Harebell Lady

So there I was, a-wandering round the supermarket again. I was badly in need of oven cleaning chemicals. To clean the bakery ovens in my little high street bakery shop, since you ask.  You may wonder why I don’t buy the industrial grade stuff, which you spray on using a trigger pack, leave for half an hour and then wipe off the suddenly loosened carbon deposits with a damp cloth, leaving two sparkling stainless steel double fan steam injected 2x2kw 3-phase 8 deck bakery oven interiors. They’re the ovens I’ve got. Pretty damned raunchy, yes?

The reason I don’t use that stuff any more is that the fumes fuck with my head. It says on the packaging not to breathe in the fumes but the way I see it, you should know why. They should give you a reason why you shouldn’t breathe in the fumes. Like ‘Do not breathe fumes. They will fuck with your head. And make you cough quite violently. Be warned.’  That’s all it would have to say. Also the last time I used it, a couple of drops dripped from the top of the oven onto my unprotected head and dissolved the hair and the top two or three layers of skin. So I spent the following week or so wandering round with two large red blobs of raw scalp throbbing through the freshly clipped short greyness of my normally quite phenomenal head. And I use the word ‘head’ only after careful study of my 6th edition Concise Oxford Dictionary, new 1976 imprint.  It’s that good. So I stick with domestic oven cleaners now. They’re much more forgiving if they drip on you. Like most of the women I’ve known, come to think of it.

Anyway people, there I was wandering wistfully past the pasta and rice aisle, thinking lewd thoughts involving warm semolina pudding complete with a central oasis of seedless raspberry jam, a green foam backed scourer and the bird who plays Martin Clunes’ wife in Doc Martin, when a local pensioner verbally molested me.

I recognised her. She had once asked my permission to harvest the seeds of some harebells which had temporarily taken over the raised paved area behind my shop on the side road down to the municipal multi (2) storey car park. I told her, take all the seeds you want, I don’t give a flying fuck lady, just don’t tell anyone where yo got yo seeds, especially if they turn out to be a bit dodgy, know what I mean? She filled a small paper bag with the seeds and departed, gracefully.

This lady frequently wears brightly patterned wellington boots, an item of footwear which I presume is created by laying a colourful piece of soft cloth over a rubber inner piece on a heated mould, probably, and coating the whole with a thick weatherproof layer of clear flexible plastic material before welding the sole, heal and various supporting and strengthening welts and seams in place. Do you know how fucking painful and time absorbing it is to spend your entire life wondering how every fucking thing that surrounds you is put together?  It’s painful. And it’s time consuming. I can tell you that much. Fuck me, but my life is great.

“I’m wondering where I am,” was her opening line. I’ve had people try and talk me into the sack before, but never yet by a seventy three year old feigning geographical amnesia.

“You’re here. I’m here. In the bloody Co Op. It’s where we all are.” I told her.

“Yes dear, I know that. I just don’t know where I am.” She’d started putting eye shadow on that morning, I could see that. There was a patch of turquoise above the outside third of each eye, looking like it was waiting to fade through a palette of more blue, or possibly green, or if she’d really wanted to arouse my curiosity, violet shades, heading towards the bit where thankfully there was a gap between her separate eyebrows, but a just a little bit lower. But it looked like she’d lost interest after green and returned the colours unused to the old dressing table, never to be retrieved. Leaving, as I told you, a patch of turquoise hovering unsure of its purpose above each of her eyes. I said nothing about this though. When I was a wee kid and my mum was getting ready to go to the Hackney Aryan Wives Bingo Club, she described getting made up as putting her warpaint on. She used to look quite glamorously fierce. Like Lauren Bacall as a cagefighter. I was imagining how long the harebell lady would have lasted against her with a posse of North London door to door ice cream salesman howling support for the local girl. Not long, I can fucking tell you. She’d have needed a soothing poultice made from a half melted block of Neapolitan. But now my mum’s been dead for six years and my dad’s not looking too bright just lately either. Eighty three and still smoking thirty a day for Queen and country.

She continued.

“I think I just asked somebody where something was, and they said they didn’t work here. So I don’t know where I am.” Do you know, I could be the first human to explore the frigid wastes of Callisto, Jupiter’s second largest moon, and there would be an insane geriatric waiting behind the nearest snow-dune, ready to pounce on me and infect me with their inability to cope with life without dragging the nearest innocent shopkeeping passer by into the whole sorry fucking disaster.

“As I said, you’re here.” I’m so patient and kind, I’ll be the first living soul to be accorded sanctity. “And what were you looking for? I might be able to help? It’s only a small town centre supermarket after all.”

“That’s part of the problem. I can’t remember what it is that I want. I think I wrote it on a piece of paper, but I think I’ve lost the paper. Or left it in my bedroom.” Next to the unused eyeshadow, I’d reckon. She looked me in the eye and then hit the side of her head. “It’s in there somewhere.”

“Well, I hope you find it then” I said, hurrying off to the household cleaning materials and soft tissue paper section, past the pet foods and adjacent to the bottled water. Thank fuck we weren’t in Lidl. I wouldn’t have known where to start looking for anything.

When I awoke at 4.45 this morning, I honestly thought that it was going to be just another day, with nothing out of the ordinary happening. See? The first cut is the deepest and the first thought is the rightest. If you speak with the right accent, that rhymes. Nearly.

Czodolznik Polony

So, there we were. It was another buzzing morning in my little shop and almost all thirty one seats were filled. Marilyn’s mum was sat brooding over her fourth mug of tea of the day, probably unable to understand why she hadn’t managed to seduce me away from the loving, pendulous bosom of my family into the arms of her daughter who works in an office down the street from Chez Graham. Marilyn’s sweet, we have great chats, but apart from the fact that I’m happily married and there are already two or three others who would snatch me away from my little Juanita given half a chance who have already staked their places on the list of women who will one day elope with me if ever I weaken, poor Marilyn has the most horrendous squint.

I don’t like to sound like I’m being squintist here or anything, but I simply can’t imagine shagging a woman who, when it comes to that warm special moment when the vinegar stroke has come and gone and I’ve just enjoyed the enormously enervating task of hosing down her innards with piping hot man milk, we look into each other’s eyes in that magical moment before I roll over and start snoring like a fucking steamroller with kerosene in the fuel tank, to whisper our respective apologies and set about loosening each other’s restraints and I realise that one of her eyes is peering into mine while the other is simultaneously checking out the dust on the overhang on top of the wardrobe. It would spoil the moment for me. So that’s why I’ll probably die without ever becoming Marilyn’s mum’s son-in-law.

Daydreaming thus, I was gradually dragged back to the here and now, or as it now is the there and then, because I’m sitting at home in my office slash library slash music room slash place where Juanita dumps stuff she can’t find another home for in a fucking house the size of a small branch of fucking Wickes that now has two spare bedrooms even though there are three of us living here in addition to frequently visiting offspring and grandchildren. At the moment I’m listening to This Is What Makes Us Girls by Lana Del Rey damn, but she cheers me up. I was dragged back to reality by accidentally eavesdropping on a convo taking place at the retired seafarers’ table. There are four or five of them, elderly men with an inexhaustible store of tall tales, most of which are likely true, about seaways travelled, countries visited, shipmates maimed, women loved and lost; stuff like that. It’s great to listen to them. It’s great to remember that I never went to sea. Because then I’d have been imprisoned on board ship with people like these. Hence I’d rather drip concentrated battery acid into an open wound in my own gums than go on a cruise.

I digress. Now I’ve finished listening to Born To Die and Lindi Ortega’s new one, Tin Star has started. Damn but I love that girl. Anyway, one of the retired seafarers is Curious Bob, one of the late Les the Part Time Villain’s many surviving brothers. Curious Bob, in addition to sailing the seven seas, has worked as an elephant handler in the circus as well as having enjoyed a long and mostly anonymous career in the movies. Behind the camera, needless to say. He has also been a concrete shutterer, a fisherman, a snake skinner and a stalker of young mothers. Fruit picker, donkey driver across the cordilleras and a boilerman’s second helper. Fuck me, but he’s done pretty much everything, has Curious Bob.

Anyway, he was telling Clouseau, Ernie the Stick, Johnny Opera and Albert the Git all about the time he’d worked on a film, probably in the 50’s or 60’s, which featured Rod Steiger driving a truck containing a dangerous cargo across a bandit infested mountain range. Lived and Died Alone is where we are now, it’s probably my favourite track on this record. Or CD I should say. Let’s get modern. Anyway, Curious Bob got on quite well with Rod Steiger. But not as well as he apparently did with Ray Milland, they were best buddies. Bob often tells stories involving his famous movie star friend Ray.

“Anyway, Rod Steiger, he was driving this truck. It was my job to put the dust and stuff on it, make it look like it had been driven through the mountains for I don’t know, days. I had to clean it first mind you. Black and white film. It’s different colours.” It can be quite an achievement to be proud of, following Bob’s train of thought. “Yeah, that Rod Steiger. He suffered from manic depression, you know.” I had to ask.

“Was that before or after he met you then Bob?” He thought about it for a minute or two.

“Dunno. I didn’t know him before he met me did I? So how would I know? Anyway, I don’t expect he’d remember me.” Much like Ray Milland probably.

Then Fretful Mathew phoned the shop to ask if we were busy or if he should wait until later before calling a taxi to come into town because he really doesn’t enjoy it when the shop’s crowded and he can hear lots of voices in the background, and he may have to call the fire brigade before he comes out anyway because he’s sure he heard a branch fall from one of the trees on his neighbour’s land and he hasn’t heard any sirens yet so it probably hasn’t caused a tragic accident yet and he’s sure it probably fell onto the road.  I said okay Mathew we will stay open for a little while yet but I’m not about to start asking customers to leave just because you like an empty shop to worry yourself to death in and I wouldn’t call the fire service about a possible broken branch because it’s simply not the done thing and they’ll probably start invoicing you at the very least, if not seek a legal injunction against you if you don’t stop dialling 999 every time you hear a fucking tree rustle in the breeze and I’ll see you later Mathew.

I love my customers. Every damned one of the fuckers.

F. Light

It was getting to be about time that I had a haircut, so when Richie came over to mine to buy a filled roll for himself and a pastie for his darts-partner and old shipmate Gav I assumed, rightly as it turned out,  that even Richie, crazed and unpredictable as he may be, would surely never leave Gav unsupervised in the shop with vulnerable persons, or customers, as you or I might call them, present. A quick glance confirmed that Richie had wisely locked Gav alone in the empty shop while he visited my snack emporium. So I wandered across the road a few paces behind Richie and slipping through the door behind him, seated myself in the vacant seat before the mirror.

“You want a haircut then, me old mate?” queried Richie. He’s not quite as sharp as his scissors, is Richie.

“Finish your roll first Richie me old mate,” I told him. “I don’t want half a ton of fucking crumbs down my neck.”

“Good thinking, me old mate. I’ll do your hair first. What’ll it be?”

As Richie knows only too well, I always have a number three on top and a number two round the edges, then he shaves my ears and neck, then he trims the eyebrows as they protrude through the tines of a comb strategically held close to the skin above my eyes, thus leaving me just about as gorgeous as I’ll ever be with my clothes on. From the neck up, at any rate.

“Same as usual, please Richie me old mate.” This briefly baffled him, or else he was wondering who the hell ‘Richie’ was. Then he shrugged, nodded and draped me in the habitual shroud, towel and weighted rubber shoulder and collar protector. He began with the electric trimmers, the guide things fresh and slightly clammy from the tub of swarfega-like barbicide gel.

“You having another holiday this year then?” That’s one of Richie’s favourite opening gambits, from where it’s usually a hasty hop, skip and jump to him impugning my sexuality in the face of all the evidence, rampant as it usually is.

“No Richie. It’s October. We might have one in January or February. I don’t know where yet. I reckon I’ll go to Corfu next May when my lovely squaw Juanita goes to Alicante with the girls though, then somewhere else with a bit of a Greek flavour with Mrs Graham later in the summer. What about you?” It’s horrific, but this really is what men of the world such as ourselves chat about whilst one is cutting the other’s hair. No football, no cars, no politics. Sometimes he talks about sex, but I have to reach across for a handful of tissues to mop up the dribble and flying trails of saliva what he creates all over the fucking place. And Gav just sits in the corner stuffing his face and wondering what the fuck it is that he’s actually eating, and did it once moo or grunt or baaa. And believe me, it’s a far better thing that Gav doesn’t talk much sometimes.

“Well, Graham me old mate. I went to Sharm the other week. That’s Egypt, Gav.” Turning back to me, he chuckled and then glanced at the suddenly convulsed with laughter Gav. “He’s a wrong ‘un.” There was obviously some intensely private joke here between them that had just flown a thousand feet above my head. Or maybe they really are both insane. I know what I think on the matter.

“Sharm, Richie? You have a nice time?” He goes to do a bit of diving. In the sea. Then drinking. By the pool.

“Nah, they stuck me in an aisle seat on the way back. It was a 767.” My curiosity was not quite pricked. But I had to ask all the same.

“And?” And Richie paused with the clippers and looked at me like I was missing something blatant and obvious.

“And? And I was fucking stuck in the fucking aisle seat for five and a fucking half hours and every time they took the fucking trolley out it bashed my shoulder and every fucking time they walked past me with a fucking tray they hit my fucking shoulder and every time any fucker used the fucking toilet they walked into my fucking shoulder and I hadn’t slept all the fucking day or fucking night before the fucking flight and somehow I lost a whole fucking day somewhere and we landed at four in the fucking morning so I had to come straight to fucking work and worked through the first fucking day.” He paused for breath and possibly to reflect on whether he could possibly have used the word ‘fucking’ any more times in the previous spittle flecked sentence than he actually had while still retaining the essential emotional import yet not overstating his case. I certainly got the feeling that he was venting his spleen.

“Took the shine off it a bit then did it Richie?”

“Yes, it ruined the whole trip. And just to make things worse Mo wouldn’t let me shag her all week either.”

Which is strange, because I thought his current woman friend was called Elaine. Elaine’s a sweet woman who looks a bit like the late Les the Part Time Villain’s one time sturdy girlfriend Ingrid. But Ingrid, while it’s unlikely that she’d ever get on a plane to Sharm, would definitely not go a whole seven days without letting somebody, even Richie, shag her. So, Ingrid, Elaine, and Mo. Same? Different? I reckon they’re all different girls. But what do I know? I’ve never been to Sharm and I don’t come from Yorkshire.