Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Incidentally, I got a message at work today from Anne Marie, a friend of mine and a regular reader of the blog. "Guess what I had to eat yesterday?" she asked. And yes, it was a fucking vag pot. She's hooked on them. She had one yesterday, one the day before and she's having one today. She's collecting the full set and thinks I should write to the manufacturer claiming commission. I can picture the letter now:
Dear Innocent Foods
I am Mr London Street, a blogger and Reading's premier humourist. I recently wrote a piece on the internet in which I compared your snack product the 'veg pot' to "chowing down on warm loft insulation" before saying that most tramps would sooner eat a "gangrenous rodent". I also repeatedly referred to them as "vag pots". In particular I spoke about your 'Indian Daal Curry' as a "sea of beige sludge".
Due to my ringing endorsement one of my friends has now bought three in a week and is your biggest fan. Please could you send some form of remuneration? In return I promise to refer to your popular range of smoothies as "a bit like fruity snot".
Mr London Street
Err... where was I? The guy retiring today is one of the lucky ones. He doesn't leave because of redundancy or getting caught banging one out to goatsex.com. Nobody has got rid of him because of some dubious images on his hard drive. He has bumbled nicely along to retirement age and will leave on his own terms. And different people will remember him for different things. Some will remember his thick beige fleece, permanently draped over the back of his chair 365 days of the year and probably, by now, a tad whiffy. Some will remember his fondness for rabbits - the fluffy type that lollop round fields I might add, rather than a distant relative of the giant black sex toy in my top drawer at work. Some will dimly recall him talking of fun times with his partner ("partner", not "wife", we all clocked that one) who I understand is a lady somewhat older than him. But not me. To me, he will always be the man who sent what Mikey immortally referred to as "the most racist email of all time".
It was a slow afternoon at work many months ago and my IM popped up with a message from Mikey. It simply said "I think I may just have been sent the most racist email of all time."
Everyone at work knows someone whose moral compass is just a bit wonkier than the norm, don't they? And Dave was one of those - an inadvertent racist who probably didn't even know he was doing it. He and Mikey once had a lengthy discussion about whether his fondness for saying "I'm off down the chinky for dinner tonight." was racist or not. He even offered to prove it wasn't by going down the "chinky" and asking them whether they minded being referred to as a "chinky" before Mikey managed to talk him down from the metaphorical ledge.
After some persuasion Mikey sent me the mail. The title alone, Immigrant Telly, was a warning in itself. It might as well have said A bunch of jokes about how much I hate foreigners. Now in England, sadly, anti immigration views are extremely popular in a certain demographic. These people have their own newspapers, their own pundits (the especially hateful Jon Gaunt - or "Gaunty" - and Richard Littlejohn for starters) and I'm told some of them are getting close to evolving opposable thumbs. But it's safe to say they haven't quite developed their own satirists just yet. This mail proceeded on the "hilarious" assumption that we had so many immigrants here now that they would need their own TV shows. And, to cap the rib tickling, all these shows were puns on existing television programmes, all subtly altered to show that they're for immigrants. Calm down there at the back. I know, I haven't told you the punchline yet and you're pissing yourself already.
As I scanned down the list on that slow afternoon in the office I was struck by the fact that some of them were just plain lame. Currynation Street, for instance, or Middle East Enders. But at least they showed some rudimentary skill for punning. As the list went on whoever had put it together ran out of puns and just decided to move on to spite and/or random references to race. For instance changing "You've Been Framed" to You've Been Bombed, what's that all about? Are all immigrants now suicide bombers too? They come over here, take our jobs and kill everyone in a human fireball, that sort of thing? Even more arresting was Postman Pak. This doesn't work on a number of levels. I mean, for one the link between "Pak" and "Paki" is a bit tenuous. Second of all, surely nobody has used the phrase "Paki" in anger since about 1988. Well, except Prince Harry but what would he know about not being prejudiced? The man's a ginger for Christ's sake.
The last one clearly showed the triumph of bigotry over comedy - Scooby Jew. Scooby Jew. It was so silly it was genuinely funny. I had an image of Scooby in a skullcap in the haunted mansion at night making a massive fifteen storey sandwich with gefilte fish.
So in the end I did laugh at Dave's racist email, to my eternal disgrace, but only because my mind turned it into something funny because I couldn't cope with the banality of evil. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Mikey pondered telling him he hadn't appreciated the mail or its contents but, like most of us when confronted with something so offensive, he didn't say anything. And nor did I this afternoon as I clapped like everyone else, ate my moist and moreish slice of cake and left Dave to head home at the end of the day and enjoy spending more time with his fellow Klansmen.
Of course, the other possible explanation for my failure to condemn Dave is that I too have a proud record of inadvertently offending minorities in the office with exceptionally poorly chosen jokes. But that's a story for another time.
Monday, 30 March 2009
Saturday morning. I am upstairs at the Kemp Town Bookshop browsing the notebooks and wondering if I should buy one to jot down things that I think about putting in the blog. I eventually decide against it on the basis that it’s a sure fire way to guarantee my blog dries up and I spend my days carting round a decorous yet empty notebook.
It’s a pretty, peaceful spot overlooking the street with a little café and tables. Someone comes up the stairs with a dog and orders a cappuccino. A few other people start congregating. It looks like it could be a meeting of a writers’ group or something. I start fondly imagining that I too could live a life like this even though I know it’s highly unlikely.
“That’s a lovely dog,” says the woman behind the counter, “what’s his name?”
“No, really? I have a dog called Zorro too!”
Later on we head to the Long Man at Wilmington, a 70 metre tall hill figure. The drive round the coast involves a convoy of six Figaros and some beautiful views. I have been allowed to commandeer the stereo and am playing Kings of Convenience, perfect Sunday morning music. The song “Know-How” strikes up as we go down an especially gorgeous tree-lined lane and I know I will always associate the song with that from now on.
Kings of Convenience - Know-How
Friday night. We are out for dinner with Rik and Laura at the Gingerman, a truly lovely restaurant. They bring out freshly baked minature loaves as we look at the menu, struggling in vain to find one dish that looks nicer than all the others.
As we get to dessert the conversation turns to the fact that Laura has been out with a man called Eric, a man called Derek, another man called Derek (known as Derek #2 as he immediately followed Derek #1) and is now going out with Rik. I speculate that her next boyfriend will have to be called Ik. Kelly suggests that she should consider moving into dating Vikings next - possibly a nice young man called Wulfric or Aelfric with his own horned helmet and a flagon of mead.
I tell them a story about my friend DG (immortalised here for the uninitiated) who once had a threesome with her boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend which culminated in her watching her boyfriend giving her ex a blow job. I load olive tapenade onto my last parmesan biscuit as we speculate on whether Laura missed out on a similar Derek/Derek combo.
“No,” I say, “I’ve met Derek #2 and he strikes me as a man who’d rather fuck his own mum than go anywhere near another man.”
Rik howls with laughter. Laura cringes. Kelly gives me that look I know only too well that says Oh no, not again.
Saturday afternoon. It has been raining on and off all afternoon and suddenly erupts into a hailstorm of Biblical proportions. Kelly speculates that it will be raining toads next. We shelter under the arches and the rain dies off and the sun struggles to come out. The inky sky and the sea smudge together in a way that makes it difficult to work out where one ends and the other one begins. I wander along the beach taking a variety of unsatisfactory photographs. The pier stands out in the gloom, all tackiness and glitz though none of the lights seem to be on.
He also picks us up on Saturday evening. “Oh, of course, he’s playing Classic FM.” says Kelly. In the rear view mirror I can see him scowling at that remark as if in pain.
Sunday lunchtime. Some of the Figaroons are trekking up to the Long Man for a better look. The wiser, lazier or (in my case) plain unfitter are having a natter in the car park. I am talking to Nicola about my blog, she says she particularly liked this entry right at the start when Mikey and I are speculating about hand crumbed fish fingers.
“I know,” I say, “it’s ridiculous. What do they expect people to use, a crumbing machine? And let’s just say I had invented a crumbing machine. There’s no way I’d use it to crumb bits of fish. I’d have more ambition than that, I’d use it to crumb… (pause) my mum. That’s right, I’d crumb my mum. Why make fishfingers when you can turn your own parents into gigantic goujons, that’s what I’d like to know.”
“You’re going to put that in your blog, aren’t you?” says Nicola. “I’d like to be in your blog, just peripherally mind you.”
Yes Nicola, I am.
Thursday, 26 March 2009
As it whirred ominously in the microwave I found myself idly examining the cardboard sleeve. Inside was a picture of cauliflower but there was something odd about it. Looking closer I realised it had been divided into segments. One was labelled "frontal lobe". Another said "cerebellum". I assume they were trying to make some point about it being good for the brain but it just left me very far from in the mood for food. Reeling with nausea I threw the cardboard sleeve in the bin and headed downstairs with my now considerably less appealing lunch.
I opened the lid with a growing sense of nausea and trepidation. It was like a funny smelling, plastic, much smaller Ark of the Covenant, if you will. Admittedly my face didn't melt away, but it was almost as bad. As the steam cleared, I made out a giant floret of cauliflower lurking beneath the surface, the tip poking up from the sea of beige sludge like a giant brain-shaped iceberg.
I didn't eat much of it.
Just a short entry today as I am off for a nice long weekend away. I can't wait. I am going to the fantastic Brighton, probably my favourite place in the whole wide world. I love everything about it - the tiny boutique shops, the cawing of seagulls, the streets teeming with tryhards, lovely little restaurants and cafes and of course, the tacky delights of the Palace Pier. Not to mention the graffiti. Brighton specialises in graffiti that is actually funny.
Everywhere you go there are little hints of personality that put the majority of English towns to shame, being as they are a homogeneous mess of landmarks like Starbucks, Boots, Burger King and (my personal favourite this) "The Officer's Club". Who the fuck shops in "The Officer's Club" anyway? Officers in what? The army of the People's Republic of the Appallingly Dressed? The mind boggles.
So I had a spring in my step as I skipped out of the office ready to board the funbus for Planet Long Weekend. It was drizzling miserably, I realised that I'd left my brolly in the office and worse still, Donald Pleasence was in the driving seat. I asked him if I had time to run up and get it and the weirdest thing happened. He smiled and said yes. Everything truly was going my way. I had to stop myself saying "Thanks Donald." Memo to self: never call Donald Pleasence "Donald". He's the only person in Bracknell who doesn't know that that's his name.
I probably won't post for a few days but hopefully I will return refreshed with stories, photos and shopping. Especially shopping. In the meantime, here's the appropriately titled "By The Sea" by the excellent Essex Green.
The Essex Green - By The Sea
Hope you like it, and have a great weekend. I'll be on the Palace Pier, wearing a Kiss Me Kwik hat, getting humiliated at the air hockey table and thinking of you all. Yes, even you.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
In many respects he fits the cliché of the Italian male to a fault - charming, snobbish, lecherous, faintly misogynistic, homophobic. I have no idea what his record is like for military valour but aside from that he’s got the full set. But somehow it’s impossible to dislike him - even if he thinks curry is the food of the devil and was aghast when he attended an antenatal class with his wife and discovered a couple of lesbians there. It turned out that Simone’s real problem with the lesbians wasn’t that they were lesbians, simply that they weren’t attractive (although he did say his stomach turned in utter disgust when lesbian #1 patted the distended belly of lesbian #2 and said “I’m going to be a father.”)
My first memory of realising Simone wasn’t like most people was a lunch many moons ago. We were talking about binge drinking and how it was a peculiarly English disease and then we got on to discussing the rise of ladette culture in England. And Simone told us a little story.
He said that when he was engaged his fiancée came home one time at about two in the morning, clearly drunk. Simone said that he told his wife he found that behaviour unacceptable and that she wasn’t to do it again. And, he said, that was meant to be the end of the matter. Except that there was more to come - several months later his fiancée was out with people from work and again she came home inebriated around two in the morning.
“You know what I did?” said Simone.
We all shook our heads, expecting some kind of droll denouement which highlighted the amusing yet quirky differences between the Brits and our Latin counterparts. Boy, did we have a surprise coming.
“The next day I packed my bags and I checked into a hotel. And I did not come back until she and her father had both come to the hotel and apologised and promised me she would never do it again. And she has never done it since.”
At this point Simone looked at us all as if to say Look at me, aren’t you impressed by what an Alpha male I am? That showed her! and we all looked at him, slack jawed in shock as if to say, Holy fuck Simone, it’s the 21st century. What is this, 'Taming of the Shrew?'
Anyway, Simone was telling me today that they had had to fire the nanny. Simone is very well to do so the mere presence of a nanny didn’t surprise me. Why had they let her go I asked? His first answer was “Because she was fat”, but I figured that was just Simone being Simone. So I probed a little deeper.
It turns out the real reason was that Simone wasn’t happy with the nanny’s work ethic. He said that rather than taking his daughter out for walks, to the park and what have you she was spending all the time on her (fat) arse in their apartment. “But how do you know?” I asked. He explained that he has a very posh burglar alarm, so posh in fact that it’s linked to his computer. His computer knows exactly when it’s set off and when it’s disabled. And apparently everyone in the flat has their own passcode for the alarm. So his swanky London flat is basically the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
So when the nanny said “that’s not true, I left to go to the park at 10 o’clock” Simone knew exactly what to do. He went over to HAL and pulled all the records from the burglar alarm. This apparently culminated in Simone having a heated disagreement with the nanny clutching a sheaf of printouts in his shaking fist and shouting “You cannot lie in front of this computer and you cannot lie in front of me!”. I just about managed to keep a straight face.
He was also telling me about his business trip to Kazakhstan. He made all the obvious gags about Borat and it was all going well until he told me that he’d been out for a meal while he was there and had eaten a lot of horse meat. With his strong Italian accent it sounded like he’d said “whores’ meat” and I had to suppress a snicker. But it’s okay, laughing at people with foreign accents is all right. Sacha Baron Cohen says so.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
I was in the kitchen at work a couple of days ago heating up my veg pot when one of my colleagues who I rarely talk to said "you've lost weight haven't you?". A veg pot, since you're wondering, is my latest wheeze to try to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day or die in the attempt. They're little plastic tubs packed full of vegetables and beans and the cheerful packaging tells me how natural they are, how virtuous and how they contribute a whopping 3 of your 5 portions a day. What's not to like, I hear you cry? And the answer is that once it's come out of the microwave and you've carried it downstairs to the canteen you've got to eat the bastard thing. It's a bit like chowing down on warm loft insulation. You're there for hours. Mastication is definitely the poor relation of its more famous soundalike (not that I personally hold with doing either in our staff restaurant).
Worse still, Kelly has taken to referring to them as "vag pots" which I find kind of off-putting, as if the label will proudly boast "Vag Pots - Now With Fresh Lady Petals". I suppose at least then they'd taste of something. The fact that I found that nickname grisly just goes to show that I can dish it out but I can't take it. But then, if I dished out the contents of one of those veg pots I'm not sure anybody would take it. I can imagine the tramps of Reading saying "no thanks" and wandering off in search of something preferable (gangrenous roadkill perhaps).
Anyway, when my colleague said I'd lost weight I thought Fantastic, this is what it's all about. I've put in all the hard work, I've eaten the veg pots, I've even had an apple a day. I looked at a chocolate bar two weeks ago and nearly had an anxiety attack. I've had less sausage than Anne Widdecombe. It's payback time. I'm going to stand here and soak up these compliments until I can take no more. So I said "Oh, really? How kind of you to say!" and she responded "Definitely. Your face has changed shape."
Now I know this is meant to be a compliment but it gave me the creeps. I was suddenly seized by a nightmarish vision of fleeing to the gents in terror and looking in the mirror to find a rhombus shaped visage, a la Sophie Ellis Bextor, staring back at me recreating Munch's "The Scream". I think I may have been delirious with hunger or possibly just deeply depressed that I was starting to forget what a packet of Frazzles even smelled like. With all this angst boiling away under the surface I said thank you, the microwave pinged and I trudged off downstairs with my vag pot like a condemned man.
By contrast, I went for my physiotherapy appointment this morning. I go about once a month and the nice lady tells me to whip my top off before humiliating me and telling me I need to loosen up. All of which is paid for by the NHS which saves me from shelling out on something a bit more extreme involving leather. As the only other woman who sees me topless I was harbouring a faint hope that the physiotherapist would have some kind words to say about my improving physique, but as I lay down on the couch ready for her to click my spine (a rather disturbing experience which makes the same kind of noise as breaking apart two especially stubborn chunks of Dairy Milk) the conversation was far more surreal.
PHYSIO: Are you feeling all right?
ME: Yes, I feel fine.
PHYSIO: Are you sure? You look terribly pale.
ME: No honestly. I'm fine. (pause) The last time I was here I had a beard, are you sure it's not that?
PHYSIO: Oh, that'll be it. I thought there was something different about you.
And that, I guess, is why despite amateur sleuths like Dr. Quincy, Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher I can't see an opening in the TV schedules for a crime fighting physiotherapist with an unconventional home life who doesn't play by the rules but somehow gets results.
Monday, 23 March 2009
As the anonymous driver drove us anonymously into Reading with the grand total of no emergency stops, Mikey and I speculated that Donald and Dave weren't around because they had gone on holiday together with hilarious consequencesTM. You know, the sort of hilarious consequencesTM which inevitably ensue when two people who are like chalk and cheese are forced to spend time together due to the kind of arbitrary turn of events which only exists in order to bring about consequential hilarity. We envisaged a motion picture called "Busman's Holiday" with Walter Matthau as "have a nice Dave" and Jack Lemmon as Donald Pleasence, possibly with them chugging around the coast near Sorrento in a 60s coach full of screaming tourists. Dave has a Hawaiian shirt on and his gruff charm eventually wins over Rene Russo once he's learned how to use cutlery. Donald learns to loosen up, like people a bit more and maybe ends up with a small yappy dog. Or he comes out, possibly both. It could work.
Like I said, it was a slow day.
It's odd to think that I've been doing this for a month now. What do you reckon, still enjoying it? I know I had lots of requests for the Vaseline story, let's just say that the subject of that anecdote isn't happy with me sharing and I'm still working on it. I could tell the story about my accidental naked photos but that might be one for another day. And I've deliberately not mentioned Jade Goody. I changed my Facebook status to say "Mr London Street would like to extend his condolences to Max Clifford at this very sad time." and some people weren't too impressed.
To make up for a bit of a flat blog entry today, here's a song. I used to get criticised for my musical taste being music to slit your wrists to, which I think does me a terrible disservice. As I get older I get more and more interested in a good tune and some nice happy bouncy music to drown out the voices in my head. So now I get criticised for it being twee. You just can't win. So the worst of both worlds would be a bouncy, pacey, twee, upbeat song with sad or downbeat lyrics. But surely the only song that fits that description is "Girlfriend in a Coma" by the Smiths? Think again - here is the splendid Boy Least Likely To with the twee, upbeat yet lonesome "I Keep Myself To Myself". "I need a cookie and I need a hug" indeed - tap your toes glumly and enjoy!
Boy Least Likely To - I Keep Myself To Myself
Sunday, 22 March 2009
Back in the day, the 3Bs used to play a central part in my weekly routine, playing host as it did to the legendary "Bohemian Night", Reading's premier open mike night. My friend Ivor and I would go every Wednesday, pitching up at the table nearest to the front to enjoy the finest talent Reading had to offer. Actually, that's not entirely true. Reading produced Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet. Reading was home to some bands which have troubled the charts - like the Hoosiers. Rumour has it the woman out of Sneaker Pimps might have been from Reading. Not to mention our one local band "Bennet", famous (or, more accurately, known) for their single hit "Mum's Gone To Iceland" which reached the dizzying heights of number 34 in the charts back in 1997. Yes, those people had some kind of talent. The acts that performed at Bohemian Night were another story.
So really, watching the acts at Bohemian Night was a bit like the musical equivalent of watching "Tomorrow's World" in the 1980s. Just as nobody believed that eventually people would market a digital watch that could recharge its batteries by being dropped in a glass of water, I didn't really think that "Preacher John" would ever be thrashing out his dirges on Later With Jools Holland or shouting "Hello Wembley!". But that was part of the appeal. I can't stand mediocrity, but I have an equal appreciation for the stunningly good and the heroically bad. Give me "Gigli" over "Fargo" any day. And in that respect Bohemian Night never disappointed.
I've seen singers who can't sing, guitarists who can't play guitar, jugglers who couldn't juggle, and I loved every minute. Ivor and I were the Statler and Waldorf of the 3Bs and I used to live for every Wednesday. Every now and again someone really good would come along and we were dumbstruck, but we enjoyed it safe in the knowledge that they were unlikely to be back next week.
The finest act was a pensioner known only as "Mr. David" - I think he was a genuinely confused old man who had wandered in to get out of the cold one week, liked it and decided to stay. Quite who convinced Mr. David that he had a gift for performing I have no idea, but thank goodness they did. Mr. David was virtually incomprehensible - I never got to the bottom of why this was, whether it was age, confusion or exceptional drunkenness. A standard Mr. David set would involve a few snippets of "My Way" (usually featuring those exact lyrics and little else), a half-hearted impersonation of Tommy Cooper saying "just like that" and, if you were lucky, a joke.
One evening Mr. David got up to tell a particularly entertaining joke. Leaning heavily on the mike stand in his carpet coat he said "This Paddy goes to a stable looking for a job... and the man says to him 'Can you shoe a horse?' and the Paddy says (mumbles incoherently)."
Silence. Mr. David stood there waiting to soak up the applause but nobody had caught the punchline. Curly Rob - the compere, guitar player and all round politically correct nice guy - intervened and asked Mr. David to repeat it clearly. So he did.
MR DAVID: This Paddy goes to a stable... looking for work. (pause). The groom says to him "all right Paddy, can you shoe a horse?" and the Paddy says (pause) "No. But I can tell two Pakis to fuck off."
A different kind of silence. Everyone looked faintly shocked by the bigoted little old man up on stage. In the midst of this bona fide Olympic standard tumbleweed moment I found myself thinking, Why two Pakis? Why not one? (which is bad isn't it, I should have been thinking My, how racist!). Mr. David was ushered off the stage to his table where he promptly fell asleep for the rest of the evening.
Anyway, this has nothing to do with Scampi Fries and I promised you the Scampi Fries story. At the time that Ivor and I used to go to Bohemian Night I was in the middle of what I can confidently say was the worst relationship of my entire life. She was nasty, small minded and very jealous indeed. Female friends were strictly verboten and my main escape each week was to go to Bohemian Night with Ivor and gaze idly at the other tables, packed as they were with women who weren't my girlfriend.
One night, an especially dire Bohemian Night, Ivor and I were supping cider and eating Scampi Fries. For those unfamiliar with the humble scampi fry, here's a picture. They are delicious hollow cereal pillows of fishy flavour designed to taste just like scampi in a foil packet. They also, and there's no nice way of putting this, reek to high heaven. When I was growing up my friends used to call them "minge flavoured crisps" because of their alleged resemblence to the odour of poorly tended lady petals.
Incidentally, "lady petals" is a term coined by Kelly to counteract the fact that all euphemistic descriptions of female genitalia are so deeply unpleasant. "snatch", for instance. Or "vag", "beaver", "axe wound", "vertical bacon sandwich" - they're not the language of Keats are they? Gemma told me at lunch once that one of her friends called it a "moofaf" which I thought was plain baffling.
Anyway, the evening was drawing to a close and Ivor grabbed the opened-out, empty packet of Scampi Fries and rubbed it liberally across my face as if it was some kind of bizarre cleaning wipe. "There!" he gloated drunkenly, "Now she'll think you've been up to something because your face smells of minge!". In my cider addled state I genuinely believed this was true. So when I got through the front door of the house the first thing I said to my then girlfriend, ill advisedly as it turns out, was "Listen, I know my face smells of minge but I can honestly explain. There was an accident with a Scampi Fries packet. Well, not an accident. Ivor wiped it on my face so you'd think I was cheating on you." I believe I may have carried on digging for another 30 seconds. Like I said, I was a bit drunk. Big mistake. Apparently that's exactly the sort of lame excuse somebody cheating on their girlfriend would think up - a point which was repeatedly and heatedly made to me during the post mortem, which if I recall lasted well over half an hour. Never again.
There endeth my rather bizarre sermon for this Sunday. Playing us out tonight, here's Bennet - as never seen at Bohemian Night. Enjoy!
Saturday, 21 March 2009
I always change channels when the local news is on the telly. It’s not important enough to have national significance and it tends to be from places I have no interest in like Mapledurham or Winchester. You might as well tell me what’s going down on the mean streets of Ipswich. But Reading’s local organ, now that’s another kettle of fish entirely. It has local news so pointless that it isn’t even interesting to the people it’s happened to. So the three of us have taken to posting comments on the stories to liven them up. We each have personas – Mikey is “Shouty B’stard”, Cornish Rob is of course “Cornish Rob” and I’m Mr. London Street. If you want to see an example of the quality of news story we’re talking about here’s one.
That’s actually pretty hard hitting by their standards. A recent story blazed that a child had been “mugged” at her secondary school. On further investigation her mobile phone had been taken by some other students who taunted her before giving it back. Which, in my book, is pretty far from mugging. What next? When I stub my toe will it be reported as “MR LONDON STREET MUTILATED BY BED. JOHN LEWIS DENY LIABILITY”? But just as a picture paints a thousand words, the pictures that accompany the Reading Evening Post stories are pure comedy gold. Here’s the mugged child with her mum in the classic “kick the cat” pose. Isn’t it wonderful? A recent story was about someone hit so badly by the credit crunch that they had to sleep in their car for three months. It was accompanied by a photo of the front seat of a car with a blanket on it, and the caption “picture posed by model”. Quality stuff.
It’s tough times for the Reading Post. It’s had to go from a daily paper to twice weekly and there’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth about what a bleak day that is. Nobody seems to have clocked that if you’re relying on filling a paper with stories like “What were lights in the sky above Tilehurst?” then maybe, just maybe, there aren’t actually enough proper stories worth writing. Just a thought.
Anyway, after Mikey, Cornish Rob and I had finished nattering away like Reading’s answer to “Loose Women” our other halves joined us and random conversation ensued. They all learned that Kelly likes to eat a Twix by biting off the biscuit and then rolling all the caramel up into a giant sweet snail before scoffing the lot. I on the other hand learned that Cornish Rob’s fiancée Jo can fit her entire fist in her mouth (and got a practical demonstration too). Why isn’t the Reading Evening Post covering important stuff like that? Stuff that matters?
After that I felt like my birthday had well and truly begun. We went back to the flat so I could open my presents, all of which were lovely and carefully chosen. I got an especially gorgeous present from Kelly – not a threesome (maybe next year eh?) but a fantastic briefcase. I have a bit of a manbag habit – I’ve never understood why women get to have all the fun while chaps have to stick everything in their coat pockets and generally walk round bulging suspiciously. Have a manbag, don’t look like a pervert, that’s my motto. Not sure it works mind you. You probably have to cut out the twitching and sweating as well, but one step at a time.
Space doesn’t permit me to do justice to the birthday meal. Seven courses of Michelin starred delight isn’t an experience I plan to have every year, let alone every month. But there were some particular high points. The canapés for instance – cheese and anchovy straws and tiny cubes of breaded fried haggis. Or the red mullet with a bouillabaisse dressing. And then there was the venison – pink, gamey and tender on a tiny heap (can you have a tiny heap?) of rich red cabbage with a delicate smear of dark chocolate sauce. And the grappa – 82% alcohol and made from grapes grown on the slopes of Etna. “Breathe out as you take a sip” said the sommelier – easier said than done. After the first sip I couldn’t feel my lips any more. Or possibly the most precious moment of all – the look on Kelly’s face when the cheese trolley turned up and I explained that if I couldn’t eat cheese I damn well wanted her to and I wanted her to enjoy every mouthful. That was probably my best birthday present of all.
That or the briefcase.
Yes, we have a tranny in our office. I know what you’re thinking – surely I’m making it up. So far I’ve told you that my office has cleaners making out in the “Fuck Bunker”, a shiny silver funbus manned with the most demented drivers since the truck in “Duel” and a big black sex toy in my top drawer which has been customised into a makeshift keyring, and you’ve taken me at my word. But an office tranny? It may seem like a step too far but I assure you it’s true. I can’t remember when we first noticed that someone in the office was going through a transformation. Initially it just seemed like a guy in the office who was growing his hair long. Then came the make up. But guyliner is a growing phenomenon, right? It surely didn’t mean anything. But then the tailoring got more, well, feminine. Then there was the clincher. One Monday he (he? she?) came into work and there was something new about him/her, namely a quite visible pair of norks.
Phil was the first to notice them, unsurprisingly. I think he felt aroused yet disgusted with himself (so nothing new there). They seemed such a permanent fixture - not that there is such a thing as temporary breasts mind you - that we all started wondering if we were seeing things or why we hadn’t noticed them before. Breasts aren’t meant to come out of nowhere – well, not since Sally in “Home and Away” anyway. Aside from this, the growing rate of change raised all sorts of interesting questions – should he/she use the gents or the ladies loo? Should we hold the door open for him/her? I can't remember the tranny's name but I think he/she likes to be known as Sue - at what point does this happen?
Anyway, we were talking about the tranny with Mandy in the kitchen as Gemma was taking her drugs. Mandy was unimpressed that the tranny had got his/her legs out in the office today and that they were better than hers. And then she told us the story about her friend Abi. It turns out that one day the tranny came into the office and shortly after Abi came in wearing a virtually identical outfit. Abi is about six feet tall and was a bit concerned by the similarity.
“I don’t look like that, do I?” she asked Mandy, looking for some reassurance that she didn’t resemble a transsexual.
“No,” said Mandy, “you’ve got a fringe.”
Gemma went bright purple and shook uncontrollably and for a second I thought we were finally going to see her spit out the drugs. But then she got it under control.
It was not to be a day for triumphs, even if it was my birthday. The other feature of Fridays at work is “Fascinating Fact Friday”. Every Friday Gemma and I unearth a fascinating fact and we put them to Iain who judges, without knowing whose fact is whose, which is the most fascinating. It’s not going well. I was 2-1 down in the series going into Friday’s head to head and needed something spectacular. Did you know that an ejaculation takes place at 28 miles per hour? Fascinating, isn’t it?
Unfortunately that was Gemma’s fact. My fact was a really enthralling one about the QWERTY keyboard. Even now I’m not quite sure what I was thinking. Of course the speed that men fling jizz onto their stomachs is far more gripping. It's like comparing a Jackie Collins novel with Fly Fishing by J.R. Hartley. And what was more galling is that Gemma discovered said fascinating fact in “More” magazine the night before. I did suggest we prove it using the oldest guy in the office, a tape measure, a stop watch and some jazz mags but nobody seemed to like that idea.
Clearly nobody had told the powers that be that it was my birthday.
Thursday, 19 March 2009
That said, I've made it perfectly clear that I don't want any fuss, no surprise parties, any of that. I certainly don't want to be festooned with gifts from my lovely colleagues the moment I get to my desk, that's for sure. I'm sure my workmates barely know about the great event as of course I haven't made much of it. No, it's just another day - albeit a day when I get to spend the evening having a rare fun meal at the lovely Ortolan... can't wait.
Anyway, here's my birthday gift to you - the wonderful The Wrong Trousers performing their incredible cover of "Video Killed The Radio Star". Hope you enjoy it.
The Wrong Trousers - Video Killed The Radio Star
About six months ago we moved from one office to another. I was on leave at the time but one of the jobs involved emptying all our filing cabinets and cupboards so we could move our stuff to the new office. But there was one cupboard in our office nobody had ever looked into. It had been locked for some time. Who knew what horrors lay within? So my colleagues got a key from Facilities and approached the cupboard with some trepidation. I imagine it was rather like that bit in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where they open the Ark of the Covenant.
Inside was various random gubbins - some files, booklets from long forgotten training courses and an envelope full of old photographs of a Christmas party many years ago. But more intriguingly there was a tall gift bag – the sort usually used to present someone with a bottle of wine. Can you see where this is going? Someone reached into the bag, expecting to find a nice plummy shiraz, and was aghast to find they had retrieved a gift box containing... a massive black sex toy. There was a Post-It note attached to the box. It read “Maxine – Viv has asked me to return this to you as she feels it is not an appropriate ‘Secret Santa’ present.”
How we laughed. But it got better - it turns out Viv was a middle aged woman who, at the time of this thoughtful festive gesture, was off work with depression. The gifts we choose for people say so much don’t they? “I’ve noticed you love opera” for example. Or “You need to trim your ear hairs” (my mother could be a cruel woman). But this one clearly said “Cheer up! Have a wank.”
We kept the sex toy in the end. It was stuck in my boss’ packing crate and when he discovered it on the day we moved he had a sense of humour failure and tossed it in the bin (can you toss a dildo? Discuss). Iain rescued it and hid it in my top drawer where it lives to this day. It’s our team mascot now and sometimes Iain or I will bang it on the desk like a gavel for emphasis (incidentally if you wave it near Iain he cringes. I think it brings back memories of boarding school). We’ve heard rumours that Iain was the life model for it but he modestly denies them.
Eventually we found a good use to put it to. We still have a filing cabinet by our desk and my colleague Paul (sadly since departed) took the team mascot home, drilled a hole in the battery cap and converted it to a rather snazzy key-ring. Well if nothing else you’re not going to lose your keys down the back of the sofa with a big black dildo swinging off them. Every now and again somebody comes to retrieve something from the cupboard and we all snigger like schoolboys as I reach into my top drawer… and hastily detach the keys.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Apparently in our old office one of the cleaners was quite behaviourally complex. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed but impressively he managed to combine a fondness for karate with a genuine case of Tourette's. So he would wander round the office practising his punches and kicks while swearing loudly and frequently. How anyone concentrated on work with this going on is well and truly beyond me. I would have brought in a camcorder if I'd known.
Before you ask who in their right mind would hire a cleaner with these attributes, this happens all over the place. The funbus people hired Donald Pleasence. My company employed me. Once place I worked at they hired a lady to do the filing and rearrange the floor to ceiling library shelves in the office. She was 4'11" with a hunchback. It's almost like a challenge to hire people missing some of the obvious skills required to do the job well (Fred Goodwin for example).
Anyway, Darren found this cleaner hilarious and they even had a nickname for him. He was called "Phooey" due to his love of martial arts. One day at work Darren was on the ground floor talking on his mobile phone and Phooey was in the lift effing and blinding. As the lift doors slowly closed Darren was seized by a brilliant idea. He ran up the stairs to the first floor (which looks virtually identical to the ground floor) and stood in the exact same position still on his phone. The lift doors opened. Phooey looked at Darren. Looked at the floor indicator in the lift. Said "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!". Totally at a loss to understand what had happened he pressed the button for the ground floor.
At this point Darren sprinted downstairs and did exactly the same thing. The doors opened on the ground floor and Phooey looked blankly out to see Darren, again in the same position, still on his phone. At this point, deeply deeply confused, he apparently went a bit postal and started karate kicking seven bells out of the side of the lift shouting "Fuck! Shit! Wanker!". He then pressed the button to go back up to the first floor. In Darren's immortal words "I wanted to run back up to the first floor but I was laughing so hard I thought I might soil myself."
On an only partially related note, I used to work for the Facilities department of a large accountancy firm in Reading. The accountants there would have brought out the Tourette's sufferer in anyone. Then there were the PAs. My most frequent complaints were "it's too hot in here" and "it's too cold in here", usually from people sitting next to each other. I soon learned that "wear a jumper" was not considered an acceptable Facilities strategy - the hard way.
The reason I mention this is that when our lifts were on the blink you had to ring a lift company to go out and fix them. The two main lift companies were Schindler and Otis. If you rang Schindler they picked up the phone saying "Schindler's Lifts". If you rang Otis they picked up the phone saying "Otis Reading." It took several months before I realised they weren't taking the piss.
Mikey accidentally made a joke at work today I would have been proud of. One of his friends made some gag about Josef Fritzl being Australian rather than Austrian and quick as a flash Mikey responded "Yeh, wasn't he in Sons and Daughters?". Only afterwards did he realise just how many levels that works on.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
I have been working from home today after a trip to the dentist this morning. Apparently the reason my teeth hurt, broadly speaking, is that I grind them. I wonder what could have brought that on? I was especially disappointed to have missed the funbus today. I was looking forward to seeing Donald Pleasence with a little shamrock and his "Happy St Patrick's Day" bunting out greeting everyone with a jaunty "top o' the mornin' to you" in his authentic South African accent. So in that spirit it's time to say a few words about the funbus.
Back in the good old days my job was based in the centre of my beloved Reading. My walk to work was 10 minutes at best and life was just peachy. I could pop out to town in my lunch break, Pret was only a stone's throw away and many was the day I could sit in Costa with my family shooting the breeze about all sorts. In the summer I could fire a few mails round early on a Friday afternoon and by quarter to six me and my friends were firmly ensconced outside Santa Fe in the sunshine enjoying a cocktail or two before staggering to some eatery or other. My particular favourite cocktail was the Mudslide, a mixture of chocolate ice cream, cream and bad stuff which not only contributed to my astronomical cholesterol levels but also ensured that I regularly got funny looks from passers by. It didn't have an umbrella but to be honest if it had turned up in a sequinned goblet shaped like a phallus I wouldn't have looked any less butch. (I'm getting nostalgic just typing this.)
Anyway, all that changed when my company got bought and they announced that we were Moving To Bracknell. The day they made the announcement grown men cried. Women blanched in horror. There were faintings, vomiting and miscarriages. The first born were the first to go. Then a plague of locusts swarmed round the outside of the building... all right, I'm making it up. But it was very bad news indeed. The one consolation you have in life, wherever you live and however bad it gets, be it Beirut, Baghdad or Basingstoke is that at least it's not Bracknell. And we were going to be working there.
But it's had its consolations. I spend less money, for a start. I get to listen to records every day and catch up on all those CDs I buy but never got round to properly trying out. I read the Independent every day (I know it's awful but it's the best of a bad bunch). But best of all, best of all has to be the funbus, the silver dream machine that takes us there and more crucially gets us home:
Our buses are provided by a company called Stewarts. Whizzy aren't they? Their website proudly boasts that they "provide a diverse range of transportation options from the Thames Valley area". Jetskis? Hoverboards? Armoured cars? Nope - small buses, medium sized buses and big buses.
I've always been a fan of travelling on buses and I'm well aware what a tragic confession that is. But being on a bus full of people you work with, every day? I wasn't convinced. The first few weeks we all shuffled on in the cold, seeing our icy breath in the air, feeling like we were being herded onto the train to Dachau - and it's no coincidence that Bracknell soon became renamed "Brachau". But gradually we got used to it and I think the main reason is the drivers.
The first great bus driver we had was the spitting image of Billy Idol. Mikey got to referring to him as Billy Idol and it stuck. To be honest, he may well have actually been Billy Idol. We never got a lot out of him apart from the trademark sneer as he zoomed down the motorway (or as Mikey called it, "giving it the rebel yell on the 5:15"). But he soon left, presumably due to a mix up involving a dead hooker and a big bag of crack. And in his place we got the two drivers that bring us such pleasure every day.
The first one is Dave, a sullen and unimpressed looking man who is spending his entire life on autopilot, maybe for a bet. When you get off the bus he offers farewell salutations in a way best described as robotic i.e. "ta da, have a nice day, see ya later, ta da, have a nice day, see you later". Always in strict rotation. For a while my OCD inclined mind decided that days where he said "have a nice day" would be good days, days where he said "see ya later" would be okay days and days where he said "ta da" were best forgotten. But then Mikey and I discovered that you could confuse him. Because he always said them in strict rotation if you said what he was about to say just before he said it you could almost see the gears grinding to a halt. Mikey and I started experimenting with this. We gave up because we got bored but I'm confident that with a few more weeks we could have programmed Dave to just say "ta da, ta da, ta da, ta da" before having a massive seizure and collapsing in the driving seat with smoke coming out of his eyeballs. So anyway, that's Dave. Mikey has taken to calling him "have a nice Dave" which I kind of like.
But that's only the B movie ahead of our feature attraction, Donald Pleasence. That's not his real name but the resemblence is so striking that it's stuck. I bumped into one of the bus drivers in the kitchen the other day and I even tried to get him to start using it. Little did we know that this interesting South African gentleman would afford us so much enjoyment over the months. Here are his Seven Commandments:
Honour no other funbus driver than me. That's right. No "have a nice Dave", no Billy Idol, not even the jovial one with the handlebar moustache. Donald is the top dog and you'd better not forget it. His funbus has traytables and everything.
Thou shalt not carry your bag behind you. Donald has a real problem with this, apparently it's very dangerous. He once chased someone down half the length of the funbus to reprimand them for this, by which time the chap just sat down and looked at Donald like he was a mental patient. Understandably.
Thou shalt not bear heated beverages. I can do tricky things with spreadsheets. I can chair meetings with people who earn more than me. I can convincingly explain all sorts of nonsense to customers. But apparently I, and the other funbus passengers, am completely incapable of keeping the lid on a cappucino served up by the cheerful AMT midgets in the train station. Insane!
Thou shalt listen to the Tannoy at all times. You know when you're on an airplane and the captain comes on to tell you the cruising altitude and all that jazz. Donald loves to do this. It's all part of the executive service. Not fun stuff like "And on your right you'll see 'Kebabish', the jewel of Cemetary Junction offering food that is like, but not exactly, a kebab." It's more stuff like "Just to let you know ladies and gentlemen the traffic is very bad and you might need to take a later train.". He likes to feel important.
Thou shalt be festive. If it's Christmas you've damn well got to be Christmassy. On St George's Day he practically led the entire bus in a chorus of "Land of Hope and Glory". It's disturbing to watch.
Honour thy accelerator and brake. Well, mainly the brake. Donald loves his emergency stops, none of which are ever his fault despite the alarming frequency with which they occur. I have actually seen him brake so hard that somebody's glasses flew off and went halfway down the bus. Mikey and I used to have a bet each day on where the emergency stop would occur. He also likes excessive use of his horn and getting into arguments with cyclists. What can I say, he's basically Mad Max with passengers.
Thou shalt not take the funbus' name in vain. IT IS NOT A BUS. IT IS A COACH. He makes this point frequently. If you want to wind him up you just have to make a mobile phone call in earshot saying "Yeah, I'm on the bus". What's that bubbling noise? Oh, it's Donald's blood boiling.
My favourite thing about Stewarts is that their website is http://www.somph.co.uk/ - for some time I misread this as 50 mph which is, appropriately enough, the speed "have a nice Dave" does on the motorway and the speed Donald Pleasence does in a built up area.
One last story about the funbus before I take my leave of you. One night I got on the funbus in a hurry with a newspaper I hadn't read yet. My headphones were on and my music was playing full volume. It was winter and it was too dark for me to read my paper. I reached up and pressed the button for the light. Nothing happened. I pressed it again. Still no light. This went on for about a minute before I gave up, not before clocking that everyone was sort of looking round and pointing at me. Just my paranoia, I thought.
The next day one of my colleagues came up to me in the kitchen.
"Yesterday evening was really funny." she said, "You did realise you were ringing the bell, didn't you?".
Monday, 16 March 2009
Since today wasn’t memorable I thought I would tell a story about a friend of mine who sadly I don’t see any more – let’s call her “DG”. (apologies if you’ve heard this one before). DG was a bit of a sexual adventuress, a crimson flash in a world of beige. No exploits were too risqué, no boundary too uncomfortable. Which of course made her captivating company down the pub. I used to love my trips out with DG because I knew that the next day at work I would be very popular at work. People at work would find out I was out with DG and the next day at lunch they would insist on hearing the latest. Naturally I was very reluctant to disclose these very personal experiences but somehow somebody usually managed to talk me into it.
The story about her on/off “special friend” for instance who liked wearing dresses and had a separate female alter ego. Or the one night stand which didn’t go well when she got the guy drunk and violated him with a strap-on (“do you think he sees me as relationship material?” was her rather bewildering question to me). Endless hours of fun. But my favourite was the time we went down the pub and she told me about her experience of swinging.
She and her then boyfriend had decided to put the spice back into their relationship, so they answered an ad in the local paper and met up with another couple in the Granby Tavern in Reading. I knew from the sign saying “Entrance at Rear” that the Granby embraced certain alternative lifestyles but I didn’t realise there was a thriving swinging scene there. But anyway, they met the other couple, they seemed attractive so all concerned decided to go back to their place and mess around. And that's where the dialogue begins.
DG: So, we got through the door and we were making ourselves comfortable, and then the guy said something very weird.
ME: What was that?
DG: He said “if it’s okay with you I just need to change my leg. This is an outdoor leg. I need my leg that’s good on carpet.”
ME: No fucking way!
DG: It’s true. And then there was this clunking noise as he unclipped his false leg just above the knee. It was gross, it was like a leathery quivering stump.
ME: Jesus. So you made your excuses and left?
DG: (sheepish expression) Err… not quite.
ME: Oh my god! What was it like screwing a man who only had one leg?
DG: Oh, I wouldn’t know. I was screwing his girlfriend.
ME: And what was your boyfriend doing while this was going on?
DG: He was screwing the girlfriend too. She was quite cute.
ME: So what was the guy with only one leg doing?
DG: To be honest there wasn’t a lot he could do. He was kind of marooned on the sofa.
It really happened like that. And I’ve been dining out on that story ever since.
I did tell that story to my friend Neil once and he told me about a friend of his, a gay guy who had lost both legs below the knee in a car accident. Neil asked him once how he was coping expecting a tale of woe and his friend said “I’m getting more sex than ever! I’m telling you now Neil, the internet is a revelation!”. So it seems that the unsuccessful swinger was missing out on the joys of stumpfucking after all. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Sunday, 15 March 2009
It was a bit like getting to the gates of heaven and finding they're locked. And having to look through the gates to see loads of people you really don't like on the other side having a great time. Look, there's Natasha Kaplinsky enjoying a canape! And Chris Moyles with a big fuck off Martini that should have been yours! Vernon Kay then strolls by smoking a cigar - the fumes faintly waft through the gate making you feel like an especially pathetic parody of the Bisto Kid. Surely things can't get any worse? Then you realise you're not alone on this side of the Pearly Gates. Enya and Mika have just arrived and they're about to perform "Especially For You" as a duet FOR ALL ETERNITY.
Where was I? Oh yes, so as you can see, I had a bit of a wobble. Suddenly I felt very tired, very hungry and very alone. And did I mention that I had toothache?
And that's when Charles Saatchi stepped in to rescue my afternoon. Now, I've always hated the Saatchis and I've always hated the Tories and when Saatchi married Nigella Lawson I found myself thinking Why don't Al Qaeda do weddings? It's just not fair. But to give credit where it's due the Saatchi Gallery, just off Duke of York Square, really was quite interesting. They had an exhibition of new art from the Middle East which isn't normally the sort of thing I'd go for. But I was feeling a bit down and I thought it couldn't possibly be any worse than watching countless people wandering past munching on a spicy Jamaican chicken patty. So in I went.
I'm no expert on art or culture and I wouldn't even say I necessarily know what I like. I do enjoy modern art because even when it's bad you at least feel like it's bad in an interesting way. Many's the time that I've walked out of Modern Art Oxford with Kelly saying "What in God's name was that all about?", but at least it prompts a conversation. Give me half an hour with the worst stuff in the Pompidou Centre over half an hour with the best stuff in the Louvre any day. And I still really don't understand people who can look at a painting for hours on end. I saw "Guernica" in Madrid and there were people sat on the bench taking it all in for the best part of half an hour. I'm surprised some of them didn't bring a picnic and a blanket.
I think I've just given you a very clear idea how much of a Philistine I am. So back to the Saatchi Gallery. Here are the three bits of art I especially enjoyed. First of all, Spectre (the Yacoubian Building, Beirut) by Marwan Rechmaoui. It is, I later discovered, an exact replica of the artist's former apartment building which was evacuated during the conflict with Israel in 2006. It was an impressively grim and depressing edifice - but if somebody had told me right there and then that this piece was called A Lifetime of Flora and Brown Bread I would have believed them.
The second piece was even weirder. Titled Old People's Home by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu it consisted of a number of frighteningly realistic old people who scoot randomly round an empty space in motorised wheelchairs. You can either look at the whole spectacle from the viewing balcony or go down the steps and walk among them. I did the latter and it was a very unsettling experience. Now I don't know who has an idea like this and I probably wouldn't want to be them. Nor would I necessarily say I enjoyed it. But I thought it was interesting and to me, that's probably enough. Back up on the balcony I got my film camera out and was taking a few shots. An older lady standing next to me said "Take one of the Greek one, it's really funny." So I did.
It probably says a lot about how low I was feeling that an abandoned apartment block, a wheelspin of aged paraplegics (this is a new collective noun I have just coined) and a giant papier mache chainsmoking drunk managed to cheer me up, but that's art for you. I left the Saatchi Gallery with my glass maybe two fifths empty instead feeling more like finishing my trek through London. So thanks, Mr Saatchi. Even if you are a hideously rich Tory bigot and your wife makes me want to throw bricks at the television.
Sorry, I thought I’d get that bit out of the way up front. The thing is, my teeth have always been perfectly healthy – a legacy of my mother giving me fluoride tablets as a kid, long before they put it in the water. Going to the dentist never held any terror for me because there was never anything that needed to be done. After I got a clean bill of health my mum would take me to the deli next door and buy me a big slab of Death By Chocolate with thick fudgy chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles on top. We’d go home and I would grab a fork and put the cake out of its misery in a manner best described as brutally swift and efficient. But what this means is that I have nothing to compare this feeling to, and I’m not one of life’s stoics. So it has kind of blighted the weekend.
Or, to put it more concisely – I have toothache and it fucking hurts.
London, as it turned out, was lovely. I normally go to the same old haunts – Islington, Marylebone, the South Bank – so this time I thought I’d try something different. I got on the Tube and headed west on the Circle Line. There was a wonderful moment as we shuffled out of Notting Hill - there was a young nervous looking guy sitting next to me and at first I thought he was twitching, some kind of nervous tic perhaps. It wouldn't be the first time that I had wound up on public transport sitting next to someone best described as "behaviourally complex" after all, or the last. But then I realised with growing admiration that he was in fact conducting in time to the music on his iPod. I have no idea what he was listening to - it could have been "Ace of Spades" for all I knew, but I was transfixed. His hands moved beautifully, languidly through the air with all sorts of little nuances and gestures. He got off two stops later and I had half a mind to beg him to stay.
So anyway, I got off at South Kensington with the aim of wandering through Chelsea. The cool bits of London are all very well but the grandeur and beauty of Kensington and Chelsea really are something else – all those huge and impressive buildings, intimidatingly expensive looking shops and the sort of upmarket Italian restaurants that make Prezzo look like a Happy Eater. Every sidestreet seemed to be full of beautiful mews houses, the sort of places I idly daydream that I’ll buy if I ever win the lottery (admittedly I don’t actually play the lottery but statistically speaking that doesn’t hugely alter my chances of winning).
It’s an area rich with significance for my family. I walked past the Royal Marsden Hospital on Fulham Road, where my dad was successfully treated for cancer. Later on I was heading down the Kings Road going past Kensington and Chelsea Register Office where – in a slightly quicker and less painful procedure – my brother tied the knot almost five years ago. It doesn’t have quite the same significance for me but I do remember having a very pleasant meal in the Kings Road branch of Pizza Express with Kelly, Rebecca and Rob just before a Magnetic Fields concert so as recollections go that will have to do.
I do love walking round places with an iPod. The soundtrack of your life can lend things a completely different perspective, sometimes touching, sometimes plain odd. For instance while I was strolling round the architectural splendour of the Fulham Road I was listening to Randy Newman’s new record and a more bizarre contrast would be difficult to imagine. Randy was singing about the state of America (a pet subject of his as it turns out) as I strolled past Sloane after Sloane in the land of the footballer’s wife. It was a bit like being followed round by a very persistent and eccentric American tourist who is bending your ear throughout – faintly bewildering but not at all an unpleasant experience.
There were times when the marriage of music and scenery were a bit more harmonious. As I was strolling down Fulham Road and about to cut across onto the Kings Road Angela by Bill Ricchini came onto my iPod. Now, I know some of the music I listen to is a bit off the beaten track but this gentleman is so obscure that I can’t even remember how I found out about him. I got his second record through the post recently and this is the second track off it – I think it’s quite lovely. Its faintly sad and dejected tone was starting to echo the state of my legs after all that schlepping.
Bill Ricchini - Angela
The other lovely track I heard on my travels was Thirteen by Ben Kweller which played as I was heading up Buckingham Palace Road. Ben Kweller is probably closer to the mainstream than a lot of people I listen to (which is not to say that you’ll have heard of him) and in fact they played something from his latest album on Mark Radcliffe’s show on Radio 2 only last week. Unfortunately he is suffering from an affliction which strikes some recording artistes from time to time – it’s very painful and the only known cure is poor record sales. Yes, he’s “gone country”. It’s all very sad, but anyway this track is from happier times. Sometimes you listen to a song and it just hits you at the right time, or you’re in the right frame of mind for it or something about it speaks to you. Which is my way of saying that when this came on I found it oddly touching. Have a listen for yourself and see what you think.
Ben Kweller - Thirteen
Saturday, 14 March 2009
Gemma was saying that she’d been in the ladies yesterday and someone did a wee of excessive duration. Well over a minute, she said. Funny that, I said. I went to the loo at work last week and someone was doing something especially noisy in one of the cubicles. It sounded a bit like the Frog Chorus warming up. I was transfixed - I was hearing sounds I didn't even know the human bottom could make. Either that or he was playing around with a tuba in there, and not terribly competently either.
Anyway, when this happened I was tempted to take just a little longer to wash my hands in the hope I would still be there when the bottom bugler came out of the cubicle so I could unmask the culprit. Not in a Scooby Doo sense I might add, I don’t think I’d pull off someone’s disguise for them to say “Damn, I would have got away with crimping off a fulsome and symphonic length if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids”.
But anyway, this is apparently just me – Gemma had no desire to loiter to discover the woman behind the heroic pissing. Maybe she was just scared that somebody had smuggled a racehorse into the building. But how would it have got through the security barriers? (actually, it would clearly have jumped them, wouldn't it? Durr). Actually, there are at least a few women in our office who closely resemble horses. Maybe it was one of them, not that we'll ever know now because of Gemma's lack of healthy curiosity.
Things got out of hand after that. Toilet humour, Gemma, Iain and me is a lethal cocktail. It led to a discussion about whether the phantom shitter might have been our CEO, which then snowballed into a discussion about the relationship between the strains of a high powered job and other kinds of strains. This culminated in Iain impersonating Prince Philip taking a shit (surprisingly easy to do, it just involves impersonating Prince Philip. Ditto for Prince Charles. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me.)
Just another lunchtime on an anonymous business park on the outskirts of what might be Britain’s crummiest town.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
So if I can ask you a favour... if you've read this, if you've read the previous entries, can you pop a comment here and let me know? And if you've got any questions or any topics you'd like me to cover in a future post you only have to ask. That embarrassing story about the nude pictures, my job phoning porn lines, my very worst dates... you name it. I might even tell that Vaseline story.
Don't be shy. I'd be really interested to know just how many (how few?) readers I actually have.
He was telling me at work today that he had a rude dream about a woman that works in a different bit of the office. He’d never really noticed her, never looked at her twice and then last night, by some quirk of his psyche (and there seem to be many) he ended up engaging in what the personal ads like to euphemistically term “no strings attached adult fun”.
Has this ever happened to you? It happened to me once many years ago – again, someone I worked near who I’d never once seen that way. But the problem with those dreams is that there are some things you can’t unlearn or forget.
For instance – once you know that the word “SEMEN” lurks, barely concealed, in the heart of the word “AMUSEMENT” you can never walk past an amusement arcade without semen jumping out at you. Actually the one in Reading is in a very grotty part of town so that’s a real possibility in both senses. Similarly, once you know that Mark Owen from Take That is the spitting image of Willie Carson you can never look at Mark Owen in the same way. Like a magic eye picture, like some of those optical illusions in Dali paintings, once you see it you can never go back. And so it is proving with Phil’s mucky dream. Now every time he bumps into her in the office, every time he holds the door open for her there is an illicit frisson. I fear he may explode.
In fact, clinching proof of this took place later in the day when we shared the funbus home. Donald Pleasence was at the helm, it was a cool Bracknell night (if the words “cool” and “Bracknell” ever belong in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence) and we were discussing another lady in our office.
PHIL: I liked her outfit, I liked the way it displayed her genitalia.
ME: What, her camel’s toe? You’re kidding aren’t you?
PHIL: No, not that, her… (gestures suggestively) you know.
ME: Oh my god Phil. Breasts aren’t genitalia! Genitalia are the bits involved in intercourse and procreation. Please don’t tell me you’ve been having sex with people’s breasts all this time.
PHIL: Aren’t they? Are you sure they aren’t genitalia? (pause). Actually, I think I kind of knew that.
The office is seized by charitable apathy about Comic Relief tomorrow. The concept about “doing something funny for money” is one I can’t see catching on at work. Gemma sent a mail out asking if people wanted to bake a cake for Comic Relief and I persuaded her to change the voting buttons to read “Let them eat cake!” and “No thanks”. Within seconds of sending the mail somebody had mailed her saying “I think you should change the voting button to ‘Yes, I would like to bake a cake’ as it may be seen as misleading.” Livewires, the lot of them.
The most contentious thing about Comic Relief is the red clothes tax. If you wear something red you have to contribute 50p to Comic Relief. If you don’t you have to contribute £1. I suppose it’s quite typical of taxes in general in that it’s inescapable but there have been rumblings. “I’m going to work from home and not pay anything.” said Mike. I on the other hand plan to wear my only red t-shirt. Here’s a picture. Do you think people will see the funny side?
In other news, the weekend beckons - my last weekend before hitting 35. Technically 35 is still “early 30s”, right? Maybe then I could be in my mid-30s from about 36 through to 41 or so. I do worry though that this kind of reasoning is dangerously akin to giving your age a combover. I don’t think anyone with a bar code woke up one day and thought My, I could grow these bits at the side long enough to scrape over my entire head! It probably happens a bit at a time, each time combing those strands of hair just that little bit longer until the next thing you know people are pointing at you and laughing in the street and none of your friends have the guts to tell you. So maybe I’ll own up to being in my mid 30s (err… until I’m 39).
I think I’m going to go to London this weekend. I do love London but I’m very aware that I tend to stick to the bits I know – Islington, Marylebone High Street, the Kings Road, Tate Modern, the Design Museum… all the greats. So in a feeble attempt to encourage a bit of interaction rather than just have me constantly ranting on – any ideas?
Wednesday, 11 March 2009
I had a few minutes extra today when I was getting ready, I was wearing a crisp plain white shirt and I thought, Why not? I’ll wear a tie. I picked a rather fetching number, navy blue with small white flowers on it. And when I got to work a couple of people said, as you would expect, “You look smart today”. It’s amazing how a tie automatically makes you look smart, I really ought to wear one more often because I need all the help I can get. I made a few jokes about having a job interview, mainly because if I hadn’t somebody else would have done. But the most surreal feedback was from my colleague Phil on the way to the kitchen.
“I don’t like it, you should have gone to Tie Rack.” he said. “It’s rubbish. It makes you look like a Tory.”
The blue touch paper had been lit and he was off.
“I bet you’ve got a picture of Margaret Thatcher above your fireplace. I bet you’ve got a picture of John Major in your bathroom. No, I’ve got it. I bet you’ve got John Major vinyl in your bathroom. I bet you walk on John Major’s face to go to the toilet. I bet you love that.”
I wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. I found it a bit difficult to concentrate knowing that Phil had somehow transformed my innocent bathroom into some sort of right wing laminated sex dungeon. All this and it was barely 10am.
Actually John Major has been blighting my life for over 15 years. When I was at university I got a new pair of glasses halfway through my first year. I remember walking through one of the quads and one of the guys in my year – who would ordinarily never have spoken to me in a million years – came up to me.
“Hey, you know your old glasses?”
“Could I borrow them? I’m off to a fancy dress party at the weekend and I was thinking of going as John Major.”
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Recently Gemma has been on a drug trial. I should rephrase that, it makes it sound like she’s been up in front of the Bracknell beak for smoking a crack pipe round the back of Peacocks. I mean she’s trialling a new drug for treating house dust allergies. Every morning at half eleven we all traipse to the kitchen and as we make our cuppas Gemma has to put a couple of drops in a teaspoon of water and then hold it under her tongue for 60 seconds. Iain and I have taken this as our cue to try and make Gemma spit it out, usually by being as disgusting as possible.
I nearly managed it a few weeks back by reciting a deeply vile limerick I had made up about Iain and “Liz in complaints” and their forbidden love. I'm guessing you can confidently predict what I rhymed “Liz” with. One day before the end of this trial we’re going to waste some pharmaceuticals if it’s the last thing we do. But of course, none of that happened today because today was a day when nothing happened.
I spent the day immersed in a spreadsheet so dark and oppressive that I half expected Al Jazeera to screen grainy camcorder footage of me begging the British Government to secure my release. I struggled through a sandwich full of wet, bouncy ham thinking If I’m going to eat something with calories why can’t it be more fun than this?. Jim Bowen could almost have turned up with a few onion bhajis or a Toblerone saying “Look what you could have won.” I had a conference call so baffling I wondered whether the people on it were taking what they wanted to say, translating it into a different language on Babelfish, translating it back and then reading it off an index card. It was definitely one of those days, best forgotten and now – mystifyingly – immortalised.
I’ll be more sparkling tomorrow – I promise. In the meantime, I'm going to finish with a song. This is the lovely Pram Town by Darren Hayman. It's from a concept album about Harlow and the mundane nature of the new towns it celebrates seems perfect for a day like today. The video is completely constructed from shots taken on a mobile phone. Fancy! Hope you like it.