Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Little Bird 

Nestled in a verdant clearing in the shadow of Dent Head Viaduct, just downstream of the waterfall and the wooden footbridge, a friendly retired couple keep dysfunctional poultry.

There’s a duck who is afraid of water and makes panicky gasping for air noises when it should be quacking, and the turkeys are all mad for, you know, it. If they were Native Americans turkeys - which they could be for all I know - their names would be ‘Aroused By Rucksacks’.

There are bantams from the Jurassic Period and others from the Blackburn District, and the most extraordinary creatures the size of dustbins, thirty or so in total, many of them on heat and anxious to get to know you better, sooner rather than later, time is of the essence, come on, Christmas is coming.

“These two are changing colour, look. That means they’ll be having sex soon. Would you like to stay and watch?”
I explained that we’d not long had our lunch but thanks for the offer all the same, and we continued on our walk back to Ribblehead.

You can’t bloody get away from it, can you?

Friday, May 26, 2006

I Predict A Riot 

We stood by the window watching a pair of salesmen rutting in the early morning sunshine, vital and alive in their natural habitat.
It was the usual story - two cars but only one remaining parking spot, a smashed headlamp here, a dented wing there. Then with grim inevitability the shouting and the punching, blood on the tarmac, the crunch of broken glass underfoot, engine’s left overheating, the sound of matters coming to a head.

Rex the security guard was there in a flash with his bucket of sawdust, and Charlotte, Bill Surname’s loyal PA, not far behind with her cotton wool balls and Junior Dettol.
It was all over in minutes, but they must have seen it on the helpdesk, because there was rioting on the first floor all morning, any old excuse.

Poor Charlotte - it’s a difficult time for her, what with the inter-house tennis tournament yet to be organised, and everything still up in the air, unresolved, like a missing page at the end of a thriller - it was the butler, Charlotte! Not for the money, but because of jealousy and neglect! Sound familiar? - a nightmare in her current condition, which as far as we can make out is somewhere between terrified and even more terrified.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, as we returned to our desks.
“That isn’t strictly true, is it?” I replied, but if she heard me, she wasn’t letting on.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tonight We Fly 

If it was up to me, then Tonight We Fly by The Divine Comedy would be the national anthem.
It would be sung before Cup Finals, and at the opening of Parliament, and in school assemblies every morning, and after the late shipping forecast as Radio Four winds down its shutters on the day. I really like it.

I love the sense of wistful yearning, the dreamlike Peter Pan meets Under Milk Wood quality of the lyrics -
Tonight we fly over the houses, the streets and the trees, over the dogs down below, they’ll bark at our shadows as we float by on the breeze
- and the way they make me think of Settle.
The music is runaway train fast and rousing, and lends itself well to daft, joyous sing-a-longing. Perfect, in other words, for state occasions such as the unveiling of the new Wembley stadium, or the Coronation of Gordon Brown.

Me and Girlfriend saw The DCs again last night, and they were terrific. They did old stuff and new stuff, including a slightly over-ambitious shot at Party Fears Two, and I generally love how the boy Hannon has weaved his way into the fabric of the national duffle coat.
Long Tall Wanda and Leanne were there too, a birthday present from the former to the latter, bringing to a close three weeks of celebrations. So that was good too.

Me and Girlfriend had our tea beforehand in The Oxford - not terribly filling - after which she said I could lick her butter wrappers if I was still hungry. “That,” she said with a cheeky twinkle, “may or may not be a euphemism.”
Either way, don’t be surprised if you hear those words or similar coming from the mouth of Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, one of these days.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006


It’s just occasional affection based sex - it doesn’t mean she loves you, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t. It’s the soft glow of needs of being met, of skin against skin, of pillow talk and tenderness.

Life goes on - you never know if there’ll be rain or there’ll be sunshine. You carry on. Everybody says you’re lovely but still you feel lonely sometimes.

It’s just the warm kiss on the back of your neck that says “I’ll always be there for you but I won’t deny your freedom…” It’s letting go but not letting go, “…if you’ll always be there for me and won’t deny mine either.

It’s just occasional affection based sex - it doesn’t mean you love her, and it doesn’t you don’t. It’s the ebb and flow of needs of being met, of skin against skin, of pillow talk and tenderness, of never giving in, of feeling proud and happiness.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Idiot Slow Down 

“Here are two opposing statements,” said Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader on Friday. “Which applies most to you?”
She had her serious face on, the one she wears after a morning spent nose deep in Self-Help For Needy Managers books. We downed keyboards and listened.
“One: ‘If in doubt, don’t do it.’ And Two: ‘If in doubt, do it.’”

The room fell quiet. Time slowed to a crawl.
I could see Terry’s hand twitching to reach for his dictionary, his instinctive reaction to nearly everything these days.
Mike let out a silent one and kept glancing at his screen to check how The Sims were progressing without him. Entire civilisations were flourishing.
I stared out of the window. Neil, my former team leader, was zig-zagging back and forth around the grounds, arms outstretched, a grown man impersonating a child impersonating an aeroplane. He looped the loop then crash landed on the croquet lawn, picked himself up, looped the loop, crashed, looped, crashed, and so on.
"They ask me where the hell I’m going, at a thousand feet per second? Hey Man, slow down."
He was wearing one of those counter-Naomi Klein T-shirts. In bold capitals across his chest it read “No Libido.”

I suspect it wasn’t quite the stimulating debate Stella had had in mind.
I coughed and said “Number one. Most of the time, anyway.”
“Thank you Tim. Anybody else?”
Tabs, who was walking past our room with an armful of photocopying shouted “Two!”

“Because if you don’t do it now,” I continued, “you can always do it later. But if you do it and then realise it was rubbish, you can’t go back and not have done it.”

Tabs put her head around the door and said that when you keep putting things off until later, you’re never able to re-create the original moment that inspired you to think of it in the first place.
“So everything you do can, at best, only ever be a pale imitation of what you might have done if you’d had the balls.”
I don’t know if she was taking a swipe at someone, but it felt like it.
“And chances are,” she went on, “you’ll just do nothing anyway.”

“I agree with what Tabs says,” said Terry. I think it may have been him.

Mike said “Are you all on fucking drugs?” and returned to knocking streets and towns and lives down in earnest. Then the dinner bell rang and you couldn’t see him for dust.

It was kind of Radiohead to come and play for Girlfriend’s birthday at the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool later that evening. Our friend Steve came along too and it was great to see everybody together again.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Creepy Keith from Accounts is a considerate and imaginative lover. He has the stamina of an elite athlete and is, in his own words, “affectionate as fuck.”

This is what he claims anyway. Frankly, I’m more than happy to take his word for it.
We just wish he’d use his own office for calling Jeanette at the introductions agency. He was down here again this lunchtime, sat opposite me while I was trying to concentrate on my sudoku, moaning to her about his plight. It took all the pleasure out of my cheese again sandwiches, and there wasn’t a lot there to begin with.

“Munters, Jeanette, they’re all munters. I don’t understand it. You must have someone decent on your books? Apart from me?”

Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, could be heard laughing in her office. She was clearly enjoying this.

“Michaela the Mollusc? From Morecambe Sands? I’m not kidding you, Jeannette, that girl had limpets. No, I’m not being picky. When she took off her helmet there were barnacles on her head, I swear. If I’d wanted an evening of gaseous exchange I’d have stopped in for a curry.”

When he finally hung up, he buried his head in his hands, despondent, sunk like PNE. Stella emerged from her office.

“Oh give me another chance, Stella. Please,” he begged. “I’m just what you’re looking for.”
“Nope,” she said.
“I’m desperate. Please.”
“No can do.”
“Well at least give me a smile.”
“No time, Keith. I’m off to give Becky one down by the docks,” and with that she was gone.

I pretended to be doing something with a spreadsheet - what are you supposed to do with spreadsheets, anyway? What exactly are they for? - and eventually he left us alone. Terry fumbled for his dictionary and notepad.
“What was that?” he asked, flicking through the pages. “Did he say limpet or nymphet?”

I spluttered half chewed Hovis across my puzzle and printed out a fresh one.

Friday, May 05, 2006


We had a frantic tidy and one last look around the place to check we’d got everything - the showers were fantastic, incidentally - returned the keys and chatted with one of the owners.
And then we came home.

The sunflowers are poking up nicely, nasturtiums are just starting to come through, clematis is looking full of promise, but best of all, my pants are now in the wash and the cherry blossom has burst into life while we’ve been away.

Here’s a picture of someone sitting underneath it, trying to stop insects and bits of cherry tree gunk from getting in.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

I Am A Cider Drinker 

Thursday was sad because I ran out of pants, and that’s how you know when your holiday is drawing to a close.
Leanne left around midday. I gave her a big hug, and then another, after advising where I felt she could improve on her technique.

Me and Girlfriend set sail for Harrogate, after saying our farewells to Juggling Protégé and Charlie - perfectly executed handshake and hug respectively - who would also be gone by the time we returned.

Harrogate’s bloody posh, isn’t it? I didn’t realise, otherwise I’d have made more of an effort.
We wandered around streets lined with art galleries and kitchen showrooms. At times it was hard to tell one from the other - some of the kitchens were so elegantly minimalist you’d completely ruin the effect if you so much as, I don’t know, cooked something.
And then we had a late lunch in a pub so trendy that there was a fashion shoot going on in the other bar.

Afterwards we sat on a bench outside to recover, and watched the world go by; or rather, watched everybody else sitting around on benches. The sun beat down but I refused to go topless.

We stopped off in Grassington on the way back and it was true - not one person told me their life story - but I couldn’t pretend to be bitter.
On a perfect evening in early Summer like this the Dales are heartbreakingly beautiful, that’s the only way I can describe it, the fields and the walls and the sheep with their lambs, and the trees and the wise hills. So peaceful and still and utterly lovely.

We dropped off our stuff in the cottage, secretly checking to see if anybody had changed their minds and returned - they hadn’t, sadly - then walked all seventeen steps to the pub. We hit the cider - Westons is to cider what Green and Blacks is to chocolate - and read funny stories in the paper about stupid people who should know better, and I began to cheer up.

We chatted to a couple of Americans: a girl studying at Cambridge, and her Dad who’d flown over to check up on her. They were from Connecticut and I was wearing a shirt that said Cape Code in big letters, so that kind of got us started.
We told them no, they wouldn’t be anywhere near able to walk the Three Peaks by lunchtime tomorrow, although either Whernside or Pen-y-Ghent should be do-able if they made an early start, and the café at Horton where you can clock in is very nice.
They asked what all the yellow fields that they’d seen were, and we said it was rape, used in cooking oil, and were surprised they’d never seen it before.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Wednesday was gorgeous.
Girlfriend and me went for a big walk, fourteen miles, up beyond the tarn and across to Yew Cogar Scar with its Blimey, that’s a steep drop aspect, and towards Arncliffe. It was recommended to us by Long Tall Wanda who walks a lot.
Arncliffe is very pretty and an archetypal Dales village, so much so that fans of ITV drama will recognise it as where they used to film Inspector Morse. These days, of course, it’s all done with blue screens and computers and off-shored to the Chinese.

I took snaps of shadows and walls and clouds and Girlfriend, and we stopped to eat our eggs at two o’clock and we could see for miles but all we heard was birds singing and the occasional rustle of our sandwich bags. Far below in the valley it was lambing time.

There weren’t many other walkers about, but those we did see were proper ones - the type you exchange friendly hellos with as you pass, and who are generally retired with dogs. You don’t get that with the Bank Holiday crowd: I know because I tried it and the woman just looked vaguely alarmed, like I’d told her that I was taking her out to dinner, the table’s booked for 8:00, dress foxy.

We returned home hot and thirsty and tired and very happy.
Leanne was sitting on a bench by the Green in the sunshine, reading a book, checking her texts and watching some kids kicking a football about.
She said she’d been talking to the oldest kid - a girl who used to live in Bolton, where Leanne is from - about their favourite players. She said she was the only girl in the school football team. When the two lads fell out and one of them was crying his eyes out, the girl had sat down with him and said “Come on, let’s sort this out” and spent ages talking to him, fixing whatever the problem had been and making him feel better.
“It was really lovely,” said Leanne.

She’d also spent a couple of hours wandering around Grassington, and reported that everybody was nice there too, stopping to say hello and tell her about stuff.
I have to say this made me a bit cross. Granted, Leanne is an attractive young woman and why wouldn’t people stop to talk to her?
But they never talk to me like that, which is grossly unfair, and I told Girlfriend that we would be visiting Grassington ourselves the next day, to demand an explanation.

Charlie had taken JP to the big city on her motorbike because they were missing the whole retail buzz thing which you don’t get in the Dales. They spent the day in a pub garden down by the river, and JP bought some jeans.

We stood around outside for a bit, playing boules - or more accurately, pétanque, as Charlie was keen to point out - and then me and JP passed a happy half hour throwing an American football to each other on the Green.
I showed him how to make it spin in the air, like how the professionals do it. It’s altogether more manly that way, although I was glad when Girlfriend called us in for tea because my back was starting to play up.

We watched / shouted at The Apprentice, then stayed up talking rubbish and singing.

Charlie said “When people ask me in years to come 'Where were you at Live 8?' - because they will - I’ll say 'At Leanne’s'.”
And Leanne said that Morningtown Ride is one her biggest childhood memories. “In the car on the home from a day out somewhere, a nice day out somewhere. My Mum and my Dad and me and my sister, singing that on the way back.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Three Lions 

Tuesday is market day in Settle so we went for a browse around stalls selling not-real England shirts and incredibly depressing CDs of Irish music. Everybody knocks Radiohead, but if any type of music is going to push you over the edge, then it’s podgy old Irishmen in man-made fibres singing goat ballads. The general rule of thumb is that when you hear the bodhráns calling, you run for your life.

We had a drink and something to eat in the Naked Man, and reckoned that if it was a game, then the fruit and veg stall would probably win.
We also decided that the not-real England shirts were probably intended to exploit kind hearted grandparents who didn’t understand the cult of branded merchandise.
Girlfriend recalled the time her Mum had bought the boys some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles clothes, which were obviously fake because the colours and so on were all wrong. Despite their tender years, they were sensitive enough not to point this out to their Gran because they knew she’d feel upset. Everybody went “Awww.”

Me and JP bought a pair of comedy egg cups. They were for Leanne’s girlfriend Tina and her little boy, who hadn’t been able to join us. We’ve still only met Tina just the once, and very briefly.
A daft gift that will probably be greeted with “Oh great, where am I going to put these?” but we wanted to send out supportive vibes and let her know that, you know, we love Leanne and anybody who is a friend of hers is alright by us, etc. We were just trying to be nice.

Then we went on a guided tour of White Scar Cave.
I said the way to remember is that stalactites come down from the ceilings and thus have to hold on tight, while stalagmites might grow up to reach them.
Leanne and JP said something about how if she dropped her tights then you might go up. I didn’t understand and have erased it from my mind accordingly.

The caves were very interesting and beautiful too, although a warning that we’d be required to limbo dance through some of the lower passages would have been appreciated. The caverns reverberated to the sound of plastic helmet whack whack whacking against rock, predominantly limestone but granite also. There is an ultra violet witch who lives with her cat on carrots.

We discovered that we’d parked in an ice cream van graveyard.

Later on I watched my first episodes of Lost, which was OK I suppose, but the real enjoyment was listening to the others talking about it.
Leanne once spent an entire weekend watching the first series on some hooky DVD she got off the internet, but you didn’t hear me say that, right?

Monday, May 01, 2006


It was a bit grey and the crowds thinned.

JP drove to Skipton for milk, a paper and the new Snow Patrol album, and me and Girlfriend went for a walk, glad to be able to step out of the front door and just be where we wanted to be. We saw llamas and daffodils and bright red letter boxes and wondered about water mills.

Leanne drove up and down the lanes and generally all over the place trying to find a signal.

FFA and Chloe left to go back to work, and we played Three Card Brag and Spoons. It’s like Musical Chairs, only with spoons, and cards as well, and it was very funny.
I think Charlie had another pyjama day.

It was Mexican night, so Girlfriend made quesadillas and I put out the cutlery, and we probably drank tequila but I can’t actually remember.
We talked about how limes are definitely much more lime flavoured this year, and there was sympathetic speculation regarding an empty sheet of folic acid tablets found by the kitchen sink.

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