Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wild Horses 

We had cobwebs so walked up a hill to blast them away.

Two horses looked on, possibly wild ones, although they looked pretty placid in silhouette.
I couldn’t decide if Sedburgh looked damp and gloomy, or cosy and inviting. Either way, it was a grand day for it.

Viewed from the M6, between Junctions 37 and 38, on your right, the Howgills look like knuckles on a gloved hand. To me they do, anyway. When you’re amongst them, climbing up the forefinger, the effect isn’t quite so noticeable.

We climbed higher, the clouds descended and we met halfway. Sometimes visibility was down to a couple of feet, then the wind would briefly whip the cloud away and you’d be able to see for a few, oh, yards. I think it’s the first time we’ve cancelled a walk midway because of bothersome weather. It was great.

Note to self: in future, remember to put waterproof trousers on before ordinary trousers are completely soaked through. There’s not a lot of point after the event. You could have caught a chill or something.

There was more than enough rain and sunshine and traffic to keep even the moodiest of atmospherophiles happy on the drive home again. I kept two chevrons apart.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Killing Me Softly 

My support group meeting for sufferers of Compulsive Singing Disorder was cancelled this week. We piled round to Smock Dave’s house instead.

There’s a nice little core of middling to bad local musicians taking shape, and for somebody who has never really been a part of anything, I’m quite proud to be a part of this.

We all did our party pieces - me? Two Britneys and a Laura Cantrell - before it wound up as a session whereby three chords equals good, and if anybody can remember at least one or two of the words from, say, Johnny B Good or Fun Fun Fun, then that’s even better.

A tanked up former German lady with a recently retired and consequently bewildered company man husband - blazer, slacks, Oxford brogues, straight out of a Two Ronnies sketch - imparted percussion related survival advice.
“In the Canadian wilderness,” she swayed in a brown dress, “the sound of a jingle bell will keep bears away. They just know to keep their distance. You’ll never be bothered by bears with a jingle bell on your hat.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“Oddly enough, though,” she continued, “it will attract wolves.”
“What about wilderness regions outside Canada?” I asked, but she’d already drifted away, profiterole in one hand, tankard of Liebfraumilch in the other, wobbling frighteningly, shaking her stuff to the groovy sounds of someone doing Killing Me Softly.

Me and Girlfriend walked home through the empty windswept streets of our little town - the occasional bedroom light still on here, the shadowy flicker of a television there, all quiet at the police station, the only sound of life coming from a supermarket delivery bay, and strangely, the confused nocturnal chirruping of a blackbird at half past three in the morning.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Just Like Christmas 

Girlfriend took charge of the kitchen the way a hijacker takes control of an airplane cabin, and I was instructed that I could make gravy and allowed to reheat my nut roast, but that was all.

“I don’t like this bit,” she said when the time came to serve up. She enjoys the preparation, but as soon as other people come along to actually eat Christmas dinner, the carving up and dishing out, the involvement of other people - well, let’s just say that it detracts from the purity of the project.

My slightly mad brother and his likewise slightly mad girlfriend were here for the day, and so was my Mum. It was good.

I received a book on Edward Hopper and the Banksy book, and a Dummies Guide to projecting into the future, the gist of which suggests that it’s going to be very bleak, we’re all doomed and the time to have started stockpiling was sometime in the Seventies.
Me and Girlfriend bought each other the same CD - the Beirut album - which any true hipster would have owned in 2003, before it had even been conceptualised, but there you go.
The elder and younger boys clubbed together to buy us the boxed set of DVDs, which we’ve since set about consuming with such relish that we’ve become couch-bound as pensioners and have been forgetting to feed ourselves properly.
I’ll be saving up my Tequila Shots gift set for a special occasion, but I’m not sure when that’ll be just yet. Cheers Leanne.
My Mum bought us a birdbath.

Later on we all played charades - I wonder if Girl With A One Track Mind came up, so to speak, in many other households - and I used up my annual chocolate allowance in the space of about two hours.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Night Has Fallen, Mute And Cold. My Horse Is Crying 

I walked the three or so miles to fetch my car in the style of one of them photobloggers.
My senses alert, my eyes peeled, I would document the world around me on this glorious December morning for the benefit of posterity, and for those unfortunate souls who will never experience Lancashire at first hand. I would try not to get run over in the process.

I took dozens of rubbish photos, and the occasional not so bad one.

Here is a pleasingly cobbled back alley, and here are some bright red berries on a berry tree, which is Nature’s way of going to Asda for a bag of bird food.

This is the church where my Dad is buried, and here are some lights so that pilots might safely land at Blackpool Airport, and here somebody is selling their spare head.

You are discouraged from tipping here, and - my favourite of the lot - here is a horse in a water logged field.
Just like in the song, “It don’t snow here, it stays pretty green,” and to demonstrate, here is Santa, two reindeer, and a wheelbarrow.

When I got home again, Girlfriend had just returned from the library and supporting the new baker’s shop.
I made an excellent joke about how when I open a cake shop, I’ll call it Parkin Mad.
The elder boy added that when I’d sold out of parkin, I’d be able to put a sign in the window saying “No Parkin.” This pleased everybody very much.

The previous Saturday, that nice Kate Manchizzle came round our house with her husband Rich, who I think I kept calling Chris for no good reason. Actually, I’ve been calling quite a few people Chris lately when they’re not. I’ve no idea why.
Rich supports Leeds, and his accent and speech patterns are strikingly similar to those of Alan Smith, which made Girlfriend go terrifically gushy, of course.

Anyway. Kate needed a portrait taking to appear on the contributors page of a magazine she’d written an article for. I was very happy to oblige. I think this is a really nice shot.

I’m available for portraits and weddings and all that stuff, you know.

Friday, December 15, 2006

...Baby One More Time 

I drove Girlfriend into work this morning, then did a spot of Christmas shopping.

What the hell was I thinking?
I’d imagined a light stroll around the stores, breezing hither and thither, making a few amazingly insightful and imaginative purchases, maybe buying a paper and enjoying a coffee and sticky bun in a nice little place I know.
I was going to do the whole Free Man In Preston thing, to feel unfettered and alive, nobody calling me up for favours, no one’s future to decide, and instead it was depressing beyond words. I don’t want to talk about it.

I skipped the bun and came home as soon as I could, disheartened and cross with myself, just in time to hear Adam and Ian getting spliced.
Then I watched a very good little Brit-flick on telly, at once both grim and beautiful, filmed on location in Todmorden, likewise grim and beautiful. The soundtrack was selected bits of Goldfrapp’s “Felt Mountain,” officially the world’s most erotically charged album ever, so I felt much better by the end of it, ta.

In the evening there was a coming together of some of our local “folk clubs,” or “singer’s nights,” or whatever they’re called.
It was Phoenix Nights like you wouldn’t believe, with a magician, and a hot pot supper (no vegetarian option, obviously) and a quiz (no time for answers) and loads of crazy old people, me included.
I got on that stage and delivered my “…Baby One More Time” with passion and gusto, and sat at a table of people I’ve known for less than a year and hardly actually know at all really but like very much, and got fairly drunk and a lift home, and did some Dad dancing.

Somebody was videoing proceedings - an older gentleman, followed by a kid who ran around with the camera, going mad, generally having a great time, and who I suspect may have caught the best footage - which I badly want to see. If I ever get hold of a copy, I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime:

1) Which animal runs faster up hill than down hill?
2) Who lived at Dingley Dell?
3) What was Norman Bates’ hobby?

And no nipping out to the toilets to text your mate.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Station Approach 

This evening me and Girlfriend met up with Charlie, Juggling Protégé, Leanne and Fairly Famous Actor at a swish-ish Manchester restaurant.

We had a nice meal, chatting about this and that, not much of which I can remember now. I know I told them about my thrilling new life as a barbershop singer, and how, at the tender age of forty I’m the baby of the group - the one hot chicks, or more probably, pensioners will be throwing their pants at just as soon I’m allowed to do concerts.
For their part, there was talk of the farcical organisation restructuring they’re currently in the throes of - it’s been in the pipeline for ages and a five year old playing pin the tail on the donkey wouldn’t have made a worse job of it.
And a mutual friend of ours is going to made King of Liverpool, which is odd because I always thought that was Ringo.
We counted more than a few ‘Rod Stewart’s mum-a-likes’ as Christmas office parties stumbled in and out.

Then we went to see Elbow - “dirge” according to Leanne, but fair play to her for trying; she pulled a face like the one I do when I think about sprouts - and Snow Patrol at GMEX.
Me and Girlfriend like Elbow a great deal, a band whose Mancunophilia is probably second only to that of Mancubist. They were, yunno, OK, considering it was the support slot they were filling, but there was none of that warmth you feel when they’re in a smaller venue playing their own show.
Guy Garvey told me I was beautiful and smelled of burgers, and in return I wish him all the success in the world but hope his band sticks to proper sized venues.

Likewise, Snow Patrol. They played well and I like them and everything, but it all seemed so impersonal, lacking in intimacy. Good light show, mind, but that’s not really the point, is it?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Walking In A Winter Wonderland 

War, Pestilence, Famine and Death have been selling support services to customers who’ve already paid for them once. An honest mistake, or so they claim. That’s what Friday’s meeting was about: damage limitation.

An eagled eyed customer at Salford Gravy checked his contract and thought “They just sold me something I’m already signed up for,” so checked with his mate who works at Burnley Body Parts, another customer of ours, who confirmed his suspicions. Word spread like wildfire, and the word was “Company X are a bunch of rip off merchants.”
The heavens opened, the dam busted, the cellar’s six inches deep in customer complaints and rising; bring your wellies. Bill Surname CEO needed a volunteer to stick a finger in the dyke and to her credit Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, was up for the task.

It’s been a blustery day. Outside my window it’s lashing down and Charlotte, Bill Surname’s loyal PA, and Rex the security guard are loading pheasants into the Company X minibus: peace offerings for irate clients from Bill’s private stock.
Stella co-ordinates Operation Olive Branch from her office - ‘Mission Impossible HQ’ - a clipboard in one hand and a Blackberry in the other, a blur of executive dynamism on a squeaky walking machine.

Poor Charlotte - it’s a difficult time for her, what with the annual turkey culling and having to organise the director’s night out at Studs, and now this: a public relations disaster and Bill Surname has appointed that trollop Stella to head up the rescue party.
Rex, wearing a Santa hat and singing Christmas tunes, tries to jolly her up but isn’t getting through. PR disasters? Charlotte, this is really nothing.

Did you hear the one about this guy who walks into a bar and asks for a room?
The landlord asks if he has a reservation.
“No,” says the man.
The landlord explains that it’s Christmas Eve, one of their busiest nights of the year, and sorry, but they’re fully booked.
“I’ve been walking for two days. My wife’s on a donkey. We’re knackered. She’s about to drop a sprog any minute, and the kid isn’t even mine. Are you sure you don’t have anything?”
The landlord apologises again, says they can stop in the cowshed if they want, then gets back to pulling pints.
As it happens, he’s only gone and missed the chance to have the Son of God born in his pub. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

It could have been “The Messiah Suite” this, and “Cots available on request. Why not try the one the Infant Christ slept in?” that. Pull up a barstool and enjoy a Bloody Virgin Mary.
Instead, it’s all shitty reports on Trip Advisor - The Bethlehem sucks, dude. I stayed one night then transferred to a Travelodge - and feminists protesting at the door.
Here comes the man who refused a room to a woman at full term. What a tosser, now that’s a PR disaster, but Charlotte isn’t listening, she’s thinking about turkey stuffing and pheasant plucking and Bill Surname and love unspoken and happiness unrealised, and Rex is singing “Later on we’ll conspire as we dream by the fire, to face unafraid the plans that we made walking in a winter wonderland,” and the wind howls and rain is pouring off the both of them.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Merry Christmas Everybody 

Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, has been upstairs in a meeting all day with War, Pestilence, Famine and Death. A full house. Bored, snooping around her office, I glanced through a glossy magazine left on her desk. The usual dross.
One article bore the headline “100 Killer Dresses For The Christmas Party Season - Nobody Will Be Able To Take Their Eyes Off Your Tits!”
Another read “This Christmas, Give Him One He’ll Thank You For For The Rest Of His Days - Here’s How!”
But then I found an interesting little quiz, which I’ve stolen and reproduced here. Stella had scored 35. I got 17. How will you fare?

The Big “How Christmassy Are You?” Quiz.

1. It’s December 1st. Your Christmas tree has been up and decorated since:
a) One minute past midnight.
b) October.
c) Shit. I must think about buying a Christmas tree.
d) I always mean to do the whole tree thing, but I’m always so busy and never end up getting round to it.
e) Christmas is depressing. Why bother?

2. Christmas is a time for giving. Which of the following best describes you?
a) I love the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping. Christmas markets are adorable.
b) Department stores give me a real sense of belonging, which churchgoing just doesn’t do for me.
c) I buy all my presents on the internet. It’s so stress-free!
d) Shit. I must think about doing some shopping.
e) Consumerism is depressing. Like, big wow, a scarf.

3. OK. You’ve done all your shopping. Time to snuggle up in front of your favourite Christmas movie:
a) It’s A Wonderful Life. It makes me feel all warm inside.
b) The Muppet Christmas Carol. Those critters are so darn cute!
c) Die Hard. Bruce Willis in a vest, shooting stuff. What’s not to like?
d) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase cracks me up!
e) It’s A Wonderful Life is soooo depressing. It’s central premise is that if you’ve no friends then you’re screwed. Why did you have to remind me?

4. You have booked a hair appointment in time for the Christmas Party Season, but when you arrive your usual stylist Gervais is off sick, or more likely at home shagging the arse off his Portuguese boyfriend Ricardo - the lucky spud! - and the only stylist available is a fat work experience girl called Kelly, who smells of bubble gum and has an ASBO. What do you do?
a) Give the kid a chance. Young people have such low self-esteem these days and need all the support we can give them. Everybody was a beginner once!
b) Say you’ve suddenly remembered you have to be elsewhere, and reschedule.
c) Kick up a fuss and demand to be seen by a senior stylist immediately.
d) Boycott the establishment for life.
e) I cut my own hair.

5. The Christmas Party Season is upon us, and tonight it’s the Office Party! How do you feel?
a) It’ll be so much fun to cut loose with my friends and colleagues. I’m going to dance until dawn! Or die trying! LOL!
b) I’m going to be the most drop dead gorgeous woman in the room, and I'll kill any bitch who stands in my way. I’ll dump their pathetic butchered remains out by the kitchen to fester with the potato peelings and turkey carcasses.
c) I’m going to drink myself into oblivion.
d) I’m going to come out.
e) I’m between jobs at the moment.

6. You are now at the Christmas party. Which statement best describes your mood?
a) This is so great! I wish it could be Christmas more often!
b) I wish I’d worn something less tarty. Everybody keeps staring at my boobs.
c) I can’t believe I’m necking with that creepy guy from accounts. Again. I want to stick my head in an oven.
d) The really pretty girl from sales just asked if she could fondle my breasts and I said yes, and she let me fondle hers too. Everything that has ever happened to me in my entire life suddenly makes complete sense. This dress is really working out for me.
e) I’m self employed. I’m partying alone tonight, and Sky is showing Stargate SG-1 series ten. More crisps!

7. It’s the day after the office Christmas party. So how are you?
a) Boy am I hungover, but I’ve managed a full day’s work! Best turn in early tonight!
b) There are dozens of emails circulating the office on the subject of my tits. Whoever invented camera phones wants fucking shooting.
c) The creep from accounts is off today. One word and he dies.
d) The pretty girl from sales wants to take me out this weekend. I said yes. I’m nervous but excited!
e) Ha ha ha! Look at all the boring squares with their boring square office jobs and their boring square lives, all feeling like shit! Ha!

8. What is your most abiding memory of Christmas as a child?
a) Building a snowman with your Mum and Dad and brother and sister on Christmas morning, then enjoying a kids versus grown ups snowball fight.
b) The crunch of wheels against virgin snow and those amazing tyre tracks in your wake, as you and your Dad drive to your Gran’s to bring her over for Christmas day.
c) Gran slipping badly on the garden path, and everybody spending the day in casualty playing Travel Scrabble and trying to keep out of the way of drunks.
d) Seeing Mummy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe, then your Dad comes back from the pub early and catches them at it, and it’s all kicking off, and your Mum is screaming at Santa, “Leave him Trevor, he’s not worth it!” Who the fuck is Trevor?
e) At the age of six, your gift from Uncle Keith is a puppy, completely out of the blue, and everybody’s thinking “Woah! That’s a bit weird,” but no one actually says anything, and you love that little puppy with all your beautiful heart, until it dies after five weeks with kidney failure. It turns out your uncle bought him on the cheap out of a bad batch, but you only learn this years later when he’s in prison.

9. Carol singers arrive at your door.
a) You invite them in for mince pies and enjoy a glass of sherry with the grown ups.
b) You grab your coat and scarf and join them as they serenade the neighbourhood.
c) You endure their useless singing for as long as you can without seeming rude, give them a quid, and hope that they don’t return.
d) You give them a handful of small change and shut the door in their faces.
e) You pretend not to be in, even though it’s patently obvious that you are, because they’re watching you watching telly.

10. The big day has arrived. Happy Christmas! It is now three o’clock in the afternoon.
a) You are listening to the Queen’s Christmas Message on Radio Four, while serving hot meals for the homeless at your local church hall, and trying to put it out of your mind that you really don’t like Christians, and that the homeless can be so downright hostile sometimes, but it’s probably understandable.
b) You pop out to catch the Queen’s Christmas Message on telly, in the bosom of your family, in between washing saucepans and preparing for the next onslaught of eating.
c) You are a militant anti-Royalist, so watch the Alternative Christmas Message on Channel 4, presented by Khadija, a Muslim woman who wears the Niqab.
d) You are too busy running around playing with your nephews and nieces to be paying any attention to the telly.
e) You’ve been on your Play Station for thirty hours solid, and don’t have a clue where you are or what day it is.

How Did You Score?
Award yourself up to four points for each question, as you see appropriate.

41+ You really are Christmassy, aren’t you? Good for you! Now go back and try the maths again.
40-31 The spirits of Christmas move within you! Aren’t you quite the party girl? You are big hearted and vivacious, and everybody wants to touch tummies with you! You are probably a size 8, or 10 at most!
30-21 You have spent your whole life bowing and scraping to the whimsical demands of lifestyle fascists and editors of newspaper think pieces. These people are not your parents - you don’t have to try and impress them all the time. Or any of the time! There is too much dietary roughage in your life. Cut loose, follow your heart and be free! Sprinkle some salt on that turkey!
20-11 Nobody wants to hang out with a grump. Lighten up. Join a club, take up a team sport, learn to like yourself in lycra. Reading books is all very well, but twenty four hours a day? Hop on a bus, go somewhere new, do something crazy to alarm the folks back home.
10-0 Your entire existence is a dark shit hole of misery and despair. Turkeys have more fun at Christmas than you. Dump the self-loathing, it’s time to get jolly! Get out of the house and feel the wind beneath your folds! Decide on a course of action and stick to it this time!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas Time Is Here Again 

“It’s a wall chart with sheep on it,” I said.
Neil, my former team leader, beamed proudly. “Yes it is.”
“You brought me up here to look at a sheep wall chart you got free from a newspaper?”
“Yes I did,” said Neil.

Chaos has reigned ever since Neil took charge of the Help Desk. It’s like one of those experiments conducted by TV producers to observe how children - or in this case, a herd of Help Desk operatives - will respond to life without authority figures.

People flicked wet tissue paper at each other with rulers. Walls, filing cabinets, monitors, most vertical surfaces and many horizontal ones too, all encrusted with dried clots in a variety of pastel shades.
Others listened to their iPods and performed little dance routines.
At the back of the room, two young members of staff were having a snog, while a third was videoing it on his mobile and offering words of encouragement. On a nearby computer, a video of the same couple - presumably filmed not long previously, and still snogging - played on YouTube.

“Take a closer look,” said Neil. “There’s more to it than meets the eye.”
And sure enough, there was. He’d converted the wall chart into an Advent calendar. I opened today’s door - a North Country Cheviot - and revealed a picture of the three wise men offering gifts: gold, frankincense, and a Play Station.

“That’s incredible,” I said.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. We stood in an awkward silence for a few moments. Awkward for me anyway. I noticed that behind previous sheep flaps were a blood orange spiked with cloves (Tuesday) and a bicycle (Monday).
Snogging Couple at the back of the room were becoming frisky and doing something with a streamer.
I had stuff I needed to be cracking on with.

“Well. Bye then,” I said. The conversation was clearly going nowhere.
“Don’t leave without having a mince pie,” he over-enthused, waving a festive plate towards me. “They’re from S&M.”

When the going gets miserable, the miserable get eating, so I took three: one for consuming straightaway, a second for consuming straightaway, and a third for later on, straight after I’d eaten the first two.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter Than You Are 

On a cold, damp Sunday evening when I’d normally be in my PJs and looking forward to a glass of milk and maybe a Wagon Wheel if I’ve been good, we drove to Manchester to see Tom McRae and an assortment of his American hobo friends playing at the Life Café. It was a good show.
They swapped around and changed every couple of songs, taking turns being in each other’s backing band and it worked very well.
With the exception of Tom - not nearly as miserable in the flesh as he is on record; positively chirpy in fact - they all sported that 1849 California Gold Rush look, lots of lank hair and extremely beardy. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to seeing The Band live, musically and follicly, and I enjoyed it a lot.

There can be few sights that lift discouraged spirits better than lady joggers in the morning. There’s a couple I see in tantalising silhouette on my drive into work, and needless to say it’s the highlight of the day. The past few weeks at work have been particularly dismal so I took Friday off because I could and also because I might have exploded otherwise.
In the morning I went for a run, kind of wondering if I might pass my favourite lady joggers, which of course I didn’t, and then spent the rest of the day getting to grips with a musical gizmo I bought two years ago and have never taken the time to get to know properly. “Man tax” indeed. So Friday was good.

Barbershopping is coming along. Lieutenants Fleetwood and Fulwood both asked if I want to attend the convention next Spring. “It’s the highlight of the barbershop year. Old guys get together from all over the country and things get pretty wild.” I said I’d think about it.

At the other singing night I go to, I did a slide guitar version of “The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter Than You Are” which made all the folkies wake up and go “Oooh! Slide guitar!” I always try to spread the joy of open tuning with other guitarists, but it’s generally met with looks of horror - “Good God no! I’m fine with my tuning just as it is, thanks” - like I’m some kind of warped deviant.
It’s as if they’re expressing their small town conservatism through the medium of non-experimental guitar tunings. I find it frustrating - “It’s only DADF#AD! You can’t catch AIDS from it! Try it - you‘ll like it.” - but on the plus side it makes me feel by comparison like some out there creative dude. Clouds, silver linings.

I also played my song about occasional affection based sex. It raised eyebrows in the Conservative Club bar, and one or two blue rinsed old ladies looked like they might keel over with heart attacks, which of course was the whole point. Some of the other singers made encouraging noises about my writing - you should send stuff off, they say, like I was a referee dismissing footballers. Where to? What for? A mini-break in the Cotswolds to soberly reflect upon how naughty they’ve been? - but it was generous of them to say so and it perked me up a bit.

In camera news - man tax again - I’ve been getting to grips with the new whizzy one I promised myself a while ago, which means that Girlfriend has inherited my old one, so everybody’s happy, I think.

Girl in a duffle coat.
Granny’s Bay.
Mum’s front room.
Attic Studio Complex, gizmo familiarisation exercise.

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