Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The tall, elegant spire of St. Walburge’s RC perches on the Preston skyline like an upturned drawing pin placed on a teacher’s chair.
It’s as if the whole town is in on the joke, cheekily waiting for God to blow grandly into the room, take his seat and receive an unpleasant surprise. We are a jovial people.
Road works spring up like molehills here, there and everywhere, choking the daily migration. Wherever you’re going, you’d be quicker walking and besides, it’s so beautiful out there – make the most of it because you know this can’t last forever.
The chewing gum aromas of sugar and diesel fumes fill the air, as girls parade up and down Fishergate in their summer skins and gangs of swarthy boys congregate on corners, showing their appreciation. Everything speaks of the fun fair.
Outside my window, closer still, cotton candy swatches of blossom, pink and white, cherry and apple, rim the car park. Rex the Security Guard plants sweet peas and nasturtiums by the data centre trellis, while Geraldine the Company X goat basks on the croquet lawn in the unexpected sunshine. Twenty degrees yesterday. Warmer still today, they’re saying.

Terry and Mike are scrutinising the Championship table.
“I’ll bet you a pound to a pinch of shit North End don’t make the play-offs,” says Terry.
Mike grunts.
“Every fucking season,” says Terry. “We get within a midge’s dick of promotion, then piss it away last minute.”
Mike stares at his monitor, cool as AC. “Best odds you’ll get anywhere,” he grumbles. He’s an expert at this. Eventually Terry wavers, peels a twenty pound note from his wallet and places his wager.
“You’re killing me, Mike,” he mutters as he walks back to his desk, resentful of his own weakness. “Fucking killing me.”

In her room, Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, is in a meeting with Creepy Keith from Accounts.
“So let me check I’ve understood this correctly,” she asks.
“Shoot,” he replies.
“A bouncer broke your arm?”
“A bouncer at a Women Only disco?”
“That’s right,” Keith confirms. “I said, ‘Let me in Bitch, I’m a feminist.’ And that’s when she broke it.”
“And this was because you'd seen Advantage going in?” asks Stella. There's no hint of glee in her inflection, absolutely none. Oh alright, just a large one.
“I said ‘I’ve read more Virginia Woolf than you’ve had hotpot suppers. And I'm guessing you've had a few.’” He wheezes for a moment. “The pain was indescribable.”

I can hear Stella Facebooking away at her keyboard for a minute or so, and then she asks, “But I thought it was all back on between you and Advantage?”
“So did I. It was on again, then off again, then the last I knew we were on again,” he answers. “Went to IKEA on Friday, so we must have been.”
“Tea candles?”
“Clip frames. Anyway, she said she was out on Saturday with her friend Valerie, and I happened to see them, didn't I? So I wanted to talk to her.”
“Valerie, did you say? Chunky lass? Green hair? Walks with a limp?”
“You know her?” asks Keith.
“Valerie Average? Bloody hell, Keith! Everybody knows Big Value Valerie!” The Facebooking starts again in earnest. “My friend Becky will ROFL her arse off when she hears this! Advantage and Valerie Average! Classic!”

At lunchtime I forget that the lady at the gate with the dreamy soft white baps is on holiday, so I just carry on walking, down to the wildflower meadows which are drying out a little now, and along the Ribble for a while, avoiding the cow pats and the humping help desk operatives as best I can, then back through town, the sunshine warm on my face, past the business parks and shopping centres, the tyre exchanges and discount carpet warehouses, the heaving car parks and office blocks, the queues of traffic going nowhere, radios blasting, engines overheating, as if that was what I'd intended to do all along. I'm bloody starving when I get back so I have a Magnum instead.

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