Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Terribly Flat

So this came about a few years ago. It was the last holiday Emma and I took together before she died; we'd gone to Morocco on one of those all-inclusive resort things, but got bored and decided to go off on our own for a while. We hired a car (and that's a story that must be told at some time) and headed off over the Atlas Mountains from Agadir to Marrakech, during which journey Em told me about her eccentrically-dressed and flamboyantly gay client Daniel. As she filled me in about this corduroy-and-high-heels-wearing friend of hers, the radio, which until then had been playing undistinguished Arabic pop, suddenly started blaring out, in English, There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner by Noel Coward (there seems to be no umlaut available, for which omission I apologise both to you and to The Master). 

The following is what we wrote during the drive. 

The North Africa Song

It is 1932. In an intimate nightclub somewhere in New York, or perhaps on an ocean liner at full steam in mid-Atlantic, the bright young things sip Manhattans and Sidecars while pop-eyed waiters bring trays of fried oysters. Into the spotlight steps a tall figure in white tie, hair slicked back to accentuate his aquiline profile. He smiles tightly at the audience, sits at the immaculately polished Bechstein grand, runs off an introductory glissando and, in a perfect clipped English voice, begins…

We have a friend called Daniel
He’s going to Maroc
To see the sights but mostly ‘cause
He likes a bit of cock.
And so we’ve done some research
To help him out, and then
Dan can go off travelling
And shagging other men…

We strongly recommend to you the old bazaar in Cairo
For just a couple of pounds they’ll do
Unspeakable things with a Biro

Your dear old mother’s mother, please don’t take her to Sudan
They’re all gerontophiliacs
Gagging for shagging your nan

Take the train to Marrakech if you’re fond of anal sex
But if the locals catch you at it
Then they’ll happily wring your necks

Please try to smile although the Nile’s quite boring and banal
You’re sure to find a chap who’ll take you
Right up the Suez Canal – ooh!

It’s a joy to take a train to Casablanca
You can easily find a rentboy who will wank – ya – off!

But in Tangiers
They frown on ginger beers
The very concept makes them quake and quail
And if you go to Agadir
Be careful if you’re queer
‘cause they’ll throw your arse in jail
(Though you might like that)
Throw your arse in jaiiiill!

My Dog Ate It

When I foolishly said 'a post every day', I thought it was obvious that weekends wouldn't count.

And I've been really busy for the last few days.

And I've been prepping/researching for an interview tomorrow for a position of (waggles head raffishly) some responsibility with a (shall we say) large, household name, store.

Because earning a proper living takes precedence over entertaining you sods.

Which is a shame, because I have this big pile of new comics here and I'm knackered after a long, non-stop day so this is the perfect time to do Sleep-Deprived Comics Reviews but I really have to get an early night.

Tell you what, how about some slush-pile-filler-type stuff, just for now?


Friday, 14 November 2014

...And Relax

A couple of years ago I did the most stressful job I’d ever done in my life. It managed to be both boring and demanding, the people I worked with were to a man absolute arseholes and the entire company was run by a woman who micro-managed every single tiny element of the proceedings but made damn sure she took no responsibility for anything that went wrong.

I did this job because at the time my father was in the final stages of chronic illness and it was very important that I was able to get home in short order should the need arise, and the company was based five minutes from the house. Believe me, when the old man passed away, I took as much compassionate leave as was available and then some.

Years before that, I held another position that was equally if not more stressful, with a Ops Manager whose only purpose was to find a reason to fire the entire staff. Yet I enjoyed that job. Why? Because it was ninety minutes drive away from home. Getting there in the morning was an hour-and-a-half of just me and the radio. Going home was the same thing, and in that long drive up the M1 I could sing very loudly – loudly enough to get quizzical looks from other drivers even on the fast stratches – and change from Work Me into Home Me.

Decompression. That’s what it was all about.

So: two posts ago we left each other at the traffic lights. This is where we pick up.

I walk to work. I walk back. It’s about three miles, an hour, both ways. In that time I can grab a coffee, look at the shops, generally change from Home Me to Work Me and back again.

The halfway mark, the point where ‘leaving work’ turns into ‘really on the way home’ comes at the Beehive, my favourite pub. I don’t often stop there because I don’t drink much at the best of times and drinking alone is never a good idea anyway, but it serves as a marker and as a psychological threshold, so that’s good.

There’s always a fellow lurking around that area; he walks up to you and goes into the same routine every time. “Sir? My name’s Gary and I’m homeless. I wonder if you could spare me a pound, or maybe buy me some chicken?”

I’m not a monster. The first time I ran into Gary I gave him a couple of quid. After a few approaches, and because my mood fluctuates wildly at the best of times and because I’d heard the same spiel once too often, I stopped giving him cash, or offering to buy him food (which he’d politely reject, despite having made such an offer part of his request. Another reason to stop). Instead, I’d politely rebuff him and go on my way, while he’d amble on to McDonald’s or Asda and find somebody else to entreat.

Two Saturdays ago, after an especially trying Timmy Time and a longer, slower than usual walk to the lights, Gary came up and with his usual “Sir?” and got shorter shrift than normal.

Just up the road – and by now it’s dark, and it’s started to drizzle that fine rain that isn’t noticeable at first but still manages to get you soaked through and I’m wearing a lightweight jacket because it was fine this morning – somebody else comes up to me. Bloke about my height and build, bearded.

“Excuse me Sir, could you spare a pound? I’m hungry and homeless and – “

I look down at the fella’s feet. He’s wearing better shoes than I am. I hitch my backpack up onto my shoulder. There are a couple of Ethiopian guys standing talking outside the grocery shop I’ve just passed.

“Sorry mate, no change.” This is true. I even pat my pockets to demonstrate.

“Please, Sir, just a pound – “

“No, sorry mate, I said I’ve not no cashon me.”

“Cunt” he spits, and walks off.

I’m a reasonable man. Good-natured. Generous. Over this last year I’ve had some problems but they’re under control. I don’t throw tantrums, I try to defuse situations through discussion and patience. But this, this sends me into an instant rage.

“What did you say, sunshine? Come here and say that again, you fucker.”

There’s the tell-take, the giveaway. My everyday voice, the voice of amiable regret, disappears just like that, and instead I’m a roaring North Londoner, there’s a rasp where there should be honey.

“Cunt” he says again. And that’s it. I’m after him. The Ethiopians take a step back as I run past them and grab him.

“Don’t you fucking call me a cunt, you little fucker, I’ll have your fucking - "

And he raises his hands. Maybe to defend himself, I don’t know. But it’s enough. I do something I’ve not done since I was seventeen years old and standing face-to-face with someone who, at that moment, I hated with a passion.

I hit him first. Right fist to the side of his head. He jerks his head back, more in shock than pain. Tries to throw a punch back. Doesn’t manage it. I get another one in. Then turn around, hitch my bag up again, and walk away. I don’t look back, knowing that if I do and he’s coming after me, this could become very ugly very quickly. What if he’s got a weapon? I don’t want to feel the quick coldness of a blade, or worse still not feel it but only find blood through my shirt as I walk off. I don’t want to die on a sodden lousy street in Tottenham, under the dingy yellow light of a Turkish supermarket.

But he’s gone. So I keep walking, no quicker, keeping the same pace as before, until I reach Bruce Castle Park and the sure knowledge that this is going no further.

I get out the pack of nicotine gum, pop a fresh tablet, and head home. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Before We Get There, Though...

So, where were we?

Ah, yes. Before we return and get to the nub of the matter, and because this is an occasion where I’m not at home on a proper computer but am instead at somebody else’s home on a mobile app and determined not to break the daily post rhythm, two things.

First, the traditional Emergency Picture, not of the usual Debbie Harry;


And second; there’s a TV on in this place and it’s showing 2 Broke Girls. It’s, ah,,, horrible.

That is all. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Take A Deep Breath, And...

It may come as a surprise to those of you who know me as a wisecracking, fun-filled ball of merriment, but there are times when I’m not the most cheerful man in the world. God knows, there have a couple of posts on here lately that might have had the more empathic among you reaching for the phone to ask if I’m, you know, alright, but let me assure you that A) yes, most of the time I’m fine thank you and B) I never answer the phone.

Nobody’s ‘on’ all the time though, and I’ll be straight with you; if you know what’s best for you you’d be well advised to steer a wide berth on Saturday evenings. My old man used to be a bugger for this; on Sunday mornings; there’d be a regular sideshow going on, as he’d get up in a bad mood, open the living room windows and ceremonially throw each one of our admittedly over-numerous cats (Mum was a bit of a soft touch for a waif or stray) out into the front garden, calling each one of them a selection of ripe names as he did, and there they’d sit, momentarily stunned by this impolite and thoroughly unwarranted intrusion into their busy agenda of sleeping on the sofa, licking their own backsides or wailing for scraps, then slip down the alley and come in the back way, where Dad would find them, pick them up, and chuck them out the front again.

I don’t think I’ve inherited the old man’s at times incandescent temper, being more of a slow burner, but Saturday afternoons really do get on my wick. For a start, while any sensible person would have spent the day having a lie-in, maybe taking a leisurely fry-up and a wander around the shops before settling back with Final Score and contemplating what debauchery the evening might bring I, working as I do in retail, would have spent the day at work. And, working as I do in what we refer to ‘Specialist Retail’, I’ll have seen most of the day spent staring into space, or processing stock, or just begging silently for somebody to come into the shop and either have a conversation or, you know, actually spend some money.

It doesn’t help that Saturdays usually follow a pretty well-worn routine: sod all happens, then at about twelve I go out and get coffee and have a chat with Gareth in the Blackhorse Workshops; then sod all happens, then Mo comes in with more coffee, then sod all happens, then it gets a bit busy when the locals go for their afternoon stroll, and then, just as the metaphorical factory whistle gathers a head of steam for its final blow, it’ll be Timmy Time.

Timmy Time begins with a 158 bus pulling up outside, then its doors open, then nothing happens for a moment or three before, from its depths, a blue carrier bag makes its appearance. This is followed by its owner; a lumbering creature in soiled tracky bottoms and a t-shirt of no small vintage, over which is casually - and literally - thrown a beige suede jacket decorated by a selection of interesting stains. This fashionable ensemble is completed by a baseball cap embroidered with the logo of some long-forgotten West End musical flop; Oscar Wilde, perhaps, or Sing-A-Long With Pol Pot.

All of these clothe the fulsome figure that is Timmy. If you need to know what Timmy’s like, let me tell you this: I once had to accompany him home when he was having one of his more emotionally fraught afternoons. This meant getting a cab and staying with him for the journey as it was not entirely a certainty that he’d be able to recall his own address, then seeing him to his door after slapping a tenner into the driver’s hand (“I’m not letting you out, I’ve seen too many runners lately”) while I walked with him, at a pace which even the most relaxed flaneur would describe as leisurely, to his door. There, his mother, a gaunt woman in an acrylic pullover and an expression far wearier than you’d expect even on someone in their latter years and with a slightly handicapped fifty-year-old son, thanked me for seeing him home and explained, obviously not for the first time: “He was a difficult birth”. I of course told her it was no bother and hot-footed it back out onto the street, just in time to see the cab’s tail-lights as it disappeared around the corner, leaving me on a nondescript Chingford side-street with no idea where I was, as cold rain began to fall.

So: Timmy’s a challenge. But Timmy’s also good for about eighty quid a visit, so you knuckle under and get on with it, knowing that no matter how much of a strain dealing with him is going to be, you’re safe in the knowledge that at least he’ll be the last customer of the week and from here on in the weekend’s your own.

Timmy likes Spider-Man. A lot. His baggy-necked t-shirts generally feature some representation of his hero, or sometimes of Harley Quinn, the psychotic one-time sidekick who became a sensation in her own right (and yes, I’m fully aware that I’m talking about fictional characters as though they were real people with an actual existence and everything. Perk of the job, y’know?)

Because Timmy likes Spider-Man a lot, he buys every Spider-Man comic that’s published. Which is a lot of Spider-Man titles. Core books, spin-offs, mini-series; Tim buys them all, plus a load of other stuff, all of it tucked away by either myself or the boss as part of our “You call it a Standing Order, we call it Guaranteed Money” service. Like I said, eighty quid a week.

What Timmy likes to do is to be handed the inches-thick pile of publications that we’ve put aside for him at his request, then spend as much time as possible looking at the shelves, then ask whether any title has been cancelled – this is regardless of whether he reads this particular book or not – then chat to anybody else who may be in attendance about what they’re reading – and this is regardless of whether they join in the conversation, smile politely and edge away, or just flat-out ignore him. Sometimes he goes up to another customer and just starts to riffle through whatever they’ve picked up, but we’ve explained to him more than once that if you do that, then in the fullness of time you will get hit. Then Timmy does What Timmy Does.

What Timmy Does is order more books than he can afford in any given week. It’s okay, it averages out over the month, but in two weeks out of three he has more reserved for him than the budget allows. So that’s our first question (and when I say ‘our’, I mean ‘my’, as by this time the boss is hiding in the back room, supposedly backing up the database or doing the last admin of the week, but in actuality strumming on the acoustic guitar he keeps out there for just such eventualities). “Tim, what’s your budget?” And Tim will tell us: it’s eighty quid. Sometimes it’s fifty, or in lean weeks it’s thirty. If he’s been to the theatre – and you’ll have gathered from an earlier paragraph that Tim like a musical, which I’m also quite noted for, and I’ll admit that if I’m in a good mood I may occasionally strike up a version of Fugue For Tinhorns or another of the tunes from Guys And Dolls or whatever he’s been to see – it may be as low as twenty. In a week when he's been paid for his job of collecting trolleys in a supermarket carpark, it may be as high as a hundred and twenty.

That’s when we start the real work. Tim will sort his pile out into the books he really wants to take this week, and the books that he’d like to take this week but which aren’t vital, and the ones that can go back in his box until there’s cash enough to cover them. I’ll add them up and give him a total.

And then he’ll go over the shelves again and add some more. Won’t tell me, mind. Then he’ll take things out his ‘buy’ pile and swap them for things from his ‘put them back’ pile. Won’t tell me. So the whole ‘reaching a final total’ thing can take a while. Also, during this it’s usually rubbing closely up against closing time and I’ll have been there for nine hours already so I’m not really willing to dawdle, especially as there’s shutters to bring down and lights to turn off and all the other tiny locking-up-the-shop jobs that when put together can add up to a good ten minutes worth of labour. That’s about the pount where I lower my voice into a friendly-but-menacing growl and mutter “You’re on my time now, sunshine”. Timmy doesn’t really care. He’d happily be locked in the shop all weekend, though I’ve pointed out to him that the alarm system is motion-triggered so if that were to come to pass he’d have to spend two entire days not moving a muscle of his considerable load.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that by the time we’ve been through this palaver, then found out his ultimate choice of purchases, wrested actual cash out of his wallet, and totalled up the till, and done the credit card reconciliation, and locked up, it’s a good half-an-hour after Official Going Home Time.

I was asked, just before my birthday, if there was anything I’d particularly like as a gift. Yes, I said. Come to this shop at half past five on a Saturday – don’t tell me which Saturday, I’d like it to be a surprise – see the fucking idiocy I have to put up with, then just drag me out to the nearest pub and pour gin down my throat until it’s all been blotted out. Hasn’t happened yet.

Not that this is the end of things. The final act of this hebdomadal hellishness (and yes, my battered old Roget was brought into service there) is Seeing Timmy To The Bus Stop. This is a relatively new thing: whereas in the past Tim would walk in a different direction from me to reach his transport home, lately he’s chosen to join me, and occasionally Coffee-bearing Mo, to the traffic lights at the top of the road, walking at a stately place, making small – microscopic, in fact – talk about his favourite television programmes and generally delaying the journey home even further. When we reach the crossing Tim, being a stickler for road safety, will refuse to even contemplate putting a toe across the tarmac until the green man is firmly shining from his little box. Once he reaches the other side – and more than once he’s been distracted long enough to miss an entire cycle of the lights despite me standing next to him shouting “TIM! IT’S SAFE TO CROSS NOW!” at him – he bids us goodnight then walks all the way to his original choice of bus stop, which is opposite the bloody shop.

Yes, I know I’m being less than charitable. Impatient, certainly. Maybe even a little cruel towards the differently-able. And I’m aware that for somebody like Tim, somebody with learning difficulties, physically unprepossessing and emotionally fragile enough to be stressed to tears by the sort of incident that you or I would simply mutter an under the breath cussword at, these visits are probably the only social interaction he has that doesn’t involve ostracision or humiliation. But bloody hell fella, at least try to get a wiggle on, will you?

So you’ll see that rather than fill me with the joy that most people feel at the end of the working week, rather than stoking the anticipation of joining colleagues and friends for a post-toil booze, Saturday afternoons and early evenings just get on my sodding tits.

But here we are, two thousand words in, and we’re about as near to the ostensible subject for today as astrology is to common sense.

So: same time tomorrow?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Had to take this one down. Too much potential for relationship-destroying repercussions. One day, when everything's all sorted out, it might be re-posted. Unlikely, though.