Sh.Itty Sh.It Sh.Ittiness

Occasionally it feels like the Universe is a kindly place, casting a warm glow of happiness and satisfaction over me, and at those times the world is good.

As a for instance the other day, a group of Scummy Mummies were in my shop showing off to each other their heavily subsidised nail-art, slag-tags and occasional offspring in the plural. It’s hard to tell which children belong to which mothers, they all look and sound the same and you often see different children with different women, I suspect it’s got something to do with attendance allowances and educational special needs statementing. Anyway, one of the more vile of the hags was proudly displaying a new tag that she’s had tatted on her rear shoulder.

“It’s my granddaughter Tegan-Kye-Lillie. She’s a year old. I had to have it done off a photo, cos I haven’t seen her more than twice , Malook* left her muvver when the baby was tiny, he didn’t want her to grow up seeing them fighting all the time. And that.” That gives you a very approximate idea of her speaking style. More than five minutes of it and you get a fucking migraine. Despite myself and against all good judgement, I stopped and looked. I felt compelled, mainly because due to the tax and benefits system I’ve unwillingly contributed a large amount of the cost of the child’s upbringing as well as the grandmother’s rather dodgy looking artwork.

“Does it really look like that?” I asked. You could have cut the air with a chainsaw. They were only in my shop because the other café down the road was temporarily closed due to a Border Agency raid and they didn’t have any staff.

“What?” She asked.

“The child.” I explained. “Does it really look like that? The funny shaped pointy head. The strange circles where its eyes should be. Kids don’t look like that. Did the tattooist’s hand slip or something? Or was he drunk?” Or blind perhaps, but I didn’t say that. I didn’t want to seem rude.

“This tattoo cost me £300. My Tegan-Kye-Lillie’s gorgeous. What do you mean? Course she looks like this.” I gaped, speechless. I don’t know what’s worse. It’s either the ugliest child on the planet or the picture was done by the world’s least talented tattooist. Every month without fail I write out a cheque for the tax man for an amount that would pay the mortgage on a sizeable house in the country. I’m so pleased that my money’s being so wisely allocated to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, who quickly finished their drinks and left, leaving an awful mess of crumbs and spilled drinks behind them. I always find it quite satisfying ridding the shop of the poor and the vulnerable when they are particularly pissing me off..

Occasionally it feels that the Universe is playing observational games with me. I was sitting on a bus the other day and noticed a patch of paint was missing from the leg of a seat, leaving a two inch high scar in the shape of the African continent upright on the metal leg. But Madagascar was missing. How likely is that? If you tipped Africa up on end would Madagascar be likely to slip down, crashing into Antarctica? What would happen to gravity? Would it turn horizontal? Would there be millions of Africans each the size of a molecule clinging onto the Veldt as it reared up towards a carelessly discarded copy of Metro? Or, being so small, would gravity still hold them down so that they didn’t even realise that anything untoward had happened? Would we still get unbelievably generous offers via email from Nigeria? Perhaps it’s already happened and our existence is now perpendicular to its previous orientation. You’d never know.

And then sometimes the Universe is just plain malevolent. On Monday morning I heard that a friend of mine had died on Saturday of a cancer that was diagnosed in his lung and his brain back in February. Four months journey from a cough and a headache to the grave. Then on Monday afternoon my friend Jill and her granddaughter Jesse came over to tell me that Jill’s husband had slipped on a ladder and broken his neck. I felt I was running out of friends and acquaintances fast.

Thursday came and I heard news of yet another friend. He’s got a lovely big house in one of the nearby villages, with a converted railway car on his land. He’s got a good business building garden structures, stables and workshops, and he owns a small island off the coast of West Africa where he’s in the process of creating a fish farm. He has a gorgeous wife and two lovely children. Plenty of money in the bank. Most people think he’s got the ideal life. He gave his gardener a list of jobs which would keep him busy for three or four hours, with the instruction to call in to the workshop when he’d finished to collect his wages, and then locked himself in the workshop and hung himself from a roof beam.

Sometimes the Universe makes no sense to me at all.

*Malook: it’s actually two words. My and Luke. Her son. Similarly, when excusing her addiction to prescription painkillers, maback is often cited.

Sh.Orts

Ah, I know what you’re thinking. And it’s true. The world smiles when I wear shorts. My legs, naked to the air, are a thing of wonder and delight. That’s why I always wear shorts and a t-shirt for my evening cycle rides along the estuary gravel track to the Martello Tower. This time of year is the best, as there are many walkers and other cyclists all the way along the footpath and then the seafront at the other end. I see them.  And if I’m wearing shades, nobody can see my eyes. This is important to me. You may gaze upon my hairy, muscular and ever so slightly varicosed and scarred lower limbs, but my eyes are the portholes to my inner being, and if I ever let you in, then baby, you’d never want to escape.

I make strict demands on shorts as regards both material and length. Cotton or linen. My body is a place of devout worship and I shalt not defile it with polyester, nylon or any blend thereof, which is the spawn of the dark places of the post-industrial soul. So cotton or linen. Occasionally wool if the wind is sharp and the sun is hiding. Length and style are all important. The hem must hover, when I’m standing upright, no more than three and no less than one and a quarter inches above the centres of my kneecaps. Both of them. Thank fuck that my legs are the same length. I’d be even more of a torment to the poor bastards in the clothes shop if they were uneven. I prefer, no I FUCKING INSIST UPON AND DEMAND that pockets are discreet. To hang within the main body of material, and  if they are fastenable, which at least one pocket must be for when I’m holidaying alone and I experience the familiar ungovernable urge to swim in a foreign sea and I can’t bear not to have the room and safe keys upon my person at any time, at least one pocket must have a zipper. Exterior pockets give me the willies. I’m quite relaxed about the waist fastening, I don’t mind buttons and I ‘m easy with a hook and eye arrangement. Expect  me to wear a pair of shorts with a drawstring though, and it’s possible that I’d cut you. A simple hem at the end of the leg is all that’s required to finish off my shorts.

On Tuesday when I got back from my cycle ride along the coast my wife, for want of a better turn of phrase, had left a bag of empty bottles and containers on the driveway for me to sort into the various recycling boxes with which the council likes everybody to clutter up their fucking gardens, driveways and outbuildings. Do you see the utterly ineffable interconnectedness of all things here?   There was an almost empty bleach bottle there amongst the other exhausted food, wine and intimate lubricant containers. I was wearing what were, until that moment, my best, my very favourite pair of beach/cycling/swimming shorts in navy cotton. I’ve worn them on at least eight Greek Islands, they’ve climbed three Mount Profitis Iliases, and they’ve clung lovingly to my wet loins in the Channel, the Mediterranean, the Ionian, the Aegean and the Libyan seas. They’ve gone the length of the Corinth Canal, for fuck sake. On a boat, naturally. A stray spray of bleach shot up my leg like a bleach volcano. It ruined my shorts. Navy turns to orange and the light goes out on my whole fucking universe.

So I arranged afternoon cover in the shop and went to Brighton on Thursday afternoon to see if I could replace them. What do I hate in shorts?  What do I loathe? What makes me want to commit arson at the buyers’ convention? Drawstring waists, skinny cut legs, far too short or even worse, three quarter length KUNTENMACHENSCHWIMMENUNDMITGLUCKGESTERBENHOSEN which should only ever be worn by people who need other people to care for their daily needs or whose clothes are bought by their mums because they’re just too damned young or simple to know any better, cargo pant-type exterior pockets with popper fasteners everywhere, and to make it all so much worse, there’s now this fashion for faggy, preppy type double rolled turn-ups at the cuffs. Have you noticed the way boys and men are dressing from the waist down lately?  Skinny cut legs and a dropped arse and double rolled trouser cuffs. Do I really want to look like I’ve shit myself in jodhpurs simply on account of the trousers I’m wearing? My dear friend, I think not. I might be a cunt but at least I’m a cunt with a sense of style.

So. It took me three hours, I visited seven shops, being not very discreetly trailed out of one by a tattooed, shaven headed thug of a security guard who’s been pouring far too many anabolic steroids down his neck, but I think it was because he fancied me, and I got to know a quite hot sales assistant in her late fifties called Caroline in M&S, but I eventually found what I was looking for. So I bought three pairs. One to wear for now, one to save for the future in case I ever  get too poor to buy any more and one pair on standby. All in navy cotton. Slightly different designs but all safely within my desired parameters. One pair has a faint tartan type pattern in a shade which is only slightly lighter blue. Bluer than the sea yet more faded than the sky. Like my eyes. So all is well.

The next day, Friday as it’s usually known, but we’ll call it yesterday as we’re being slovenly and casual about it, Fretful Mathew was in my shop. As usual with Mathew it was afternoon.

“I didn’t see you here yesterday, Graham”, he said. “I wondered if I’d offended you. Or something.” He looked fretful, worried, concerned. Which, on Planet Mathew, is actually a state of blissful relaxation I think.

I looked on him with beneficence. I really think they should have made me Pope.

“Offended, Mathew?” I asked.

“Me, Mathew?” I asked again.

“You think you might have offended me, Mathew? Or something? It was probably the something. Because you really haven’t offended me. I’m a bit like the Pope in some ways, don’t you know? I’m quite beneficent and I don’t get offended. Very easily. I’m actually, probably, the most easy going person you’re liable to meet today, Mathew.” And do you know, I probably was.

Bradley’s Hair, Green Pie and a Public Exposure

So, sitting on the pan after close of business the other day for a well deserved dump and a quiet read of the paper I realised, just as my willy brushed against the ice cold porcelaine, exactly how vital it is to precisely position oneself on the seat. I know, I was in the shop’s gents toilet, and it had been cleaned not long before, but I still felt a shudder at the thought of all the other members which might have been in contact with that very piece of china.

Six degrees of separation could spell a fucking death sentence when it comes to public lavatories, or at the very least a bit of a rash or a dose of the crabs, and let nobody persuade you otherwise.  I made especially sure to wash the affected parts AS WELL AS my hands when I’d finished. With the military grade anti bacterial stuff we usually use after handling the damp. clammy notes with added extras from poor old Elaine the Bag Lady.

I was listening to Benji Hughes’ “Neighbor Down The Hall” when I got home that night and it brought back a strange and terrible memory from a strange and terrible night in 1977 or 78.

Me and my mate Andy had been in Brighton for the evening bouncing back and forth between Sherry’s, the Suite, and the King and Queen. We had drunk horrible quantities of Pernod and Blackcurrant, that being our chosen drink for the evening as we were quite aware of the fact that neither of us was likely to find a female to mate with that evening, for various and, to us, obvious reasons. Perhaps, looking at it now, we might have been more successful if we’d bothered adding ‘seduction’ to our routine rather than grabbing drunk, desperate looking girls and hoping to get shagged. We all have our own individual techniques for getting through life. Not all successful, it must be said.  But as I always say, constant rejection as a teenager is bloody good training for later life.

Anyways, after I’d got back to my room at the hospital staff quarters that night, I felt a bit queasy, probably because of the bus ride home from Brighton, combined with the loud music and the Pernod stuff. I always sleep naked, so I stripped down to the skin and went to bed. My digestion was suffering a bit, and on turning the light on, I noticed some hanging red spots on the ceiling above my head. When one dripped onto my head, it tasted a bit like a slightly sour version of the Pernod and Black that I’d been drinking earlier. Strange, that.

All of a sudden, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it. Naked. There, steadfastly looking me in the eye, was a Mary. This Mary was a saintly Catholic Irish nurse of spinsterish middle years who was my neighbour down the corridor.

“I thought you didn’t sound very well,” she kindly said. “So I thought you’d like a wee cup of this coffee. It might help you feel better.” I couldn’t see her very clearly, as my eyes kept moving in an uncertain and not very smooth horizontal manner. They kept closing as well. I said something to her about not being properly dressed for the occasion, turned around and fell over.

I woke the next morning with a raging thirst and sandpaper beneath my eyelids. I was wearing shorts. I was in my bed. Covered with a clean sheet and with a damp flannel on a bowl sitting on my bedside table.

A Mary presently came to the door with a fresh coffee, some toast and a virginal middle aged Saintly smile on her face. The incident was never mentioned again. I haven’t touched Pernod since. I shall always be grateful to the Saintly Spinster Mary who shall be forever virginal and middle aged. That’s a memory that a song written by someone who wasn’t even born then brought back to me. Time and music. Strange bedfellows with peculiar connections.

This is the time of year when the border along the side of my garage sprouts its annual crop of mint, and this year it is quite a spectacularly thick and healthy growth. While the luxurious green crop is still free of cuckoospit I always pick a couple of pints of leaves from the very tips and make a spinach and mint pie with them. That’s what I did last weekend, and instead of feta cheese I crumbled a block of manchego into it. I made my own filo pastry as well, for the first time. Very nice too. I thought you’d want to know about that. It’s a tale that marks the passing of the seasons and the fairest of the seasons, which was a cracking cover by Nico of a Jackson Browne song. If I remember rightly.

I went across the road to Ricky’s for a haircut on Tuesday lunchtime. I always go for a number three on top and two around the edges. I’d really rather have a number one all over because it would last longer between cuts but Ricky thinks I’m a tight cunt anyway. So it’s a compromise. Brutal, but a compromise. Bobby the Dachshund was slumbering wheezily in his basket. Bobby is Ricky’s dog.  Gavin the Twat came in, hoping for a game of darts with Ricky.

“You’ll have to wait Gav,” said I. “He’s cutting my hair, he can’t stop because I’ve got to get back to the shop.”

“You’ll have to wait Gav,” said Ricky. “I’m cutting his hair. And don’t go near Bobby. He’s not well, he’ll nip you. He wants to be left alone.” I thought Ricky made that quite clear.

Gav immediately bent over to stroke Bobby the Poorly Sick Dachshund. Who bit Gav on the hand.

“Gav, you’re a twat.” Said me and Ricky in unison.

“Fuck, he bit me!” Said Gav. Gav’s a twat.

Me and Ricky were reminiscing over that lovely sweet of the seventies, Spanish Gold, when he decided to trim my eyebrows.

“Fuck me, but they’re long, This might hurt a bit,” said Ricky as the razor sharp end of a newly trimmed eyebrow stabbed me in the iris.

“Fuck me, but you’re right, Ricky,” said I through the sudden copious rush of tears.

Gav laughed. I called him a cunt. We were even. Spanish Gold. It was finely shredded coconut coloured brown and flavoured with a liquorice scented brown syrup, as I remember.  It offered a sweet introduction to rolling tobacco to a whole impressionable generation of us.  And Old Jamaica. The chocolate bar that gave many of us a taste for rum. Happy days indeed.

Then on Wednesday evening I went to the garden centre to get a few herbals. I had to go to the lav for a pee. When I went to wash my hands I found myself next to a man who was wearing a charcoal grey suit with a white shirt and no tie, with his penis in the hand basin. He was washing it with Nivea for Men face wash. His penis. Not the hand basin. We briefly made eye contact. I hoped he didn’t pick up on the penis envy. He was certainly equipped to be a rampaging alpha male. He could probably impregnate a ton of iron ore with that monster.

What do you say? What would you have said? What could I say?

“No tie? You’re not wearing a tie. Never wear a suit without a tie. You look like a cunt.” I was quite safe saying this because I was guaranteed a good head start as I ran out of the door. It’s the style thing. The no tie thing. It was my only way to recover my bruised male dignity.

There have been a lot of cyclists coming in my shop lately. It’s because we’re directly on the route between London and Paris. Though some were in this morning who were going to Canterbury. They shouldn’t get seasick, at any rate. I’d love to have the time to go on a long bike ride. I just go on my evening rides along the seafront for a couple of miles. It’s all I have the time and energy for at the moment. I don’t wear the proper gear though. I don’t like tight shorts. They look daft. I wear my beach shorts. I don’t own a helmet. Or those reflective wrap around shades. They wouldn’t fit over my specs. And I’ve noticed the Bradley Wiggins effect when it comes to haircuts of choice among the hardcore cycling fraternity. The thing is, even Bradley hasn’t got the right shaped head to carry off the mod haircut. No fucker has, because it’s a haircut that wasn’t invented with reference to any human skull that you or I are ever likely to see.

Marilyn’s mum is back, staying with Marilyn. Marilyn won’t leave her alone at the house, and she can’t have her in the office all day, so we get her in the shop. All day. Where she sits, drinking tea and using the lav. All day. She won’t get drawn into conversations with other customers. She shuns them. If they knew her they’d fucking shun her too, believe me. She sits there, poised and waiting to pounce on me.

“My Marilyn’s split up with Jonny.” She frequently informs me. We’ve been here before, a couple of years ago when Mikey dumped Marilyn. Probably because of her fucking mother.

“Ah. Is that so?” I brusquely inquire, trying hard to show as little interest as possible as I dash away to find some vital chore which requires my undivided attention. Elsewhere.

“Yes!” she will bellow across a crowded shop in the general direction of me. “She needs a man. A man with his own little business. A business like your cafe. A man like you.” Other customers, needless to say, find all of this highly amusing and interrupt their conversations to enjoy the diversion.

“Marilyn’s mum! It’s not a cafe. It’s a High Street retail bakery slash coffee shop. Get it right love. And I can’t be your son-in-law! I’m spoken for.”  My cheeks glow with embarrassment. I know Marilyn. I like Marilyn. But, as you know, I’m happily married. My wife, who I love very much, can look at me with both eyes AT THE SAME TIME. Marilyn, bless her little cotton polyester gusset, can’t. She has, it must be said, very pretty eyes. Violet and slightly hooded. It’s just that they’re quite independent when it comes to the movement thing. It makes me dizzy just talking to her. No normally constructed human being can follow her gaze. Because she’s got two of the fuckers.  But at least she’s got a more sensible haircut than fucking Bradley Wiggins.