Friday, July 25, 2008

Who's Going To Drive You Home Tonight? 

I felt Death’s icy grip on my shoulder as he whispered in my ear, “Tom, do you ever get the feeling that life is passing you by?”

A mean spirited question at the best of times, which this wasn’t.
I was trying to multi-task - updating my New Guitar Savings Fund spreadsheet; investigating a user’s access problem; ListeningAgain to Fags, Mags and Bags; spooning yoghurt into my lap - so really wasn't in the mood for the ghoulish thug's headfuckery.
“No thanks,” I said, picking out waxy bits from my earbud before re-inserting. “I don’t want to join your sponsored skydive. You've got previous.”

He gave me a look then skulked away to bother Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, who in turn spent the rest of the day agonising over the question.
“Is life passing me by? No. Now fuck off,” she replied, over and again, but only after he'd already left the room, half an hour earlier, his evil work done.

She left a message on her friend Becky's voicemail - “Of course I'm not scared. I'm not scared of anything any more” - then another and another, each more panic stricken than the last. It was like watching a dog with its head stuck under a cupboard door. “Come on Becky, pick up! Where are you? Pick up!”

Some find relief from their demons by beating seven shades out of a drum kit or leaving their diaries where they know people will find them. Some keep the devil at bay by staying up all night baking double choc muffins and calling radio phone-ins.
You might find comfort in the bottle or you might hurl yourself out of aeroplanes, but Stella's preferred stress control technique is to give her treadmill a good pounding while yelling along to motivational speeches on her iPod.

“Speak to your customers in a language they understand,” she bellowed. “He who fails to prepare prepares to get going when the going gets richer, the poor get poorer, success begets success, always eat the best banana first. Tra la la, I'm not scared, I'm not scared! Pick up Becky, I'm not scared. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three creepy hippies, four! Look out! Look after the pennies but who's going to look out for me? Who's going to drive me home tonight?”

But it was no good. By afternoon she was curled on the floor, a gibbering wreck, a pitiful excuse for a modern executive. Strewn all around her were self-help books and she sucked on one - “Who's Sorry Now? How To Keep One Step Ahead In Times Of Blame” - the way a baby sucks on the corner of a soft blanket.
Even Ivan the Terribly Thorough with his cheery bon mots and extraordinary bin emptying capabilities couldn't snap her out of it.
“Skydiving is merely proof of the lengths people will go to not to die a coward,” he said.
“Thanks Ivan, but I'm not like everybody else,” she replied, practically sobbing. “I'm not even like me.”

The going home bell rang, Becky finally returned the frantic messages – she'd been training all day in a bank vault, hence the lack of mobile reception – and the world was once more the right side up.
“My friend Becky has forbidden me from doing Death's skydive, Tim,” Stella smiled, relief palpable on her face.

Outside my window Rex the security guard was digging up new potatoes and planting the third, maybe fourth crop of the season. Geraldine the Company X goat cooled her hooves in the Sunken Heart Rose Garden fountain.

“She said 'Well really Stella! Can you honestly see yourself strapped into a parachute? Don't talk so daft!'”
All along the bypass cars honked and buffeted their cargo homewards, while further in the distance the propitious city of Preston glistened in the afternoon sunshine like an explosion in a boob glitter factory.

“My friend Becky says I'm not to go strapping anything on without her direct involvement,” she sighed.
I packed away my briefcase and was about to make my excuses - “I'd love to chat but I have a train to catch, remember?” - but when I looked in her direction she was already half way across the car park, half way to the gates where her friend Becky was waiting to pick her up and take her away from all this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sentimental Journey 

A sentimental journey, and a slow one too, boarding at Lancaster, then calling at Carnforth –
“You’ve been a long way away.”
“Thank you for coming back to me.”
“Yeah yeah. Now just bloody leave it, will you?”

- Wennington, Bentham, Clapham, lovely lovely Giggleswick, Long Preston, Hellifield, Gargrave, pausing twenty minutes while an engineer with a hammer whacked a buckled rail back into shape, then Skipton, Grim Keighley, Bingley, Shipley, before alighting at Leeds.

The dales were heart breakingly beautiful as ever, even more so viewed from a rickety old train carriage, station after dozing station, sultry in the afternoon heat, the sidings a best in show of fox gloves and dog daisies. We rattled past chicken shacks and chimney stacks and billboards for sex toy shops.

In the shiny metropolis we dumped our bags at the hotel, then dawdled round the centre, dropping by for EnormoPizza by the piazza, sunshine blasting through plate glass windows as if from a ray-gun, and background music rudely shoving its way into the foreground. I confess I was a bit grouchy what with the heat and the noise and poor sock selection.
At one end of the restaurant a dozen or more blinged up ladies (Football Managers’ Wives? Thrusting Entrepreneurs?) were enjoying a boozy afternoon, all preposterous handbags and glitzy outfits, raucous and confident, a Beryl Cook or Lucy Pepper made flesh.
Think Sex In The City, but with women who can put away their dinners. Maybe, we wondered, this is how they spend every afternoon.

In the evening we strolled up to the University to watch The National – brooding with bruised tenderness and turbulent passion, much like myself, of course – and they were terrific, ditto.

Morning found us drifting round the shops, but we’re not really the kind of shoppers the developers had in mind, so the experience was kind of wasted on us. It was as if you'd parachuted Anne Atkins into Blackpool Pleasure Beach, slipped her a tenner and told her to go have fun, we'll meet you later in McDonalds.
I mean – shopping? Why on earth do people bother? Having said that, there was a pleasingly odd sort of Japanese Ikea equivalent where I bought a shirt meant for a man more slender, and Girlfriend spent a happy few hours rubbing stationery, but that was about it.

We lunched by the river to the gentle sound of estate agents sobbing and wondering whether they’d ever sell a chic riverside apartment ever again.
Office workers ate sandwiches under a sign that urged “Go throw yourself into the sea,” and we observed the shattered remains of Leonard Cohen’s guitar gently floating downstream but sadly not the man himself.

Then we caught the train and did it the other way round. It was just like being on your holidays.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Born on a Wednesday in a month of afternoons, at the end of a summer that was over too soon.
Oh these are the facts – fold them away, keep them safe in your pocket.
Here is a map - should you lose your way it will guide you home.

Slept with girls! Slept with a boy (twice)! Fell in love.
Made a home out of pure white light.
And there was music everywhere, laughter hanging in the air.
Made some good friends. Never attempted a beard.

You are here, you are here. Stay close to the ones you hold most dear.

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