Saturday, October 30, 2004

Move along. There's nothing to see.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Like many people, I was sad to hear that John Peel had died.

He really was an icon. He used to play really good classic rock stuff, like the Undertones and Pink Floyd and New Order.

Obviously I haven't listened to his show since I was a teenager. I heard it a few months ago and he was putting on records by bands that I'd never heard of, which was very annoying. But truly I felt that I was his number one fan.

KLFM is our local radio station, and we have nobody at all like Mr. Peel. Even Sonia, the traffic announcer who used to send me secret coded messages in her reports, doesn't seem to work there any more.

I am hungover and keep being sick.

Update - two hours later.

As I don't write at the weekends, I always try to make a special effort to do something good on Fridays.

On close reflection, I feel that perhaps I haven't achieved this today.

I'm feeling a bit better now. Enjoy your weekends, everyone.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

There is a knock at the door!!!

It’s the wrong door, however. Some fool is knocking at the disused front door.

But this is exciting. It means that there is a New Person who might be my friend.

I throw open the window and lean out anxiously. First impressions are not good and I think it might not be a potential new friend after all. It is a man with long hair who is not Robert Plant.

“Hello?” I enquire, making sure that I am still friendly even after my crushing disappointment.

“Hello, I’m the milkman. I was wondering if you would like your milk delivered in the mornings.”

I studied my visitor carefully. He did have a sort of milkman’s outfit on, and a Dairy Crest badge. I thought of asking him for some form of ID, as you read stories about bogus milkmen conning pensioners out of their life savings by charging them £8000 to fix a roof tile. But he seemed plausible enough.

The thing is, I would quite like my milk delivered in the mornings. I don’t really drink much milk, but it seems like a nice thing to happen. It would be another connection to that sort of traditional English idyll that I’m searching for – a Cheerful Milkman whistling as he saunters up the drive to bring me my two pints of silver top.

I’m sure, however, that if you actually looked at the history, the traditional English milkman probably only goes back to about 1963 and originally came from Germany.

The clincher was this. I get my milk and newspaper and everything from the Village Shop. If I didn’t need to go out to the Village Shop every morning then I wouldn’t see anybody during the day. Nobody. Not a soul. Then I would go mad.

“I’m sorry,” I reply. “I get my milk from the Village Shop.”

“It’d be a lot easier to get it delivered,” he counters.

“It’s only two hundred yards up the road!”

“We do eggs too. And butter. And orange juice.”

But I was resolute. His high-pressure sales tactics had only served to confirm my gut feeling. I will buy my milk from the Village Shop, and not from Dairy Crest, who are clearly an Evil Corporation.

I am glad I was talking to him out of the window, as his next tactic would probably have been to jam his foot in the door. But he would have looked foolish if he’d have tried to jam his foot in the window and sold me dairy products whilst hopping around with his leg in the air.

He shrugged and made his way next door.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I stand in the lounge, contemplating the big pile of ironing.

Already I have placed a couple of mugs in the dishwasher and put some washing on. Honestly, a woman’s work is never done.

“Mind if I put a CD on?” I call out to the LTLP, who is working in the other room.

“As long as it isn’t Leonard Cohen,” comes the ever-familiar reply.

I put on my CD of banjo music.

If you are doing something like ironing, it always helps to put fast-tempo feelgood music on, as it helps you complete the task quickly.

The first couple of bars ring out. There is a snort from the other room. She is clearly very enthusiastic.

Banjo music is great. The iron whooshes across the board as I holler along with the boys from the Arizona Smoke Revue. “Whooooooaaaa!!!!” we sing. “You can HEAR the whistle BLOW a hundred miles!!!!” At this, I blow some steam out of the bottom of the iron, as a special effect.

Listening to banjo music is a bit like dressing up in women’s clothing and masturbating in front of ‘Bargain Hunt’. Everybody does it, but nobody ever admits to it. Some people are way too cool to say they like banjo music, but if I came round to your house with a banjo that I had learnt to play and a couple of mates also with instruments that they were reasonably proficient on, then you’d start tapping your feet, definitely. Especially if you’d had a couple of beers. Honestly, we would have a great time.

The LTLP is very quiet as I iron her shirts and sing along with the banjo music.

I expect she is thinking that she is the luckiest woman alive.

Monday, October 25, 2004

I didn’t sleep well last night. I am tired and I am getting old.

I guess it happens to us all. I knew I’d reached a certain point in my life the other day – an old episode of ‘The Good Life’ was on and I realised that I’d rather shag Margot than Barbara.

And even at my gentle pace, I seem to have badly hurt my elbow playing tennis. I guess there’s a name for this condition. Whatever. It aches.

But the main thing is that I constantly have to get up during the night to go for a wee wee.

I went to see the the doctor about it. He said something along the lines of ‘Christ, me too! Bloody inconvenient, isn’t it?’ then tested me to make sure I wasn’t diabetic (I’m not). So that didn’t help much, apart from the not being diabetic reassurance – and even that wasn’t much of a step forward, as he was the one that had just mentioned the possibility to me in the first place.

I could try to minimise the problem by taking a bucket to bed with me, or by moving to a house where the bathroom isn’t downstairs and an obstacle course away.

I did think of giving up drinking. But presumably I would then die of thirst.

Or I guess I could buy loads of electrical items and shoes and stuff, then throw them away but keep the little sachets of silica gel that come in the packaging. If I could collect a couple of hundred, I could pack them all into my pants before I go to bed at night then not worry about having to get up at all. In the morning I could put them in the tumble-drier ready for re-use.

That sounds expensive. But I am knackered and will try anything.

Friday, October 22, 2004

I have a new wall in my loft.

It’s stark and brutal – plain breezeblocks – like the cover of a fair-to-middling Pink Floyd album.

As I gaze at it, I get some mysterious urge to bitterly rage against English society, stifling mothers and vicious ex-wives, and dubiously project blame onto them for the futile death of my father during the Second World War, whilst moaning about what a drag it is being popular, loved and adored by obsessive fans.

Then I realise that I don’t have an ex-wife and my dad’s alive and well and living in Essex, so this would be foolish.

Pondering the wisdom of basing a key joke on an obscure music reference that most people won’t understand, I wander back downstairs to the lounge.

I am a bit down, as I still can’t try the chimney again. Which means that I can’t use my new grate, as made by the local blacksmith. It’s a gargantuan iron construction that weighs several hundredweight, and incorporates all sorts of spikes and crenellations. It sits there sadly, waiting to be useful.

He also made me an iron curtain pole, which I pick up and study. It is genetically impossible for a male to hold any pole-shaped thing without performing some form of Luke Skywalker lightsabre wafts, so I play with it for a bit. Whoosh! Thrust!

Again, it’s massively heavy and solid. If I should ever discover a burglar, I have a hidden secret weapon – I will snatch it off the wall to defend my property.

Although I had better be careful. I have no wish to become the Tony Martin of haberdashery.

When the cement round the chimney stack dries, I'll know whether I can have a fire or not.

Until then, it's starting to get cold.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Cheerful Builder has returned!!!


He has a new car and has been on holiday since I last engaged him, but it was very good to see his face again. Or, indeed, anybody’s face.

I explained the problem to him – viz, the loft would currently be very useful should I wish to open a haddock smokery. But as a conventional storage area it is currently under-par.

He winced, in his Cheerful Builder-like fashion, and started to mix up some cement-stuff to cover the cracks in the chimney stack. I put the kettle on.

The Cheerful Builder drinks coffee like someone who has been crossly told not to by David Blunkett. I cannot believe that somebody can drink that much coffee and still be alive. I have my suspicions that he actually stores it in big plastic containers then runs some sort of coffee van in the evenings, going round the villages selling recycled ‘fresh’ coffee.

I watch him like a hawk as he goes back to the car for some tools. There is a bulge in his jumper, but I think he is just a bit overweight.

While he is here, we have asked him to build a wall in the loft, between my house and Short Tony’s. At the moment we have one big loft between us, which is not very practical.

For a start, our chimney debacle also fills his house with smoke. And secondly it would be easy for him to creep across the joists until he’s over my bedroom and bore holes in the ceiling, in order to install small cameras and recording equipment to video me in bed and sell it over the Internet.

You might think that I am being paranoid, worrying about my coffee being re-sold and videos of me in bed wearing women’s clothes being traded over the Internet, but that is exactly the sort of complacency that allows terrorism to flourish.

We can never be too careful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

“You want chilli sauce with that?”

I stared at him in some bemusement. There was surely no situation ever when somebody would be able to eat ‘that’ not saturated in taste-numbing chilli sauce.

The elephant leg revolved on the skewer. I resolved not to ask the origin of the meat, or whether it was organic. For one night only I would push my morals to one side and eat something from a battery sheep.

The kebab tastes fatty and oniony. Note – that is not me slipping into the present tense to create a sense of immediacy. It is two days on, and as I write this, the bloody kebab STILL tastes fatty and oniony.

Like those people who say they can still feel their arms after they have been amputated, I have some form of phantom kebab in my mouth. It was extremely inconvenient at my Important Meeting yesterday, and now it’s frankly bugging me, like a dinner party guest who’s outstayed his welcome, drunk all your port and is now talking at length about the sexual problems he’s having with his wife despite your frantic efforts to get rid of him by hinting sharply and playing Dido.

Scientifically, the only thing that gets rid of kebab-taste is a McDonald’s chocolate milkshake. I’m home now and the nearest one is fifteen miles away.

The day is not starting well.

Monday, October 18, 2004

I have joined an exclusive tennis club.

Both Short Tony and I signed up for ‘family membership’. It’s twenty pounds a year for everything, so we were determined to get our money’s worth.

Luckily, my sister left her tennis equipment with me when she went travelling, so I had a professional-looking tennis bag, like at Wimbledon. To help my performance, I had an isotonic pie for lunch and dug out my sporty Matelan tracksuit top.

I went next door, feeling psychologically advantaged. Short Tony opened the door in brand new Nike gear right down to the shoes. I was a bit crushed, but if he wants to win by viciously exploiting the homeless orphans in the third world then that is his choice.

Even if he beat me 6-0 6-0 6-0, I would still be the real winner.

I haven’t played tennis since I was a teenager, and I was astonished at the changes in the game. For a start, it’s a lot more difficult to hit it over the net or between the white lines, and running around to get to the ball is far harder work. It was probably best that they changed the game like this, as people like Pete Sampras were getting too good at it, although I was a bit irritated that he has spoiled it for the rest of us.

The other thing is that the bats are not made of wood any more, because it is endangered (I think). So I had to make do with my sister’s graphitey one, which is a different shape than I am used to. This caused me problems as it means I don’t know whether I am playing with a girls’ bat or not, so I am worried about people laughing at me.

We played two sets and got drenched. I lost but it was very enjoyable and we decided to play regularly. I may even decide to enter Wimbledon next year, although I am realistic that I am unlikely to get past the first couple of rounds.

I am now in the market for a headband like the best players wear. That will give me the edge.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Not quite a day off today.

Young Crumb asked me to contribute to his regular ‘Friday Fuckwit’ anthology. So you’ll find a piece from me over there.

If you’re at a loose end over the weekend, here are two things that I loved.

Bandhag’s ‘Fleabag! Fleabag!’ Emails you wish you’d sent (pt 3).

Unluckyman’s ridiculous facial hair parade.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Bath Man arrived.

He examined the stains left by the Body Shop Bath Bomb fiasco, scratched his tattoos then returned to his van for a selection of strong chemicals, which he handled gingerly using thick gloves. They didn’t quite steam and bubble, but weren’t something that I’d have wanted to down in one, even if I’d been an EXTREMELY thick rugby player.

The dye melted and dribbled away in the face of this corrosive onslaught.

I was very pleased with how the Body Shop dealt with it. I spoke to a nice lady on the phone – presumably Mrs Roddick – who was very apologetic in a non-Tony Blair sort of way. She is going to send me some vouchers, which will handily cover my female Christmas present needs.

Later on, I pondered the Bath Man’s parting words.

“I’d give that a bit of a rinse round before you use it again, mate.”

I reflected on the meaning of the words themselves, but mainly the irony of the fact that I’d only been able to collect my thoughts and remember this piece of advice because I’d just climbed into a nice deep relaxing bath.

I lifted my head out of the water in some concern.

I’m one of those people that tends to think a lot about things, rather than a practical action type of man. Cerebral – that’s me.

If, for instance, you were Pavarotti and jumped from an eighth floor window and I was standing underneath, my immediate reaction would be to reflect on “why on Earth did you do that?” and “I bet there’ll be another Greatest Hits compilation rushed out quick” and “gosh – isn’t that a marvellously dramatic and musical ‘aaaarrrghhh!!!!’” rather than to do something impetuous and leap out of the way.

So I lay there, trying to work out whether the slight burning sensation on my face was an over-active imagination in a hot bath or horrible chemical burns that would make me look like the Joker from Batman.

I really, really didn’t want to look like the Joker from Batman. For a start, I am self-employed which means I need to meet people face-to-face and charm them, and I don’t think this would be feasible in this event, unless I started up some bizarre government clown outsourcing services agency.

Plus if I was going to be horribly scarred into a bad guy from Batman then I would prefer to be the Penguin, as I could then live in my bookcase-dungeon thing and have a stylish umbrella. The sixties TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward please, rather than the films.

I decided on a course of action and got out of the bath.

My face was smarting a bit, but no serious damage. I will have to be a normal-looking master criminal, but obviously I could still play practical jokes if I wanted.

I washed the bath around and ran another one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Monday 3.30pm. Home. The LTLP is on the sofa under a blanket, shivering and whimpering. She’s not been well for a couple of days, but this is a turn for the worse. I’ve been working hard all morning, and now resolve to look after her.

Sometimes when somebody is ill, the best sort of looking after that you can do is not to disturb them. That allows them to rest. So I wander next door to see if Short Tony fancies a quick pint.

5.30pm. The Village Pub.

“I’m not ASKING you to come home. I’m asking IF you are COMING home.”

Mrs. Short Tony’s feet stare accusingly at me. I realise that our ‘we’re not in here’ ruse has failed, and crawl out from under the table. Behind me, Big A’s shoes poke out from behind the bulging drapes. Short Tony peers over the large menu and makes some conciliatory noises.

“Your LTLP says she’s hungry,” she adds, turning to me. I suddenly feel very guilty – she hadn’t had any lunch. I am a louse and a worm.

“Tell her I’ll be half an hour,” I promise. And then a brainwave. “I don’t suppose you’d mind heating her up some soup while you’re round there?”

6.45pm. At the bar.

“You see, the thing is – I’ve run out of money.”

The Well-Spoken Barman nodded amiably.

“I’ve run out of money. But I really really want to buy some more beer. So I don’t suppose you could see your way to offering credit facilities?”

7pm. We stare in bemusement at the hurriedly-departing figure of Big A.

Short Tony shrugs. “Well. To be fair, that was the second full pint he’s dropped.”

8.30pm. Home. I am on the sofa under a blanket, shivering and whimpering. The whimpers are a bit echoey as I have my head in a big saucepan. The LTLP returns from answering the door.

“That was Short Tony,” she snuffles. “He swayed about a bit, then realised it was me and tried to hide behind the coal bunker.”

Makers of Elgoods’ Barleymead – you are hereby put on my list of death.

And hers, probably.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

It’s a bookcase.

It’s set into the wall beside the fireplace. I keep books on it. Generally, they’re the impressive intellectual ones that I want people to think I read. The James Herberts, Tom Sharpes and back issues of ‘Bloggers’ Wives’ are all hidden away upstairs.

Sensibly, I spaced the shelves at different intervals. So there’s room for the big books at the bottom – the dictionaries etc, the regulation-sized paperbacks fit snugly at the top, and the annoying-sized-books-that-don’t-quite-fit-into-your-coat-pocket have a shelf all to themselves.

But the thing about the bookcase is:

It secretly swings out on hinges to reveal a concealed chamber beyond, like in the Scooby Doo cartoons.

It’s only a tiny little cellar-like space, but it’s got a genuine stone floor and everything. Honestly, it’s incredibly exciting. I must have opened and closed the bookcase hundreds of times already.

I’m genuinely thinking of employing an out-of-work actor to hide in there dressed in an old-fashioned diving suit, so they can lumber out scarily with their arms held out in front of them. I also thought of cutting a couple of holes in the back for eyes to peer through.

In an ideal world it would open automatically when I removed an appropriately-named book. Something like “This Book Opens The Secret Opening Bookcase” by Paul Itofftheshelfandthebookcasewillopen. But the technical requirements for that were a bit daunting.

I keep looking at it and touching it and opening and closing it. Really, if it were socially acceptable to have sex with a piece of furniture I would do it. But somebody would be bound to walk in on me and get the wrong impression, and besides, I haven’t cut the eye-holes yet.

I reckon I am the only person in the village who has a secret swingy-outy Scooby Doo bookcase.

It’s really really good. It really is.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I always dreamt of having one.

Right from when I was a kid. To me, it was the most exciting thing that one could possibly have in a house. I longed to be an adult so I could get one and prove myself a man.

No – not a drinks cabinet. I got one of those ages ago, and it did make me feel manly. I filled it with exotic bottles to offer people when they came round, and made sure that I locked it each time I closed the door. (Just in case).

No – not curtains that open and close using a piece of rope, rather than the common ‘manual draw’ method. We had those in our last residence, and I realised that they were false gods – fools’ gold on the road to furniture Nirvana.

I finished it at the weekend, and I am beside myself with excitement. It’s just... it’s just... no – I cannot think of a better phrase. It’s just “like – so cool”.

I’m very busy this morning, especially as I have to keep stopping work to get up and look at it.

So I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I go for a run.

Run! Run! Run!

“When you gooooo, will yae send baaackkk...” the motivational running music on my MP3 spurs me on.

But all is not well. I’m not even half way to the Village Shop and I’m struggling and panting. My legs seem to have turned into lead, which is inconvenient, as it is extremely heavy (and also poisonous).

I am horribly out of shape.

This is bad news. My idle plan to do the Marathon next year in aid of the African Orphans is in tatters. I think it was the Cheerful Builder’s brother – the Cheerful Decorator – who told me that if you don’t run for two weeks then your legs sort of reset into what they were before and you have to start training again from scratch.

Still, he also told me that it would take only half a day to wallpaper the dining room, so I am not sure that he is best placed to confidently pronounce on what the human body can achieve.

It has definitely been more than two weeks since my last run. I am depressed as I hark back to the Cheerful Decorator’s words. Now the children in Africa will all die and it will be HIS FAULT.

I consider taking an abortive short cut, but grit my teeth and plod away. The thought of my hero, Mr. Singh, the 93 year-old marathon runner, keeps me going. But then I realise that he is a pensioner and can practice every day. He has never had to go through the two-week withdrawal barrier. What a fraud!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

I've added an 'about' section (on the right) in response to some requests.

It took me ages, so don't imagine you're getting a 'proper' post as well.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

I loved Prague.

I won’t go on about it, as then we start to become the blog equivalent of those crap TV Christmas specials where for no reason whatsoever they move the cast away from their tried-and-tested familiar location. But it was picturesque and friendly and very relaxing after the manic stress of Norfolk village life.

The Czech Republic has had its fair share of history. I marvelled at the magnificent and sinister Tyn Church that towers over the Old Market Square, wondering how long it would have taken to construct if the Cheerful Builder had been involved.

The Czechs seemed amiable enough in the olden days, occasionally throwing unpopular politicians out of upstairs windows, which seems fair enough. As in most European countries, when things went a bit wrong they’d arrange a quick rampage through the Jewish Quarter in order to work out their frustrations.

Then came the war and communism and stuff, which didn’t seem much fun. And whilst long-awaited and welcome, the departure of the Communists at the very end of the eighties brought its own problems, particularly an influx of bad caricaturists who now occupy the Charles Bridge.

The food is indescribably bad, but the beer is indescribably good, and a liquid diet of the sublimely smooth and sweet Kozal seemed to do me no harm.

I supped a Speckled Hen last night (for comparison reasons only). It tasted bitter, very bitter – bitterer than a beer brewed from the most horribly burnt hops, infused with that Bitrex stuff they put in bleach to discourage kids from swallowing, and topped off with essence of Greg Dyke.

But I forced it down.

And now I’m back at my desk, with nothing but the rabbits for company.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

“We’ll be cruising at around 30,000 feet,” continued the bored voice over the intercom. “And hope to arrive in Copenhagen at around ten-thirty UK time.”

A hubub ensued, with a look of deep concern crossing the stewardess’s face. She made a dash for the cabin.

“Prague! Prague!” corrected the voice. “We are, of course, going to Prague. I’m very sorry. It’s just that I have to go to Copenhagen straight after that, and...”

He tailed off, without needing to complete the sentence, just those few words heartbreakingly encapsulating the crushing disappointment of a career that had started so full of promise and excitement on his first day at pilot’s school.

I settled into my seat, trying to ignore the stag party in the next two rows, the culinary betrayal of Garfunkle’s settling on my stomach. The LTLP is bearing up well beside me – she is very afraid of flying whereas I am not as I am too stupid.

There might be some non-European readers unfamiliar with the EasyJet concept. It is very simple – they charge a ridiculously low amount of money for the flight itself, but you have to pay for everything else. You can buy sandwiches from the trolley, order drinks, and in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, a mask will drop from above your seat on insertion of the correct coinage.

It’s brought great advantages, allowing thousands of English people to travel abroad when they would not normally have been able to. And great disadvantages, allowing thousands of English people to travel abroad when they would not normally have been able to.

We touched down early, and took our first ride in a Skoda.