Thursday, June 29, 2006

Our Frank 

Now and then this week I’ve been thinking about Abby in New York, dreaming of a quiet nine to five in a nice little office somewhere with a modest income and dried up spider plants in the corner, her life on hold until she can finally wrestle her never ending dissertation to the ground, give it a good kicking, then move on.

We chatted on the phone - well, technically she ‘interviewed’ me, but I feel daft putting it like that - last Thursday, and very pleasant and flattering it was too.
Her dissertation is, or will be, about matters “work blog” related, with a sort of North West England theme tying it together.
One day it will be a highly revered paper, or even a book, or possibly a West End musical starring Nicole Kidman, with a score produced by the Pet Shop Boys. Who knows?
What’s certain is that in the not too distant future, Abby will have a brass plate outside her door pronouncing her a Doctor of Blogging, and she’ll have her own little flashing light and siren to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams, and she’ll be able to park wherever she pleases. And that’s cool.

Because she’s a proper academic, the very next day I received a transcript of our conversation. Sweet baby Jesus, I don’t half talk a load of ignorant bollocks after a bottle of wine.
I come across as somebody not entirely used to the concept of the spoken word, and it’ll take a lot of editing - hell, a complete re-write - before I can sign it off as an accurate record of what we discussed. But if it helps to get you off the student treadmill and makes me seem slightly, you know, I mean, you know, like, you know, less inarticulate, then I’ll be only too happy to do that for you, Abby. Good luck, best wishes, and all that.

The following evening I met up with friend of the people and fellow virtual parishioner, Backroads. He had a spare ticket to see Bob Mould and asked me along to join him. Which was nice. Although it wasn’t a date or anything.
We found a pleasant window seat in the Kro Bar, and sat bickering and sniping at each other like an old married couple -
“You might have ironed that T-shirt before coming out in it.”
“Oh fuck off.”
“And how many pints is that now? Don’t forget you’re driving.”
“Oh fuck off.”

- while we gazed at the beautiful people basking in the golden Manchester sunshine, thinking about what might have been and where it all went wrong for us.
We talked about what happens when bloggers go mad, and how Vancouverites re-act if you should say in the middle of a downpour, “Well, at least it’s not raining.”

The concert was good. I’m no Bob Mould expert, but I enjoyed his hollering for dear life delivery, his delusions before the gig that he could walk around the venue incognito simply by putting his hood up, and the spectacle of so many devoted and well lubricated fans making arses of themselves and having a great time. So thanks very much, and anytime you should find yourself round my neck of the woods, I’ll dedicate a stanza of “Dirty Ol’ Town” especially to you.

And the rest of the time, I’ve been crouched in a corner, rocking gently back and forth, and murmuring, “Oh Frank! Keep it down.”

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


“It says here,” said Stella my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader this morning, reading from some magazine article, “that all men want to be told that they’re funny, while all women want to be told that they’re beautiful. What do you say to that, team?”

Mike and Terry kept their heads down, poring over their Maplin catalogues which had just arrived in the post to much excitement and fanfare.
The question hung in the air, ignored, welcome as a Big Issue seller at a Bank of England banquet. Stella leaned with her back against the doorframe, arms folded, head cocked to one side, an “I can wait all day if I have to” expression on her face.

“Well,” I said, to break the silence. “I won’t be happy until everyone says I’m beautiful as well as funny.”
There was a vaguely detectable stirring - You? Funny? - then more silence.
I was about to ask Stella for her views on the subject when Creepy Keith from Accounts burst into the room, a noxious flurry of white noise and stale odours, yakking loudly into his mobile, and smirking from ear to ear.

“For the difference it made, they might as well have been ping pong balls,” he yelled. “No matter how many times I flushed, the little bastards just wouldn’t go away. Yeah, I know. Crazy!”
Me and Stella exchanged meaningless glances. Mike and Terry sat motionless.
“Anyway Chlorine, gotta go. Busy busy busy,” he said. “Can’t wait to meet you too, Babe. Eight o’clock, yeah? Cool. Later.”

He snapped his phone shut with an ostentatious flourish, casually mentioned to nobody in particular that he had a hot date that night, then left the room as abruptly as he had entered it only seconds earlier.

“Some girls get all the luck, hey?” smiled Stella.
“So anyway,” I said. “Beautiful or funny?” but she just stared over my shoulder into the middle distance towards the vending machine, still grinning, childlike, girlish - possibly the happiest I think I’ve ever seen her, beautiful even - then went back into her office to ring up her friend Becky, and didn’t bother answering me.

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Summer Skin 

Sibling E reaches her half century this week. We all jumped out from behind the chimney breast of a very pleasant pub in the Peak District and shouted “Surprise!” and Saturday night passed swimmingly. She never suspected a thing.

There was the small matter of the jovial landlord giving our room to the wrong people, which meant me and Girlfriend had to spend all afternoon sunning ourselves in the beer garden - shame - but otherwise all was jolly and good.

When we awoke our room was brown. Woodchip is so coming back it hurts, apparently.

Over breakfast Sibling B told us she’d recently killed a client at work, but she’d followed all the correct procedures to the letter and the coroner’s report said everything was in order. So we had a little laugh about that. I said we all have bad days at the office from time to time, and she said she didn’t tell her husband for days because he’s such a worrier. Oh come on, we've all wanted to at some time or other.

On the long way home the brakes went a bit dicky, almost up-ending us into a skip in Marsden, in honour of the poet. Oldham’s bloody drab, mind.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

I Will Survive 

To our horror and dismay, Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, once sang - with heartfelt sincerity - the whole of I Will Survive during a team meeting, all fourteen verses of the Leonard Cohen original, and the possibility that she might do it again has kept us on the edge of our seats ever since. Smart move.

This morning, in the middle of a motivational pep-talk on how to get back our get up and go - each of us is a profit centre, not a loss centre, and we need to raise our stock at the county fayre, or something; I hadn’t even realised mine had gone - she uttered the dreaded words “You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

There was a collective clenching of buttocks, and Mike scattered his custard creams all across the conference table, watching helplessly as they spilled in slow motion to their certain biscuity deaths on the laminate flooring.

“For fuck’s sake!” he yelped involuntarily. “I bloody hate that song.”
Stella looked perplexed. Terry grimaced. I focussed very hard on my chocolate hobnob and bit my lip.
“Whoever wrote that pile of crap wants taking out and shooting,” Mike ranted.
We have to bring our own in these days, for meetings and suchlike.

In tennis news, our asses got whupped.
After a gruelling straight sets defeat, Stella declared through gritted teeth that it was only a bit of a laugh anyway, and I gasped along in agreement, too furious to speak, and out of breath, the cheating jumped up yob bastards.

The draw for the next round was made over the crackly bing bong this lunchtime: Death and Pestilence will face Bill Surname CEO and Morticia from Goods Received And Recently Departed, which is just too bad, because Bill Surname always wins the tournament every year, rain or shine, no matter what.

“That’ll wipe the smile off their faces,” said Stella, putting on a silly voice to imitate Pestilence’s lapdog falsetto. “‘Well piss on my hostas! Match point so soon!’ She knows what she can do with her 'soft hands', the stupid cow.”

“Chalk dust my arse,” I grumbled, and Stella agreed.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

There's A Light Beyond These Woods, Mary Margaret. 

My timekeeping being less reliable than that of a Mexican FIFA official, I could be wrong about this. But I’ve got a hunch it was fourteen years ago to the day that we first exchanged nervous glances.

Happy Anniversary, Toots.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Subaltern’s Love Song 

On Monday morning after shoe inspection, Bill Surname CEO made the draw for this year’s inter-house tennis tournament.
Me and Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, have been drawn against Death and Pestilence in the mixed doubles.

“I have to admit,” I explained to Stella later on, by way of a warning over machine coffee and sort of cake thing, “that I can get a bit competitive when it comes to competitive sports. Unless I’m being soundly thrashed, of course, in which case I dismiss the whole thing as just a bit of a laugh.”
Stella is much the same.
“OMG, tell me about it,” she said. “I had a couple of knockabouts with my friend Becky at the weekend. I haven’t had so much fun in ages as when she gave me a good seeing to on Saturday morning.”
I felt a sneeze coming on.
“I did her on Sunday though, to get my own back.”

So we had a little practice, me and Stella, after work yesterday on the court up at Valium Heights, Bill Surname’s country retreat.
Rex the security guard has got the lawn looking fantastic, stripy and smooth and everything, but my hay fever is starting in earnest now, and Creepy Keith from Accounts and Famine were hanging around being annoying twats, waiting to use the courts and putting me off, and my serve was terrible, and I was generally rubbish throughout.

We’ve both got our reasons for wanting to put Death and Pestilence in their place.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Stella afterwards. “We’ll have another practice before the match.”
“And I’ll take one of my tablets beforehand,” I said. “And I’ll buy some decent tennis balls as well. These old ones are squishy and useless. And they’re bloody egg shaped.”
“Becky’s are round and firm like Granny Smiths,” said Stella, her voice suddenly dreamy and faraway.
“Well good for her,” I said.
“And she says I can play with them anytime I want to.”
“That should save me a few quid then,” I said, and we set a date for another session early next week.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

He’s On The Beach 

These are days of collections and leaving cards. Everybody’s bursting out all over.

One bloke left to concentrate on his cooking and watch the World Cup; tomorrow a girl is leaving to become a midwife, a four year gestation, a brave journey; and someone else has rented out his house to lunatics and jetted off to Australia for six months, maybe twelve, as long as they can stand him, to sit on a beach looking for casual work.

These are strawberry days, raspberry days.
A barefoot girl in a pretty dress walks round our office with a bowl of summer fruits.
“Have some,” she says. “They’re from my Mum’s garden. She has more than she needs. Really, have some.”
Fifteen years later she will marry and I’ll say you look lovely, because she will, and there’ll be dancing. She drives MGs and Roadsters and will crash often, will need pins and plates to hold herself together, will set alarm bells ringing in airports.
“Thank you,” I say. “I’m Tim, by the way. I love strawberries.”

Meanwhile, Mum has mice in the cupboards again, feasting on drinking chocolate, dozing in the tea bags, shitting on the carousel, and she won’t set foot in the kitchen until I’ve done something.
She rings up to tell me most women are scared of mice, one time your father had to send me to London.

A stranger knocked on our neighbours’ door to ask if she could buy their house. They said yes, and now they’re off to live in France, simple as that.

I guess you’ve got to take your chances. He says it’s brilliant there.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country 

The boy with the carrier bag ran across the pitch to the pavilion - the ice cream shop didn’t have everything, he explained, and the players laughed some more. Sheep grazed peacefully. It looked like rain.

We walked through fields of buttercups, cow parsley, wild bluebells, lush meadows left to run wild, garlic in the lanes, river beds dry. Eleven good miles, most of them pungent.
On Whernside we looked down on last week’s route, traced our way over the tops, through the woods, back to the viaduct, picked out the high spots.

We laughed at a farmer yelling expletives at his cows in a faraway field - they simply would not shut the gate after themselves, apparently - and sniggered at funny place names.
When it finally rained it was lovely.

Now I smell of sunscreen and motorway delays and egg and chips, and of coming over all pastoral.

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