Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Book Lovers 

I've been blogslapped by diminutive wannabe French chick Petite Anglaise.
I've always considered the solipsistic business of memes and blahblahs to reek of bullying - “You will join in the fun, motherfucker” - and now I'm experiencing it at first hand.
She's since written to apologise and say I don't have to if I don't want to. Yeah right, I know a threat when I see one. Reading between the lines, the message is loud and clear: until I get this post out of the way, I am her bitch.

So, with cheerful voice - I've been tasked with finding the nearest book and typing out sentences six, seven and eight from page 123.

This is what we have been reduced to. Hugh blows the yucca pollen off his blackened shrimp while I push back the sleeves of my borrowed sport coat and search the meat tower for my promised potatoes.
“There they are, right there.”

It's from Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, which I like a lot. It's one of those books where someone always mentions in the reviews “I laughed so much they made me get off the bus,” or something. I recommend it highly.

Now the bit where I attempt blogslapping three others:
Philosophical brainbox Geoff at 40three.
Wildean wit and occasional grump of this parish, Backroads
New favourite blogger, lovely Georgina at Wondering Heights.

Ip, dip, you're it. But obviously, you don't have to if you don't want to.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Charlotte, Bill Surname CEO's loyal PA, scoots round the building in the throes of a mid-week crisis.
“Oh my goodness, oh my kittens and bedsocks! Wednesday already and what have I done with my life?”
She buzzes like a dying wasp on your windowsill, frantic, desperate. You don't know whether to ignore her or do the decent thing, so you go fetch yourself a coffee style drink and sort of cake thing, hoping she'll have fizzled out by the time you get back.

Poor Charlotte - it's a difficult time for her, what with the FTSE dropping out of the sky and runs on the banks, panic on the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee, Humberside, the air thick with the possibility of negative equity and now this: this royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, this biscuit nation awash with ruffians, immigrants and ne'er do wells. Fear stalks the land and we're sinking into the marshes.

In the day she flaps like a parrot on whizz, a squawking blur of stress in a pashmina shawl, clicking manically at a stopwatch, customers fleeing as if from an exploding volcano. She beats them back into the building with her clipboard, the consequences of doing nothing too drastic to contemplate.
Sea levels rising, icecaps melting, to procrastinate is to die.
The woman is a picture of abandonment anxiety, and she's out of control.

At night she self-medicates with Brasso, polishing Bill Surname's money long into the wee small hours.
A labour of love, a life measured out in farthings and guineas, the pounds, shillings and pence of unrequited longing.
Charlotte, we do whatever we must to keep ourselves sane but those sacks of coins sound like prisoners' chains. You've turned into a living ghost.

It wasn't always so.
Once she was wild and carefree and love flowed freely and the living was good, or maybe that was just something on the telly she fell asleep in front of.
She gets so confused these days. I was beautiful and I had choices. A woman with a good figure and a winning smile will always have options.
I'll wash the dishes tomorrow sometime; I'll just finish off this wine. Her eyes roll back into her head and she's gone again.
The dead light of the TV screen scatters like crumbs across her living room carpet.

The lights are all out at Valium Heights. Only the dying embers of the fire keep darkness at bay.
Crumpled Telegraph at his feet, glass of port by his side, Bill Surname's leather armchair squeaks and farts as he dozes restlessly in the library.
“Should have sold in 2000. Bloody fool.”
He dreams of sausages and secret passages behind oak panelled walls, of hidden treasure and missing homework and caned backsides.
“Won't get another offer like that now. Greedy bugger.”

Once there was a girl. What was her name? Christine? Collette? A womanly woman, would have moved Heaven and Earth for you, Old Boy. But you turned her down. Thought you could take your pick.

Rain lashes at the window and something spooks the horses. Away in her enclosure, Geraldine the Company X goat bleats cheerlessly.
“You'll be working 'til you drop, Billy Boy. You've been a bloody fool all your life.”

Beyond that, the datacentre: tape silos clunk and whirl, robots spring to life, backups run, contracts are fulfilled, money is made. Somebody somewhere in the world is waking up, logging on, running a report. A little less memory for the rest of us.

Bill Surname mumbles darkly, shifts in his chair. The last of the ashes burns out.
“Didn't know whether to ignore her or do the decent thing,” he murmurs. “Silly sod. Won't get another offer like that now.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Your Cover's Blown 

The postman delivers my Penguin!!!

Last year I signed a contract with quite famous book publisher Penguin. The arrangement was that in return for letting them use one of my witty comments in one of their books, I would receive a free copy.
The book is Petite Anglaise (Hard Cover) by one Catherine Sanderson.
I'm up to chapter three already and haven't spotted any spelling mistakes yet, which I think is excellent, especially for a first edition. I always knew the girl could write.
Unfortunately the book has a daft girly jacket, which will make it difficult for me to read during my lunch hour without arousing suspicion among colleagues that I read girl's books.
If only they'd consulted me this embarrassing oversight could have been avoided. I'm going to swap it for a book jacket with a picture of a car being blown up, or maybe of a man checking his levels in a manly fashion, perhaps while smoking a pipe.
Despite this obvious flaw I hope it sells truckloads and wish her nothing but well in her exciting new career, etc.

On Sunday me and Girlfriend walked up a hill.
Parlick is good for those out of practice, because of the favourable effort to reward ratio: it's steep but you're at the top in less than half an hour, and the views are something else. It's fell walking for the impatient. On a clear day you can see where you've come from.
On the way up we were overtaken by a chap with a large pack on his back. I chatted to him briefly about thermals but could tell I was holding him back. Here he is flying back down again.
It was so beautiful and peaceful up there; I'd almost forgotten what it's like.

Driving home from work last night the sunset over Granny's Bay was possibly the most spectacular I've ever seen.
Of course I didn't have a camera with me.
It inspired me to return there tonight and I spent a good while trying to capture the car lights swooshing round the corner, the point where the little bay suddenly opens up and reveals itself to you. This is my favourite spot around here and I'm quite pleased with this snap.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Queen Is Dead 

“So can you tell me about your hair?” asks Lisa, who will be my stylist this evening.
She is running her fingers through my luscious flowing locks, prodding my head here, patting it there, checking for texture and unusual bumps.
She wears the expression of the professionally concerned, as if she were a vet presented with a sick piglet. I expect her to ask “And when did you first notice there was a problem?”

“Well,” I say, suddenly aware of my lack of fluency in salon-speak. “It's quite long. I think it needs, erm, shortening.”
I wave my hand in the general direction of the northern hemisphere of my head. “Sort of here, and maybe here too,” I suggest cluelessly. “But I quite like my floppy fringe. Leave that long-ish, if possible. Please.”
My floppy fringe keeps me boyish looking and cute. It is far and away my best feature.

“Don't worry,” she solemnly reassures me. “This is what we're going to do.”
Then she describes how and why she plans to take some of the weight off, and thin it out a bit, and trim around my ears (rather than through them, which is comforting) and fluff and feather and tussle and generally liven things up a bit. I feel like a 1960s living room about to be redecorated.

I think about Dad, who would have run a mile before entering an establishment like this. He'd have been scared stiff.
Never one for parting with money on something he could literally take a good stab at himself, for him the expression 'pudding bowl haircut' meant precisely that. I was eleven years old before I entered my first gentleman's hairdressers', which is how long it took to save up the pocket money.
The archetypal English amateur enthusiast, inventing nuclear fission in his garden shed purely as a cheapskate alternative to buying a microwave, Dad's frugalness even extended to performing his own dentistry.
Lisa orders another cappucino and leads me away to be shampooed.

I would have been twenty two, shy and alone in an unfamiliar town, when I first had my hair professionally washed.
It needed cutting so I stepped into the nearest hairdressers' I found and washing was part of the package. I hated it.
It felt seedy and wrong, as if I'd violated the girl's space and she'd violated mine. An unwelcome incursion into my comfort zone. It felt like one small step away from paying for sexual favours.

Now I'm older and more self-assured, and I'm neither disgusted nor excited by the thought of a stranger washing my hair.
Which isn't to say that I don't quite like it, because I do. It's relaxing. And the remote controlled chair that massages your back, as if there was a dwarf running up and down inside the padding, is relaxing and kind of fun too.
I've merely stopped over-processing the political implications.

I began coming here about a year ago, mainly because I was curious to see for myself the difference between a £5 haircut and a £35 one. It's a bit like when you try your first expensive bottle of wine, to see if there really can be a justification in that Bloody Hell! How Much??? price hike.
And do you know what? I think you can notice the difference. For one thing, young women try to cop off with you at Air gigs, which is worth thirty five quid of anybody's money.

“When did you last have it cut?” asks Lisa and I can't remember. Five months? Six? I've let it grow quite long this time, again out of curiosity.

On a good morning, if I've managed to apply the unguents correctly, I look ravishing. Stallionesque. Handsome beyond belief. Ladies and gentlemen of all persuasions - quite frankly you would. I'm the stuff of your wildest dreams.
By the time I reach the office, its already starting to unravel. These wet and windy winter mornings aren't kind to one of such coiffeured excellence. I'm dishevelled and not in a good way.
By lunchtime I'm a sociopath. My boyishly floppy fringe has become a greasy, menacing seventies style side parting. In huge tabloid font it screams the words Serial Killer. Don't let this man into your homes, your schools, your neighbourhoods. Call the police and do not approach.
I am more Fred West than George Best, the stuff of your parents' nightmares, and this is what Lisa is here to fix, although I don't put it to her in so many words.

She snips and I sip my coffee and we burble contentedly about holiday plans and our respective employers and traffic congestion in and out of Preston.
This is what I've learned from my year in thirty five quid haircuts: I've had male stylists and female stylists, and none of them ever give you what you ask for. They just do what they were going to do anyway. I've come to the conclusion that they are simply projecting onto you the hairstyles they wish their boyfriends had.

I look into the mirror and it's all gone. My boyishness, my devilish charm, my rakish fringe all vanished, gone somewhere nice on it's holidays, won't be back for a good few weeks at least. Floor sweepings.

Lisa asks how I like it and I say “Great thanks,” hand her my credit card and she books me in for another appointment three months from now.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bright Lights, Big City 

We don't go in for socialising at Company X so I get my 'works night out' kicks by going out with Girlfriend's lot. That's fine because they're now my friends too so it doesn't feel awkward or anything.
They went bowling after work last night, a group taking in the whole office rather than just my circle of pals. Girlfriend had opted out, and I didn't fancy going on my own and having people wonder who the hell was this unaccompanied stranger gatecrashing their bowling fun.
Juggling Protege was in a similar boat, so we arranged to have our own non-works night out and let people join us if they wanted, and it worked pretty well. JP and Charlie met me in favoured Preston pub, and we went for pizza and caught up.

JP has discovered the joys of nighttime photography, especially liking the bit where car headlights appear as long ribbons of light, so we've agreed to have a tripod night in Liverpool sometime.
Charlie was her usual perky self. She said they did darkroom theory at college but not practice, which is missing the point slightly.
I was brought up the hard way, spending gazillions of hours dodging and burning and producing test strips, playing Russian roulette with dermatitis in blacked out rooms. I said I didn't think she'd missed much.

Back in favoured pub we were joined by the others, giddy with post-bowling excitement. Leanne, Fairly Famous Actor and Gareth had had their picture taken in an automatic pencil style portrait booth. It wasn't exactly flattering. “Scarf? That's not a scarf. That's one of my chins.”

Leanne lamented how going to work isn't fun like it used to be. She and Harriet are going to San Diego later this year. “I never knew going out with someone could be so easy,” she said.
Canoeing Instructor is dietting and looking well on it.
I finally met the much discussed Mrs. Gareth of Gareth and Mrs. Gareth fame. She was more mumsy than I'd imagined, less flighty. From this sighting, I got the impression he was her little boy.

On the last train home FFA – like myself, a little under the influence by now – told me how hard it can be getting anything theatrical off the ground in Blackpool. He admitted that, to a greater or lesser extent, the amateur dramatics thing is about hoping to meet women. Which is fair enough. He said he was off to a meeting the next day for some new venture a friend is launching. He's keeping optimistic.

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