Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Here Comes The Sun 

“I wish people would use the bins provided,” complained Rex the security guard this morning as he picked condoms out of the hawthorn bushes.
It was a proper old-fashioned first day of Spring, raw and bleak and wintry. His giant callused hands glowed loganberry.
“Well don’t look at me,” I replied, a little too brusquely.

A cluster of shivering daffodils bickered in the icy wind -
“You just couldn’t wait any longer, could you?”
“Oh shut up. You wanted to come out in January, remember?”

- and the wallflower sun waved helplessly through a break in the clouds.

“Maybe you could ask Charlotte, Bill Surname’s loyal PA, to put out another email,” I said.
“Last one didn’t make any difference. If anything, it made matters worse.”
“True. Her phrasing wasn’t all it might have been.”

Poor Charlotte - it’s a difficult time for her, what with Bill Surname CEO being away skiing, and her left to hold the fort at Valium Heights, his sprawling country pile.

Head on a bearing just north of north-east away from the main data centre entrance, around or across the croquet lawn - your choice but don’t come hopping to me if you spend the rest of the month tweezing buckshot out of your backside - past the Sunken Heart Rose Gardens and the Menopause Memorial Wishing Well, beyond the potting shed where the more exuberant helpdesk staff go to have it off during their lunch hours and the old hen houses which haven’t seen action since foot and mouth, then it’s a ten minute walk through the beech wood - twenty if you don’t like rope bridges - and there you are at Valium Heights, ancestral home of generations of Surnames, so it’s said, since George was on the throne, the mad one.

The horses she doesn’t mind, but feeding the hounds twice daily requires a lightness of touch and ‘walking the plank’ adroitness completely beyond a woman of Charlotte’s elephantine bulk ever since the fox hunting ban.

She looks defeated and drawn as she tells you that life hasn’t been the same since Death arrived, and for once you feel she may have a point.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006


Everybody knows that the Internet was originally developed by the American military so that high ranking officials could safely exchange pictures of their cats.
So in the noble spirit of what it was invented for, here’s a picture of our cat. Quite a looker, huh? His name was Kitten Geoff, or at least that’s what he called himself in internet chat rooms. His MySpace profile listed his interests as staring at walls, sleeping in warm places, being made a fuss of, doing things only when he wanted to and not when he was told to, and chasing anything that moves about.

He had to be put to sleep late on Thursday night, and we miss him very much. He was seventeen. He had a blood clot which caused him to lose the circulation in his back legs, and he was in a lot of pain and distress in no time at all. We took him straight to the vet who explained the situation and our options - it’s not unusual with cats, apparently - but there wasn’t really a great deal of choice.

In a way, it was fortunate it happened when it did. What if we’d been at work, or in bed, or away somewhere? He could have been in agony for hours. Or what if he’d been out on one of his expeditions and unable to make his way back home? As it was, within forty five minutes of the problem starting he was gone. It’s cold comfort, but there you are. Me and Girlfriend were with him right to the end and as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, it was an upsetting time to say the least.

As a dog, Kitten Geoff was pretty lousy. He would never bring your slippers for you, or knock you off your feet and slobber all over you whenever you returned home from, say, being out in the garden, and he hated long walks in the countryside. Newspapers were for peeing on and not fetching from the front door. But as a cat, you couldn’t ask for more. He was intelligent and affectionate, independent but not sniffily so, strong willed, funny as you like, and never less than wonderful company. We’ll never forget him.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My Book Of Dreams 

Dream 20
In my dream, me and Girlfriend have recently bought a flat above a shop in town to do up and sell on.

We enter through the front door, which leads straight into a sitting room. There is no carpet or furniture, just a disconnected telephone and a Yellow Pages, and now the flat is a small mid-terraced house.
It is late evening and yellow squares of light from the headlamps of passing cars sweep across the walls. A radio plays in the kitchen, which I presume Girlfriend had left switched on from a previous visit.

Beyond the kitchen is a small dining room. It is cold and bare. A woman roughly our age is patiently sitting on an old wooden chair, as if she had been waiting for us to show up. She is angry but calm. Girlfriend doesn’t seem surprised to see her there.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” asks the woman. “This isn’t your house. You shouldn’t be here.”

I remember thinking that the woman was either a slightly disturbed former owner, or a ghost, or - and this is what I suspect - some kind of spooky projection of our guilty consciences about the whole property developer thing.

Dream 21
In my dream I am watching the broadcaster Steve May present the 7:29 sports bulletin from Cheltenham Festival for Radio Four’s Today programme.
He is standing in a narrow hole in the ground - maybe four feet wide in diameter, and sufficiently deep that he can only be seen from the neck upward.

After a short while he introduces two guests to discuss the festival with. It transpires that the guests - the M.D. of the course and a former jockey - are also down the hole, but when they stand up to be interviewed you can only just see the top of their heads.

They carry on like this is perfectly normal.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime 

My colleagues Terry and Mike are trapped in Bloke Hell, their conversation forever concerned with the specification of things: voltages, resistance, miles per gallon, kilobytes per second, revolutions per minute, tenths of a second from nought to sixty, watts per wotsit - anything so long as it can be quantified. Their spiritual home is Maplin.

Show them an MP3 player and they’ll happily discuss disk life expectancy and the relative merits of lithium versus alkaline batteries, but will be completely unable to offer any critical insight or appreciation of the music on it.
It’s as if they once heard that cliché about men being interested in objects while women are interested in feelings, and they all too eagerly adopted it as a blueprint for living.

Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. Who would actually want to hear Mike droning on about chocolate addiction, skincare products which fail like so many of us to deliver on their promise, and how Terry only ever phones to say he loves him when he’s drunk? No, I don’t believe you would.

On Friday morning - and with no hint of self-consciousness; they’re both irony negative - Mike used the word “differential” in a discussion about hot kettles and frozen windscreens.
When will I ever learn to disengage?

“What are you talking about, you anal retentive morons?” I enquired politely.
“Nobody casually drops the D word into every day conversation like that.
Hey, I’m going into town later. Can I fetch anybody anything differential?’”
It was met with a frosty silence.
“‘Check out the new girl on the help desk. She’s totally differential.’”

Blank expressions. Eventually I blurted “Why can’t we talk about The Apprentice like they do in normal offices?”
They stared at me for twenty minutes like I’d suggested we all go skinny dipping at lunchtime, then moved onto the whys and wherefores of the M6 toll road.

I cracked open my soup early and left them to it, taking comfort in the certain knowledge that Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, would have had something curt or pithy to say in support of my views, had she not been at home all day servicing her plumber.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Book Of Dreams 

Dream 19
In my dream our milkman is the comedian Ken Dodd.
It’s a Saturday and he’s come to collect his money. He says that profits are down this week, so would we mind paying a bit extra to make up the difference?
He is wearing paint splattered decorator’s overalls and clearly has several jobs on the go at once.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor 

We unpeeled the bedroom curtains on Saturday to see that more snow had fallen and headed more or less straight for the beach via the toaster.

It was a beautiful clear blue sky morning and at Fairhaven Lake there were crowds out sledging. Considering it never normally snows here on the temperate west coast, where did all these sledges appear from? They must have been stowed away gathering rust in garages for years, waiting for the day they’d be called into service. It was as if we’d stepped into that painting by Bagel.

In the evening we went to my friend Nicola’s wedding reception.
It was at Norbreck Castle in Blackpool, which until as recently as three weeks ago was still in use as a prisoner of war camp. They've kept the carpets and curtains.

I’d not seen Nicola in ages, or a bunch of other people who were also there. It was like a convention for people who are useless at keeping in touch with each other.
We played ‘Guess The Age Of The Groom’ and I made fun of my friend Karen who has exchanged her Lancashire vowel sounds for some soft Home Counties ones instead.
Simon still insists that I look like one of the blokes from The Undertones. I said that I make two pence every time someone plays Teenage Kicks.

In accordance with wedding disco law the music was atrocious, until Girlfriend had a quiet word with the DJ and then he played One Step Beyond, and Town Called Malice, and Too Much Too Young, and Oliver’s Army, and others I forget now, but which were presumably off the same "Now That's What I Call Hitting Your Forties, Huh?" compilation CD. For an all too brief spell we jumped about and threw shapes like it was 1981. It was ace.

Girlfriend shimmied and twirled in vague silhouette, but is only a girl and picked up some kind of Elvis Costello related toe injury in the process. We were all given cake to take home.

A stiff gale blew in from the Irish Sea as I cycled back to Blackpool to fetch my car on Sunday morning.
I paused to check my reflection in the world’s largest mirror ball - squint and you'll see me; fluorescent is so this year’s shade - and noted that the Pleasure Beach shuttle bus service was running in spite of there being no passengers and - slightly alarmingly - no driver.

I took pictures of the sea and clouds and former prisoner of war camps.
It was quite exhilarating in a cycling into the wind kind of way.
I considered carrying on all the way to Fleetwood then thought better of it, as I believe the Queen Mother once did a few years before me much to the annoyance of the manager and staff of the Euston Hotel who’d put on clean sheets especially.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I Put On My Overcoat And Walked Into To Winter, My Teeth Chattered Rhythms 

It snowed here too on Friday, and that hardly ever happens. I was tempted to abandon the world’s most tedious conference call - something about computers, I think, I wasn't really listening - and roll about in it. Obviously I didn’t. Instead I spent the afternoon grinning like a fool and silently mouthing the words “It’s snowing!” to anybody who would listen.

After work we packed some blankets and an extra shovel into the boot before setting off for Manchester to see one of Seattle’s leading Viv Stanshall tribute bands, Death Cab For Cutie.
They were so loud it turned Girlfriend’s hair stripy, and later on that night she had such bad stomach pains that I nearly got out of bed to Google appendicitis.

The University seemed to be running a Saliva Exchange weekend which several couples in the venue had thrown themselves into with gusto, but apart from that it was really good.

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