I’m not normally the most sociable of animals. I’m the sort of person who, if a loved one says “I know, let’s have a party!” I will inevitably reply “I know, let’s not!” I feel spiritual and social fragility impingeing upon me when I visualize being in a situation where I’m drunk and other drunk people want me to hold a conversation with them. It scares the faeces out of me, I don’t mind telling you. I break out in a clammy sweat and I feel my sphincter relax unnervingly. It’s physical.

And I’m not normally one to indulge in public displays of affection with women who aren’t my wife. Naturally, this is not something that happens often.

Apart from last Friday, when Joan, who has been a regular customer for the last year, came in to the shop and told me that her work contract had finished and this was her last day, and thanks for everything and all that. I gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and wished her all the best, and she told me she’d be back for another hug and kiss. Ha ha Joan, said I. Bye. It’s been lovely knowing you. How many of these farewells must I subject myself to? How many goodbyes?

So Friday just gone, she came back in the shop and told me that this really was her last day in town and called me over. She gave me a lovely hug and a lovelier kiss, and even indulged in a bit of feminine frottaging, which was quite pleasant, but just a touch embarrassing as it took place in front of a shop full of customers. But take your pleasures wherever and whenever they come your way, dear reader, for those pleasures can be few and far between sometimes.

And so it was that when I got home that night, and Anita reminded me that she had accepted an invitation on our behalf to a party at one of our daughters, I was still kind of buzzing with pleasure at the memory of an Afro-Caribbean pelvis grinding gently against my thigh, euphemistically speaking, and blithely agreed that a housewarming slash birthday bash would be a wonderful way to spend Saturday night. My wife looked at me as though she expected to see signs of an incipient fever upon my brow, went to speak, thought better of it, shrugged, and said how nice it would be if I were to make a lovely fresh coffee what we could sit together and enjoy. All in that order. My memory can be fucking phenomenal on occasion.

Saturday night came, and although I had neglected to feed myself all day, apart from a couple of slices of toast spread with some lemon and coriander humus and scattered with a few olives and sun-dried tomatoes at breakfast time, I really fancied a good drink, so as soon as we arrived at Sarah’s I made a beeline for the cabernet sauvignon. And very good it was too. A man called Grim was doing a barbecue out in the garden, so I managed to grab a couple of chicken wings, a sausage in a roll and a few fillets of home smoked mackerel.

He was telling me all about his curing and smoking process but the wine was going to my head already and I really can’t remember much of what he told me. Sugar’s involved. Salt, too. And smouldering oak chips. Of course, if I had been fully in control, I would quite possibly have remembered that I once spent two years working as a product developer for a food production company, one of whose premium lines was home smoked fish. So if I’d been sober I could have bored on at him about smoking fish. As it happened, I merely grinned at him like an imbecile and told him that his food was fucking delicious.

The stages of drunkenness fascinate me, as they seem to be different every time I have a drink. Which isn’t to say that I regularly get drunk. Because I don’t. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, I’ll either just have the two or three, or I will have the wit to stop at the point where the world has suddenly become a warm and wonderful place, and the temptation is to chuck another one down your throat because it can only possibly make the world warmer and more wonderful. Bitter, painful experience usually steps in at this point with the memories of times when this has proved not to be the case.

But on Saturday I thought no, I’ll go with the flow. I’m sort of enjoying myself, people keep handing me glasses full of liquid, so I shall plough on. I found myself in the kitchen at one point with Ollie, a young man who was stripped to his boxers and his outer clothes were on top of the next door neighbours’ conservatory, and our conversation led to the fact that I’d been to school with his mum. I felt as though I owed him a glimpse into his family past, so I threw my arms around him and told him that I’d loved his mum forty years ago, and if I’d loved her a bit more, I could have been his dad. He seemed delighted at this and pushed a glass of red into my hand and called me dad and said I didn’t look anything like Darth Vader. Oh how we laughed.

A short while later, a toothy blond friend of my daughter was all but inviting me to pet her as she told me about how her boyfriend had proposed to her as she ‘came out of the bog and he was kneeling down on the landing and held up the ring and proposed.’ I told her that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard and gave her a snog, and then the boyfriend came into the kitchen so I had to tell him how proud I was of him for being so romantic so I had to give him a snog too, but then Suzy the toothy blond’s friend Amy came in and she thought it was a snogging contest so she got stuck in on one with me as well. My wife came in the kitchen and asked why I was kissing the girls and I told her I was overcome with the romanticism of someone who would wait outside the bog while his bird had a dump and then get on his knees to propose, also, I was a bit drunk but I’d be alright.

She pulled me out of the kitchen and I found myself sitting at a table with Grim and a man called Paul, who’d brought along a bottle of Islay twelve year old single malt which we had to get through. It actually tasted of antiseptic but I’m sure that had far more to do with the wreckage of my tastebuds than the stuff in the bottle.

I wanted to talk about the futility of existence in a post-industrial consumer led economy, or at least did anyone think we’d get snow this winter, but Paul had found out that I came from London originally, and he came from Cricklewood so we must have tons to talk about. I tried telling him that I came from Norf London and I was only a child when we left the city and I didn’t know fucking nothing about Cricklewood, which luckily he didn’t take offence at, but I was beginning to experience a sense of dissociation from my surroundings. I think it may have been the drink.

My lower lip was definitely showing signs of mild paralysis, so I really couldn’t focus on childhood memories of Islington and Hackney in the 60s, as I had to concentrate on preventing any dribble of saliva from escaping my rapidly spasticating mouth, because that would have signalled a complete and humiliating loss of dignity and self-respect on my part. And when I glanced up at Paul, my eyes decided at that moment to cease any pretence to co-operation, leaving me looking at two wavering images of him which steadfastly refused, despite every effort of mine, to fuse together into a coherent whole. As my head crashed down onto the table, I had a final revelatory thought that I had discovered living proof of the inherent duality of human existence.

But then Anita shook me awake and told me that she thought it was time to go home. I had to hold her upright all the way home. She was wasted. Sunday I was fine though.


Hessian Skin



So every day now I’m going on a bicycle ride in the evenings after I get home from work in my bakery shop. Or if it’s Sunday, or Wednesday when I tend to be able to take a day off, I’ll go earlier in the day. I’m dead adaptable like that. Flexible too. I flex and I adapt and thus harmony with the inner void is achieved.

On a normal day I cycle a round trip of just under eight miles, along the picturesque and fragrant estuary footpath, then under the railway bridge, along the esplanade, pause at Splash Point to admire the scenery, and then I return home along the same route. But naturally, in reverse. It’s that flexibility again you see? About two miles from the end, along a stretch of footpath which is sunken among the fields and lower then sea-level, there is a run of wild honeysuckle. Have you ever smelled that stuff? On a warm evening, and the warmer it gets the stronger the perfume, it’s like sticking your face in Kylie’s lap and inhaling her intimate fumes. You can be sure you won’t get stubble burns there, dear reader. She’s a wax girl, I’m sure. Or even Methodist Electrolysis. I’d do it for her. Any day. Though the thought of a small golden mane there is quite stimulating, I must say. It’s a bit spicy, the scent of wild honeysuckle, with strong undertones of vanilla and lavender tussling gently in a girly embrace with clouds of honey mist, and it wraps you in its comfort and soothes your brow with a languid caress. It’s that fucking good. That’s something else that helps achieve cosmic harmony with the inner void.

Anyway, I sometimes extend my bicycle ride into a triathlon, by chaining the bike to a rail on Boningstedt Promenade, which instils within me a sense of the sheer vibrancy of the concept of twinning with continental Heimats, then strolling energetically down to the shore and plunging manfully into the waves. The water’s very pleasantly warm quite early this year, and I enjoy a twenty minute gambol in the heaving swell before stumbling, dripping wet and stinging-eyed back up to the path.  Naturally nothing is planned, so I have no towel on my person; I slightly air-dry myself on the beach, almost complete the process by wandering about a bit, then finishing on the ride back home. If it’s a really nice evening, as so many of them have been lately, I extend the ride to a ten miler by cycling along the Drove instead of turning right up the hill to my house. The Drove takes me to the river, and I cross the bridge and turn South along the riverside towards the harbour mouth until I come to the Lifeboat house, where I turn around a graceful one hundred and eighty degrees, give thanks for school mathematics lessons hard learned but still well remembered, and eventually return home. Still damp. Hair crusty. But happy and ready for a shower and a drink. Or on the particular evening I’m telling you about now, a drink and then a shower.

Anita, as is her wont, had left for work, cheering up sad amputees, and I was sipping at a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice made from a huge bag of fruit what my pal Col gave me which was excess stock on his market stall. Or hemos portokali, as some of us sometimes call it. On the rare occasions when you get a non-English speaking vendor. The doorbell chimed. I answered it. It was Anita’s semi Polish friend Anna Maria. She hefted a canvas sack around and it slammed into the ground at my feet. The weight was fucking terrific, I thought a mild earth tremor was about to occur. Anna Maria, as usual, was chomping on a wad of gum in order to maintain lubrication of the mouthparts and Marius her silent husband was in the background, a beaten look upon his worried brow.

“Hello Graham, I know Anita’s at work, I saw her driving off down the road and I waved but I don’t know if she saw me, anyway how are you are you, you alright, good, you look well, have you been for a bike ride, Anita told me you often go for a bike ride in the evenings do you enjoy going for a bike ride, it’s good isn’t it I sometimes go for a bike ride if Marius will come with me but he doesn’t often want to he always tells me to go on my own, have a bit of peace and quiet but it’s not the same on your own is it well I suppose it is for you because you always go on your own don’t you that’s what Anita told me, anyway I brought a few magazines around for Anita because one of them has a recipe in that she liked the look of but I can’t remember which one it was so I brought a few round she can look through them, find the recipe and I’ve finished with them anyway so she can do whatever she wants with them I don’t want them back so you know do what you want.” She gulped for breath.

“A few? A few magazines Anna Maria? There’s a small copse worth of wood pulp there. Anita probably won’t live long enough to go through that lot. You nearly broke the step when you dropped the bag down.” I said, with a confusingly English mix of accusation and hurt feelings.

Anna Maria looked like she was about to speak again. But then that’s how she always looks when she’s not actually in the act. Of speaking. I doubt that Anna Maria has an inner void with which she ever wishes to harmonise. I saw Marius across the road, enjoying a few moments of silence in their Berlingo thing. I was drowned almost, in the wave of sympathy that came crashing over me. But it wasn’t enough.

“Hey Anna Maria. Guess what? I’ve been on a bike ride. But I’ve also been swimming. In the sea. I haven’t washed yet. I’m all salty. D’ya wanna lick me? Find out what real sea-salt tastes like? Do ya? Before it’s too late?”

“Marius!  It’s time to go.” She returned to the van and they left, Marius looking sad.

I had to take the pile of assorted magazines down to the recycling centre. Before Anita got home and decided it might be a good idea for someone to search through them for a recipe you could easily find in a book or on the internet anyway.