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.

 

 

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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.