Wooden Boxes

Ah, it was a week for funerals. On the Monday afternoon, my friend Johnnie the Fox was buried. It was a fine winter afternoon, and I walked out of town to the cemetery, along the path between the river and the sloping hills. Johnnie had died at the beginning of December, but the funeral wasn’t until the end of January. For whatever reason. However, I was the last to enter the little chapel as the service began, and the local vicar looked up and raised his eyebrows in recognition as I slipped into one of the bench seats running along the side of the room, where I could spend the next half hour or so watching the coffin.

My heart felt a certain gladness to see that there were at least a couple of dozen mourners there, as apart from two or three cousins and his daughter, whose ma had taken her away to the West Country as a toddler, he had no living relatives. Carly the daughter was there, grown to a lovely tall woman with John’s stunning blue eyes and fine fair hair. The service went quickly, luckily there were no hymns to be sung, but a couple of pieces of music were played and we said a few prayers, inside and out loud.

Then we all walked up the hill to the grave which had been set aside and paid for years before, his parents on one side and the paternal gramps on the other, overlooking the river and the valley, the poplar trees which will cast a long green shadow over John on summer evenings to come standing tall and grey at the edge of the field nearby, naked apart from a partial winter coat of ivy twisting up the trunks. A brief continuation of the service, a few nice comments about the dear departed and the surroundings in which he would spend forever, and the coffin was lowered into the chalk. Years ago I met John at the cemetery when I was there to visit a grave, and he’d been there lying on his plot, trying it out for size. Oh how we’d chuckled.

So, John settled nicely into the ground, I had a few words with Carly, then with Jo, the current lady friend and Maurice her dad, who had played hockey in his youth with some of my uncles and aunts, and then M the vicar, who wasn’t surprised to see me there as he’d come to the conclusion that I seemed to either know or be related to everyone who’s died round here lately, which sometimes seems to be true. Maybe he secretly thinks I’m nowt but a funeral junkie, a middle aged Harold looking for a Maud of my own.

Then Maurice grabbed me. “A word, please Graham” he whispered and ushered me along the path to a silent spot.

“You know about some of John’s bequest to you don’t you?” I did. John had left me his music, he told me he would years ago. There’s lots of it to listen my way through. Which is what I told Maurice.

“Well. There’s more, as you can imagine. We’ve had valuers in, and you can have either the cash value, which is a rather handy amount, or you can have the actual items. But we’re happy to send the items to auction. If you prefer. Obviously, it’s up to you. Probably not what you might want in the house. You do know what I’m talking about, don’t you?” he asked, probably because there was a look on my face that indicated that I didn’t have a clue what the fuck he was talking about.

“Sorry Maurice, I don’t have a clue what the…what you’re talking about?” I said. He sighed.

“The guns. He’s left you the guns. You understand me?” I did. John was a what you might call an enthusiast. One day in the late seventies when we worked together, I had walked into the porters’ room of the hospital where we worked, swigging back a can of Heineken with one in my apron pocket for John, and he was standing holding a .303 rifle pointed at the door, I suddenly went deaf and the can exploded in my hand. I eventually saw the joke and nicked some filler from the maintenance stores to cover up the damage to the door frame. When the building was demolished in the early nineties, I wondered if we’d see a story in the local paper about wartime relics found embedded in the woodwork, but no, the demolition company must have just gone in and smashed the place up. Vandals. John thought the whole thing hilarious. But in later years when he started hearing voices and the paranoia became a bit overwhelming for him we gave the rifle and half a box of ammo a decent burial at sea, to spend eternity as a seabed curiosity for lobsters, crabs and dogfish to ponder over, in their own fishy and crustacean ways.

So there’s more. And it/they is/are my inheritance  from my old mate. I told Maurice that it would go against the spirit of Johnnie the Fox’s wishes if I were to soil his memory by cashing in on his enthusiasms. So I’ll have the gun(s) to add to my small collection. Thanks John. Trouble is, you have to go farther and farther away over the hills to find somewhere secluded enough to blast away at unsuspecting tin cans and innocent tree trunks without worrying people unduly.

The next day a regular lady customer who only ever comes into the shop late in the afternoons came in at ten in the morning for a cup of tea, left, came back at twelve for lunch, left, and returned again at three for a hot chocolate. “Lin, what’s going on?” I asked. Three visits in one day is a record.

She told me she’d spent all day at the funeral parlour, sitting in vigil over her dead brother in law.

“Maggie’s husband?” I asked. I vaguely know her sister Maggie. As sisters go, they’re not close. I always thought they hated each other.

“Yerrrs, Alan. He’s died. We didn’t have much to do with each other while he was alive, so I’m making up for it now. The funeral is on Thursday. I’m not going. You know Maggie…..and me. So I’m saying my goodbyes now.” Makes sense to me. And she always says yerrrs instead of yes.

“Why don’t you go to the funeral?” I asked. “Mend some bridges with your sister, it’s the ideal opportunity, is a funeral. Emotions are heightened, Maggie will be at her most vulnerable, it’s the perfect time to exploit the tragedy of the moment and try to get close again?” She shook her head.

“No. Maybe another time.”

Ah well. I was only trying to be helpful. John. I’m only dancing.

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Jackie’s Lock

So there I was, enjoying an average January day in the shop. My shop. January and February tend to be a bit quieter than the rest of the year so there’s more of a scent of mild relaxation in the air, a little more casualness to proceedings. Mad Jackie came in with one of her young lady friends and changed things.

She kissed me on the cheek and barked at me to return the greeting.

“Both cheeks dear, both cheeks!” Jackie is Scottish, 83 years old and hovers around the five foot two mark in her slippered feet. She enjoys the company of younger people of an artistic and creative bent. What she sees in me, I really could not tell you.

“I’d like to buy you lunch dear,” she told me. “Here, what would you like? Where shall we go?” She’s a bit on the deaf side, so she tends to amplify her voice. Not quite to the level of a bellow, but her diction is clear and the words carry. She may have performed on the stage in her younger days. Her house and garden are a work of art, almost an intimate museum of eccentricity. Her front room, among many other wonderful things, boasts an entire wall consisting of Victorian domestic dioramas set behind a series of glass screens, and a large range of wall cupboards boasting hand painted panels in the style of Edward Burnes-Jones, featuring erotically exotic angels barely covering their parts with wisps of almost mist on a background of 24 carat gold leaf forestry. Painted by her friend Camille, she told me once, presuming that I knew who Camille is. I didn’t then and I still don’t. They’re beautiful though. The whole effect is quite stunning. I love to visit, but I couldn’t live there, the sensory overload would give me the shivers, and Jackie’s voice would deafen me.

“Ah, I’ve just had my lunch Jackie, thanks all the same. I’ll entertain you to lunch here though. Take a seat.” So she did, with her companion, and they ordered some food and drink. Jackie was waving her housekeys at me.

“I’ve locked myself out. I want you to take these dear, and see if you can open my door. If the keys don’t work for you, do whatever you can to get in. I know you will gain entry dear.” She turned to the rest of the shop and repeated her faith in my ability to break into her house. I asked her if she’d tried both locks. She has a deadlock and a Yale. She had. I asked her if she’d tried the locksmiths down by the bridge. They were out, she told me.

“I’ve never been a burglar, Jackie. Why do you think I’ll be able to break in? I hate the sound of breaking glass, especially when I’m lonely. So I’ll not force entry, I’ll tell you that now.” I told her.

“Oh, that’s alright dear,” she said, “you’ll get in. I know you’ll be able to. You see, I have faith in you.” And she resumed her convo with the girl she’d come into the shop with. I was obviously dismissed. Her house is a mere five or six minute walk from the shop, so taking her keys and a can of 3-in-1 lubricant, just in case, I set off along the road. The deadlock was working, but the Yale key was sticking halfway in. As I have found so many times before, resistance was soon breached by a quick squirt of lube and a bit of gentle rocking from side to side accompanied by a few sweetly encouraging words. I took the key out and gave a hefty blast of 3-in-1 into the hole; this gave completely trouble-free access for easy penetration and I gave the key a few confirmatory turns, withdrawals and re-entries. All worked well. Jackie’s cat, a Chocolate Siamese called Jasper on account of his eyes, was sitting on her bottom step, and eyed me suspiciously.

I locked up and returned to the shop with the keys, the lubricant and the good news. As well as a deep sense of relief at not having had to use violence to get into the house. Jackie had finished her snack and her Earl Grey, and insisted on my accompanying her and the girl back to the house. Everybody we passed was told how wonderful, clever and helpful I was. I don’t think anyone believed it much. One woman even laughed in Jackie’s face and cracked a joke about me thinking I’m royalty. Silly bitch. Back at Jackie’s house, the girl slipped upstairs while Jackie made a huge fuss about how clever I was at breaking into her house without smashing a window. She wouldn’t have it that it was simply a bit of grit or dust in the key-chute. She offered me some chocolates from a bowl on the side to say thank you. Her house is maintained at furnace heat, and the kids-size chocolate bars had obviously been sitting in the bowl on the side above the radiator since before Christmas. They looked a bit amoebic en masse, so I politely declined.

“You can’t go empty handed dear,” she said, and forced four Christmas crackers upon me. “There. Take those. You might find a bottle opener in one of them. And take that, too,” she said, handing me a bottle of Pinot Grigio which she must have had waiting in the shadows. Bless her.

Jackie. A queen among women. They don’t make them like her anymore.

They’re watching…

I love this time of year. Christmas, I mean. There’s food, there’s drink, there’s that lovely, cosy glow when you smugly listen to people who sit in your busy little high street coffee shop slash retail bakery all day, buying tea and coffee and complaining that they have still got so much to do to get ready for the big day, which after all only lasts for the standard twenty four hours and you’ve got everything in for it yourself because you’re just so effing organised. Anally so, it might be said by some. But above and beyond all that there’s the fact that as proprietor of said busy little high street coffee shop slash retail bakery you get treated to lots of festive snogs and hugs from lots of your local hotties. And some of their grans, it must in all fairness be said. But still, it’s all good. I would not keep an umbrella furled in a downpour, nor reject still beer in a drought.

The girls from the dog grooming parlour had just left and I was tweaking a hair from something that was probably more than 60% Airedale from between my incisors when the phone rang. It was Diamonds, the local plumber. He does all the plumbing work in the shop, and I once asked him to fit a new mixer tap in the kitchen at home. He could only come while I was at work, and Anita was alone at home. I got home from the shop that evening to find her sitting with a cup of tea, shaking her head sadly.

“When your friend Diamonds does plumbing jobs in the shop, does he sing to himself loudly? And barely in tune?”

“Very.” Replied I, “He knows every Heatwave number off by heart. He’s just not so good on tunes as he is with lyrics. Though he does tend to segue from one song into another without actually recognising the fact. It can be a bit disorienting at times. He’s a one, isn’t he?”

“And does he break off to explain to each tool exactly what he’s going to do with it?”

“Yup. And he tells the pipework exactly what angle he’s going to bend it to, what connections he’s going to use, everything. The works.”

She looked me in the eye. Trouble.

“If we ever need any plumbing done again, can you promise me that you’ll not call Diamonds in? He’s barking mad. I wanted to take his little blowtorch and cauterise his eyelids. And if he comes here again I will. You do understand, don’t you.” Note the lack of a question mark there, dear reader. If we need a plumber again I know just the fellow. He’s not Diamonds. I’ll keep Diamonds for jobs in the shop though. He’s great.

As I was saying, Diamonds was on the phone, and he wanted a word.

“Hello Graham, it’s Duiamnonds here.” I think he’s got Irish blood coursing through his vocal cords. “I’ve been tossing something over for a few days, and I think I should share it with you.”

I’m so glad I don’t have a laundry. “Go on, Di, what’s been buggering you? Ha ha.”

“Well, between you, me and the gatepost, which by the way is getting smaller every time I look at it, I have to tell you something. The other day, when I’d dropped off that Christmas card to you, did you find my new business card pasted inside it, I designed it myself, did you like it? I noticed a man across the road from you outside the Post Office…”

“Was he a postman?” I asked.

“No, I don’t know if you’ve seen him, he had a coat on.” It’s December, mind you.

“Was he large, hairy, smelly with a large wooden cross swinging on a leather lanyard round his neck and a mop of unkempt hair and a beard that looks like it might have a separate existence and what could well be his entire life in a bedraggled rucksack on his back and a wad of anti abortion propaganda in his filth begrimed hand?” I asked. A person matching that description has been making a nuisance of himself lately.

“No”, said Diamonds. “I don’t think so. Anyway, he looked a bit suspicious to me, so I decided to linger, see what he was up to. I’m not by nature a suspicious person, but he was worrying me, I don’t mind telling you, Graham. Do you know what he did? He walked over the road, and he was looking through your shop window, it looked like he was checking out what you sell, what you charge. Looking at the food you’ve got in the cabinet in your window. Then another man came and started talking to him, and I got closer to listen, and they were talking about the food in your window, and the prices you charge. It’s all a bit suspicious to me. They looked like the fellow who’s got the cafe down the road from you. Not local, if you know what I mean. Eastern, and I don’t mean Polish. If it was my cafe, I’d want to know.” He paused, the moment hung heavy in the air. What to say? I didn’t want to appear ungrateful or rude.

“Well. Thanks Diamonds. I haven’t noticed anyone particularly worrying, looking through my window lately. But you have to put up with that sort of thing when you have a shop window displaying the stuff you sell. I shall certainly keep my eyes peeled from now on though. Thanks.” I carried on thanking him profusely for being such a valuable source of intelligence and made a mental note to get the phone number of  Clive the other plumber programmed into the shop’s phone.

“I didn’t want to worry you Graham. You sound worried. But like I say, if it was my cafe, I’d really want to know.” He probably would. Diamonds almost sounded menacing. I was just glad that he didn’t burst into song. If he had I’d have gone to the sports shop and bought an American baseball bat to hook up under the counter. Or a billhook, whatever that is. It sounds like the sort of implement you could do something viciously decisive with though, wouldn’t you say? Be prepared, as they taught us in the Scouts.

Happy Christmas to you, whoever and wherever you are.

 

 

Flamingo

…being the title of the Flamin Groovies record to which I am presently rocking, alone here in Chateau de la Ileostomé. I’ve currently got an infested face and gravelly sore throat and I ache and stuff keeps going blurry when I look at it for too long, so to cheer meself up I’ve just booked a week in Prague for the end of March, at a lovely four star place just a little stroll outside the cobbled old town area where we usually like to stay. In Petrska Ctvrt*, in the space between Stare Mesto and Florenc, is where we’ll spend five days in Spring. It’s in a mainly residential but generously restauranted area, so I shall be happy. That’s my Christmas present to myself, so come on March, hurry along now.

Abbie came into the shop today to show me her lip. Ooh, but the swelling has gone down and the bruising has faded but it’s still quite tumescent and her face has acquired a new subtle look, something almost like but not quite a sneer.

“That, my girl, will teach you to value your natural beauty and not to go around getting hairdressers to inject your face with who knows what. Won’t it?”

“No, but I’ll just be a bit more careful who I go to in future,” she almost but not quite sneered. Then she gave me a little kiss on the cheek and said good bye. It would have been nice if it had been a full on snog, but as a by-product of my general state of pathetic run-downness, I’ve got a beauty of a cold sore on my lower lip. And I sound all throaty and hoarse. Not pretty at all. So for so many reasons, the snog was best avoided. And so it came to pass.

As Abbie left Mathew came in. He was worrying, visibly. He spoke.

“Sorry I was going to abandon you today, I’d gone in the place down the road for lunch, but some people came in who claimed to know me and they were very loud and it quite put me off so I left my lunch and thought I’d come up to you, you might know them, they said they know me from here, but although I think I may have seen them around, I’m sure I’ve never seen them here, he’s a loud man, bald and rather large, she’s rather blousey with a large head of what looks like dyed yellow hair although she might be blonde and I’m being unkind to her, they said they knew me from in here”, he said sweeping his arm in the general direction of the pavement outside.

I looked at him. Solicitously. I indicated a nearby table.

“Breathe, Mathew. Be seated, Mathew. You are safe. You and that couple are travelling in opposite directions around the nexus in time and space that I currently occupy. They left here not fifteen minutes ago, after feasting on lattes and Danish pastries. I shall bring you tea and a home made roast vegetable soup accompanied by a buttered, poppy seeded roll, freshly baked this morning. Cool your boots, man. You have met Mick’n’Annie. Again. You have not been medicined. They are often in here. When you have been in here. You have conversed with them. Many times. It’s just that you’ve met them in a different environment. You’re fine. They’re fine. He’s large, bald and loud, but not quite as much of a comedian as he thinks he is, despite the fact that he laughs at himself all the time. And Annie was blond not so long ago, she simply keeps it topped up a bit too dramatically nowadays. So. You awright now?”

Mathew nodded and smiled, mournfully.

“You know, that reminds me of a joke that my old Mathematics Master was fond of saying. I don’t know if I can remember it properly.” He rummaged around in the dusty cupboards of his memory, disturbing clouds of late summer chalk dust and withered dog-hairs which rose into the slanting beams of light piercing the gloom of his mind, suspending in pale updraughts and disappearing down underfoot once again, forgotten and now invisible. It probably even smelled of stale boiled greens and inadequately laundered adolescents and their clothing.

“Oh yes. I have it. He used to ask us, ‘what’s the difference between half of nothing and something that’s been spent?’ Yes, that was it. Have you heard it Graham?” His gaze was piercing. I wished it was Abbie with her tender swollen lip sitting there, sixty or so centimeters from my groin, looking up beseechingly at me. But it wasn’t. It was a slightly insane seventy year old man living off his late father’s still sizeable but to me, utterly unattractive fortune. It must carry a terrible amount of burdensome baggage.

“No, Mathew. That’s not one I’ve heard. I’m wracking my brain, trying to see where it’s heading though…nope. You’ll have to give me a bit of relief here. Go on, tell me, what’s the answer?”

He looked up from his soup.

“Answer? To what?” I was tempted to fetch the largest of my knives and maim him, horribly. Or at the least to put out one of his eyes. But no. I’d end up in chokey and miss out on my Prague city break next year, if the magistrate should turn out to be particularly stern. So I asked him,

“The joke Mathew, the one that your old Mathematics Master would tell you, back in the day. The difference between half of nothing and something that’s been spent?” You were telling me about it? I’m not making this stuff up Mathew? It was you! What’s the joke? Where’s the punchline? Where did the damage occur? IS THIS THE FAULTLINE?” I asked him, in a state beginning to get worryingly like desperation. The day had started so well, so ordinarily. And now this.

“I don’t know, Graham. As far as I can remember, the answer is, there’s no difference, one is half of nothing and the other is something that’s been spent. It’s all in the question.” He chuckled.

“Somehow, Mathew, I don’t really believe that your schooldays were the happiest of your life. Were they?” I asked him.

He didn’t answer me. I don’t blame him.

 

* Peter’s Quarter, for those of us who use languages which aren’t shy of vowels.

Brews.

I was discussing matters various with Sticks. Mostly about how he’d recently been to the hospital for blood tests and scans and stuff, and how they’d called him back to have something removed from inside him. Something he wasn’t willing to identify, but he looks all pale and worried, which isn’t really much different to his usual ghostly demeanour. Sticks had also come in to return to me a book he’d borrowed about twenty years ago, but which had while in  his secure and tender care mysteriously acquired a ‘Read and Return’ stamp inside the front cover along with a handwritten price tag of £2.49(!) and a thick slab of Tippex over my monogram. It had also achieved a patina of wear not usually found on objects less than eighty or so years old. But it has been returned to my hairy and still tanned bosom, so I’m happy.

We were in the final stages of negotiating this week’s loan. How it works is, Sticks comes in on Thursdays, skint and hungry since he lost his job as a mechanic at the transport company for passing out in an opiated doze over a hot tyre welding machine or something frighteningly lethal like that, and I lend him anywhere from fifteen to thirty quid to see him through till next week. Then the next Thursday he returns, and we negotiate an extension or increase to the loan for the following week. The thirty pound debt now probably stands at a level which would make the Greek finance minister shift uneasily in his chair. But never mind. It’s Sticks. One day he may return my original vinyl copy of White Light White Heat that I lent him in 1978. I just don’t like to pester. It’s sure to be scratched by now anyway. Occasionally Rodger his ex-boss from the transport company slides into the shop and asks me if “you seen that waster lately?” I always feign ignorance and irritate him by not having a clue who he could possibly be referring to. He usually buys a cream cake and fucks off.

I’d just bidden a relieved yet fond farewell to Sticks when the lovely Abbie came in, holding her hand over her face. She has always been fond of me since she was a teenager in the late nineteen-nineties when her less than perceptive schoolmates used to call her Scabby Abbie, and when they started it while in my shop I handed out a rather harsh verbal spanking to a few of them. Happy days.

I asked her if she was alright and why she was covering her face. She moved her hand and showed me her top lip which looked like a brick had punched it at a high velocity.

“Ooh. Blimey. How did that happen?”  I asked. You would, wouldn’t you?

She’d been to a parlour to have lip fillers injected. I don’t know why, she’s got lips you could happily spoon feed honey and manmilk to. I told her so and she blushed. The girl doing the injection had hit a vein and her blue, swollen appearance was the result. She asked if I had some ice, so I put some in a small plastic bag and wrapped it in clean cloth for her to apply it to the swelling. There are swellings and there are swellings, are there not, dear reader.

She looked like she needed cheering up, so I told her that she actually looked really sexy, in a sick sort of abused and damaged woman type of way. She winced a bit, and made a noise something like a coy giggle. She knows I mean well. She knows I am fond of her.

There are French visitors in the house next door. They have a small grey French dog with them which yaps excitedly at me every time I go out into my back garden. I spent two hours today pruning trees and bushes and generally tidying up the garden. I asked the monsieur if he wanted some Lockets for the hound’s sore throat. He said no, so I told him I’ll probably be having another small bonfire this evening, just to be pro-actively polite. I had one last week, which burned for hours, until the rains came. I’m currently considering ways and means to deal with the ever increasing numbers of grey squirrels which are beginning to become a plague-like nuisance in the grounds. The madwoman who lives at the back, as well as buying four loaves a day to feed the swarming herring gulls, has installed on her ranch style fencing a battery of feeders which she daily fills with seeds, fruit and nuts for the tree-rats. It is a provocation and an incentive to violence. I fear that blood may be shed and bushy tails may be pinned as trophies and as warnings along my North-Eastern boundary. “Just sayin’,” as the children write on Twitter.

Now I’m off to have a plate of ταραμοσαλατα και ψωμι before I start a warming blaze in the incinerator. Night night, internet.

The Dying Bough

Mathew was fretting over his customary pot of steaming hot tea. He says I’m very kind as he always has a large pot of tea, a pot which is technically our pot for two persons, but I only ever charge him for a single small pot. I’m climbing the stairs to beatitude, honest to God I am, but it can be such a tricky route, beset with potholes and pratfalls.

Only yesterday I had to eject a smelly Dutch derelict from the shop. He kept coming in with a handful of pristine pro-life postcards which I refused to take or display, and every time I asked if I could help him, being a helpful and attentive shopkeeper like what I am, he told me that he was there to help me, and the only way that I could be helped would be if I were to refrain from killing children, now and into eternity I guess. I asked him politely to leave but was reluctant to eject him bodily as he smelled like an abandoned farmyard and there was a thick dark patina of grease upon him. I don’t wish to be unnecessarily polluted. He wears a large hand carved wooden cross around his grimed neck, hanging reluctantly close to him on a shiny leather cord.

Luckily my mate Geoff came in. Geoff smells rather like a semi-abandoned farmyard himself by the end of the day, mostly because of his job but as I never see him on a Sunday it might be because he’s not the world’s most fastidious ablutionist himself. But he’s a good lad. Chunky, too. Using Geoff somewhat in the manner of a human shield, I enlisted his admittedly superior physical presence to kick out the anti-abortionist tramp. And gave him a coffee, as that was what he wanted.

Mathew today was fretting. “I don’t know if it will survive. It’s in a bucket in my garage where I put it this summer when it started to turn brown”, he worried. I worried too, as my attention had drifted at some previous point when he was bewailing his cat’s cystitis.

“Your cat’s in a bucket turning brown in the garage?” I said, shocked. He looked at me as though I should be a candidate for vagazzlement.

“No, Graham. The Christmas tree. I told you. There are two large elderberry trees on the bank near part of my garden. I’m thinking of chopping one down and the soil there has some clay in it, so if I plant the Christmas tree there from last year which I put in my garage in the summer when it was hot but it’s started to turn brown now, it might help bring it back to life. It might help it. It would be such a waste if it died. There is still a small part of it which is green.” He said more in hope than certainty. Mould, probably. Or algae. One never knows.

“Yes, Mathew, and if it recovers you can call it Lazarus, can’t you?” He plays the organ in a couple of small village churches hereabout. He knew what I was saying. He winced and returned to his tea, looking all worried and fretful.

My next door neighbour died in January. She left everything to her grandson who is French and lives in France. So the house lies mostly empty, apart from when French persons random and various come to stay for a week or so now and again. The neighbour’s daughter, who was my sweetheart for a few months when we were teenagers, has asked me to keep her informed when particular people come to the house. But sometimes I forget. I don’t want to be a snoop. I don’t want to get in the habit of texting or phoning her too often. Is that so wrong.

I’m learning the Greek language at the moment, so thought it would be a helpful thing to add a Greek keyboard to my phone in order to do the exercises and lessons required by the app. Fuck me, but have you ever tried to revert a phone which has completely gone Greek back to English? It took me a clammy and sweatful thirty five minutes of panic and despair, but it speaks English again now. All is well.

 

 

Weddings, Hotels and Water

Now, at the end of August one of my beautiful nieces went and got married to a lovely half Scandinavian fellow. It was a lovely day, and the ceremony took place in the middle of Brighton, that tawdry whore of a town just a large artillery piece’s throw along the coast from here. There was a gap of an hour or so between the wedding itself and the afternoon drinks, food and speeches session which was held in a village hall in one of the many small picturesque villages tucked away in one of the many secluded valleys in these here Downs. There were fields, a lake, bales of straw to sit on outside and a vast and welcome supply of prosecco, Pimms and other lovely refreshments. This handy gap in the day’s schedule gave me time to dash into town to grab a pair of holiday shorts, and luckily for the shop assistants I found the perfect pair after less than two minutes search. Deep blue, cotton and plenty of discreet pockets. And a waistband that clings lovingly to my middle without the need for a belt. Go me. Go next. It was with a quite skin-prickling sense of abandon that the two of us strolled in our wedding best through the streets full of casually dressed shoppers and holiday makers and general derelicts.

At the afternoon reception we enjoyed the previously mentioned refreshments and I kept noticing a large man dressed something like a gambler from a Mississippi paddle steamer in 1856 or it may have been 1857, I’m not too good on dates. I always like meeting up with my sister-in-law’s (mother of the bride, married to Juanita’s brother, should these details be relevant or interesting) older sister, a spinster of her parish, mainly because she’s a good laugh, but also on this occasion because we were the only two people on our table of ten with a taste for the bottles of Rioja which kept appearing and being replaced as soon as we emptied them. Anita was on fruit juice and the odd spritzer as she was driving. I can’t. The gambler was on our table and it turned out that he was the only non-English speaking giant Swede at the table. Some of his Norse family were also on our table, and they were able to translate. But me and Tone (sister-in-law’s unmarried but quite fruity sister) were able to say cheers and prost and skol and yammas and sante to him with every swig of the red and he understood perfectly. He was sipping quite austerely at a slow long pale beer and smiling in a pained manner at us and not even trying to follow the convo, which was probably just as well, but in which we did try a couple of times to include him.

My little wife and I had six weeks previously booked a room at a nearby hotel for the night despite it all being pretty close to home. Because it’s a new hotel and this was its opening night, and we’d already decided we liked the look of the menu in the restaurant. So we went there late in the evening and had a bloody nice dinner and a lovely night and a good restorative breakfast before heading for home late the next morning.

A week later found us on our way to Crete for a late summer holiday. Lovely island, gorgeous weather and a sea made for swimming. We stayed in a small studio complex set just back from the new National Road in Stalida, which while not the type of traditional, quiet Greek village where I’d normally stay if I were going by myself, is a relatively pleasant resort halfway between the slightly less attractive Hersonissos and the truly awful hell that is Malia. The owners, a couple maybe ten years older than us, have something of a name for ostracising or even turfing out from their rooms guests who give them a reason to dislike them and there are warnings on tripadvisor from the disgruntled and the dispossessed. We got on famously with them and we were invited to the barbecue, which one of the regular guests told us was a quick gesture of approval by Maria. At the barbecue, the food was mouthwatering, the wine and raki kept flowing and much drink was taken people danced and laughed and stuff, and I woke at five the next morning thirsty but with no other ill effects from the night before. Good home made raki, I think, should only affect you in a good way. This certainly did. Costas has got the gift, obviously. I always wake in the dark in Greece, despite their being two hours ahead of BST. It’s usually the donkeys and the cockerels which do it, but there were no donkeys to be heard, and most mornings I awoke shortly before the cock started crowing. It’s lovely to go outside and sit under the stars with some hemo busino, waiting for the day to come awake.

Lots of swimming, a few walks, lots of lovely food and drink and we made new friends, which I’ve always tried to avoid in the past but the place cast something of a spell. One night we were part of the usually extremely irritating party of four who sit there in the taverna long after everyone else has gone home while the waiters stand around patiently hoping to close up sometime before dawn. The last waiter ended up joining us with some ouzo. We watched a cat climb a tree and get all upset when it tried to climb out along a thin branch which couldn’t hold its weight and snapped with a crack. We raised a glass to it when it climbed up again.

Maria has told us we must come back next year, which sounds like a good idea, especially as we’d already arranged with two or three of the other guests that we’ll all try to book up to go there within the first fortnight of September again, probably now and into perpetuity.

So, that’s it for now. No more holidays until 2017. It’s my birthday next week. I’ve totalled up 690 miles out of my annual goal of 1000 on the bike rides, which have now stopped including a halt for a dip in the sea, on account of the air temperature is dropping faster than that of the water. It’s stopped raining now. But baby it’s dark outside. Life could be worse.

 

 

Holiday Hair

So, last week we took three of our grandchildren to Zakynthos for a week. It was good. I especially enjoyed the day at the Water Village at Zakarinado. For a man in his mid fifties there’s not much in this wonderful world to compare with having to repeatedly climb up and slide down the wide assortment of sixty or seventy feet high water slides with such appealing names as the Boomerango, the Super Bowl and the wonderful Black Hole with a nine year old. Geo, the thirteen year old, had originally accompanied little Josh on his first ascent, but they swiftly returned, Josh looking well peeved and Geo ashen and shaking, repeating in a Zombie-like manner, “I’m not going up that. Look at it. I’m especially not going down it. Look at it. Look up!”

And as these rides all require a pair of humans to partake of the thrills, owing to the fact that you ride down on dual rings, and probably stuff to do with physics, fluid mechanics, weight distribution and a two-for one offer at the local graveyard, I was the one chosen to accompany the boy on the rides. I loved the lazy river though. I could have spent all day on it. Lovely day out.

For the most part though, our time was spent either in or by the pool, in the sea and on the beach, and wandering along the lovely seaside paths. Both boys asked me why so many girls and women on the beach and at the pool were only wearing bikini bottoms and nothing up top, Geo with more interest than the younger one. I simply advised them to enjoy the scenery and study the effects of sunlight on skin which is normally covered up. But don’t get caught staring. Eye contact is forgivable though. Just don’t waver in your gaze boys.

The food was good, naturally, and for Jess it was her second holiday to Greece with us, and she especially enjoyed the boat trip round the south of the island. We’re going to Crete in September, Juanita and I. No children this time.

 

So then the other day, upon shaving, I noticed that my ears and nose needed trimming already. The sun, sea and Mythos must have put a spurt of growth on it. The ears are quite easy to deal with as it’s mostly a patch of fuzzy dark growth that can be removed by pressing the ear from behind and skimming a well lubricated Gillette fusion over the offending area repeatedly yet gently at various angles until the lobes look like a porn starlet’s mound of joy. But without the bruises or friction burns. Then a quick swipe around the edges to mop up any strays. In both cases.

The nose is another matter entirely. The stuff that constantly bushes out of the nostrils is still easily controlled by the clandestine use of my wife’s ‘intimate shaving and shaping tool’ as long as I can remain convincing when denying all knowledge of why it’s getting so blunt so quickly. She doesn’t scream that loudly so it can’t be too bad. If I’m feeling particularly raunchy or simply in a hurry, I’ll swipe my razor around the outer edge of my nostrils to remove the most offensively visible hairs.

But. Until I entered my fifties, a razor was sufficient to sort out the external stuff too. Now, with increasing age, the hairs which sprout from the finely curved leading edge are becoming sturdier and thicker. I’ve found that the only serious way to deal with them is to grit my teeth and pluck the fuckers out one by one, individually and completely. Not so long ago it was but a fine down which occasionally I would notice in my lower peripheries, but now every time I look down my vision is blocked by huge white poles erupting from in front of me. Some of the bastards are thick enough that I’m almost tempted to let them grow, harvest them and weave them into capstan ties with which to turn an easier profit from the hardened sea-dogs down on the fishermen’s wharf. A few cables woven from my nasal hairs would probably be strong enough to haul the fucking Titanic from her grave.

Which reminds me, I’ll need a haircut from Richie before I go away in September. There’s something to look for’ard to. Fretful Mathew came into my shop the other day, freshly barbered by Richie. He looked spick and span, yet sorely troubled.

“Graham, ” he started, “do you think that the barber Rick really can’t get through a sentence without at least two words beginning with ‘F’ being used? I find it very wearing.”

I considered long, hard and deeply, for at the time I was deep in conversational intercourse with the lovely Alex, a new regular young lady customer and my mind was wandering in pastures new, green, elegant and very winsome.

“No, Mathew” I said. “He really can’t. Because he’s a fu

Beach

I got home from my little shop this evening in a state of sweatiness. My but it was hot today, and I hankered to cool down.

So I decided to have a snack instead of dinner and then go for a swim, and thus had two slices of bread toasted, one with crab pate upon it and the other heavily smeared with caramelised onion humus. While eating I was listening, as I am now, to the lovely Lana del Ray’s Born to Die. Her voice tingles somewhere between a couple of mine vertebrae. My hausfrau, the lovely Juanita, was getting ready to go to work and thought I could have found a better use for my evening, but we agreed to disagree.

It’s only a fifteen minute brisk stroll to the beach so probably as she was tending her first catheterised matriarch of the evening, I was sitting on the pebbles in the rays of the slowly descending sun, wondering how cool the water would be and if I maybe could have found a better way to spend the evening after all, like sitting out in the garden with a bottle or two of German lager.

I needn’t have worried about the sea temperature, two or three days of sunshine have raised it up to ten or eleven degrees, so it was smoothly comfortable after the initial testicle shrivelling chill. I swam and frolicked for fifteen or twenty minutes before emerging dripping and flaccid out of the gentle swell and sat for a short while longer on the beach. It was a pleasant walk home, and the rising full moon was as high above the horizon as was the setting sun on the opposite side of the sky. I bumped into my mate Andy who was out testing a new lens on his camera.

“You want to take my picture Andy?” I asked.

“Nah, mate. This is a new lens. It’s for landscapes. Not portraits. And why would I want a photo of you? I can see your ugly mush every day. If I wanted to.” There’s being told and there’s being told, no?

“Suit yourself. You could always fuck off up to the top of the hill and get a wide angle of the sun and moon at opposite sides of the sky?” I suggested with breathtaking helpfulness I thought. As Lana sings, I’m scared I’ll meet you on the other side, was the thought hovering just below awareness somewhere in the crowded space between my ears or even behind my eyes.

“Nah mate,” he said without even thinking about it. “See you tomorrow. Anyway, why are you dripping wet?”

“Because I didn’t bring a towel. Yeah, see you Andy.” I said and  wandered homeward, my loins girded yet uncomfortably salty and moist.

After a bath and a coffee, I went on Amazon and ordered me a new pair of water shoes. Mainly because Juanita said she doesn’t think I’ll need to get anything new for holiday. Hopefully they’ll be here before we go away next week.

 

 

Chickens

Blimey, the last post I put here was about our last holiday and I’ve got less than two weeks to got till the next one. We taking three of the grandchildren to Zakynthos soon. We looking forward to sunshine, Mythos and all the other stuff. Oh yes.

In keeping with my personal mission to keep the skin acclimatised to the ultraviolet, and also because it keeps my gut within manageable proportions vis-a-vis my waistbands various, and it is true, because I enjoy it, I took my familiar route on the bike ride the other evening. I try to achieve a thousand miles per annum, last year made it to 1003.6, and I’m up to 530 already here in the second week of July, so all is well. Half way along the lovely rural path leading through the estuarial water meadows and rabbit grounds, I saw a familiar figure walking towards me. It was Jane, with whom I shared a mutual fondness in our school years and for a while afterwards.

We weren’t exactly a couple, but she used to enjoy sitting and grinding on my lap out on the field at the back of secondary school, and when I first left home for the staff accommodation bedsit, she used to come up to my room after working her Saturday job at Woolies and we used to share Ski pineapple yogurts and have a giggle and stuff. Happy days. Sticky, too.

I stopped on the bike. She stopped walking and struggled to turn off the ipod and tear the ‘phones out of her ears. The years melted away as we stood and chatted. People walked past and she kept glancing a glance at the secluded footpath which leads off to the bushy walk. I felt a bit of a spasm of longing in the trouser area after a while and told her I’d better be on my way before we went up the path and did something that I’d later possibly regret. She hugged me and we parted, spoke words of lost longing and fondness and twice I looked over my shoulder and she was still looking my way and waving. I nearly knocked over a little old lady walking an aged, slightly infirm bulldog along the path. Thought I’d better cycle hard for a few more miles, burn off a few hormones and all that. And look where I was going.

Next day, after work, I was in the hardware place getting some guttering and fixings to make a drainage system for shed no.3 which I’ve just built on the bottom patio. Yeah, baby, I got two patios and three sheds. We had the house valued last month with a view to going somewhere a bit smaller. The estate agent was well impressed with my garden arrangements. Top patio for all day sun, with potted herbs and mediterranean shrubs and flowers, close to the gardening shed, down the lawn to the little outdoor gym in the middle shed, and then further down the lawn alongside the semi-submerged outhouse, a short secluded flight of steps to the bottom patio for morning sunshine and cool afternoons if the summer sun is too hot. Not much of a problem this year. But tucked in the corner at the opposite end to the outhouse is my new little shed for barbecues and equipment, fold-up chairs and a little chest of drawers for stuff I don’t know what else to do with.

So Jenny the aged hippy who lives along the road was there at the checkouts. She asked me if I wanted a lift home. She drives an old green Volvo estate. I asked her if that meant she wanted a hand with the brace of large bags of potting compost which were sitting like little slipped-disc timebombs on her trolley. She smiled and said yes so I said ok Jenny, dear aged widowed hippy lady. I loaded her two 50 litre bags of loam-rich compost into the boot, we manhandled the six foot lengths of guttering into the car and she drove back up our way.

We sat outside her house chatting a while then I said I’d better get her compost into her garden, and she asked me if I could take it to her conservatory.

“You’ve never been in my back garden, have you Graham?” she asked.

Gulp. “Er no, nor your front, Jenny,” I said. “Lead the way, dear lady.” I’m always open to new experiences.

“Do you want the guided tour?” asked she. In for a bag of compost, in for a guided tour of a widowed aged hippy lady’s back garden, thought I.

So I emptied the bags of compost into the huge bin at the side of her conservatory and embarked upon the adventure. She lives on the opposite side of the road to me, so whereas my garden sweeps uphill to the NorthEast, facing the afternoon and evening sun, hers leads downhill away from the rear of her house open all day to sunlight. It’s a similar size to mine but with only a small central lawn surrounded on two and a bit sides by a Gaudi-esque cement wall encrusted with broken tiles, crockery, ceramics and glass, the rest is broken up into five or six discrete and different areas. And it feels huge. Ooh, it gave me ideas of stuff to do with mine. There’s a veg patch, a little shrubbery, a green area, a seat hidden in a little shaded cove of green. Narrow brick paths everywhere, it seems. She’s got a little hermit’s cell at the very bottom of the garden, secluded by a cherry tree and small shrubs. Next to it, in a fair sized enclosure, live Clara, Susie and Belle, a handsome trio of brown laying hens. Jenny has chickens, and I never knew. Dear reader of mine, we live, we hump bags of potting compost into the gardens of neighbours who for twenty years we have briefly and rather disinterestedly passed a little time and the odd occasional politeness, and we then learn so much.

Chickens. I’ve got Herring Gulls, tits, finches and slow-worms. And a small tree called Olive.