Timekeeping

It was late afternoon in my shop. Me and Hanna were beginning the final clear-up, as we had only thirty minutes or so until time came to an end. That’s how the end of the day feels sometimes. We say farewell to the last customer of the day, shut the door and begin the mindless yet vital routine that sees the shop clean, tidy and ready to begin afresh tomorrow. And we have our daily rant about colleagues, customers, anyone who has pissed us off mightily through the day but at a time when the exigencies of the job have dictated that we bottle it all up inside and say nothing for now, but we refine our anger and resentment to a white heat of exquisite delayed torment, knowing that the time for our spleen to be vented will surely arrive.

And arrive it does. We have our rants, purging ourselves with the joy of obscenities freely and indiscriminately hurled, of prejudices justified, egging each other on to worse slanders and viler vilifications, mostly quite unjustified, until we are spent. But we feel relief, partly because we’ve let it all out and used the pent up emotional trauma of the day as fuel to power us though the mindless routine of cleaning up the shop, but also because we won’t have to inflict the day’s anger on our respective loved ones when we each return to the bosoms of our families.

Yes, I’d say that in some ways it feels like the end of time. A new dawn awaits. But first we must cross the dark river of eternity, swim against the currents of grim inevitability to emerge, reforged into the light of new experience. Or some such bollocks.

But then the phone rang. It was Fretful Mathew. The only customer I’ve ever known to phone the shop to apologise for not coming in because he feels unwell. Or some other pathetic excuse. But that wasn’t his reason for calling today. Today he was calling to tell me that he’d fallen asleep after cutting the grass and sitting down to watch the BBC news at lunchtime with a ham sandwich and a glass of milk because he’s had to stop drinking vodka in the day because his doctor had told him it might not be the best thing for his blood pressure or the other problem he has which he doesn’t feel quite ready to fully confide in me but it does involve regular samples of easily collected bodily waste fluids being analysed at some unspecified location but I guess it’s not the Environment Agency doing the analysing. Anyway, as an inevitable result of all this, there had been a mix up over his taxi into town, and would I still be able and willing to serve him if he arrived within the next ten minutes. Hanna had got the general gist of his message, mainly because I’d been repeating his salient points in a tone of faux-horror and despair, and as I mouthed ‘ten minutes’ at her she flew into action.

“Ah now, Mathew. Bad news there, I’m afraid. We said a fond farewell to our last customer of the day just six minutes ago, and I’ve turned off the tea machine as a general act of despair at the unlikelihood of seeing any more customers today and thrown away the last half pint of home made potato and watercress soup, which I do realise is a particular favourite of yours, mainly out of spite towards an unforgiving world. So there’s really not much point in your coming into town. I think we’ll be closed very soon. Young Hanna’s finishing the washing up and the chairs are flying up onto the tables like they’re possessed. So no, Mathew. I wouldn’t worry yourself too much about coming in today. It’s really quiet this afternoon.” He breathed very heavily. He gasped.

“Ah. Well. If you…Er…Yes….I’ll see you tomorrow? I’m very sorry, er, I’ll see you tomorrow. Sorry.” We said farewell and each of us, exhausted in our own way, replaced our telephones on their cradles.

I turned to Hanna.

“He apologised. The fucking fucker fucking apologised.” Why did I feel so guilty?

“Do you feel like a shit?” she asked.

“Yes, but let’s get finished here first. I’ll have one after you’ve gone home.” So we did.

On the way home I was stopped by John the Taxi. He’d brought a distraught Fretful Mathew into town. On the road from the village Mathew had spotted an old discarded blanket. He had persuaded John to stop so he could pick it off the road, then paid him the extra fare to take him to the waste recycling facility on the other side of town by the railway line and dispose of it there.

“He was really upset. Some bastard’s really ruined his day.” Said John.

“Yes” I agreed. “You charged him full fare to the tip and back to the town? You’re a bastard, Taxi John.”

Sh.Opping

Our social life has flagged a little lately, what with one thing and another. So we decided to go shopping together the other evening. The cupboards were nearly bare, so it was the thing to do. I’m not getting days off at the moment due to our youngest daughter who’s my second in command at the shop being very poorly sick since February and the rest of the staff being about as good and reliable as minimum wage earners tend to be.

On the way to Lewes I was telling my little lovely wife about how I’d been pestered by the president of our local Chamber of Commerce to get someone to nominate me or even nominate myself for the retailer of the year award. Because  I’d be a shoe-in to win. A prospect which horrifies me. I’d told him that I’d rather pluck my eyeballs out with a clothes peg and turn them into a crocheted tablecloth, which kind of gave him the correct impression that I wasn’t going to play along. He should have known, as he’s fully aware that in twenty years of having my lovely little shop I’ve never even attended a meeting. I was chairman of the trader’s association for a year in the late nineties but that was a stitch up and I vowed never to do anything like it again.

There are lots of reasons but the main one is that I have an intense horror of being in a social situation surrounded by hordes of people to whom things like personalised number plates spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S whereas to me it simply says I-A-M-A-C-U-N-T.  Anita’s heard it all before and she was doing a lot of sighing as she pulled into one of the disabled parking spaces, mainly on account of the fact that the mother and toddler spaces were all taken.  We’re both of the opinion that kiddies shouldn’t be taken shopping in the evening and anyway when ours were little we wouldn’t have expected special treatment regarding supermarket parking even if we’d been able to afford to run a car.

As we got out of the car an officious little man wearing a supermarket-issue high visibility jerkin approached and asked if we did in fact consider ourselves appropriate people ourselves to park in a space reserved for vulnerable disabled persons and did we in fact have a blue badge as issued by the local district council? I must have upset my wife for she looked at me and said that yes, one of us was eligible, one of us was a total social cripple it’s just that it hasn’t been officially recognised as a debilitating disease by the authorities yet. The man looked at me, I think he recognised me from the incident with the jar of anchoise provencal just before last Christmas. He nodded, wisely, and walked away.

Margareta

Two years ago this week I was on the island of Samos with my lovely little wife Juanita. One of our favourite tavernas there had a small brick pizza oven, with which they produced the only pizzas and calzones that have ever impressed me.

So when we got home, I went out and made an impulsive purchase of a cylindrical steel chiminea which has an integral hinged barbecue rack complete with two, yes two pizza stones. They look like identical twin volcanic full moons which have been wiped clear of all craters and other facial features by a rogue cloud of anti-gravity sweeping through the cosmic void on its way to the kebab shop on the corner.

The chiminea is not, it must be said, a thing of beauty in and of itself, being steel, cylindrical and black with stainless steel trim and handles. But it has the advantage of possessing two pizza stones, and more importantly, it fits neatly into the shed at the top of the garden. Where it has sat, unused, since June 2011. Until last weekend that is, when I had my first day off of work since Easter’s trip away, and the sun was shining. And my lovely little wife Juanita had the weekend off too. She’s been in Valencia since Tuesday or Wednesday this week, but that’s another story which you really don’t want to know.

So on Sunday I made a lovely pizza Margareta and two garlic butter calzones, one with cheese and the other without, which I cooked over glowing coals in the chiminea. We had them with some tomato salad, Jersey Royals and a bottle or two of some lovely rose wine and it was a lovely evening in the sun.

It was all so nice that on Bank Holiday Monday I got the chiminea out again and we had thinly sliced chicken breast marinated in fresh herbs and garlic and olive oil, asparagus wrapped in oak smoked pancetta, all cooked in the chiminea but without using the pizza stone, obviously,and more Jersey Royals. And a small case of pear cider. Again, we sat out in the sun until it sank below the distant horizon. If your imagination can see the chimney of the house down the hill as the distant horizon that is. Life is so perfect and  civilised sometimes that I could weep with the joy of it all. I didn’t weep though. I waited until the coals were cold, disposed of the ashes safely and put the chiminea back in the top shed because it looked like rain.

Timmeh and Dolores

Timmeh! Ribellah! Did you used to watch South Park? Do you remember Timmy, the excitable dribbling crippled boy in the wheelchair? I do. One of my daughters owned a psychotic cockatiel which she named Timmy in remembrance of  the South Park character. Because the bird was very loud and incoherent. And because he used to fly across the room, our front room being 28 feet from end to end with a bay at one end and sliding patio doors at the other, where Timmy used to crash into the glass, leaving a faint ghostly impression of himself, formed of feather dust and cockatiel dandruff, on the glass. He’d sit dazed on the doormat, spluttering strange squawking noises and spitting viciously at anyone who tried to pick him up to comfort him. I never encouraged my children to watch stuff like South Park. I just used to get outvoted when their mum was at work. They used to hide the remote control from me.

My daughter eventually gave him to a lady we know who has a huge aviary in her garden, where he spent the remainder of his days deafening the other birds and the neighbours.  I was thinking of Timmy today when Tedious Tim the resident Buddhist vegetarian and his smiling girl friend Dooley came into the shop for a drink, some toast and a bit of heavy duty sniggering.

“Hey, Graham,” said Tim. “Look at Dooley. What do you think?” He smiled expectantly, his eyebrows raised in anticipation. I looked. I gave him an honest answer.

“Tim, forgive me. I’m sorry.  But I couldn’t. She’s been intimate with you. If I did, afterwards I’d have to abrade myself with a pumice stone and industrial cleaning gel, I’d have to marinade my genitals in Dettol for a week and I’d only really feel safe after I’d incinerated the inevitable condom. Sorry Dooley, but you know, Tim asked. Don’t take it too hard. I feel a sense of relief having unburdened myself of that. You do understand, don’t you?” Dooley smiled, as usual. It’s a bloody good thing that her English isn’t quite perfect. Tim looked taken aback.

“I was referring to her hair. Dooley’s had a haircut. Didn’t you notice?” I hadn’t. Now I looked, it was quite nice. I told her so. She smiled. All was well again.

Letting go again.

My nephew Chris came round to see me the other day with a tear in his eye and a bounce in his step. You want to know why? I’m going to tell you anyway. It was a tear of gratitude and a bounce of joy, let me tell you. You want to know why he was grateful? No? Here’s why.

All through the seventies, about which me and my mate Doyle have often bored each other near to tears with our shared drug and music and near fatal stupidity related accident memories, I was a great record buyer. I’m still running copies for him even now.  While all of my more sensible friends and contemporaries were away at university preparing themselves for a life of economic misery and uncertainty and monstrous political certainties, I was earning a wage, living cheap in staff accommodation at a now demolished hospital (£3.30 a week all found!) and spending all my money on substances, books and vinyl. The staff at Virgin records at the Clock Tower in Brighton, for my weekly visits, used to save me a copy of every new Stiff release and put aside all the jamaican import 45s for me. Tappa Zukie, the Intebidators and all. All the college boys used to come straight up to my place when they had holiday and tried to steal or at least get copies taped of all my latest acquisitions. Jane still tells far fetched stories about what we did with Ski pineapple yogurt in her lunch break while listening to the Rezillos. If only it was all true. Well, I’d like to be able to remember some of it, anyway.  So far so good, and some of the memories lie within me still, only to spring into horrible reality when I least expect them. That’s one reason why I’ve recently started listening to Country girls like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega and the incredibly versatile and wonderful Eleni Mandell, who can’t make a bad record. It’s actually nothing to do with unwelcome flashbacks, I just wanted to make an irrelevant mention of who I’m listening to right now. Is that so bad? Which leads me back to where I was a minute ago.

Chris came round. A month or so back, I went into the little spare room where all my old music was piled up in boxes. Everything from the seventies. The Velvets, the Ramones, Television, Dame Patti Smith. Zeppelin, the Groundhogs, Graham Parker and the Rumour. The Pistols, the Stranglers, The Damned, The Residents. Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds. Costello. Morrison. Nico! Zappa. Even Snakefinger. The Doors. The Reggae. All the really rare delta blues and mississippi blues and old blues and newish blues. But no blue suede shoes. And that, my friend, is just a scratch in the ice on the top edge of the iceberg, while the Titanic is mouldering away at the foot of the ocean. So I looked at it all. I thought, I don’t want this anymore. It’s all part of a past that I don’t feel like I’m a part of anymore. I don’t need this music on vinyl or cassette anymore because the essence of it all has become a part of me, it’s always there. Always here. and anyway, the cd collection is growing at a frightening rate. Make room! Make room! That became Soylent Green, in case you didn’t know.

So, knowing that none of my four would have any interest in my old music, having grown up with it and many a time run out of rooms screaming ‘dad! no! it’s loud, it’s horrible! we want mum back!’ or words like that, I decided that Chris would be a worthy recipient. He’s my sister’s boy. He plays guitar and bass. Very well.  He wears Ramones t-shirts and looks the part and is a source of pride and despair to his mum in equal measure. He reminds me of me thirty five years ago. He calls a spade a spade with no malice or shame and never stops to ask what’s in a name. I phoned him, told him what I’d decided and the boy almost wept for joy. His dad came round in the van and we loaded them up. Nearly a thousand records.  So Chris is happy. That’s why he came round to see me. To tell me how much he was enjoying listening to stuff on vinyl that he’d only heard clean and sterile on CDs, and all the other stuff that he’d never heard of or even dreamed about.  I’ve got a spare room back in use.  All is well with my little world. But I keep waking up at 4.43 every damned morning now. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with the records going. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with anything.