Monday, October 31, 2005

The Piano Man arrived.

Seeing that my piano is so old and so important, I had seen fit to engage one of the leading Piano Men in the country. I checked his credentials carefully. The GIF image of a piano on his website seemed plausible enough, so I invited him for an initial consultation.

Terribly well-spokenly, he introduced himself with the flourish of a man to whom flourishy introductions come with ease. I sort of said 'hullo' in return, and we had one of those awkward waiting-for-the-kettle-to-boil chats. He seemed like a thoroughly nice chap. Suitably beNescafed, I led him through to the object of his assignation.

"Oh my goodness, what a simply wonderful piano!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, I..."

"Wonderful! Beautiful!"

"It's been in my family for..."

"Let's look inside. Oh! Gracious! This is marvellous!" He ran his finger over the mahogany like one about to tuck fifty quid into its garter.

"Yes, it's..."

But it was no good. He was transfixed and lost in pianoland. I watched as he undressed the resigned instrument, disrobing it of swathes of panelling until its innards were exposed and vulnerable. With expertly probing fingers he worked gently away at its strings, feeling its felts, squeezing the dampers, uttering little cries of satisfaction at each turn.

At some point I thought I should butt in again.

"So how much do you reckon?" I asked, cutting straight to the chase.

"Ah - well it's in beautiful, beautiful condition. Beautiful. But - there are things that are wrong and that need a complete overhaul or replacing."

"So how much do you reckon?" I asked.

"But on the whole, a beautiful instrument. So rare to find one like this."

"So how much do you reckon?" I asked.

"Well," he pondered. "You could skimp slightly on one or two things. But some aspects do need doing urgently."

"Like what?" I enquired. The answer he gave was a bit like when you get up to about the letter 'M' of that 'I went to the Supermarket and I bought..." game, but with things that can go wrong with a piano.

So how much do you reckon?" I asked. By this point I wasn't actually sure whether it was me speaking that phrase, or whether my voice had been sampled for a rap music track.

"Hummmm..." he said.

"Yes...?" I asked.

"Well the transport from here will be around sixty pounds," he offered finally. "I'll try to get it cheaper for you, but I think we'd better allow about sixty pounds. Just to be safe. So that's [draws breath, frowns, thinks, uses fingers as counting device] mutter mutter sixty pounds mutter mutter possibly cheaper mutter no sixty pounds mutter mutter...

"Around five thousand pounds," he concluded.

"Righhhhhht," I said. I could hear the other items of furniture laughing from the other room.

I did some sums in my head whilst he re-dressed the piano. I often don't read the newspaper on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. That would save one pound 20p a week. I am no good at maths but I knew it would take me ages to save up.

We chatted cordially before he took his leave. I promised to call him with my decision.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Piano Man arrived.

My piano, squatting in the corner of our tiny dining room, is now in a sorry, sorry state. The notes that used to go 'plink' now go 'plunk'. Some notes don't even do that, and go 'bofff' or '      '.

It is most inconvenient if you are a serious musician. You will be sitting there, attempting to sing and play a beautiful song in order to entertain your LTLP and it will go a bit like this:

Hey Jude, don't be a      ; you were made to go out and bofff her; remember to     her into your      ; then you begin to bofff it bofffher.

This is unsatisfactory, especially when she starts shouting 'shutup shutup shutup the baby is kicking'.

It was made by a posh company called John Brinsmead in around 1901 and has had a lot of famous things written on it, the most well-known of which being 'Sally in Our Alley' which, for younger readers, is not a pornographic film but an annoying song by Gracie Fields. Now it has passed down to another celebrity creative artiste owner i.e. me, JonnyB, and I want to do the best by it.

The 'soft' pedal is hanging off completely now, although I've never really been interested in the 'soft' pedal, which seems to go against the whole idea of pushing your piano up against the party wall. Some of the ivory covers have snapped off the keys as well.

This is going to be annoying, as it's now a bit passe to shoot elephants, even old elephants who don't have much of a quality of life and are just going to be a burden on African society, which really doesn't need any more problems according to experts like Bob Geldof and Toto. I might end up having to use thin bits of wood veneer and Tippex.

But first I thought I would take some expert advice. So I called the Piano Man.

Continued on Monday.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The farmers' market is the highlight of our month.

That sentence probably explains everything about how my life didn't quite turn out as I expected. But it's really good. Honest. There is all different sorts of meat. And when you are bored with the meat you can look at the vegetables.

We stand there, munching our hot dogs, produce voyeurs. "Morning Jonny," says Vegetable Stall #1 Owner, from behind his beard.

Farmers' markets have become extremely popular in the past couple of years, as people have realised the essential rubbishness of fresh supermarket food, viz - it doesn't taste of anything. Plus it is good way of supporting your neighbours. Plus going along makes you feel smug.

But in fact the smug factor is pretty well entirely absent here. I attended the big market in Borough (note to foreigner readers - this is in London and has some pubs) some years back. It was full of people who'd read about it in the Sunday Supplements and had turned up as a day out to purchase a single organic veal and sun-dried tomato pie and a small loaf of 'craft bread'. Here, everybody is here for their weekly shop, and stocking up the freezer for the future.

"Hullo," I say to Meat Stall That Does Mainly Lamb Man. "Hello!" he replies.

A maypole has been set up in the corner of the square, and some children are dancing around it. Even this doesn't spoil my mood. Although I can't quite work out the chronological aspect.

I watch them dancing for a few minutes (not in a pervy way). I am pleased that they and their parents are enjoying it, but as entertainment it is not for me. If you want dancing children then you can say what you like about their appalling human rights record, but as a society we should just accept that North Korea does it better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

There will be no journal entry today, as I am sulking.

(via Salvadore Vincent)

Monday, October 24, 2005

There is a knock on the door!!!

I breathe deeply before I go to answer it, as this time I know very well who the knocker is. In fact, I have been sitting patiently waiting all day, with my hair gelled into a trendy fashion and my best shirt on.

I subtly peek through the curtains to see the van parked in the lane. I am right!!! It is the Vegetable Delivery Lady on her last ever day at work.

I take a deep breath. Then another deep breath. Then I stand up and walk slowly to the door. My heart is pounding a bit as I walk through the kitchen, so I take another couple of deep breaths to compensate.

It is important to avoid a scene. Much as I like the foxy Vegetable Delivery Lady, we must both keep a stiff upper lip about our parting. I hope that she does not do anything foolish that we will both regret later.

Wearing a grin that is both welcoming and wolfish, and still breathing hard, I throw open the door.

"Hi!!!" I purr, adopting a cool leaning position on the doorframe.

"Hello!" she replies. "Here you go."

She hands me my vegetable box which entails unadopting my leaning position. I breathe a bit more to compensate.

"Oooh they look good this week!" I enthuse.

"I'll see you later, then." She turns and steps away, playing it cool.

"Hang on!!!" I shout at her.

"What?" she asks, looking back and glancing at her watch, to check how much time we will have together.

"Hullo!!!" exclaims Short Tony, appearing from round the corner, and bounding insensitively into our Special Moment. It is like being on that 'Neighbours from Hell' programme on the telly. I shoo him inside, in some irritation.

"See ya then!" the Vegetable Delivery Lady waves from the van.

I wave morosely and stomp back into the house.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Short Tony opened the door in some bleariness.

"Would you like a sausage sandwich?" I asked.

His face lit up, like a spaniel discovering a lower-than-expected tax bill. "Not half," he said.

"Great. Have you got any bread?"

Truth be told, we are both feeling slightly fragile this morning. A magnificent dinner was held at the Village Pub last night, in honour of Trafalgar Day. Here in the village we are scrupulous about honouring our local historical heroes. Admittedly, we got the date wrong, but that is a minor point.

Being very tight, we didn't actually attend the magnificent dinner, but instead sat at the bar and befriended the Chef, who, in collusion with the Well-Spoken Barman, smuggled us out some roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Lord Nelson is an extremely important person, as if it wasn't for him we would all be French, and look where that would have got us. As it was, here we were centuries later, still free to sit in the pub and eat roast beef and drink Stella.

Nelson, very much like Ronnie Barker, touched the lives of all of us and it is good that we made the effort to go to the pub. Community spirit and neighbourly acts are alive and well in England today, e.g. my kind offer to make Short Tony's breakfast.

I scooted back to the cottage, to see if the LTLP had finished cooking our sausages.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Waves of indifference radiated from her every fibre as I pointed out my difficulty.

From some unspecified overseas location, she had the air of one who had been promised an interesting and lucrative job in the sex industry only to find herself being forcibly trafficked into the provincial hotel reception business.

"It doesn't lock, you see. It does look to me that somebody has kicked it down recently and it hasn't been mended. In fact the whole door frame is hanging off."

"I'll get someone to look at it," she said, in a tone that made me want to sprint off down to William Hill and put a tenner on the 'David Cameron/Nobody will look at our hotel room door' accumulator.

We pulled the door as shut as we could, consumed our hotel breakfast, and made our way into the beautiful market town of Ludlow.

Ludlow is a very notable place, most famous for being the headquarters of 'Crash' computer magazine in the 1980s. We explored the castle and shops, mainly the food shops, until sudden and unexpected explosive diarrhoea forced a curtailment.

It would have been nice to have spent an extra day exploring, but I'd forgotten to book the hotel for the third night. Still, this allowed the Pneumatic Drill man to continue digging up the concrete outside our bedroom window in peace.

We returned home, refreshed after our small break in the country.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I am going away!!!

On holiday.

I shall be back at the end of next week. Thank you for your patience and continued interest.

Friday, October 14, 2005

We go to the Hospital.

This is because they need to scan periodically to check that the baby is still in the LTLP, rather than because I am ill, e.g. with the lurgee. Although I have been coughing and sniffling over the past few days.

I think I might have had that avian flu thing, or maybe the 1918 Spanish version that they recently re-created in an American Government laboratory, despite security fears that it might be stolen and fall into the hands of fundamentalists and warmongers (note sophisticated political satire, truly I am the Peter Cook of my generation). Mothers-to-be glare at me and cover their bumps as I spread infection and phlegm round the waiting room.

The Stenographer Lady works at her black and white screen, cheerful as always, although I would be as well if my job was just like sitting down and playing 1980's arcade game 'Asteroids' all day, but for free and with women undressing. She does lots of measuring. Then she turns to us and breaks the news.

My baby has a big head!!!

Whereas the child itself is developed as is normal for (x) weeks, his/her head is of the dimensions that is normal for (x+1) weeks!!! I stagger back at the revelation.

It has already been demonstrated, very early in this body of writing, that I - its father - do not have a big head. Yet here is this woman - a professional - demonstrating large headdom in my infant.

I steal a glance at the LTLP. She does not look guilty and unfaithful. But if she has been secretly having affairs with large-headed men behind my back then I will be cross.

I ponder this on the way home, all sorts of thoughts going round my (normal sized) mind.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I cooked an oxtail.

Being, as I am, an extraordinarily new new-man, I have always prided myself on the scrumptious fare that awaits the LTLP on her return from work. However, one thing that has transpired over the past year or so is that I have forgotten how to cook.

Circumstances, you see. For weeks on end, she wanted nothing but bacon and tomatoes on toast. Then I found myself on crutches and unable to glide round the kitchen with my usual fernbrittanness. Then I got really busy and didn't have time. Plus I really, really like takeaways.

So I cooked an oxtail. I did this because a) it's apparently quite trendy these days; b) it caught my eye in the shop; and c) I've never done it before and one should try new things. Which sound like sound and reasonable enough reasons, until you realise that they're the sort of tempting arguments that can lead to a) growing a goatee; b) buying 'Zoo' magazine; and c) being arrested in the playground.

And so it was that five hours later I was scraping a plate furiously into the bin and ringing the Chinese Pub to source emergency rations.

There are several pointers one can examine to decide whether a meal is worth eating. One is that you should not be able to turn your plate one hundred and eighty degrees vertically so that it is completely upside-down, without your dinner accordingly obeying the force of gravity. As it was, a combination of gelatine and sci-fi strength surface tension conspired to offer an unappetising V-sign to the laws of physics.

A second is this. If one tries a bit of the gravy during the cooking process, and swills it round the mouth thoughtfully, thinking: "gosh that reminds me of something!" then five minutes later the revelation should not be: "oh yes, a Fray Bentos pie".

I yield to no man in my admiration of the great chefs who have put traditional English cooking on the map recently: Fearnley-Whittingstall, Henderson, Harriot. But the fact is that people ate peasant food in the past because they were peasants. Boiled pig's cock and the like were the only options available for the poor downtrodden masses in Walpole's Britain, and reviving it as gourmet is the affectation of an idiot.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Continued from yesterday...

Chigga Chigga

Chig Chig Chig Chig Chig

I swayed slightly. "It'll have to be the Proclaimers one," I hiss. The Chipper Barman, who has just finished work and is therefore very sober, gives me a Look.

To recap. A normal evening in the village. I am at a party, being thrown by the Drumming Barman for his friends. Having agreed to back the Drumming Barman in some musical entertainment, he disappears to take a phone call and I find myself glassy-eyed, standing in front of a crowd of people I don't know, one of whom I have already accidentally exposed myself to, playing the introduction to one of the only two songs I can remember when drunk: 'I will be (500 Miles)' by The Proclaimers.

Chig Chig Chig Chig Chig Chig Chig

The Chipper Barman joins in on bass. Bom Bom Bom Bom

I remember something important.

"Are there any people from Scotland here?" I mumble in to the microphone.

No response. A few bemused shakes of the head. This is good. If one is going to sing a Proclaimers song, one has to affect a broad Scottish accent. It is not quite the same as blacking up to sing 'What's Going On', but the principle is broadly similar.

"Oh good," I affirm.

Chig Chig Chig Cha-Cha Chig Chig Chig

I steal a glance behind me. The Drumming Barman has disappeared completely. We have been Chigging for a good two minutes now, and there is no sign of any miracle escape. There is nothing for it.

I sing the first verse of 'I will be (500 Miles)' by The Proclaimers.

I then sing the chorus.

Two things transpire from this. Firstly, when I say 'I know the song', it turns out that I kind of know the chorus and the dadilee-ada bit, and the fact that the first verse is something about waking up, but that is really the extent of my lyrical knowledge. I improvise.

The second thing is that the chorus really does draw its power from two magnificent voices in close harmony. In the original.

I sing the dadilee-ada bit. Some people sing 'dadilee-ada' back at me, which is encouraging. I sing it again and it happens again. The first bit is over.

Chig Chig Chig Cha-Cha Chig Chig Chig

I steal a look at the Chipper Barman, who gives me a shrug and melts further back into the shadows. Another desperate glance over my shoulder. I can see the Drumming Barman outside, on the phone. He is clearly involved in a long conversation.

I sort of extend the bit between the verses with some more Chigs. The problem is, it's not one of those songs that you can pad out. There isn't a guitar solo, or an improvisey bit, or anything like that. It's too tight. I look into the crowd. People are clearly growing restless with my Chigs.

I sing the first verse again, followed by the chorus. Then the dadilee-ada bit. I get some dadilee-adas back. For safety reasons, I sing the dadilee-ada bit a few more times. Unfortunately dadilee-adas seem to be subject to a law of diminishing returns and before too long we are all back to the Chig Chig bits. The Chig Chig bits never really had any cachet to begin with, but they allow me to pause and collect my thoughts.

The Chipper Barman stands there, impassively. Bom Bom Bom Ba Ba Bom Bom Bom. There is still no sign of the Drumming Barman, and his guests are starting to question the value of the entertainment on offer. The wine has really hit me now, but despite it all, I have a brainwave.

I sing the first verse of 'I will be (500 Miles)' by The Proclaimers.

I am providing the only noise in the room at all. The chorus, again, goes badly until the very end, when there is a little cheer. I knew I would win them over in the end!!! But it is not for me - the Drumming Barman has reappeared through the patio doors behind me.

Just in time for the dadilee-adas. He is such a glory boy. We finish on a crescendo and there is a smattering of applause.

"Sorry chaps," says the Drumming Barman. "Right. Shall we do a song?"

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The guests at the Drumming Barman's leaving party gathered round, expectantly.

I fiddled with a guitar lead, somewhat nervously. I'd envisaged slightly different scenarios for the Village Pub Band's debut gig.

As it was, that expectation threw me. When one is slightly unprepared, one looks for familiar faces in the room who will like you because they're your friend, rather than because you are brilliant. Aside from Short Tony and Big A, there was nobody I knew. All strangers, mates of the Drumming Barman, waiting to be impressed by his musician buddies. Beside me, the Chipper Barman tuned his bass guitar, similarly on his own in the room.

It would be up to the Drumming Barman to carry this one.

Thinking back, the phrase 'slightly unprepared' might have been understatement. We hadn't rehearsed at all. Or met beforehand. Or talked about what songs we knew. Small matters, I know, but ones which most competent pop groups would have had sorted before the house lights went down.

As noted on Monday, I was also quite drunk, having downed several pints, several more glasses of wine and exposed myself to a blonde female lawyer.

I have a bit of a problem with drinking and playing the guitar. That is - and I am sure this is the sole reason why my pop career never took off - when I'm drunk I can only ever remember two songs. This would be limiting enough as it was. The fact that my two songs are 'Ain't No Pleasing You' by Chas 'n' Dave and 'I will be (500 Miles)' by the Proclaimers, does tend to restrict me to niche audiences.

"What are we going to play?" hissed the Chipper Barman.

I dropped my guitar pick and scrabbled around on the floor whilst the Drumming Barman worked the crowd. He's a popular chap. With myself and the Chipper Barman as his backing band, we could possibly carry things off with the force of his personality. I started playing a chord. Chigga Chigga. Chigga Chigga. Some applause. The room focused on the Drumming Barman, oozles of goodwill coming from all his friends.

Chigga Chigga. Chigga Chigga.

"Phone call for the Drumming Barman," somebody announced.

"Won't be a second, chaps," he promised, and disappeared from the room.

Chigga Chigga.

The crowd turned to us. Expectation. A couple of them folded their arms. I exchanged a glance with the Chipper Barman. Silence.

Chigga Chigga.

Continued tomorrow.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I could see that she was impressed by my sophistication.

We stood in the kitchen at the Drumming Barman's leaving party, chatting. I was doing most of the chatting, anyway. I do like a good listener.

Despite being quite shy, I am actually very witty and urbane in real life, and in fact get more witty and more urbane with each glass of wine I drink, until I am so witty and so urbane that I just get overcome and have to have a lie down.

The foxy blonde lawyer laughed uproariously at one of my jokes. Actually, she laughed quite quietly and understatedly, being too classy to really roar like most people do when I say something witty. Her eyes darted round the room nervously, probably due to worry that she was making it too obvious that she was interested in me.

I metaphorically adjusted my tie. It is unusual that I find someone like me to talk to who oozes class and breeding. Short Tony and Big A swigged beer like the peasants that they are. I sipped my Blossom Hill with suavity.

All this made the later misunderstanding so much more annoying. Clearly it was not my fault that I broke the toilet door, nor was it down to me that the locky bit was a bit rubbish in the first place. The fact that my stomach had got a bit dodgy was down to the forces of nature, and one can blame a lack of communication for the 'if the door's shut, don't go in' protocol not to have been spread and adopted by all.

"Oh God, I'm really, so, so, sorry," she stammered.

I gazed up at her glassily, swaying slightly from side to side, wondering what to say, my pants round my ankles.

She backed away and pulled the door to.

We didn't speak again that evening.

This small story tails off here, but I had to write it anyway for one reason.

I have always wanted to use the phrase 'my pants around my ankles' without having to follow it with '(actually that was a joke)'.

In fact that was my one remaining ambition in life.

Where do I go now?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

2005: Blogged. As advertised on the right hand side. Now available to pre-order from Amazon.

Edited by Tim, who has occasionally said very nice things about this small body of work, it's a sort of anthology on the main events of the past year and what blog people wrote about them. Well that's how I understand it, anyway. I haven't actually read it yet.

Its specific 'in the news' subject matter means that its main contributors will (I guess) tend to be those people that mainly write about national current affairs and events etc., rather than mainly about their own lives and relationships. There is possibly a sister volume to be written on that front that would be at least as interesting.

Anyway, I have a bit in it, probably as some light relief. A bit like when Shakespeare brought on the thicko idiot characters to lighten the mood a bit when the heroine was faced with execution. It's not new material (you can read it for free here (what a great salesman I am)) but it's on proper paper and stuff.