to comment on.

I had a poignant moment with a very old and dear friend and I think we both got a little choked up about the way the last few years have gone and she surprised me so unbelievably (but really happily) by her devotion to something I would never have expected of her – a dog. Her dog.

Will and Andy poured themselves into a taxi at midnight and we scrounged a lift home from Mammary Lass, mainly because the wife was as pissed as a fart. My final thought of Will was that it would be a travesty if we didn’t hook up again inside the next 15 years.

Sunday, Part One

I didn’t get drunk, so I didn’t have a hangover. I got up just after 9 and sorted a few things out. During the morning yesterday, I took a call from my brother. Those of you that know Steve will know that he has two modes – the most common one being silent and stoic and the other being the ability to incessantly talk to the level where he makes me seem quite reserved. He started to tell me about his new dog and 35 minutes later, I had to tell him to shut up. I could have given him the appropriate advice and told him most of what he told me in a few minutes – which I eventually did – and as a result, today at 4pm, our motley crew of hounds will meet his two Weimaraners or however you spell them. His boy – Bailey – has been with them since he was a pup and is as good as gold; but Roxy (which was Lexy’s name when we got her) is a rehome and she is currently in a state of limbo as to what he position is within her new pack; she’s also displaying aggression to other dogs and Steve would really prefer, as I do with mine, for his dog to get on well with all other dogs.

So my mission, Jim, for this afternoon is to use my newly discovered Cesar Milan ability to be alpha male/dog. I fully expect a fight between Roxy and Marley; however, I also rank the chances of my bully backing down pretty quickly in the face of a bigger, potentially more violent, bitch. Plus, this new dog has only recently been spayed and it’ll take a few weeks more for her hormones to get in balance. I’ve yet to meet the dog, but I suspect that he’s going to have a far easier job with his two than we did with our four. More on this later.

Also today, I’ve been making a start to the idea that seems to have become my writing project for the summer by default. Under the working title of Old Man, it’s a story about a 300 year old man. I’ve thrown down about 1300 words this morning. Then I wrote this, also on the netbook, on the patio, and now I’m going to pick some more raspberries. Part two to follow…

Sunday, Part Two

Well, I can honestly say I didn’t expect that. To say we were both proud of Marley yesterday would be an understatement. Essentially Roxy is an ickle kitten who’s a bit insecure; Marley put her in her place pretty quickly and as they are roughly the same size (amazingly), Roxy was following her new role model around. There were a few snarls, but essentially Marley behaved completely out of character and acted as the responsible dog. I don’t think Steve will have any problems as she settles in.

Adam Scott threw away the Open in almost spectacular fashion; but strangely, because this weekend has been so jam-packed, I’ve barely had an hour in front of the telly. The lure of golf has waned over the last few years.

Bradley Sideburns won the cycle jaunt round France and is now being called a National Sporting Great; and probably justifiably, especially as he doesn’t do drugs. I expect a number of extra National Sporting Greats to emerge over the next few weeks.

Monday

I got too much sun in the wrong places. Today, or to be specific this morning, I am in the shade with just my white legs on show. It’s 10.50 and the temperature on the patio is already 24 degrees. If you saw me and were of a certain age, you would think a knotted handkerchief and a Hitler moustache would make me look just like Monty Python’s Gumby. I like singlets…

I was up at 7.55am; the washing was out by 8.30; hovering, emptying of washing machine and dishwasher and cleaning the ducks out have all been done and I now have a vast expanse of time ahead of me.

Stuff

  • I have been listening to PiL; BUH; Bowie; Triple S as background muzak; and at the moment Radio 6 Music; which continues to underwhelm me. Is there even a point to Lauren Laverne?
  • The raspberry count so far this summer? 7½lbs. Number of plums and apricots on the trees? Zero. Apples? Far too many again. Rhubarb – Triffid-like.
  • I was wrong at least three times on Saturday.
  • Thwaites do a beer called Triple ‘C’.
  • Did you know that HP sauce has tamarinds in it? They collect up a group of these little monkeys before making a batch and then put them in an olive oil press and squeeze tamarind juice out of them. Apparently they have to give the manufacturers a letter of consent.
  • I had a proper Cuban cigar; I felt like J. Jonah Jameson and barked some orders that were completely misunderstood by non-geeks.
  • As if being called Clarence is bad enough; do they have to shorten it to Clarry?
  • Monster trunks.